Another Dream and a Surprise Visit
Solomon then has another visionary dream (1 Kgs 9:1-9) and God warns him to offer wholehearted allegiance, and not follow after the gods of Israel’s neighbors. Otherwise, “this temple will become a heap of rubble” (1 Kgs 9:8), which would be a shame. It’s so fancy.
After the second dream we’re given a long list of additional accomplishments by Solomon; like the slave labor force he built (1 Kgs 9:15), and how Pharaoh, king of Egypt, attacked the city of Gezer, burned all its inhabitants to death, and then offered it as a wedding gift to his daughter when she married Solomon (1 Kgs 9:16-17). We’re told of the enormous amounts of gold Solomon’s fleet of ships regularly brought in (1 Kgs 9:26-28).
You know the question to ask by this point: Is this all supposed to impress us, or make us suspicious?
To top it all off, we find a long story about the queen of Sheba, who traveled from afar to witness Solomon’s wisdom and wealth (1 Kgs 10:1-13). She brings gifts of gold, spices, precious stones, and is totally blown away by the size and scope of his palace. This leads to one final list of Solomon’s splendor (1 Kgs 10:14-29). This list references the huge golden shields Solomon placed all over his palace; the large throne of ivory and gold, flanked by huge lions; and the huge fleet of horses he imported from Egypt on a regular basis. You know, the kind of imports any ancient near eastern king would want.
Surely, we’re supposed to admire this man. He asked for wisdom and God gave him wealth and success as well. This is the wisdom of Proverbs at work, right? Love God, honor him, and he will hook you up! That’s what this story is about, right? Be a good person, like Solomon, and God will fulfill your wildest dreams…
Again, you could be forgiven for taking this lesson away from Solomon’s story, if you hadn’t read the entire story from Genesis through 2 Samuel up to this point. However, you already know a thing or two about the human heart from the biblical author’s point of view. And, you should also have called to mind a really important law that Moses gave Israel about how it’s future kings were to behave.
When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite. The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. – Deuteronomy 17:14-17
Solomon broke nearly every detail of this law, right down to the horses from Egypt! Now you can see why the biblical author of 1 Kings 1-10 went into all that detail. Solomon was a mixed character, like all the characters we’ve met so far.
If you’re wondering where all these decisions led Solomon, just turn the page to 1 Kings chapter 11. His marriage alliance didn’t end with Egypt. It lead to many (hundreds!) more, and eventually all these marriages turned his heart away from full allegiance to the God of Israel. So, all that wealth and abundance that you thought was a sign of divine blessing looks very different now. It looks like a sad story of slow compromise, leading to disaster.
We find ourselves back at square one: Saul was the first king to fall, then David’s moral compromise, and now Solomon. As you read on to 1 and 2 Kings, you’ll see that all the kings of Israel follow in his footsteps. And, that divine warning about the glorious temple being turned to rubble? It will come true, at the conclusion of the book of 2 Kings chapters 24-25.
Solomon had everything going for him, and none of the decisions from early in his reign seemed malicious or ill-intended. But slowly, as he went through life, his heart became insensitive. As a result, his great wisdom that once represented a divine gift became an instrument for self-service and exaltation. It’s a realistic depiction of the same character flaw we saw at work in the story of Saul. Self-deception is by definition impossible to spot on your own. You’ll never see yourself going down the road of no return. No one ever sets out to ruin their life on purpose, and certainly not to ruin anyone else’s, but it happens all the time.
And so, the stories of Solomon stand as yet another warning that we should take our own dark side seriously. It also serves as a sign of hope that God will not let the failures of his people get the final word. His promise to David still stands (remember 2 Sam 7). If Solomon isn’t the promised king who will rule over the nations forever, then when that future king does arrive he will be “like Solomon,” minus all of the negative bits. Go read Psalm 72, a promise of the future king from the line of David, and tell me that doesn’t sound like Solomon’s kingdom! The hope of the future messianic King becomes one more pointer to God’s faithfulness in the face of human unfaithfulness. In this way, the bad news about Solomon points forward to the good news of the future that will arrive with King Jesus.