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The wise man who acted foolishly

That would be part one of the answer to the question of why the nation of Israel fractured into the northern and southern kingdoms. Whatever other reasons there might have been, the Scripture points to Solomon’s marriages to foreign women (1 Kings 11), as the precipitating cause of Israel’s downward spiral.

The results of the split were devastating. The northern kingdom went immediately into idolatry under Jeroboam and never came up for air. They remained unresponsive to all attempts to resuscitate them through prophets such as Elijah, Elisha, and Hosea. Finally, they brought upon themselves the judgment of the Assyrians and were deported from the land never to return as a nation. Judah fared only slightly better with some noble kings helping to balance out some wicked ones (the righteous Hezekiah and his evil father, Ahaz, for example). In the end it was not enough. They too went into exile about a century after the northern kingdom when Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians razed Jerusalem and sent them to Babylon.

All of this underscores the importance of the choices we make. While it would be an oversimplification to say the decision of Solomon was all that was involved in Israel’s fall, there is a reason why it is specifically mentioned in the biblical witness. It was a strategic choice with far flung consequences.

Despite his blessedness (or perhaps because of it), Solomon decides to marry or have as his concubine essentially every available foreign women of royalty and connection. 1 Kings 11:3 tells us this constituted about 1,000 women in all. Of course, this was not reflective of sexual excess, but political alliance (although Solomon’s own words in Ecclesiastes 2:1,8 should be factored in somewhere). All of these relationships took their toll on Solomon and instead of being drawn closer to God as he aged, he became distanced and began to patronize and then worship the gods of his foreign wives.

It’s not hard to picture how things went at the palace with his wives slowly grinding down his resistance and the worship of their gods and goddesses being incrementally introduced. It probably started with one of his favorite wives. Knowing Solomon’s opposition to other gods, she would beg and plead for the smallest of concessions --- maybe a statue in her chambers and with his acquiescence, toleration would be established. Before long, a rival wife would hear what happened and seek the same thing for herself. Soon the palace would be littered with idols. Then another wife would protest that if Solomon really loved her more than the others, he would worship her god, and toleration would morph into participation. Before it’s over, Solomon is attached to his wives more than God (11:2), and as a consequence, is worshipping their gods (v. 5-8). What started in the palace spreads outside the city of Jerusalem (v. 7-8). How could Israel not be influenced by the action of their king?

We’d be tempted to think that it all began with the first marriage to the first foreign wife and we’d be correct in a general sort of way. But where it really started was in Solomon’s heart when he became convinced that the better course of action was to do what he wanted rather than what God said. I’m sure it wasn’t couched in terms that stark (it never is), Solomon would have rationalized it somehow. Maybe he told himself that God’s command not to marry foreigners (Deuteronomy 7:1-6), applied to the bulk of Israelites, but not to someone with the wisdom that he had been given --- he would be able to handle the situation. Or perhaps his rationalization had an altruistic bent --- that he was doing it to establish political alliances in order to advance the kingdom. Whatever the case, he should have trusted God more and himself less. That’s always the wise thing to do.

Father,

We’d like to read of Solomon’s failure and suppose that something like this couldn’t happen to us. But the sobering truth is that it could and recognizing this is the first safeguard in keeping it from happening. May we never become so "wise" that we think we are beyond Your words and Your will.
 
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