1 Kings 3-11
Solomon becomes king, and for a while, things are looking good. He marries the Pharaoh's daughter -- interesting that there is now this positive connection with Egypt. He wishes for wisdom, and is granted that wisdom. Israel enters into a time of peace and prosperity, and so Solomon fulfills his father David's dream of building a permanent temple to the Lord. (It is nice that master craftsman Hiram is given a lot of credit for the beautiful work he does on the temple.) This seems to be a real moment of arrival at long last -- the return of the people to their land, finally attaining enough peace and stability to build the temple that at last signifies the fulfillment of the promise. There is even international recognition as the Queen of Sheba comes to visit.
Then Solomon blows it.
You think he would know better, especially after his father's advice to him, repeated to him by the Lord Himself.
But, among his wives, he takes on women "from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the Israelites, 'You shall not inter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you; for they will surely incline your heart to follow their gods'" (11:2). Apparently, Solomon in fact had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines (11:3). He supported their worshiping their different gods.
The Lord warned Solomon, but Solomon did not change his ways. So then the Lord warned him further that the kingdom would be fractured after his death, and He raised adversaries against Solomon. Solomon's son would be able to continue to rule Judah, but the other tribes would be given to Jeroboam. Solomon tried to kill Jeroboam, but Jeroboam fled to Egypt and remained there until Solomon died.
Is this a story of the corrupting power of privilege? At first, the peace and prosperity are used well: used for the building of a beautiful temple. But then Solomon claims more and more for himself: an extravagant house, hundreds of wives and concubines. If this is a story of power corrupting, it is distressing, especially since Solomon did not originally ask for wealth and power, but wisdom. One would hope that true wisdom would protect against corruption.
Taking a closer look at the story, I find myself asking why it was bad that Solomon reached out to other nations and religions in a positive way, with love and interest rather than through war and conquest? Perhaps it is that he did so in a way that diluted his faithfulness to his own people, history, and traditions. Thus, friction and strife began to build again. The time of peace ended. Are such cycles inevitable?
What is the right balance between, on the one hand, faithfulness to your people and your heritage, and preservation of your own culture, and, on the other hand, positive interest in and openness towards other people and other cultures?
Of course, another way to read this story is to consider what the difference is between "true religion" and "false religion." What does it really mean to worship "false gods"? At the time that this part of the Bible was written, the line was drawn between one's own religious heritage and others. I think now we see that even within every religious tradition, there are ways of worshiping true to the best spirit of that tradition, and false ways of worshiping. The false forms of worship are when one keeps up the appearances of adhering to the tenets of a given faith, but yet one does not really keep to the proper spirit. It is not really God that one is worshiping, but something lesser that one may still call "God" but has fashioned into one's own image. So, what one worships instead is really not God, but something else: an image of success, wealth, power, happiness, etc.
What is the aim of all of your strivings? Who or what is it, above all else, that you serve?
Even if you answer, "God," is that really God? How do you know?
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