Today we return to the narrative of 1 Kings. If you’ll remember, when we considered chapter 9, we ended with this: “While he had fame and fortune (as we will see in chapter 10), Solomon had lost his way.” Well, here we are in chapter 10. We begin with the story of the Queen of Sheba. We are told that she came to test Solomon with hard questions because the fame of his Godly wisdom had spread (10:1). Sheba is believed to have been in the extreme south of the Arabian peninsula, so she came from over 1,000 miles away, which means word of Solomon’s wisdom had spread that far. This is no small feat! And we see in verse 3 that Solomon was as wise as she had heard.
Note in verse 4 that Solomon’s wisdom is not all that impresses the queen. She is impressed with his great wealth and prosperity, too. She tells him as much in verse 7. Then she blesses Solomon, Israel, and YHWH (vv. 8-9), Prophetically reminding Solomon that all he had – including his wisdom and his throne – were given to him by YHWH because of His love for Israel, and expectation that Solomon would be that wise king who rules with justice and righteousness (v. 9 – see Prov 16:12-13, 21:15). Like Israel with the Promised Land and the presence of YHWH among them, God gave it all by grace. But obedience is required to keep the blessing. The queen then blesses Solomon with even more treasures (v. 10). And we see that she was not the only one. We are reminded of Hiram’s fleet bringing gold to Solomon (v. 11 – see 9:27-28), and we ae told that they also brought precious stones and building materials. From this wealth, Solomon gives a gift back to the queen (v. 13).
Beginning in verse 14, we see the great wealth of Solomon described. But first, let us be reminded of God’s command regarding kings:
You may indeed set a king over you whom the LORD your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold. And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.Deuteronomy 17:15-20
We see here in 1 Kings 10:14-22 that “excessive” doesn’t begin to describe the wealth Solomon amassed. The 666 talents is almost 50,000 pounds of gold. Over $1,000,000,000 worth by today’s standard. That was only part of Solomon’s annual income (vv. 14-15). Solomon had so much gold that he made shields for decoration. The large shields (v. 16) were each made with about $400,000 worth of gold. And there were 200 of them. The small shields (v. 17) were each made with about $300,000 worth of gold. And there were 300 of them. And note where these were used as decoration. Solomon’s palace: The House of the Forest of Lebanon (see 7:1-12).
Between the initial description of the palace in 7:1-12 and this description in 10:14-25, we have two passages that we tend to skim through and think to ourselves, “Wow. Solomon was a great king, alright. Israel really flourished under him.” That is how Solomon is thought of outside of Christian circles. That is what many of us were taught about him from Christian teachers. His reign was “the height of the kingdom.” But that is not what is being communicated here. The extravagance of Solomon’s kingdom was a bad thing. We are given these descriptions here to see not how great Solomon was, but how far away from God he was. His treasures were earthly.
And it only get’s worse. In verses 26-29, we are told of Solomon’s army of chariots and horsemen. We are told in verse 27 that silver was as common as stone in Jerusalem (where he lived). Um. See Deuteronomy 17:17, Solomon. Then we are told that he imported his horses from Egypt (vv. 28-29). Um, see Deuteronomy 17:16, Solomon. With 21st century American eyes we read of Solomon’s wealth and think: this is good. A Jew reading this in ancient Israel would read this and know: this is bad!!! I mean, all that’s left for Solomon to do to completely violate God’s command for kings is to “acquire many wives for himself.”
And here comes chapter 11…
Chapter 11 begins with more bad news: Solomon had a greater weakness for women than his father did. And even worse, Solomon loved foreign women (11:1). When YHWH renewed the covenant with Israel in Exodus 34, He expounded the First Commandment by saying:
Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are invited, you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods.Exodus 34:12-16
Note the last part. This is what is being commented on in 1 Kings 11:2. Intermarriage with foreign women was forbidden because they would lead their husbands to worship other gods. If only Solomon had heeded the words of Deuteronomy 17:19-20, he would know that. But he didn’t. So he had 700 wives (v. 3). Note that they were princesses. Why is that important? Because it means they were all foreigners! On top of that, Solomon had 300 concubines. Apparently, Solomon was not wise in all areas of life. And look at what happens. They turn his heart away to other gods (vv. 3-8). This was the inevitable outcome.
Here is the fact of the matter: Solomon was not a good king. We see that Solomon’s life was not one of devotion to God. And the wives were not the problem. They were a symptom of the problem (see 11:6). His whole reign was a downward spiral. He violated literally every commandment God gave specifically to the kings of Israel. Solomon’s treasures were not in heaven. It is no accident that Jesus uses Solomon as an example, not of righteousness, but of God’s provision of earthly things (Matt 6:28-29) following His command to lay up treasures in heaven (Matt 6:19-24).
And yes, the kingdom from an earthly perspective was never greater. In fact, under Solomon, the Promised Land actually reached the promised borders (see Deut 11:24). Under Solomon, there was peace for Israel on all sides (see Lev 26:6). In other words, God had given Israel literally everything He promised them, all of grace. Now they had to keep it through obedience (see Lev 26:1-5). Solomon would not. Israel would not. So, like our first parents in Eden, Israel would lose their paradise because of sin, and would be removed from God’s presence.
We see this begin in the rest of this chapter. This is the turning point for the nation of Israel. God told Solomon what would happen if he turned away from Him (see 9:6-9). So the pattern established with Eli (1 Sam 2:27-31), and continued in Saul (1 Sam 15:26-29), now continues in Solomon (11:11). Yet, because of His promise to David, the righteous king, God would not do it in Solomon’s lifetime (v. 12), and not completely (v. 13). The first thing that God does is remove peace from the land (vv. 14-40).
Note God’s sovereignty in raising up each of these enemies. He preserved Hadad (vv. 14-22) in Egypt and prospered him there, even giving him favor with Pharaoh and marriage into the royal family. Does any of this sound familiar? The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, often using the same means. Rezon (vv. 23-25) fled from the king and God preserved him and even joined other outcasts to him, and eventually made him king. Does any of this sound familiar? We are also introduced here to Jeroboam (vv. 26-40) who will be the king of the northern kingdom. He is given the kingdom by prophecy, even though another still reigned. The existing king then sought to kill him because of that. Does any of this sound familiar?
But notice a few other things in this narrative. It was not just Solomon, but Israel that turned after other gods (v. 33). Note also that ten tribes are taken from Solomon, and his house will keep one (v. 32, 36). This is symbolized prophetically by the garment cut into twelve pieces. But where is the one remaining tribe? This is the fulfillment of Jacob’s prediction about Simeon (49:7). It has been completely absorbed into Judah. Also note in verse 39 that the promise God made to David is not forgotten.
The chapter ends with the death of Solomon. He reigned for 40 years like David. But he did not reign like David. And his son, Rehoboam, ascends to the throne…