As I read today’s passage, I couldn’t help remembering the warnings about the dangers of kings in Deuteronomy (though I had to use a cross-reference to find it!). It’s in Deuteronomy 17:14-20 and it’s worth reading.
I can’t help wondering whether the writer of that passage didn’t have Solomon in mind. Whether you understand that to mean prophetically, looking into the future, or with the benefit of hindsight if the book of Deuteronomy we have was finally edited not long before Josiah’s reforms (still to come…) it’s hard not to think that Solomon has more or less ticked off the list of the abuses against which the Deuteronomist warns. Acquiring so many horses from Egypt, of all places, that he needs cities to house his cavalry, and ending up worshipping the gods of some of his thousand wives and concubines makes Solomon seem a bit of a textbook example of a king who’s ‘exalting himself above other members of the community’ and ‘turning aside from the commandment’ (to serve the LORD alone) – see Dr 17:20. And as for gathering so much gold that he doesn’t even bother to use the silver…
Solomon clearly has great worldly wisdom – in many different departments of life. If the archetypal three temptations of life are money, sex, and power (I remember an excellent book by Richard Foster with that title) then Solomon seems to be setting up a competition to see which will derail him most effectively.
I don’t remember Solomon commissioning a copy of the Book of the Law to be written and read at the beginning of his reign. I can’t help thinking that he knows all too well how wise he is, and has forgotten that true wisdom always looks outside itself to the giver of wisdom, the LORD. Solomon has every possible advantage in life, now – and he has become so entranced by the gifts (including his own incredible ability) that he has forgotten the giver. And so he has limited his effectiveness for God and set in train the end of the united Israel David has built up.
The more able we are, and the more resources we have at our disposal, the more is the risk of forgetting that the greatest worldly wisdom is, at best, useless unless it is shaped and channeled by obedience to the LORD. The good side of that is that we don’t need incredible intellect or vast wealth to know what obedience to the LORD looks like. We just need a Bible we can read, Christian brothers and sisters at church to help us to understand it and a heart willing to act on what we understand.
The bonus is that this obedience ends up bringing greater wealth than Solomon, and in some ways more wisdom – though not more wives.