The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon, Edward Poynter, 1890
I Kings 10:4-8a — When the queen of Sheba saw all the wisdom of Solomon and the palace he had built, the food on his table, the seating of his officials, the attending servants in their robes, his cupbearers, and the burnt offerings he made at the temple of the Lord, she was overwhelmed. She said to the king, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard. How happy your people must be!”
(…continued) Solomon became an excellent king in every way. Not only was he wise in administering justice, he was also an skilled leader, builder, negotiator, and administrator. Under his rule, the new nation became a world power. They built a strong army, formed alliances with other nations, had a strong economy which engaged in trade with many nations, and were at peace most of the time. Under his rule the new temple was built and the palace expanded. The nation of Israel never had it so good, before or since. I Kings 10:23-24 said of his rule: “King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth, and the whole world wanted to hear what wisdom God had put in Solomon’s heart.”
A thousand years later, Solomon was still being talked about. When Jesus wanted compare the beauty of nature to the ultimate in human splendor, he thought of him, and said, “Not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these little flowers” (Luke 12:27).
The first ten chapters of the Old Testament book of I Kings describes the greatness of King Solomon and all the wonderful things that resulted from his leadership. Then, in the first verse of chapter eleven there is an ominous however; “However Solomon loved many foreign women.” As is often the case, the man’s strength became his weakness.
Solomon was an expert at diplomacy with other nations. One of the ways diplomacy was done in those days was by the inter-marrying of royal families as a way to guarantee a peace treaty. Kings often had several wives in the Old Testament, even though nowhere did God recommend or approve of the practice. Solomon got himself involved in many diplomatic marriages, and these women brought into the marriage and into Israel all their foreign gods. Always the peace keeper, Solomon would accommodate the religions of these foreign wives by building altars and idols all over the place. Before long it was hard to tell who believed what in Israel, as the religion of the people was corrupted. The God who had so richly blessed Solomon was nearly forgotten.
Not only that, but someone had to pay the price for all of Solomon’s building programs, and taxes increased greatly. Even then, there was not enough money to pay for all the labor needed, so non-Israelites living in the land were often forced into slavery. This led to great dissatisfaction, then to violence, and nearly to a civil war. The initial rebellion was unsuccessful, but the problem was only postponed. Almost immediately after Solomon’s death the nation was at war with itself and the split did come. Then, instead of one strong nation, there were two weak nations, often at war with each other, and the good times came to an end. Never again would Israel have such peace and prosperity as they did in the early years of King Solomon’s reign.
The story of Solomon is one of the greatest tragedies of the Old Testament. Solomon’s God-given wisdom and abilities allowed him to rise high, bringing the whole nation with him. But when the goodness of his youth disappeared, his pride and sinful blindness led to the downfall the nation. Intelligence is no substitute for moral character and obedience to God. Solomon had wisdom, but not virtue, and one without the other will lead to ruin.
Solomon asked for and was given the ability to discern right from wrong– but he still had the freedom to choose one or the other. In the end, he began to choose what was easy and profitable and not what was right.
The Bible tells these stories to teach us and to caution us.
I Kings 11:4…6…9-12 — As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been… So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done… The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord’s command. So the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son.”
Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me; and
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.