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7-5-3 Solomon's Self-Justification

Solomon was so confident that he was or would be the Messiah that he seems to have felt that he was beyond the possibility of sinning; real self-examination and the sense of the possibility of failure just didn’t exist for him. He says that the land of Israel is “blessed” because her king is the son of a noble, and she will be cursed if her ruler is a servant (Ecc. 10:16,17 RVmg.). Solomon proudly presented himself as the son of King David- and he makes a clear swipe at Jeroboam, the pretender to the throne who was a servant (1 Kings 11:26). By reasoning like this, Solomon sets himself in direct opposition to the spirit of Jesus, who declared that the servant is to be the King of all. Thus Solomon’s self-justification, his self-defensiveness, his lack of focus on the future Messiah, led him to miss totally the spirit of Christ. And further, it made him into some kind of anti-Christ. The record in 1 Kings 11:31-40 brings this out clearly- God assures Solomon that he and his line will reign on the throne for ever if he is obedient. But he then straight away seeks to kill Jeroboam who was pretending to the throne- because he didn’t pay attention to the import of God’s conditional promise to him. And we too can so focus on present realities that we forget the sure promise of the Kingdom, and think that the conditional hope which we too have can only be ensured by our own politics, rather than faith and obedience. 

Solomon offered sacrifices “that could not be told nor numbered for multitude” (1 Kings 8:5). This is evidently to be connected with the language of the promises to Abraham about the multiplication of the seed of Israel. It could be that Solomon thought that his generosity in giving of his wealth was what had brought about the fulfilment of these promises- he almost forced God to fulfil them, at least in his own mind, by his generosity.  

We know that the Proverbs are inspired by God, but all the same it is possible there to see Solomon’s essential self-justification coming through- for so much of what he says and writes he surely thought of with reference to himself. His proverbs were in a sense his preaching and teaching to others- and yet as we can do so easily, he mixed this preaching with self-justification, a desire to prove himself to be right in the eyes of others. Many of us spent far too much of our preaching energy with this subconscious agenda. 

  • When he writes things like “the thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness” (Prov. 21:5), he must inevitably be connecting his own fantastic wealth / blessing with his hard work. He was justifying himself by works rather than by faith; he assumed his righteousness and acceptance with God rather than struggling through the work of faith. Yet he could say “Labour not to be rich; cease from thine own wisdom” (Prov. 23:5). He had all the right theory. Solomon was an active, industrious person by nature; and whilst all his many proverbs criticizing the lazy and glorifying the diligent are true as they stand, is there not in all this some element of self-justification, interpreting his own natural personality type as inherently righteous?

  • “Take away the wicked from before the king, and his throne shall be established in righteousness” (Prov. 25:5) was justifying the way he killed Shimei at the establishment of his kingdom.

  • “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice” (Prov. 29:2) surely refers to the way the people rejoiced at Solomon’s ascension to power (2 Chron. 9:7). 

  • When Solomon, as the current King, wrote that "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord as the watercourses: He turneth it whithersoever he will" (Prov. 21:1), it's possible to understand this as a claim that whatever he thought in his heart was in fact from God. He played God, having convinced himself that he was somehow automatically thinking on God's behalf. This is one of the dangers of mishandling the Divine truth and wisdom which is granted us to possess. Solomon goes on to comment that "every way of a man is right in his own eyes; but the Lord pondereth the hearts" (Prov. 21:2). Is he perhaps drawing a contrast between the infallibility of the King's thought, compared to the deceit of the human heart in the population? Thus Solomon came to see himself as somehow more than human. Likewise his comment that "the wrath of a king is as angels of death" (Prov. 16:14). As God sends out angels of death, as on Passover night, it's a reflection of His decision as King in the court of Heaven. But Solomon decided that his court was as God's court, and therefore his thoughts, emotions and decisions would therefore be somehow Divinely fulfilled, with Angels sent out to fulfil them. He took 'God manifestation' to such a degree that he denied his own humanity, and this destroyed his own person. We see it happening all around us- church pastors, visual artists who think somehow God is speaking through them to the point they see themselves as "Gods in their own right" [as Dali and Picasso have been described as seeing themselves], Kings and political leaders and corporate directors and office managers and working class husbands and obsessive, domineering single mums... who all somehow come to see themselves as little gods with a 'Divine right' to infallible decision making for others.

  • “The righteous considereth the cause of the poor” (Prov. 29:7) sounds like a reference to the way Solomon judged the two prostitutes.

Playing God

2 Sam. 7:14 had warned the son of David that if he sinned, he would be punished "with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men". I take this as meaning that he would be punished like ordinary men are punished- and the implication could be that Solomon would have a tendency to think that he was more than human, somehow above the possibility of failing and being punished as an ordinary man, because he might think that he was somehow 'God', or at least, that what happens to all humanity would somehow not happen to him. This tendency to assume that we are somehow different to the rest of humanity, that we can sin in a certain way but they can't, that somehow for us it will all be OK... is as alive in us as it was in Solomon.

When Solomon laments that a sinful land has many rulers, but stability comes from a wise ruler (Prov. 28:2), he is stating an inspired truth; but it is inevitable that he framed it in such terms as justified his own dictatorial rule, as if his wisdom justified him in crushing any opposition leaders. It was really Solomon's self-justification. Solomon taught that the heart of kings is unsearchable, i.e., it cannot be examined (Prov. 25:3 Heb.), being as far above the earth as heaven is. This sums up the concerns I’ve been expressing. Solomon thought that his possession of theoretical wisdom placed him in a God-like position above his people, and therefore they dare not even begin to question him or examine him; and none should therefore dare to ‘put himself forth’ in the King’s presence (Prov. 25:6). Truly, “knowledge puffs up”. And our very possession of ‘the truth’ of Christ and the word of God carries with it the same potential temptations, leading us to consider the world so far beneath us, that we can do what we wish with no accountability to anyone. And so brethren with amazing Biblical knowledge end up in court for paedophilia, etc etc.

Likewise Prov. 29:14: “The king that faithfully judgeth the poor, his throne shall be established for ever”. Solomon is clearly referring to the promises to David, which he assumed were about him. He thought that because he had judged the poor harlots wisely, therefore he would be the promised Messiah. And this was just what David his father had hoped and expected of him. David had even asked Solomon to “do wisely” i.e. to show wisdom, in order that the promises to him about Messiah would be fulfilled (1 Kings 2:3 RVmg.). So this was surely one of Solomon’s motives in giving them justice and being ‘wise’; he sought to live out his father’s expectations and to fulfil the requirements of the Messiah figure. Solomon uses language elsewhere used about Messiah’s final judgment when he says that “ A wise king winnoweth the wicked, and bringeth the threshing wheel over them” (Prov. 20:26 RV). He felt that his judgment must be that of God, therefore he had to be right, because he ‘had wisdom’, he ‘had the truth’; he assumed that because he was the king, therefore his heart would inevitably be guided by the Lord (Prov. 21:1). Prov. 20:28 also speak as if Solomon was somehow automatically the king promised to David: “Mercy and truth [a phrase elsewhere used about the promises] preserve the king: and his throne is upholden by mercy”. And again, Prov. 16:12: “The throne is established by righteousness”. This cannot be without reference to the fact that Solomon’s throne was “established”- and he assumed it was thanks to his righteousness, and his father’s good standing with God. Faith and an acceptance of God’s grace in doing this just didn’t come into it. His father’s high parental expectation of him led him to self-assurance, arrogance, an assumption he was right and could never be wrong. And one sees this in many a Christian family. This self-assurance of Solomon’s was refelected in how he brought up his children. He spoke of his law as giving life and blessing, appropriating the very terms of Deuteronomy about the blessings of obedience to God’s law. Wisdom said: “Now therefore my sons, hearken unto me: for blessed are they that keep my ways” (Prov. 8:32 RV). Yet these are the very words Solomon uses when talking to his kids: “Now therefore my sons, hearken unto me” (Prov. 5:7; 7:24). Conclusion? Solomon sees the woman “Wisdom” as a personification of himself.   It was really Solomon's self-justification. He personally was wisdom, so he thought. This is how self-exalted his possession of true wisdom made him. And of course, his kids didn’t listen to wisdom’s way. In passing, I have noted that those raised ‘in the truth’ often find it very hard to take criticism in later life. They find tolerance of others’ views hard; they perceive themselves to be right to an intolerant extent. Is this not a little bit of the Solomon syndrome? 

Solomon writes inspired truth in Proverbs of course, but it is inevitable that much of what he writes about the need to respect the man who has wisdom, and his superiority over all others, was written with an eye to his own self-justification. He even writes as if the king must be accepted as automatically infallible: “A divine sentence is in the lips of the king; his mouth transgresseth not in judgment…the fear of a king is as the roaring of a lion: whoso provoketh him to anger sinneth against his own soul” (Prov. 16:10; 20:2).   It was really Solomon's self-justification. 

Often Solomon’s Proverbs bring out the tension between wealth and wisdom, and the need to chose wisdom (Prov. 8:11; 16:16). But whilst he was inspired to write this, and true as it all was, it is inevitable that Solomon said all this with his mind on the way that he had rejected wealth for wisdom when asked by God for his wish. He thought that his right choice in early life [cp. Christian baptism] justified him in later loving wealth rather than wisdom. He taught that wisdom filled the treasuries of the wise (Prov. 8:21 RV)- just as his treasuries were filled with wealth. He says that a wise son makes a glad father(Prov. 10:1), so intent was he on living out his father’s expectations even after David’s death. Because of this he teaches that the King must always be right and be respected, whatever happens (Prov. 16:10-15). He saw himself as the Messianic King and therefore infallible. He again and again failed to realize the conditionality of all God has promised. His own words were so true of him: “There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing [quoted in Rev. 3:17 about the rejected]: there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great wealth” (Prov. 13:7). This last phrase is quoted about the Lord Jesus, who made Himself poor on the cross. And yet Solomon, who made himself rich, is the very anti-Christ.  

Thanks to his spiritual wisdom and works, his success in this life, the concept of a future kingdom meant nothing to him.   He didn't need it;  he had what he wanted spiritually and materially.  The RV says that Ps. 72 is a Psalm of Solomon- in which case we have him asking God to give him the throne, in return for which he would establish the Messianic Kingdom. His judging of the poor harlots would therefore have been in conscious fulfilment of the predictions he himself had made as to what his Messianic Kingdom would be like- as a time when the poor would be judged by him (Ps. 72:4,13). He came to articulate God’s Kingdom in terms of how he wanted his Kingdom to be. It could be truly said that there is an urgent need for us to be convicted - deeply convicted - of our desperate need for the person of Jesus, His second coming and Messianic Kingdom.   Solomon was so obsessed with himself, so inward-looking, so sure of his spiritual pedigree, so sure of the intellectual correctness of his spiritual knowledge that his need for salvation didn't enter his heart.   Because he never publicly sinned (unlike David) he lacked the awareness of his own sinfulness which would have helped him realize he was only a primary fulfilment of the Davidic promises.   Lack of  awareness of our own sinfulness is connected with a lack of true enthusiasm for the Messianic Kingdom.   Because he thought the kingdom was with him, Solomon evidently failed to discern the chronic need of his own nature, both physically and morally.   

Many passages in Solomon’s writings seem to indirectly and subtly justify himself. They may be perfectly true, reflecting the wisdom of God, and yet he was using his knowledge of God’s Truth to justify himself as being right- instead of being humbled by wisdom and the true knowledge of God. Consider: “God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom and knowledge” (Ecc. 2:26). He didn’t want to understand that God’s offer to him as a young man, and his grant to him of wisdom, was by pure grace. Solomon suggests that his mere posession of truth made him a “good” man. He said that a King “who maketh himself servant to the cultivated field” brings profit to the land (Ecc. 5:9 RVmg.)- as if he was justifying his zealous commitment to agriculture and considering the people of God to be so blessed by his presence amongst them. The mere possession of wisdom, of intellectual truth, can so easily lead us to this kind of empty self-congratulation.   It was really Solomon's self-justification.

Facing up to the problem of our own nature is one sure way to revive our longing for the Kingdom.   All around us this world is offering us a pseudo-kingdom, the kingdom of Satan, of anti-Christ (Isa. 36:16 cp. Mic. 4:1,2).  To maintain a true enthusiasm for the Kingdom is one of the greatest and most fundamental art forms of the spiritual life.   Just reflecting on the physicalities - or the likely physicalities - of the brief Millennium will not be enough to keep the flame burning down the years.  There must  be a real appreciation of our desperate moral and physical need for it, on a deeply individual level. Solomon’s Kingdom was in fact only a fake replica of the true Kingdom of God. Thus the record stresses that he built cities “with walls, gates and bars” (2 Chron. 8:5)- the very opposite of how things would be in God’s Kingdom. The whole of his kingdom was built on the backs of slave labour- firstly, of the Gentiles in the land (2 Chron. 8:8 RV), and then later of God’s own people. The Gentiles should either have been put to death, or welcomed into the brotherhood of Israel- but to put them to slave labour was only repeating a classic mistake and sin of his forefathers (Josh. 16:10 RV). There was something wrotten about all his achievements from the very beginning. Yet it was all shrouded behind a sanctimonious observance of God’s law, offering offerings strictly “as the duty of every day required” (2 Chron. 8:13 RV), practicing guilt by association in insisting that his Gentile wife “shall not dwell in the house of David…because the places are holy, whereunto the ark of the Lord hath come” (2 Chron. 8:11). All this practicing of both contamination and holiness by contact all merely veiled Solomon’s inner bankruptcy. And it is not so difficult to see the very same problems and symptoms playing out amongst God’s children in these latter days. 

Solomon's lack of zeal for the kingdom becomes increasingly apparent the more we analyse his writings and history.   " Let thy promise unto David my father be established:  for thou hast made me king over a people like the dust of the earth in multitude" (2 Chron. 1:9 = Gen. 13:16) sounds as if Solomon thought he was the ultimate (" established" ) fulfilment of the promises to both David and Abraham.   David's belief that Ps. 72 applied totally to Solomon would have encouraged him in this.   Solomon felt that the fact that he was the great Son of David and had had the promises made to him justified all his actions:  " As the Lord liveth, which hath established me, and set me on the throne of David...and who hath made me an house, as he promised, Adonijah shall be put to death" (1 Kings 2:24). 

Note how Solomon later prayed God would establish him as the prophesied Son of David (2 Chron. 1:9);  but in his heart he had already decided that this was true anyway.   Once again we see a false spiritual humility.   Solomon's building of exotic gardens with " all kind of fruit" (Ecc. 2:5) sounds as if he was attempting to reconstruct Eden;  he was so carried away with expressing his own abilities that he effectively created his own kingdom in this life.   It seems Solomon's crazy programme of building and moral experimentation (outlined in Ecc. 2) began after he had finished building the temple.   He seems to have got cynical and depressed after that;  he had his kingdom in this life;  he looked back and compared himself with others (Ecc. 1:16;  2:7,9), and thereby he became proud.   He could see that materially and spiritually (in terms of knowledge) he had far, far outstripped all God's previous servants.   It was this comparison with others (there is triple emphasis on it) which well indicates his pride.

The Death Of Conscience

Even when married to Gentile women, Solomon could charge his son to "observe my ways. For... a strange [Gentile] woman is a narrow pit" (Prov. 23:26,27). The fact he himself had fallen into the pit of marriage to unbelievers just didn't seem to occur to him; he was sure that he was in fact an upright example. This passage reflects more than many the extent to which Solomon's conscience was so deeply damaged. For he wasn't saying 'Do as I say but not as I do'. He was beyond that- doing the very wrong that he warned others not to do, and confidently presenting himself to them as a good example. It's interesting how often in Proverbs that Solomon warns about only eating a limited amount of the honey you may find (e.g. Prov. 25:16). Yet Ecclesiastes 1 and 2 show how Solomon found honey as it were, he had the opportunity to do and experience what he wanted- and he ate so much he became spiritually sick.