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7-5-8 The Mind Of Solomon

Solomon's  concentration on that which is external, material and public  led  him  to  de-emphasize  the  importance  of personal spiritual  mindedness.  Deep  in  his  soul  he became hard, his conscience  died.  Even  early on, Solomon seems to have assumed that his deep internal motivation was always correct. He thought that  he  could handle anything spiritually, even if it involved what   he  came  to  justify  as  `technical`  infringements  of commandments. We have shown how his marriage to an Egyptian girl early  in  his  life  was justified by him as an spiritual act - when actually it was just the opposite.  

Solomon's  lack of deep spiritual mindedness is shown by the way in  which  he  skirted round commandments in order to still have his  own human enjoyment. Thus he had horses brought for him out of  Egypt rather than going there himself and thereby disobeying Dt.17:16,17;  he  started off as a middleman in the horse trade, buying  horses  from  Egypt  and selling them to the Hittite and Syrian  kings  (2  Chron. 1:16,17; 1 Kings 10:25,29); but he was playing with fire, and  he  soon came to flout the spirit of the command not to buy horses  from  Egypt. It’s rather like the brother who works in a video store starting to watch the blue movies which he handles daily. Solomon  would  have  justified it initially by saying  that  the horses were not for himself; just as we saw he justified  his  Egyptian  wife  by  the thought that Joseph also married  an Egyptian girl. His lack of conscience and desire for an  outward  appearance of righteousness concerning her is shown in 2 Chron.8:11: " Solomon brought up the daughter of Pharaoh out of the city of David unto the house he had built for her: for he said  (not  thought; i.e. he publicly declared), My wife shall not  dwell  in the house of David...because the places are holy, whereunto  the  ark  of the Lord hath come. Then Solomon offered burnt  offerings unto the Lord on the altar...which he had built before  the  porch" ,  for  all  to  see.  This is typical of his concern  with an outward righteousness in the eyes of Israel; he made  out that he was deeply aware of his wife's Egyptian origin and the separation between her and the God of Israel; but in his heart,  she  made him come with her to Egypt, and turn away from Israel's  God. Ecclesiastes contains many allusions to Solomon's personal state; parts of it are definitely autobiographical. Yet in  those  passages,  he  seems to express no personal regret or desire  for  repentance.  Instead  he  is  quite content to just lament  his  own sad spiritual collapse, and rest content behind the  excuse  that nothing really matters. Consider, for example, his  reference to the tragedy of the man whose wisdom fails him, and  that  of  the  wise  man  whose  " little  folly"   ruins his reputation  (Ecc.10:1,3).  To  describe  his  apostacy as only a " little  folly" indicates the death of Solomon's conscience, and his fantastic ability to minimalize his own errors.  

In  tandem  with  this  lack  of  conscience  and real spiritual mindedness  was  an  incredible  hardness in Solomon. His wisdom initially  made him soft and sympathetic, able to empathize with the  mind of others (e.g the mother of the baby); and even before his  endowment  with  the  gift  of wisdom he had the humility to recognize  that he was but a little child (1 Kings 3:7) . But as his  apostacy  developed,  he  came  to whip his people (1 Kings 12:14),  treating  them  as  he  thought fools should be treated (Prov.26:3)-  suggesting that he came to see himself as the only wise  man,  the  only  one  truly  in  touch  with  reality, and therefore  despising everyone else. 1 Kings 5:13-16 reveals that Solomon  had  153,000  full  time  and  90,000  part  time  male servants.  Israel's  complaint  that  Solomon  had  whipped them implies  that  he  treated them like slaves, with himself as the slave-driver.  600,000  adults came out of Egypt (Ex.12:37), and assuming  the  population  only  rose  slightly over the next 550 years,  we  have  the picture of an Israel where almost half the males  (i.e. probably the majority of the working population) were pressganged into slavery to a despotic King Solomon. 

Solomon’s Heart

Solomon often emphasized the importance of keeping ones’ heart (Prov. 2:10-16; 3:5,6; 4:23-5:5; 6:23-26); he had foreseen that the essential sin of God’s people was “the plague of his own heart” (1 Kings 8:46), and he imagined how for this sin God’s people would later pray towards the temple. And yet his wives turned away his heart, for all this awareness that the heart must be kept. It was as if the more he knew the truth of something, the more he wanted to do the very opposite. And this is exactly true of our natures. This is why lung cancer specialists smoke, it’s why we ourselves can discern the same perversity in our lives. Perhaps with Solomon he reasoned that in his case, foreign wives wouldn’t turn away his heart. Just as our flesh thinks ‘Yes, but it can’t happen to me’. Perhaps too he reasoned that if the temple somehow could bring forgiveness for the plague of the heart, his heart was uncorruptible because of the temple.    

Solomon's heart was "turned away", or 'influenced' by his wives towards idols (1 Kings 11:3). Yet Solomon uses this very idea of the heart being turned or influenced in Prov. 2:2; 22:17 about the need to turn our hearts towards God's word. He taught, but did the very opposite. And perhaps Prov. 21:1 explains why he did this- he says there that Yahweh turns the heart of the King wherever He wishes- and so perhaps he thought that control of our thinking and inclinations is unnecessary, because somehow God will do it for us. And there's a lesson there for us, who may assume at times that God will somehow control our hearts for us, rather than our making a conscious effort towards mind control.

Solomon went off to other gods because his heart was not at peace [Heb.- not at shalom] with the one true God- so says 1 Kings 11:4,5. We see here the upward spiral of spirituality- knowing we are forgiven, being comfortable and at peace with God, means we will not go after the idols of this world. For there is an endless searching for peace in the human heart. If we don't accept the forgiveness and peace that can from God alone, we will seek peace in false ways. And that's just what Solomon did- for all his wisdom, he didn't personally know peace with God. Head knowledge doesn't give peace- for that is experiential.

Solomon’s Self-Knowledge

Ecclesiastes  is in many ways Solomon's self-examination; and it was accurate. He indicates that the temple had actually made him stumble,   and   that  his  numerous  sacrifices  had  been  the sacrifices  of  a fool, rather than the wise man he had appeared to  be (Ecc.5:1); and surely he was casting a sideways glance at himself when he spoke of the wise child (cp. Solomon initially, 1 Kings 3:7) being greater than the old and foolish king who would no  longer  be  admonished  (Ecc.4:13;  even  though Solomon had advisers,  1  Kings 12:6). Yet he chose to do absolutely nothing about  this; once again, his accurate spiritual knowledge had no real  practical influence upon him. “Surely oppression maketh a wise man foolish” (Ecc. 7:7 RV), he commented at the end of his life- even though right then he was chastising the people with whips, oppressing them. He knew the true wisdom, he saw his reflection so accurately in the mirror, but resigned from its personal implications. He could even write that “I returned and considered all the oppression that are done under the sun [by himself!]: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power [Solomon was king and had set up the tax system in a clever and biased way (1)]; but they had no comforter” (Ecc. 4:1; 5:8). It was a real case of spiritual schizophrenia- he sorrowed for the people he oppressed. He even seems to say that there is nothing to be surprised at in the poor being oppressed, because the whole hierarchy of officialdom above them do the same (Ecc. 5:2). He saw his sin as inevitable, as part of his participation in humanity- he didn’t own up to his own desperate need for grace. Yet he also knew that “man lords it over man [cp. Solomon’s oppression of the people] to his own hurt” (Ecc. 8:9 RSV).  

“Even the wild land when cultivated has a king” (Ecc. 5:9, Lukyn Williams’ translation) seems to be justifying the bringing of newly cultivated land under Solomon’s immediate taxation; Solomon is merely describing a state of misrule by him without drawing any conclusions (so L.G. Sargent concludes, Ecclesiastes p. 49). And yet we each have the potential for this schizophrenia within us; we are, as Paul so strikingly describes, two different people within us, fighting for mastery of the soul (Rom. 7). He wrote in Ecclesiastes4 of catastrophe overtaking the obstinate old king who will learn nothing. Revolution sweeps him away and brings to the throne a young claimant who has been kept in prison (cp. Rehoboam in Egypt). In spite of his rank the new monarch has grown up in relative poverty; and in the end, “all the living”, the people of the land, at first serve with the first king but later forget him. This was Solomon’s fear, his fantasy…so piercingly accurate in his self-understanding. " He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver" (Ecc.5:10) is yet another piece of self-realisation   which   doesn't  seem  to  have  resulted  in motivating  Solomon  to  grab  hold on his inner being and shake himself.  This  is supremely shown by Ecc.7:26, where Solomon as an  old  man says that the man who pleases God will free himself from the snare of women, but the sinner will be taken captive by her;  yet  as an old man, Solomon's heart was turned away by his wives  (1  Kings  11:4-7).  He saw himself as the sinner, rather than the man who was personally trying to please God. The way he built  idol  temples  for those women on mock temple mounts near Jerusalem  was surely a studied statement that he saw himself as a hopeless apostate (2 Kings 23:13). Like the alcoholic or drug abuser, Solomon could analyze his problem so so accurately- and yet do nothing about it. This is the utter tragedy of all spiritual failure.  

Ecclesiastes is so packed with contradictions. Solomon knew and perceived God’s truth, and yet felt it meant nothing to him personally. Thus he teaches truth in Ecclesiastes, but intersperses it with his own personal depression and sense that none of it really has any meaning for him personally. The themes of labour, vanity, sleep and children which are found in Ecclesiastes all occur in Psalm 127, a Psalm of or for Solomon- where the message is clearly given that unless the Lord builds the temple, all this labour is in vain. And yet knowing this Solomon did labour for it so hard, and then came to the conclusion that it was indeed in vain. If only he had believed the words he earlier composed and sung in Ps. 127, he needn’t have had to come to that sad conclusion.  He exhorted to live joyfully with “the wife” (singular) of youth (Ecc. 9:9), knowing full well that he in his old age was a polygamist whose many wives had led him astray. He seems to have contented himself with establishing himself as “the preacher” and his final appeal in Ecc. 12 is to youth- like so many, his view was that it was not for him personally, but the youngsters would benefit more from it. There are several passages in Ecclesiastes where Solomon is evidently half glancing at himself. He sees the error of his ways, as Achan could coolly recount his sin, but to personally do something about it is far, far from him:

- “He that loveth silver (as Solomon did, Ecc. 2:8; 1 Kings 10:21-29) shall not be satisfied with silver (as he wasn’t- see Ecc. 2); nor he that loveth abundance (s.w. used about the abundance of Solomon’s wives, 2 Chron. 11:23) with increase. When goods increase, they are increased that eat them (cp. the large numbers at his table, 1 Kings 4:27)” (Ecc. 5:10,11). The Hebrew word translated “not be satisfied” occurs around 25 times in the Proverbs, with Solomon warning of how the way of the flesh couldn’t satisfy. Solomon said all this with an eye on himself. He preached it to others, he felt deeply the truth of it, but he saw no personal way out of it. All he had was the accurate knowledge of his situation, but no real motivation to change- like the alcoholic or drug abuser who knows every aspect of the harm of his habit.

- Solomon knew and warned that a little folly can destroy the man who is in reputation for wisdom and honour (Ecc. 10:1). Solomon had “honour” [s.w.] to an unprecedented extent (1 Kings 3:13). But in the same book he admits that he, the man famed world-wide for wisdom, gave himself to folly (Ecc. 2:3). He knew so well the error and folly of his ways, but he could only preach the lesson but not heed it. He “saw that wisdom exceedeth folly” (2:13)- but so what...

- “Better is a poor and a wise child, than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished” (4:13) is exactly Solomon at the time of Ecclesiastes.

- He knew that a little folly outweighs all the wisdom a man may have (Ecc. 10:1), and yet he gave himself to folly, whilst holding on to wisdom (1:17). A true fool is one whose wisdom fails him in practice (“when he walketh by the way”, 10:3); and especially is this acute when this “error…proceedeth from the ruler” (10:5). It’s all about Solomon himself.

- Eccl. 12:1 asks the young to turn to God as in old age one has no pleasure in life and, by implication, no possibility of remembering their creator. This, presumably, was how Solomon felt about himself. And there are many elderly people who will reject the preaching of the Gospel with this kind of comment. The description of old age in Ecc. 12 seems to be alluding to how Solomon initially had a large and thriving household, with him enjoying the pleasures of women and singing maidens (“the daughters of music”), but now he realizes he doesn’t have the faculties to enjoy it any more- all has gone quiet in the once bustling palace.

- He speaks of how laughter, mirth and songs are not the pursuit of the wise- and yet these are the very things he gave himself to, whilst at the same time possessing theoretical wisdom (Ecc. 7:3-5).

- He laments how when wealth is increased, “they are increased that eat them” (Ecc. 5:11)- and yet he prided himself on how many people sat at his table eating his food, how many courtiers he had…

- “And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her” (Ecc. 7:26) is a clear reference back to Solomon’s own entanglement. In his younger days, he had found “the hair of thine head like the purple of a king [i.e. he imagined her to be suited to him, the King of Israel, when she wasn’t]; the king is held captive in the tresses thereof” (Song 7:5 RV).

- He praises his mother for teaching him not to give his strength, “nor to them [women] who destroy kings” (Prov. 31:3 RVmg.), and yet he must surely have perceived that this was just what he had done.

- Eccl. 4:8 “There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. " For whom am I toiling," he asked, " and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?" This too is meaningless-- a miserable business!” (NIV) may also be looking to Solomon, in the existential loneliness of the man who had done it all, who effectively had neither son nor brother in that his son turned away from the faith. 

Yet Solomon was so sure of his own rightness that he just couldn't conceive that in reality he might sin or break the principles he preached. He warns his son to "observe my ways. For... a gentile woman is a narrow pit" (Prov. 23:26,27). He held himself up in this matter as an example to his son even at the very time when he had married Gentile women! He describes in Ecclesiastes how he indulged every possible desire, and took each of his lusts to its ultimate term. Yet he warned his son to only eat honey in moderation, i.e. don't gorge your natural desires (Prov. 25:16). This sense of the impossibility of spiritual failure is stamped all over Solomon; and it has been the downfall of so many others too.

More than anything, Solomon was incurably selfish. Having spent his life writing and teaching wisdom, he makes one of his autobiographical comments: “There is a man whose labour is in wisdom…yet to man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil” (Ecc. 2:21). Solomon saw “wisdom” as something he had worked for [forgetting it was God’s gracious gift to him], and he treated it as a material possession. Because he saw that he couldn’t take it with him, he felt therefore it was useless- he didn’t, it seems, want to leave it to his son because he felt it was only for him. This was the spirit of the man who buried his talent of Divine Truth in the ground and thought that would be enough- he wouldn’t risk it with others or share it with them. And so Solomon ended up hating all his labour for wisdom (Ecc. 2:18, 21) because at the end of his life that mere knowledge and teaching of it to others hadn’t transformed or immortalized his personal life. The rejected at the day of judgment may well, tragically, feel the same. But now is the time to personally apply God’s Truth to ourselves, to be humbled by the very possession of it. The Queen of Sheba remarked how happy were Solomon’s servants, because of the application of his wisdom to them (1 Kings 10:8,9). And yet by the end of his reign, Solomon was as it were whipping his servants. He himself possessed wisdom, he taught it in the cold theory of Ecclesiastes, but there was no longer the essential concern for people which that wisdom required in its practical outworking. The wisdom was intended for the guidance and leadership of Israel into the Kingdom life- the wisdom given was “even as the sand that is on the sea shore” (1 Kings 4:29), i.e. for the people of Abraham’s seed. Likewise all true wisdom is to be used- not to be kept and repeated in passionless theory as we have in Ecclesiastes.  

In the same way as Solomon criticized flirting with Gentile girls but then went and did this himself, so he said many other things in his wisdom which actually condemned himself. Thus “the prince that lacketh understanding is also a great oppressor” (Prov. 28:16). Yet Solomon did oppress the people- despite possessing wisdom. He insists that throughout his life, his wisdom had remained with him (Ecc. 2:9 RVmg.). So what does this indicate? Surely that the wisdom which he had did not affect his life practically, and thus it was as if he lacked wisdom completely. Mere possession of truth leads to great temptations- for like Solomon, we can reason that this alone justifies us in any behaviour. And again, consider Prov. 29:4 RVmg: “The king by judgment establisheth the land [another self-conscious justification of himself in his early reign]: but he that imposeth tribute overthroweth it”. And this was exactly what Solomon did, in imposing unbearable tribute upon his people. He so clearly sees what is wrong- and then goes and does it. This is one of the features of our nature. It’s why lung cancer specialists smoke cigarettes- and we all have this same tendency. The more we know what is wrong, the more we are inclined to do it.




The whole of Proverbs


Don't abuse alcohol

“Look not thou upon the wine when it is red…when it goeth down smoothly” (Prov. 23:31 RV)

Ecc. 2:3- he gave himself to wine to see if there was any wisdom revealed under the influence of alcohol. If he had believed God’s word and been satisfied with it, this experiment would have been unnecessary.

“…the roof of thy mouth like the best wine, that goeth down smoothly for my beloved” (Song 7:9 RV)- how did Solomon know unless even at a relatively young age, he knew about the sensation of wine from personal experience?

Don't love " pleasure" (Prov. 21:17)

Prov. 14:13 even in mirth there is sorrow

S.w. " mirth" Ecc. 2:1,2;8:15. Solomon had to re-learn this for himself rather than  accept direct Divine teaching about it .

He recognized that fools love mirth (7:4) but still he  wanted it. He rejected this wisdom and only came to agree with it  through doing just what Prov.14:13 condemns  (Ecc. 2:2). Another example  of this is in Prov. 5:4; 22:14 cp. Ecc. 7:26.

Prov. 23:3 don't desire huge meals

1 Kings 4:22,23

Prov. 23:4 Don't labour to be rich


Prov. 23:22 listen to your parents , especially your mother when she is old

He disregarded Bathsheba's warning not to drink and marry Gentiles - he did just this when she was old

“Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of mirth is heaviness” (Prov. 14:13 RV)

But in Ecclesiastes, Solomon gave his heart to mirth, to see if there was wisdom to be found through this. He ended up re-learning the truth that he had earlier presented as prepositional truth.

Prov. 3:13-16 wisdom is better than gold and silver etc (cp 16:16; 20:15)

1 Kings 10:21-29

Prov. 15:22 take advice from others

Ecc. 4:13 wouldn’t be admonished

Prov. 5:10 beware in case your hard work goes to a Gentile and their houses

Ecc. 2:18,19- this happened to Solomon through his Gentile marriages

Prov. 5:17-19 don't be ravished with the breasts of a Gentile and don't have many wives; be content with your first wife

But Solomon was (Song 4:9; 7:3), and he had many wives

Prov. 4:23 Keep thy heart

His wives turned away his heart (1 Kings 11:4)

Prov. 5:8 don't go near the house of the Gentile woman

 Solomon had Gentile wives and built them houses (1 Kings 11:7,8)

Prov. 6:7 the self-motivated example of the ant should inspire our service- they need no “guide, overseer or ruler”

But these are the very words used about Solomon’s elaborate hierarchy of foremen and slave drivers whom he used to ‘get the job done’ in his kingdom.

Prov. 13:15 “Good understanding giveth favour”; and often in Proverbs, Solomon teaches that material blessings come as a result of using wisdom.

Ecc. 9:11 shows his rejection of Prov. 13:15: “The race is not to the swift…neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all”. He concluded life was just a random sequence of events.

Prov. 7:23 the Gentile woman is a snare leading to death

Ecc. 9:12 shows Solomon claiming that death is a  snare brought about by time and chance; he minimalized the sin of marriage out of  the faith

Prov. 19:10 “Delight is not seemly for a fool; much less for a servant to have rule over princes”

Ecc. 10:7 indicates Solomon didn't think Prov. 19:10 was  true in practice: “I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth”. He thought that in reality, servants do rule over princes.

Nothing Unfulfilled

Solomon’s proverbs about not eating too much honey (Prov. 25:16) clearly mean that we shouldn’t over indulge legitimate human pleasures. But his approach in Ecclesiastes was the studied opposite of this. He openly says that he indulged himself in every human pleasure to the extreme, until it meant nothing. And yet he had warned against doing this very thing. Having  stated  that  he  sees no particular advantage of Divine wisdom, Solomon goes on to allude to his own wandering of desire (Ecc. 6:9);  he  had  been given all a man could wish, his desire knew  no  bounds,  and  yet  it  wandered.  This  is yet another powerful challenge from Solomon; his every desire was satisfied, but  still  he  felt that his desires were unfulfilled (Ecc. 1:8; 6:7).  So  much  of  our  mental  and  physical energy goes into gratification  of  desire, even though it is heavily camouflaged beneath  social  respectability  and  achieving the norms of our community. Yet if we believe the lesson of Solomon, the only man who  actually  had every desire gratified, then we will shun all this-  and  fix  our  hope  and every striving on Christ and his Kingdom alone.  


(1) Ben Brinkerhoff makes the following analysis of Solomon’s clever, oppressive taxation system: 

Solomon had begun a program of threatening traditional tribal organization, and of taxing the north for Judah's benefit. The program was known as Solomon's districting system.

Israel EXCLUSIVE OF JUDAH was divided into twelve administrative districts

1. Mount Ephraim

2. Makaz

3. Arubboth

4. Naphath-dor

5. Taanach and Megiddo

6. Ramoth-gilead

7. Mahanaim

8. Naphtali

9. Asher and Zebulun

10. Issachar

11. Benjamin

12. The land of Gad (1 Kings 4: 7-19)

Each district had to provide food for the court for one month out of year and was headed by a local governor. Solomon distributed his districts geographically to make each independent agriculturally and economically from those surrounding it.

These districts in many ways cut into the traditional tribal territorial allotments. Section 2 contains a combination of Danite and Ephraimite claims. 3 and 11 share parts of Manasseh and Ephraim. These allotments would destroy notions of tribal solidarity and expansionist dreams. Only the tribes of Benjamin, Issachar, and Naphtali were left in tact.

This situation was made worse when it is considered who the local governors were and from where they had their origins.

District 9, Baana ben Hushai: He was almost certainly the son David's advisor Hushai (2 Sam. 15:32-37)

District 8, Ahimaaz: He married one of Solomon's daughters (1 Kings 4:15) and maybe connected with the priest Zadok, mentioned in connection with the Absalom revolt (2 Sam. 15:36)

District 5, Baaba ben Ahilud: Perhaps the brother of David and Solomon's court reporter, Jehoshophat ben Ahilud (1 Kings 4:3).

District 7, Abinadab ben Iddo: He is likely to have been the son of Iddo ben Zechariah, who ruled Gileadite Manasseh during David's term (1 Chron. 27:21) Presumably the son of a prince would have been brought up with the kings son in Jerusalem

District 4, Ben Abinadab: He may not have been related to Abinadab in whose house the ark was deposited before it's transfer to David. But at any rate he was married to one of Solomon's daughters (I Kings 4:11)

In the remaining cases there is probably to little evidence to pass judgement. But all the district governors would have been subject to the royal court.

Solomon got much benefit from this system, which makes sense, it's his system. For one, the agents did not hail from the tribes they were ruling and had no tribal sympathy which might put them at odds to the thrown when sacrificing local needs for Solomon's national policy. They, instead of tribal agents, would also be the ones to collect tax money from trade routes like the Kings highway going through sections 2 and 3. They would also have control over military conscription which was vital in establishing the power of a king to rule and establish a dynasty. Solomon in this system attempts to take away power from tribal leaders and give it to his own governors which would be under his control. This would allow him to centralize authority in a country with a tradition of tribal authority and lack of centralization.

At Solomon's death the north was not willing to support what they must of saw as bondage to a king who cared not for their interests, but only his own and those of his tribe.