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 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.
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.
- 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
- “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.
SOLOMON: THEORY V. PRACTICE
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. 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
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
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
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.
Brinkerhoff makes the following analysis of Solomon’s clever, oppressive
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
1. Mount Ephraim
5. Taanach and Megiddo
9. Asher and Zebulun
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
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.