Today’s reading: 1 Kings 10-11.
Spring is in full bud here in piedmont North Carolina, and it always reminds me of Robert Frost’s Nothing Gold Can Stay.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Spring’s golden hues are quick to disappear, and so was Israel’s golden age under Solomon. The brief pinnacle of Israel’s success was punctuated and underlined by a visit from the queen of Sheba.
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 men must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! Praise be to the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the LORD’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king, to maintain justice and righteousness.” I Kings 10:4-9
At this high water mark of Israel’s history, Solomon and his people were fulfilling God’s plan that they be a light to the Gentiles. Solomon’s wisdom and the prosperity and order of his kingdom were an amazing witness to the queen. The wording of the text indicates she was so moved that she may have fainted. But more notable than her emotional condition was her recognition that the LORD was the force behind Israel’s success.
Unfortunately, for Solomon as for his father, David, success was soon followed by sin. The nature of his sin was idolatry: he began to worship the false gods of the nations around Israel. The cause of his sin was his unbridled affection for hundreds of foreign women, his wives and concubines, who turned his heart to the idols. The wise king became a fool, ignoring his own precepts. The Bible records a laundry list of excesses that show how wrong things were with Solomon:
- He had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, most of them from peoples that Israelites were forbidden to marry because of their idolatry.
- He built shrines on the high points of Israel where these false gods could be worshipped.
- He made 500 shields of gold for his palace, an ivory throne overlaid with gold, and all the eating utensils he used were gold “because silver was considered of little value.”
- He had 1400 chariots and thousands of horses, many from Egypt, though both the accumulation of horses and trading with Egypt had been forbidden by the Law.
Solomon had been given much. Israel was at peace, its borders were large, its wealth was great, and the LORD was enthroned in the temple. Yet the king threw all this away. He proved the truth of his own proverb. “Keep your heart with all vigilance; for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Solomon’s unguarded heart left the door open for sin to enter his life, and his personal sin tore the nation apart. Within a few years of his death, the ten northern tribes separated from Judah and Benjamin and that was the end of the unified kingdom. More than that, it was the end of an amazing witness that shined the light of God’s glory on the unbelieving Gentiles.
Image: Lorenzo Ghiberti, “The Gates of Paradise”