8. Solomon's Decline (11:1–43)
One final assessment of Solomon now appears. Unlike the earlier ones, this account lays bare the faults and frailties of this brilliant man. These failings affect the king himself, of course, but they affect the nation more. So far the people have certainly worked hard and have enjoyed the material success their leader's wisdom brings them. They seem to have remained faithful to the Lord, at least in part because of the presence of the temple. Like their king, Israel is riding a crest of power and influence previously unknown. To be sure, hints of problems appear in the text, yet such potential difficulties appear to be annoyances, not threats.
Unfortunately, the plot takes a tragic turn. Solomon and Israel have risen to great heights only to fall into idolatry, division, decay, and, ultimately, exile. The four episodes in 1 Kings 11 begin this sorry decline. Each stage of Israel's deterioration is made all the more regrettable because of its avoidability. Covenant faithfulness would have allowed the covenant people blessing and safety, but their disobedience leaves a just God no alternative except to punish. Solomon's sin may have begun small. It may have developed in stages over time. However it started, however it was fueled, it began a national disintegration that was at times slowed but never completely halted.
(1) Solomon's Idolatry (11:1–13)
1King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh's daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. 2They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. 3He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. 4As 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. 5He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. 6So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.
7On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. 8He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods.
9The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. 10Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord’s command. 11So 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. 12Nevertheless, 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. 13Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”
11:1–3 After the glowing report in 10:14–29, these verses are the literary equivalent of a blow to the face. Despite all his obvious strengths, the king has a very evident weakness for women, especially foreign women. Besides Pharaoh's daughter, he loves Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women. Altogether he accumulates “seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines.” Like the marriage to the Egyptian princess, most of these unions probably were politically motivated. Such linking of nations was intended to foster peaceful relations between normally combative countries. In a straightforward secular kingdom this practice would be good politics.
There are several problems, however, with what Solomon has done. First, he has disobeyed Moses’ law for marriage, which constitutes a breach of the agreement Solomon makes with God in 1 Kgs 3:1–14; 6:11–13; and 9:1–9. Moses says in Deut 7:3–4 and Exod 34:15–16 that Israelites must not intermarry with noncovenant nations. Why? Because God says “they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods” (Deut 7:4). Judgment will then result. Second, Solomon has broken Moses’ commands for kings (cf. Deut 17:14–20). Moses explicitly says, “He must not take many wives or his heart will be led astray” (Deut 17:17). Indeed, all of Moses’ dire predictions come true in Solomon's case. His wives do lure him into idolatry. Solomon, however, is responsible for his own actions. He knows better but does not act on this knowledge.
Third, Solomon has evidently fallen into the emotional trap of wanting to be like pagan kings. Moses counsels kings to remain as close to the people as possible (Deut 17:14–20). Kings who become too wealthy desire possessions and women more than they desire to serve God and the people, Moses warns (Deut 17:14–20). Solomon has clearly forgotten this admonition. He has competed with other kings and queens in wisdom and splendor and has won (cf. 1 Kgs 4:29–34; 10:1–13, 23–25). These victories are gifts from God (1 Kgs 3:10–15). Competing in wives is outside of God's will and promise to bless, though, so the process can have no positive result.
11:4–8 What occurs in this passage must have sickened the author of 1, 2 Kings and any original readers committed to the Lord. In Solomon's old age his wives influence his devotion to God, and he worships “other gods.” How did this outrage occur? “His heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been.” In other words, his heart was no longer wholly God's. The Lord had ceased to be the major factor in his life. Once this shift occurred, the next steps into idolatry became more natural and easier to accept.
Other than their link to his wives, Solomon's choice of gods makes no sense. In the ancient world polytheists tended to worship the gods of nations who had conquered their armies or at least the gods of countries more powerful than their own. Ironically, Solomon worships the gods of people he has conquered and already controls. What could he possibly gain from such activity? The whole episode makes no sense, just as idolatry itself makes no sense.
Who were these gods Solomon worshiped? The fertility goddess Ashtoreth had been a stumbling block to the Israelites since they arrived in Canaan (Judg 2:13). Perhaps it is fitting for Solomon to worship a sex goddess. Molech was an astral deity (Zeph 1:5) to whom human sacrifices were offered (Lev 20:2–5; 2 Kgs 23:10; Lev 18:21; Jer 32:35). Chemosh, like Molech, probably was also an astral god. Besides these deities, Solomon probably worshiped other gods as well (1 Kgs 11:8). Thus, the miraculously blessed heir of David, leader of the covenant people, has broken the most fundamental command of all: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod 20:3).
11:9–13 Of all the sins recorded in Scripture, God takes idolatry the most seriously, for no other sin has the capability of wrecking the entire covenant by itself. When this sin is committed, God acts swiftly, justly, and redemptively, as Israel discovers in Exodus 32–34; Numbers 20; and the entire Book of Judges. It is natural, then, to read that God “became angry with Solomon.” The Lord has revealed himself to Solomon, blessed him, and honored him. In return Solomon has turned his back on the Lord.
Therefore, God speaks to Solomon again. Unlike 1 Kgs 3:1–15; 6:11–13; and 9:1–19, however, the Lord now censures Solomon. God says, “Since this is your attitude … I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates.” This declaration reminds readers of 1 Sam 13:13–14, where Saul's sin leads Samuel to tell Saul his kingdom will not endure, for “the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command” (13:14). Whereas David ascended to power because of Saul's power, now David's son has sinned in a way that causes God to limit the kingdom of David's descendants.
Only one thing keeps Solomon on the throne at all, and that is the promise the Lord made to David in 2 Sam 7:1–17. For David's sake the Lord allows Solomon to remain in power. Further, for David's sake his descendants will continue to rule a fragment of the covenant nation. Despite these concessions to David's memory, however, the punishment is clear, irrevocable, and stunning. Solomon's sin will soon cause the nation to crash from the heights it has achieved. His idolatry will lead to idolatry among the people. Israel has begun the long road to exile, though they do not know yet that their actions entail such consequences.
(2) Rebellions Against Solomon (11:14–25)
14Then the Lord raised up against Solomon an adversary, Hadad the Edomite, from the royal line of Edom. 15Earlier when David was fighting with Edom, Joab the commander of the army, who had gone up to bury the dead, had struck down all the men in Edom. 16Joab and all the Israelites stayed there for six months, until they had destroyed all the men in Edom. 17But Hadad, still only a boy, fled to Egypt with some Edomite officials who had served his father. 18They set out from Midian and went to Paran. Then taking men from Paran with them, they went to Egypt, to Pharaoh king of Egypt, who gave Hadad a house and land and provided him with food.
19Pharaoh was so pleased with Hadad that he gave him a sister of his own wife, Queen Tahpenes, in marriage. 20The sister of Tahpenes bore him a son named Genubath, whom Tahpenes brought up in the royal palace. There Genubath lived with Pharaoh's own children.
21While he was in Egypt, Hadad heard that David rested with his fathers and that Joab the commander of the army was also dead. Then Hadad said to Pharaoh, “Let me go, that I may return to my own country.”
22“What have you lacked here that you want to go back to your own country?” Pharaoh asked.
“Nothing,” Hadad replied, “but do let me go!”
23And God raised up against Solomon another adversary, Rezon son of Eliada, who had fled from his master, Hadadezer king of Zobah. 24He gathered men around him and became the leader of a band of rebels when David destroyed the forces [of Zobah]; the rebels went to Damascus, where they settled and took control. 25Rezon was Israel's adversary as long as Solomon lived, adding to the trouble caused by Hadad. So Rezon ruled in Aram and was hostile toward Israel.
11:14–22 Just because the Lord leaves Solomon on the throne does not mean Solomon encounters no consequences of his sin. God raises up an adversary, an Edomite named Hadad, to oppose Solomon. Hadad was the only surviving member of Edom's royal family after David's crushing victory over that nation (cf. 2 Sam 8:13–14; 1 Chr 18:11–13). Having fled to Egypt, it is understandable for him to grow up hating Israel. Apparently the Pharaoh had no problem nurturing Hadad while maintaining favorable relations with Solomon at the same time. Eventually Hadad returns home to harass Solomon, who could no longer expect total cooperation from this vassal state.
11:23–25 God also raises up a second adversary. This individual, Rezon, began his career, like David, as a leader of a band of rebels. Later he took control of Damascus, from which he caused Solomon much trouble. David had defeated Syria earlier (cf. 2 Sam 8:3–9), so Rezon's hatred of Israel was similar to Hadad's. Together they posed an ongoing threat to Israel's interests in Solomon's latter years. As Patterson and Austel note, Rezon “was Solomon's troublemaker in the north while Hadad caused problems in the south (v. 25).”
(3) Ahijah Prophesies Division (11:26–40)
26Also, Jeroboam son of Nebat rebelled against the king. He was one of Solomon's officials, an Ephraimite from Zeredah, and his mother was a widow named Zeruah.
27Here is the account of how he rebelled against the king: Solomon had built the supporting terraces and had filled in the gap in the wall of the city of David his father. 28Now Jeroboam was a man of standing, and when Solomon saw how well the young man did his work, he put him in charge of the whole labor force of the house of Joseph.
29About that time Jeroboam was going out of Jerusalem, and Ahijah the prophet of Shiloh met him on the way, wearing a new cloak. The two of them were alone out in the country, 30and Ahijah took hold of the new cloak he was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces. 31Then he said to Jeroboam, “Take ten pieces for yourself, for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘See, I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon's hand and give you ten tribes. 32But for the sake of my servant David and the city of Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, he will have one tribe. 33I will do this because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Molech the god of the Ammonites, and have not walked in my ways, nor done what is right in my eyes, nor kept my statutes and laws as David, Solomon's father, did.
34“ ‘But I will not take the whole kingdom out of Solomon's hand; I have made him ruler all the days of his life for the sake of David my servant, whom I chose and who observed my commands and statutes. 35I will take the kingdom from his son's hands and give you ten tribes. 36I will give one tribe to his son so that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I chose to put my Name. 37However, as for you, I will take you, and you will rule over all that your heart desires; you will be king over Israel. 38If you do whatever I command you and walk in my ways and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you. 39 I will humble David's descendants because of this, but not forever.’ ”
40Solomon tried to kill Jeroboam, but Jeroboam fled to Egypt, to Shishak the king, and stayed there until Solomon's death.
11:26 A third adversary is introduced. This man, named Jeroboam, comes from Israel itself. In fact, this opponent emerges from Solomon's own court, for Jeroboam is “one of Solomon's officials.” Two other items are mentioned. First, he is from the tribe of Ephraim, a northern clan. Thus, he can possibly muster a power base that will rival Solomon's southern-based coalition. He would be less of a threat if he were from Solomon's own region. Second, he is a widow's son. The Greek translation turns his mother into a harlot, a move clearly aimed at defaming Jeroboam at his mother's expense. Evidence is insufficient to accept this alteration. The Greek translators appear to lessen Solomon's and his family's roles in Israel's downfall. Jeroboam's identity, however, is not as significant as how he rises to prominence.
11:27–33 Verse 27 announces that what follows details how Jeroboam rebelled against Solomon, then eventually gained power. At some unstated period of time after “Solomon had built the supporting terraces” and repaired Jerusalem's walls (Cf. 1 Kgs 9:24), Jeroboam impresses the king. Jeroboam is “a man of standing,” which perhaps means that he has received an inheritance from his deceased father. He is still a “young man,” so the king's decision to “put him in charge of the whole labor force of the house of Joseph” demonstrates just “how well” he does his work. His ties with “the house of Joseph,” the northern tribes, will become significant when the rebellion actually occurs. Ironically, Solomon chooses, promotes, and gives a power base to the man who will end the Davidic dynasty's rule over Northern Israel.
Now God acts decisively to inform Jeroboam that he will one day have his own kingdom. Ahijah the prophet takes a new cloak and meets Jeroboam outside Jerusalem. At this apparently unplanned meeting, Ahijah tears the cloak into twelve pieces, gives Jeroboam ten pieces, and explains that Israel will be divided. David's descendants from the tribe of Judah will have one other tribe (Benjamin) to rule. Jeroboam will govern the remaining ten tribes. Israel will remain in the promised land but in a divided, weakened condition.
Ahijah explains two extremely important theological ideas that impact Israel's future. These ideas come as direct words from the Lord. First, he says that it is only because of God's faithfulness to David and choice of Jerusalem that Judah will continue as a kingdom. Second, the prophet asserts that the division will occur as a judgment of Solomon and the people's idolatry. Clearly, sin impacts a country's so-called secular existence. Despite Solomon's unfaithfulness, however, the Lord will remain faithful. Promises made to David in 2 Samuel 7 will be kept, as will the pledges made to Solomon in 1 Kings 3; 6; and 9. The reader senses at this point that ongoing national sin will lead to still greater punishment, such as exile and the other consequences described in Deuteronomy 27–28 and Leviticus 26.
11:34–40 Ahijah continues God's message to Jeroboam by commenting further on Jerusalem's importance in Judah's survival. Not only has God chosen David, the Lord has chosen Jerusalem. His purpose there was to glorify his name through unified and committed worship at the temple (cf. 1 Kgs 9:1–9) and through the witness of a people wholly committed to a personal, relational, just, covenant God.
As for Jeroboam, God promises him a kingdom and, startlingly, “a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David.” To receive these blessings,
however, Jeroboam must act like David. He must obey God, keep the commandments, and walk in God's ways. Only then will he be blessed as David has been blessed. Implicit in these promises is the notion that any idolatry will bring this covenant to a halt. Jeroboam must emulate David, not Solomon. Ahijah concludes the message by stating that all these things happen to “humble David's descendants,” not to eliminate the promise of an eternal kingdom. The messianic promise remains in effect, for the punishment will not last “forever.”
The episode ends with Jeroboam fleeing to Egypt to avoid Solomon's desire to kill him. He finds refuge in Shishak's court, a fact that alerts readers to changes in Egypt's leadership. Shishak is not as friendly to Solomon as Siamun was in the past. Perhaps the new Pharaoh resents paying Solomon's tolls, or perhaps he attempts to build a new power base that will serve his own interests. Either way the Davidic lineage is in trouble. Jeroboam has a constituency in Israel, a significant foreign ally, and God's promise to place him in power. Without question, then, he will soon be the major force in Israelite politics.
Ahijah's prominence in this story begins the prophets’ role as major players in the history of Israel. Of course, earlier prophets impact Israel's story, such as Samuel and Nathan, but the prophetic movement now becomes even more significant. In the rest of 1, 2 Kings the prophets act as God's spokespersons, as anointers of new kings, as miracle workers, and as Israel's overall covenant conscience. Scholars disagree about how, when, and why the prophetic movement emerged in Israel. Still, much work has been done that illuminates these unusual servants of God. More specifically, how the prophets received their messages, what the prophets taught, the forms their messages took, the prophets’ place in society, the prophets’ historical set
ting, and the prophets’ literary artistry have all been treated thoroughly over the past several decades. These analyses testify to the depth and diversity inherent in the prophetic tradition. Without these individuals it is difficult to conceive of an Israelite religion.
(4) Solomon's Death (11:41–43)
41As for the other events of Solomon's reign—all he did and the wisdom he displayed—are they not written in the book of the annals of Solomon? 42Solomon reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel forty years. 43Then he rested with his fathers and was buried in the city of David his father. And Rehoboam his son succeeded him as king.
11:41–43 The author uses what will become a familiar formula to mark Solomon's passing. First, the author mentions the source for the information found in chaps. 1–11. No one knows the exact contents of “the book of the annals of Solomon,” but this “book” probably contained both narrative and chronological materials. Second, the length of Solomon's reign (forty years) is duly noted. Solomon rules for the same number of years as his father (cf. 1 Kgs 2:11), which at least implies that the Lord has kept his promise to David to place his son on the throne and his promise of long life to Solomon (cf. 1 Kgs 3:14). Third, Solomon's death and the name of his successor are mentioned. Rehoboam will become king, but he does not know what the reader knows: Solomon's son will govern a greatly reduced kingdom. Israel's glory days are over.
With Solomon's death one of the book's major characters leaves the story. Only Elijah, Elisha, and, perhaps, Hezekiah and Josiah approach Solomon's prominence in the overall scheme of 1, 2 Kings. What kind of man was Solomon? How does the author characterize him? Certainly Solomon has some positive traits. Chief among these good qualities is his wisdom. He has the ability to gather knowledge on a wide range of topics, organize the information gathered, write his conclusions, live by his conclusions, and finally teach others what he has learned (cf. 1 Kgs 4:29–34; 10:1–13). Most importantly, at his best Solomon is able to do all these things in spiritual matters. Early in his career Solomon applies his knowledge of Scriptures and his experiences with God in a way that helps him obey God. He keeps the Lord's commands, judges justly, and builds the temple. Thus, wisdom means the ability to obey God's truth, and Solomon is quite able to be wise.
Three other positive characteristics demonstrate Solomon's wisdom in so-called secular realms. First, he is an organizational genius. He is able to order, tax, and govern a fairly extensive political and financial empire. Solomon's cognitive abilities make this success possible. Second, he implements an effective foreign policy, which demonstrates his adaptability and willingness to compromise and improvise. Third, Solomon is humble enough to ask for God's help and thoughtful enough to pray for Israel, both in his time and in the future, and for other nations as well. Despite his failings in later years these good traits should not be forgotten.
Sadly, no character sketch of Solomon is complete without an analysis of his flaws. He is capable of expressing his ambition to be a great king through the acquiring of vast wealth and numerous wives. Eventually these twin desires for prestige and sensuality lead to his nation's downfall. Solomon is not beyond using oppressive measures to get what he wants, as the institution of forced labor indicates, nor is he beyond cheating a friend, as his giving of worthless towns to Hiram proves. Worst of all, Solomon condones and even practices idolatry. Thus, he is capable of irrational thinking, ingratitude, and covenant infidelity. At his worst, then, this wise leader of Israel acts no better than the most foolish of his subjects. He thereby serves as a warning to those who take their God-given gifts for granted or, worse, come to believe they have achieved greatness on their own.
—New American Commentary