It’s been a long time; I had my final break from school before graduation.
But, it is time to finish up Solomon. 2 Kings 10 and 11 are crucial in understanding Solomon’s life in a way that is helpful for you. Up to this point we have seen only Solomon’s greatness – wisdom, justice, service, and achievement. Solomon was a good king and had a very successful reign to this point.
Solomon’s success would not endure forever. Chapter 10 verses 14-29 describes the wealth Solomon had achieved. The details are fabulous. Solomon had everything from golden goblets to exotic pets. And I think that it is no coincidence that this long recollection of Solomon’s wealth precedes a chapter that describes Solomon’s turn from the Lord and the Lord’s statutes. Wealth corrupts. I do not want to spend too much time on this, because I want to write more on this in a later post. But let me refer you to Matthew 19:16-30 and challenge you to ponder the value of wealth.
After gaining such wealth Solomon’s lifestyle began to change, and he began a moral downward slide. Solomon’s fall I think can be categorized into two main failures that are not mutually exclusive in his case:
1) Lack of Self-Control
Solomon began to serve other things than God, and he began to neglect God’s moral code. He had many wives and many concubines. Sexual promiscuity is not ‘right’ according to God’s law. And specifically here, Solomon is in relationships with women that follow different moral codes, and God had warned his people that this was not good for it would surely lead to turning away from God. And this is exactly what happened to Solomon.
His lack of self-control lead to sexual promiscuity. His promiscuity lead to idolatry. Solomon built temples and shrines in Israel for all of the gods of his wives. Solomon was living in direct contradiction of God’s Ten Commandments to his people by making idols to worship.
And God said to Solomon: ”Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statures that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant.”
For God, morality is not a minor issue – it is of utmost importance. Solomon followed God’s morality and was blessed. Solomon disobeyed and was cursed (read in 1 Kings to see how).
The best thing about God’s designed way of life for his creatures – us – is that he had our joy in mind when he wrote the rules. God does not look down and say “Look how much they have to give up to follow my commandments!” He says “Please follow my commandments so that you may know joy!” Need examples? Look at Solomon. When he turned from God, his reign failed. As we examine more and more examples from history, this common thread will prove true time and time again.
Solomon’s early reign was peaceful regarding matters of national security, and he used the peace not to be idle, but to do something great – “But now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side. There is neither adversary nor misfortune. And so I intend to build a house for the name of the Lord my God…”
Before moving forward, it is important to notice why Solomon is building the temple. He is not doing it for his own glory; Solomon built it for the name of his Lord. He was a humble king – serving God and serving his people. These are marks of a good leader.
2 Kings chapters 6-7 describe the temple layout and furnishings as well as the construction of Solomon’s own house. The place was magnificent. Read the details; it must have been beautiful. And again, why was Solomon building this temple? For his Lord, God. In fact, the most important part of this seemingly dry passage is how the temple is referenced: ”the house.” He was building a house for God to be honored by, for the Ark of God’s covenant to be housed, God’s people to gather at, and the worship of God to take place.
Once this all had been accomplished, Solomon addressed the crowd of Israelites in the new house of God saying, “I have built the house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel. And there I have provided a place for the ark, in which is the covenant of the Lord that he made with our fathers, when he brought them out of Egypt (8:20-1).” Solomon was not giving a speech about his own greatness; he brought honor to God. God was the purpose of his work. God was the central theme to his kingship.
Chapter 8 finishes with a prayer of Solomon that I would recommend reading, and chapters 9 and 10 further demonstrate his wealth and wisdom.
How does morality tie into this? If you remember back to the post regarding Cleomenes of Sparta, he had no governance over his ‘morality’ (or lack there of). I came to the conclusion that there was a need for a defined standard of morality and that this was and is provided by God – the God of Israel. Solomon’s early reign is marked by his wisdom, peace, success, and wealth all precipitating from his obedience of God’s commandments. He lived for and served God; this is why he was a good king. He acknowledged that his goodness came from God, and so it was right for him to obey God. This is what morality is, and we will see next what happens when Solomon forgets the ways of his early reign.
The First Book of Kings chapters 2-4 tells the story of Solomon’s early reign over Israel, before the building of the temple. During the early part of his reign, Solomon was a good, moral king. He was humble, he feared God, and he kept the commandments of God. He was a moral king. He became wise and just. But at the root of all his virtue was his humility.
There are two particular instances of Solomon’s humility that I want to point out. In chapter 2, Solomon’s mother Bathsheba came before his throne and Solomon does something that goes against the grains of a king – he bowed before her. He was a new king with new power, but he still honored his mother as he knew to be right. He did not allow the power to inflate his ego – he remained humble. Perhaps more striking is Solomon’s act of service in chapter 3. He made a feast for all his servants. The king served his own servants! It is not coincidence that during the strongest period of his reign, Solomon was humbling himself before his people.
The prayer of Solomon in chapter 3 gets to the core of Solomon’s greatness in this period of rule:
-He acknowledged God’s faithfulness
-He acknowledged his own condition before God – a servant.
-He made a request of God not for his own gain, but for God’s gain.
Solomon wanted to lead the people well and in the right way. So he asked God for the ability to discern good from evil. Solomon thought that this is most important in order to rule his kingdom correctly. And is it not? When you have responsibility or power, what good is it if you do not know how to use it correctly? To borrow from C.S. Lewis, what good is a fleet of ships if it is headed the wrong direction?
The next post will discuss the building of the temple. The plan is to do three or four additional posts on Solomon.
Yesterday’s post briefly described the political life of a Spartan king, Cleomenes. He ended up going mad and killing himself. The Spartans blamed it on his bribing a priestess. The Athenians said he was receiving due payment for his destruction of a religious precinct at Eleusis. And finally the Argives blamed his madness on the horrific sacrilegious murder of innocent Argive soldiers.
Cleomenes of Sparta lived an immoral life. But what does that mean – immoral?
Well it has nothing to do with the gods the Greeks worshiped, for they were often immoral themselves. The earth has a need for an unchanging definition of morality. The good news is, we have that. God has written his law (morality) on all our hearts. That is why we all know that the actions and choices of Cleomenes were immoral – mass murder, conspiracy, selfishness. Without even arguing about it, we all know these things are wrong; they are immoral.
God has provided his definition of morality in our hearts and in the Bible. This has been and always will be the right way to live.
So apply Cleomenes’ story to your own life. We are all in positions of power or responsibility to some degree. Will you make decisions based on God’s unchanging morality? Or will you rely on yourself?
Cleomenes I was a king (he ruled from 520 to 490) of Sparta – I say “a king” because Sparta was not a monarchy, but a diarchy; that is Sparta had two kings at any given time. For perspective, 490 was the same year as the Battle of Marathon where the Athenians defeated the first attempted Persian invasion of Greece.
Cleomenes had a very diverse career, and he was quite the character. Around 510, he aided the Athenians in the overthrow of the tyrant Hippias. There followed a power struggle in Athens between Cleisthenes and Isagoras in which Cleomenes sided with Isagoras. Cleomenes’ idea was to install Isagoras as the new tyrant of Athens. And this is the decision of importance for Cleomenes’ involvement with Athens in 510: Sparta was traditionally anti-tyranny, and Cleomenes went against this with his actions in Athens.
In a war with Argos around 494, Cleomenes committed a horrible sacrilege against innocent Argive soldiers. He burnt a large number of them alive in a sacred grove next to a temple of Argus. This was uncharacteristic of any Greek to blatantly disregard the gods.
In 491, Cleomenes punished the Aeginetans (their close by neighbors) for giving in to the Persians’ demands for ‘earth and water.’ He took the leaders of the pro-Persian faction and gave them as hostages to Athens, who happened to be the rival of Aegina.
And when you add to this a bit of priestess-bribing to have a fellow king (Demaratus) dethroned, you have the political history of Cleomenes I in a nutshell. But this is not the end (yet) of Cleomenes’ infamous career. He had constructed a plan to get Demaratus once and for all (because his previous attempt ended with Demaratus fleeing to Persia where he received a warm welcome) that concerned the Spartan government when they discovered it. The Spartans would not have Cleomenes risking war with the Persians to settle a personal dispute. And so, Cleomenes was exiled from Sparta.
During his exile, Cleomenes united a large enough force of Arcadians against Sparta that Sparta reinstated him as king. And this must have been some feat, for Sparta was a military might by this time. In a matter of months, Cleomenes had landed himself in the public stocks for his mad behavior. Herodotus includes a detail that I think sums up his behavior: ”any Spartan that [Cleomenes] happened to meet he would hit in the face with his staff.” Cleomenes ended his own life shortly after winding up in the stocks.
The next post will attempt to draw out moral premises from this infamous and odd history of a king. (For the detailed primary reading see Herodotus 5.70-6 and 6.69-75.)
Morality is a divisive topic. There is much debate about morality (or ethics) within certain fields, and there are differing worldviews that take differing stances on what morality is. I believe that true morality exists independently of people – there is an objective morality. Further, this morality (generally, the correct way to live) is instilled in us by our creator, God. Others more intelligent than I have thought this before me, so I will not tarry on this point.
So God gives us all the knowledge of the same morality at birth. Yet today there is debate about what morality is. I believe that societies, people, and literature of the past offer some answers to what morality is and is not. And so, the study of History is profitable for the modern person who seeks to know morality and apply it to everyday decisions. And this is the goal of my blog, to study History – people, societies, and texts – and draw out examples of what morality has been, where it has been wrong, and how it applies today.