IN FEW PLACES DOES THE WORD however have more potent force than in 1 Kings 11:1: “King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women.” In those days, the size of a king’s harem was widely considered a reflection of his wealth and power. Solomon married princesses from everywhere, not least, the writer painfully explains, “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’” (1 Kings 11:2).
That is exactly what happened, especially as Solomon grew old (1 Kings 11:3–4). He participated in the worship of foreign gods. To please his wives, he provided shrines, altars, and temples for their deities. Doubtless many Israelites began to participate in this pagan worship. At the very least, many would have their sense of outrage dulled, not least because Solomon was known to be such a wise, resourceful, and successful king. Eventually his pagan idolatry extended to the detestable gods to whom one sacrifices children. Thus Solomon “did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done” (1 Kings 11:6). Of course, David himself failed on occasion. But he lapsed from a life of principled devotion to the Lord God, and he repented and returned to the Lord; he did not live in a stream of growing religious compromise like his son and heir to the throne.
The sentence is delivered (1 Kings 11:9–13): after his death, Solomon’s kingdom will be divided, with ten tribes withdrawing, leaving only two for the Davidic dynasty—and even this paltry remainder is conceded only for David’s sake. Had Solomon been another sort of man, he would have repented, sought the Lord’s favor, destroyed all the high places, promoted covenant fidelity. But the sad truth is that Solomon preferred his wives and their opinions to his covenant Lord and his opinion. During the closing years of his reign, Solomon had plenty of signs that God’s protective favor was being withdrawn (1 Kings 11:14–40). Nothing is sadder than Solomon’s futile effort to have Jeroboam killed—evocative of Saul’s attempt to have David killed. But there is no movement, no repentance, no hunger for God.
There are plenty of lessons. Be careful what, and whom, you love. Good beginnings do not guarantee good endings. Heed the warnings of God while there is time; if you don’t, you will eventually become so hardened that even his most dire threats will leave you unmoved. At the canonical level, even the most blessed, protected, and endowed dynasty, chosen from within the Lord’s chosen people, is announcing its end: it will fall apart. Oh, how we need a Savior, a king from heaven!