When it comes to interview questions, I am more like the writers of the lectionary; I like to leave out the more unpleasant bits. Today’s readings present a certain image of Solomon, a good image. Between the lectionary texts, though, there’s another Solomon, The Solomon we might not want to think about. It’s not that Solomon is a lazy boy or loses his temper, it’s the murder and revenge that we don’t like thinking about.
Even though King David had proclaimed Solomon his successor, there were pretenders to the throne. In order to shore up Solomon’s position, King David instructed Solomon to kill Joab and Shimei, which Solomon did.
Solomon’s half-brother, Adonijah, was also seeking the throne and so Solomon had him killed too.
Solomon was not the first king to kill his rivals, nor would he be the last. Still, it’s a bit of history we might wish to forget. In fact, Islamic tradition says that it is wrong to speak of these things as they detract from the righteousness of the prophets. Christians, though, do not have to tip-toe delicately through history. We march right in, taking the good and bad together, trusting God to make it into a story we can understand.
Despite the stories of Solomon’s wisdom, his closeness with the animal world, and his magnificent building programs, there is yet more that we might wish to forget:
Solomon ignored Torah warnings — Even as a very young king, Solomon would have known about the Torah warning against too many horses, too many wives, and too much gold. Yet in his wheeling and dealing with other kings he accrued 700 wives and 300 concubines. That would be too many by almost any reckoning.
Solomon didn’t follow his own teachings — Rabbinic tradition credits Solomon with most of Proverbs and Ecclesiastics, but Solomon didn’t abide by his own advice. He said that a good name was better than gold, but he still ate off of solid gold plates, and drank from solid gold cups. Even his solid ivory throne was covered with gold.
We might wonder why Solomon would go against Torah teaching, and against his own teaching. The Babylonian Talmud tells us that Solomon thought he was so wise that he could avoid the negative consequences of not following the rules. It is an example of being too smart for your own good.
Of course, Solomon was the wisest king who ever lived. It might be understandable for him to make that kind of mistake. I think that the rest of us make the same mistake, though. It is easy to think that if you know the pit falls, you can avoid them; if you are aware of the dangers, they can’t touch you. It’s not true, though. It wasn’t true for Solomon, and it’s not true for us either.
Solomon’s life is a warning about the danger of thinking that we are smarter than we really are. It reminds us that great wisdom and great folly can go hand in hand; gentleness with nature and harshness to other people also walk arm in arm; sometimes we don’t learn the very things we’ve tried to teach others. We are complex creatures; and, like Solomon, we are loved. Unlike the lectionary, we don’t have to leave anything out. Our lives are an open book to the one who made and loves us, every single chapter and verse.
If there are certain things you’d like to leave out of your own life — maybe even a few chapters — that’s alright. You can weave a tapestry of all good stories. But, you are walking with the saints if you can own even the worst parts of yourself and recognize that they too have been redeemed, that all of you is loved.
If there’s something that you have hoped would just go away, something you would rather not mention to God, this might be a good time to recognize it and remind yourself that every single thing about you is redeemed and loved.
Linda McMillan lives in Shanghai, China. She plays the ukulele, writes bad haiku, and tries hard but sometimes fails.
Image: King David and Solomon, Jesse Tree Window, Cologne Cathedral, Germany
Rabbinic tradition holds that Solomon was 12 when he became king, others say that it’s unclear. Solomon describes himself as “a boy.”
Deuteronomy 17:16-17 talks about proper behavior for a king. He must not multiply horses for himself; must not multiply wives for himself; and must not multiply gold and silver for himself.
I Kings 5:29 tells about the huge labour force needed to complete Solomon’s building projects
I Kings 7 describes Solomon’s palaces
I Kings 10: 18-21 describe Solomon’s throne and dinner ware
I Kings 11:1-3 talks about Solomon’s wives and concubines: 700 wives and 300 concubines. It also talks about how Solomon allowed his heart to be turned away from the One God to other gods.
I Kings 12:4 is where the workers describe what it was like to work for Solomon. They are hoping that the next king will go easier on them. (He won’t.)
Proverbs 22:1 – A good name is more desirable than great riches and a good reputation is
better than silver and gold
Proverbs 27:23-24 – Be careful to know your own sheep, and take good care of your flocks…
The Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 21b says that Solomon understood the reasons for the rules, but he thought he was wise enough to avoid the negative consequences of disobeying.