Solomon was the third and last king of the unified nation of Israel, reigning after King Saul and King David. He was the of David and Bathsheba, the prior wife of Uriah, the Hittite whom David killed to cover his adultery with Bathsheba while her husband was at battle.
Solomon wrote the Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, and most of Proverbs. Some dispute Solomon’s writing of Ecclesiastes, but he’s the only “son of David” to be king of Israel in Jerusalem, as detailed in Ecclesiastes 1:1-12, and most of the descriptions of the author fit Solomon. According to 1 Kings 11:42, Solomon ruled for 40 years. When Solomon came to the throne, he sought God, and God allowed him to request whatever he wanted. Solomon humbly recognized his inability to rule and asked God for the wisdom to govern God’s people righteously.
God gave Solomon wisdom and health, as detailed in 1 Kings 3:4-15. He also gave Solomon peace on all fronts during most of his reign. An example of Solomon’s wisdom is his judgment in a fight over the identity of the mother of an infant child, as explained in 1 Kings 3:16-28. Solomon offered to split the child in half, recognizing that the birth mother would rather lose her child to another woman than have him killed. He wasn’t only wise in his rule and king, but Solomon also had excellent general wisdom. The Queen of Sheba traveled thousands of miles to confirm the stories of his dignity and wisdom.
Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too complicated for him to explain. When the Queen of Sheba saw Solomon’s wisdom and his palace, the seating of his officials, the food on his table, cupbearers, and the offerings he made at the temple, 1 Kings 10:3-5 says she was overwhelmed. Solomon showed his knowledge and his wisdom in action in how his kingdom operated.
Polygamy in the Bible.
The topic of polygamy is interesting because most people see it as immoral today, but the Bible nowhere explicitly condemns it. The first instance of bigamy in the Bible is in Genesis 4:19, which says Lamech married two women. Several important men in the Old Testament were polygamists, including Solomon. The Bible doesn’t explicitly say why God allowed polygamy, but we should remember that allowance and approval aren’t synonymous. As we consider God’s permissive silence, there’s one essential factor to consider.
In patriarchal societies, it was almost impossible for unmarried women to provide for themselves. Women were typically untrained and uneducated. They relied on their brothers, fathers, and husbands for protection and provision and were often subjected to slavery and prostitution. So, God may have allowed bigamy to provide and protect the women who otherwise may have been left impoverished. A man would take multiple wives and serve as the protector and provider for all of them. While not ideal, living in a polygamist household was better than the alternative of slavery, prostitution, or starvation.
In addition to the provision/protection factor, polygamy enabled a faster expansion of humanity, fulfilling God’s command to be fruitful and multiply, as detailed in Genesis 9:7. So why did things change in the New Testament? It’s not so much that God prohibited something He’d previously allowed as it is that God restored the connection to His original plan. As detailed in Genesis 2, polygamy wasn’t God’s original plan. God allowed polygamy to solve a problem, but that solution wasn’t the best.
In most modern cultures, women can protect and provide for themselves, removing the only positive aspect of polygamy. Further, most modern societies outlaw polygamy. Romans 13:1-7 says we should obey the government’s laws, including those prohibiting polygamy.
Why did King Solomon have multiple wives if bigamy was a sin?
First Kings 11:3 says Solomon had 700 wives, princesses and 300 concubines. God permitted Solomon to have these wives, but allowance isn’t the same as approval. Solomon’s marital decisions violated God’s law, and there were penalties. Solomon started well early in life, listening to his father’s advice, who told him to be strong and observe God’s requirements. Solomon’s early humility is displayed in 1 Kings 3:5-9 when he asks for the Lord’s wisdom. Wisdom is defined as applied knowledge, which helps us make decisions that honor God and agree with the Bible. The book of Proverbs, written by Solomon, is filled with practical counsel on following the Lord. King Solomon knew what was right, even if he didn’t always follow the straight and narrow path.
Eventually, Solomon forgot his counsel and wisdom of the Bible. God gave clear instructions for anyone who would be king: no multiple wives, amassing of horses, and no accumulating gold and silver, as detailed in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. These commands were created to stop the king from following foreign gods, trusting the military, and relying on wealth instead of God. Any survey of Solomon’s life shows that he broke all three divine prohibitions. Thus, Solomon’s taking of multiple concubines and wives directly violated the Bible.
As God predicted, when Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart to other gods, and his heart was no longer entirely devoted to his God, as detailed in 1 Kings 11:4. Solomon also got involved in sacrificing to Milcom, a god that required vile acts to be performed, to please his wives. God let Solomon choose to obey, but his choice brought consequences. God showed mercy to Solomon for his father’s sake, but his kingdom eventually divided. Another punishment upon Solomon was war with the Aramians and Edomites.
Solomon wasn’t a puppet king, but God didn’t force him to do what was right. Instead, God laid out His will, blessing Solomon with wisdom and expecting the king to obey. Unfortunately, Solomon chose to disobey in his later years and held him accountable for his decisions. Toward the end of Solomon’s life, God used him to write one more biblical book. The book of Ecclesiastes tells the rest of the story. Throughout the book, Solomon shares everything he tried to find happiness apart from God in this world.
According to Solomon, he amassed silver and gold for himself and acquired a harem. However, neither of these things satisfied him. Instead, everything was meaningless, and nothing was gained under the sun. At the end of Ecclesiastes, we’re told to fear God and keep His commandments, for this is our duty. God never wants anyone to sin, but He does let us make our own choices. Solomon’s story is a lesson that it doesn’t pay to disobey. It’s not enough to start well; we must also seek God’s grace to finish well.