1 Kings 9–11“King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth” (1 Kings 10:23).Solomon’s growing material prosperity was matched by spiritual decline. Solomon’s experience is a warning to us today of the deceitfulness of success.
God appeared to Solomon again, with a promise and a warning (9:1–9). Some of Solomon’s projects are listed (vv. 10–28), and his fame is illustrated by a visit from the queen of Sheba (10:1–13). Solomon’s vast wealth is explained (vv. 14–29). Solomon’s spiritual decline is traced to his passion for his foreign wives (11:1–13), and the resulting loss of most of his kingdom is predicted (vv. 14–43).
Understanding the Text
“If you walk before Me in integrity of heart and uprightness” 1 Kings 9:1–9. God appeared to Solomon 13 years after the temple was completed. The Lord reminded Solomon He had heard the king’s prayer of dedication. Now, nearly 25 years into Solomon’s 40-year reign, God renewed His promise to Solomon, but added a solemn warning. “If you or your sons turn away . . . and go off to serve other gods . . . then.” Why a second appearance now? Because, with Solomon’s goals reached and his dreams fulfilled, Solomon was especially vulnerable. Success is often like this. As long as we are working, striving to reach a goal, we remain faithful to the Lord. But when we “have it made,” we lose our sense of purpose and our dedication to the Lord. God’s warning was especially gracious, coming at this critical time in Solomon’s life. The great tragedy is that Solomon failed to heed what God said. For some, retirement is a critical time. We’ve worked all our lives. Now it’s time to relax and enjoy. Rather than use our time to serve God and others, some lose their sense of purpose and drift away from God. That moment when we think we have succeeded can be the most dangerous for us spiritually. “Here is the account” 1 Kings 9:10–27. The passage only hints at Solomon’s magnificent achievements. For instance, Solomon’s many impressive building programs, which have been partially explored by archeologists, are given only a word or two in verses 18–19. Yet these are among the most impressive in the ancient world. Solomon’s trading ventures are also mentioned only briefly (vv. 26–28). Yet he was the only king in Israel’s long history to catch the vision of overseas trade and develop a fleet. His joint venture with Hiram of Tyre brought in vast wealth. These merely hint at the great plans and visionary programs introduced by Solomon. Yet they remind us how exceptional Solomon truly was. The same passage tells us that Solomon maintained the annual rituals that honored God (v. 25). Yet, as God reminded Solomon, the Lord is concerned with “integrity of heart and uprightness” (v. 4). A wholehearted love for God, not faithful attendance at religious services, keeps us close to Him. “The queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon” 1 Kings 10:1–13. Solomon’s wisdom is illustrated in this report of the visit of the queen of Sheba, modern Yemen. In ancient time Sheba was a trading center, linking Africa, India, and the Mediterranean lands. The questions she asked Solomon were hidot, in this context questions on issues involving practical and deeper theological truths. The gifts the two exchanged likely were part of trade negotiations worked out during the visit. The queen left full of praise for Solomon and for God, who had given Israel such a wise ruler. “King Solomon was greater in riches” 1 Kings 10:14–29. The passage continues with more about the splendor of the Solomonic era. It lists Solomon’s personal annual income as 25 tons of gold! Like other kings of the ancient world, Solomon dedicated much of the gold to the temple, and used the rest in ostentatious display. Despite the record here of the sources of Solomon’s wealth, some modern commentators have dismissed the biblical account as a product “of exuberant imagination.” However, comparison with ancient inscriptions shows that ancient rulers did gather vast amounts of gold, and used it in the same way Solomon did. Even more significant is the Egyptian record of gifts given by Pharaoh Osorkon of at least 383 tons of precious metals to Egypt’s gods. Why is this significant? Because just five years before this gift, his father, Shishak, had attacked Jerusalem and “carried off the treasures of the temple of the Lord and the treasures of the royal palace” (14:26). Solomon did gather hundreds of tons of gold. And at least part of it was later given by Pharaoh Osorkon to Egypt’s gods and goddesses. The material things we give to God have no lasting significance to Him. What God yearns for is a fully yielded heart. This—and this alone—is His treasure. “Solomon . . . loved many foreign women” 1 Kings 11:1–13. Old Testament Law forbad marriage to foreign women, and specifically prohibited accumulating large amounts of gold and silver as well as multiple marriages for kings (cf. Deut. 17:14–20). Solomon’s marriages to foreign women, contracted to seal international treaties, were disastrous. Solomon not only permitted his wives to worship their old gods and goddesses, but began to worship with them. Solomon’s disobedience was judged severely. God determined to take most of the kingdom away from Solomon’s offspring, but for David’s sake reserved the tribe of Judah and Jerusalem for Solomon’s descendants. Solomon reminds us not to be overawed by others more intelligent than we are. The wise men of this world spin their theories, and may ridicule faith. But true wisdom is found in the simple person’s complete trust in God and faithfulness to Him. “The Lord raised up . . . an adversary” 1 Kings 11:14–43. Solomon’s last years were marred by frustration. Enemies appeared to disrupt his plans and develop hostility toward Israel. Yet Solomon was unable to dispatch them. In Israel itself a gifted man named Jeroboam was promoted—but turned against Solomon when a prophet predicted that he, not Solomon’s son, would rule the 10 northern tribes. Solomon’s success had depended on his relationship with God, not his intelligence. It’s not our gifts but our God who brings us success.
The End of Life (1 Kings 11)
I remember the title of an old movie—Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Actually, that’s all I remember about it. I suppose the movie itself is forgettable. But the title surely is not. What will happen to you and me if we succeed? What if all our dreams come true? What if our hopes are all fulfilled? What if we achieve prosperity and “have it made”? While few of us will know this kind of success, for most older people these days a time comes when we can stop striving. The children have grown up and moved away. We’re ready to retire. We have enough to live on, and reasonably good health. We can sit back now and relax. It’s only later that we realize success has begun to spoil us, as it surely spoiled Solomon. Solomon achieved. His plans were carried out. His dreams were fulfilled. His riches were beyond calculation. And then, with nothing more to do, he turned to his foreign wives and to their gods. As a result, Solomon’s old age was a time of frustration and futility. Most believe that Solomon wrote the Book of Ecclesiastes during the last, empty decade of his life. In this book Solomon looks back on all his accomplishments, looks honestly at his passions, and drearily concludes, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” And Solomon was right. As far as he went. In Eccelesiastes Solomon set out to find meaning in life “by wisdom” and “under the sun.” The two phrases mean “by unaided human reason, not revelation,” and “in the framework of the material universe.” Solomon turned his back on God and lost touch with the Lord. Yet this wisest of men searched all human experience and concluded that, apart from God, everything is meaningless. And so we return to that question, “Will success spoil you and me?” And the answer is, it can. It can. But only if, when we rest from our labors in this world, we also relax our commitment to the Lord. If we keep on putting God first in our lives, then success can and will be a blessing. For we will still seek the true meaning of life in our relationships with the Lord.
Retire from work, but not from serving God.