A golden calf stood in Bethel, where once Jacob had been given a glimpse of angels ascending and descending a heavenly spiral staircase. Jacob had fallen asleep using a rock as his pillow, and had an encounter that changed the destiny of his offspring. The place where the relationship of the namesake of the nation had first met God and made a vow to him was now a place where a golden calf formed a distorted form of worship that defied the commands given to Moses a few hundred years earlier. Its sister idol, which produced a similar result, was far to the north, in Dan.
The one who ordered its construction, Jeroboam, had since had his conscience mostly amputated. This act was simply the cauterization of the wound. Years before, prior to his brief egress into Egypt, Jeroboam had vowed that Solomon would pay for his crimes against the workers Jeroboam oversaw and cared for. No longer would a centralized, wholly decadent and corrupt hierarchy and merchant class oppress the men and workers of Israel. Jeroboam had resolved to create a nation for the worker – where they need no longer go the long journey to Jerusalem to pay their yearly tithes or honor the festivals and provide sacrifices to pay the priests and enrich the richest of the merchants and elite that dwelled in and around Jerusalem. No longer would Solomon use the workers for his pet construction projects or to add another wing to his unbelievably expansive palace.
Jeroboam would remake the priesthood such that any man who willed could be a priest. The high places would make worship convenient and determined by the discretion of the people. As long as Jeroboam was in power, he could secure his reign by securing the full, unbridled liberty of the people from the corrupt, Babylonian throne of David. After all, if Solomon could construct idols for his hundreds of foreign wives, what could be wrong with Jeroboam constructing idols so that the people are not impoverished by the necessity of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem?
The Kingdom of Solomon
Jeroboam was the founder and first king of what is called in the scriptures the “Northern Kingdom”, or the Kingdom of Israel. Jeroboam arose in the context of Solomon’s later years, when he was corrupted by doing nearly everything the law said kings should not do (Deuteronomy 17). Those conditions are paraphrased as follows:
- Kings may not be foreigners; and
- Kings may not acquire “many horses” for themselves or cause the people to return to Egypt to acquire them; and
- Kings may not acquire many wives for themselves; and
- Kings may not acquire excessive silver and gold; and
- Kings must write a copy of the law and have it authenticated by the priests “to read all their lives”; and
- Kings must not “lift their heart above their brothers” (become elitist) or turn aside from the law.
Solomon himself was a product of Bathsheba. The Bathsheba affair is David’s primary black mark; it tore his family apart, and is illustrative of the kind of seedy soap-opera affairs which occur in every government. In brief, David was at home during the season when Kings typically went to war to contend for their homelands (2 Sa 11:1). He sees a woman bathing on a roof from his palace, and sends messengers to summon her, and commits adultery with her, getting her pregnant. Her husband has been away at war, so when David learns she’s pregnant, he tries to get Uriah to go home and sleep with his wife to cover up the situation. Uriah refuses, and sleeps at the door of the kings house because of his devotion to his fellow soldiers and the king. So David becomes more desperate, and writes a letter that Uriah was to deliver to Joab, one of his generals. Joab was to send Uriah to the toughest area of battle and draw back to allow him to die. Once Uriah dies, David takes Bathsheba to be his wife. God is incensed at this behavior, and sends a prophet to provoke David to condemn himself (2 Sa 12). Part of the judgment God lays upon the situation is the child that Bathsheba had because of the act of adultery would die, and this happens, despite David’s choice to fast. David eventually has a second child with Bathsheba, and that child is Solomon.
Bathsheba’s grandfather was Ahithophel, a very intelligent advisor who joined David’s son Absalom (interestingly, the product of David and the daughter of a Syrian king) in a near-successful attempt to overthrow David. It is reasonable to speculate that Ahithophel’s choice to betray David was because of his choice to take Bathsheba and have Uriah murdered. David’s subsequent loss of moral leadership with his family likely also resulted in the catastrophe of Amnon’s rape of Tamar and Absalom’s subsequent “honor killing” of Amnon.
All of this information is meant to show how much havoc the affair with Bathsheba wrecked in David’s family, and the fact that David chose Solomon as his successor (after an attempt by Abijah to steal the role of successor) was no small factor in the drama within the kingdom. Solomon was conceived in sin, yet given every chance to succeed (David prepared the pattern and much of materials needed for the construction of the temple) and was hand-picked over his older brethren to be king. For a time, he did succeed, and built a beautiful temple in seven years. He then spent thirteen years building his own house and amenities and foreign gods for his many wives and concubines, which were all edifices to the glory of man and the glory of the natural world.
Solomon is arguably the most complex figure of the Old Testament. It is easy to regard his legacy in inappropriately negative or positive terms because of the magnitude of his figure in both good and bad terms. He is credited with writing some of the Psalms, some Proverbs, the “Song of Songs”, and Ecclesiastes, is commonly thought of as the wisest man of his day, and possibly is the wisest who ever lived.
The bible uses a term for wisdom that refers to intellectual skill more than raw knowledge of facts – it is used of skill in warfare, skill in philosophical thinking, and general shrewdness. Solomon did not simply possess an enormous hard drive; his processing speed, accuracy, and mental agility was unparalleled. Many an intelligent person can think of the perfect judgment, the perfect retort in an argument – after the fact or after much refinement and deliberation. Solomon’s “split baby” solution was one that was intrinsic to his ability to understand not only feminine dynamics but philosophical concepts and practical persuasion.
God came to Solomon by night when he had gone to Gibeon (where the Tabernacle built at Moses’ instruction in the wilderness was at the time), and asked him to make a single request. Solomon asked for great wisdom to govern Israel – he wanted to be the perfect statesman. God commended him for not asking for baser things like money or the death of his enemies, and as a result gave him riches, possessions, and honor.
No King is recorded to have copied the Law in accordance with Deuteronomy 17, but Solomon is the only king shown to specifically violate basically every aspect of the commands regarding kings. Not satisfied in merely sinning against the law, Solomon went as far as one could go in his sin – even building idols. Solomon multiplied horses and caused the people to trade with Egypt:
[2Ch 1:14-17 ESV] 14 Solomon gathered together chariots and horsemen. He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen, whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem. 15 And the king made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he made cedar as plentiful as the sycamore of the Shephelah. 16 And Solomon’s import of horses was from Egypt and Kue, and the king’s traders would buy them from Kue for a price. 17 They imported a chariot from Egypt for 600 shekels of silver, and a horse for 150. Likewise through them these were exported to all the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Syria.
Solomon created a slave underclass. Knowing modern governments, he probably conscripted people far outside his extended family for this type of labor, “exalting him above his brethren”:
[2Ch 2:17-18 ESV] 17 Then Solomon counted all the resident aliens who were in the land of Israel, after the census of them that David his father had taken, and there were found 153,600. 18 Seventy thousand of them he assigned to bear burdens, 80,000 to quarry in the hill country, and 3,600 as overseers to make the people work.
[Exo 22:21 ESV] 21 “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
[Exo 23:9 ESV] 9 “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
[Deu 24:14 ESV] 14 “You shall not oppress a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns.
Solomon multiplied gold (666 talents is roughly 25 tons):
[1Ki 10:14-15 ESV] 14 Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold, 15 besides that which came from the explorers and from the business of the merchants, and from all the kings of the west and from the governors of the land.
Solomon multiplied wives:
[1Ki 11:3-4 ESV] 3 He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. 4 For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.
Solomon went so far as to build idols and edifices for foreign gods:
[1Ki 11:5, 7-8 ESV] 5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. … 7 Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. 8 And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.
This corruption was referenced by Nehemiah and probably sealed the eventual destruction of the Temple (“the place God placed his name”). Solomon has many characteristics that are strikingly similar to the description of Satan in Ezekiel 27. The King of Tyre is used as a parallel to a divine figure. Frequently Satan is conceived as a little red man with horns and hoofs – he is not. He is the perfect humanist. He represents the most powerful, beautiful, and intelligent available to man – if only you worship him instead of God. Ezekiel 27 describes the vast influence of Tyre as the center of global trade – a hint to what Revelation references in the New Testament. Ezekiel 28 talks of the characteristics of what the King of Tyre was compared to – Satan – and the parameters of his judgment:
[Eze 28:2-5, 12-17 ESV] 2 “Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord GOD: “Because your heart is proud, and you have said, ‘I am a god, I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart of the seas,’ yet you are but a man, and no god, though you make your heart like the heart of a god– 3 you are indeed wiser than Daniel; no secret is hidden from you; 4 by your wisdom and your understanding you have made wealth for yourself, and have gathered gold and silver into your treasuries; 5 by your great wisdom in your trade you have increased your wealth, and your heart has become proud in your wealth– … 12 “Son of man, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord GOD: “You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created they were prepared. 14 You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. 15 You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you. 16 In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. 17 Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you.
Solomon can be described as a king who was “perfect in beauty and wisdom”. God commended these things because they were good, but they were the avenues of corruption to Satan. They were also the avenues of corrupting Solomon – as they are to the entire world. Solomon’s wisdom and beauty corrupted him, and caused him to seek what one could call ecumenism with the world’s other religions at the time based on reason and a desire for common prosperity.
It would also be reasonable to suggest that during this time a decadence had set into the priestly families. Solomon and his advisors likely exerted a powerful hegemony over the priesthood. It is not a stretch to argue that if Solomon set the example with his many wives and concubines and no one had the power to oppose him, his servants and the priests likely fell into some degree of corruption as well. David was directly corrected by a prophet, but even Rehoboam who came after Solomon felt no threat whatsoever that the priesthood or prophets might turn on him or undermine him:
[2Ch 12:1 ESV] 1 When the rule of Rehoboam was established and he was strong, he abandoned the law of the LORD, and all Israel with him.
Only after Rehoboam is gone and Asa rules in his stead are real reforms enacted:
[1Ki 15:11-13 ESV] 11 And Asa did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, as David his father had done. 12 He put away the male cult prostitutes out of the land and removed all the idols that his fathers had made. 13 He also removed Maacah his mother from being queen mother because she had made an abominable image for Asherah. And Asa cut down her image and burned it at the brook Kidron.
Solomon’s era was the height of prosperity and culture for Israel while sowing the seeds for the kingdom’s eventual destruction. Solomon was more corrupt than Saul or just about any other king of Judah that followed him, despite the heritage of David and every chance in the world to succeed in consecrating the nation to God. He built the Temple and wrote many words which Christians consider inspired of God, yet he built idols in blasphemy to God. He represents the pinnacle of the reason of man – infinitely capable, organized, rational, prosperous, successful, in total control of his dominion – and verifies what happens when man is given total authority. All men allow corruption into their minds. Eased of the burden of accountability and given power and wealth, those corruptions balloon and manifest.