Solomon’s reign is split neatly into two equal segments; the first twenty years of building the Temple of the Lord and his own Palace; and the last twenty years, in which he built palaces for his many wives and concubines and idols for foreign gods (although some of that probably occurred concurrently with building his own palace). The latter segment sets the stage for what happened as soon as Rehoboam, his son, took over the throne. Solomon entrenched elite interests in Jerusalem and Judah and created a slave underclass that alienated Judah from the rest of Israel. There are no recorded instances of a prophet having the fortitude to stand up to Solomon as there were for Saul, David, and many kings after Solomon in both Judah and Israel.
The parallels between Solomon and the decadent period of the Catholic Church leading up to the Reformation are obvious. Solomon was obsessed with his building projects and thought of himself as the apex of intellect, civilization, and culture. In Israel’s context, he was correct. Reading Ecclesiastes is reading the mind of Solomon as he rehearses the banality of his decadence.
Like Solomon, the Popes leading up to the Reformation were either unaware of what needed to be done or morally incapable of doing what was necessary: divesting spiritual authorities somewhat of the intertwined temporal power which was preventing them from adequately fulfilling their duties for the Church Universal. Its power had first been seeded by Constantine and had gone well beyond any reasonable limits. Solomon was ludicrously rich, as were those who enjoyed the benefits of being close to Solomon.
Leo X, Pope until his death in 1521 and a member of the famous de’ Medici family, was a kindred spirit of Solomon. He was the recipient of a tremendous amount of revenue:
“…[In 1519] his revenues in ducats are considerable: direct revenue, 420,000; river dues, 60,000; land dues, 37,000; wine and vinegar taxes, 8,000; taxes from Spoleto, the Romagna, and the Coast, 60,000 each; sale dues from Cervia and Ravenna, 70,000–100,000…No man and no pope has been more serious about the riches and dignity of his family as well as the promotion of scholarship; yet he distracted his cardinals and his court with buffoons, clowns, and vulgar jokes. On his deathbed, he will confess his sins, receive Holy Communion, and die whispering ‘Gesu! Maria! Gesu! Maria! Gesu! Gesu! Yet in life, he devoted himself far more earnestly to magnificence than to Maria.”[i]
Leo X is an intellectual’s intellectual and a lover of all flavors of culture. He indulged in the great Latin and Greek works, organized carnivals and plays, and was an avid gambler before and after accepting the Throne of Peter. Solomon, ever a lover of wine, women, and song, proves his devotion to magnificence through his various projects and creations:
[Ecc 2:1–11] 1 I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. 2 I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” 3 I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine––my heart still guiding me with wisdom––and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. 4 I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. 5 I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. 6 I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. 8 I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man. 9 So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. 10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.
Solomon’s engorgement and descent into humanism proves disastrous and all but sealed Israel’s fate. It took a few more nails – hammered in enthusiastically by Rehoboam, the son of Solomon – to add finality to Israel’s political divorce from Judah, but the trajectory was established by Solomon (if not by David’s adultery that produced Solomon).
A golden calf stood in Bethel, where once Jacob had been given a glimpse of angels ascending and descending a heavenly spiral staircase. Jacob, asleep with a rock as a pillow, saw a vision that changed the destiny of his offspring. The place where the namesake of the nation had first met God and made a vow to him was now a place where a golden calf was the centerpiece of a distorted form of worship, defying the commands given to Moses a few hundred years earlier and mirroring the very first act of idolatry by Israel after the Exodus. Its sister idol, which produced a similar result, was far to the north, in Dan.
The one who ordered the Bethel calf’s 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 observed the plain corruption of Solomon and in Jeroboam’s mind, Solomon was no longer fit to lead. No longer would a centralized, wholly decadent and corrupt priesthood, hierarchy, and merchant class oppress the men of Israel. Jeroboam had resolved to create a nation without the corruptions of Solomon, adopting the modern truths he had come to respect – where the people 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 wealthiest 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 exorbitant 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 promising the full, unbridled liberty of the people to their consciences alone (although their conscience was not permitted to choose loyalty to the Levites’ teaching or the Jerusalem temple or the throne of David); away from the corrupt, worldly throne of David. After all, if Solomon could construct idols for his hundreds of foreign wives, what could be wrong with Jeroboam constructing just a few idols so that the people are not impoverished by the necessity of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem?
Jeroboam was the founder and first king of what is called in the scriptures the “Northern Kingdom”, or the Kingdom of Israel – as distinct from the Kingdom of Judah centered in Jerusalem. Jeroboam arose in the context of Solomon’s later years, when he was corrupted by doing virtually everything the law said kings should not do (Deuteronomy 17). Those conditions are paraphrased as follows:
- Kings may not be foreigners;
- Kings may not acquire many horses for themselves or cause the people to return to Egypt to acquire them;
- Kings may not acquire many wives for themselves;
- Kings may not acquire excessive silver and gold;
- 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 was a product of Bathsheba and the second child of David’s sin in the Bathsheba affair (the first died shortly after birth). 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. A quick examination of the Bathsheba affair is necessary, given its importance in David’s life.
The Matter of Uriah the Hittite and Bathsheba
[1Ki 15:4–5] 4 Nevertheless, for David’s sake the LORD his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem, setting up his son after him, and establishing Jerusalem, 5 because David did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.
Lest a person think this was a simple act of adultery (which is evil enough), David’s sins go well beyond adultery in this charade.
David was at home during the season when Kings typically went to war to contend for their homelands (2 Samuel 11:1). He sees a woman bathing on a roof from his palace, and sends messengers to summon her, and commits adultery with her, impregnating her. Her husband has been away at war on David’s behalf, 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 king’s house because of his devotion to his fellow soldiers who were still in the field and to David. David becomes more desperate and writes a letter that proves to be Uriah’s death warrant that he himself was to deliver to Joab, one of David’s generals. The letter tells Joab 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. 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 fasting in hopes that God would relent. David eventually has a second child with Bathsheba: Solomon.
Bathsheba’s grandfather was Ahithophel[ii], a very intelligent advisor who joined David’s son Absalom[iii] in a near successful attempt to overthrow David. It is reasonable to speculate that Ahithophel’s betrayal of David was influenced by David’s choice to steal Bathsheba and have Uriah, his son–in–law, 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. David had refused to judge and punish Amnon, and Absalom was only too willing to step into the vacuum of leadership left after David’s biggest sin had obviously hamstrung his leadership ability. God’s chilling judgment on David’s house in the matter of Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite rings to this day:
[2Sa 12:10] 10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’
David chose Solomon as his successor in a set of circumstances engineered by Nathan the Prophet and Bathsheba after Adonijah had exalted himself to become King, and garnered priestly and military allies, which was no small drama in the kingdom. Solomon was hand-picked over his older brethren, was conceived in sin, yet given every resource necessary to succeed (David prepared the pattern and much of materials needed for the construction of the temple). 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 20 years turning away from God to the foreign gods of his hundreds of wives and concubines and building idol gods himself. His works and those foreign gods were all edifices to the glory of pleasure, 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. He is commonly thought of as the wisest man of his day and possibly the wisest who ever lived.
The Bible uses a term for Solomon’s wisdom that refers to intellectual skill; it is 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 in his day. Many an intelligent person can think of the perfect judgment or the perfect retort in an argument after the fact or after much deliberation and collecting of one’s thoughts. Solomon’s “split baby” solution illustrated his ability to understand not only feminine dynamics but philosophical concepts and persuasion. He would have been extremely difficult to undermine politically because of his massive intellect and wisdom or confront with wrongs – the most intelligent are always the cleverest at justifying wrongdoing.
Early in his reign, God came to Solomon by night when he had gone to Gibeon (where the Tabernacle built by Moses was at the time, prior to the construction of the temple) and asked him to make a single request. Solomon asked for great wisdom to govern Israel – he wanted to be the perfect statesman for his people. God commended him for not asking for baser things like money or the death of his enemies, and as a result also gave him riches, possessions, and honor.
No King of Israel or Judah is recorded to have copied the Law in accordance with Deuteronomy 17, but Solomon is the only king shown to specifically violate nearly 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] 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; initially, he only used resident aliens for the various building projects:
[1Ki 9:22] 22 But of the people of Israel Solomon made no slaves. They were the soldiers, they were his officials, his commanders, his captains, his chariot commanders and his horsemen.
[2Ch 8:9] 9 But of the people of Israel Solomon made no slaves for his work; they were soldiers, and his officers, the commanders of his chariots, and his horsemen.
[2Ch 2:17–18] 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.
However, the fact that Israel who assembled themselves to Rehoboam and asked their burden to be lightened implies that later Solomon made work slaves of Israel. Reading between the lines, it is reasonable to conclude Judah or Solomon’s family were not included in that burden, firmly establishing the elitism that helped drive Israel away from loyalty to the throne of David:
[1Ki 12:3–4] 3 And they sent and called him, and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam, 4 “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you.”
Further, the law commanded Israel not to oppress foreigners:
[Exo 22:21] 21 “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
[Exo 23:9] 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] 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] 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] 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] 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 hundreds of years later and probably sealed the eventual destruction of the Temple (“the place God placed his name”). Solomon has many characteristics that echo the description of Satan in Ezekiel 27, where 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 hooves – 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 as “Mystery Babylon.” Ezekiel 28 speaks more particularly of what the King of Tyre was compared to – Satan – and the parameters of his judgment:
[Eze 28:2–5, 12–17] 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 is a king who was “perfect in beauty and wisdom.” God commended these things because they were good when used properly, 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 based on reason and a desire for common prosperity. Solomon was the ultimate humanist of his day.
Likewise, the Roman Church hierarchy had become in the 1500s everything the Apostolic church was not. Dante wrote in the Divine Comedy in the early 14th century, “Alas, Constantine, how much misfortune you caused; not by becoming Christian, but by that dowry which the first rich father accepted from you!” Dante was referencing a forged document called the “Donation of Constantine” or known as the Donatio used as justification by Popes toward territorial claims in the West, but the larger metaphor is that “the first rich pope,” Sylvester, had accepted status and gifts from Constantine (although not the way the Donatio indicated) that would cause tremendous ills to the Church many years hence.
Israel’s first king arose many hundreds of years after their Exodus from Egypt. Samuel the prophet travels along a circuit where he renders judgments and preaches to the people about righteousness and thus carries on the tradition of Moses. Moses, Joshua, and subsequent judges never claimed a universal political authority over the governance of the various tribes; they only claimed universal spiritual authority for their times. Purely natural political issues and governance was left to the tribes themselves.
Samuel’s warnings about the sin Israel had committed in demanding a king “like all the nations” resonated through the first three Kings – Saul, David, Solomon, and beyond – no less than the warnings of political entanglements of national leadership resonate through the richest, most decadent eras of the Catholic Church:
[1Sa 8:11–18] 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. 12 And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”
Culture and Decadence
It is reasonable to suggest that during Solomon’s era in Jerusalem 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 son of Solomon felt no threat whatsoever that the priesthood or prophets might turn on him or undermine him:
[2Ch 12:1] 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] 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 yet also a time of peak corruption. The seeds for the kingdom’s rapid decline and contraction were sown and would bear fruit in the corruptions of evil kings in Judah, namely Ahaz and Manasseh, and at the coming of the Babylonian Empire. Solomon was more corrupt in the last segment of his reign than Saul and nearly all the kings of Judah that followed Solomon, 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, and successful with an airtight system of management. Solomon proves what happens when a highly talented man is eased of the burden of accountability and his corruptions hiding within are leavened with power and wealth, emerging in time and sowing the seeds for the destruction of civilization itself. As soon as he was gone, the whole edifice collapsed.
Similarly, the Solomon era of Christianity was its peak of power, prosperity, and culture. From 1170 to 1270 alone, around 80 cathedrals and major churches were constructed in Europe. The legends of the scandals, income, and political entanglements of the Popes are legendary and are very easy to find. Cardinalates were for sale. Rumors of poisoned Popes and fixed conclaves abound. The political turmoil of Europe intimately involved the Papacy. The Papacy’s wrangling for temporal power didn’t fully cease until Napoleon finally severed the Papacy’s overt political influence.
The gothic spires and domes formed the central reality of those faithful who worshiped in these buildings, and many stand today in all their beauty. They are a testament to the incredible cultural beauty that was created during the middle ages and has continued throughout European history. They were built at a very high price; like Solomon’s “slave underclass,” feudalism reigned in the Middle Ages and was reinforced by the role and stature of clergy. If only they had been content to recognize their core purpose, who knows how things could have been different – although to be fair, many did, and that was precisely why they were not given power by the most powerful families.
The flood of destruction in Europe that followed in the wake of the Reformation, including some of the bloodiest wars in history, owe at least some of their origins to the loss of unity because of the failures of Churchmen and Popes to recognize the importance of maintaining their spiritual leadership; if they lost their moral authority in this arena, Europe too would fall in time. The Popes did not hear, and they allowed the lure of temporal power and political concerns to cloud their perception of the future. Nevertheless, there was a recovery of the Papacy’s spiritual leadership, despite the tremendous upheaval in the centuries after Napoleon up to now.
[i] Malachi Martin, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Church, pp 201
[ii] 2 Samuel 23:34 indicates Eliam was the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite, and 2 Sam 11:3 indicates Bathsheba was the daughter of Eliam.
[iii] Interestingly, Absalom is the offspring of David’s union with the daughter of a king of Geshur, a nation who the Reubenites and Gadites could not drive out of the land (Joshua 13:13).