Today’s reading: 1 Kings 3-11, Psalm 46-47
My, how things can change. We ended yesterday with Solomon securely in power as king of Israel. Then we began today with what appears to be a humble Solomon, praying that God would bless his reign not with material things but with wisdom. Almost immediately, we see that King Solomon has indeed been endowed with this gift from God; he handles the dispute between two women over a baby with sharp discernment. Early on, all signs are looking good–the nation is at peace, a stable corps of leadership is in place, and a king with sound judgment is on the throne.
How ironic, then, that Solomon’s craving for extravagance and beauty–material things–becomes his downfall. Under his wise leadership, his kingdom initially grows in favor, not only among the people of Israel but also their neighbors. As a result, he becomes the beneficiary of the extravagant generosity of others. Many of the early gifts play a key role in the construction of a temple that will make Israel proud. By the time that project is completed, though, Solomon’s appetite for beautiful things has become insatiable.
Blindsided by greed, he begins to hoard. He acts like a cheapskate in rewarding Hiram, one of his most important contractors for the temple project. He enslaves a workforce of foreigners (uh, have we forgotten Egypt?) in order to maintain the lifestyle to which he has become accustomed. He amasses enormous fleets of horses and chariots. He has a closetful of bodylength, solid gold shields–200, to be exact. And then there are the women–he can’t contain himself and his house becomes a who’s who of beautiful women from all over the world. We conclude the day with Solomon’s death–and the knowledge that his antics have put the kingdom back in jeopardy.
Solomon’s story offers an example of well-intentioned, principled leadership that takes a disastrous detour along the way. As I read his story today, I think back to Nathan again. There appears to be no Nathan-like figure standing alongside Solomon. Solomon’s fall is a reminder that even the wisest, most able leaders still need a trusted advisor who will speak the truth to them when they are veering off course.