Pages 8-10: summer 1991
THE WISDOM OF SOLOMON?
The Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God? As a child growing up
in the '40s in Southeast Missouri, completely surrounded by the fundamental-
ist mentality typical of both the era and area, I believed so. I had complete
faith in the "word of God." Over a period of several years of conscientious
Bible study, however, I became more and more aware of, and bothered by,
the many discrepancies, inconsistencies, and outright absurdities in the book.
Several absurdities concerned the so-called wisdom of Solomon.
Solomon--the man whom God himself declared had no equal when it came to
wisdom! According to the "inspired text," none before him, none after him
(presumably this would also include Jesus Christ) did or would compare to
the wisdom God granted to Solomon:
Lo, I (God) have given you an understanding heart; so that
there has been none like you before you, neither after you shall
any arise like you (1 Kings 3:12, Bethel Bible).
And Elohim gave Solomon wisdom and understanding very
much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the
seashore. And Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the
children of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt (1 Kings 4:29-
Well, Solomon's brand of wisdom as revealed in the Bible is totally unim-
pressive to me and surely to many other discerning readers too. Let's look
at a few examples of the incredible wisdom of Solomon--the wisest man ever
To say the very least, Solomon was a man of excesses. The biblical
account of his conspicuous consumption makes him appear ludicrous and even
morally corrupt. His opulence was totally unfettered. If it was available,
Solomon apparently had to have it. The best woods, the finest metals, pre-
cious stones, ivory, exotic animals, the best of everything from splendid
houses to chariots, spices, and gold--nothing luxurious escaped his cravings.
In view of the quantity of food served daily at his table and the excessive
(was he anything but?) sacrificial offerings to his god, one could even say
his ostentation extended to what surely amounted to near decimation of the
animal population of that region:
And Solomon's provision for one day was thirty measures of fine
flour, and sixty measures of meal, ten fat oxen, and twenty oxen
out of the pastures, and a hundred sheep, besides harts, and
gazelles, and roebucks, and fatted fowl (1 Kings 4:22-23, BB).
His voraciousness was such that he required the services of twelve regional
officers just to provide this amount of food for his household (v:7)!
At the "great high place" in Gibeon, he once offered a thousand burnt
offerings on the altar there (1 Kings 3:4), and at the dedication of the
temple, his offerings were so numerous that they "could not be counted or
numbered for multitude" (1 Kings 8:5). The bronze altar in the newly built
temple couldn't even accommodate them:
And Solomon offered for the sacrifice of peace-offerings,
which he offered to Yahweh, twenty-two thousand oxen, and a
hundred and twenty thousand sheep. So the king and all the
children of Israel dedicated the house of Yahweh. The same day
the king hallowed the middle of the court that was before the
house of Yahweh; for there he offered the burnt-offering, and
the meal-offering, and the fat of the peace-offerings, because the
bronze altar that was before Yahweh was too little to receive the
burnt-offering, and the meal-offering, and the fat of the peace-
offerings (1 Kings 8:63-64, BB).
Never mind that we are given a specific number of animals in this passage
after having been told that the offerings were too numerous to be counted;
the thing we are interested in at this point is Solomon's excesses. This is
the tale of a man whose daily life makes Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous
look piddling in comparison, and Robin Leach isn't even telling this story.
God's "inspired" writer is! This obnoxious yarn might make acceptable TV
entertainment, but to include it in the book that is supposed to provide
mankind with the keys to eternal life and set an example for us to follow is
ludicrous in the extreme. One might rather choose to emulate Mahatma
Gandhi (whose wisdom, of course, didn't come close to Solomon's) than this
immature, egotistical, decadent man to whom God granted supreme wisdom.
One has to question too the reason for this grandiose sacrificial ceremony.
Was it done to please God? Did Yahweh really want, not even to say ex-
pect, such a vulgar display of reverence? If so, we have to wonder about
the ego of this god we are supposed to love and serve with all our heart and
soul and mind. A god who delighted in seeing the carcasses of 22,000 oxen
and 120,000 sheep set ablaze to pay homage to him! Come on, people, let's
get real! This is 1991.
Solomon's wisdom was legendary? Well, let's just take a look at his best
known display of that wisdom--the famous "Case of the Disputed Baby." Two
women living together had given birth to sons within a three-day period.
When one of the babies died in the night, the mother switched his body with
the other baby. Naturally, the deception was discovered by the living child's
mother, and the case was brought to Solomon for arbitration:
Then the king said, The one says, This is my son that
lives, and your son is dead: and the other says, No; but your
son is dead, and my son is the living. And the king said, Bring
me a sword. And they brought a sword before the king. And
the king said, Divide the living child in two, and give half to the
one, and half to the other. Then the woman whose the living
child was spoke to the king, for her heart yearned over her son,
and she said, Oh, my sovereign, give her the living child, and
in no wise kill it. But the other said, It shall be neither mine
nor yours; divide it. Then the king answered and said, Give
her the living child, and in no wise kill it: she is the mother of
it. And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had
judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom
of Elohim was in him, to do justice (1 Kings 3:23-28, BB).
Now let's consider sensibly what happened here. A woman grieving over
the death of her child switched the baby with another woman's. Obviously,
this grieving mother wanted a child to replace the one she had lost. When
the case was presented to Solomon, he cleverly devised a way to determine
which mother was being truthful about the incident. Upon hearing his deci-
sion, the true mother immediately offered to give the baby to the other woman
rather than to see him dead. At this point, the woman who had stolen the
child had exactly what she wanted, a baby to replace the one she had lost.
Instead of keeping it that way, however, she said in response to the real
mother's offer to relinquish her maternal claim, "It shall be neither mine nor
yours; divide it." So a woman who had the chance to get a living child to
replace the one she had lost-- exactly what she had come to Solomon for--
was turning it down. She now wanted to see the baby hacked in half!
Does this sound like a probable reaction any woman would have made in a
situation like this?
And what would Solomon have done if the second mother had also relin-
quished claim to the baby? To have done so would not have been outrageously
out of character. After all, these two women lived together; some degree of
friendship and love for the baby surely existed between them. Of course, we
have to realize that God's hand was at work in all of this. He was orches-
trating the scenario to make a point about the magnitude of Solomon's problem
solving skills, so it had to be as it was or we wouldn't have had a story,
Let's just admit for the sake of argument that Solomon's judgment in this
case was clever. Did the cleverness of it warrant the awe-stricken public
reaction attributed to it? "And all Israel heard of the judgment which the
king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of
Elohim was in him, to do justice." I guess we are supposed to believe that
an ordinary man, acting without divine guidance, could not have devised this
plan. All the judgment indicates, however, is that Solomon understood some-
thing about maternal instincts. A man has to have divine help to know that?
But there's still more to consider about Solomon that should make us all
grateful that God didn't choose one of us to be the recipient of the greatest
wisdom ever bestowed upon a human being. Can any discussion of Solomon,
for example, be complete without mentioning his 700 wives and 300 concu-
bines! My, my, even for Solomon this is excess gone to seed. But it in-
volves much more than mere excess; it involves greed, egotism, inconsider-
ateness, injustice, and just about every other character trait that we find
despicable in human beings.
Solomon's wisdom is usually associated with his extraordinary ability to
dispense justice, but what kind of justice can possibly be found in this situa-
tion? Here was a man who had surely depleted the regional supply of prin-
cesses by taking 700 of them to be his wives (1 Kings 11:3)--wives whom he
could not have "gotten around to" if he had done nothing all day, every day,
except get around to them. Add to these the 300 concubines that for some
reason he also felt a need for, and you have a case of 1,000 women trapped
in a situation of hopeless misery. Women are human beings. Bibliolaters may
not want to believe this, but women are human beings. They have emotional
needs that must be met if they are to enjoy normal lives, and Solomon could-
n't have possibly provided for the emotional needs of a thousand women.
Could even the wisest man who ever lived have remembered the names of all
of them? How did he keep track of them? Did he have a record-keeper to tell
him, "It's so-and-so's turn tonight"?
Basically, Solomon put these thousand women into a situation where it was
virtually impossible for them to experience normal lifestyles--socially, emo-
tionally, or maritally. No doubt many of them were young women with normal
physical needs, and you can bet that Solomon, while demanding their complete
fidelity, wasn't capable of accommodating those needs. The world's wisest
man! How about the world's most egotistical, inconsiderate jerk?
Another of Solomon's great claims to fame has to do with his outstanding
leadership and abilities as ruler of the united kingdom of Israel. The Bible,
in its usual contradictory fashion, would have us believe that everything was
rosy throughout the land. The people were just so happy "eating and drink-
ing and making merry" (1 Kings 4:20). Solomon made "silver and gold to be
in Jerusalem as stones" (2 Chron. 1:15). Why, life was just a bowl of cher-
ries under his reign. Or was it?
Rehoboam succeeded his father as ruler of the kingdom, but its unified
state wasn't long for this world. Jeroboam and all Israel came before the
king to complain about the misery that had been heaped upon them while
Solomon was king and to petition for relief as Rehoboam began his reign:
Your father made our yoke grievous: now therefore make the
grievous service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put
upon us, lighter, and we will serve you (1 Kings 12:4; 2 Chron.
These men wanted to serve Rehoboam, but he, lacking the wisdom of his
father, who had apparently lacked the wisdom to include all Israel in his
grandiose lifestyle, failed to follow the counsel of the old men, who had
advised Rehoboam to grant the petition. He chose instead to implement the
advice given by "the young men that had grown up with him." Their advice
was to show the Israelites who was boss, i.e., if they thought it was bad
under Solomon, just let them see what Rehoboam had in store for them. So
when the delegation returned for Rehoboam's decision, he said to them, "My
father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to it: my father punished you
with whips, but I will punish you with scorpions" (2 Chron. 10:14, BB).
Poor Rehoboam, it wasn't really his fault, "for it was brought about by
Elohim, that Yahweh might establish his word" (v:15). One could almost pity
Rehoboam and many of the other pathetic creatures in the Bible who were
simply pawns used by God to carry out his predetermined plans. They
seemed not to have any free will of their own. Suffice it to say, however,
that there is every indication here that the wise Solomon was neither just nor
competent as a ruler. His years of sovereignty had actually laid the founda-
tion for a division of the kingdom David had worked so hard to unify. The
wisest man who ever lived couldn't rule competently enough to maintain the
good will of his subjects!
Last, but certainly not least, is the biblical denunciation of Solomon's
allegiance to God. In his old age, Solomon turned to idolatry as a result of
the influence of his wives (1 Kings 11:4). There are several noteworthy
comments to make about this event. Isn't it strange to believe that the wisest
man on earth could not turn any of his wives from idolatry to worship of the
one true god, Yahweh Elohim of Israel? Isn't it strange that a man who, on at
least two occasions (1 Kings 3:5-14; 9:2-9), was personally visited by Yahweh
would turn to idolatry? Even without the visits, the wisest man on earth
wouldn't know not to practice idolatry? What on earth is so wise about
worshipping a stick of wood or a hunk of stone that one has graven himself?
Isn't it strange that a man who was promised and received great wealth would
turn from the source of that wealth? Isn't it strange that the wisest man
ever born could not manage to satisfy God? And if the wisest man ever born
couldn't please God, what chance do we people of ordinary intelligence have
to please him?
But maybe we don't have anything to worry about. Perhaps it takes
ignorance to maintain a satisfying relationship with this strange god of the
(Sandra Till's address is P. O. Box 617, Canton, IL 61520.)
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