The Wisdom of Solomon?
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
fundamentalist 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 ([ref003]1 Kings 3:12,
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 ([ref004]1 Kings 4:29-30, BB).
Well, Solomon's brand of wisdom as revealed in the Bible is totally
unimpressive 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
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, precious 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 ([ref005]1 Kings 4:22-23,
His voraciousness was such that he required the services of twelve regional
officers just to provide this amount of food for his household ([ref006]v:7)!
At the "great high place" in Gibeon, he once offered a
thousand burnt offerings on the altar there ([ref007]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" ([ref008]1 Kings 8:5).
The bronze altar in the newly built temple couldn't even accommodate
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 ([ref009]1 Kings 8:63-64,
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 expect, 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 ([ref010]1 Kings 3:23-28,
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
decision, 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
relinquished 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 orchestrating 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, would we?
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 something 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
concubines! My, my, even for Solomon this is excess gone to seed. But it
involves much more than mere excess; it involves greed, egotism,
inconsiderateness, 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 situation? Here was a man who had surely depleted the regional
supply of princesses by taking 700 of them to be his wives ([ref011]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 couldn'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, emotionally, 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 drinking and making merry" ([ref012]1 Kings 4:20).
Solomon made "silver and gold to be in Jerusalem as stones" ([ref013]2 Chron.
1:15). Why, life was just a bowl of cherries under his reign. Or was
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
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 ([ref014]1 Kings 12:4; [ref015]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" ([ref016]2 Chron.
Poor Rehoboam, it wasn't really his fault, "for it was brought
about by Elohim, that Yahweh might establish his word" ([ref017]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 ([ref018]1 Kings 11:4).
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 ([ref019]1 Kings 3:5-14;
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
(Sandra Till's address is P. O. Box 617, Canton, IL 61520.)
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