When Wisdom Fails

June 4, 2024
By: Jordan Wilbanks

The story of Solomon is a dramatic one. He is the heir of the Davidic throne. David, his father, had received a direct covenant from God that his kingdom, his dynasty, would have no end: 

“When the time comes for you to die, I will raise up your descendant, one of your own sons, to succeed you, and I will establish his kingdom. He will build a house for my name, and I will make his dynasty permanent. I will become his father and he will become my son” (2 Sam. 7:12–14, NET). 

God’s Holy House

David wanted to build an appropriate house for God to dwell in among His people. David saw it as an injustice that he himself was living in a grand house while the ark of God dwelled in a tent (1 Chron. 17:1; 2 Sam. 7:2). Why? The ark was a gracious accommodation of God for His people, a mysterious dwelling of His real presence with them as a sign of His covenant with Moses. From above the ark, God “sat” and gave Moses the law of Israel (Ex. 25:22). It was on the mercy seat, or “atonement lid” of the ark that the blood sacrifice for the people was sprinkled on the Day of Atonement by the high priest. God’s presence would “appear in the cloud over the atonement lid” (Lev. 16:2). Inside, it bore the two tablets of the Law which God gave to Moses, along with manna in a golden urn and Aaron’s budded staff (Ex. 40:20; Num. 17:10; Heb. 9:4). 

Put succinctly, the ark was the most sacred item in Israel because it was synonymous with God. Thus, David believed, the ark must not be relegated to a tent while the human king lived in a house. 

As the story unfolds, God reminds David that He has never demanded a house. Yet, He declares that He will further accommodate His people and this good desire of David by consenting to the building of a house—what became the Jerusalem Temple. But the honor of building it would not be David’s to receive. 1 Chronicles 22:8 gives the reason: David had shed too much blood before God; God would have his son Solomon, a man of peace, build the house. 

Solomon the King

When David dies and Solomon becomes king of Israel, the young heir prepares to build the great Temple. God appears to him, and at Solomon’s request, grants him “wisdom and discernment” and blesses him with great riches and honor (1 Kings 3:6–13; 2 Chron. 1:8–12). Solomon oversees the building and completion of the Temple—a sevenyear process—dedicating it with fervent prayer before the people. Then, when the ark is brought into its place in the Holy of Holies, the climactic moment comes as the “splendor” or glory of God—His presence—fills the Temple (1 Kings 8:10–11; 2 Chron. 7:1–3). 

The Promises of God

As the Lord had done with His people through Moses, He gives Solomon both promise and warning. In a second appearing to Solomon, God promises that obedience to His commandments will yield the fulfillment of the promise given to David, that God would “constantly be present” among them, and that the dynasty God was building in them would “rule over Israel permanently” (1 Kings 9:3–5). However, he warns that if Solomon or his sons disobey “and decide to serve other gods,” God would abandon the Temple built for Him, which He had consecrated, and destruction would come to Israel (9:6). 

But this is the son of David, the wise and blessed Solomon. Was this warning necessary? 

If the conditions seem severe, one must take honest account of its consistency with God’s standards in all the Old Testament. Idolatry is the gravest of offenses—especially when one has beheld the one true God. And this God had appeared in some form to Solomon twice. His father had received the covenant directly, and his people had inherited the Mosaic covenant through the generations. Solomon knew with whom he was dealing, and he even knew that no earthly house nor the highest heaven could truly contain the one true God (1 Kings 8:27). 

With all he had seen, with all he had been given by God, with all he had been promised by God, and with the prayers that he prayed, Solomon is the last one for whom such a warning is warranted: right? 

The Fall of Solomon

Sober attention should be drawn to 1 Kings 11 for the answer. There we find a tragic turn: this covenant heir and king of the dynasty anointed by God gives his heart to false gods, turning from the One whom he had beheld. The builder of the consecrated Temple of the true God was now building places of worship to lifeless deities of idolatrous peoples (11:7–8). He traded the splendor of the divine Presence for the love of many foreign women and their so-called “gods.” The son of the royal covenant exiled himself to prostitution and filth. He went to the mountain east of Jerusalem and desecrated his body, his soul, his kingdom, his people. And he committed the highest of offenses against his God. 

Like Solomon, all other representative heads of the people of God have turned to something or someone other than God and forsaken His law, offended His holiness, and forgotten His covenant. All, that is, save one. 

The Better Solomon

When God made His covenant with David, He meant what He said. Solomon did not have the power to undo what God had decreed. Like the covenant with Abraham, one need only to count the “I will” statements to see this as a unilateral arrangement: God would uphold both sides of this covenant. A son of David would come, and the kingdom would be established forever, and a house for God’s permanent dwelling would be built. But this heir, this true and better King, would obey and uphold God’s law perfectly, bringing blessing not just to Israel but to all nations. This king, like Solomon, would go to the mountain east of Jerusalem. There He too would prepare a sacrifice, but His pure and perfect sacrifice would bear the guilt of all of Solomon’s rebellion, all of Israel’s waywardness, and the sin of all mankind. He would possess in Himself the divine Presence and the flesh of man without sin. The great accommodation for man, bringing that Presence back into the midst of the people, would be accomplished through Him forever. He would be the true King of Peace, ending the reigns of sin and death that the people might dwell with their God in the place He had created for them. 

We trust and hope that the Book of Ecclesiastes is the confession of Solomon late in life, his return from wandering to wisdom and to God. Even so, his account is one that reminds us that we do not look to the figures of Scripture as exemplars primarily: they are better mirrors. These vessels of God’s revelation at times show us godly living, but often show us our own idolatrous hearts. Solomon, like any fallen leader, was vulnerable to the temptations of the world. Though his tragic collapse is stark considering the unique experiences he had enjoyed with God, such a fall is not without hope for restoration because of the divine Son who is Himself the “atonement lid” and the sacrifice 

Jordan Wilbanks

Jordan Wilbanks serves as the Director of Church Partnerships at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. He also oversees The Timothy Track, a church-based mentorship program for residential MDiv students. 

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