Solomon: The Real World Circumstances Behind His Slide Into Sin

This is the first part of a 2 part article on Solomon. The second part will come out next Friday, June 9th 2017.

087-king_solomon_in_old_ageWe tend to think of Solomon’s descent into abandoning God as a simple process. He had too many foreign wives who influenced him, and that finished him off. However, the more I have studied ancient history and gained an understanding of what was happening in the world surrounding Isra’el, the more I have come to understand that there is a complex set of political dynamics behind why Solomon married those women. Sin is never simple. Rarely are our actions black and white, and like Solomon, disaster can be borne out of common wisdom and accepting what our society tells us is right and harmless.

Many of the bad choices we make are based on fear, and Solomon appears to be no exception. Looking back we know he had a war-free reign, but did Solomon know that would happen? He lived in a terrifying time and acted to mitigate the risks as best he could.

From reading Proverbs, I can see that unlike David, Solomon’s knowledge of God was in the head, not the heart and he never developed the passion for, or dependence on God which would have led him away from making disastrous choices. His fears pulled him towards reliance on his wisdom to make strategic decisions, rather than his heart leading him to act with faith, and that is why he took the safe, well worn route of making political marriages which would protect the nation. It was what many generations of pagan kings had done before him, and in the same way he copied their style of *animalistic throne, he copied their other law-breaking customs as well. Sadly, his lack of faith led to his final downfall when he abandoned YHWH altogether and split the nation he was trying to hold together.

Here are the main features of the world Solomon was living in which would have affected his choices. Please see the links at the end for additional resources which will help this make sense.

  1. Egypt was bouncing back from the Bronze Age Collapse which had kept them quiet. They began to exact vengeance against the Philistines who had taken a great deal of their territory, and would have been a direct threat to Isra’el, as back in Abraham’s time, Canaan was under Egyptian control and they would have wanted that critical piece of land back. The greatest logic as to why Solomon took an Egyptian royal wife was that it was a rational decision to ally the nations and hold off Egypt from attacking them. Solomon’s successor, Rehoboam, had an Ammonite mother; she was not the Egyptian princess, so Egypt lost little time in attacking Judah once Solomon was dead and there were no strings attached. [Refs. 1 Kings 9 and 1 Kings 14:25]

2. Egypt wasn’t the only threat to Isra’el’s security. Assyria was also steadily rising and became a terrifying menace which later enslaved the Northern Kingdom. They have the reputation of being the cruelest army to ever have existed on the Earth. Solomon would have watched this and been rightly concerned, plus we don’t know what other significant power struggles were occurring around him.

It is interesting to note the extensive resources Solomon invested in building and fortifying Isra’el. [2 Chronicles 8:5] This is why it seems logical to me that the other foreign wives may have been like the Egyptian Princess: marriages to stop wars and uprisings from places like Assyria and lands such as Moab, which were hit hard by David. They would have wanted to test the military mettle of a new King to see if they could gain control of Isra’el and her many natural resources, but marriage could stop that from occurring.

Solomon was very active in national security, as well as building a prosperous nation. He was making all the right moves. Solomon rebuilt both Megiddo and Gezer, which had been struck by Egypt. [Ref. 1 Kings 9:15] As I said above, Canaan which includes Megiddo, had been under Egyptian control pre-Philistine arrival, as it is an area of vital strategic importance. It has a mountain range which cuts through the middle of trade routes, allowing the control and taxation of the camel and donkey caravans who had little choice but to take that route. It is also a very important military position which has been mown to the ground by war many times. 1 Kings 10:26 tells us of the army Solomon was amassing, which was cutting edge for his day, and strictly against the commands of the Torah. [ Ref. Deuteronomy 17:16] If he had felt safe, he would not have done any of this.

3. Solomon’s world was heavily influenced by the cultural diffusion which had occurred between the Canaanites and Israelites. Diffusion occurs for practical reasons: it opens the way to jobs, better trade and if you can understand and speak to your neighbours, and have things in common, then there is less chance of raids and war. So people ‘sensibly’ intermarry and try to live in harmony, which leads to curiosity about life style and other gods…and then the unfaithful become persuaded to worship Ashtoreth, Molech and/or Chemosh. It’s a subtle, natural process and the reason why God ordered the elimination of those nations. The people were told as far back as the wilderness: ‘don’t even ask others about their gods!’ That is a dangerous conversation when gods lead to guilt-free carnal pleasures as worship. Abandoning YHWH wasn’t planned sin; the people slowly faded into compromise, just as Solomon did, which was their undoing too.

ancient-arabia-yemen-%d8%a8%d9%84%d9%82%d9%8a%d8%b3Even with all these risk factors in mind, Solomon had no excuse for not depending on God to keep Isra’el safe. The entire history if Isra’el proves God’s faithfulness in delivering His people, plus David had set a sterling example of how to lean on God in any situation.
In Proverbs 3, Solomon’s own words are:

5: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
6: Seek His will in all you do,
and He will show you which path to take.
25: You need not be afraid of sudden disaster
or the destruction that comes upon the wicked,
26: for the LORD is your security.
He will keep your foot from being caught in a trap.”

Despite what he said, in practice, he relied on legalistic wisdom, solving the challenges that faced him using that one limited gift. As the commentator MacLaren says: “Proverbs 10:32, contains a collection of isolated maxims which may be described as the product of sanctified common sense. They are shrewd and homely, but not remarkably spiritual or elevated.” That sums up all of his work. God may have given Solomon wisdom, but Solomon didn’t use it for spiritual reasons or to increase his relationship with YHWH, he was too egocentric.

Look at the differences in how David and Solomon approach God. Ecclesiastes 2 uses these words: I made, I bought, I gathered… whereas in David’s song of praise in 2 Samuel 22, repeatedly, God is attributed with victory, well over and above anything David claims for himself. “The Lord is…” “He is…” He heard…” He opened…” “He shot…” “His lightning…”

Solomon lived for himself and his inward focus destroyed the very foundations of his character more than any accumulation of foreign wives could. He could be likened to a house built so poorly that any pressure on it, (fear of war and calamity,) pulled it down, because the foundations had no spiritual strength. Solomon is a terrible tragedy.
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Notes:

To properly understand the time Solomon lived in, you will find these articles helpful. I cannot include all this information here as it’s too extensive and took months of study and research to uncover.
Things You Need to Know About Isra’el
Bronze Age Collapse
Sands and Sin

*Animalistic Throne: from as a far back as the pagan priest kings of Mesopotamia, stelae and orthostats show thrones surrounded by lions or with lion heads carved into the arms of the throne. It was a way of harnessing the power of those mighty animals, and a well understood pagan symbol of power and might: not faith in YHWH.


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The King David Project by Cate Russell-Cole is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-SA 4.0).
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How YHWH is Unique: Differences Between Him and Mesopotamian Gods

high_priest_offering_incense_on_the_altarOver the last few months I have been studying the ancient history of the Near East to get a handle on how the surrounding nations impacted King David’s life. This is impossible to do without running into dozens and dozens and dozens of pagan deities, who went on to become the gods of Canaan, Babylon and Assyria. One thing that has struck me time and time again, is how radically different our God, YHWH, is compared to the other gods. Moses agrees with me: “For what great nation has a god as near to them as the LORD our God is near to us whenever we call on Him? And what great nation has decrees and regulations as righteous and fair as this body of instructions that I am giving you today?” Deuteronomy 4:7-8

Studying ancient history has shown me similarities between Biblical stories (*the flood) and how YHWH was worshipped, so how do I know that YHWH is the one true god? Because He is so distinctively unique.

Firstly, how do I account for the similarities in worship between Mesopotamia and Israel, which include blood sacrifice, the system for supporting priests; incense, music used in worship, the altars having horns, and the similarities in spiritual language? Scott Aniol from Answers in Genesis sums up what I was thinking beautifully: “All nations had a common ancestry in Adam, and God’s self-revelation was part of their heritage, thus accounting for any similarities in worship practice that exist.” Worship stemmed from one God and one original system which was corrupted for man-made divinities. This form of corrupted worship in the Mesopotamian world remained in vogue for over four thousand years, and some practices (such as the fear of the number 13) still affect many world cultures today.

“When comparing the psalms of Israel with those of Ugarit people, important distinctions emerge as well. According to Walton, “the category of declarative praise is unique to Israel”. Oswalt argues that although Psalm 29 may resemble Ugarit references to Baal as god of thunderstorms, “nowhere in the psalm is Yahweh identified with the thunderstorm. . . . Yahweh sits above the flood” (Oswalt 2009, 105–06. Emphasis original). Likewise, Currid observes that even “the style of writing of the cosmological texts from the ancient Near East is best described as ‘mythic narrative,’” while the biblical record “bears all the markings of Hebrew historical narrative.” (Currid 2013, 43)… Biblical history and pagan myth have very different purposes, functions, and literary forms and therefore must not be interpreted in the same manner.

The key elements of worship that appear in most religions are instituted in the first few chapters of Genesis. God places Adam and Eve in his sanctuary as priests who serve him and commune with him. After they disobey him, God institutes the idea of substitutionary sacrifice and atonement, establishing a covenant with them. Each of these elements characterises the worship of all religions since they are part of the religious heritage of all children of Adam. As Rodríguez notes, “those religious expressions belong to the common human experience of God” (Rodríguez 2001, 47). Romans 1:19–20 testifies to this when it says that God has revealed himself to all people through “the things that have been made.” 
[Source: Worldview Bias and the Origin of Hebrew Worship by Scott Aniol https://answersingenesis.org/presuppositions/bias-and-origin-of-hebrew-worship/]

What is also interesting, is how the Laws that God gave through Moses seem to be put in place to stop the Israelites from copying many of the pagan practices of other religions. For example, the Israelites were told: “A woman must not put on men’s clothing, and a man must not wear women’s clothing. Anyone who does this is detestable in the sight of the LORD your God.” Deuteronomy 22:5 In some Mesopotamian ritual processions, the participants dressed half as men, half as women to worship their god. The more I study, the more I realise how much cultural information is lost to us, which sheds an entirely new light on Biblical precepts.
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foster_bible_pictures_0073-1_offering_up_a_burnt_sacrifice_to_godI could write a book on everything I have learned, but the main point I want to leave you with is how YHWH is a distinctive deity:

1. The Israelites could only have one religious relic/artefact, which was the Ark of the Covenant which had the manifest Presence of God upon it. Unlike polytheism, where there are many statues of a god made for every temple and need, there was no limit to the number. YHWH specifically banned the making of such images to represent Him. [Ref. Exodus 34:17]
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2. YHWH is way above the average intelligence of other gods
Some Mesopotamians created statues of themselves praying that they could place in their temples to make theirs gods think they were being prayed to all the time, and the gods knew no difference. According to the Jewish Virtual Library: “An idol, in the pagan mind, was a living and feeling being… The god’s spirit dwelt within the idol and was identified with it. The god was not confined to a single idol or a single shape; rather his spirit dwelt within many idols of varied shapes. The god perceived and sensed whatever happened to its idol…  The argument offered by the Psalmist (Ps. 106:36; 115:9), “they have eyes but they do not see” should be taken literally… The Biblical description of idolatry as “sacrifices to the dead,” (Ps. 106:28) and of idols as “wood and stone,” (Deut. 28:36, 64), and similar descriptions, challenge the pagan claim that the images they worshiped were in fact “living idols.”” 
[Source: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0009_0_09475.html]
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3. YHWH has exceptional moral character
“And Jehovah (YHWH) came down in the cloud. And he placed himself there with Him, and he called on the name of Jehovah. And Jehovah passed by before his face and called out: Jehovah! Jehovah God! Merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and great in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and not leaving entirely unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on sons, and on sons of sons, to the third and to the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:5-7

God’s were prone to the human traits of bitterness, revenge, theft, deception and basically, behaviour which is “fleshly.” [Ref. Galatians 5:16-25] Pagan gods are recorded as viciously punishing their followers over hurt feelings, regardless of who was responsible. This was a way to account for the tragedies and baffling ups and downs of life.

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, King Gilgamesh refuses to marry the goddess Ishtar and reminds her of how she has abused the affection of her past lovers. In vengeance, she complains to her father, who at first says, “serves you right,” but then: “Ishtar opened her mouth and said again, ‘My father, give me the Bull of Heaven to destroy Gilgamesh. Fill Gilgamesh, I say, with arrogance to his destruction; but if you refuse to give me the Bull of Heaven I will break in the doors of hell and smash the bolts; there will be confusion of people, those above with those from the lower depths. I shall bring up the dead to eat food like the living; and the hosts of dead will outnumber the living.’ Anusa said to great Ishtar, ‘If I do what you desire there will be seven years of drought throughout Uruk when corn will be seedless husks. Have you saved grain enough for the people and grass for the cattle? Ishtar replied. ‘I have saved grain for the people, grass for the cattle; for seven years of seedless husks, there is grain and there is grass enough.’ “ 

“She stirs confusion and chaos against those who are disobedient to her, speeding carnage and inciting the devastating flood, clothed in terrifying radiance. It is her game to speed conflict and battle, untiring, strapping on her sandals.” Battle itself is sometimes referred to as “the dance of Inanna.” [Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inanna]

YHWH is not prone to such human faults and appalling acts of retribution. As we read in Exodus 34:5-7, He is open to reconciliation rather than murder. His people have to completely turn their back on Him before they are cursed.
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4. YHWH is not dependent upon us to provide any of His needs According to Mesopotamian mythology, human beings were created so the gods would have servants. “Man shall be charged with the service of the gods, that they might be at ease.” Babylonian Creation myth.

While the Hebrews (later Israel,) served YHWH, it was by obedience and through worship, they didn’t provide for His physical needs or were used and abused for His pleasure. To please Anu, you had to do the following (plus meet all the other requirements): “Several times a day in an elaborate ritual the god was served a sumptuous meal. The courses were set out before the statue of the god or goddess, music was played, and incense was sprinkled. Here is a daily menu for the god Anu at Uruk: 12 vessels of wine 2 vessels of milk, 108 vessels of beer, 243 loaves of bread, 29 bushels of dates, 21 rams, 2 bulls, 1 bullock, 8 lambs, 60 birds, 3 cranes, 7 ducks, 4 wild boars, 3 ostrich eggs, 3 duck eggs.”
[Source: http://www.dl.ket.org/humanities/connections/class/ancient/mesopreligion.htm]

Instead, He meets ours! “And He will love you, and bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your body, and the fruit of your land, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your oxen and the wealth of your flock, in the land which He has sworn to your fathers, to give it to you. You shall be blessed above all people; there shall not be a barren man or a barren woman among you, nor among your livestock. And Jehovah shall turn aside every sickness from you; and He will not put on you any of the evil diseases of Egypt, which you have known, but He will put them on all who hate you.” Deuteronomy 7:13-15 Literal Translation of the Holy Bible
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557px-the_ark_of_the_covenant5. YHWH is accessible to all of His followers, not just the elite or the priests. “The higher-echelon did all the preparation, and private individuals only came into contact with the gods when statues of deities were brought out of the temple and carried through the streets.” [Source: http://www.dl.ket.org/humanities/connections/class/ancient/mesopreligion.htm]
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6. YHWH cannot be controlled by man
Since the god fully identified with its idol, whoever controlled the idol also controlled the god. When the king of Elam saw that he was about to be defeated by Sennacherib, he took his idols and fled in order that they [the idols] should not fall captive… The custom of taking captive the idols of the vanquished was ancient and widespread… Rab-Shakeh wanted to impress upon the people of Judah the fact that the gods of the neighbouring nations failed to protect them from the armies of Sennacherib .(Isa. 36:18–20; 37:10–12) [Source:
https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0009_0_09475.html]

It was believed that once you had the idol, you controlled the god who would do your bidding if you appeased them. From there, any success would be possible. YHWH is completely resistant to manipulation. This is shown in Numbers 22 with Balaam who was ordered by the Moabite King, Balak, to curse the Israelites. “But Balaam responded to Balak’s messengers, “Even if Balak were to give me his palace filled with silver and gold, I would be powerless to do anything against the will of the LORD [YHWH] my God.”
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7. YHWH is not a God who has to retreat
When in enemies’ hands, the power of the idol vanished. The vanquished kings would come and beg for the return of the idols; to return an idol to his temple was considered an act of mercy. Because of his fear of the enemy, the god would leave the idol “and fly to the heavens” Jeremiah 50:1–3 makes reference to this belief). [Source: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0009_0_09475.html]

Our God rules over all and has no need of retreat, and no fear of man as He showed when He delivered His people from Pharaoh in Exodus, which David acknowledged when he said: “O LORD, there is no one like You. We have never even heard of another God like You! What other nation on earth is like Your people Israel? What other nation, O God, have You redeemed from slavery to be Your own people? You made a great name for Yourself when You redeemed Your people from Egypt. You performed awesome miracles and drove out the nations that stood in their way. You chose Israel to be Your very own people forever, and You, O LORD, became their God.” 1 Chronicles 17:20-22

Conclusion: “For who in all of heaven can compare with the LORD? What mightiest angel is anything like the LORD?” Psalm 89:6 How blessed we are.

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Notes:
*Flood stories were recorded well after the event, so pagan cultures associated what occurred with their cultural beliefs at the time.


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Creative Commons License
The King David Project by Cate Russell-Cole is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://cateartios.wixsite.com/kingdavidproject.

The images in this post come from Wikimedia Commons and are CC BY-SA 4.0