1 Kings 11: 1-13 The Foolishness of Solomon
1 King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, 2 from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the Israelites, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you; for they will surely incline your heart to follow their gods”; Solomon clung to these in love. 3 Among his wives were seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. 4 For when Solomon was old, his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of his father David. 5 For Solomon followed Astarte the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites.
6 So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not completely follow the LORD, as his father David had done. 7 Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. 8 He did the same for all his foreign wives, who offered incense and sacrificed to their gods. 9 Then the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, 10 and had commanded him concerning this matter, that he should not follow other gods; but he did not observe what the LORD commanded.
11 Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, “Since this has been your mind and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and give it to your servant. 12 Yet for the sake of your father David I will not do it in your lifetime; I will tear it out of the hand of your son. 13 I will not, however, tear away the entire kingdom; I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”
In many divorces there may be a critical crisis where rupture in the relationship becomes readily apparent to both partners, but normally there has been a slow degradation of the relationship before this critical crisis. Many casual readers of First Kings’ report of Solomon’s reign will realize the critical crisis in the relationship between Solomon and God here as Solomon begins to turn away from the ways of his father and follow other gods. Yet, as I’ve tried to illustrate, Solomon’s focus on gold, military might, political alliances, and luxury items have already shown a drift away from the covenantal ways of the law towards the practices of King Hiram of Tyre, Pharaoh of Egypt, and the other kings of the surrounding region. Solomon has become a king deeply enmeshed in trade, building a capital city like that of Egypt, and he is the opposite of the model king lifted up in Deuteronomy 17: 14-20. At the ending of the previous chapter he had acquired large numbers of horses and chariots from Egypt and massive quantities of gold and silver (to the point silver was no longer valued) and now he also has a thousand wives and concubines.
First Kings is considered by our Jewish ancestors as a prophetic book and it shares with Joshua, Judges, First and Second Samuel, and Second Kings a theological perspective which resonates strongly with the book of Deuteronomy. This covenantal understanding of the relationship between Israel’s king, Israel’s temple, the people of Israel, and the God of Israel is a central theme of the Hebrew Scriptures, yet it also is neglected by the leaders of the people of Israel. As Walter Brueggemann can insightfully state:
The editorial practice of the book of Kings is to provide a theological assessment of each king by the criterion of Torah-obedience, a criterion in which kings characteristically are not at all interested. The kings are evaluated by norms that they themselves would consider irrelevant. (Brueggemann, 2000, p. 141)
Solomon’s self-evaluation would probably be oriented around his piety in constructing the temple, his success in international trading relations, his acquisition of wealth, his construction of Jerusalem and other walled cities, and his transition of the people from a disunified tribal society to a unified monarchy which for a brief moment occupies a place on the world stage. Solomon’s evaluation by other leaders like King Hiram of Tyre, the Queen of Sheba, and Pharoah of Egypt is that he is a wise son of David who administers his kingdom in a way they find praiseworthy. Yet, the LORD’s power has been notably absent from the narrative of Solomon. God has granted wisdom, wealth, and freedom from enemies but then the narrative shifts to Solomon’s achievements occasionally interrupted by divine warnings. Solomon’s story up to this point has been one of self-reliance and achievement but the connection to the commands, statutes, and ordinances of God has been lost. Solomon has exchanged God’s wisdom for the wisdom of the other nations. Solomon’s values had already shifted by this point in the narrative, his allowance or adoption of the worship of the gods of his wives is merely the critical crisis.
Solomon’s wives are almost certainly an extension of his vast network of diplomatic and trading networks he embarks upon. Marriages in the ancient world were primarily economic relationships rather than relationships of love or lust. This does not mean that Solomon is not emotionally attached to some or all of his wives and concubines, but they were brought into his household as a way of strengthening relationships between neighboring kingdoms in addition to regional leaders in Israel. Even if the foreign women among his wives and concubines formally accepted the worship of the LORD, the God of Israel, they never adopted a Torah based value system. (Israel, 2013, p. 127) and they may have encouraged Solomon’s own drift from that value system. Early in First Kings we heard that “Solomon loved the LORD” (3:3) but now that love is in tension with Solomon’s love of many foreign women.
The law as stated in Deuteronomy is highly aware of the competing value systems that it will encounter among the surrounding people in the promised land. The people were not to make covenants with them, to intermarry with them,and they were to be excluded from the assembly of the faithful. (Deuteronomy 7: 2-4, 23: 2-7) Not only were they not to worship these other deities, they were also not to blend the practices of gods like Astarte, Chemosh, and Molech with the practices of the LORD. For example there are instances where the worship of the LORD in the book of Judges is indistinguishable from the worship of the Canaanite gods. Now Solomon allows the establishment of places of worship in close proximity to the temple itself, including on the Mount of Olives directly opposite the temple mount.
Solomon’s heart has turned away from the LORD. The NRSV indicates that Solomon’s mind has moved but the Hebrew indicates that this is Solomon’s will. Solomon who was granted wisdom has now directed his will and heart towards things that the LORD views as foolish. It may be wise in the view of the world, but in God’s eyes and in light of the covenant it is foolishness that breaks the relationship between God and Solomon and leads to a rupture in the kingdom. Yet the LORD does not act immediately. God has repeatedly warned Solomon and I believe still desires Solomon’s return and grants time and space for repentance. There is also a promise that God made to David in 2 Samuel 7:15 where the LORD promises not to take his love away like he did with Saul. Even at this critical crisis which brings a rupture to the relationship between God and the king, the LORD continues to extend grace in the midst of judgment for the sake of David and Jerusalem. God continues to honor the temple, the hope of what a Davidic king could be and to leave open a future where return to God’s ways could bring a reunited relationship. The LORD continues to seek the misplaced love of Solomon.
1 Kings 11: 14-40 Conflict in the Peaceful Reign
14 Then the LORD raised up an adversary against Solomon, Hadad the Edomite; he was of the royal house in Edom. 15 For when David was in Edom, and Joab the commander of the army went up to bury the dead, he killed every male in Edom 16 (for Joab and all Israel remained there six months, until he had eliminated every male in Edom); 17 but Hadad fled to Egypt with some Edomites who were servants of his father. He was a young boy at that time. 18 They set out from Midian and came to Paran; they took people with them from Paran and came to Egypt, to Pharaoh king of Egypt, who gave him a house, assigned him an allowance of food, and gave him land. 19 Hadad found great favor in the sight of Pharaoh, so that he gave him his sister-in-law for a wife, the sister of Queen Tahpenes. 20 The sister of Tahpenes gave birth by him to his son Genubath, whom Tahpenes weaned in Pharaoh’s house; Genubath was in Pharaoh’s house among the children of Pharaoh. 21 When Hadad heard in Egypt that David slept with his ancestors and that Joab the commander of the army was dead, Hadad said to Pharaoh, “Let me depart, that I may go to my own country.” 22 But Pharaoh said to him, “What do you lack with me that you now seek to go to your own country?” And he said, “No, do let me go.”
23 God raised up another adversary against Solomon, Rezon son of Eliada, who had fled from his master, King Hadadezer of Zobah. 24 He gathered followers around him and became leader of a marauding band, after the slaughter by David; they went to Damascus, settled there, and made him king in Damascus. 25 He was an adversary of Israel all the days of Solomon, making trouble as Hadad did; he despised Israel and reigned over Aram.
26 Jeroboam son of Nebat, an Ephraimite of Zeredah, a servant of Solomon, whose mother’s name was Zeruah, a widow, rebelled against the king. 27 The following was the reason he rebelled against the king. Solomon built the Millo, and closed up the gap in the wall of the city of his father David. 28 The man Jeroboam was very able, and when Solomon saw that the young man was industrious he gave him charge over all the forced labor of the house of Joseph. 29 About that time, when Jeroboam was leaving Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Ahijah had clothed himself with a new garment. The two of them were alone in the open country 30 when Ahijah laid hold of the new garment he was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces. 31 He then said to Jeroboam: Take for yourself ten pieces; for thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, “See, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon, and will give you ten tribes. 32 One tribe will remain his, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel. 33 This is because he has forsaken me, worshiped Astarte the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the Ammonites, and has not walked in my ways, doing what is right in my sight and keeping my statutes and my ordinances, as his father David did. 34 Nevertheless I will not take the whole kingdom away from him but will make him ruler all the days of his life, for the sake of my servant David whom I chose and who did keep my commandments and my statutes; 35 but I will take the kingdom away from his son and give it to you — that is, the ten tribes. 36 Yet to his son I will give one tribe, so that my servant David may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I have chosen to put my name. 37 I will take you, and you shall reign over all that your soul desires; you shall be king over Israel. 38 If you will listen to all that I command you, walk in my ways, and do what is right in my sight by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did, I will be with you, and will build you an enduring house, as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you. 39 For this reason I will punish the descendants of David, but not forever.” 40 Solomon sought therefore to kill Jeroboam; but Jeroboam promptly fled to Egypt, to King Shishak of Egypt, and remained in Egypt until the death of Solomon.
Solomon’s name comes from the Hebrew word shalom which is often translated ‘peace’ and until this point in the narrative his reign has been mainly peaceful. There may have been bloody proceedings at the beginning, but for most of Solomon’s forty year reign the nation has enjoyed peace and prosperity. Now in light of Solomon’s foolishness the LORD begins to act by introducing adversaries which bring conflict to the edges and eventually to the heart of the kingdom of Solomon. The first adversary is Hadad the Edomite. Hadad’s antagonism towards Solomon originates in the actions of his father David’s military commander, Joab. Solomon has Joab killed in the temple at the beginning of his reign but his murderous actions against the Edomites (2 Samuel 8: 13-14) on behalf of David leave an enemy for Solomon. In the narrative of First Kings Hadad typologically becomes like Moses (escapes a purge of a murderous king, raised in Pharoah’s household) and in combination with the previous narrative where we hear of Solomon’s forced labor, building of storage cities and the depiction of his son Rehoboam “whipping” the nation in the next chapter we see Solomon typologically as a Pharaoh like tyrant. (Israel, 2013, pp. 136-137) Hadad’s words to Pharaoh are also similar to Moses’ words to ‘let my people go’ but now it is Hadad asking Pharoah permission to ‘let me go” on behalf of my people. This was may have been awkward for Pharaoh who has allied himself with Solomon now having to restrain an opponent within his own household who wants to oppose Solomon’s reign. The ‘sins’ of his father David and his servants are now falling on Solomon’s head just like his own ‘sins’ will fall on the head of his son.
The second adversary is Rezon whose rise to power as a strongman leading a marauding band is also facilitated by David’s military actions against the Arameans (2 Samuel 8:3-7, 10:1-19). David’s expansion of his territory and defeat of King Hadadezer enabled this former servant to rise up and become the leader of a marauding band much like David had been when Saul still reigned. The emergence of Rezon may illustrate that Solomon is beginning to lose a grip on the territory that his father claimed by conflict. Solomon has already sold a part of his inheritance to Hiram King of Tyre (1 Kings 9: 10-14) and these two external adversaries may be the beginning of troubles on the edge of Solomon’s kingdom.
Yet, the most significant threat is internal and, as indicated in God’s words to Solomon in verse eleven and here, it comes from a servant of Solomon. Just as David was once a servant of Saul and was God’s hand chosen replacement, now Jeroboam the servant of Solomon is God’s chose one to lead Israel. Jeroboam we are told is the son of a widow named Zeruah, which probably indicates an upbringing that was less secure than many of his fellow Israelites. Widows are one of the vulnerable groups, with orphans and resident aliens, that the law lifts up for protection, but the highlighting of these groups probably indicates that they were often taken advantage of. The naming of Jeroboam as a widow’s son may also be a way of discrediting him in the eyes of the Judean line of kings, but he rises to be viewed as a mighty one. He is placed over the forced labor (corvee) of the houses of Joseph (the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh) or the administrative replacement for the tribes that Solomon designated (1 Kings 4: 7-19). This is in contrast to 1 Kings 9:15-22 which attempts to state that the forced labor comes only from captured nations. Jeroboam’s upbringing may make him sensitive to the burdens that Solomon’s reign is placing upon the common people of his region of Israel, something Solomon may have been blinded to by his increasing separation from the people and his acquisition of wealth. The critical moment comes when a word of God comes through the prophetic voice of Ahijah from the northern shrine at Shiloh. It is possible that at this point the priests at Shiloh are more focused on Torah than the priests at the temple in Jerusalem, but the prophet comes from the same holy place that Solomon once received his visitation from God where God granted him wisdom (1 Kings 3). There are similarities between this scene and the scene in 1 Samuel 15: 27-29 where the tearing of Saul’s robe indicates that the kingdom will be torn away from Saul. Two foreigners may have ripped at the edges of the kingdom, but like the newly torn robe of Ahijah, now Jeroboam will be the cause of the internal rupture where ten tribes separate from the line of David and the city of Jerusalem. These three adversaries become the forces that begin to tear at the seams of Solomon’s kingdom which will be ripped apart after his death. Jeroboam, like Hadad, flees to Egypt while Shishak is Pharaoh. The harboring of enemies of Israel by Pharaoh also foreshadows the breakdown of relations between Egypt and Israel that will end in King Shishak of Egypt attacking Jerusalem when Rehoboam is king and taking away many of the golden things that Solomon acquired during his reign.
1 Kings 11: 41-43 The Death of Solomon
41 Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, all that he did as well as his wisdom, are they not written in the Book of the Acts of Solomon? 42 The time that Solomon reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel was forty years. 43 Solomon slept with his ancestors and was buried in the city of his father David; and his son Rehoboam succeeded him.
As mentioned at the beginning of the chapter First Kings is a narration of the story of Solomon and later kings from a perspective they may have considered irrelevant. It is a theological evaluation of each ruler in terms of their fidelity to the LORD the God of Israel and the covenant as outlined in the commandments, statutes and precepts of God. Solomon may have been a success in every measure to the nations around him, but in the view of First Kings he is ultimately a failed king. His divinely granted wisdom slowly turned into foolishness as it adopted the practices of kings like King Hiram of Tyre, the Queen of Sheba, and the Pharaoh of Egypt and in the critical crisis where Solomon’s love for the LORD is challenged by his love for his many foreign wives which leads him to allow idolatry to take hold in Israel. Solomon is warned numerous times in the text and I do believe that God continued to yearn for his repentance and the renewal of his fidelity, but even in the absence of that he continues to provide some grace in the midst of judgment. At his death the eyes of the people and of God shift to his son Rehoboam to see if he will be a worthy leader. There still is a chance for repentance and reconciliation between Rehoboam and God as well as Rehoboam and the people. There will be wise voices calling for Rehoboam to listen, but the ‘sins’ of his father as well as his own adoption of his father’s foolishness will lead to the rupture in the kingdom.
 This is not primarily about sexual relations but instead a fear that mixing with the daughters and sons of these nations will lead to the adoption of their practices and idolatry. (Cogan, 2001, p. 326)
 This is the mountain referred to when the text mentions the mountain east of Jerusalem.
 Hebrew ‘im. The heart is the organ of will in Hebrew thought not the mind. (Cogan, 2001, p. 328) Hence the use of the word heart in verse nine paired with the Hebrew word for will in verse eleven.
 The word behind adversary is the Hebrew word satan, where the name Satan comes from. There is no understanding in 1 Kings of Satan being a personified force against the LORD of Israel, instead that is the other gods of the nations. Satan appears as a personified being for the first time in the book of Job.
 The Hebrew gibbor hayil which occurs frequently in the book of Judges is often translated as a ‘mighty warrior’ but can also indicated a person of means (like Boaz in Ruth). The NRSV’s translation as industrious places a western valuation of work upon the concept of one who has either economic, military or physical strength.