Solomon Character Bible Study Background and Lessons
Life Title: A devoted king derailed by compromise
Meaning of name: The name “Solomon” is a variant of Shalom, which means peaceful. Interestingly, Solomon’s reign was characterized by peace and stability.
Ancestry and family life: Solomon was one of many sons of King David, and the first surviving son from Bathsheba. His family life growing up would have been very different from most. Firstly, he was in the royal family so his father was often busy fighting wars and governing the kingdom. Secondly, his father had many wives and many children. This certainly created lots of tension between each sub family. As the heir of the throne, Solomon was confirmed in the line of the Davidic Covenant. (1 Kings 2:45)
When and where he lived: He reigned from approximately 971-931 B.C. He lived and reigned in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, which was at its peak power and influence in history.
Events surrounding birth: The worst sin in David’s life was committing adultery with Bathsheba and subsequently having Uriah killed. Uriah was a faithful soldier and David allowed his lust to carry him far away from his own standards and God’s will for his life. This union caused many problems in the kingdom and was at least a partial cause of civil war and dissension with his own children. Solomon’s older brother died as a baby because of this sin and Solomon was the next son. While Solomon came along later it is likely he would have heard rumors and whispers about what had happened, and perhaps some of these would have been spread with malicious intent.
Training and occupation: As a member of the royal court, Solomon would have had access to the best education possible, likely including all types of tutors. He would have been trained in the ways of the court and in warfare and in how to run a nation. Solomon’s occupation was being a king. From a worldly standpoint, he was the most successful king in Israel’s history. Solomon’s reign was Israel’s most prosperous and most powerful period in history.
Place in history: Solomon was the third king of Israel and reigned during its golden age. He built the temple originally envisioned by David and this temple was spectacular, known as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. In addition, he was responsible for many other cultural and architectural achievements, which drew visitors from far and wide. Solomon penned much of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes and may be the key subject of Song of Solomon.
Special traits: Solomon is known as the wisest person in history (1 Kings 3:10-28, 1 Kings 4:30-34, 5:12, 10:1-10, 10:22-25.)
1 Kings 3:16-28 – This story immediately follows God’s answer to Solomon’s prayer for wisdom. It is written to illustrate Solomon’s wisdom in action. There would be many such cases of quarrels between the citizens of his country. Each and every case needed wisdom to deal with. Keep in mind that at that time there wasn’t DNA evidence or closed caption video or fingerprinting or other elaborate methods for determining the truth. A lot of times it boiled down to one person’s word against another. Creative ways of finding the truth needed to be implemented to be sure that justice prevailed.
Throughout the whole story of Solomon’s life, interjections about his great wisdom are made. This is clearly a main point of these chapters. In addition to these verses, we can also see the results of his wisdom, including the establishment of a powerful and rich kingdom, complex alliances, and sophisticated architectural achievements. Also, we have the book of Proverbs largely written by Solomon and Ecclesiastes completely written by him.
God in fact used Solomon to relay to us many enduring truths and principles about the world which we can find in these books. Keep in mind that wisdom still needs to be put into action. It is possible that at times Solomon’s mind was telling him doing something wasn’t wise (such as marrying all of these foreign women), but his fleshly side ignored these warnings and continued on anyway.
1. Marrying pagan women – (Deuteronomy 7:3, 1 Kings 3:1-2, 1 Kings 11:1-8) Why did God give this command?
God gave this command clearly to keep His people from being influenced by the idolatry and cults of other countries. It wasn’t a racial or ethnic issue, but a religious one. As wise as Solomon was, God was much wiser. He knows the result of these unequally yoked unions. They generally end in the believer either outright rejecting God or slowly turning away from God by growing cold and giving into various temptations one by one.
Solomon is the perfect case study of why God gave this warning originally to the Jews before they even entered the land and why similar commands are repeated throughout Scripture and in the New Testament.
What excuse do you think Solomon might have offered for marrying these women?
Here is one potential excuse, “I need to politically to form an alliance.” How would you answer this one?
Or, “I love them and can’t help myself.” What would you say to this?
Or maybe since he was so wise, “Don’t worry. I can handle it.” What would you have wanted to tell Solomon if he said this to you?
2. Marrying many women. (Deuteronomy 17:17, 1 Kings 11:1-3) – Not only did God command His people not to marry pagan women, He also commanded them not to marry many women. In fact, He warned kings specifically against accumulating many wives. This was a common cultural practice of neighboring countries, but God did not approve. Trying to please many women would turn the king’s heart away from the Lord and distract him from the work God had for him to do in his family and country.
3. Disobeyed God by multiplying horses, chariots, gold, silver (Deuteronomy 17:14-20, 1 Kings 10:26-29) – Why do you think God gave these commands not to have many horses or much gold?
Firstly, the Bible says that where your treasure is there will your heart be also. It is hard to be that rich and powerful without focusing on these things and starting to neglect God.
Secondly, when you have a lot of money and possessions and a great army, there is a great temptation to rely on these things instead of God. This is one reason why Jesus said it is harder for a rich man to enter heaven than a camel through the eye of a needle.
Thirdly, it is very easy to begin to get prideful at all the accomplishments you have made and the wealth you have accumulated. A person can grow prideful and give glory to himself, just like Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel looked at his great gardens and praised himself for building them. Nowadays many rich people gather together and brag about their financial successes.
4. Continued worshiping God at the originally Canaanite high places (Deuteronomy 12:1-5, 13-14, 1 Kings 3:3) –
These were open air places on the tops of hills or mountains originally used by pagans to sacrifice to their gods. They had pagan alters, which the Israelites had destroyed and replaced. Only after the temple was built was worshiping God in the high places forbidden.
Mixing elements of pagan worship with true worship of God would only lead Israel down the road into idolatry. This occurred many times in their history with Baals and Ashteroths and more Canaanite idols sneaking in.
Solomon’s mistake was that he continued worshiping God in these high places even after he built the temple. This was only one small part of his larger shift to outright worshiping and sacrificing to other gods later in his life.
5. Solomon did not finish his life well (at least until perhaps the very end) –
Unfortunately starting well and ending badly is a common refrain in the line of the kings of Israel. It is just as common today. What do you think is the cause of this? It is a reminder that following God is not easy. Again and again God reminded Solomon to obey and to love Him as David did. But over the course of one’s life he faced hundreds of thousands of temptations. It is hard to keep on resisting temptation and faithfully following God all of one’s life. It is hard enough with a godly wife to encourage us. But Solomon made it much harder on himself by his unions with ungodly wives who not only did not encourage him to follow the Lord, but instead actively discouraged him from doing so.
Here is a stat on how hard it is for pastors to finish their lives serving in ministry. A fully eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years. (See also Hebrews 12:1-2, Php 3:12-15.)
1. Solomon loved God, even as David did (except for sacrificing in high places, 1 Kings 3:3-4) – This same refrain is used for many kings in David’s line, either that they did love God as David did, or that they didn’t love God as David did or that they loved God as David did except sacrificing in the high places. Solomon reached the second level of commitment, which is already saying a lot considering how much David loved God. This statement that he loved God as David did is one of the first commentaries on Solomon’s relationship to God.
2. Solomon asked God for wisdom and discernment instead of money or fame (1 Kings 3:6-13) –
God basically gives Solomon free reign to make one wish. Most people would wish for money or long life or fame or power. Solomon didn’t ask for any of these things. He humbly acknowledged his weakness and inability to lead such a large kingdom by himself. He knew the only way he could be successful was if God granted him special wisdom.
As king, Solomon faced a lot of responsibilities and needed to make a lot of tough decisions, decisions that would affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. This reply to God shows a great amount of humility and wisdom to even ask for wisdom.
From James 1:5, we know that the one who asks God for wisdom will be answered. In this case, God answered Solomon’s request in a great way, making him the wisest person that has ever existed (apart from Christ who is God).
In addition, God was so satisfied with Solomon’s response that He decided to make Solomon very wealthy and have a long life. Take note that God can see through to the heart so Solomon wasn’t just putting on a pretense. He was completely sincere in his request.
3. He built a temple for the Lord, a sign of his dedication to serving God (2 Samuel 7:1-17, 1 Kings 5:1-5, 1 Kings 8:12-21) –
In 1 Kings 6:11-13 God promised to be with them conditionally depending on their obedience. He would reside at this temple if they would serve Him faithfully. This was not a simple or easy project. But Solomon saw it through to the end because it was an important project.
4. He set a good example for Israel in prayer to the Lord. –
The doctrine of his prayer was right on. What different elements can we see in his prayer?
- He showed great respect and praise for God. 1 Kings 8:23,27.
- He claimed the promises of God. 1 Kings 8:25,26.
- He showed humility. 1 Kings 8:27-28.
- He brought a number of petitions before the Lord for the sake of the whole country. 1 Kings 8:31-54.
Notice that these are focused on others, not mostly on himself. They are also focused on spiritual issues of sin and forgiveness and restoration and deliverance, not primarily physical ones like health or prosperity.
5. He spared no expense in building the temple and the following sacrifices (1 Kings 6:21,22 1 Kings 6:28-32, 1 Kings 7:47,8:62-63) – Solomon was already extremely rich at this time, but he wasn’t skimpy. He gave the very best of what he had from the palace treasury to be used in the building of the temple. He went with the very best wood imported from another country and paid for with Israel’s finest goods. He had over 100,000 people working in the mountains cutting just the right stones. He brought in the best engineers on the project. An immense amount of gold was used and so much bronze that it was too much to reasonably weigh. Afterward he sacrificed 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep. That is a lot of animals!
Application: Whether or not we ever get rich, the lesson for us is to give of the best we have to the Lord. Don’t keep the best for yourself and give the leftovers to God. Give the best to God and whatever is leftover for yourself. The Old Testament teaches a concept of giving called “first fruits.” That means to give of the first that you make, which will help ensure that you give. If we instead use what we want first we will often find there is nothing left at the end of the month.
6. Solomon cared about training his children – He wrote the book of Proverbs for his sons (Proverbs 4:1-4.) Solomon was concerned for his sons’ future and wanted them to listen to and follow wise instruction. Much of this instruction was rightly focused on God and how to be righteous in God’s eyes. It is a shame that both Solomon and his son Rehoboam later violated many of the wise principles found taught in Proverbs.
How he died: Solomon died apparently of old age after a long and prosperous reign of forty years.
Lessons from his life:
1. A strong start in the Christian life doesn’t guarantee a strong finish. We have to be alert and diligent so that we won’t turn away from the Lord. There are many professing believers who are very passionate and enthusiastic, but end up turning away from God. You can probably think of some people like this in your church, fellowship, or circle of friends. Even the very most dedicated believer can backslide and drift away from God. Drifting away from God is a process. It is rare if a seemingly dedicated believer goes to sleep one night sold out to God and wakes up the next day and says, “It’s not for me anymore.” Instead it is generally a gradual process. Like with Solomon, this process includes many compromises and bad choices. It is a slippery slope and not a cliff.
2. Do not date or marry unbelievers. Even dating an unbeliever is playing with fire. If Solomon could not handle the temptations associated with marrying an unbeliever, there is no way we can. Do not offer any excuses. Simply obey God. For an extensive look at the issue of dating unbelievers please see our study on this at: https://studyandobey.com/inductive-bible-study/should-believers-date-unbelievers/
3. God wants to extend His blessings to us, protect us, and have a close relationship with us, but we must obey and follow Him for this to happen. (1 Kings 9:1-9) – God is available. He is always there. He will never leave or forsake us. However, we may leave Him. If we do, we are the ones who give up His blessings the joy we can have in Him.
Just like with Solomon and his sons, we have a choice. We have a responsibility to follow God. As long as we do, He will take care of us, but there are also many conditional promises in the Bible. These are mostly dependent on our obedience.
What are some conditional promises?
If we seek Him first, all these things will be given to us.
If we confess, He will forgive.
If we pray in Jesus’ name, He will answer.
Sometimes we might wonder why we are not experiencing His blessings or why He didn’t answer our prayers. The first place we should look is ourselves. Did we keep our end of the deal?
4. Sin has consequences. (1 Kings 11:9-40.) – If we don’t obey God, there are consequences. Notice with Solomon that God followed through that sin did have many negative effects. It is not a malicious threat. It is simply the consequences of sin. Because Solomon did disobey God, God took the kingdom from Him. Because of His compassion for David, He mercifully did this only after Solomon’s death and left a remnant for David’s descendants to reign over and planned for eventual unification. (1 Kings 11:36, 39.)
However the kingdom wasn’t nearly as great or as extensive as it could have been. Solomon’s disobedience ended up causing hundreds of years of tension and warfare between the Northern and Southern Kingdoms and the Northern Kingdom was conquered and basically went extinct. We should look at Solomon and others who disobeyed God’s Word in the Bible as a reminder to take sin seriously and to obey all the commands of God. Do not become prideful or shortsighted. Do not think think you will be different. If we disobey God and turn away from Him like Solomon did, the consequences of this will not be worth whatever the short term enjoyment from the sin is.
5. Knowing what is right doesn’t equal doing what is right – Solomon was given almost supernatural wisdom about what is right and what is wrong. In Proverbs and Ecclesiastes he shares much of this with his sons. A lot of this instruction is focused on obeying God, pursuing a relationship with God, avoiding worldly temptations, rejoicing in the wife of your youth, avoiding immoral women, worshiping God, etc.
Solomon forgot more than most people will ever know about righteous living. But, he didn’t do it. Throughout Scripture (James 1:22-25) we learn that God appreciates the doer, but knowledge by itself is not enough to satisfy God. Do not be satisfied in your knowledge of Scripture and right doctrine. God will not judge us based on our knowledge/wisdom, but He will judge us based on how we actually apply that to our lives, our deeds.
In this case, we should follow the instruction Jesus gave to His disciples about the Pharisees, to do what they say, but not to do what they do. We should do what Solomon says to do, but not what he does. In the end this is a sad indictment of Solomon’s life and the wasted opportunities therein.
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