1 Kings 11:4
For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.
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(4) When Solomon was old.—It is clearly implied that the evil influence belonged to the time of senile feebleness, possibly the premature result of a life of indulgence; for he could not have been very old, if he was “but a child” at the time of his accession. But, as it is not at all likely that Solomon forsook the worship of God (see 1Kings 11:5-6; 1Kings 9:25), it would seem that his idolatry was rather the inclination to an eclectic adoption of various forms of faith and worship, as simply various phases of reverence to the One Supreme Power, each having its own peculiar significance and beauty. Such a spirit, holding itself superior to the old laws and principles of the faith of Israel, was the natural fruit of an overweening confidence in his own wisdom—the philosophic spirit, “holding no creed, but contemplating” and condescending to “all.” Whatever it may have owed to the baser female influence, so well known in the countries where woman is held a mere toy, it seems likely to have been, still more naturally, the demoralising effect of an absolutely despotic power, of a world-wide fame for wisdom, and of an over-luxurious magnificence. It may have even had a kind of harmony with the weary and hopeless conviction that “all things were vanity:” for there is something of kinship between the belief that all worships are true, and that all worships are false. It may also have been thought good policy to conciliate the subject races, by doing honour to their religions, much as the Roman Empire delighted to do, when faith in its own religion had died out. How absolutely incompatible such a spirit is with the faith in the One only God of Israel, and in itself even more monstrous than avowed devotion to false gods, is indignantly declared by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 14:3-4; Ezekiel 20:39). How utter the practical incongruity, is obvious on the slightest consideration of the contrast between the impure and bloody worship of the false gods, and the lofty spiritual worship of the God of Israel.

1 Kings


1 Kings 11:4 - 1 Kings 11:13

Scripture never blinks the defects of its heroes. Its portraits do not smooth out wrinkles, but, with absolute fidelity, give all faults. That pitiless truthfulness is no small proof of its inspiration. If these historical books were simply fragments of national records, owning no higher source than patriotism, they would never have blurted out the errors and sins of David and Solomon as they do. Where else are there national histories of which the very central idea is the laying bare of national sins and chastisements? or where else are there legends of the people’s heroes which tell their sins without apology or reticence? The difference in tone augurs a different origin. The Old Testament histories are not written to tell Israel’s glories, or even, we may say, to recount its history, but to tell God’s dealings with Israel,-a very different theme, and one which finds its material equally in the glories and in the miseries, which respectively follow its obedience and disobedience. So Solomon’s fall is told in the same frank way as his wisdom and wealth; for what is of importance is not Solomon so much as God’s dealings with Solomon, when his heart was turned away. We are told that the narrative of Solomon’s reign is an ideal picture. Strange idealising which leaves the ideal king wallowing in a sty of sensuality and an apostate from Jehovah!

Here we are simply told of the two things,-his sin, and the divine judgment which it drew after it.

I. 1 Kings 11:4 - 1 Kings 11:8 tell the black story of Solomon’s apostasy. What was its extent? Did he himself take part in idolatrous worship, or simply, with the foolish fondness of an old sensualist, let these foreign women have their shrines? The darker supposition seems correct. The expression that he ‘went after other gods’ is commonly used to mean actual idolatry; and his wives could scarcely have been said to have ‘turned away his heart,’ if all that he did was to wink at, or even to facilitate, their worship. But, on the other hand, he does not seem to have abandoned Jehovah’s worship. The charge against him is that ‘his heart was not perfect,’ or wholly devoted to the Lord, or, as 1 Kings 11:6 puts it, that he ‘went not fully’ after the Lord. His was a case of halting between two opinions, or rather, of trying to hold both at once. He wanted to be a worshipper of Jehovah and of these idols also.

Was his apostasy final? Yes, so far as we can gather from the narrative. Not only is there no statement of his repentance, but the silence with which he receives the divine announcement of retribution is suspicious; and the prophecy of Ahijah to Jeroboam, which obviously comes later in time than the threatenings of the text, treats the idolatry as still existing {1 Kings 11:33}. Further, we learn from 2 Kings 23:13 that the shrines which he built stood till Josiah’s time. If Solomon had ever abandoned his idolatry, he would not have left them standing. So we seem to have in him a case of a fall which knew no recovery, an eclipse which did not pass. The Book of Ecclesiastes, if of his composition, would somewhat lighten the darkness of such an end; but his authorship of it is now all but universally given up.

So there, on Olivet’s southern ridge, right opposite the Temple, stood the three altars, and there the king worshipped; and, if he did, he would have a crowd of imitators. The lessons of such a fall are many. First, it teaches the destructive effect of yielding to sensual indulgence. Solomon’s unbridled and monstrous polygamy sapped his manhood and his principle, darkened his clear spirit, blinded his keen eye, and turned a youth of noble aspiration and a manhood of noble accomplishment into an old age without dignity, reverence, or calm. All his wisdom was worth little if it could not keep him master of himself. A young man who lets his passions run away with him is less to be condemned than an old sensualist. God means that reason should govern impulses and desires, and that conscience should govern all and be governed by His will. The vessel is sure to be wrecked when the officers are sent below and the mutineers get hold of the helm.

Second, it warns us that till the very end of life a fall is possible. This ship went down when the voyage was nearly over. In sight of port it struck, and that not for want of beacons. What pathetic warning lies in that phrase, ‘when Solomon was old’! After so many years of high aims, so many temptations overcome, with such habits of wisdom and kingly nobility, after such prayers and visions, he fell; and, if he fell, who can be sure of standing? No length of life spent in holy thoughts and service secures us against the possibility of disastrous fall. Only one thing does,-’Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe!’ John Bunyan saw a door opening down to hell hard by the gates of the Celestial City. When a man that has been had in reputation for wisdom and honour shames the record of his life by a great splash of mud on the white page, near its end, he seldom returns. An old apostate is usually finally an apostate.

Third, may we not venture to see a warning here against marriages in which there is not unity in the deepest things, and a common faith? ‘When you run in double harness, take a good look at the other horse.’ If a young Christian man or woman enters on such a union with one who is not a Christian, it is a great deal more probable that, in the end, there will be two unbelievers than that there will be two Christians.

We have nothing to do with pronouncing on Solomon’s final condition, But he stands on the page of this history, a sad, enigmatical figure, a warning to all young people to take heed that the attrition of the world does not rub off the bloom of early religion, or make them cynically ashamed of the unselfishness of their early desires. There is no sadder sight than an old man whose youthful enthusiasm for goodness and belief in the super-excellency of wisdom have withered, leaving him a hard worldling or a gross sensualist. Better the early days, when he was obscure and poor, and believed in wisdom and in the God of wisdom, than the late ones, when worldly success has spoiled him!

II. 1 Kings 11:9 - 1 Kings 11:13 give the divine retribution announced. The immediate connection of sin and punishment is the teaching intended by this close juxtaposition of these two halves of our narrative. However long the chastisement may be in bursting, the divine resolve to send it is instantaneously consequent on the crime. The chain that binds departure from God with loss of blessing may be of many or few links, but it is riveted on when the evil is done. How gravely, as with the voice of an indictment drawn in heaven, the aggravations of Solomon’s crime are set out, in that he had sinned against ‘the Lord’ who had appeared to him twice {once in his youthful vision, and once after the completion of the Temple}, ‘and had commanded him concerning’ the very sin that he had done. Sin is made more heinous by the abundance of God’s favours and the plainness of His commands. If we would remember God’s appearances to us and for us, and meditate on His revealed will, we should be more impregnable to the assaults of temptation.

We do not learn how the Lord said this to Solomon. Possibly it was by the same prophet who afterwards announced to Jeroboam his destiny; but, however announced, it seems to have been received in sullen silence, and to have wrought no softening nor change. Like all God’s threatenings, it was spoken that it might not be inflicted. Solomon was threatened before the prophet spoke to Jeroboam; and if Solomon had repented, Jeroboam would never have been spoken to. But he is too far gone to be stopped, though he has God’s own word for it that he is ruining his kingdom by his sin. We have as clear declarations of worse results from ours; but they do not stop some of us. How strange it is that men will put out their hands to grasp their sins, even though they have to stretch across the smoke of the pit for them!

Note how forbearance delays and diminishes retribution. The separation of the kingdom is deferred, and one tribe is left to the Davidic house; probably Judah is meant, and Benjamin is omitted as being small. Observe, too, how we have a double instance of the law of God’s providence which visits the father’s deeds on the children. The consequences of David’s goodness fall on Solomon, and the consequences of Solomon’s evil fall on Rehoboam. Stated in the language of the secular historian, that is to say that the consequences of great national virtues or crimes are seldom reaped by the generation that sowed the seed and did the deed, but take time to mature and work themselves out. Stated in the language of Scripture, it is, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ The separation of the kingdom was not brought about by miracle, but came in the natural course of things. A people ground down by heavy taxation and forced labour, to keep up the luxury of a court containing all that disgusting crowd of wives and concubines, was ripe for revolt, and when the sceptre fell into the hands of a headstrong fool, and there was a capable leader on the other side, discontent soon became rebellion, and rebellion soon became triumphant. It all flowed as naturally as possible from the same fountain as the idolatry of which it was the punishment; and so it teaches once more the great truth that ‘the world’s history is the world’s judgment,’ and that the so-called ‘natural consequences’ of our deeds are, even here and now, God’s retribution for our deeds.

What a lesson as to God’s great patience is here! What a solemn glimpse into man’s power to counterwork God’s purpose! So soon after its establishment did the house of David prove unworthy, and the experiment fail. Yet that long-suffering purpose is not turned aside, but persistently and patiently goes on its way, altering its methods, but keeping its end unaltered, bending even sin to minister to its design, pitying and warning the sinner ere it strikes the blow that the sinner has made needful.

Behind the figure of Solomon we see another. The wisest of men fell shamefully, captured by coarse lust, and apparently steeled against all remonstrances from Heaven. ‘A greater than Solomon is here.’ The faults of the human kings of Israel prophesy of the true King, who is to be the substance of which they were but faint shadows, and whose manhood was stained by no flaw, nor His kingdom ever rent from His pure hands. Solomon was wise, but Christ is ‘Wisdom.’ Solomon built a Temple, but also altars to false gods overtopping it across the valley; and his Temple was burned with fire. But Christ is the true Temple as well as Priest and Sacrifice. Solomon was by name ‘the peaceful,’ and his land had outward rest, darkened at the last by war and rebellion. But Christ is the Prince of Peace, and of His dominion there shall be no end. Solomon is the great example of the sad truth that the loftiest and wisest share in the universal sinfulness. Christ is the one flawless Man, who makes those who take Him for their King wise and peaceful, prosperous, and in due time sinless, like Himself.

1 Kings 11:4. For it came to pass when Solomon was old, &c. — Having now reigned nigh thirty years, when it might have been expected that experience would have made him wiser; then God suffered him to fall so shamefully, that he might to all succeeding generations be an example of the folly and weakness of the wisest and the best men, when left to themselves. His wives turned away his heart after other gods — Not that they altered his judgment respecting the true God and idols, which is not credible; but they obtained from him a public indulgence for their idol-worship, and possibly persuaded him to join with them sometimes in the outward acts of it; or at least, in their feasts upon their sacrifices, which was a participation of their idolatry. And his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God — He did not entirely forsake the service of Jehovah, but joined the worship of other gods with him, which he never could have done, after the true knowledge which he had of God, and the solemn profession he had made of adherence to him, unless he had been greatly fallen.

11:1-8 There is not a more melancholy and astonishing instance of human depravity in the sacred Scriptures, than that here recorded. Solomon became a public worshipper of abominable idols! Probably he by degrees gave way to pride and luxury, and thus lost his relish for true wisdom. Nothing forms in itself a security against the deceitfulness and depravity of the human heart. Nor will old age cure the heart of any evil propensity. If our sinful passions are not crucified and mortified by the grace of God, they never will die of themselves, but will last even when opportunities to gratify them are taken away. Let him that thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall. We see how weak we are of ourselves, without the grace of God; let us therefore live in constant dependence on that grace. Let us watch and be sober: ours is a dangerous warfare, and in an enemy's country, while our worst foes are the traitors in our own hearts.Old - About fifty or fifty-five. From his age at his accession (1 Kings 2:2 note) he could not have been more than about sixty at his death.

The true nature of Solomon's idolatry was neither complete apostasy - an apostasy from which there could be no recovery; nor a mere toleration, rather praise-worthy than blameable. Solomon did not ever openly or wholly apostatize. He continued his attendance on the worship of Yahweh, and punctually made his offerings three times a year in the temple 1 Kings 9:25; but his heart was not "perfect" with God. The religious earnestness of his younger days was weakened by wealth, luxury, sensualism, an increasing worldliness leading him to worldly policy and latitudinarianism arising from contact with all the manifold forms of human opinion. His lapse into deadly sin was no doubt gradual. Partly from ostentation, partly from that sensualism which is the most common failing of Oriental monarchs, he established a harem on a grand and extraordinary scale. To gratify "strange women," i. e., foreigners, admitted either from worldly policy, or for variety's sake, he built magnificent temples to their false gods, right over against Jerusalem, as manifest rivals to "the temple." He thus became the author of a syncretism, which sought to blend together the worship of Yahweh and the worship of idols - a syncretism which possessed fatal attractions for the Jewish nation. Finally, he appears himself to have frequented the idol temples 1 Kings 11:5, 1 Kings 11:10, and to have taken part in those fearful impurities which constituted the worst horror of the idolatrous systems, thus practically apostatising, though theoretically he never ceased to hold that Yahweh was the true God.

4. when Solomon was old—He could not have been more than fifty.

his wives turned away his heart after other gods—Some, considering the lapse of Solomon into idolatry as a thing incredible, regard him as merely humoring his wives in the practice of their superstition; and, in countenancing their respective rites by his presence, as giving only an outward homage—a sensible worship, in which neither his understanding nor his heart was engaged. The apology only makes matters worse, as it implies an adding of hypocrisy and contempt of God to an open breach of His law. There seems no possibility of explaining the language of the sacred historian, but as intimating that Solomon became an actual and open idolater, worshipping images of wood or stone in sight of the very temple which, in early life, he had erected to the true God. Hence that part of Olivet was called the high place of Tophet (Jer 7:30-34), and the hill is still known as the Mount of Offense, of the Mount of Corruption (2Ki 23:13).

When Solomon was old; as having now reigned nigh thirty years, when it might have been expected that age should have cooled his lust, and experience have made him wiser and better, and when probably he was secure as to any such miscarriages; then God permitted him to fall so shamefully, that he might be to all succeeding generations an example of God’s severity, and of the folly, and weakness, and wickedness of the wisest and best men, when left to themselves.

Turned away his heart after other gods, not that they changed his mind or opinion about the true God and idols, which is not credible; but that they cooled his zeal against them, obtained from him a public indulgence for their worship, and money for the making of idols, and the support of the charges of their priests and sacrifices, and possibly persuaded him sometimes in complaisance to join with them in the outward act of idol worship, or, at least, in their feasts upon their sacrifices, which was a participation of their idolatry. See Psalm 106:28 1 Corinthians 10:20.

And it came to pass, when Solomon was old,.... Toward the latter end of his reign, when he might be near sixty years of age; for Rehoboam his son and successor was forty one when he began to reign, 1 Kings 14:21 which is observed either as an aggravation of the sin of Solomon, that in his old age, when by long experience he might have been thought to be still wiser, and less lustful: and yet

that his wives turned away his heart after other gods; or as pointing at the advantage his wives took of his age:

and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father; who, though guilty of many sins, never inclined to idolatry; his heart was always right in that point, and sincere in his worship, see Psalm 18:20.

For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not {c} perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.

(c) He did not serve God with a pure heart.

4. when Solomon was old] At least half of the king’s reign was over before the Temple and the king’s house and the other buildings were completed. It was therefore in the latter half of his reign, and probably towards the close of that, when the influence of his wives gained undue sway over him.

perfect with the Lord] i.e. Completely devoted to His service, see note on 1 Kings 8:61. Solomon has described the state in his prayer (1 Kings 8:61) ‘to walk in His statutes, and to keep His commandments.’ The language of the verse indicates, not that Solomon forsook for himself the worship of Jehovah, but that he was less earnest about it, and allowed side by side with it the temples of heathen gods to be erected, and their worship to be something more than tolerated, even perhaps abundantly supported from his means. As it is said below in 1 Kings 11:6, ‘he went not fully after the Lord.’

Verse 4. - For it came to pass, when Solomon was old [As he was but sixty at the time of his death, "old" is here a relative term, and must mean "toward the close of his life," i.e., when he was about 50 or 55], that his wives turned away his heart after other gods [The text does not limit Solomon's polygamy to the time of old age, but his idolatrous leanings. I say leanings, for it is doubtful to what extent Solomon himself took part in actual idolatry. Both Bahr and Keil - the latter in opposition to the views he held in 1846 - not to speak of others, deny that he shared the idolatries of his wives, and the former labours hard, and on the whole, it seems to me, successfully, to prove that he was only guilty of sanctioning idolatrous worship in the vicinity of Jerusalem. His arguments, briefly stated, are these:

(1) It is nowhere said that he "served" (עָבַד) other gods - the expression constantly used of the idolatrous kings; cf. 16:31; 22:53; 2 Kings 16:3, etc.

(2) Neither the son of Sirach nor the Talmud nor the Rabbins know anything of his personal idolatry.

(3) Had he formally worshipped idols, his sin would have been greater than that of Jeroboam as to which, however, see on 1 Kings 12:29 sqq. (The "sin of Jeroboam" lay in "making Israel to sin," i.e., in forcing his people into schismatic and unauthorized worship, rather than in any practices of his own.)

(4) The expressions "his heart was not perfect," below, and "he went not fully" (ver. 6) are inconsistent with the idea of idolatry. Similarly Ewald says, "There is no evidence from ancient authorities that Solomon, even in advanced life, ever left the religion of Jahveh, and with his own hand sacrificed to heathen gods. All traces of contemporary history extant testify to the contrary" (vol. 3. p. 297). See, however, on ver. 5]: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God [It is instructive to compare with this the words of 1 Kings 8:61, "Let your heart be perfect," etc. Wordsworth remarks that "the defection even of Solomon from God through the influence of his strange wives is one of the best justifications" of the commands of Exodus 34:12-16; Deuteronomy 7:2-4, etc.], as was the heart of David his father. 1 Kings 11:4In the time of old age, when the flesh gained the supremacy over the spirit, they turned his heart to other gods, so that it was no longer wholly with Jehovah, his God. שׁלם, integer, i.e., entirely devoted to the Lord (cf. 1 Kings 8:61), like the heart of David his father, who had indeed grievously sinned, but had not fallen into idolatry.
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