This is a sad story, and very surprising, of Solomon’s defection and degeneracy.
I. Let us enquire into the occasions and particulars of it. Shall Solomon fall, that was the beauty of Israel, and so great a blessing of his generation? Yes, it is too true, and the scripture is faithful in relating it, and repeating it, and referring to it long after, Neh. 13:26. There was no king like Solomon who was beloved of his God, yet even him did outlandish women cause to sin. There is the summary of his apostasy; it was the woman that deceived him, and was first in the transgression.
1. He doted on strange women, many strange women. Here his revolt began. (1.) He gave himself to women, which his mother had particularly cautioned him against. Prov. 31:3; Give not thy strength unto women (perhaps alluding to Samson, who lost his strength by giving information of it to a woman), for it is that which, as much as any thing, destroys kings. His father David’s fall began with the lusts of the flesh, which he should have taken warning by. The love of women has cast down many wounded (Prov. 7:26) and many (says bishop Hall) have had their head broken by their own rib. (2.) He took many women, so many that, at last, they amounted to 700 wives and 300 concubines, 1000 in all, and not one good one among them, as he himself owns in his penitential sermon (Eccl. 7:28), for no woman of established virtue would be one of such a set. God had, by his law, particularly forbidden the kings to multiply either horses or wives, Deut. 17:16, 17. How he broke the former law, in multiplying horses, and having them out of Egypt too (which was expressly prohibited in that law) we read 1 Kgs. 10:29; and here we are told how he broke the latter (which proved of more fatal consequence) in multiplying wives. Note, Less sins, made gold with, open the door to greater. David had multiplied wives too much, and perhaps that made Solomon presume it lawful. Note, If those that are in reputation for religion in any thing set a bad example, they know not what a deal of mischief they may do by it, particularly to their own children. One bad act of a good man may be of more pernicious consequence to others than twenty of a wicked man. Probably Solomon, when he began to multiply wives, intended not to exceed his father’s number. But the way of sin is down-hill; those that have got into it cannot easily stop themselves. Divine wisdom has appointed one woman for one man, did so at first; and those who do not think one enough will not think two or three enough. Unbridled lust will be unbounded, and the loosened hind will wander endlessly. But this was not all: (3.) They were strange women, Moabites, Ammonites, etc., of the nations which God had particularly forbidden them to intermarry with, 1 Kgs. 11:2. Some think it was in policy that he married these foreigners, by them to get intelligence of the state of those countries. I rather fear it was because the daughters of Israel were too grave and modest for him, and those foreigners pleased him with the looseness and wantonness of their dress, and air, and conversation. Or, perhaps, it was looked upon as a piece of state to have his seraglio, as his other treasures, replenished with that which was far-fetched; as if that were too great an honour for the best of his subjects which would really have been a disgrace to the meanest of them—to be his mistresses. And, (4.) To complete the mischief, Solomon clave unto these in love, 1 Kgs. 11:2. He not only kept them, but was extravagantly fond of them, set his heart upon them, spent his time among them, thought every thing well they said and did, and despised Pharaoh’s daughter, his rightful wife, who had been dear to him, and all the ladies of Israel, in comparison of them. Solomon was master of a great deal of knowledge, but to what purpose, when he had no better a government of his appetites?
2. He was drawn by them to the worship of strange gods, as Israel to Baal-peor by the daughters of Moab. This was the bad consequence of his multiplying wives. We have reason to think it impaired his health, and hastened upon him the decays of age; it exhausted his treasure, which, though vast indeed, would be found little enough to maintain the pride and vanity of all these women; perhaps it occasioned him, in his latter end, to neglect his business, by which he lost his supplies from abroad, and was forced, for the keeping up of his grandeur, to burden his subjects with those taxes which they complained of, 1 Kgs. 12:4. But none of these consequences were so bad as this: His wives turned away his heart after other gods, 1 Kgs. 11:3, 4. (1.) He grew cool and indifferent in his own religion and remiss in the service of the God of Israel: His heart was not perfect with the Lord his God (1 Kgs. 11:4), nor did he follow him fully (1 Kgs. 11:6), like David. We cannot suppose that he quite cast off the worship of God, much less that he restrained or hindered it (the temple-service went on as usual); but he grew less frequent, and less serious, in his ascent to the house of the Lord and his attendance on his altar. He left his first love, lost his zeal for God, and did not persevere to the end as he had begun; therefore it is said he was not perfect, because he was not constant; and he followed not God fully, because he turned from following him, and did not continue to the end. His father David had many faults, but he never neglected the worship of God, nor grew remiss in that, as Solomon did (his wives using all their arts to divert him from it), and there began his apostasy. (2.) He tolerated and maintained his wives in their idolatry and made no scruple of joining with them in it. Pharaoh’s daughter was proselyted (as is supposed) to the Jews’ religion, but, when he began to grow careless in the worship of God himself, he used no means to convert his other wives to it; in complaisance to them, he built chapels for their gods (1 Kgs. 11:7, 8), maintained their priests, and occasionally did himself attend their altars, making a jest of it, asking, “What harm is there in it? Are not all religions alike?” which (says bishop Patrick) has been the disease of some great wits. When he humoured one thus, the rest would take it ill if he did not, in like manner, gratify them, so that he did it for all his wives (1 Kgs. 11:8), and at last came to such a degree of impiety that he set up a high place for Chemosh in the hill that is before Jerusalem, the mount of Olives, as if to confront the temple which he himself had built. These high places continued here, not utterly demolished, till Josiah’s time, 2 Kgs. 23:13. This is the account here given of Solomon’s apostasy.
II. Let us now pause awhile, and lament Solomon’s fall; and we may justly stand and wonder at it. How has the gold become dim! How has the most fine gold changed! Be astonished, O heavens! at this, and be horribly afraid, as the prophet exclaims in a like case, Jer. 2:12.
1. How strange, (1.) That Solomon, in his old age, should be ensnared with fleshly lusts, youthful lusts. As we must never presume upon the strength of our resolutions, so neither upon the weakness of our corruptions, so as to be secure and off our guard. (2.) That so wise a man as Solomon was, so famed for a quick understanding and sound judgment, should suffer himself to be made such a fool of by these foolish women. (3.) That one who had so often and so plainly warned others of the danger of the love of women should himself be so wretchedly bewitched with it; it is easier to see a mischief, and to show it to others, than to shun it ourselves. (4.) That so good a man, so zealous for the worship of God, who had been so conversant with divine things, and who prayed that excellent prayer at the dedication of the temple, should do these sinful things. Isa. this Solomon? Have all his wisdom and devotion come to this at last? Never was gallant ship so wrecked; never was crown so profaned.
2. What shall we say to all this? Why God permitted it it is not for us to enquire; his way is in the sea and his path in the great waters; he knew how to bring glory to himself out of it. God foresaw it when he said concerning him that should build the temple, If he commit iniquity, etc., 2 Sam. 7:14. But it concerns us to enquire what good use we may make of it. (1.) 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 a constant dependence on that grace. (2.) See the danger of a prosperous condition, and how hard it is to overcome the temptations of it. Solomon, like Jeshurun, waxed fat and then kicked. The food convenient, which Agur prayed for, is safer and better than the food abundant, which Solomon was even surfeited with. (3.) See what need those have to stand upon their guard who have made a great profession of religion, and shown themselves forward and zealous in devotion, because the devil will set upon them most violently, and, if they misbehave, the reproach is the greater. It is the evening that commends the day; let us therefore fear, lest, having run well, we seem to come short.