This week we return to the story of the people of Israel, now looking at King David’s son, Solomon. You read for your journaling last week the story of Solomon’s prayer that God would make him wise. This became one of Solomon’s most famous characteristic: wisdom.
What is wisdom? Someone once said…
Maybe a more concise definition would be: wisdom is knowledge applied. Solomon had so much wisdom, he wrote a book of it: Proverbs.
Solomon would use his gift of wisdom to become a prosperous and successful king, overseeing many public works in the city and the nation, and at the height of his achievement was the construction of the great temple.
The temple would eventually be destroyed a few centuries later in 586BC, then rebuilt around 100 years before Christ. In those centuries it was the center of Jewish faith and the great symbol of their religion. Jews would make frequent pilgrimages to the temple to worship and offer sacrifices, but a belief developed that the temple would be the people’s “good luck charm”, that nothing bad would happen to their nation while God was in his temple. The temple will be a prominent theme in the rest of the Old Testament and the Gospels. While Solomon had good intentions for the temple, it would eventually come to confuse the people about God, trusting in the building more than in God and God’s Spirit. Jesus would say, “the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21-23)
The second temple was destroyed by the Romans about 30 years after the death of Jesus. Today it is the site of the golden domed mosque, “the Dome of the Rock”. But the famous “Western Wall” remains a sacred site for Jews because it is the last remaining pieces of the original Temple.
Solomon had much wisdom in some ways, but he was also very foolish in other ways. He expanded his kingdom’s power by building alliances with other nations, but one of the ways he built those alliances was to take hundreds of wives to form kinship ties with other royal families. This displeased God. Many of those wives convinced Solomon to worship their idols as well. Solomon is also remembered poorly for being unfair to the Northern tribes of Israel, heavily taxing them and using forced labor from their people for his building projects. Ultimately, Solomon’s son would learn the wrong lessons from his father, and foolishly created a civil war that divided the Kingdom of Israel.
Though King Solomon is best known for his wisdom proverbs, he is thought to have also written two other books of the Bible. The “Song of Songs” or “Song of Solomon” is a love poem, celebrating the gift of romance. But perhaps the most interesting book of Solomon’s is Ecclesiastes. Written at the end of his life, Solomon looks at all he has accomplished and despairs, “Vanity of vanities… all is vanity!” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Some translations say, “Meaningless, everything is meaningless!” Things come. Things go. Nothing changes. What’s the point?
Musicians have been inspired by Solomon’s deep questions about the meaning of life. The Byrds sang a popular song in the 60s that comes straight from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
One of my favorite albums from when I was in High School was The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Lauryn wrote the song “Everything is Everything” partly inspired from the book of Ecclesiastes (the song also features a very young John Legend on piano).
Solomon brags about all the great things he had in his life: achievement, wisdom, riches, possessions, laughter, admiration, “delights of the flesh”… but ultimately he feels empty, “I considered all that my hands had done… all was vanity and chasing after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11)
Its a tale as old as time. Athletes, Billionaires, Entertainers, Rock Stars… they achieve fame and riches and reach the top of their world, but suffer deep inward emptiness. One of the most successful musicians of the 20th century was Johnny Cash. In the movie, Walk the Line, we see how despite all his fame and wealth, Cash’s life was deeply troubled. What the movie didn’t show you much of was how Johnny Cash found new life by faith in Jesus. You can see some of that in his music video for the song “Hurt”.
There are things no amount of money, achievement, and success can ever help with. Only faith in God can satisfy what we long for. This is what Solomon ultimately discovered, and he concludes, “The end of the matter… fear God and keep his commandments. That is the whole duty of everyone.” (Ecclesiastes 11:13). Or as Saint Augustine put it, “our hearts are restless… until they rest in thee.”
Journaling Reflection Questions
- Thinking about what you’ve read, describe what a “Prophet” is.
- What did the kings and people of Israel do to make God angry?
- If God sent a prophet to the United States today, what do you think their message might be?