THE WISDOM OF SOLOMON?
The Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God? As a child growing up in the '40s in Southeast Missouri, completely surrounded by the fundamentalist mentality typical of both the era and area, I believed so. I had complete faith in the "word of God." Over a period of several years of conscientious Bible study, however, I became more and more aware of, and bothered by, the many discrepancies, inconsistencies, and outright absurdities in the book. Several absurdities concerned the so-called wisdom of Solomon.
Solomon--the man whom God himself declared had no equal when it came to wisdom! According to the "inspired text," none before him, none after him (presumably this would also include Jesus Christ) did or would compare to the wisdom God granted to Solomon:
Well, Solomon's brand of wisdom as revealed in the Bible is totally unimpressive to me and surely to many other discerning readers too. Let's look at a few examples of the incredible wisdom of Solomon--the wisest man ever born!
To say the very least, Solomon was a man of excesses. The biblical account of his conspicuous consumption makes him appear ludicrous and even morally corrupt. His opulence was totally unfettered. If it was available, Solomon apparently had to have it. The best woods, the finest metals, precious stones, ivory, exotic animals, the best of everything from splendid houses to chariots, spices, and gold--nothing luxurious escaped his cravings. In view of the quantity of food served daily at his table and the excessive (was he anything but?) sacrificial offerings to his god, one could even say his ostentation extended to what surely amounted to near decimation of the animal population of that region:
His voraciousness was such that he required the services of twelve regional officers just to provide this amount of food for his household (v:7)!
At the "great high place" in Gibeon, he once offered a thousand burnt offerings on the altar there (1 Kings 3:4), and at the dedication of the temple, his offerings were so numerous that they "could not be counted or numbered for multitude" (1 Kings 8:5). The bronze altar in the newly built temple couldn't even accommodate them:
Never mind that we are given a specific number of animals in this passage after having been told that the offerings were too numerous to be counted; the thing we are interested in at this point is Solomon's excesses. This is the tale of a man whose daily life makes Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous look piddling in comparison, and Robin Leach isn't even telling this story. God's "inspired" writer is! This obnoxious yarn might make acceptable TV entertainment, but to include it in the book that is supposed to provide mankind with the keys to eternal life and set an example for us to follow is ludicrous in the extreme. One might rather choose to emulate Mahatma Gandhi (whose wisdom, of course, didn't come close to Solomon's) than this immature, egotistical, decadent man to whom God granted supreme wisdom.
One has to question too the reason for this grandiose sacrificial ceremony. Was it done to please God? Did Yahweh really want, not even to say expect, such a vulgar display of reverence? If so, we have to wonder about the ego of this god we are supposed to love and serve with all our heart and soul and mind. A god who delighted in seeing the carcasses of 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep set ablaze to pay homage to him! Come on, people, let's get real! This is 1991.
Solomon's wisdom was legendary? Well, let's just take a look at his best known display of that wisdom--the famous "Case of the Disputed Baby." Two women living together had given birth to sons within a three-day period. When one of the babies died in the night, the mother switched his body with the other baby. Naturally, the deception was discovered by the living child's mother, and the case was brought to Solomon for arbitration:
Now let's consider sensibly what happened here. A woman grieving over the death of her child switched the baby with another woman's. Obviously, this grieving mother wanted a child to replace the one she had lost. When the case was presented to Solomon, he cleverly devised a way to determine which mother was being truthful about the incident. Upon hearing his decision, the true mother immediately offered to give the baby to the other woman rather than to see him dead. At this point, the woman who had stolen the child had exactly what she wanted, a baby to replace the one she had lost. Instead of keeping it that way, however, she said in response to the real mother's offer to relinquish her maternal claim, "It shall be neither mine nor yours; divide it." So a woman who had the chance to get a living child to replace the one she had lost-- exactly what she had come to Solomon for-- was turning it down. She now wanted to see the baby hacked in half! Does this sound like a probable reaction any woman would have made in a situation like this?
And what would Solomon have done if the second mother had also relinquished claim to the baby? To have done so would not have been outrageously out of character. After all, these two women lived together; some degree of friendship and love for the baby surely existed between them. Of course, we have to realize that God's hand was at work in all of this. He was orchestrating the scenario to make a point about the magnitude of Solomon's problem solving skills, so it had to be as it was or we wouldn't have had a story, would we?
Let's just admit for the sake of argument that Solomon's judgment in this case was clever. Did the cleverness of it warrant the awe-stricken public reaction attributed to it? "And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of Elohim was in him, to do justice." I guess we are supposed to believe that an ordinary man, acting without divine guidance, could not have devised this plan. All the judgment indicates, however, is that Solomon understood something about maternal instincts. A man has to have divine help to know that?
But there's still more to consider about Solomon that should make us all grateful that God didn't choose one of us to be the recipient of the greatest wisdom ever bestowed upon a human being. Can any discussion of Solomon, for example, be complete without mentioning his 700 wives and 300 concubines! My, my, even for Solomon this is excess gone to seed. But it involves much more than mere excess; it involves greed, egotism, inconsiderateness, injustice, and just about every other character trait that we find despicable in human beings.
Solomon's wisdom is usually associated with his extraordinary ability to dispense justice, but what kind of justice can possibly be found in this situation? Here was a man who had surely depleted the regional supply of princesses by taking 700 of them to be his wives (1 Kings 11:3)--wives whom he could not have "gotten around to" if he had done nothing all day, every day, except get around to them. Add to these the 300 concubines that for some reason he also felt a need for, and you have a case of 1,000 women trapped in a situation of hopeless misery. Women are human beings. Bibliolaters may not want to believe this, but women are human beings. They have emotional needs that must be met if they are to enjoy normal lives, and Solomon couldn't have possibly provided for the emotional needs of a thousand women. Could even the wisest man who ever lived have remembered the names of all of them? How did he keep track of them? Did he have a record-keeper to tell him, "It's so-and-so's turn tonight"?
Basically, Solomon put these thousand women into a situation where it was virtually impossible for them to experience normal lifestyles--socially, emotionally, or maritally. No doubt many of them were young women with normal physical needs, and you can bet that Solomon, while demanding their complete fidelity, wasn't capable of accommodating those needs. The world's wisest man! How about the world's most egotistical, inconsiderate jerk?
Another of Solomon's great claims to fame has to do with his outstanding leadership and abilities as ruler of the united kingdom of Israel. The Bible, in its usual contradictory fashion, would have us believe that everything was rosy throughout the land. The people were just so happy "eating and drinking and making merry" (1 Kings 4:20). Solomon made "silver and gold to be in Jerusalem as stones" (2 Chron. 1:15). Why, life was just a bowl of cherries under his reign. Or was it?
Rehoboam succeeded his father as ruler of the kingdom, but its unified state wasn't long for this world. Jeroboam and all Israel came before the king to complain about the misery that had been heaped upon them while Solomon was king and to petition for relief as Rehoboam began his reign:
These men wanted to serve Rehoboam, but he, lacking the wisdom of his father, who had apparently lacked the wisdom to include all Israel in his grandiose lifestyle, failed to follow the counsel of the old men, who had advised Rehoboam to grant the petition. He chose instead to implement the advice given by "the young men that had grown up with him." Their advice was to show the Israelites who was boss, i.e., if they thought it was bad under Solomon, just let them see what Rehoboam had in store for them. So when the delegation returned for Rehoboam's decision, he said to them, "My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to it: my father punished you with whips, but I will punish you with scorpions" (2 Chron. 10:14, BB).
Poor Rehoboam, it wasn't really his fault, "for it was brought about by Elohim, that Yahweh might establish his word" (v:15). One could almost pity Rehoboam and many of the other pathetic creatures in the Bible who were simply pawns used by God to carry out his predetermined plans. They seemed not to have any free will of their own. Suffice it to say, however, that there is every indication here that the wise Solomon was neither just nor competent as a ruler. His years of sovereignty had actually laid the founda- tion for a division of the kingdom David had worked so hard to unify. The wisest man who ever lived couldn't rule competently enough to maintain the good will of his subjects!
Last, but certainly not least, is the biblical denunciation of Solomon's allegiance to God. In his old age, Solomon turned to idolatry as a result of the influence of his wives (1 Kings 11:4). There are several noteworthy comments to make about this event. Isn't it strange to believe that the wisest man on earth could not turn any of his wives from idolatry to worship of the one true god, Yahweh Elohim of Israel? Isn't it strange that a man who, on at least two occasions (1 Kings 3:5-14; 9:2-9), was personally visited by Yahweh would turn to idolatry? Even without the visits, the wisest man on earth wouldn't know not to practice idolatry? What on earth is so wise about worshipping a stick of wood or a hunk of stone that one has graven himself? Isn't it strange that a man who was promised and received great wealth would turn from the source of that wealth? Isn't it strange that the wisest man ever born could not manage to satisfy God? And if the wisest man ever born couldn't please God, what chance do we people of ordinary intelligence have to please him?
But maybe we don't have anything to worry about. Perhaps it takes ignorance to maintain a satisfying relationship with this strange god of the Bible.
(Sandra Till's address is P. O. Box 617, Canton, IL 61520.)
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