When you’re a middle-eastern dictator, your concept of God is limited and flawed. To see this, simply turn on your television. It’s the same political story playing itself out with Solomon in 1 Kings. The stories of David and Solomon are political sagas and should be preached as such. In many ways they tell stories which mirror the world we know today. What stops us from preaching the politics of King Solomon? Is it because, when you get right down to it, he sounds like many of the people running for office? Yes.
Solomon wants to do right by God but he can’t do right by a God he doesn’t understand or truly respect. Let me remind you about the wisest man in the world. His wisdom isn’t all it has been cracked up to be.
Solomon, the child of King David and Bathsheba, liked foreign concubines. To be blunt, he loved foreign sexual slaves and prostitutes. These were not Israelite women. Most were young girls, forcibly taken from their homes and forced into sexual slavery at his court. Why should I use fancy preacher language and twisted rhetorical logic to make the ethically wrong and socially unacceptable fit middle-class Protestant sensibilities? I shouldn’t. I won’t. Sexual slavery and human trafficking are wrong. They are barbaric practices and I’m sickened they are given any degree of legitimacy in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible.
What wisdom, wisdom gained from the Israelite God, did King Solomon use to justify their captivity, bondage, and rape? Modern historians and scholars may tell us, “this is simply the way things were done in ancient societies.” If the passage of time can be used to justify the most extreme examples of human cruelty, often in the name of religious devotion, what will Christians be asked to accept next? How did the parents of the 300 concubines come to terms with King Solomon’s undisputed mandate from God when he kidnapped their daughters?
When Solomon’s devotion to the God of Israel began to run cold (assuming it was ever “hot”), he built shrines to the despised foreign gods of Chemosh, Molech, Astarte, Milcom on the outskirts of the capital. It is likely he endorsed or engaged in the most despicable practice related to these foreign deities; child sacrifice. David was bad. Solomon is in a whole other axis of evil.
The excesses were seen on all fronts. While he oversaw a peasant population, making a living from subsistence farming, Solomon lived like all great dictators: fat and happy. An ordinary dinner for Solomon included a thousand measures of flour and meal, ten oxen, twenty cattle, one hundred sheep, and ample sides of deer, gazelle, roebuck, and fatted fowl. His people starved. Solomon had ample food, sex, money, and an unquestioned line to God’s ear. Solomon lived very well. This is the wisest man on earth? Really? I’d be far more comfortable identifying him as a blueprint for the excesses of wealth, politics, power, and corruption we’re still wrestling with in the Middle East today. Since 2001, thousands of American women and men have died to remove men like King Solomon from power. You think Donald Trump is politically incorrect? Try making that comparison from the pulpit.
This week’s scripture finds Solomon trying to find a permanent home for the 10 Commandments. Will Solomon be the one to build a temple for the Ark of the Covenant which no one has yet been able to complete? Knowing what we know about Solomon, his history, his reputation, and his ego; is this temple building exercise about God’s legacy or Solomon’s legacy? Does he really want to build a place for God to be worshiped or where Solomon will be remembered?
I don’t trust Solomon as far as I could throw him. Look at the number of times the word “I” or “your servant” appears between verses 27 and 30. Four times. Who’s this about? Solomon or God?
The key to understanding this passage may be in verse 27. It’s not clear if it’s an inside thought or something that Solomon meant the crowd to hear. Regardless, it’s a good question and gets back to what I said at the beginning, Solomon doesn’t really get it. His concept of God (as is ours) is flawed, narrow, and incredibly narrow. “But how could God possibly live on earth? If heaven, even the highest heaven, can’t contain you, how can this temple I’ve built contain you?” How could God live on Earth and how could a building contain God? Those may be the best questions he’s ever asked and if he were truly the wisest man alive, he wouldn’t need to ask them.
Solomon has all the power he can handle and then some. He’s wealthy, he’s got women, food, an army, and the apparent connection to God which makes it all OK. Power has surrounded him like seagulls flock to a person with an unlimited supply of bread. This exercise, I would call it “publicly showing off for God”, is Solomon’s way of saying, “I can give you some of what I have”. Solomon, still in the halting voice of a gangster, says “We’ll make it real nice like God, I’ll have people watching over it all the time, it will be real good like God, just like you promised my fada, David.” Solomon is going to set God up real nice. Let that sink in for a moment. Does God need to be set up? Is Solomon a corrupt real estate agent? Put questions of worship aside. Solomon wants his own private confessional so God will hear him when he sacrifices children to Babylonian deities.
This is not about giving God something. God says Solomon needs to be more focused on listening to the people who are coming to Israel (based on his supposed wise reputation), who have no power, status, or standing in society. God’s direct words to Solomon, “Do everything the immigrant asks.” Tell me those aren’t political words. Those are the most politically charged words which can be uttered in America today.
If you are a Biblical literalist, will 1 Kings 8:41 make your top 10 list of verses to be interpreted literally? Listen to the people without power so will recognize the power of God in all that you do. The counter intuitive wisdom of God as opposed to the awesome wisdom of Solomon. Apparently they’re not the same. One is very political, offensive to many, controversial, and calls the self-serving narcissism of Solomon into question. One is safe and talks about the generic wisdom of man who was invented by history. One is truth. Our text is political, the world is political, and our God has taken sides. Will we?