A) The Significance of Solomon's Reign: We finished our last lesson by talking about the beginning of Solomon's reign. It was the highest point in Israel's history. Everything in their past was building up to this; and for Israel, it couldn't get any better. In King Solomon, God was fulfilling the promises He had made to David. As Solomon dedicated the temple, he said: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who spoke with His mouth to my father David and has fulfilled it with His hand. . .Now the Lord has fulfilled His word which He spoke; for I have risen in place of my father David and sit on the throne of Israel, as the Lord promised, and have built the house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel.” (1 Kings 8:15,20). Remember, back in 2 Samuel 7, the Lord had promised to David that He would raise up his son after him who would not only sit on his throne, but build a house for the name of the Lord (vv12-13). Here, Solomon's acknowledging that God had kept His promises.
And not only had God kept His promises to David: Solomon's kingdom also brings to fulfilment the promises that God had made all the way back to Abraham. In 1 Kings 4:20-21, Solomon's reign is described for us in this way: “Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance. . .Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt; they brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life.” Do you see it? God had multiplied His people Israel like the sand on the seashore, just as He promised to Abraham back in Genesis 22 (v17; cf. 32:12). And God had given to Israel the full boundaries of the land that He had promised to Abraham back in Genesis 15 (v18; cf.17:8). God had multiplied His people, given them a place, and with the temple He had crowned them with His presence.1
B) The Beginning of Solomon's Downfall: Things couldn't get any better for Israel. Sadly, though, they would get worse. Solomon's heart turns away from the Lord, and the whole kingdom falls with him. My daughter asked me recently: “Does sin ever trick you?” I think that's what happened to Solomon. He was a good man, a godly man. He was humble leader, and a gifted teacher. But at some point, he lets his heart grow distant and begins engaging in activities the Lord had forbidden. In Deuteronomy 17 God lays out three commands for kings in Israel: The king “shall not multiply horses for himself. . .He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself.” (vv16-17). But in 1 Kings 9-11, these are the things Solomon begins to do: It starts with the gold (1 Kings 9:26-28; 10:14-15); then the horses (10:26-29); and last of all Solomon isn't just multiplying wives, but marrying unbelieving women who worshipped other gods (11:1-4). One writer has summarized these three temptations as guns, girls, and gold.2
We also have temptations, like Solomon. What are the ways sin may be trying to trick you in your life right now? I think one way sin tricks us is believing wrong things about God when we go through things that are hard in our life. Sometimes I find my heart getting frustrated with the Lord, or bitter, when I'm not seeing very much fruit in ministry. It's harboring these feelings that distances my heart from the Lord and can lead me down the road of giving in to other sins. I want the Lord to give me success and I pout when He doesn't. What I forgot is that this is exactly what the Lord had given to Solomon. And yet, for Solomon, it seemed it was success that began to turn his heart away. A child might want to play with a sharp knife, but that doesn't mean you give it to her. And the reason you don't is you love her too much. Friends, God knows what's best for us. We can trust in Him.
C) The Result of Solomon's Sin: God had warned Solomon about this. When he was building the temple, the Lord had told Solomon that if he would walk in God's ways, the Lord's blessing would rest upon all Israel (1 Kings 6:11-13). And after Solomon had dedicated the temple, the Lord came to him in a dream and repeated the same message: If Solomon walked before the Lord, observing His commandments and keeping His statutes, the Lord would establish his kingdom (1 Kings 9:3-5; cf. 1 Chronicles 28:5-8; 2 Chronicles 7:17-18). But there was no such promise for Solomon and his kingdom if he were to turn away from the Lord. And so, sadly, when Solomon sins, it results in the shattering of the kingdom. The Lord tells Solomon in 1 Kings 11:11, “Because you have done this, and you have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you, and will give it to your servant.” Sure enough, this is exactly what happens in the days of Solomon's son, Rehoboam. When the elders of Israel approach Rehoboam shortly after he had been anointed king, he speaks harshly with them. As a result, the northern tribes of Israel break off from Rehoboam and his kingdom, form their own nation, and appoint their own king. So, when Solomon sins, the kingdom gets torn in two. Rehoboam continues to be king over the tribe of Judah, along with the southern tribe of Benjamin (1 Kings 11:30-31; 12:21). They become known as the kingdom of Judah (with their capital in Jerusalem). The ten other northern tribes who split off form their own nation which becomes known as the kingdom of Israel (with their capital in Samaria).
Though the split was ultimately God's plan, Israel breaking off from Judah is presented in Scripture as an act of rebellion against their true Davidic king (1 Kings 12:19). Later, Rehoboam's son Abijah, the rightful king of Judah, had this to say to all the tribes of northern Israel: “Do you not know that the Lord God of Israel gave the rule of Israel forever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt? . . . So now you intend to resist the kingdom of the Lord through the sons of David. . .” (2 Chronicles 13:5,8). Abijah's words help us to interpret the splitting of the kingdom: Because God had given the rule to David and to his sons, to resist the kingdom of Judah was to resist the kingdom of the Lord.3
How do we interpret all this? How are we to fit the pieces together? I think it's easy to misinterpret what's going on here, if we're not careful. It's easy to read these Scriptures about Solomon and come to the conclusion that God turned His back on Solomon because Solomon had turned his back on God. But that's not true. Remember, back in 2 Samuel 7, God had made a very specific promise to David about his son Solomon, telling him: “when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul. . .” (vv14-15). The discipline God sent to Solomon was actually the proof of His love for him. The Lord wasn't punishing him as a judge; He was drawing him back as his father.
Ultimately, though, what's happening here with Israel's kingdom is about much more than just God's personal dealings with Solomon. Remember, Solomon wasn't just any person. As the king of Israel, he functioned as the covenant representative for God's people. We mentioned this in the last lesson: The entire well-being of God's people seems to be contingent on the obedience of one man. While Solomon kept the covenant, the people were blessed. But when he sins, the whole kingdom is split apart. Now here, we see what that headship meant in particular for Israel: 1) Solomon's sin directly results in Israel being separated from their rightful king (and, in fact, into a state of rebellion against him). And, in connection with this, 2) Solomon's sin also directly results in Israel's separation from one another. From now on, Israel would be separated from their true king, and separated from one another; they would be rebels against their rightful king, and hostile towards one another. All of this is meant to point us back to Adam's headship over all humanity. Adam's sin directly resulted in both our rebellion against God and alienation from one another. Solomon's sin echoes back to Adam's.4
1The Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible says: “The borders of Solomon's kingdom correspond with the borders promised to Abraham (see Genesis 15:18; 17:8; Deuteronomy 1:7; 11:24; Joshua 1:4 and their notes). Hence, Kings presents Solomon's rule over an empire that represented the long-awaited fulfillment of the patriarchal promises (cf. vv24-25).” (on 1 Kings 4:21). Jonty Rhodes notes of 1 Kings 4:20-21: “David's son Solomon takes to the throne, and initially all is well. . .See the promises being fulfilled? The people of Israel are as many as the sand by the sea, just as God promised Abraham in Genesis 22. They are living in the land stretching from the Euphrates to Egypt, just as God promised Abraham in Genesis 15. Solomon is ruling over them, as a wise father. People, paradise, the covenant king, but what about God's presence? In fact, this blessing too is lavished on Israel during Solomon's reign. The early chapters of 1 Kings tell of the building of a great temple for God.”
2 Rhodes: “Solomon [commits] exactly the sins. . .Deuteronomy 17 warned against. . .Guns, girls, and gold: they're all there.”
3 The Reformation Heritage Study Bible says of 2 Chronicles 13:5-8: “War against the house of David was rebellion against God. . .Judah's kingdom was God's kingdom, which He ruled through the Davidic king as His representative.” The Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible likewise says of verse 8: “Despite Rehoboam's offense, resisting David's dynasty was tantamount to resisting God himself.” And the ESV Study Bible also concludes: “The Chronicler notes that in contrast to Jeroboam's kingdom and cult, the Davidic monarchy is the object of God's enduring promise (13:5,8). . .” A similar passage can be found in 2 Chronicles 30, where couriers are sent out from King Hezekiah in Judah to the northern tribes of Israel. They are sent out with the message that Israel should return to the Lord (the Old Testament language for repentance). Though the focus is the Passover, the ESV Study Bible says: “More than an invitation to participate in a festival (30:8b), they are really a summons to repentance (return to the Lord), so that God will avert his anger and the captives of the Assyrians will be returned (v9).”
4 Reflecting on what we've been discussing, Jonty Rhodes refers to 1 Kings 11:11-13, noting: “We need to be careful here. It's not that God brings the fulness of the covenant curses to bear on Solomon. . .Speaking about David's descendants, God had cautioned: 'When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him' (2 Samuel 7:14-15). . .At this stage of the story though, notice that the consequences aren't just for Solomon. Because of this one man's disobedience, the nation will be torn in two. . .While Solomon kept the covenant, the people were blessed. When Solomon rebels, disaster falls on his whole people.” (Covenants Made Simple).