Thursday of week 5 of Ordinary Time – First Reading


Commentary on 1 Kgs 11:4-13
 

As his life progressed, Solomon moved steadily downhill. The sacred writer implies that women were the cause of his downfall, and especially foreign women. Apart from the daughter of Egypt’s Pharaoh, he took many foreign women as his wives. Among these were many from ethnic groups with which the Israelites were forbidden to marry. The reason for this prohibition was the danger that one would be tempted to worship their gods. As is the case here.

Solomon fell in love with many such women and, towards the end of his life, he had 700 wives and 300 concubines (presumably something of a literary exaggeration). The problem was not so much the number of women in his life – for even David had a number of wives. But these women turned him away from Yahweh as his God. Unlike his father, David, “his heart was no longer entirely with the Lord”.

Among the gods Solomon began to worship under the influence of his wives were Astarte (Asthtoreth), the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom (Molech), the idol of the Ammonites. Worship of Molech not only severely jeopardised the recognition of the absolute kingship of the Lord over his people but also involved (on rare occasions) the practice of child sacrifice.

To appease his wives, Solomon built shrines to Chemosh, the god of the Moabites, and to Molech on a hill facing Jerusalem. And he did the same for many of his wives, who openly worshipped their own gods.

Twice in the past God had appeared to Solomon: the first time when he asked Solomon what special gift he wanted and Solomon, setting set aside wealth and military power, had asked for wisdom. In the second vision, just after Solomon had completed the Temple, Yahweh had promised many blessings on Solomon. But now, God is angry with him, especially because of his repeated idolatry and his violation of the covenant. Solomon had broken the most basic demands of the covenant and thereby severely undermined the entire covenant relationship between God and his people.

In punishment, his kingdom would be given over to not to a son but to one of his servants. However, for the sake of David, Solomon would remain king until his death. Also, for David’s sake, Solomon’s son would be left king of just one tribe. In this way, the promise of an everlasting dynasty for David’s line would be, at least partially, observed.

As Jerusalem contained the temple built by David’s son, the destiny of Jerusalem and the Davidic dynasty were closely linked. The temple represented God’s royal palace, where his earthly throne (the Ark) was situated and where he had pledged to be present as Israel’s Great King.

Solomon’s foreign marriages were primarily contracted for political ends and the pagan shrines were intended for his wives and for traders. Such contacts, however, jeopardised the purity of the religion of Yahweh, and the author interprets the situation in the spirit and language of Deuteronomy. God punishes Solomon’s impiety by raising up enemies abroad (Hadad the Edomite) and at home, (Jeroboam will take over 10 tribes as king, leaving only Judah to Solomon’s son).

In the end, Solomon’s great wisdom could not prevent him being ruled by his heart and his political and economic interests.

How often have we, too, been ruled by our emotions and other considerations and been led into behaviour which we know is wrong? It is so easy for us to rationalise, which means creating false reasons to justify what we do. And yet, the only way to go for our own long-term good is the way of truth, integrity and genuine love. Again we pray for that wisdom which gives us an insight into where truth and goodness are to be found.

The road to that wisdom, of course, is the Way of Jesus.

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