A Lady, a Heart, and a Kingdom

Song of Solomon by Jeffrey W. Hamilton
Song of Solomon by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

Solomon.  What a guy.  Superb lineage, a couple of in-your-face visits from the Almighty, one of which got him everything a man could dream of–literally, and a personal palace twice as big as the Temple.  Traditional thinking has him author of a piece of pretty sensual love poetry, over 3000 proverbs and 1000 songs, a few of which we have recorded in scripture, and a memoir of sorts that can only be called the ruminations of a regretful man.

I started a sermon series yesterday about all this, centered in the book of Proverbs, and got reminded again how much this man intrigues me.  So he had “700 wives of royal birth”–culturally speaking, it’s hard to imagine just how that works in practical terms, but as one man reminded me after the sermon, it was probably not uncommon for people visiting the king to offer one of their daughters as a gift, which, obviously, kings like Solomon accepted.   What’s so fascinating is to climb inside Solomon’s head in his later years, and imagine his reflection over his life.

Proverbs personifies “Wisdom” as a woman.  Many call her “Lady Wisdom.”  Then there’s the other woman, the adulteress, the prostitute, representing “folly.” Some call her “Dame Folly.”   While the ancient Near East was not without other feminine personifications of wisdom, I can’t help but believe that for Solomon, this was pretty personal.  I Kings 11 says explicitly that Solomon held fast to these women of his (300 concubines, too) “in love,” and that they turned his heart away from YHWH to the foreign gods of the Sidonians, the Moabites, and the Ammorites.   He built places of worship for these gods east of Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives, places that would remain in use until the 7th C. BCE (some 350 years) when Josiah the King finally tore them down.  The worship of Ashtoreth meant fertility rites often involving sexual ritual, and Molech and Chemosh demanded human sacrifice.  And all within shouting distance of the Temple of God.

How strange.   This man had the world at his feet.  Kings, princes, and rulers came to him year after year after year, bearing tons (literally) of gifts of the most precious goods of the world.   Yet somehow, love bent his heart away from God.  When he died, the Kingdom of Israel split in half, and was never the same.

In the first chapter of Proverbs, when we meet Lady Wisdom for the first time, her words are not a soothing wooing of youth.   They are harsh, a warning, and she goes so far as to say if she is ignored, she will have no pity when disaster strikes, but will laugh at the whirlwind the foolish create, the storm that destroys.  I just wonder if Solomon felt this way in the later part of his life.  Did his wisdom tell him that the mistakes he’d made would mean a centuries long whirlwind for his people? I can’t help but believe Solomon knew he’d chosen the wrong lady, and in so choosing,  lost both his heart and his kingdom.

Mark Sanford’s dalliance with Dame Folly is nothing new.  The wisest man who ever lived couldn’t resist her, either.

Who can?

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