Summary: We like to think of God’s blessings as being rewards for good behavior. That is not always the case. In many cases they are given so that we can benefit the kingdom of God, whether through giving to Him or to others and so strengthening other believers.
A Wandering Desire
Ecclesiastes takes us on a journey through Solomon’s life and pursuits. A survey of Solomon’s life shows us that he tried many things in his life. These pursuits are discussed in the historical books of 1 Kings, 2 Chronicles and Ecclesiastes.
In the European west a person skilled in many different disciplines is called a Renaissance Man.
Solomon was a true Renaissance Man.
• He headed massive building projects
• He was a military innovator
• He was a savvy politician and administrator
• He was a lover
It didn’t seem to matter what Solomon put his hand to, he was a success. God had promised him greatness, and this greatness took some radical forms. It might have been enough for him to be the wisest man who ever lived, but God gave him much, much more. His varied education made him good at so many things, that he could not help but wind up wealthy.
The book of Ecclesiastes gives us a tour of everything Solomon tried. He did not do this randomly or without a plan. He makes the point that whatever he tried, his wisdom stayed with him, evaluating to see what each thing taught him, and he took it as far as he could:
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my work,
and this was the reward for all my labor.
Ecclesiastes 2:10 (NIV)
The breadth of his experience is impressive even by modern standards. Few people can say that they know as much about as many things as Solomon knew. Even those who can, cannot say they learned as much as he learned in the process.
I am reminded of Siddhartha by Herman Hesse.
Siddhartha was a Buddhist monk seeking enlightenment in the discipline of his monastery. He came to the conclusion that he could not find what he wanted without broadening his experience. After much searching, he found enlightenment in understanding people from many walks of life.
Solomon followed a similar thought. His wisdom was a gift from God. But in order to satisfy himself of his wisdom, he tried to experience many things.
Solomon’s wide experience is easy to see
Solomon was a military escalator. Until his time, chariots were used by wealthy or powerful individuals at their own expense. But Solomon provided an organized chariot force of hundreds. He also bought thousands of war horses.
He had hundreds of slaves. These were gentiles that lived in the land. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon talks about not only the slaves he bought, but also the slaves that were born in his house. This was a sign of great wealth and power.
He built a fleet. This is something new in Israelite history, generally because the Philistines and the Edomites blocked their access to the sea. Solomon’s fleet was used primarily for exploration and trade, providing him with tons of gold.
Solomon was rich. He laid the inside of the Temple Holy place with pure gold. He made dozens of gold shields to hang in the palace. This throne was gold and ivory. Solomon was so wealthy that a thousand years later, Jesus commented on it and three thousand years later, we are still intrigued by it.
Solomon was a gardener on a massive scale. He studied the trees he planted, and they became orchards. His wide knowledge of plants is shown in the Song of Songs where he sees them for their beauty and uses them to symbolize his love.
Speaking of his love. The quote says it all:
He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. 1 Kings 11:3 (NIV)
He had 1000 wives. That is a large household. I am convinced that Solomon wrote the Proverbs for his many children. Even if only 1/10 of his wives had one son each for him, he would have had more sons than he could meaningfully be a father to.
This raises another point though, and that is often overlooked. His official wives were of royal birth. Solomon was a master politician of his day. The Bible makes much of his marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter, and for good reason. This is the first time recorded in history that a Pharaoh of Egypt married a daughter to a foreign king. In fact, the very idea was an insult to Egyptian kings, and it had been tried before. This makes Solomon’s marriage to her quite remarkable, indicating a measure of power that even Egypt respected.
Solomon used - and over used the marriage treaty. Peace was often negotiated between countries by marrying the royal families together. It was assumed that a king would not wage war against his daughter’s and grandchildren’s home. In this way, foreign royal wives and their children were often little more than well kept hostages. In addition, the children born of these unions would, presumably, have loyalties to both countries, ensuring peace between them.