The two whole books from this week’s readings (Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes) represent Solomon’s wisdom on either side of a critical turning point in his life, as relayed in 1 Kings 11:1-10.
Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods. And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods. But he did not keep what the LORD commanded.
Solomon, the wisest man ever, was not always smart. He clearly knew that he was disobeying God, but chose to do so anyway. This decision led to Solomon’s downfall. It resulted in the split of Israel into two nations, and ultimately to the exile of the people into foreign lands. In the coming weeks we’ll see how that story plays out. But for this post, I want to focus on the two Wisdom books identified with Solomon.
First, is the Song of Solomon. This book represents God’s views on the gift of sexuality within a marriage. In order to understand and appreciate it, you must first recognize that it is not a linear book. It is a series of reminiscences or reflections between a husband and wife. It relates their adoration of each other, their memories of special lovemaking times, memories of problems and attitudes that they’ve dealt with, and their advice for newlyweds. The best commentary and study (in my opinion) on this book is one by Joseph and Linda Dillow and Peter and Lorraine Pintus called Intimacy Ignited. In the introduction, they write
God ordained Solomon to write this timeless little instruction book on sex. The task before him must have seemed impossible. How would you feel if God told you: “Write a real-life drama that captures the passion, adventure, and mystery of marriage, but do not ignore the problems of daily life. Be frank and precise when speaking of sexual intimacy, but write in such a way that if a child reads the words, his or her innocence remains intact. Regarding sexual activity, be specific enough to be helpful, but sensitive enough not to offend. Be spiritual, yet practical; wholesome, yet sensuous. And do it all in one hundred twenty verses or less”? Quite a tall order, wouldn’t you say? Yet, Solomon did not balk. The result is a book on sex that is specific, yet poetic; frank, yet innocent; simple, yet profound; confusing, yet straightforward.
The Song of Solomon is a book that becomes more amazing with study.
The other complete book from this week is Ecclesiastes. It was likely written near the end of Solomon’s life. He very clearly identifies in the book what it represents. Consider the following verses:
1:13 … I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven.
1:17 … I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly.
2:3 … I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly
2:9-10 … So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them
7:23-24 … All this I have tested by wisdom. I said, “I will be wise,” but it was far from me. That which has been is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out?
8:16-17 … When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth, how neither day nor night do one’s eyes see sleep, then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out.
God was gracious to Solomon even in his disobedience. He recognized that God was still enabling him to maintain a sense of wisdom, even amidst his foolishness. Ecclesiastes can be summed up like this: If you live only for what is available in this life, you might as well enjoy it. But that’s a foolish existence and ultimately is a waste. You have lived your life here and squandered your eternity with God.
Solomon ends the book like this (referring to himself as The Preacher (Chapter 12:9-14)
Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.