King Solomon was the quintessential king. His kingdom was the most glorious and prosperous in Israel’s history. His treasure was immeasurable. The Temple he built for the Lord was among the wonders of the Ancient World. And his wisdom surpassed that of any man who has ever lived (with the exception of Jesus). God even appeared to him, not once but twice!
Yet, even with his unparalleled wisdom, even with having been visited by God twice, he still fell. Why could he not withstand the temptations that money, sex and power offered? In King Solomon: The Temptations of Money, Sex, and Power, Philip Ryken examines the good and bad of Solomon’s reign and uses them to show us how Solomon’s kingdom points forward to and should make us long for Jesus’ kingdom.
Ryken’s careful examination of 1 Kings 1-11 offers a number of fascinating insights, perhaps most notable being that the commonly held view of these chapters being that 1-10 represent an almost entirely positive view of Solomon, limiting his fall to chapter 11. But, even as early as chapter three, “there are ominous warning signs that Solomon’s love [for the Lord] was not wholehearted. . . . If we study his life more carefully, we see early signes of his eventual downfall, especially in his love for money, sex, and power” (p. 46).
Ryken offers three examples. 1 Kings 3:1 tells us that Solomon took Pharoah’s daughter to be his wife. Yet this marriage of a believer to a non believer was expressly forbidden (cf. Ex. 34:15-16; Deut. 7:3-4). “It is hardly surprising that marrying outside the faith eventually led Solomon into idolatry, that the very king who once was said to ‘love the Lord’ is later said to love ‘many foreign women’ (1 Kings 11:1)” (p. 47). Secondly, Ryken reminds us, that this marriage also formed an alliance with Egypt. While good for Israel politically, this, again, was a bad decision spiritually. Ryken’s third example deals with Solomon’s worship. He spent seven years building the Temple, but he spent even longer building his own house. “Solomon’s heart was tempted away from devotion to God by the love of money” (p. 48) He also made sacrifices at the high places—elevations where the people worshipped foreign deities.
While it was true that Solomon was a king after David’s heart, a man who loved the Lord, it is also true that he had a wandering heart that loved money, sex and power. The warning signs of Solomon’s tragic downfall are present from the very beginning of his story, which is not just black and white, but colored by shades of gray.
In other words, Solomon was a lot like us. (p. 49)
Those last words, connecting Solomon’s wandering heart with our own—reading them the first time (and again as I typed them), I couldn’t help but squirm a little. These temptations around every one of us, and it’s hard not to have some of the ways we’ve compromised or succumbed to temptation come to mind (whether days, weeks or years in the past). And as Ryken continues to examine Solomon’s story, I found myself appreciating the sobering reminder more and more, even as it occasionally made me uncomfortable. None of us are “too big to fail.” And if one as wise as Solomon couldn’t evade temptation, what hope does a knucklehead like me outside of God’s grace?
And that brings us to the book’s greatest strength. As much as this is a book about the rise and fall of Solomon, it’s all the more a book about Jesus, whose wisdom and glory surpass that of this earthly king. And it’s not merely a book about how Solomon points to Jesus, but how Jesus turns tragedy into victory.
Here is a promise for us to believe—a promise that finds its fulfillment in the house and line of David. If God had not preserved a tribe for eDavid in the days after King Solomon, then none of the promises of salvation would ever come true. But God protected a remnant of the kingdom, preparing the way for our salvation. . . . Jesus of Nazareth was the son of Solomon (see Matt. 1:6-7), and therefore the rightful heir to David’s throne. Jesus is the royal Savior who alone can rescue us from the wrath we deserve. . . . By dying in our place, Jesus turns our tragedy into a comedy—a story with a happy ending. God is angry with us because of our sin. . . . But God has saved us from his own wrath by sending his Son to enter our tragic situation and rescue us from eternal downfall. (p. 199)
Though we stumble and fall, though we are fully deserving of God’s wrath, He has offered His Son in our place. And in doing so, a tragic end has become happy for those who believe. That’s good news, isn’t it? Should that not create a greater desire in each of us to grow in God’s grace, fleeing from the temptations and sins for which Jesus died? I pray that it would be so for me and my family.
King Solomon is a highly engaging and convicting reminder of the power of temptation and the triumph of Christ. I trust that as you read it, you will be encouraged to turn away from the fleeting pleasures of sin and fix your eyes on the Savior who triumphs over our tragedies.
Title: King Solomon: The Temptations of Money, Sex, and Power
Author: Philip G. Ryken
Publisher: Crossway (2011)
A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes by the publisher