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16 April (Easter Day). 1 Kings chapters 10-11
One of the lessons of history is that no empire lasts for ever. The history of every part of the world records rebellions, revolutions, invasions and any number of other causes of the breaking up of whatever empire, kingdom or federation has been built over previous generations. Here we see the beginning of the fall of the federation of the tribes of Israel that David had so ably brought together under God’s guidance.
Another well known saying is that “pride comes before a fall”. Like many English sayings it has a Biblical origin, Proverbs 16:18 “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall”. But it is universally recognised as true and was probably a saying long before it was collected in the book of Proverbs.
These two lessons, along with God’s repeated warnings in the Bible about the risks of intermarriage, come together in today’s readings. Solomon becomes exceedingly wealthy as well as very wise. There is nothing wrong in that as such, as clever people do tend to become rich. However it is difficult to become rich without it being at someone else’s expense somewhere in the world, and Jesus and his apostles said a lot about the dangers of wealth as a distraction from serving God faithfully.
While the book of Samuel does not criticise Solomon for his wealth, it does criticise him for another aspect of his reign, which is his many foreign wives. Polygamy is not the issue, as at this time it was still common for men of power to have a harem. The problem lies with the fact that they are mostly non-Jews, and gradually lead Solomon astray from worshipping the one true God, into idolatry. Most religions are critical of intermarriage for this very reason, that it is difficult to love someone and at the same time distance yourself from their belief. This can work both ways, of course: while St Paul cautions Christians not to marry outside the faith, he also says of those who are converted while married that they should stay together: “Wife, for all you know, you might save your husband. Husband, for all you know, you might save your wife” (1 Corinthians 7:16)
In Solomon’s case, though, the consequences are much worse than the break-up of a marriage, or his own falling away from faith in God. Rather, as the head of the nation of Israel, his own apostasy marks the beginning of the end of the nation. God speaks through a prophet to Jeroboam (not to be confused with Solomon’s son Rehoboam who would succeed him) that he would become leader of ten of the eleven tribes, with only Judah remaining under the control of David’s dynasty.
Let us pray for our own political and faith leaders, that they may not be led astray either by the temptations of wealth and power, or the influence of their families or anyone else who would lead them astray from wise and just rule.