Solomon’s big mistake was in seeking wisdom. Does that sound weird? Let me explain:
The Bible tells us that Solomon was the wisest man in the world. God was so pleased with him that He granted him wealth and honor to the extent that he had no equal among the kings of that era (1 Kings 3:13). God also told him that this lifestyle would continue as long as Solomon lived in obedience to Him (verse 14). He lived a life of unparalleled luxury, but along the way he eventually got his eyes off God and onto the world around him. He ended up marrying the Egyptian Pharaoh’s daughter and building a temple to her pagan god on the hilltop across the Kidron Valley from the Temple of the one true God. In total, Solomon married seven hundred wives and had three hundred concubines. He even began worshiping the same gods as those women. He lived many decades, but after turning his back on the God who made heaven and earth, his life became miserable, despite being the richest man in the world.
The book of Ecclesiastes was written by him as he neared the end of his life. It’s the strangest book in the Bible, because it was obviously written by someone who had lost all meaning in life. The rest of the Bible tells us many stories of men and women who stayed true to God despite great hardship, and were rewarded for their faithfulness, but in Ecclesiastes, Solomon tells us that…Everything is meaningless. (1:2). You won’t find that kind of thinking anywhere else in the Bible, or in any of literature of the world’s main religions.
In verse 8, Solomon says, "All things are wearisome, more than one can say." This is an almost exact quote of friends I have known who were suffering from depression, three thousand years after Solomon lived. It bears out the truth he wrote about when he said there is nothing new under the sun.
The final nail in the coffin of his belief in the God who had given him all wisdom is in verse 18: "For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief." He had “gone round the bend,” as the saying goes.
"Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind…" (2:11) God was not in any of it, so naturally it was all meaningless, but Solomon was so far gone that he couldn’t think clearly to diagnose his predicament.
"I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun… So my heart began to despair…" (2:18-20) He was obviously in a deep depression, the direct result of having turned his back on God. This will happen 100% of the time when we rebel against God but usually it happens so many years later that we don’t make the connection between cause and effect.
Solomon was looking for significance, but outside of God, which is a guarantee of catastrophic failure. He wanted to be remembered for his own accomplishments, but God was making it clear to him that he could do nothing under his own power. Instead of then turning back to God, he just tried harder, spent more money, and built more buildings, looking to earthly things for meaning in life. He wasn’t the first to try this, nor have people stopped trying that approach even these days.
"As everyone comes, so they depart, and what do they gain, since they toil for the wind? All their days they eat in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger." (5:16-17)—Only work done for God has meaning. Solomon had lost sight of that. He had no eternal perspective. God’s presence had left him.
"I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom." (2:3) He embraced folly, thinking he was being guided with wisdom. This is a benchmark of how far off course he had gone. Wisdom and folly are mutually exclusive. If you have one, you don’t have the other. This is obvious to small children, but the wisest man on earth couldn’t figure it out.
Where did Solomon go wrong? In 1 Kings 3:9, he asked God, “So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.” That’s a prayer God always answers. When Solomon began worshiping pagan gods, he had deliberately trampled on God’s gift of discernment between right and wrong, and his decline began.
The root cause—Solomon’s biggest mistake—was that when he applied his heart to know wisdom (8:16), he should have been applying it to know God because wisdom is a byproduct of knowing God. Earlier in life, he had known all he needed to know about wisdom, because he was also the author of Proverbs 9:10, where he wrote: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding."
It’s commonly said that wisdom is the application of knowledge. But it can’t stop there. Obedience is the application of wisdom, and that was where Solomon dropped the ball.
© 2018 Darvis McCoy
About the Picture: Taken in late 2006 by Donna McCoy. It is of the Holyland Model of Jerusalem. The model was based on writings of Josephus and other historical writings and depicts the city of Jerusalem during the late Second Temple Period. The model is 21,520 square feet in size and is housed at the Israel Museum.
Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™