Throughout the last few years, my studies of Bible and history have been invaluable in teaching me lessons of “truth.” I find it amazing and refreshing to read perspectives from other scholars and authors, both current and past, that bring new “meaning” and “application” of scripture. One such author is Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. Now, one might be asking themselves, “Why in the world is this author quoting a Rabbi?” My response to that would be this – Because many are endowed with wisdom and we must be willing to learn from those that God has blessed with not only wisdom, but knowledge. To gleen from the best of the best, is not only a privilege, but an honor. Though our perspectives and beliefs may differ, I can still learn truths that can teach me the right “application” of the knowledge that God has given me.
In Telushkin’s book, Biblical LIteracy, of which I quote often, there is a chapter written about King Solomon that I found very intriguing. In this chapter, Telushkin writes the following:
Solomon’s decline seems to have started with his decision to enter into numerous “diplomatic marriages” with other kings’ and princes daughters. Although such marriages help procure peaceful relations with Israel’s neighbors, they also bring into Jerusalem the thing God most opposes in Israel: idol worship.
To accommodate his wives’ religious needs (the Bible speaks, one hopes hyperbolically, of seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, see 1 Kings 11:3), Solomon erects temples at which they can worship their idols. One might have thought that this was intended to be a temporary measure, that a man possessing Solomon’s wisdom would be capable of winning over his wives to his monotheistic beliefs. Unfortunately–and the Bible never explains how this happened–the elderly Solomon is more influenced by his wives than they by him: “In his old age, his wives turned away Solomon’s heart after other gods.” In one of the Bible’s most shocking verses, we learn that this wisest of all Jewish kings, the man who built the Temple, became a follower of Ashtoreth, the goddes of the Phoenicians, and of Milcom, the god of the Ammonites (1 Kings 11:4-5).
The young man who had once esteemed wisdom over money grows into a man who is overly fond of wealth. “All King Solomon’s drinking cups were of gold, and all the utensils…were of pure gold, silver did not count for anything in Solomon’s days” (1 Kings 10:21). That Solomon drinks only from gold cups is not an impressive detail, certainly not in comparison to the lives of such biblical figures as Moses, Jeremiah, and Isaiah.
Solomon also ceases to be a wise ruler of men. He starts imposing high taxes on his subjects. To collect the taxes efficiently, he divides Israel into twelve administrative districts, each ruled by an officer appointed by him and each responsible for supplying one month of Solomon’s annual budget. Given that Solomon maintains, to cite one example, forty thousand stalls for his horses, and twelve thousand horsemen (1 Kings 5:6), there is reason to suspect that the taxes were onerous. — Telushkin, Biblical Literacy, Pgs 248-249.
Telushkin goes on to talk about how Solomon also imposed forced labor on the people and multiplied horses unto himself. All this, eventually making Solomon a Monarch that “ceased to be admired” by the people he ruled. He goes on to state that,
His power and prestige spare him from being exposed to much of his subjects’ rage, which in the end is focused on his arrogant, and far less wise, son, Rehoboam. Solomon’s father, David, had spent forty years consolidating the Israelite empire. Within weeks of Solomon’s death, that empire has been destroyed–permanently. — Telushkin, Biblical Literacy, Pg 249.
What a tragic story of how power, prestige and money can corrupt even the most well-intentioned individual. Not only this, the repercussions of this greed for power, prestige and wealth led to the destruction and downfall of an entire empire of people–permanently..
Today, the same tactics are on display across America. We have a government that has imposed high taxes on the people. Spending is out of control. Power, prestige and wealth line the pockets of those elected to look out for the best “interests” of the common people. The government “elite” live above the people they serve and are not held to the same standard. The “common man” has no more say so in the direction of the country he loves. What does one think the outcome will be of such things?
We also see this same scenario across America with many religious institutions and the leaders that run them. The power, prestige and wealth they have amassed have caused them to become arrogant and self-seeking. Abuses abound underneath the “righteous” mantle the churches wear. Countless numbers of women and children are being emotionally, spiritually, physically and sexually abused as a result. What does one think the outcome of this will be?
The repercussions of a person of power, prestige and wealth that has gone astray is always the destruction of people’s lives as well as the destruction of the individual’s life. It causes people to become angry to a point of distrust. Thus, they will find themselves in a constant fight with any policies that the leadership tries to impose. In government, we see this happening. Our country is divided and the expanse of the division grows wider by the day. In religious institutions, the division is wide and growing ever wider between the “church” and those they “serve.” Many are turning their backs on the church and God as a result. Those wounded by these “systems” find themselves broken, silenced and shunned while the “system” moves forward with a swath of destruction across America that is unconscionable; leaving behind many dying and wounded who will be permanently destroyed as a result. All this without regard to love, compassion, ethics, mercy and conscience.
The “Unwisdom” of Solomon can teach us “wisdom” if we allow it to. Is it too late to overhaul the “systems” and right our country? Can the abuses that lurk underneath all this power and wealth be eradicated? Only God knows.