The Question Solomon Couldn’t Answer

Bored in Vernal marriage, Mormon 14 Comments

Avatar-BiVOT SS Lesson #26

Our Sunday School lesson this week attempts to deal with the conundrum with which we are faced when considering that Israel’s King Solomon, who was a paragon of wisdom having received this gift from the Lord, could make the decidedly unwise decision of marrying foreign wives and following them into idolatry.  

The lesson asks the following questions (answers provided):

  • How did Solomon’s choice of wives show that he had turned away from God? (See 1 Kings 11:1–2. He married out of the covenant.) What did Solomon’s non-Israelite wives influence him to do? (See 1 Kings 11:3–8. Note that in the Joseph Smith Translation, verse 4 says that Solomon’s heart “became as the heart of David his father” and verse 6 says that “Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, as David his father.”)
  • What did the Lord do when Solomon broke his covenants and turned away? (See 1 Kings 11:9–14, 23–25, 33–36.)
  • How do you think the blessings of wisdom, riches, and honor contributed to Solomon’s downfall? How have you seen these strengths contribute to the downfall of people today? How can we ensure that our strengths do not become a downfall for us? (See 1 Kings 8:61D&C 88:67.)

I’m not sure that marrying “out of the covenant” as we consider it today has an exact equivalent in Old Testament times.  However, the Torah did command the Israelite people to avoid marriages with foreigners.  Deuteronomy 7:1-5 (a Seminary Scripture Mastery scripture, btw) states: “neither shalt thou make marriages with them: thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For he will turn away thy son from following Me, that they may serve other gods; so will the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and He will destroy thee quickly.”  This is exactly what happened in the case of Solomon.  He must have realized the danger these associations presented, because he allowed the foreign women he married to live in his new palace in Jerusalem until the Temple was completed, then he moved them out of the city, saying, “No wife of mine shall dwell in the house of David king of Israel, because the places are holy, whereunto the ark of the Lord hath come.” (2 Chron 8:11; see also 1 Kings 3:1; 1 Kings 9:24)  However, in his later years, Solomon’s foreign wives influenced him to stray from the worship of the One God of Israel, to build altars and to offer sacrifices to the gods of other nations.

I urge the Sunday School teachers to tread lightly when covering this topic from the lesson manual.  You will surely have some in your class who will have personally encountered Solomon’s difficulty.  It’s a puzzle that’s harder to solve than the one he was faced with when two mothers claimed the same child.  It is a heartbreaking and a controversial one for me to consider.  On the one hand, my romantic heart appreciates the concessions Solomon made for the love of his wives.  The scriptures specifically describe how he “did cleave unto these in love.”  My reading of 1 Kings 11 shows a husband who is sensitive to the needs of his wives, building them places where they could worship their gods and feel at home among a foreign people.  He even joined them in their invocations.  This type of tolerant behavior would be encouraged today when dealing with any kind of mixed marriage.  But how far should one go when making concessions to a spouse who is not of one’s faith?  Should one attend their worship services, for example?  Should one allow his or her children to be taught religious catechisms which might conflict with our own?

The scriptures and the lesson manual teach us that Solomon’s wisdom failed when it came to his decisions regarding his wives and the idolatry into which he allowed them to lure him.  How much should a teacher emphasize these points and how much should we weigh the risks of offending?

Is it best to simply avoid all of these problems by never contracting a mixed marriage?  Many Latter-day Saints take the view that marriage outside of the temple, and especially to a non-member, should never be tolerated.  Some of our readers will undoubtedly hold that opinion.  I had a 50-year-old mission companion who had followed this admonition, remaining single her whole life rather than consider the alternative of marrying outside of the faith.  I think in her later years she became bitter and regretful that she had chosen this path.  Others seem content and sure about such a decision.  Ask Mormon Girl Joanna Brooks wrote a recent post here about the anxiety this difficult issue can cause in our young members.  Do you think the story of Solomon’s downfall in the scriptures gives definitive answers to the question of whether a Latter-day Saint should marry out of the covenant of temple marriage?  How much should the Sunday School teacher draw parallels from Solomon to class members?

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Comments 14

  1. Post
    Author

    lol, Marjorie! In fact, the Bible is loaded with examples of Israelites who chose to marry outside of the faith. Boaz married Ruth; Moses married a Moabite and then an Ethiopian; Noah’s son Ham married Egyptus, a Cainite woman; Joseph married Asenath, the daughter of an Egyptian priest; to name just a few. How does this information affect our view of marriage among the covenant people? We could simply say that they were all disobedient and the Lord blessed them anyway, but the case of Esther seems to admit the possibility of exceptions to the Deuteronomic code.

  2. Solomon’s wisdom is illustrated in a number of short clips in the beginning of his story, including how he had political unions sealed by marrying the daughters of important neighboring rulers.

    Interesting facts about Solomon include that he did not have a typical succession war between his sons (in fact, his children all disappear off the state except for the one who becomes king, without wider explanation), that his early ruthlessness paid off in terms of internal peace, and that it all started to go south when he starts joining in the worship of Astarte. Which means he was involved. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astarte will give you some background which would help pulling the story together in terms of discussing how his heart failed like David’s did.

    As to David, we miss that Bathsheba was the wife of one of the thirty mighty men in Israel who were the core of David’s power and his right hand men. She was the daughter of another, and the grand-daughter of one whom David was willing to entrust the entire host to (and who Joab kills in a fit of jealousy — no wonder he runs when Solomon becomes king). She was part of the circle of intimates of King David, not a surprise encounter. He may have said “who is that” and sent for her, but he went into the entire matter knowing exactly who she was.

    That ties together very well with Solomon, who appears to have gone from political unions to something else.

    Makes for a much more layered story.

  3. I think the OT shows not “exceptions” to a rule, but the fact that the rule is layered to begin with. I always thought of marriage considerations before asking a girl out — a pattern that resulted in my wife of more than 30 years now having a trove of embarrassing stories to tell her friends about me — but it was a consideration that said “yellow light”, not “red light”.

    Narrying within the church was a right choice for me, despite years more of loneliness than I would have had to endure before marriage (faithful RLDS women are a lot rarer than faithful LDS women to begin with). But my mother (and all of her sisters and brothers to boot) married non-members and converted them. Today, I’d go back and tell my younger self that a covenant with Christ is broader than denominational identity, and I should listen for the guidance of the Spirit without preconditions (preferably before, not after, my hormones kick in).

  4. Marriage is about bringing two different thoughts and ideas (ie people’s ideology) together and trying to make them work together. This is difficult at the best of times when these two people are of similar background. Throw in a significant difference like religion and there are many more complications. That is why we are advised to marry within the church. This does not mean that a marriage with a non-LDS member will not work, but it does make it easier when it comes to deciding how to raise the children.

    The big question then is which religion is going to be the prevalent one in the home. Trying to teach the children 2 different religions and get them to choose the more favoured one when they are older can backfire with the child becoming athiest because they are confused or they saw religious battles destroying their family. I have seen this in a couple of my friends’ families (and not all of them had LDS in there, some were mixed Christian denominations).

    So the instruction in the OT was to raise a true and pure nation for God, as the true believers are His people and His kingdom.

    When it comes to the question of visiting the spouses church, the best advice I can give is only on special occasions like a Christmas or Easter mass, a family christening (for nieces and nephews on their side) etc.

    BTW, When it comes to the examples given above from the OT who married outside of the covenant, Esther was a political marriage which ultimately saved the Israelites; Ruth had already converted by the time she met Boaz – she was a widow to an Israelite in her first marriage and told her mother-in-law that her (MIL) God is now her (Ruth’s) God earlier in the story; The Moabites were descendants of Lot and they still held the priesthood and believed in the true God at the time Moses married one of them, so this can still be construed as being married in the covenant; Ham became apostate, but who’s to say it didn’t start earlier before he married thus his choice in wife; Joseph, well I have no excuse for him.

  5. Firetag: “A covenant with Christ is broader than denominational identity”. Without that perspective I may still be single while trying to remain faithful in one church. With an open perspective I married a great man (not a church go-er) who supports me in my faith and career ambitions. I have faith, I have my work, and I have love…and he says Amen when it’s my turn to bless the food which I do in the name of Jesus Christ. You CAN have love outside of the church norm as well as develop deep faith, and be open in faith with the right partner. I’m glad to see this subject. Sometimes the thing that gets me through some of these SS classes is knowing that I will come across a post that I can relate to.

  6. I always thought it was not the marriages that were the problem, it was that Solomon, as the anointed King of Israel (which was a sort of priesthood office, in its way, because the king was supposed to be proxy for the King, Jesus) allowed himself to be swayed away from the faith by his wives. This shows a preoccupation with temporal over spiritual responsibilities.

  7. Just, I might add, like Saul and David before him.

    And also in direct contrast to Jesus, who eschewed his temporal political responsibilities in favor of spiritual ones . . . and was killed as a result of that decision.

  8. BiV: I haven’t followed you and the Dr. closely enough. When’s your fourth/next missionary due to go out?

    I’ve only occasionally read their posts over on mormonmission.blogspot.com. I’m really impressed that your first three have done so well. You guys must have done something right.

  9. Let’s not forget that Kings and Chronicles are revisionist histories of the people of Israel, written in a period of decline, and exile (ca. 550-450 BC). Given the terrible losses suffered by all the tribes, including the loss of Promised Lands and the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem, the writers of these histories sought to present the history of the Israelites in a way that explained exactly why Yahweh had abandoned them. Thus, Solomon’s marriage to non-Israelite women was used as evidence of the corruption of power of a holy and wise king, whereas Boaz’s, Moses’, Samson’s, Joseph’s, and Esther’s marriages to non-Israelites are not given the same condemnation. Indeed, some of these unions helped save the children of Israel from annihilation. Writing about Solomon’s choice to marry those non-Israelite wives as evidence of the beginning of the downfall of the children of Israel would be like holding John Rolfe responsible for America’s decline for having married Pocahontas. No responsible historian or theologian would reach back almost 500 years into the past to explain why something bad has happened in the contemporary socio-political world, so why do we allow the anonymous editors of the books of Kings and Chronicles do that for us? I guess the biggest reason is that there is a dearth of other primary and secondary sources from which to evaluate their claims. In any case, we should remember that what we have in these writings is far from an objective retelling of the story of Solomon, written recently after the events transpired. Rather, we have a post-exile revision of a 500-year old story that had existed largely in the oral tradition. Like the story of Pocahontas, there’s probably more legend than fact in there.

  10. Post
    Author

    Bookslinger, thank you for asking about my family. Our third daughter gets back from her mission (Taiwan) in 10 days and we are VERY EXCITED! Number four daughter has submitted all of her mission papers and is waiting to hear back! I’ll keep you posted.

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