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 8:61; D&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?