The rise and fall of King Solomon is one of Scripture’s great tragedies. Solomon had it all, and for a while he used his gifts wisely and well. But he began the practice of “marriage alliance” (first cited in 1 Kings 3:1) — political marriages with many prominent women from other nations. And the marriages weren’t strictly political: Over time, they changed Solomon’s heart for the worse.
“Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, ‘You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.’ Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods” (1 Kings 11:1-8).
Polygamy never ends well, as Scripture shows us whenever it treats the subject at any length. But as wrong as that is, it isn’t Solomon’s great sin here. That sin is idolatry, and it’s vastly magnified by his divinely appointed royal office as leader of God’s people. We’re not told how many of those people were also turned toward idolatry, but when the king leads, many of the people generally follow. At any rate, Solomon’s sins would lead God to raise up vicious foreign adversaries against him, and would tear apart the kingdom — which had reached its highest peak of worldly power and glory — during his son’s reign.
Why did Solomon do it? The answer’s in the text: He did it all for love.
When I saw the word “love” last time I read the verses, I wondered briefly whether it could be a euphemism for “lust,” considering the sheer number of women involved. So I consulted with pastors and confirmed that the Hebrew is accurately translated. This is not merely sexual attraction, but emotional attachment. He cared about these women. His heart was engaged with them. And because of that, his heart turned away from the Lord to follow evil pagan deities.
Which just goes to show something which should be obvious, yet which hardly anyone ever says: Love can be bad.
That’s a heretical statement in our feelings-obsessed culture. “Love” is one of those magic words that can justify pretty much anything. It’s the ultimate argument-stopper. “People in love should be together.” “Their relationship can’t be wrong if they’re in love.” “All that matters is how they feel about each other.” You hear things like that all the time. Many Christians seem helpless to respond — maybe, in part, because they too have been absorbed into the same culture.
But there are truths that need to be spoken. One is that the feeling of romantic love is not necessarily ennobling. Sometimes it’s the opposite. Loving the wrong person, or in the wrong way, or to the wrong extent (yes, there is such a thing as too much) can be destructive to the true good that God intends for us. Love can be perverse, adulterous, incestuous, idolatrous. It can go wrong in as many ways as man himself has gone wrong since the fall. The human heart can’t be trusted and must never be exalted.
There’s another truth, however, that’s more encouraging. Romantic love, even at its best — in the form that does follow God’s design — is never the highest good. There’s something better.
There are several different types of love, but the highest is the selfless, sacrificial agape love epitomized by Christ on the cross. It’s significant that the most famous verses about love, from 1 Corinthians 13 — love is patient, love is kind — describe not romantic love but agape love. We hear those verses often at weddings to remind us that romantic feelings aren’t enough. We need the kind of love that isn’t based on feelings at all. We need the kind that’s based in His character, full of grace and truth. That’s the love that will never lead our hearts astray.