A Fool in Old Age
There's something that's always bothered me about King Solomon. How can the wisest man who ever lived be so foolish in his old age? Look at 1 Kings 11:4.
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.
It's kind of cliché to question Solomon's wisdom for having 700 wives and 300 concubines. But even if it's cliché, it's a valid question. Why in the world would Solomon, the wisest man ever, have so many wives? 1 Kings 11:2 gives us a clue.
Solomon clung to these in love.
That's a curious insert by the author. He makes special note that Solomon "clung" to his wives "in love." It's worth noting that the Hebrew word for love used here is a broad term that can be used in many ways. Two meanings stick out in this context: Sexual love, and appetite for things like food or sleep. Solomon apparently had a ravenous sexual appetite. The wisest man to ever live was likely a sexual addict. But let's look a little deeper before we hand out labels.
Let's look at Solomon's family history. His father was King David and his mother was Bathsheba. Solomon was born from a marriage that began with his parents' lust and a scandalous affair where David had Bathsheba's husband, Uriah, murdered. David was also a man who had many wives (only eight of them are named). David's sin - polygamy and lust - became a generational sin that Solomon repeated but in a much greater magnitude.
The sins of fathers are often played on repeat in their children, only louder and larger.
Solomon's downfall had to do with his unchecked sin. Though God blessed him and made him the wisest of all men, Solomon's blind spot was his uncontrolled lust. And like his father, David, his lust created problems later in life. David's house was afflicted by violence for much of the rest of his life. In fact, that violence led to his oldest son Absalom leading a coup and ultimately losing his life. It's ironic that David's sin is what led to Solomon's ascension to the throne. And Solomon repeated his father's sin in far greater magnitude.
Solomon's lust led to his massive polygamy. And in his old age, his many wives persuaded Solomon to worship their gods alongside Yahweh. In the time of his life when his wisdom should have reached it's pinnacle, he slid into idolatry and angered the Lord against him, and became a fool.
I can hear your objection.
"But Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes in his old age, he wasn't a fool!"
I suggest you read Ecclesiastes again. One of the primary themes of Ecclesiastes is Solomon's foolishness! He calls himself out as having lived foolishly! Consider his words in Ecclesiastes 2:1-2.
I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?”
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. - Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
The lesson from Solomon's life seems to be this. Old age is no guarantee of wisdom. Wisdom is no guarantee against becoming a fool. Even in old age, wisdom can fail, foolishness can parade itself, and you can lose everything you worked for. What's the answer?
Solomon's final word in Ecclesiastes was fear God and keep his commands. Think about what might've been if Solomon had obeyed God's commands instead of his flesh? How would the history of Israel have been different if Solomon halted the generational sin of his father, David? We can't say. All we can say is that for all his wisdom, Solomon was still a fool because he didn't obey the voice of the Lord his God. A lack of obedience burned down the house that Solomon's wisdom built.
What about us?
Paul wrote something really important in relation to wisdom... "the world did not know God through wisdom." (1 Corinthians 1:21) That isn't meant as jab at the pursuit of wisdom. The New Testament encourages us to pursue wisdom in many places. But what that means is this. First, God isn't found in becoming wise. God is only found in Jesus Christ through the Gospel of his immeasurable grace toward us. Second, God isn't pleased by wisdom. God is pleased when we love him by obeying his commands. In Christ, we become wise through obeying the Word and the Spirit. Wisdom is a fruit of loving obedience.
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. - James 3:17
Sounds like the fruit of the Spirit... love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)
Don't think that just because you're old that you're wise. Don't think that just because you're wise that you're not a fool. Don't wait till the end of your life - like Solomon - to figure that out. But only measure your life through your loving obedience to Jesus. That's the only real protection against becoming a fool.