“He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart.” 1 Kings 11:3, ESV
A couple of years ago, my family and I were coming back from vacation. My wife and I were listening to our daily Bible reading on the car speakers. When we got to 1 Kings 11:3, my teenage son, from the backseat says, “Wait… what?”
So began an awkward conversation about why (or even how) anyone could have 700 wives. Followed by an even more awkward conversation about what a concubine was. And at one point, my son said, “I just can’t even wrap my head around this.”
And he’s right. We get to this part of the story and we can’t relate to it.
Was it all about sex and lust? Well, about a third of it was. Solomon had 300 concubines–women with a lower status than a wife, and whose only purpose was to fulfill the sexual desires of the king. According to an excellent article on the practice at christianity.com, a concubine could also function to provide a male heir if a wife was barren, and to increase the work force on a family farm. But for crying out loud, Solomon had 700 wives, so there’s no way all of them would have been unable to have children. And he wasn’t a farmer, and even if he was, 1 Kings has already gone into detail about Solomon’s program of forced labor. So the idea of needing concubines to increase the work force or produce an heir just doesn’t wash with Solomon. It was pretty much all about the sex. And since every other description of Solomon in 1 Kings 10 and 2 Chronicles 9 is over the top–more wisdom, more riches, a bigger throne, and an annual shipment of apes and peacocks (because, why not?)–then of course his libido would be over the top as well.
However, the 700 wives was not about the sex. The key is the phrase “who were princesses.” Each of these wives represented a strategic alliance with a foreign power. Each was an attempt to fortify Solomon’s earthly empire. They were 700 ways Solomon was trusting something other than God.
And that I can relate to. I make strategic alliances with dozens, maybe hundreds of little kingdoms because I think they can give me what God longs to give. We make alliances with popularity, leisure, finances, politics, technology, entertainment, alcohol, prescription drugs— the list goes on. I’ve clung to each in love. Each has turned away my heart.
In 2 Corinthians 11:2, Paul writes an agonized line to the faithless Corinthians: “I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.”
Dear Lord, let me renew my vows to you and you alone today. Thank you for loving me jealously. I look to you as my one source for all my needs.