How should we think about the wealth of Solomon?

How should we think about the wealth of Solomon?

One thing that strikes even the casual reader of 1 Kings is the sheer wealth of Solomon. Chapter after chapter describe his building projects, his food, his trading partners, and his exotic animal collection. He was so wealthy that his ivory throne stood out in an age when kings often flaunted their wealth, and he had golden shields made just for ornamentation. Solomon was so wealthy that when the rich Queen of Sheba visited, it took her breath away.

How do you feel when you read about this? I suppose there are two main responses. Either you are appalled at the excess of it all and think this money could be better spent, or you wish you were Solomon.

Option A: Being appalled at the excess

Yes, there was a lot of excess in Solomon’s kingdom. The numbers are extraordinary and are listed for us precisely because they are so massive. Most Christians, because we know we are stewards of God’s money instead of owners, are careful with our money, and this kind of excess seems obscene.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves and read our situation into Solomon’s time and culture. The writer of 1 Kings doesn’t condemn Solomon for his wealth but explains that this is a fulfilment of God’s promise to make him wealthy and powerful. His wealth is not ultimately a sign of selfishness but of God’s blessing. In addition, when Solomon’s downfall and turning from God are described in chapter 11, it was not because his wealth corrupted his heart.

Solomon was wealthy, and much of it was excessive, but it was not at the expense of the people. They ate and drank and were happy under their own vines and fig trees.

Option B: Wishing you were Solomon

It’s the great modern dream: to be rich. Maybe not just a modern one. Most people want to be richer than they are now, to have a better lifestyle and nicer things. We drool over the rich lists and imagine what it would be like to win lotto and have a private island. Remember that Solomon was unique in his wealth; due to God’s blessing, he was blessed with riches that others did not have. We are not promised riches like these, or even riches more than we have now.

Believers in the Bible were more commonly poor than rich. Paul makes the point in 1 Corinthians that most of the congregation were no-one important in the eyes of the world. And that’s OK. Don’t measure your wealth against others and feel inferior if you don’t match up. Having riches is not as important as the riches we have in Christ (Eph 1).

A better perspective: you use your money in service of your heart’s desires

Instead of drawing conclusions about Solomon’s wealth being evil or something to aspire to, consider this fact: you use your money in service of what your heart desires. Wealth is not an end in itself but it a means of doing what we want. Solomon’s downfall was due to his heart turning from God. Instead of loving God with all his heart, his love for his wives and their gods turned him away. As such a wealthy man, he used his desire for these other gods to build temples and shrines and palaces.

Jesus says a lot about the danger of money. It can corrupt our heart. It can make us serve it rather than God. We want comfort and prestige and power and security that money can buy more than we want God. If you are wealthy, you have a great temptation to serve other things, especially yourself. But there are rich Christians who use their wealth well to serve God, their true love, with generosity to church, mission and the poor.

Having the wealth of Solomon is not something that would be helpful for the faith of most of us. It could easily lead us from God. Aspire to serve God with all your heart. Whether you are blessed with wealth or not, use what you have in the service of what matters most.