The “fish story” is the poster-child for exaggeration. The longer the fish is dead, the bigger it grows. But fishermen are not the only ones who are prone to stretching the boundaries of a story.
A 25-pound weight loss creeps up to 30, then 35 or more. Salaries often “grow” even when there haven’t been any pay increases. Parenting skills become legendary — “she never…” or “he always…” Business turnarounds are faster and greater the more often the participants recount the story. And athletic achievements — well, the cow jumping over the moon pales in comparison!
But for all the exaggerations that we are prone to make about wisdom and wealth and progress and achievement, the reports of one man who had achieved much were actually grossly understated.
Three millennia ago, the queen of Sheba didn’t believe the reports she heard, so she went to examine for herself — is this king really as wise and wealthy as has been said?
Her conclusion about Solomon is astounding:
“I did not believe the reports, until I came and my eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. You exceed in wisdom and prosperity the report which I heard.” [1 Kings 10:7]
For everything that was said about Solomon, she had heard only half the story — or, he was twice as wise and wealthy as she had imagined. And lest the reader of the account be somewhat skeptical, the author of the book offers illustrations of his wealth through the rest of the chapter.
One example: verse 14 reports that each year Solomon received 666 talents of gold. A talent was a measurement of weight equivalent to about 67 lbs. in our standards. In other words, each year, Solomon received in tribute something on the order of 44,622 lbs. of gold — worth on today’s market approximately $872,449,344. That’s just shy of $1 billion each year in gold receipts alone. In fact, talking about his home the writer says that all the drinking vessels were of gold (and not silver) because silver “was not considered valuable in the days of Solomon” (v. 21). Solomon was so wealthy that he couldn’t be bothered with the worthlessness of silver. Amazing.
Chapter 10, then, is a tribute to the grace of God in Solomon’s life — how God granted Solomon not only the wisdom he requested, but everything else as well.
And chapter 11 is a testimony to the foolishness of a man who valued the wealth above God. Evidently trusting in his wealth and glorying in its splendor, Solomon accumulated for himself not only physical treasures, but also the sensual “delights” of 700 wives and an accompanying harem of 300 concubines. He deprived himself of no indulgence.
And we know that Solomon valued all these things more than God because the writer recounts four times in 11:2-4 that they had “turned his heart away” from God and that his heart was “not wholly devoted to the Lord his God.” And stating the sin most succinctly, the writer says, “Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (v. 6).
Solomon — the wisest man on earth — did what was evil. There’s no way to cushion the blow of that statement. It hits directly and hard. Solomon did evil.
Why? He underestimated the value of God as his treasure and he overvalued the paving stones of heaven.
As we meditate on the tragic failure of this God-graced wise man, we do well to remember the request of another wise man —
Two things I asked of You,
Do not refuse me before I die:
Keep deception and lies far from me,
Give me neither poverty nor riches;
Feed me with the food that is my portion. [Prov. 30:7-8]
When asking the Lord for provision, we are wise to echo that request and ask that God give us enough so that we not despair and believe He is uncaring. And at the same time we ask that He not give us so much that we believe He is unimportant. Just give us enough for this day — give us our daily bread.
Solomon received more than he needed and it proved not to be the blessing it appeared to be.