I am currently preaching through Proverbs 1-9. When I decided to preach a sermon on the unchaste woman so prominent in chapters 5-7, I was struck by the relationship between the author and his words. Solomon likely wrote these words. He was the wisest man in the world and he taught young men with such wisdom that “holding fire to your chest” will get you burned. But 1 Kings 11 has Solomon getting “burned”.
As I studied this passage I was wondering when Solomon would have written these words. The answer to this really doesn’t matter, God’s Word is true no matter the historical setting of the author. But the way we apply the life of Solomon to these words might be different based on when he wrote this. There are two scenarios that I see. Perhaps Solomon wrote this as an old man with scorch marks on his chest. Or Solomon wrote this as a somewhat younger man who didn’t heed his own advice.
Honestly, I was shocked when I started studying this how little material I was able to find. Anything we put together is conjecture, but I’ve found even attempting to answer this question has provided some helpful fruit.
Rabbinic tradition holds that Solomon wrote Song of Solomon at a young age, Proverbs at middle age, and Ecclesiastes as an older man. There is likely a good deal of truth to this. Doing a bit of math and studying the genealogical records King Solomon was probably around 27 when he fathered Rehoboam. This would have put him at around 40 when his son was given instructions on sexuality.
However, there is nothing which says that Solomon had to be speaking to Rehoboam. It is possible that the “my son” has more to do with spiritual lineage than biological lineage. There is nothing in the Scriptures which definitively answers the age of Solomon. He could have been older aged when he wrote this. And if he was then certainly we should listen as one who had been burned and is now telling us the wisdom that he refused to heed.
Yet I am increasingly convinced that Solomon was actually younger or middle aged when he wrote Proverbs 5-7. Given Solomon demise later in life this is absolutely shocking and serves as fitting warning to us. What all of this means is that Solomon—much like many of us—thought he was an exception to the rules. He knew full well that he was holding fire to his chest, but he thought he wouldn’t have gotten burned.
Bruce Waltke makes the point well:
“If one should ask, ‘If Solomon is the wise author, how could he have died such a fool?’ let it be noted that he constructed his own gibbet on which he impaled himself—that is, he ceased listening to his own instruction. Spiritual success today does not guarantee spiritual success tomorrow”.
Likewise, Matthew Henry points out, “it is easier to see a mischief, and to show it to others, than to shun it ourselves.” What a fitting warning this is to those of us who spend so much time reading the Scriptures, growing in wisdom, and stockpiling books on Christian living. There is a way in which knowledge can puff up instead of protect.
The life of Solomon should serve as a warning to us. The Scriptures are true. Solomon’s words are true. But that mere fact doesn’t protect us unless we actually apply and live out these words. Just knowing that adultery will kill you isn’t enough. You have to actually live in light of those facts. Solomon didn’t and he got burned.
It is one thing to agree with the Bible and the truth of God. I think Solomon did that. But it’s quite another to obey the Bible. Our dedication to the Lord isn’t measured by the times where we agree with the Bible and obey. Our dedication to the Lord is measured by those times when the Scriptures rub up against our fallen inclinations and we balk at His Word. In those moments are we going to obey even if we don’t yet at that moment agree? Will we have God’s Word not only inform us but also crucify us?
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