“But king Solomon loved many strange women together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites: of the nations concerning which the Lord said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them; for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto them in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart.”-I KINGS xi. 1-3.
AFTER the glorious things which made Solomon’s reign for a considerable time so illustrious, it is sad to record its strange decline and miserable termination. It was a magnificent morning and noon, followed by a dark evening and a stormy night. The subject of polygamy, or the marriage of several wives by one man, has been excused by some and approved by others, because it was not distinctly condemned and forbidden to the Israelites. It was practised by Abraham, Jacob, Saul, David, and here declared to have existed to an enormous extent with Solomon.
Had the Jewish Church been a real church, and its distinguished men examples for us, the difficulty of revering them as being patterns for us, and yet repudiating this very important part of their conduct, would have been great indeed. But such is not the case. They were none of them examples for Christians. They were not a church, but only a type of a church which was to exist in the world’s dark midnight, until its darkest hour had come, and a new morning could be introduced by the Lord Jesus, the Divine Sun, who would arise with healing in His wings.
Polygamy was a permission to men whose nature had become so depraved that it was needful, in order to keep them in any association with religion, that their habits in this respect should be, as the Apostle terms it, winked at. “And the times of this ignorance God winked at, but now He commandeth men everywhere to repent” (Acts xvii, 30) True marriage is the holiest institution among men, and can only exist between two who, in love to God and the righteous, are accordant in aims, hopes, wishes,and virtues, and feel a soul-fitness and inward preference for each other. The Lord Jesus said, “Have ye not read, that He who made them at the beginning, made them male and female; and said, FOR THIS CAUSE shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife., and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they-are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder” (Matt. xix. 5).
Marriage is therefore the blending of two souls into one harmony of sentiments, desires, and purposes, so that, they act as counterparts of each other, the one viewing every circumstance and event from the intellectual side of our nature chiefly; the other from the love side, but both working together: she perceiving God’s wisdom in him, he perceiving God’s love in her, and both striving daily to become one more and more. This union is a type of the union of the Lord and His Church (Eph. v. 32). It is a type of heaven. It is the centre of those homes in which angels are intended to be born and trained for a heavenly life and heaven itself. True marriage is the bond of society, the soul of progress, the essential life of business, “and of usefulness, the spring of education, and the blessing of ‘the world. Blissful married homes are little heavens upon earth, and the truest resemblances of the grand home, the everlasting home of men in heaven, which is called married land (Isa. lxii. 4), and where they are invited to partake of the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. xix. 9). Every departure from this truest and highest order of life is a departure from right, and though God permitted it to the nations of the East, and to the Israelites as a portion of those people; yet evidently, like the sacrifices of animals, instead of the offerings of the heart in worship, it must be regarded as of that class of laws of which the prophet Ezekiel speaks, “He gave them statutes which were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live” (xxi. 25). The prophet Jeremiah speaks of the some rebellious, and depraved disposition of heart among the Israelites, modifying the providential relations of the Most High in regard to them. “Put your burnt-offerings to your sacrifices, and eat flesh. For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices; but this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and, ye shall be my people; and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you” (vii. 21-23).
The worship consisting of the sacrifices of slain beasts, and the burnt-offerings of their carcases, was never the intention of the Most High, but the old nations, and the Israelites amongst the rest could not be brought up to the pure offerings of righteousness (Mal. i. 11), the adoration of the heart, the dedication of holy and innocent intentions; of thoughts and sentiments of judgment and justice; and the consecration of the whole man to be a living sacrifice to holiness, wisdom and love (Rom. xii. I). In the meantime. they must worship, and therefore they were suffered to worship in their own rude way, and the worship was regulated and commanded to be a shadow of good things to come, until the Lord Jesus came and brought a better dispensation, a real, a universal, and a spiritual church which could and would worship God in spirit and in truth (John iv.).
We must always keep brightly before us the truth, that the grand aim of the Word of God is to give us spiritual truth, to impart to us the thoughts of God. Its histories are true histories, with the exception of the allegories of the purely allegorical times of the oldest ages of the world. But the histories also are allegories, as the apostle Paul observes, of the history of .Abraham and his two wives; “Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all ” (Gal. iv. 24-26). We know from Luke xvi. 22, that Abraham, the husband represented the Lord our Maker, who is the husband of His church (Isa. liv. 6).
Thus we rise from regarding these ancient personages as to their own individual characters. Of these they would give an account in their judgment in the eternal world, where the hearts and reins and all things are tried and laid open in their own characters, and everyone is judged according to his works, but they are mentioned in the Divine Word in their allegorical aspect only, and as the apostle says, the Lord and His church.
The church is portrayed as a woman and wife, because the leading feature in the womanly character is affection, and Christian love, not belief, is the central virtue of Christianity and of all true religion. ” By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, that ye love one another” (John xiii. 35). By this we know that we have passed. From death to life; because we love the brethren” (1 John iii. 14). The church then is a woman. When she yearns for the truth sincerely, then she is a virgin, the king’s daughter all glorious within, the virgin daughter of Zion, the virgin daughter of Jerusalem. When she has fully received the truth and seeks supreme communion with the Lord and is full of the desire to do His will, she is a wife; and when she abounds in members, and trains, comforts, educates and strengthens them, she is a nursing mother with children abounding on every side.
The desire of the Lord to unite the Church to Him as a virgin is represented in the sweet language of the prophet Hosea: “And I will betroth Thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the Lord” (ii. 19, 20). The internal church, once flourishing in early times, barren among the Jews, but restored again in Christianity, is described in Isaiah, when it is written concerning the Lord s wife, “Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear: break forth into singing, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord. For the Lord hath called as a woman forsaken, and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God” (liv. 1, 6).
Here are two wives of the Lord described, one which had had many children, the married wife, the Jewish representative of a church, and the other, which had been a wife of youth long unable to travail with child, but about to break forth on the right hand and on the left, her seed inheriting the Gentiles and making the desolate cities to be inhabited (ver. 3).
The Church is one wife, when in her perfect state, all her parts loving the Lord supremely, loving and learning His Word fervently and intelligently, loving one another, but when the fervid days of supreme love are over, and opinions begin to have more weight with men than charity, there then ceases to be a strict unity, and there comes to be many wives. There may still be unanimity—difference with concord—many Churches with one Lord—harmony with variety—many creeds with many forms, but equal love: this is represented by the seven hundred wives of Solomon.
Seven hundred represents the sacredness, and the perfect conjunction there may be with the Lord in all the diversity which may exist in inferior matters. Each member may say of another in any of these diversified forms, this is my brother, for he is a good man, he loves the Lord and strives to do His will.
The Lord will manifest His love to all these, and form of these one grand heaven. “Other sheep,” He said, ” I have that are not of this fold: them also must I bring: and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” Those churches who accept the Word, and receive their dogmas and directions from its hallowed pages, though they may lay some great stress upon parts which do not strike others as of so great importance, and magnify some truths at the expense of others, and so constitute differences; yet because the Word is their great teacher, they constitute wives of the Lord. They are united by the ties of greatest dignity. Such churches or communions as are not united by the direct teachings of the Divine Word, but only in a secondary way by tradition handed down from times more or less remote, are secondary wives, or, concubines. Yet, they are not disdained. There are three hundred concubines. The number three has more relation to truth, while seven is used where good is more the leading object concerned.
There is some truth involved in every sort of religion, in every sort of superstition even. By the truth it continues, and serves in some distant way to keep men in connection with their God-
“-The poor Indian whose untutored mind,
Sees God in clouds or hears Him in the wind,”
is better for seeing and hearing in some form that which is higher and nobler than himself. So there are wives and concubines. All men all over the world are conjoined with their God by ties direct or indirect. The Apostle Peter said, when the world was covered with idolatry, and Christianity was confined to the city of Jerusalem, “Of a truth, I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation, he that feareth Him and worketh righteousness is accepted of Him” (Acts x. 34, 35).
Then, the Hindoos had their numerous deities, the Thibetans and Chinese their Boodha, the Greeks Zeus and other Olympian deities, the Romans Jupiter and his subordinates, while the Northern nations had Woden, Thor, Balder, and the Walhalla, but still the, Apostle said, “in every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted of Him.” The leading features of all these are so much alike as to suggest that they are all parts of a grand system which once prevailed over the world, an ancient Church. Glorious truth! Outbirth of the God of Love! It must be so. How horrible and unworthy of that Glorious One, whose tender mercies are over all His works, is the notion that the Divine Father has created and is creating hundreds of millions of human beings who never heard of the Bible or of Jesus, and yet would be passed over by God until death ushered them to everlasting torments, for not having believed that of which they had never heard. The. higher truth of mercy and love is meant by the spiritual sense of the fact that Solomon had his seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. Solomon, as the husband of these wives and concubines, represented the Lord Jesus, no longer as the one grand embodiment of infinite love; as a glorious Divine Man, keeping ever open the means of communication between the human race and heaven; but the Lord as He appears to different churches and communities. He is worshipped under many forms. But so far as God is really and sincerely worshipped from the heart, it is a Divine Person who is sought, worshipped and loved, and there is no other Divine Person but the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last, who is, who was, and who is to come” (Rev. i. 8, 17).
In some of the beautiful myths of the Middle Ages we are told of a little child imploring a boatman to row him over a river for charity, for he has nothing to pay, and he will perish if he cannot get across; the boatman ferries the child across, and then discovers that the distressed child was the Saviour Himself; or a poor pilgrim solicits a morsel of bread or a lodging for the night, and on some compassionate person supplying his needs, the pilgrim is transformed into the Lord Himself, and gives the merciful donor His blessing. The lesson taught is that the Lord is present in every form of good, and accepts as done for Him whatever the heart sincerely intends for the love of Him.
In thousands of cases the Lord Jesus is worshipped as a crucified one still bleeding on the Cross, although He now reigns in unspeakable majesty in the Sun of heaven, the glorified King of kings, and Lord of lords. In other cases, almost beyond number, He is adored as a little baby, as if He had never got beyond that condition in His mother’s arms. In Spain and her dependencies the worship of the Virgin has quite eclipsed that of the Saviour, the churches being so filled with pictures and symbols referring to her. that very little room indeed is left for her Lord.
Yet, under all these forms the Lord is worshipped by the sincerely good, they mean it for Him, the Highest and Best, and when their mistakes are corrected in the eternal world, they will all be found to have been gravitating towards the one grand Centre who said, “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw-all men unto Me ” (John xii.. 32) “I in them, and thou in Me, that they mlay be made perfect in one.” And if these incorrect forms of the Saviour among Christians may be regarded as errors which will be removed in the world where those servants who knew not their Lord will be beaten with few stripes, why not the incorrect forms of Gentile lands? That which they lovingly do for worship, is done to God as they understand Him. Will it not be accepted-by Him who looks not on the outward appearance, but who looks upon the heart.
Go on, then, Christian men, if you find your money and your labour are not needed in the heathen parts of your own countries, in the sewers and the cellars where vice and poverty and misery degrade and destroy all that is noble in the soul, but do not imagine that three-quarters of the world had no taste of God’s mercy before you got there. The eternally Good is eternally active, He neither slumbers nor sleeps, and where the African has sighed for God, and the Asiatic in far distant lands has groped after every ray of light from far-off hoary centuries, the true light that enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world has not failed them, and He will remember them in the day when He makes up His jewels.
Solomon in his degenerating state, we have said, represents the Lord, when the state of the Church degenerated, and they came to have less faithful and pure views of Him. It is interesting to notice the order, in which the strange women who began to affect Solomon are mentioned.
First, we have women of the Moabites, then of the Ammonites, next of the Edomites, followed by the Zidonians and the Hittites. The Moabites, spiritually, are those who are much taken up, with ceremonies in religion, who are much concerned with the. beautiful in service, but neglect the inward struggles against self, and sin, which alone , produce the new heart and the right spirit in us. “Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled upon his lees, and hath not been emptied out from vessel, to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity: therefore his. Taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed. All ye that are about him, bemoan him; and all ye that know his name, say, How is the strong staff broken, and the beautiful rod!” (Jer. xlviii. 11-17). With all the strength of seeming grandeur, and the most perfect finish of the most beautiful ritual, if there be no change of heart, all will be vanity and vexation of spirit. Moab is exceeding proud. We have heard the pride of Moab his loftiness, his arrogancy and his pride, and the haughtiness of his heart (v. 29).
Next, there are mentioned the Ammonites, Ammon was the brother of Moab. They were both born in disorder, in a dim cave. The Ammonites represent, spiritually, those who are as eager after mere creeds and modes of faith as the Moabites were after ceremonies. “If we have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge and though we have all faith, so that we could remove mountains and have not charity, we are nothing” (I Cor. xiii. 3). Then come the Edomites, who represent merely natural men; the Zidonians, the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon, who, in their avidity for trade, are the emblems of those who are eager for knowledge, who were the good-natured moralists of old times.
All these form their God, somewhat after the fashion of their own predominant predilection, but they are not on that account forsaken by their Heavenly Father. “If thou, Lord, should mark iniquity, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with Thee that Thou mayest be feared.” When Jeremiah went by divine command to the house of the potter, he saw there was a work on the wheels. “And the vessel was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make It. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel” (Jer. xviii. 4, 6). So is it with all divine operations. The Lord desires to make the very best vessel, whether it be of church or man. If these, however, fail, and the vessel is marred in the hands of the potter, he makes the second best, and so on the best possible of everyone of us.
In the glorious part of Solomon’s reign, the Church in its highest state was represented; all was magnificent, beautiful, and happy: the Lord Jesus, the Prince of Peace reigning over, and blessing His pure and united Church. This however after a time changed, and divided and subdivided but nevertheless the divine goodness imparted some blessing to all, for He had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines.
Author: Jonathan Bayley— The Divine Wisdom of the Word of God (1892)