Thursday, July 7, 2016

When Momma Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy!

Have you ever seen anyone that seemed to have it all together? The picture-perfect couple we see at various social functions; the successful salesperson with the quick wit, ready smile and engaging personality; the neighbors with the beautifully decorated house and new cars they pull into the garage every couple of years?

King Solomon of ancient Israel was the poster-guy for people like that. He was renowned for his wisdom – royalty from other lands couldn’t wait to visit and bask in his insights. His vast wealth, by many accounts, would make Donald Trump seem like a comparative pauper. No doubt Solomon had all the wine and song he desired. And the women!

According to 1 Kings 11:3, this king had accumulated “700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines.” Talk about having it all – wow! All the guys on “The Bachelor” would have turned bright green with envy.

"Happily ever after" isn't so easy,
as King Solomon discovered.
However, as one sports commentator is fond of saying, “Not so fast, my friend.” Because things are not always as they seem. Sometimes that “picture-perfect couple” files for divorce. Or the top-producing salesperson is guilty of operating unethically. Or “rich neighbors” file for bankruptcy.

For Solomon, those 1,000 wives and concubines proved his undoing. How do we know? Because in Deuteronomy 17:17, God had commanded of the Israelite kings, “He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away….” Then we read in the second part of 1 Kings 11:3 that’s exactly what happened with Solomon. It says of his wives, “in fact, they did turn his heart away from the Lord.”

Solomon seems to acknowledge this repeatedly in Proverbs, the collection of profound sayings and insights written mostly by him. It appears in matters of marriage – and the heart – he wasn’t so wise.

In Proverbs 21:9 he states, “Better to dwell in a corner of a housetop, than in a house shared with a contentious woman.” Does that sound chauvinistic, even misogynistic? Wait, there’s more. Ten verses later the king adds, “Better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and angry woman” (Proverbs 21:19). Something on your mind, Solomon?

Apparently it wasn’t just a momentary concern either. Because he makes similar declarations in Proverbs’ 19th, 25th and 27th chapters. Solomon could have been saying over and over, “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”

If we take an honest look at the Bible, particularly the New Testament, and understand the lowly status of women then – as it remains in much of the Middle East today – we see God, Jesus, and the Bible hold women in very high regard by contrast. But Solomon was facing a complex, convoluted mess he’d gotten into all by himself.

Most of his marriages weren’t for love, but devices to cement political allegiances. Nonetheless, these were legal marriages making him husband to 1,000 different women of diverse cultures, ethnicities and beliefs.

Our natural response is, “Solomon, you dummy. You brought this all on yourself.” But we’re also tempted to feel a bit sorry for this regal but beleaguered husband. Can you imagine what he must have experienced every day walking through his vast, ornate palace?

Undoubtedly each wife was provided for properly, but “marriage” was hardly what they had envisioned. We can imagine them calling out whenever they caught a glimpse of him, “Solomon, where’ve you been? I haven’t seen you in months! When are you going to spend some time with me? What do the other wives have that I don’t?”

He likely uttered, “Oy, vey!” countless times as these wives of his many alliances clamored for attention. No wonder he repeatedly wrote not only about “contentious wives,” but also fools and their folly. How often Solomon must have pondered his matrimonial headaches and asked himself, “What was I thinking?!”

With the course the U.S.A. is currently following, a national push soon to legalize polygamy wouldn’t be surprising. The justification being, of course, that many people aren’t suited for monogamous marriages, so what’s wrong with multiple husbands and wives? The more the merrier, right?

But the Bible has already responded to that. Listing criteria for leaders, one qualification is for a man to be “the husband of but one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus  1:6). The reasoning is simple: Marriage is a human metaphor for our relationship with God, who insists we worship Him alone, not a multiple choice selection of gods.

And practically speaking, being a good husband to one wife – or wife to one husband – is enough of a challenge. All we need to do is point to King Solomon, the wisest man of all time, and what he learned – the hard way.

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