Monday, April 23, 2012

The Ladies Man

King Solomon – rich guy with a lot of wives.
This past week in The Story, we read about King Solomon! What a guy. He brought peace to his country, built God a beautiful temple, amassed a fortune, and, because he was so wise, created a body of literature any writer would envy. It’s quite a story, Solomon’s, but as I was reading all this I hit on this little nugget of information: “He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines...” Nice.

The sheer logistics of this is baffling to me. Well, it would be except that he was a king, and lived in a palace – the “Palace of the Cedars of Lebanon,” to be exact – a huge and splendidly well-appointed abode. The Bible reports that he also built a palace for Pharoah’s daughter, who he had married. So... did he just build HER a palace and let all the other wives live together? Or did he build them each a palace? Seven hundred palaces? And what about the concubines?

As a king who had amassed a great deal of wealth, he could certainly support 1000 women, I guess, but... the Bible also says he loved them all. Now, that’s a tall order. It’s apparent to me that women were his downfall. I mean, God tells Israel over and over not to get involved with foreign women, but Solomon... well, he just couldn’t help himself, could he? It pretty much ruined the end of his life. Oh well... much like the Tim Meadows character the Ladies Man, Solomon loved the ladies. 

He loved them so much, in fact that he was given to writing erotic poetry about them. The Song of Solomon is just about the loveliest, sexiest bit of verse ever scrawled on a parchment. It says things like, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine,” and “Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my beloved among the young men. / I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste,” and “Your breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies.”
Like this guy, Solomon
was a ladies man.

These can only be the words of a man of experience, am I right? But... who exactly is he writing about? One particular wife? All of his wives? Womanhood in general? Or was his problem that he loved the pursuit, the sexiness of new love? Or... since the book can also be read metaphorically as God’s love and pursuit of Israel - or each individual heart - maybe Solomon was just writing about God in a language with which he was intimately familiar.

And while we’re talking about [ahem] sex... If you’re one of a thousand women the husband has at his disposal, even if he made love every single night and kept to a regular rotation, you might get to be with your husband roughly once every three years. Now, this could be good or bad... depending on the lady’s preference. It doesn’t really sound like a good deal to me.

How one of those old Sunday School
books depicted Sol and his ladies.
And what did the wives and concubines do all day? Was there a lot of boredom? Camaraderie? Jealousy? Deep friendship? Animosity? Makeovers? All of the above? Did the women feel privileged to be wives of the king? Grateful to be provided for without having to work their fingers to the bone? Resentful for being just one of many? All of the above?

I really don’t have any answers... It’s all just stuff I’m thinking about. And for the record, I do know that it was a different time, a different culture... Also for the record, I will say that I don't profess to be any better than Solomon on that account. I don't have a thousand spouses (spice?) but I have, in the past, yielded to the temptations of the opposite sex. I'm actually married because I couldn't resist my husband, right?

Maybe with Solomon, though, it was also a matter of getting a big king head. I mean, back in 1 Samuel 8, when Israel is begging for a king, he warns them about what a king would do:  "He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves." 

And that's exactly what Solomon did. Took everything... because he could. I'm a little conflicted on this point, because the Bible says that GOD blessed him with wealth, but... maybe it was the WAY he did it? You see, later, in 1 Kings, after Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam becomes king. Jeroboam, a rebel, approaches him to beg him to ease up on the people: “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.” See, much of verbiage in the Bible about Solomon raves about how great Solomon was, the wealth he acquired and the building projects he pushed through... referring only briefly to slave labour and other ways it might have affected the people under his care. 

Likewise, they don’t mention what it was like to be one of the women at Solomon’s disposal. And I’m thinking “disposal” might just be the right word to use... If a guy needs 1000 wives, just how much does he value each one? I guess that’s why Solomon also wrote Ecclesiastes, which asserts that “All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.”

These are definitely the words of a guy who has everything. Well, everything under the sun anyway. And if that’s meaningless, I'm thinking we’d better look above the sun for meaning.

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