Researched and studied by HH, Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
1 Kings 11:29-32.
The tendency of the Israelitish people to idolatry is painfully manifest throughout their whole history, from the time that Aaron made the golden calf to that in which Manasseh the king set up a graven image in the temple of the Lord itself (2 Kings 21:5). To regard this subject from a negative view we might suppose this to be evidence of the inefficacy of the religion that was established among them. But religion is not always to be judged of by the conduct of its professors, although their conduct may always be justly judged by the religion they profess. The conduct of the Jews in this respect only shows how deeply rooted in the human mind was the idolatry which so extensively prevailed at that period amongst the nations of the earth. So deeply rooted was the worship of the dumb idol, that the knowledge of the living God, who created the earth and the heavens, was insufficient to preserve the chosen people from an infatuation which might be supposed only possible in a state of gross ignorance or error.
Not the least remarkable of the numerous instances of idolatry among the Israelites was that of Solomon. Solomon, who had desired and had received in an eminent degree the gift of wisdom, who had built and dedicated the temple, where Jehovah might dwell among His people, where and towards which every true Israelite might pray in the fullness of his heart or in the bitterness of his spirit,—for him to fall away from the worship of the true God, and build “a high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon,” is almost unaccountable, and can only be explained on the principle that there are evils in the human will that are ever inclining the mind to congenial errors. In Solomon’s case, special reasons are, it is true, assigned for his departure from the worship of that God whose name he had so greatly exalted. He had married many strange wives, women of the corrupt nations around him; and when he was old, his wives turned away his heart after other gods. Hut neither the waning powers of old age nor the influence of strange wives could have led to this lamentable apostasy, had there not been a lingering attachment to idol-worship in the mind of the king, as the seed of an idolatrous generation. The very fact of his taking these daughters of idolatrous kings showed his leaning to their religious worship, or, at the least, his too loose attachment to that which the: law of Moses commanded, He who can cleave to a woman in love without any regard to her religion can have very little respect for his own, and it can be no great marvel if one should supplant, or each should neutralize, the other.
While it is useful to draw from the historical circumstances of the Old Testament the moral they teach, there are other lessons which they were designed to convey. All these circumstances are representative of divine and spiritual truths. In their highest sense, they relate to the Lord, as the Saviour of the world, in their subordinate sense they relate to the regeneration of man. Yet it may appear somewhat extraordinary, and even inconsistent, that circumstances which bespeak the corruption of the human heart or the fatuity of the human understanding, should be employed as representative of works or of events in which we may trace the hand of our all-merciful and all-perfect Redeemer. Hut in this respect the literal is often different and sometimes opposite to the spiritual sense. Nor is this to be wondered at in historical relations, considering that the corrupt state of human nature might fail to supply the means of providing a homogeneous basis for the spiritual sense when we find in the descriptive and declarative language of the Scriptures numerous instances of the same apparent anomaly. When He who is mercy itself is spoken of as being angry and furious; when He who is good itself is said to do evil; when He who is light itself is declared to create darkness; when He who is unchangeable is said to repent; we have, in apparently spontaneous expressions, the very opposite of the reality presented to our minds. If, then, the Divine character and works can be described in language that bespeaks human frailty, may they not be represented by human acts in which human frailty is actually manifested in frail human nature? If God is described as an imperfect being, He may fitly be represented by beings who were really imperfect. Solomon, even the present phase, and in all the other phases, of his character, some of which have been formerly noticed, is representative of that of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The general truth represented in Solomon’s having so many wives of so many different nations and religions, and yielding in his old age to their superstitious worship, is that which teaches the universality of human redemption and the possibility of universal salvation. The same truth is presented in the visions of John in Revelation. After the sealing of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel, besides the one hundred and forty-four thousand out of all the tribes, John beheld a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, standing before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands, who cried with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God which sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb.” The same theme was sung by the four beasts and the four and twenty elders, when it was found that the Lamb had prevailed to open the book; for they sang a new song, saying, ” You are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” The universality of human redemption, and the possibility of salvation to all men, of whatever kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation, is one of the great and consolatory truths represented in the Old Testament and clearly revealed in the New. There is nothing to surprise us in the narrow spirit of Jewish sectarianism and national exclusiveness, which led them to believe that the Divine favour was limited to themselves and that even few of their own number would be saved. But that among the disciples of Christ, who displayed as well as revealed the Divine character in its purity, there should be found those who maintain that the whole heathen world is excluded from any share in the Lord’s work of salvation, except so far as in this life they receive the joyous message, is both astonishing and humiliating. It would almost seem as if that manifestation of the boundless love of God rendered salvation more difficult and more circumscribed than before. Certain expressions have been construed into statements to that effect. Of these, the celebrated declaration of Peter is most commonly appealed to: “There is none another name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved, but that of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” This is indeed a great truth, but it is as hopeful for those beyond, as for those within, the pale of the Christian Church. The apostle had performed a miracle by the name of Jesus Christ. But it was not simply by the name, but by the power of Him whose name he used, that Peter made the lame to walk. And the simple question is, whether the same power may or may not be savingly exerted where the mere name of Christ is unknown. The name of Christ had miraculous power in those days because in the Sacred Scriptures there is symbolism in names, the name of Christ being the verbal sign of the power and virtue that dwell in Him. Yet even in those days, no spiritual miracle could be performed by simply uttering the name of Christ. The diseased body might be healed miraculously by uttering in faith the name of Jesus Christ, but the soul could only be restored by the spiritual reception of that which the name expressed. But it may be asked, Can the saving power of the Redeemer, and the saving virtue of His Divine work in the flesh, be efficaciously exerted where His name and His work are unknown? The name of Christ comprehends in itself all that Jehovah has become and all that He has done, for mankind by the Incarnation. And it is the glory and the blessing of God’s manifestation in the flesh, that it has brought Him near to all who are in the flesh, of whatever kindred and nation they may be, and even whatever earth they may inhabit. When the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, it was in order to provide that the Word might be with us always and that it might work more effectually by all the means which a wise Providence had dispensed or permitted to the various nations of the earth. In every nation he that fears God and works righteousness is accepted ol Him; and wherever God is feared and righteousness is performed, under whatever name God may be known, however imperfectly men’s views of righteousness may be, there is the religious principle into which the spirit of Christ and of Christianity may be infused even in this life, and through which they may be consciously developed in the other.
While these considerations enable us to hope for the increase of the number saved of the universal human race and to know of a certainty that the sincere of all religions will find a place in heaven, they do not induce indifference to the conversion of the heathen, or the spread of Christianity. The same Divine work which has brought salvation nearer to the heathen will bring the heathen nearer to the more perfect means of salvation which are to be found in the Christian religion. That missionary and evangelizing spirit which has been so powerfully awakened among Christians in these last days, and which has sought and still seeks to effect the conversion of the heathen at home and abroad by the universal diffusion of the Scriptures, as well as by the instrumentality of human teachers, is but an effect and an outward cooperative means of the inward light now shining with increased brightness in all human minds, and struggling to break down the prison walls of error and superstition by which they are confined. Still, while this work of improvement is going on, we are justified in believing that the Lord is the God and Saviour of all men. We may demand in the strain of the apostle, ” Is He the God of the Christians only? Nay, but of the Gentiles also.” And He who desires the salvation of all, will not leave any to perish, whose state admits of introduction into the kingdom of heaven. Such is the general view we are enabled to corroborate from the circumstances of the history before us, by the aid of the spiritual sense.
This general view contains many particulars, some of which are representatively taught in the particulars of Solomon’s history, as relating to the cause and nature of the king’s idolatry. “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 to the children of Israel, You shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in to you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods. Solomon clave to these in love.” Of the six nations of which Solomon took his many strange women, three were descended, by a direct and a collateral line, from Eber, the ancestor of the Hebrew and Israelitish nations. Moab and Ammon were the children of Lot, the brother of Abraham, and Edom was the son of Isaac and the brother of Jacob. We have to go much further back in the historical Scriptures for the ancestor of the Egyptians, Zidonians, and Hittites. The Scriptures speak of them as descended from Ham, the second son of Noah. In Genesis we read that the sons of Ham were Cush, and Mizraim, and Phut, and Canaan, and that Canaan begat Sidon his first-born, and Heth (Genesis 10:6, 15). Mizraim is the name of Egypt, Heth of the Hittites, Sidon of the Zidonians. We are indeed told that history, in the strict sense, does not begin in the Bible till the time of Eber; and Eber himself is not perhaps a strictly historical person. If in the Biblical narrative, history begins with Eber, it is not unreasonable to suppose that he represents a transition state and that in his history, with that of some of his immediate descendants, the mythical is blended with the actual. The age which he reached is rather allegorical than literal: “Eber lived four and thirty years, and begat Peleg. And Eber lived, after he begat Peleg, four hundred and thirty years, and begat sons and daughters.” Our object in tracing the different nations, from which Solomon chose his wives and concubines, to their Scriptural origin, does not require that the Scripture account of their origin should be strictly literal history. The Word of God was not written by inspiration to inform us of the events of remote ages or enable us to know who were the fathers of the families and nations of antiquity but to supply us with the means of religious improvement. Sacred history is but the framework of a higher meaning and the vehicle of higher instruction. And whether that framework be constructed in the form or of the facts of history, the dry bones of the literal record are equally, by Divine wisdom, brought together and united, and covered with flesh and skin, and animated with breath, and live, and form together an exceeding great army, by which the Lord of hosts wars against the evils of the world and of the human heart.
Our object in tracing the nations, to which Solomon’s strange women belonged, to their Scripture origin is to point out the significance of the fact, even when the Israelitish king is regarded as a type of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Scripture, these nations may be traced back to a Noetic, a Hebrew, and an Israelitish origin. Now Noah and his descendants to the time of Eber signify the Ancient Church, Eber and his descendants to the time of Abraham represent the Hebrew Church, and Abraham and his descendants to the time of our Lord constitute the Israelitish Church, or that representative dispensation which took its name from Israel. The Ancient Church was a spiritual Church, as distinguished from the Most Ancient Church, which was celestial. The cardinal grace of the celestial Church is love to the Lord, that of the spiritual Church is love to the neighbour, while that of the representative Church is simple obedience. To express it more abstractly, the celestial principle is love, the spiritual principle is charity, and the natural principle is work.
Now the Lord came into the world to save the spiritual. And all are included under this name and were of this character who lived after the end of the Most Ancient Church. For in speaking of the spiritual, we do not here mean the spiritual as distinguished from the natural, but the spiritual as distinguished from the celestial, both in regard to men and dispensations. When we come to treat of the revolt of the ten tribes under Rehoboam, Solomon’s son and successor, which resulted in the permanent separation of the twelve tribes into the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel, the ground and representative meaning of this separation will be more fully explained. In this place, it is only necessary to consider it so far as to see what is spiritually meant by the many strange women whom Solomon loved being taken from the particular nations mentioned in the sacred history.
The spiritual whom the Lord came into the world to save were those who lived under the dispensation which commenced with Noah, or with those who are treated of under that name. For the relation regarding the Flood, and the ark, and the one family who were saved from the wreck of the primaeval world, is not to be understood as strictly literal, but as descriptive, in the language of correspondence, of spiritual states of the Church and of mankind, spiritual states being thus described by natural images, every one of which has a spiritual meaning. The Flood, which covered the whole earth, rising above the tops of the highest mountains, is the symbolical expression for a flood of false persuasions that overspread the whole Church, which the earth signifies, submerging the very highest principles of the Church, which are love to God and love to man, these being, in the language of analogy, all the high hills that were under the whole heaven. The destruction of the whole human rare and of the whole animal creation, with the exception of those preserved in the ark, is descriptive of the extinction of all spiritual and natural goodness, excepting the remnant which God, of His merciful providence, saves out of the wreck of every expiring dispensation, as the means of commencing a new one.
The Ancient Church, which commenced after the Flood, survived till the coming of the Lord. There were, indeed, besides the Noetic Church, the Hebrew and the Israelitish, but these were only prolongations of the Ancient Church. In the Writings, the Hebrew Church is called the Second Ancient Church, and the Israelitish is frequently spoken of as not a Church, nor even a representative Church, but the representative of a Church. The Noetic was a spiritual Church, the Hebrew was a representative Church, and the Israelitish was the representative of a Church. These were but the successively descending degrees of the one Church which existed from the Flood to the Incarnation; and whatever vitality they possessed, they inherited from the original dispensation from which they sprung. All these, therefore, were included, in the comprehensive sense, under the name of the spiritual Church, those who belonged to them being included under the name of the spirits whom the Lord assumed humanity to save.
The numerous wives and concubines of Solomon were taken from nations descended from all the different branches of those who constituted the Ancient Church, in order to represent that they were included under the name of the spirits whom the Lord came to save. Those nations were indeed descendants who had corrupted themselves, and had turned from the worship of the true God, to serve false gods and worship dumb idols, and who were the enemies both of Jehovah and of His people. But the Lord declares that He came to seek and to save that which was lost; and the Apostle of the Gentiles testifies that “God commends His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” In considering the subject of Solomon’s love of many strange women in relation to the Gentile nations under the Christian dispensation, we learn from it how their salvation can be effected. The nations who know not the Scriptures cannot be led to the Lord by the truth which directly reveals Him. But they can be drawn to Him by the good which they have acquired by means of the religious knowledge which exists among them. Thus they cannot be led by the understanding and its thoughts, but they can be drawn by the will and its affections. The affections of the will are represented by women, as the thoughts of the understanding are by men; for the sexes are mentally distinguished, men by the greater power of thought, women by the greater strength of affection. In Scripture, where the simplest things contain a deep philosophy, this ground of the distinction of the sexes is ever to be understood as underlying all that is recorded of the men and women of Bible history, whether of the Old or of the New Testament. How well is it exemplified by the male and the female disciples of our Lord? Mary of Bethany and Mary of Magdala, how clearly and greatly are they distinguished from Peter and Thomas, and even from John, by the strength and tenderness of their affection. It is from this characteristic of the female mind that the Church is so constantly represented by a woman, and is called the bride and wife of the Lord. The objects of Solomon’s love are the Churches among the Nations. Nor need we be startled at the idea of the Church having an existence among the Gentiles. Wherever there is a sincere religion, there is the Church. Although all religions may not be spiritual, all religion is spiritual. The religious principle is spiritual everywhere, even although the religious system may be strictly spiritual nowhere. Wherever there is religious goodness, there is the Church. Wherever there is a mind in which the affection of goodness exists, that mind is already in consort with Him “who is the Saviour of all men,” though “especially of them that believe” (1 Timothy 4:10). The speciality which attaches to believers arises from the peculiarity of their case, and the advantage they enjoy in possessing the Scriptures, which contain the truth that forms the foundation of true faith. There are two elements by which conjunction with God is effected—goodness and truth, or love and faith. There is no conjunction between God and man without reciprocation and co-operation. God is the Giver of all good gifts and the Operator of all good works; man is the recipient of God’s gifts and the co-operator in all good works. God operates by goodness and love; man co-operates by truth and faith. The Lord draws men to Himself by love; men come to the Lord by faith. The Lord taught this in the Divine language of correspondence when He said, “No man can come to Me, except the Father, which has sent Me, draw him” (John 6:44); and when He made the converse statement, “No man comes to the Father, but by Me “(John 14:6). The Father is the Divine love, the Son is the Divine truth. It is love that draws us to the truth; it is the truth that brings us to love. The Lord by love draws to Himself all men who receive His love, but only those who know and believe His truth come consciously and actually to Him. These believers do because they have the truth which enables them to know the Object of Christian faith and the duties of the Christian life. They not only are drawn by the all-pervading love of God, but they are led by the partially diffused truth of God, partially diffused for wise purposes. For if salvation depended absolutely on the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus, God is sufficiently provident and powerful to have caused His truth to be carried to all the nations of the earth. But as goodness or love is the first essential of religion, and therefore the primary saving grace; and as this can exist, though in different degrees of purity, under every form of religion; the goodness and wisdom of God are equally manifested in giving and in withholding the truth, according to the different states and conditions of the nations and peoples of the earth. He who is the Maker and Saviour of them all best knows how to deal with them, so as to secure the greatest possible measure of good to each and to all. His tender mercies are over all His works, and no soul is left without the means of salvation. However limited and imperfect the outward means may be, the invisible Divine influence and operation are always present; and if these invisible powers do not draw the well-disposed heathen to the truth in this world, it will assuredly draw them to it in the next. All sincere religious love has a desire for truth; and in the other life, if not in this, that desire, in whatever heart it exists, will be satisfied.
The strange women to whom Solomon clave in love will thus be drawn to the truth. Indeed Solomon is the Truth to which they are drawn, as well as the love which draws them. The Word made flesh is the eternal Truth which, in the Humanity glorified, can enter into all human minds and into all human religions with a power which the unclothed Divinity could not exert, because not accommodated to their infirmities and imperfections. Jehovah is Jesus, God in Christ, has come near to all men, and can enter into their different forms of faith and worship with an elevating and transforming power much greater than before the Incarnation. This is the remote sense of Solomon not only cleaving in love to many strange women, but going after their gods, and giving countenance and support to their worship. “For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites… Solomon built an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon. Likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense, and sacrificed to their gods.” Ashtoreth is understood to be the moon and Chemosh the sun, and Milcom is but another name for Molech. These would seem to be singularized as the worst of the heathen deities. The worship of the sun and the moon is among the worst kinds of idolatry. They lead the mind away from the personality of God, which is recognised, however grossly, in idols having the human shape; and they represent the worship of self-love and the love of the world. And of all idols that had the human form, Molech, “horrid king, besmeared with the blood of human sacrifice, and parents’ tears,” was the most abominable. Yet even under these and such of this salvation is possible. Living as we are in the light of Christianity, it is difficult to conceive how anything of true religious feeling can coexist with such a form of religious worship, or how the Spirit of the true and living God can be infused into the hearts of those who perform such sanguinary rites. Yet we read of the true and living God tempting the father of the faithful to offer up his son as a sacrifice to the Object of his worship. And we are told that if Abraham had not been inclined to such worship, he could not have been so much as tempted to offer a human victim in the person of his only son. Abraham, it is true, received a command, which he believed expressed the will of God. And this is just the saving element in all such unnatural acts of devotion. The devotees believe that God requires and approves the sacrifice, and they do violence to their own feelings because they think the act is acceptable to the god they worship.
The saving element in the religion of heathen nations and the worship of idols and false gods is further expressed by the number of Solomon’s wives and concubines. He had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. Wherever the number seven is mentioned in the Word it is expressive of what is holy. The seven hundred wives are the religious affections in which there is something of true holiness. A holy feeling may exist in the mind in connection with erroneous views of religion and may enter into a degraded form of worship. But there are two kinds of worshipers, those who worship from the heart and those who worship from the mind, or those who worship from love and those who worship from faith. There is this distinction among those beyond, as well as among those within, the pale of the Church. The distinction is exemplified on a large scale by the sexes. With women religion is more of the heart, with men religion is more of the mind. There can be no real religion where the heart does not share with the mind in devotion to it. But in one class the religion of the heart is primary and in another it is secondary. With one, religion reaches the heart through the mind; with the other, religion reaches the mind through the heart. Those with whom the religion of the heart is primary are the wives of Scripture, and those with whom the religion of the mind is primary are the concubines of Scripture. Both are of those who are saved, but their conjunction with the Lord is more and less intimate. They are relatively the celestial and the spiritual, not only as they are distinguished into the two heavenly kingdoms consisting of the celestial and the spiritual heavens, but as they exist in each heaven, the lowest as well as the highest; for in each of the heavenly mansions there is the same distinction that exists in the whole. The Divine in the least and in the greatest things is the same, in the Grand Man and in the individual man, and in all the parts of which either of them consists. The distinction is an image of one that exists in the nature of God Himself; and, as it is found in His universal kingdom, is an arrangement as beneficent as it is wise. But on this subject, under another aspect, more will be said in the concluding chapter.