Of all the things I’ve thought about or worried about in my life, whether Song of Solomon promotes “lust, premarital sex, and/or excessive polygamy” is not one of them. But Answers in Genesis’ Troy Lacey and Avery Foley care about this a lot. Song of Solomon, of course, is an Old Testament book made up of erotic poetry, believed to have been written by King Solomon, the son of King David.
As Lacey and Foley explain:
A recent charge against Scripture goes beyond denying that it addresses and/or prohibits certain sexual sins. There are some liberal theologians who even claim that the Bible endorses and encourages such sins. One book singled out in this regard is the Song of Solomon. Due to Solomon’s infamy for rampant polygamy later in life, his marital state and motives for writing Song of Solomon are not just questioned but openly declared a monument to lust, premarital sex, and/or excessive polygamy.
I have not seen such claims, and, surprise surprise, Lacey and Foley do not link to any of the articles or scholars to which they are responding. This appears to be typical of Answers in Genesis, and it makes it difficult to tell whether they are responding to actual arguments or straw men.
Regardless, here is an excerpt from Song of Solomon, for the uninitiated, so that you can gain a better idea of what Lacey and Foley are concerned about:
I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys. As a lily among brambles, so is my love among maidens. As an apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me to the banqueting house, and his intention toward me was love. Sustain me with raisins, refresh me with apples; for I am faint with love. O that his left hand were under my head, and that his right hand embraced me!
Your lips distill nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue; the scent of your garments is like the scent of Lebanon. A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a garden locked, a fountain sealed. Your channel is an orchard of pomegranates with all choicest fruits, henna with nard, nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all chief spices–a garden fountain, a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon. Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden that its fragrance may be wafted abroad. Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits.
Solomon is said to have had 300 wives and 700 concubines. Toward the end of his life, his foreign wives are said to have led him away from God and into idolatry. The question, for Lacey and Foley, is this: How can a book of erotic poetry written by a man who married hundreds of women and whose wives led him away from God be good and, well, biblical?
After all, 2 Timothy 3:16 states that:
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.
How can a book of pornographic lust—if that is what it is, given that the great eroticist’s taking of foreign wives led him away from God—be profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness? That is the question Lacey and Foley seek to answer.
Anyone else might say that a broken clock is right twice a day, or that people can be complicated and just because they mess up in some areas doesn’t mean they don’t have some truth to offer. But not Lacey and Foley. Oh no! They set out to prove that when Solomon wrote Song of Solomon he was married to one woman and one woman only—and completely faithful to her to boot.
As Lacey and Foley explain:
In our current time and culture, sexual sin has been at the forefront of the battle with biblical morality and authority. In fact, there has been a recent rise in people completely twisting passages of Scripture and saying that the Bible clearly teaches a different view on sexuality and does not require intimacy to be between one man and one woman who are married to each other. It is popular in our culture to teach and promote “sexual liberation” where anything and everything goes, as long as there is consent (for now anyway). Some liberal theologians have ignored or reinterpreted God’s Word to allow for this idea.
I’m trying to figure out what the parenthetical “for now anyway” is supposed to mean. Do Lacey and Foley believe that our society’s current consent-based sexual ethics are some sort of prelude to some sort of mass rape? Do they not realize that any form of coerced sexual contact is precisely antithetical to consent, not an outgrowth of it?
As to Lacey and Foley’s allegations that liberal theologians have “reinterpreted” God’s Word to allow for sexual immorality—I’ll let the theologians hash that one out. I would simply note that every theologian engages in interpretation when approaching the Bible—not just the liberal ones.
Let’s move on to something more interesting.
If Solomon was around 70 when he died (as is assumed from 1 Chronicles 3:4–5; 2 Samuel 5:6-9, 7:1, 11:1–12:24; and 2 Chronicles 9:30) and his son Rehoboam was 41 at that time, then Solomon was 29 when Rehoboam was born (and this would have been one year before becoming king).
I’m going to pause right here and state that there seems to be some disagreement about this. Other sources have Solomon dying far earlier, as young as 52. But this isn’t all that important, because the important part here is that his son Rehoboam was born around the time he became king (Lacey and Foley say one year before he became king; other sources say up to two years after).
Why does this matter? You’ll see in a moment.
This would mean that Solomon must have had a previous wife before Pharaoh’s daughter (who most theologians believe is the main female of Song of Solomon), as can be deduced from the verse … about Rehoboam and his mother [“His mother’s name was Naamah, an Ammonitess”].
The question Lacey and Foley want to answer is this: was Solomon polygamous when he wrote Song of Solomon? They want the answer to be “no,” so they’re going to make it be “no.”
So, we have Solomon married to at least one wife, Namaah, around the time he ascends the throne. We then have him marry a second woman, the daughter of the Pharaoh, soon after ascending the throne. That is two wives, which is one wife too many. So what do Lacey and Foley do?
They kill one off, of course.
Typically, most Jewish males were married between 16 and 18, so it is quite possible that Solomon was married to Naamah at age 16–18. She may have died before Solomon became king and married Pharaoh’s daughter, possibly while giving birth to Rehoboam.
There are zero sources suggesting that Naaman died before Solomon took Pharaoh’s daughter to wife. Zero. Lacey and Foley have killed her off for the sake of convenience—and the narrative they want to tell. This seems particularly odd given their early allegations that liberal theologians were “reinterpreting” the Bible to make it say what they wanted it to say.
Solomon’s second wife was the daughter of Pharaoh (1 Kings 3:1). They may have married about three years into Solomon’s reign (if that marriage took place immediately after the events described in 1 Kings 2:39–46). Twenty years into his reign, after Solomon had finished his palace and the Lord’s temple, he built a palace at Gezer for the daughter of Pharaoh, his wife (1 Kings 9:10, 16, 24). Solomon was still serving the Lord at this point (1 Kings 9:25).
Lacey and Foley allege that Solomon did not take other wives until after he built the palace for her at Gezer. This, they say, suggests that Solomon had a “faithful, 17-year marriage”—a monogamous marriage, in other words—to the daughter of Pharaoh, before taking additional wives.
And it was during this time—after his first wife had died, while faithfully married to one wife, the daughter of Pharaoh—that Solomon wrote the Song of Solomon.
Lacey and Foley offer one, single piece of evidence: that I Kings does not mention any other wives of Solomon until after he received a visit from the Queen of Sheba twenty years into his reign. This would only be a convincing argument if it were typical to mention each new wife a king took, when he took her, and that does not seem to be the case. Besides, look at the context!
In the beginning of I Kings 10, the Queen of Sheba gists. She is impressed with Solomon’s wisdom and gives him many gifts. Then follows a description of the wealth and goods Solomon reviewed in taxes, gifts, and trade each year. Then comes this:
King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth. The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart. Year after year, everyone who came brought a gift—articles of silver and gold, robes, weapons and spices, and horses and mules.
Solomon accumulated chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses, which he kept in the chariot cities and also with him in Jerusalem. The king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore-figtrees in the foothills. Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and from Kue—the royal merchants purchased them from Kue at the current price. They imported a chariot from Egypt for six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse for a hundred and fifty. They also exported them to all the kings of the Hittites and of the Arameans.
King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.
The passage does not state that Solomon did not take these wives until after he saw the Queen of Sheba, or until after he accrued great wealth. It does state that these wives did not turn his heart away from God until he grew old, but it does not state that he took these wives only after he was finished with the daughter of Pharaoh.
(Lacey and Foley claim that either the daughter of Pharaoh died, or she turned to idols so he sequestered her in the palace he built for her in Gezer, and then “became lonely and sought out other women”; there is no evidence in the text for any of this).
Lacey and Foley claim that taking multiple wives was incompatible with following God. Therefore, as long as Solomon was following God, he must have had only one consecutive wife. This makes no sense given that David is described above as having followed God “completely,” despite having six or more wives. A king absolutely could follow God and take multiple wives.
In addition, even if one assumes that Solomon took no foreign wives other than the daughter of the Pharaoh until twenty years into his reign, there is no reason to think that Solomon did not take other wives from among his own people, as his father David did. Certainly, such wives, if they existed, are not named—but then nowhere in the Bible is there any list of Solomon’s wives.
Lacey and Foley claim that Solomon was married to Naamah (and only Naamah) for up to thirteen years, until her death in childbirth when Solomon was 29. He then married the daughter of Pharaoh and lived with her as his wife and her alone for seventeen years. After this she either died or turned to idols, and he put her away. Now age 50, having been faithful to one woman at a time for over thirty years, he spent the next two decades marrying 298 wives and 700 concubines.
If we assume that Naamah died before Solomon took Pharaoh’s daughter as wife, which was probably three or four years after Rehoboam was born, then we have Solomon being faithful to his first wife, Naamah, for up to 13 years. Pharaoh’s daughter was Solomon’s second wife, but he remained faithful to her for at least 17 years, again assuming that he was upright with the Lord as is mentioned in Scripture. This means that he did not at this point have multiple wives. According to this third hypothesis, then, like his first wife, it is possible that not long after moving to Gezer, his Egyptian wife died and Solomon began to multiply wives unto himself.
None of this is actually supported in the biblical text. Lacey and Foley invent it out of thin air. Their line of reasoning seems to be that Solomon was a man of God until twenty years into his reign as king; men of God marry one woman at a time; therefore Solomon could not have been married to more than one woman at a time before twenty years into his reign. Lacey and Foley do what they accuse liberal theologians of doing—they read their own assumptions into the text.
Why the reference to a “third hypothesis”? In attempting to explain why Solomon took hundreds of wives after thirty years of practicing monogamy (?!), Lacey and Foley offer three possibilities. That the daughter of Pharaoh died is their third hypothesis. Here is the first hypothesis:
The first hypothesis is that Solomon’s Egyptian wife had reverted back to idolatry, and Solomon, who was still following the Lord at this time, felt that her idol worship made her unfit to be in the same city where God’s Shekinah glory dwelt and that’s why Solomon sent her to Gezer.
And the second hypothesis:
The second hypothesis is that Solomon began to marry other wives for political reasons, and these wives caused him to quit loving his Egyptian wife.
Lacey and Foley, however, seem to prefer their third hypothesis—that the daughter of the Pharaoh simply died—though not in childbirth, because she apparently (?!) had no children.
It seems strange that we read in 1 Kings 11:1 that Solomon loved foreign women and loved his Egyptian wife, but then we never hear of the Egyptian wife again. If she had become ill and he moved her to Gezer, and she died shortly afterwards, then that passage makes more sense, especially as no children are ever mentioned as resulting from this marriage.
The Bible doesn’t mention any of Solomon’s offspring besides Rehoboam and two daughters that Solomon married off to government officials. Are we to assume this means Solomon only had three children? For a man who had 300 wives, that would be remarkable.
Here is the conclusion Lacey and Foley offer:
[W]hether Song of Solomon is speaking of Naamah or Solomon’s Egyptian wife, it is speaking of a marriage between one man and one woman. There is no basis to the claim that Song of Solomon teaches otherwise and absolutely no biblical support for the sexual liberation preached by our culture. Scripture is clear that sex is a wonderful gift from God (just read Song of Solomon!), but it is a gift to be used within the bounds of marriage, and marriage is designed to be between one man and one woman for life.
Tell me—just who is reading their conclusions into the Bible, twisting stories and passages to make them fit preconceived notions and narratives?
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