Troublesome Topic: Did Solomon Repent?

A number of Bible scholars and translators assume that Solomon repented at the end of his life and that the book of Ecclesiastes was written after he repented.

I strongly disagree with that idea for the following reasons:

1. God told Solomon that He would strip most of the kingdom of Israel away from his son precisely because he had turned away from God and followed idols. If Solomon had repented of his sins, the way his father David had done, God would have forgiven him, and the punishment would likely have been averted (but we can’t be 100% sure about the punishment being averted). As you read I Kings chapter 11, where we find the information about Solomon’s apostacy and the end of his life, you will notice that David is mentioned more than once as an example of a righteous king. In this chapter, David’s “big sin” with Bathsheba is not mentioned even once. That is because he repented and God forgave him and no longer counted that sin against him. If Solomon had repented, it is likely that God would have stopped the punishment that had been pronounced, or that we would read somewhere in the Bible the reason why God followed through with the punishment despite Solomon’s repentance. For instance, if the idolatry had gone on for years and many people had been led into idolatry, then Solomon repented at the end of his life, it is possible that God would have carried out some form of punishment anyway. However we would expect it to be revised a bit from the original statement of punishment in light of his repentance and we would expect to read an explanation as to why some form of punishment was still necessary. The fact that the punishment was carried out without any revision indicates that there was indeed no repentance on Solomon’s part.

2. We can rightfully expect that, if something as big as the repentance of a person of Solomon’s prominence occurred, we would read about it in the historical books; we would not be left guessing about something so important. But it is not there. God’s offer of forgiveness and reconciliation are the heart of the entire Bible, and man’s need for repentance in order to receive God’s offer is equally important. The Bible leaves out many details that our curiosity would like to know, but the Bible would not omit such a high-profile person’s repentance and forgiveness (if it had happened).

3. Ecclesiastes does not read like a book written by someone who has recently repented of some major stuff. It does not sound like a heart broken by guilt and then freed by forgiveness. The idea that Solomon repented simply does not square with what we read in Ecclesiastes. Repentance is never mentioned; neither is forgiveness. Ecclesiastes is not the song of a heart set free; it is the cry of a soul in the midst of a spiritual battle that has raged for a long time.

It is also a dark book, with an undue emphasis on death. Ecclesiastes is not the normal way an elderly person talks about death; it sounds like a man who is suffering from a bad case of truncated grief. The early death of the Shulammite is the best explanation I know for what we see in Ecclesiastes. To say that Solomon repented before writing Ecclesiastes makes me wonder if there is another Ecclesiastes out there that I have not read because the one I know doesn’t sound at all like a repentant heart.

It appears that, once Solomon forsook God, he never repented; he died as a miserable, lonely, frustrated apostate.

The next lesson is: The End of Solomon’s Life