Troublesome Topic: Truncated Grief

Shuly’s death threw Solomon into a tailspin from which he never recovered. He blamed God for the deaths of his “one-and-only” wife, and his child, a son, the one who would have been king. Unlike his father, Solomon was not able, or not willing, to go to the Lord with his hurts. He had questions for which he could find no answers, and his anger toward God smoldered, never abating, always present. His anger and grief were intermingled so as to be indistinguishable. The emotions that coursed through his entire being were overpowering and unrelenting. His sense of loss was more than he thought he could handle. He was sure it would overwhelm him and his own death would soon follow. It had to. He could not live like this. The only right thing for God to do would be to take him too. So he waited, waited for death to come. He refused to eat, or sleep. There were no funeral rituals, just a shell of a king waiting, hoping to die.

As I imagine the scenario, Solomon did do one thing. Due to his intense grief, Solomon forbade any mention of the Shulammite in spoken or written form, and he had previous mentions of her stricken from the royal records. That would account for why we have no record of her at all in any historical writing. The only exception was the Song of Solomon which was intended as a teaching manual for his daughters and, I believe, was only made public at a later date. Notice, The Song does not mention her real name, only the symbolic name, Shulammite, which matches so perfectly with Solomon’s name (see Who is speaking to whom Song of Solomon 1:2). Only Solomon could break the silence concerning her death; and he started to break that silence when he wrote Ecclesiastes.

In my imagined timeline of Solomon’s life, the marriage of his second daughter was coming close. It had been postponed once already and she begged him not to postpone it again for she feared that if he did so, her marriage might never happen. She told him that is what her mom would have wanted. This is what got him up off the floor, eating food again, and dealing with the most important problems of his kingdom. He did not want to live but he had to, for it appeared God had also denied his second request and not taken his life too.

It is unnatural for a man who has legal access to a harem to refrain from going there for long periods of time. As I envision it, he tried for a very long time to honor Shuly be refraining from all sexual activity. But there came a point at some time (unknown to us) in which he opened that door and started having sexual relations with his other wives and concubines.

A concubine was not a sex slave. He was obliged to provide for her needs and care for her as if she were a true wife. (A concubine had all the rights and privileges of a wife except one – her sons would get no inheritance.)  In Eccl 2:1-11 Solomon talks about the various ways he “tested his heart with pleasure” to find out what is good and what is worthwhile for men do be engaged in. He mentions a variety of things, and then in 2:8 he mentions having a harem, which he refers to as “the delights of the heart of man.” If my imaginary reconstruction is close, his time of refraining from sexual activity after the Shulammite’s death came to an end before he wrote Ecclesiastes, which was before he turned away from God. But notice that he does not say, “the delight of my heart.” The way he said it may imply that he was saying that most men long for a harem that size, but it was not seen as a “delight” in his own eyes because of the loss of Shuly.            

So Solomon was stuck between what he really wanted from a marriage relationship and what everyone else around him expected a marriage to be – especially for a man of authority and wealth. He knew he would never find another Shuly. He came to realize that even he, the king, could not change culture.

Quite some time after Shuly’s death, Solomon started to hear cases again, produce proverbs, administer his kingdom, and even grow his kingdom, which brought him more wives, but his heart was not in any of it.

He would not allow himself to go through the steps of grieving even though he knew them and had explained them to others many times. The part about forgiving himself and forgiving God was an impasse for him.

He was no longer writing songs and poems. No one dared suggest that it might help him to take that up again for fear of being banished, or worse. He had also stopped studying science. He had no motivation to do anything.

But he was still striving to remain true to the law. He was angry but he was still committed to God. He was a man with a troubled soul.

However, everything revolved around him so the kingdom would only run well if he did his job well; everyone was dependent on Solomon. He was able to create a kingdom that was even larger than that of his father, David, but his people were not able to occupy all that territory, it was still occupied by the “original owners.” This situation was ripe for problems such as riots and revolts. Solomon had a growing mess on his hands and he lacked the drive to deal with them.

Eventually there came a time when he was dead inside. The only thing that lived inside him was anger. Yet he was still trying to be faithful to the law. He was holding on to his moral character, but only by a thread. It was a struggle which could not continue unceasingly. One side would win. It would either be his anger, or his commitment to following God.

Dear reader, if you have lost someone close to you, don’t cut the grieving process short! Don’t dishonor the one you love by failing to grieve for him or her properly and fully. The process is well understood and there are many good resources available today for someone who is grieving. It is also very helpful to place yourself frequently in the company of others who have gone through what you are now suffering. Although it may not feel like it is true, it is indeed possible to go on living. You will never be the same after this loss; there will always be a big piece of you missing. But don’t be like Solomon who would not let himself grieve. Choose to grieve! Doing so will honor the one you love.

The next lesson is: The Queen of Sheba Visits Solomon