1 KINGS 3:1-15
1Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt; he took Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her into the city of David, until he had finished building his own house and the house of the LORD and the wall around Jerusalem. 2The people were sacrificing at the high places, however, because no house had yet been built for the name of the LORD.
3Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. 4The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar .5At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” 6And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. 7And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”
10It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. 13I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. 14If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.”
15Then Solomon awoke; it had been a dream. He came to Jerusalem where he stood before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. He offered up burnt offerings and offerings of well-being, and provided a feast for all his servants.
The expression "fly in the ointment" comes from the King James Version of the Bible, Ecclesiastes 10:1 -- "Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour." The expression is used to indicate a small defect that spoils something valuable.
Given the great wisdom of Solomon, which, by the way, he receives through a dream, and given the great love that Solomon had for the Lord -- given these two great givens -- nevertheless, there's a small, small defect in Solomon that will eventually spoil something valuable -- his legacy and the fate of Israel over which Solomon governed.
What was that small defect, that "fly"?
"... only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places." High places were places of pagan worship -- altars, typically, erected on top of hills and mountains. Israel was forbidden by the Lord to use these places for their own worship (Num. 33:52; Dt 7:5; 12:3). These places were not only demonized but mixing true worship of YHWH with worship of pagan deities (by virtue of sharing the same space) was strictly prohibited.
Why in the world would Solomon do such a thing? Not just here, but Solomon will continue to mix worship of YHWH while acknowledging other forms of worship.
The answer lies in his marriages to foreign women, like the daughter of Pharaoh. As a "good husband" and a "good son-in-law," Solomon appeased his wives and others by showing how "tolerant" and accepting he was. Solomon took YHWH's warning against such mixing of worship lightly. This was the fly. This was Solomon's great weakness, the cause of his eventual downfall. Solomon had great difficulty not compromising. Some would have said that Solomon was "wise" to placate his wives and others. Solomon was political. Solomon was practical. Solomon was tolerant. Solomon was sensible. Solomon was smart.
But Solomon was not entirely faithful. Complete obedience was absent in Solomon. An uncompromising spirit was missing in him.
Something minor brought about the end of something major. Learning from Solomon's mistake is also a form of wisdom, if we pay attention and apply the lesson, that is.
Let's pray: Father God, give us the discernment to identify that small defect in our lives that proves fatal. Help us to see that it is usually that small thing which we compromise with that, in the end, trips us up. Help us today to walk in love and wisdom and your protective righteousness. In Jesus' name, amen.