My travel agent informed me this week that for someone my age to rent a car in Ireland I must now provide proof that not only am I fully insured but a statement from our doctor certifying I am healthy enough to drive. I have graduated. I am now elderly. I am an aging Baby Boomer.
I wrote something a few years ago about aging Boomers:
“The description of Boomers as we age is not flattering. The author Neil Howe sees many of us being people who will grow increasingly pompous, intolerant, uncompromising, snoopy and exacting of others…”The major question - indeed the one whose answer may decide whether Boomer leadership will end in triumph or tragedy - will hinge on this generation’s capacity to restrain..its latent ruthlessness..While there is also the real possibility that many may take on the role of wisdom figures and self-sacrificing patriarchs, it is just as easy to see these righteous Old Aquarians as the worst nightmare that could happen to the world.”
While not an aging Boomer, King Solomon had a similar choice. What legacy would he leave? Would he be remembered as a wisdom figure and self-sacrificing patriarch or as a nightmare? While he did not become more uncompromising and intolerant of others he became, unfortunately, something worse - an apostate and traitor. Why would a king as wise, wealthy and powerful as Solomon lapse into idolatry?
Every king before him had a court prophet. Saul was balanced by Samuel. David was confronted by Nathan. Yet, there is no evidence of a court prophet so Solomon had only himself and his foreign influences to consult. While prophets cannot ensure that a ruler will acknowledge the truth even when it is obvious, it says something about Solomon that he had none around him. All the outward signs of wisdom and success were there. But on the inside there were invisible cracks and compromises forming with none calling him to account. Sycophants, wives, concubines, court officials dependent on him for their positions and even visits from admiring and admiring rulers of other countries - but no prophets.
After getting the news from Ireland about my change in status, I’ve started thinking about the dangers of old age. I have also been considering the idols of old age and whether or not they are different from those when we were young. For Solomon, there were several but it was Astarte and Chemosh that caught my attention.
The Enemy of the Nation
Among other things, Astarte was considered the goddess of increase - whether it was riches or produce she was the one to please if you were serious about accumulation. And Solomon was. His entire story is one of great riches and how they multiplied year after year. Increase is one of the basic themes of his life. As well, she was the goddess of sexuality - not fertility - but sexuality. There is a difference. At his age, Solomon was likely not as interested in fertility as he was sexuality. I have this image in my mind of an old Hugh Hefner surrounded by young women and obsessed with sex. He is long past thinking of fertility but sexuality has taken over his life. So might it have been with Solomon at that point.
Chemosh is not as much a religious figure as a political idol. In fact, many years later when the Israelites are turned back in disgust by the horrific sacrifice of the son of the king of the Moabites, it is their god Chemosh who is celebrated for defeating Israel. Chemosh is the enemy of the nation of Israel - not just their religion. It defeated their spirit and traumatized them when they realized how depraved and corrupted the Moabites were and to what extremes they would go to demoralize and shock the armies of Israel. It was not just a military victory but a victory of abomination over the moral sensibilities of Israel and they were repulsed from such grisly sin. But it was their own ruler, Solomon, who earlier had established the power of the god of their enemies in his own nation. He set up an altar to something that would in time revulse them. No one knew it then but hundreds of years later it would make them so horrified and dispirited they would retreat from battle.
Solomon sabotaged the nation’s future by dismantling their moral core. It was not simply personal idolatry. He introduced idolatrous values and practices that would one day defeat the heart and collapse the moral courage of his own people by what had become woven into their character. He was a traitor to their future and what he did should be seen as treason. Their hearts were first stolen and then overwhelmed by fear and disgust of what they eventually recognized in themselves.
An old man’s idols destroyed a nation.
Art by Michael Lang