|Christian Life and Doctrine||November 1977|
The People of the Bible—Part XIV
I Kings, chapters 1 – 11; II Chronicles, chapters 1 – 9
The Wisdom and Glory of Solomon
SOLOMON was the youngest son of David. Bathsheba was his mother. The name Solomon means “the peaceful one.” He succeeded David as king of Israel, and the meaning of his name highlights one of the outstanding characteristics of his reign in contrast to his father’s rulership. Throughout most of David’s reign Israel was at war with one or another of her heathen neighbors, but during Solomon’s reign the nation was at peace.
The typical nature of the kingdom of Israel continued under Solomon, for we read that he “sat on the throne of the Lord as king instead of David his father.” David was so well-respected and honored as king that the nation gladly accepted the choice of Solomon as his successor, and “all Israel obeyed him. And all the princes, and the mighty men, and all the sons likewise of King David, submitted themselves unto Solomon the king.”—I Chron. 29:19-24
Even more important, the Lord’s blessing was upon Solomon. The record is that “the Lord magnified Solomon exceedingly in the sight of all Israel, and bestowed upon him such royal majesty as had not been on any king before him in Israel.” (I Chron. 29:25) Jesus used the expression, “Solomon in all his glory.” (Luke 12:27) The Queen of Sheba, hearing of the wisdom, riches, and glory of Solomon, decided that she would journey to Palestine and see for herself. Her report was that the half had not been told.—I Kings 10:1-13
II Samuel 12:25 suggests that Solomon, as an infant, was given into the religious care of the Prophet Nathan, who gave him the name Jedidiah, meaning “beloved of the Lord.” Under the wholesome care of both David and Nathan, Solomon was nurtured in the reverence of the Lord, and when he became king his great desire was to rule righteously and in a manner which would be pleasing to God.
When David became old and feeble and it was apparent that he could no longer conduct the affairs of state and would soon die, Adonijah, another son, attempted to establish himself as successor to the throne. The Prophet Nathan learned of this and, together with Bathsheba, conveyed the information to the feeble David, who in turn, and in keeping with a pledge he had made to Bathsheba, directed that Solomon be anointed as his successor.
This anointing ceremony took place at Gihon, and there Solomon was proclaimed king of Israel to succeed his father David. A few months later David died, and Solomon found himself in full possession of the throne. During the early months of his reign he seems to have concerned himself mostly with consolidating his position as king, by ordering the death of Adonijah and two others—Joab and Shimei. David thought these worthy of death, but he had spared them, mentioning them to Solomon and suggesting that he use his wisdom in dealing with them but to see to it that they were put to death. Solomon also banished Abiathar, one of the two high priests in Israel at that time. Zadok then became the sole high priest. Solomon doubted the loyalty of Abiathar for, although he had been faithful to David in a number of crises, he sided with Adonijah in his effort to usurp the throne.
In I Kings 3:3 we read that “Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father: only he sacrificed and burnt incense in high places.” The expression “high places” denotes arrangements set up on hilltops for the worship of heathen gods. While many faithful servants of God in Old Testament times did offer sacrifice to Jehovah in “high places,” it was expressly forbidden in the Law given to Israel through Moses.
Even the Prophet Samuel offered sacrifice in a “high place” at Mizpeh. Probably Solomon, whose father had been anointed king by Samuel, would know about this and would not consider it especially displeasing to the Lord if he did the same. And, while attention is called to the fact that it was not the proper thing for Solomon to do, he is not particularly censured for it, for he went to Gibeon to offer sacrifice where was located a “great high place,” and it was there that the Lord appeared to the king in a dream, and said to him, “Ask what I shall give thee.”—I Kings 3:4,5
In reply to this offer by God, “Solomon said, Thou hast showed unto thy servant David my father great mercy, according as he walked before thee in truth, and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with thee; and thou hast kept for him this great kindness, that thou hast given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. And now, O Lord my God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in. And thy servant is in the midst of thy people which thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude. Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?”—ch. 3:6-9
This was a noble request, and “the speech pleased the Lord.” (vs. 10) The Lord, of course, granted Solomon’s request for wisdom, and Solomon has gone down in history as the wisest of all men. His request, however, reveals that even before the Lord specially blessed him with understanding he had a large measure of inherent wisdom. The fear, or reverence, of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, Solomon later wrote; and this young king did love and reverence the Lord.—Prov. 9:10
The Lord assured Solomon that he would be given not only wisdom but also riches and honor. He said to the king: “Behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee. And I have also given thee that which thou host not asked, both riches, and honor: so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days. And if thou wilt walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as thy father David did walk, then I will lengthen thy days.”—vss. 12-14
This first really prominent scene in Solomon’s reign is one in which we see the inherent goodness of his character, his humility, and his great desire to do right. He desired to rule and judge God’s people righteously, justly. The first illustration given us of his wisdom is the case of the two women who came to him to settle their dispute as to which of them was the true mother of a baby.
Each of these women had given birth to a baby, but one of the infants had died. Thereupon the mother of the dead child stole the live one from the other mother, replacing it with her dead infant. The mother whose child still lived detected the fraud, and a dispute arose between the mothers; so they appeared before Solomon to settle the controversy for them.
Naturally each insisted that she was the mother of the live child. Today, blood tests could have been made to determine parenthood, but medical science had not advanced to this degree in Solomon’s time. However, he settled the controversy in a very unique manner. Since the women could not agree, he ordered that a sword be brought to him with which the live infant could be cut in two, and a half given to each mother. The mother of the dead child agreed to this, feeling, no doubt, that she would rather the infant be killed than to be given to its real mother. But the real mother protested. True mother love could not bear to see the baby thus destroyed. She would rather the other woman have possession of the child if thus it could be kept alive.—I Kings 3:16-28
Solomon at once, and wisely, commanded that the child be given to the mother who protested against its being killed, saying, “She is the mother thereof.” “And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgment.”—vss. 27,28
Solomon’s wisdom was further displayed in his organizational ability and in his peaceful foreign policy. I Kings, chapter 4, tells about his many “princes” and “officers,” and the duties assigned to them. In this chapter also we learn something about the size of his royal family from the amount of food that was required each day. Verses 22 and 23 read, “Solomon’s provision for one day was thirty measures of fine flour [at least 165 bushels], and threescore measures [at least 330 bushels] of meal [Joseph us makes these amounts twice as much as we have indicated], ten fat oxen, and twenty oxen out of the pastures, and an hundred sheep, besides harts, and roebucks, and fallowdeer, and fatted fowl.”
This daily supply was provided by “twelve officers over all Israel, which provided victuals for the king and his household: each man his month in a year made provision.” (vs. 7) Each of these officers would thus have eleven months to assemble the food supply for Solomon’s table for one month. The tremendous number who ate at the king’s table seems to be accounted for to some extent in verse 29, which reads, “God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the seashore.”
God gave Solomon “largeness of heart,” meaning that he had a desire to bless his subjects. He was hospitable and enjoyed having as many eat at his table as possible. Under his rulership “Judah and Israel were many, as the sand which is by the sea in multitude, eating, and drinking, and making merry.”—vs. 20
Solomon’s peaceful rule foreshadowed the reign of Christ. We read concerning the period of his reign that “Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan [in the north] even to Beersheba [in the south].” (vs. 25) The “vine and fig tree” symbolism of security and prosperity is later used in the prophecy of Micah 4:1-4, outlining some of the blessings to reach all nations during the reign of Christ.
Building the Temple
King Solomon’s fame was enhanced by his building the temple, the “house” of the Lord—an undertaking which was denied to David, his father. David had explained to Solomon that he had not been permitted to build the temple. He said, “The word of the Lord came to me, saying, Thou hast shed blood abundantly, and hast made great wars: thou shalt not build an house unto my name, because thou hast shed much blood upon the earth in my sight.”—I Chron. 22:8
David, although denied the privilege of building the temple, did not lose his zeal for the project and was permitted by the Lord to assemble much of the material for it. In the marginal translation of I Chronicles 22:14 he explains to Solomon that in his “poverty” he had “prepared for the house of the Lord an hundred thousand talents of gold, and a thousand thousand talents of silver; and of brass and iron without weight; for it is in abundance: timber also and stone have I prepared; and thou mayest add thereto.”
So it was that when Solomon started to build the temple there was already much material assembled for it. But as suggested by David, Solomon set about to “add thereto.” First he entered into an agreement with Hiram, king of Tyre, to hew and bring “cedar trees out of Lebanon” to the temple site. Hiram had been friendly with David; indeed, the account said that he was “ever a lover of David”; and Solomon was thus encouraged in requesting his services and the services of his people, the Sidonians, to cut and transport the cedar trees which he needed. He said to Hiram, “Thou knowest that there is not among us any that can [has] skill to hew timber like unto the Sidonians.”—I Kings 5:1-10
Solomon displayed much wisdom in all the necessary organizational work for such a gigantic undertaking. We can get some idea of what was involved in the construction of the temple from the statistics which have been reliably computed by scholars. For example, according to Lange, the gold and silver alone which was accumulated by David, who confessed his poverty, has a present-day value of from two to three billion dollars. The total number employed on the project was 183,000, of whom 30,000 were Israelites, who worked by rotation of 10,000 a month. There were 153,000 Canaanites, of whom 70,000 were bearers of burdens, 80,000 hewers of wood and stone, and 3,600 overseers.
The parts were all prepared at a distance from the site of the temple. When they were brought together the whole immense structure was erected without the sound of hammer, axe, or any tool of iron. (I Kings 6:7) The whole area enclosed by the outer walls formed a square of about 600 feet. The sanctuary was comparatively small, inasmuch as it was intended only for the ministration of the priests, while the congregation of the people assembled in the court.
It would be too tedious for our present purpose to consider all the details of the temple’s construction, the grandeur of its appointments, etc. We will simply mention in passing that the New Testament suggests two antitypical lessons taught by this glorious temple. Primarily, the temple was a meeting place between God and the people, and in the New Testament we are informed that the true followers of Jesus of this age are being built up as a spiritual temple, each one being a living stone in this antitypical temple. When this spiritual temple is completed, it will, for a thousand years, be the meeting place between God and men. Through this wonderful arrangement, reconciliation will be made between God and all the willing and obedient of mankind during the thousand years of the reign of Christ, the antitypical King of Peace.
Even while this spiritual temple is being prepared, each individual who is being shaped for a place in it is admonished to consider his own body the temple of the living God. We are, as individuals, even now ministers of reconciliation. It is only through the consecrated followers of the Master that those today who are seeking after God are able to find him, and then only as many as the Lord chooses to call. Jesus said, “Ye are the light of the world,” and scripturally we could add that the Lord’s people are now the only light of the world.
Even with the immense army of men who were employed in gathering the material and building the temple, it required seven years to complete the undertaking. When it was completed we are given another intimate look into Solomon’s heart of reverence for Jehovah and also his great wisdom. His success, his riches, had not, as we might say today, “gone to his head.” He was still able to keep matters in their proper perspective.
This is clearly revealed in his appraisal of the temple as it stood in all its glory. With all the immense wealth that was represented in it, both of material and of labor, one less wise than Solomon might have reasoned that God would be under obligation to those who had built it for him and would actually condescend to live in it. But Solomon knew better. He had a much higher appreciation of the great God of Israel than probably many of his day had attained.
Solomon’s prayer of dedication begins with verse 22 of I Kings, chapter 8. Beginning with verse 26, we quote: “And now, O God of Israel, let thy word, I pray thee, be verified, which thou spakest unto thy servant David my father. But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?”
What humility is here manifested! Here was the great temple standing in all its glory before the multitude who had gathered for the dedication, with their eyes fixed on their idol, Solomon; yet in his prayer he acknowledges that the God of Israel would not condescend to dwell in this glorious building at all. “The heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee,” he said to his God, “how much less this house that I have builded?”
As Solomon continues his prayer, he simply requests that the Lord’s “eyes may be open toward this house night and day, even toward the place of which thou hast said, My name shall be there: that thou mayest hearken unto the prayer which thy servant shall make toward this place.” (vs. 29) And then, still recognizing that God would not leave his holy habitation in heaven to dwell in any temple that human hands could construct, Solomon continues his prayer, “And hearken thou to the supplication of thy servant, and of thy people Israel, when they shall pray toward this place: and hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place: and when thou hearest, forgive.”—vs. 30
Solomon understood the provisions of the Law Covenant with Israel, that if they obeyed the Lord they would be blessed, and if they disobeyed they would be punished. So in his prayer he mentioned a number of the possible punishments which might come upon Israel for their sins. If they were “smitten down before the enemy”; when “heaven is shut up, and there is no rain”; “if there be in the land famine, if there be pestilence, blasting, mildew, locust, or if there be caterpillar; if their enemy besiege them in the land of their cities; whatsoever plague, whatsoever sickness there be; what prayer and supplication soever be made by any man, or by all thy people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house: then hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive, and do, and give to every man according to his ways, whose heart thou knowest; (for thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men).”—vss. 33;39
In I Kings 4:32 we read concerning Solomon, “He spoke three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five.” A few of these were recorded and have come down to us in the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Canticles, or The Song of Solomon. These books are a valuable part of the Old Testament writings. In them are furnished very important truths. The Book of Proverbs is a collection of profound yet practical axioms of truth, which are both enlightening and inspiring. Here are a few:
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (ch. 1:7) “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” (ch. 3:5) “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” (ch. 4:23) “The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it.”—ch. 10:22
In Ecclesiastes 3:19-21 we are informed that man and beast both have the same breath, or spirit; that they both go to the same place in death. Solomon evidently knew of the heathen teaching that “there is no death,” that man has an “immortal soul” which cannot die; so he asks who can prove that the spirit, or breath—as it is in the Hebrew text—of man goeth upward, and the spirit of a beast goeth downward at death. His own answer is that they both go to the same place.
In Ecclesiastes 9:10 Solomon furnishes an excellent definition of the Hebrew word sheol, translated “grave” in this text, but in many places in the Old Testament translated “hell.” He writes that there is “no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave [sheol, hell], whither thou goest.”
In I Kings 10:23,24 we read: “King Solomon exceeded all the kings of the earth for riches and for wisdom. And all the earth sought to Solomon, to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart.” But Solomon did not maintain this high reputation. One of the evidences of the Bible’s authenticity is the very candid manner in which it relates all the facts concerning its important characters. Solomon would have been held in much higher respect had the truth concerning the closing years of his life not been recorded. But they were, and we find the record in I Kings, chapter 11. The narrative begins with the statement, “But King Solomon loved many strange women.” These were heathen women, with whom the Israelites were forbidden to intermarry. This was his first wrong step.
Then verse 4 reads, “It came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father.” He went so far as to join in the heathen worship of his many wives, and even built “an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon. And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods.”—vss. 7,8
Because of this sin the Lord told Solomon that the kingdom would be taken from him, explaining, however, that he would not do this in his day, “but I will rend it out of the hand of thy son. Howbeit I will not rend away all the kingdom; but will give one tribe to thy son for David my servant’s sake, and for Jerusalem’s sake which I have chosen.”—vss. 12,13
Solomon’s glory waned from this pronouncement until the time of his death. The Lord indicated to one named Jeroboam that after Solomon’s death he would become ruler over ten tribes of Israel. Solomon heard of this and sought to have Jeroboam killed, but he failed. Jeroboam escaped to Egypt. It was under these unhappy circumstances that Solomon, after reigning forty years, “slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David his father.”—vss. 42,43Go to Part 15