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King Solomon

Julian Spriggs M.A.

(References are from 1 Kings, unless otherwise noted)

Solomon reigned as the third and final king of the united kingdom of Israel, from 971 to 931 BC, before the division of the kingdom in 931 BC. Solomon was the son of David and Bathsheba (2 Sam 12:24), conceived shortly after the death of their infant son.

Solomon’s name probably means ‘Peaceful’. He was also called Jedidiah, meaning ‘Beloved of the Lord’, by Nathan the prophet (2 Sam 12:25). He was born early in David's reign, when he was ruling at Jerusalem (2 Sam 5:14), but does not appear much in the Biblical narrative until the end of David's life (1:10).

Accession and consolidation of power

Solomon was chosen as king by David, who had promised this on oath to Bathsheba (1:13,17,30). He was anointed by Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet and Benaiah (1:38).

It was custom in the Ancient Near East to destroy any threat, however mild, or any competition for the throne, especially from any older brothers. Solomon was probably the ninth son of David. Five sons were born to David while he was in Hebron, and thirteen were born in Jerusalem (1 Chr 3:1-4).

Amnon, his first son, was killed by Absalom (2 Sam 13:28-29). Absalom, his third son, was killed by Joab (2 Sam 18:14). The fourth son, Adonijah, had become the oldest son, and therefore a real threat to Solomon.

When David was a very old man, Adonijah exalted himself as king, supported by Joab and Abiathar the priest (1:5-7). David affirmed that his choice of king was Solomon, and this was confirmed by Bathsheba and by Nathan the prophet (1:11-31). After Solomon had been anointed as the new king (1:39), Adonijah was fearful and submitted to Solomon, clinging to the horns of the altar as sanctuary (1:49-53).

However, by asking for Abishag, who had been David's nurse, as his wife, Adonijah showed he had not given up the right to the throne and was killed by Benaiah (2:13-25).

Abiathar, the priest, who had supported Adonijah, was expelled to Anathoth (1:7,19, 2:26-27). Jeremiah the prophet was a descendant of these exiled priests (Jer 1:1). Joab, the army commander, was killed by Benaiah, who then took his place as army commander (2:34). Shimei was told to remain in Jerusalem under oath (2:36). He broke this when pursuing slaves to Gath, so was executed by Benaiah (2:39-46).

The section concludes with at summary statement, "So the Kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon." (2:46).

Much of the support for Solomon came from his mother Bathsheba, who played a prominent role in his accession to the throne. This prominent role of the queen-mother continued through the history of Judah, as the mother of each succeeding king is named in 1 and 2 Kings.

Foreign policy

“For he had dominion over all the region west of the Euphrates from Tiphsah to Gaza, over all the kings west of the Euphrates; and he had peace on all sides". (4:24). Solomon did not expand the kingdom, having no conflict or warfare, but needed to maintain good and peaceful relationships with those nations around and with his own vassals.

He entered into alliances with other nations, which were often sealed by marriage (11:1). He took care of his southern border this way, by marrying the daughter of Pharaoh (3:1, 7:8), who he built a palace for (9:24). This shows the weakness of Egypt at this time.

The alliance and trade agreements with King Hiram of Tyre were of major importance (1 Kg 5:1ff). Trade agreements made by David were continued by Solomon. Materials and labour for the temple were paid for with wheat and oil. A worker in bronze from Tyre was employed to cast the bronze pillars and utensils in the temple (7:13). The Sidonians (Phoenicians) at this time were expanding west around the Mediterranean.

Defence policy

Solomon built a military machine that would deter all but the very bravest of kings. Key cities were fortified and made into military bases (9:15-19): Jerusalem his capital city, Hazor in Galilee to control the Aramean possessions to the north, Megiddo by the main pass in the Carmel range of hills, Gezer, Lower Bethhoron and Baalath guarded the western plain, Tamor south of the Dead Sea faced Edom in the wilderness

Solomon's army was spread out ready to deal with external or internal aggression. Solomon also developed a chariot army of 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horses (10:26), as well as 40,000 stalls for horses (4:26).

Excavations in Megiddo have revealed remains of stables for about 450 horses (10:26,28). Similar constructions have been found at Hazor, Elgon, Gezer, showing that Solomon maintained a considerable standing army. Chariots were not effective in the hill country, but now Solomon controlled the lowland, they became very important.

The empire

Solomon inherited a huge area of land from David, fulfilling the promise originally made to Abraham, of the land from the river of Egypt to the great river Euphrates (Gen 15:18).

Solomon was fairly successful in holding it together. However, towards the end he had problems with Hadad the Edomite (1 Kg 11:14ff), and Rezon, the Syrian.

Solomon's commercial activity

The Red Sea trade (9:26-28, 10:11)

Solomon had a fleet of ships at Ezion-Geber in Edom on the Red Sea, now known as the Gulf of Aqaba. These were run using Phoenician sailors, the fleet of Hiram. Solomon controlled the trade routes down the Red Sea to the coasts of Arabia, India and Africa, building a wealthy empire by international commerce. Ruins of the port and industrial complex at Ezion-Geber were excavated in 1938. His imports included gold from Ophir, probably modern Somalia or Yemen (9:26), Almug wood (10:11), which is red sandalwood, strong, beautiful and lasting, native of India, used for building the temple and palace and for making musical instruments, as well as gold, silver, ivory, apes and peacocks (10:22).

The overland caravan trade

Solomon exploited the geographical position of Israel to the full. Traders needed to pass through his land. One of these was probably the Queen of Sheba (1 Kg 10:1-10). Sheba is probably the eastern part of the modern nation of Yemen. Solomon dominated the spice trade to Mesopotamia. Spices, gold and precious stones came from Arabia (10:2,10). It was very profitable, 666 talents of gold in one year (10:14-15), around GBP 1 billion.

The chariot and horse trade (1 Kg 10:28-29)

Solomon probably used his experience of developing his own chariot army to exploit his advantageous geographical position and became the middle-man in the chariot and horse trade. He imported horses from Egypt and Kue in Cilicia, which was famed in ancient times for the best horses. Chariots came from Egypt, which for many years made the best chariots. He sold these on to the king of the Hittites and Aram.

The copper industry (not mentioned in the Bible)

Copper abounded in the Arabah, south of the Dead Sea, in an area known as King Solomon's Mines. The The largest copper refinery in the world so far was found was at Ezion Geber, where the ore was refined into ingots for shipment. Tarshish (10:22) means ‘refinery’. Solomon's fleet was a Tarshish fleet. The Phoenicians had similar installations in Sardinia and Spain.

Solomon's time was one of very great prosperity. He was not only wealthy, but with this trade all of the nation would have benefited, as silver became as common as stone in Jerusalem (10:27).

Solomon's building programme

During his reign, Solomon had a huge programme of building projects.

This included the fortified cities to protect the empire, described above.

The Temple (1 Kg 6)

Originally David had asked God if he could build a temple (2 Sam 7:2), but God had said that it would be his son who would build a house for God (2 Sam 7:13).

The basic design was the same as the tabernacle in described in the Book of Exodus. The main building was 60 cubits (26m, 90ft) long, 20 cubits (9m, 30ft) wide and 30 cubits (13m, 45ft) high (6:2). The Holy of Holies was a cube of 20 cubits (9m, 30 ft) (6:20). The foundation stones were 8 to 10 cubits (4 - 5 m, 12 - 15 ft) (7:9-12, 9:15), some of these remain at the base of the temple mount today. None of the stones were prepared on site. All were prepared in a huge quarry under the city, so the work was carried out in silence, with no sound of hammer or tools heard in the temple. This quarry has been discovered under the city. The temple was overlaid inside and out with gold (6:21,22). It took seven years to build (6:38).

A large quantity of cedar wood was used. Solomon traded for this with Hiram of Tyre (ch 5, 7:13). A huge number of slaves laboured to build the temple, 70,000 burden-bearers, 80,000 hewers of stone, and 3,300 chief officers (5:15ff). Solomon raised a levy of forced labour from Israel (5:13). 30,000 men were sent to Lebanon, 10,000 a month. The men given a month on and two months off.

All the bronze temple furniture was cast by Hiram of Tyre (not the king) (7:13).

During the building of the temple, God spoke to Solomon, saying that his presence in the temple is conditional on obedience (6:11-13).

The palace and government complex

This was near the temple. Solomon's palace took 13 years to build (7:1). This included the house of the Forest of Lebanon (7:2), the armoury (10:16ff), (Is 22:8) and the treasury (10:21). The Hall of Pillars (7:6) is also mentioned, but its function is uncertain. The Hall of the Throne (7:7), was the place of judgement, containing the ornate throne of the king (10:18-20).

Solomon also built a palace for Pharaoh's daughter (7:8).

Solomon’s reign was a period of great cultural development

Some of the almug wood imported from Ophir for building the temple was used to make musical instruments, including lyres and harps (10:12). God had given Solomon great wisdom, so that his wisdom was greater than all the people of the East and of Egypt. He composed three thousand proverbs and a thousand and five songs (4:32). He spoke about animals, birds, reptiles and fish. People came from all the surrounding nations to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Some of that wisdom is recorded in the Book of Proverbs (Prov 1:1).

Solomon's financial problems

Solomon's great kingdom was expensive to run. As time progressed it seems the cost was greater than the income, so Solomon effectively became bankrupt.

Solomon's civil service

There were eleven top officials (4:1-6), twelve officers over regions (4:7-19) who had to provide food each month for the king and his household, and one officer over Judah. 500 lesser officials (9:23) were in charge of the work. Solomon's administrative regions were different from the original land allocated to the twelve tribes.

Solomon's provision (4:22-28)

Solomon’s provision for one day was 300 cors (about 66,000 litres, 15,000 gallons) of fine flour. 60 cors (13,000 litres, 3,000 gallons) of meal, ten fat oxen, twenty pasture fed cattle, 100 sheep, plus harts, gazelles, roebuck and fatted fowl.

The officers mentioned above (4:7-19) had to supply this amount each day for one month (4:27), as well as barley and straw for 12,000 horses (4:28). The people would have to pay a very heavy tax to provide this huge quantity of food.

Social cost of Solomon's building programme

Building all the cities, temple and palaces was very costly. David used the conquered peoples as slave labour (2 Sam 12:31). Solomon continued this and included descendants of the local Canaanite population that had not been destroyed (9:20-30) cf (Judges 1:28,30,33). To start with, Israelites were not made slaves, but acted as officials, soldiers, captains and commanders.

After a while this was not enough so Solomon resorted to forced labour from his own people (5:13-14, 4:6). In his son, Rehoboam's, time it was this that broke the kingdom (12:17-18). In fact, to complete the building programme Solomon needed to sell twenty villages in Galilee to pay his debts of 120 talents of gold to King Hiram of Tyre, who did not consider these to be good enough (9:10-14).

The tragedy of King Solomon

He started well, but what went wrong?

Solomon loved the Lord (3:3). He kept the statutes of David. He burnt 1000 burnt offerings to God at Gibeon and God appeared to him, for the first time (3:5).

Solomon's request to God was for and understanding mind to govern over the people and to discern between good and evil (3:9).

God was pleased (3:12), and gave Solomon all he asked for plus riches, honour and if he obeyed the Lord, a long life. An example of Solomon's wisdom in judging between the two prostitutes arguing over the baby (3:16ff, ch 4). The response of the people was awe, seeing the wisdom of God in him (3:28).

The temple was built and dedicated (ch 5-9). Solomon gave a speech (ch 8), repeating God's promise to David in 2 Sam 7, followed by a long prayer to dedicate the temple to God and give a blessing to the people. He also gave 22,000 oxen as peace offerings and 20,000 sheep.

Each year he burnt three peace offerings to the Lord (9:25).

God appeared to him a second time (9:2), giving a conditional covenant. If he obeyed God like David did, then the dynasty will remain in the land, otherwise if he commits idolatry, Israel will be cut off and the temple ruined (this is exactly what happened).

Chapter 11 gives the account of his downfall. This should be seen in the light of the rules for kings (Deut 17:14-20). The king was not to acquire many horses (Deut 17:16), not to acquire many wives (Deut 17:17), and not to acquire a great quantity of silver and gold (Deut 17:17).

Solomon had 12,000 horses, 700 wives, princesses and 300 concubines (11:3) (over 1000 women in total) and much silver and gold. The rules in Deuteronomy were so the King should not trust in any of them, but only trust in God. Having many wives may turn his heart away from God (Deut 17:17). The king was not to trust in military might, political alliances or in finances. However Solomon married many foreign women, including Egyptians, Moabites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites.

When Solomon was old, his wives turned away his heart after other gods (11:4), exactly what was warned in Ex 34:11-16 and especially Deut 7:3-4 (quoted in v2). He went after Ashtoreth, the goddess of Sidonians, Milcom the abomination of Ammonites, Chemosh the abomination of Moab and Molech the abomination of Ammonites. This idolatry was for all his foreign wives (11:8).

God disciplined him but it did not bring him back (11:9-10). Because of his disobedience, God said that he would tear the kingdom from him and give it to his servant (11:11). This was Jeroboam (11:26, ch 12). But for the sake of David (11:12), it was not done in his day, but the kingdom will be torn out of the hand of his son (Rehoboam) (11:12). We see the combination of the Sinai covenant and the Davidic covenant working together.

God raised up three adversaries: Hadad of Edom (11:14-22), Rezon of Syria (11:23-25) and Jeroboam son of Nebat (11:26-40).

Solomon's heart

In chapter 11 the word ‘heart’ is mentioned six times. Foreign wives will surely turn away your heart after other gods (11:2). His wives turned away his heart (11:3). When old, his wives turned his heart away (11:4), His heart was not wholly true to the Lord (11:4), as the heart of his father, David (11:5). Because his heart turned away from the Lord (11:9).

References to Solomon in NT

Solomon is only mentioned a few times in the New Testament, but always remembered positively, for his glory and his great wisdom. He is listed in the genealogy of Jesus as part of the Messianic line (Mt 1:6-7). Jesus declared that even Solomon's glory was less than the lilies of the field (Mt 6:28-29, Lk 12:27). Solomon's wisdom is mentioned a couple of times (Mt 12:42, Lk 11:31), following the pattern of holding Solomon up as the ideal wise man. The only other mention is of Solomon's portico in the temple, where the early church met (Jn 10:23, Acts 3:11, 5:12).