By Josiah Blake Tidwell
I K. Chs. 1-12; II Chron. Chs.1-9.
The Riddle of Solomon's Character. Few Biblical characters manifested such contradictory elements of character. Early in life he manifested an earnest, conscientious and religious spirit. He was prayerful and sought above all else wisdom and that for the good reason that he might be able to rule well. He built the temple and thereby magnified the worship of Jehovah.
His prayer at the dedication of this temple were not only humble and fervent but were expressive of the very highest loyalty to Jehovah as the one supreme God and to all the high purposes of the divine will in Israel. But in spite of all this he put upon the people such heavy burdens of taxation as to crush them. He trampled under foot the democratic ideals of the nation and adopted the policy of oriental despots which tended to make free-born citizens mere slaves of the king. He lived a life of the basest sort of self-indulgence. He depended upon foreign alliances rather than upon Jehovah to save his nation. He married many strange wives and through them was led to establish in Israel the worship of strange Gods. I K. 11:1-8. On the whole his reign was such as to undo what had been accomplished by David and proved disastrous. Although counted the wisest he proved to be in many ways the most foolish king that ever ruled over Israel.
His Policies. As a ruler it is easy to think of his policies under three heads, (1) His home policy. This was one of absolution. He became a despot and robbed the people of their freedom and put them under a yoke of oppression by imposing upon them heavy burdens of tax that he might carry out his unholy plans for selfish indulgence. (2) His foreign policy. This was a policy of diplomacy. By means of intermarriage, by the establishment of commercial relations and by the adoption of the customs and religions of other nations he bound them in friendly alliance. (3) His religious policy. This was a policy of concentration. He built die temple and, through the splendor of its worship, tried to concentrate all worship upon Mount Moriah. This desire may also have contributed to his erection of altars to foreign deities.
Solomon's Building Enterprise. The greatest of all his building accomplishments was the temple. It is almost impossible to conceive of its magnificence. According to the most modern computation the precious materials, such as gold with which it was embellished, amounted to something like six hundred million dollars. Next in importance was his palace, which in size and time of construction surpassed that of the temple. This palace consisted of several halls, the chief of which were: The Forest of Lebanon, the Hall of Pillars, and the Hall of Judgment. Near the palace was the residence of the king himself and his Egyptian Queen-a house that would compare well with the royal palaces of her native land. Indeed all Moriah and the ground about its base were covered with immense structures.
Besides the temple, palace and other great buildings at the capitol, Solomon undertook various other great building enterprises. He built many great cities not only in the territory of ancient Palestine but in his now extended empire. The most famous of these were Tadmor or Palmyra and Baalath, or Baalbic. The former built at an oasis of the Syrian desert seems to have been a sort of trade emporium for the traders of Syria and the Euphrates to exchange wares with the merchants of Egypt. The latter was near Lebanon and was chiefly notable for its temple of the sun which was one of the finest edifices of Syria.
It would be difficult to put too high a value upon the influence wrought by these vast building enterprises. It can hardly be doubted that the building of the temple was the most important single event of the period of the United Kingdom. From this time on Israel ceased to look back to Sinai and regard Jerusalem as the dwelling place of Jehovah. Its priesthood and services became the support of all the coming kings. The prophets proclaimed their immortal messages from its sacred precincts and through it was nurtured the pure religion of Jehovah.
Solomon's Writings. During this period as in the previous one literary culture made a great advance. Solomon, like David his father, possessed extraordinary literary gifts and as a writer had large influence. Three books of the Scripture are ascribed to him. (1) The Book of Proverbs. There is no reason to believe, however, that he wrote all of them. It is a collection of proverbs or rather several collections. Some were written by Solomon, collected by him from the wise sayings of others and still others were added collections of later times. (2) Ecclesiastes. The purpose of this book seems to be to show the result of successful worldliness and self-gratification compared with a life of godliness. It is intended to show that the realization of all one's aim and hopes and aspirations in the matters of wealth, pleasure and honor will not bring satisfaction to the heart. (3) The Song of Solomon. To the Jews of that time this book set forth the whole of the history of Israel; to the Christian it sets forth the fullness of love that unites the believer and his Savior as bride and bridegroom; to all the world it is a call to cast out those unworthy ideals and monstrous practices that threaten to undermine society and the home.
Nations Surrounding Israel. The life of any people is always influenced by the nations around them. During this period Israel had intercourse with many other nations. (1) Phoenicia. This commercial people, through Hiram of Tyre, one of its kings, supplied the cedar wood and the skilled laborers who made possible the building of the temple. (2) Egypt. Solomon married a daughter of Pharoah and carried on with Egypt an extensive commerce and for his wife's sake no doubt introduced the worship of Egyptian gods. (3) Assyria. This country as well as Egypt had lost much of her former power and was not in a position to antagonize Solomon. (4) Among the other nations with which Solomon had dealings may be mentioned Sheba, thought to be in the most southern part of Arabia, Ophir and Tarshish, and from the nature of articles purchased and the three years required for the voyage he is thought to have sent trading vessels to India.
Evidences of National Decay. From the brief history of this period given us by the biblical writers it is evident that the nation began to disintegrate before the death of Solomon. Among the more apparent signs of decay were several revolts: (1) that of Hadad the Edomite, who threw off the Hebrew part of Edom independently: (2) that of Adad, the Midianite, who defiled the authority of Solomon; (3) that of Rezon, the Aramean, who revolted and became master of Damascus around which grew up an important kingdom; (4) that of Jeroboam, an Ephraimite, who was an officer of Solomon at Jerusalem and while unsuccessful showed the existence of a deep-seated discontent in Jerusalem itself. It is significant that the prophet Ahijah of Shiloh encouraged Jeroboam by telling him that, on account of the idolatry fostered by Solomon, ten tribes would be removed from Solomon's son and committed to him. This indicates that the prophets saw that disunion alone would preserve the liberties and pure religion of Israel.
Lessons of the Period. (1) All national methods bring disaster if God is left out of account. (2) Material progress is absolutely of no value without a spiritual life. (3) National prosperity always endangers the nation. (4) The wisest and best of men may go wrong, if they subject themselves to evil influences. (5) Temples or houses of worship are of value in giving dignity to faith and in preserving the spirit of worship. (6) If the common people feel that they are unjustly treated nothing will prevent the disintegration of the nation. (7) Religion that does not issue in proper ethics will suffer at the hands of true ethics. (8) The security of society depends upon simple justice.
For Study and Discussion. (1) The several incidents attending Solomon's accession to the throne, I K. Chs. 1-2. (2) David's last charge to Solomon, I K. Ch. 3; 4:29:34. (4) [sic] Solomon's temple: (a) Its size and plan; (b) Its equipment; (c) Its dedication. (5) Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the temple, I K. Ch. 8: II Chron. Ch. 6. Look for a revelation of his character, religious spirit and conception of God. (6) Solomon's sins, I K. Ch. 11. (7) Solomon's treatment of his foes I K, 2:19-46. (8). What Solomon did to stimulate trade, I K. 9:26-10:13; 10:22-29. (9) Statements in Ecclesiastes that point to Solomon as author or to experiences he had. (10) Statements in Song of Solomon that throw light upon the times or seem to refer to Solomon and his experiences.