Solomon was David’s second child by Bathsheba. “The Lord highly exalted Solomon in the sight of all Israel and bestowed on him royal splendour such as no king over Israel ever had before” (1 Chronicles 29:25). Indeed, such majesty has not been on an earthly king of Israel since.
Solomon reorganized the kingdom into twelve administrative districts, with borders specially drawn not to coincide with the tribal boundaries. This was to weaken the loyalty of the people to the tribes and promote the unity of the realm. A governor was appointed to each district. It was the governor’s responsibility to provide food from his district for the king and the royal household for one month of each year. Twelve districts, twelve months of food provided for the king.
An apocryphal text known as the Wisdom of Solomon is attributed to king Solomon, but in reality, it was probably composed in the second or first century BC. Interestingly it is supposed to be a teaching addressed to “the rulers of the earth,” as if Solomon were trying to instruct them in how to be wise like him.
Under the Judges, the Jewish people began to organise and unite in the first kingdom called Israel. David, and his son, Solomon, created and led a powerful and united Jewish country in the land until 924 BC. Solomon’s death resulted in a split that led to a divided kingdom. The division was principally due to the idolatrous disloyalty of the nation, for which sin both sections of the kingdom were plagued. The Northern kingdom of Israel, with its capital city, Samaria, stood for over two-hundred years until its invasion and destruction by the Assyrians in 721 BC. The area was repopulated with people who became known as Samaritans. The Southern kingdom of Judah and its capital city of Jerusalem stood for over four-hundred years under twenty kings from Rehoboam to Zedekiah. The prophets associated with the kingdom during this long period were Isaiah, Jeremiah, Joel, Zephaniah, Micah, Nahum and Habakkuk. Judah suffered a series of invasions, finally falling to the Babylonians in 586 BC. The Babylonians conquered Judah and destroyed the first Temple, ruling the area from 586 to 536BC. The people of Judah were taken into captivity in Babylon and remained there for seventy years (586-516 BC). Although the Jewish people will rebuild and rise again in the land, the zenith that had been obtained by Solomon would not return until modern times. It is often forgotten or overlooked by those that do not know the Scriptures, and by some that do know the bible, that the seeds of the divided kingdom were sown by Solomon.
“Viewed personally, he was characterised by wisdom and wickedness: greatly gifted intellectually, he was very weak ethically. His mind and his morals were not on the same level. Viewed officially, his great work was twofold, the material development of the kingdom, and the erection of the Temple … Viewed typically, it is not difficult to see an anticipation of Christ’s Millennial Kingdom, when, after the extirpation of all His foes, there will be peace.” (Dr W Graham Scroggie).
In their heads, Israel wants a king like David, the Messiah to come, but in their hearts, Israelis are crying for peace, suggesting the king they are really seeking is one like unto Solomon. It is the desperation for peace and security, in Israel and the world that will pave the way for the antichrist to enter the world stage and take his throne. The cry is for peace in our time.
H. V. Morton said that if he were “writing a book about Solomon, I would paint him not as we commonly imagine him, a kind, wise, and pious ruler, but as a greedy and relentless autocrat who by his insatiable love for splendour sucked his people dry, overtaxed them, carried them at one bound from the simple, tribal civilization of his father, David, to the misery of a highly organised commercial state, with its ghastly extremes of wealth and poverty.” Another commentator spoke of Solomon as “the brilliant soldier and trafficker who grew into an uxorious, a ruined and an apostate autocrat.” There was in Solomon the union of genius and crime; traits seen so often in history –
“Tis but the moral of all human tales,
Tis but the same rehearsal of the past:
Wealth, vice, corruption – barbarism at last.”
When One greater than Solomon came (Matthew 12:42), the One who could have brought peace, the religious leaders rejected Him. Later Jewish would-be messiahs identified with Solomon. A messianic pretender from Portugal in the 16th century, Diogo Pires, even changed his name to Shlomo Molko. In the following century, one considered to be the greatest of failed messiahs, Sabbatai Zvi, called himself King Solomon.
By the end of antiquity, Solomon had become the model not just of messianic rule but of temporal, earthly rule as well. Both Christian and Islamic rulers seeking to cast themselves as king, imitate the king to whom the whole world should submit. The most famous example from the Islamic world is the ottoman ruler Suleiman the “Magnificent,” who emulated the king not just in name (Suleiman is Arabic for Solomon) but also in deed, rebuilding Jerusalem and promoting justice throughout his realm. An example from the Christian world is James I, sponsor of the King James, or the “Authorised,” Bible. Upon his death in 1625, James was compared (in his funeral sermon) to King Solomon. It was then that he was referred to as “Great Britain’s Solomon”—a lover of peace, justice, and learning. King James was well known for his wisdom. Sir Francis Bacon said this of the King in the Epistle Dedicatory of The Great Instauration (1620)[i]: “This regeneration and instauration of the sciences is...due to the age of a prince [King James I] surpassing all others in wisdom and learning......resembling Solomon as you do in most respects, in the gravity of your decisions, the peacefulness of your reign, the expansion of your heart, and, lastly, in the noble variety of books you have composed...” Sir Fernando Gorges one of the founders of Jamestown[ii], also compared James to Solomon: “This great monarch gloriously ascending his throne (1603) being born to greatness above his ancestors to whom all submitted as to another Solomon for wisdom and justice.”
The King who loved wisdom, wealth and…women
These are but two examples of a long list of Solomonic rulers that include the Byzantine emperors who ruled the Christian Roman Empire, Muslim rulers of Persia and India, and Catholic kings of Europe. Such figures have not fared well in our own age. Haile Selassie, the descendant of Solomon according to Ethiopian tradition, died under suspicious circumstances in 1975, ending one line of Solomonic rule, while the Iranian revolution, which unseated the shah of Iran from a peacock throne inspired by that of Solomon, ended another. But even today, there are rulers who could possibly be identified with Solomon. For instance, when the next monarch of Britain is crowned, the throne used for that occasion will be King Edward’s Chair, which is modelled on Solomon’s throne; and his coronation will be patterned on the anointment ritual performed on the biblical king David by the priest Zadok. Should that be Prince Charles, he resembles king Solomon in other ways apart from the throne. Solomon had many foreign wives – seven hundred wives and three-hundred concubines. They included the Egyptian Pharaoh’s daughter, Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women (1 Kings 11:1). “They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, ‘You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.’ Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love” (1 Kings 11:2). With them came many foreign gods. Solomon’s wives “…turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father” (1 Kings 11:4). One might be forgiven for suggesting that Solomon, in his later years, was a ‘Defender of Faiths’, certainly within the confines of Jerusalem. His idolatrous mistresses and consorts brought into the royal household the worship of their native deities, and shrines were built for them in Jerusalem (1 Kings 11:1, 7), the City of the Great King. Foolishly, Solomon tried to mix the worship of God with heathen rites. He suffered from greed, success, luxury, and idolatry. A title that Prince Charles covets for himself should he becomes monarch, is ‘Defender of Faiths’. He should pay careful heed to the life of king Solomon…for himself, and for the nation. King Solomon had been warned that if the nation should apostatize, the Temple would be destroyed, which it was. Solomon’s disregard of God’s honour was the cause of his calamities with his enemies rising against him (1 Kings 11:14, 27). Following was the division of the kingdom, and ultimately the captivity of the ten tribes and of Judah (1 Kings 11:9-14; 2 Kings 17:14-20; Luke 19:42). Divine chastisement fell upon Solomon for his adultery and idolatry. The chastisement was upon the house of David for the idolatries imported by Solomon’s wives and for the way such a contagion spread through the whole nation. Righteousness exalts a nation – sin ruins it (Leviticus 26:31; 2 Kings 25:9).
As the above example suggests, the symbol of Solomonic rule is a special kind of throne, and by sitting on it a ruler showed himself (or herself, in the case of rulers like Queen Elizabeth) to be a similar kind of sovereign. According to 1 Kings 10:20, the throne was supposedly unique – “nothing like it was made in any kingdom” – but it was nonetheless something that later kings tried to emulate by following what few details are provided in the biblical text, which notes, for example, that the throne was covered in gold and flanked by lions on either side, and was mounted by way of six steps, each the resting place for two additional lions. The best-known example is the throne of Solomon fashioned for the kings of the Byzantine Empire, arguably the most sophisticated automatic contraption of the premodern world. According to Jewish legend, Solomon’s throne would literally come alive whenever the king sat on it—the golden lions sitting on each of its steps would begin roaring, other gilded beasts would begin to move, eagles would descend to place the crown on his head, songbirds would begin to sing. The throne could also rotate and even take flight. Some sources suggest it was an imitation of the heavenly throne, the throne from which God ruled the world, and its nature symbolism—the animals and plants adorned the throne—was meant to suggest the power of a cosmocrat, a ruler who governs the entire universe and all its inhabitants. In an effort to claim this kind of power, the kings of the Byzantium had their artisans reproduce the wonders of Solomon’s throne, relying on some kind of hydraulic system to animate the beasts and trees that flanked the throne, simulate the sound of roaring lions and singing birds, and allow the throne to be raised or lowered automatically. The throne deeply impressed visitors like Liutprand of Cremona, an Italian bishop who visited Constantinople in 949 and sent a description back to Europe.
Comparing the three great kings of the United Kingdom of Israel, Dr F Tuck states:
“Saul was self-willed; David was self-subdued; Solomon was self-contained. The religion of Saul was associational; the religion of David was personal; the religion of Solomon was official.
The story may be read in yet another light. Man is a composite being, and each man has to decide which part of himself shall rule the whole. Saul made the body rule; David made the heart rule; and Solomon made the mind rule. So these first three kings illustrate primary religious truths for all ages.”
People of God
“… So I contended with them and cursed them and struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, ‘You shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor take of their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin regarding these things? Yet among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless the foreign women caused even him to sin. Must we hear now that you too are doing all this terrible wickedness and are being unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women?’”
Are God’s people faithful to Him in this day and age? Do we live to the revelation we have received, or are we like the tax-dodgers, finding deceptive ways around the Truth, hoping that our sin will not be discovered? Do we manipulate and interpret God’s Word according to worldly standards?
Blessings and shalom