OT History Part 8: Peak of Monarchy -- 971-931 BC (Solomon)

Table of Contents

Chapter 8.1: David Retires, Solomon Reigns

David held on to the throne too long. It appears he kept putting it off while Solomon was engaged in preparation for the Temple. More than just the materials and plans, with all the organizational tasks necessary to enroll the priesthood and the various Temple workers, along with plans to administer the kingdom in a wholly different manner than his father, Solomon would have been kept busy full time. But the preparation never came to an end and the actions of others forced David to pass the rule to his son before the construction began. We pick up the story in 1 Kings.

1 Kings 1:1-4 -- David's health had declined to the point he pretty much had to stay in bed. He was now about 70 years of age. Perhaps one of his last tasks was to compile the Psalms that would later be used as the Jewish hymnal of worship. David never lost sight of the goal to build a Temple to Jehovah. Toward the end, he had great difficulty keeping warm. Though the servants pile up the covers, it was not enough before their weight became a threat itself. So it was prescribed a solution still practiced as late as the Middle Ages that a young woman would lie next to him to keep him warm. This had nothing to do with sex and no one would have thought so. Nonetheless, she became a member of the royal household. The maiden Abishag ("Blunder") was from the Tribe of Issachar, from Shunem, in the Jezreel Valley at the foot of Mount Hermon.

1:5-10 -- Sensing that his father was as good as dead, Adonijah ("Worshiper of Jehovah"), the younger brother of Absalom, decided he would declare himself king. Quite as handsome as his elder, the younger man was a little less bold. However, he pulled the same stunt with runners and a chariot to get everyone used to the idea of him being the next ruler. This was not a revolt per se, as he was the eldest son of David, but a major sin in trying to displace God's chosen, whom everyone knew by that time was Solomon. True to his nature, David never bothered to rein in his headstrong son, so many in the court must have thought it was acceptable. David had not officially vested Solomon as his successor. Adonijah was joined in this by Joab, David's old commander and Abiathar. The latter was the last surviving member of Eli's household. Adonijah chose carefully and excluded those unlikely to support him.

Prior to any real effort to take control, Adonijah gathered his conspiracy to the Rock of Zoheleth ("Crawling Snake"), just above the Spring of En-Rogel (The Fuller's Spring). Here the deep shadow of the steep bluff forming the southern face of the Hinnom Valley would stay cool and comfortable most of the day, even in summer. These gathered supporters would proclaim him king at this feast, hoping the celebratory mood would prove infectious and usher their candidate into power. They would have offered the standard toast to the king from the beginning of the banquet, "Long live King Adonijah!"

1:11-14 -- Nathan the Prophet had no doubt been watching Adonijah's behavior and was somewhat bothered by the contradiction to the command of God. When the banquet guests all left the city, headed to the shady spot in the valley below, he noted that he, Zadok the Priest, Benaiah (head of the Royal Messenger and Security Services) and Solomon had been excluded when all the other sons of David had gone.

It is noteworthy here that while Nathan had brought word of God's judgment for the adultery of David and Bathsheba, as well as the murder of her first husband, he appears to have borne no personal hostility to her. While the issue is Jehovah's command regarding Solomon, there was also the matter that she personally stood to lose a great deal from this mess. He also went to Bathsheba as the one who could bring suit on Solomon's behalf. Clearly David would not stop Adonijah, but perhaps he would at least perform his duty and make the official declaration of his heir. As the only person left in the royal household who could legitimately advocate for her son, Nathan persuaded her to make an official appearance before the king so that he would know this was important business and would need to rule as judge of the realm. To support her suit, Nathan would come in behind to prevent any delay for an investigation. Thus, Bathsheba would not seem to be just nagging from fear.

1:15-21 -- Bathsheba's ritual entrance alerted David to be royal, in spite of lying in bed. Bathsheba reminded David of his promise and how he had neglected his duty by allowing Adonijah to declare himself king with a big banquet and powerful allies. The people were wondering whether David would act to support or deny Adonijah's claim.

1:22-27 -- Before David had time to make an official response, Nathan entered the chamber, announced by court servants. We are not told, but Bathsheba leaves in deference to Nathan's position and the serious nature of his work. Again, the ritual greeting kept things official. Nathan asks rhetorically if David had decided to crown Adonijah as royal heir. He describes the banquet and names the major figures in the conspiracy, noting who was left out. Was this really what the king had planned?

1:28-31 -- David had Bathsheba called back in, so that he could settle the open case she had brought. He ruled officially that Solomon was the royal heir; now all debate on the issue was out of bounds. David swore a binding oath before the Lord. Bathsheba closed the proceedings by ritually prostrating herself before the ultimate judicial authority of the kingdom and his final pronouncement.

1:32-37 -- David then called in the faithful members of his staff, those who would be ordered to execute his judgment, as well as anything additional actions necessary to carry it out. Having previously shared duties with Abiathar, Zadok was now acting High Priest alone. Nathan was the ad hoc executor of the judgment, having been involved in the suit, on top of his place as Court Prophet. Benaiah in his role would command the royal escort, lending weight to the action, with the implied threat of violence against any who dared argue.

It was ordered that Solomon would be placed on David's own onager, the white royal mount recognized by everyone. They were to hold this ceremony at the city's main spring, Gihon, still regarded as the location for public announcements. While prophets called by God had His power and Spirit anointing as their spiritual badge of authority, priests and kings were symbolically anointed to an official office among men. Next, they were to use the ancient symbol of the shofar to call attention of all men to the declaration that Solomon was king. "For I have appointed him" would be next to the last official act of the aged warrior. The officers closed the pronouncement by asking God to bless the choice.

1:38-40 -- There is little chance anyone in town missed this massive parade from the high terrace of the palace down the center of the old city, to the gate that opened on the Gihon Spring near the city wall. There, they carried out the ceremony as prescribed. All the residents of the city, who had not been invited to Adonijah's banquet, would have gathered around to watch. It is noted that Zadok used the ceremonial oil he carried for use in the Tabernacle, which still stood over at Gibeon. As the officers pronounced the ritual toast to the king, the whole crowed joined in gleefully. The celebration included all the usual musical instruments, dancing and singing, shouting and general hullabaloo. The earth shook and the noise carried quite far.

1:41-49 -- Just at the feast at Zoheleth was winding down, the noise of the celebration in the city reached them. The guests and host began discussing what it might be, when Abiathar's son Jonathan arrived. Adonijah greeted him still in the magnanimous spirit of a new king and said surely he brought good news. On the contrary, Jonathan recounted the coronation scene ordered by David. Solomon at that very moment was seated on the throne and everyone was paying their respects, wishing the new king greater prosperity and fame. David himself celebrated having an heir on the throne before he died. The conspiracy collapsed immediately, everyone slinking away, hoping to avoid notice.

1:50-53 -- Adonijah did the one thing that made sense at that point and fled straight to the Tabernacle some distance away at Gibeah. There, he grasped two of the horns on the corners of the Altar of God. He knew that his actions had become a de facto revolt. This symbolic act was supposed to guarantee he would be spared, since there was a general prohibition against killing humans in the Court of the Tabernacle. He refused to let go until guaranteed a pardon. Solomon issued a ruling of probation: Adonijah could live only on good behavior. Then he sent guards to drag him from the altar and present him before the throne. Adonijah prostrated himself before his brother, indicating his voluntary subjection to the new king. He was curtly dismissed.

The story now jumps back to 1 Chronicles. Internal evidence indicates that David help the prerogative to make one last official act as king after the coronation. He called a solemn assembly, as much of the nation had not yet heard of coronation of his son.

1 Chronicles 28 -- The year was 971 BC. David killed two birds with one stone. This solemn assembly was called to insure no one misunderstood who was king and to offer everyone a chance to participate in building the Temple. He recited the whole story about God revealing who was to build the Temple, thus signaling a great shift in the identity of the Nation of Israel. By degrees they had gone from being conquering nomads, to primary residents, warring constantly on all borders and internally, until all resistance to their supremacy was quelled. With the passing of David's rule was the last of the warlord kings. With Solomon would begin the settled monarchy of an established nation. It was critical that the symbolic house of Jehovah should also reflect this change.

In everyone's presence, David made a show of presenting to Solomon all the plans and the precious materials for the furnishings, along with the completed enrollment of priests and various offices in the Temple. He also added some new gifts from his personal wealth. This ceremony would have taken at least two hours. Then, David publicly charged Solomon with the task of bringing it all to reality.

29:1-20 -- Then David turned to the assembly and invited them to give toward the effort. No doubt informed in advance, they had brought a vast hoard of treasures in an attempt to match what David had already gathered. David composed one of his numerous Psalms in worship to Jehovah. Many forget how advanced was the theology of this "primitive" nation as revealed in David's Psalms.

29:21-25 -- This whole affair took place in the shadow of the Tabernacle at Gibeon. The next day was consumed by yet one more ceremony, Solomon's coronation, a second time now in the presence of the whole nation. All the officials and the whole royal household joined in declaring their loyalty. This extravagant ritual included a seemingly endless train of sacrificial animals, along with all the usual drink and food offerings. This was the offering one brought to consume before the Lord, a ritual meal shared with God. Zadok was also confirmed as High Priest in preparation for the new Temple. The sad old years of instability and doubt about David's reign were forgotten, as the nation now seemed comfortable with this new situation. Solomon was king in every way.

29:26-30 -- We are given an epilogue of David's 40-year reign. The Chronicler tells us of the records of his rule in the various books composed by the prophets Samuel, Nathan and Gad the seer. Of these, only that of Samuel survived to us today.

Chapter 8.2: More Royal Intrigues

Solomon first had to tie up some loose ends left by his father. Then he needed to face his own collection of problems, for his arrogant half brother is not finished intriguing to take the crown, not to mention a few others also hoping to rule. Holding the throne required keeping a strong measure of political support. There were numerous elements in maintaining legitimacy and each one could become a political football.

1 Kings 2:1-12 -- As David saw the gathering gloom of his death, he charged his son Solomon to carry out the things he never quite had the heart to do himself. Solomon is clearly wiser about justice and sets the tone for balanced and passionless judging. David indicated manhood was marked by a strong commitment to obeying God. The first order of business was executing Joab for his numerous crimes. The exact fate of Shimei, who had cursed David when fleeing Absalom's revolt, was left to Solomon. The family who supported David in Gilead, House of Barzillai, was elevated to the highest level of peerage, which includes tax exemption. We are then given another epitaph for David, paralleling 1 Chronicles 29. The rest of the story appears to be within the same day or the next from Solomon's ascension to the throne.

2:13-18 -- Bathsheba was now the Queen Mother in effect, a position far more than merely honorary. Even more than this, she had actively participated in Solomon's coronation against Adonijah's attempted soft coup. If there was anyone to whom Solomon might listen, it was his mother. Given the recent battle of wits and timing, Adonijah could be expected to harbor hostility; the dust had hardly settled when he came to her quarters as a supplicant for some favor. He lied in claiming his intent was peaceable. While not openly hostile, he was still after the throne.

He talked Bathsheba into making intervention on his behalf for the hand of Abishag, the maiden who had been David's bed-warmer. Recall that her place was honorable, serving as a nurse and not a sex partner. Still, she was officially a part of the harem. Having her as wife would increase Adonijah's claim to the throne. Once again, his actions echo those of his elder brother, Absalom. While Bathsheba appears to have taken this as merely a case of love and longing, it was an audacious maneuver, incredibly arrogant. While Abishag may have been a virgin, it was like asking for a key to Solomon's harem. It took some gall to request this after being spared from a just execution.

2:19-25 -- Solomon's response to his mother's entrance was a generous outpouring of honor. Setting her on a throne in his presence was a de facto announcement that she had no equal in his realm. When she got around to discussing the reason for her visit, he promised nothing was too great for her. When Solomon heard it, he saw straight to the heart of the matter. Why didn't she just ask to have the crown handed over to Adonijah? That was clearly what he was after. And while at it, why not a full pardon for all the other conspirators? He was making it obvious her request was impossible, even for the King.

He swore an oath before God, to drive home the point that her request was against His will. With the customary shaking of his robes -- "May God to this to me if me if I don't..." -- he vowed to repeal the pardon he offered his half-brother. The insult was more against the divine order than against Solomon, and Adonijah's life was forfeited that very day. Solomon ordered his Chief of Police, Benaiah to carry it out immediately.

2:26-27 -- On a roll now, Solomon deposed Abiathar from office and sent him home in shame. The office of High Priest was supposed to be for life; to lose it while still able to serve was a grave dishonor. Of course, this set a bad precedent, with the kings interfering in the office for political purposes later. His reprieve from death was because of his eager service to David when it was most dangerous.

2:28-35 -- As soon as Joab got wind of his doom, he fled to the Tabernacle. Solomon was notified Joab was gripping the horns of the Altar. Benaiah was dispatched again for an execution. When Joab refused to leave the sacred court of the Tabernacle claiming they would have to kill him there, Benaiah asked Solomon how to respond. Since the crimes of Joab had brought ritual desecration upon the throne, his execution would most surely be honoring to Jehovah. In this case, to shed his blood in the Tabernacle was not a sin. Thus, the order was to do what Joab had said. Once the office of Commanding General was vacant, Benaiah was promoted to it. Oddly, the body of Joab was buried on his own property, a mark of honor. At the same time, we are reminded that Zadok was made High Priest.

2:36-38 -- Solomon decided to place Shimei under house arrest inside Jerusalem. In his keen insight, he probably knew the man would not honor the conditions. As far as we can determine, Shimei would have been next in line for the throne, had not the scepter been taken from Benjamin. At any rate, Solomon was clearly showing a regal hesitance to execute capital judgment. The real threat here was that as long as Shimei was with his Benjamite supporters, there remained a risk of revolt over the loss of royal status to the Tribe of Judah. Some of the symbolism is lost here unless we realize that the Kidron Valley was the border between Judah and Benjamin. Shimei could gaze upon his homeland east from the city, but could not go there.

2:39-46 -- We jump forward three years to find Shimei having lost two slaves, apparently returning to their home in Gath. If all we had to go on was the recorded words of Solomon, we might find a loophole, because pursuing his slaves meant Shimei went west, farther from his tribal homeland and didn't cross the Kidron Valley. When he returned, he was summoned to Court. Solomon reminded him of the solemn vow Shimei had taken and how it had allowed him to escape the death penalty called for by cursing the King. His arrogance and spite toward the new royal line dared him to curse David and to ignore the conditions of his pardon. Solomon had given him enough rope to hang by his own arrogance. All his spite at the House of David was for nothing, as God determined such things, not man. All rival claims to the throne were now gone.

3:1-3 -- It is difficult to be sure of the order of events in the next few chapters. Very early we see Solomon's preference for worldly wisdom over godly wisdom. Do not confuse this with modern notions of logic; he remained a completely Hebrew man intellectually. He was also far more the womanizer than his father. It is said he walked in the guidelines established by his father, but at the same time suffered compromise morally. We don't know which Pharaoh he made treaty with, but the issue was bringing a pagan woman into the City of David, soon to be the City of God. That sort of thinking led him to join in some pagan celebrations from time to time. We know from hints here and there that the Nation of Israel continued suffering from falsely identifying Jehovah with some of the old Canaanite gods, due to ritual similarities. In many ways, they honestly thought they were honoring the Lord, but they were not obeying the Covenant. Thus, while the Tabernacle had lost its central place in the religious attention of the people, it was hoped by the prophetic scribes of Samuel-Kings that the Temple would help things. We are given a hint that Solomon had expanded his Temple plans to include a new palace and a far more extensive wall around the whole Temple Mount. This would more than double the land occupied by Jerusalem.

3:4-15 -- We note here for a moment that Gibeon lay within Benjamin. It was the ancient capital of the Gibeonite Confederacy. The city was actually down off the peak on the west slope of the hill, while the peak remained bare and became an early symbol of Jehovah's presence after Joshua's victory there. During Samuel's service, it had been in constant use as a place of worship for Jehovah, often called simply "the High Place." It is here we should picture the Tabernacle standing during David's reign. This would be a natural move also because the Gibeonites were more or less enslaved for the purpose of providing wood and water for the Tabernacle in the first place.

The occasion of Solomon's visit there is uncertain, but early in his reign he brought a huge sacrifice train of 1000 animals. All of them were whole burnt offerings, so this was an extravagant gift to honor Jehovah. This took place in front of a massive crowd, as we are told in 2 Chronicles 1 this was a solemn assembly with the whole nation. Though the Ark of Covenant was still in Jerusalem, it seems, the bronze altar of sacrifice was at the Tabernacle. Given the likelihood such an extensive offering would take more than a single day to execute, it's no surprise Solomon slept at the door of the place that night.

During a dream God asked him what he most wished. At about 20 years of age then, Solomon felt keenly his lack of experience and understanding. Just about anything Solomon could have said would have been completely justified, but would not be justice. The substance of what Solomon asked was the ability to discern in every case what was good and bad, to have a heart that listened to God. Thus, he asked to be able to understand well enough to judge with true moral justice. The path to justice is a sharp mind that misses nothing, never failing to grasp what is the core issue on every question. This was the wisdom Solomon asked. Because it was precisely the thing God most wanted him to have, all the other stuff was thrown in for good measure. Solomon declared that God had fulfilled His Covenant promise to Abraham, particularly in relation to ownership of the land. To celebrate further, when he got back to Jerusalem, Solomon presented several kinds of offerings, including wave offerings, before the Ark of Covenant and feasted with everyone serving in the Royal Court.

3:16-28 -- The best demonstration that God did indeed give Solomon a just mind was the story of the two harlots arguing over whose child had survived a bad night. Each claimed the living newborn was theirs and that the other had rolled over and suffocated her son in the night. When Solomon offered to divide the living child with a sword, he was testing for the mother instinct. The liar would obviously not care much either way, having already lost one son through carelessness. The woman who conceded the case to save the infant was the real mother; so Solomon declared it. This story was oft repeated even beyond the kingdom's borders.

Chapter 8.3: Solomon's Temple

The first portion of our review covers several chapters: 1 Kings 4-7 is paralleled in 2 Chronicles 2-4. These passages are filled largely with the details of describing the Temple size and design. There is little to gain from hashing over the minutiae; it would be far more profitable to look at some of the well done drawings based on these descriptions found in reference books or sites around the Internet. The Dedication of the Temple in 1 Kings 8 is paralleled in 2 Chronicles 5-6.

Solomon began to rule in 970 BC. We are given a list of chief ministers in Solomon's court. What is important to note is that Solomon divided the Kingdom of Israel into 12 administrative districts, which did not coincide with tribal borders. Rather, the kingdom was divided more or less into equal size regions, but the issue was the production of support in kind for Solomon's sumptuous lifestyle. We know from other sources there was some resentment to this non-traditional system.

The far more contentious issue was taxation. Every day Solomon's court required a small herd of animals and what we now regard as a truckload of produce, mostly grain. This was on top of the tribute Solomon received from all the kingdoms his father had conquered. From the River Euphrates far in the north down to Egypt in the south, from the deserts on the east to the Philistines on the coast, Solomon either ruled directly or exerted tremendous control over every living thing. At no time did Israel become an empire proper. This was not from lack of military and economic power, but inhibitions from both cultural background and the Law of Moses. Israel at her height was a moderate power in a very large vacuum. Assyria was in decline and dared not cross the Euphrates to provoke the mighty King of Israel; Egypt could hardly afford to raise his ire, either. On the other hand, Solomon made no effort to enforce his reign directly over these distant peoples. Instead, everyone surrendered a great deal of wealth every year to Solomon and it was all consumed mostly by people, not massive structures. What little he did build was typically something destroyed later by accidents of history. However, the grand cultural icons common to ancient empires are missing because they would have been gross violations of the Covenant.

Eastern opulence was not efficient use of resources as we would think of it. For his allies and friends, Solomon was generous. David had been great friends with Hiram of Tyre and Solomon kept that friendship alive. In order to obtain sufficient cut stone and lumber for the Temple, Solomon made a deal to trade grain and olive oil. The hundred thousand or so bushels Hiram requested were an annual payment and this was drawn from the produce of the kingdom as taxation. On top of this, a huge army of workers were kept on the leash in a three month rotation. That is, citizens of Israel worked one month out of three on the Temple project, along with all the year-round slave labor from subdued enemies. Adoniram was Solomon's minister of this forced labor and became the most hated man in the kingdom. The Temple construction began in about 967 BC.

There was more detailed and time consuming care taken than we might expect because of the nature of the building. Note that cutting massive stone blocks with hand tools is an incredibly labor-intensive task. Each block had to be finished at the quarry. Then, moving each stone was yet another massively labor-intensive task. Finally, the whole thing was covered in cedar paneling, so that no stone work was visible. The interior paneling was also overlaid with gold. Hiram of Tyre sent a half-Israeli craftsman, also named Hiram, to oversee the artwork of the Temple. It appears the building was finished by 959 BC. Despite the planning of David and saving up of material during most of his 40-year reign, the Temple was still a bit of a "money pit," sucking up a major portion of the whole economic output of that part of the world for several years.

It is known that Solomon personally owned a quarry near Jerusalem, but it could not have been enough for this huge job. Quite likely, the local quarry was used for Solomon's palace. This structure was even larger than the Temple. While the palace didn't get the cedar and gold treatment of the Temple, it was simply huge by even modern standards. There were the living quarters, which accommodated much of the eventual harem of some 1000 women, but also a large judgment hall, an armory and barracks. Add to this extending the wall around Jerusalem to thrice its original run and we may begin to see just how much the people were hurting. It took another thirteen years after the Temple was finished to build the palace.

Even when the palace was done, the building projects never ceased. To the day of his death, Solomon laid a crushing burden on his people. He seemed to recognize no limits. Aside from the grandeur and religious unification of the Temple, Solomon gave back to his people a gift many could not appreciate. The royal court was open to all visitors and there were many. Each VIP that came was accorded the same lavish accommodations, but most came because of the legendary mind of Solomon. Regardless of how vexing the legal case, Solomon always had an answer and it was always recognized as the best that could be. This mind produced psalms, proverbs and all manner of writings we now refer to as the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament. We credit to Solomon the whole of the Proverbs with sage advice and pithy statements on human nature, Ecclesiastes with its ruminations on holiness, happiness and being a good man of God, and the epic Song of Solomon celebrating the holiness of romantic love in its godly ideal. It is known he kept an encyclopedic knowledge of nature itself, too.

1 Kings 8:1-11 -- The month of Ethanim, later called Tishri, is late September and early October in the West. This was 11 months after the actual building of the Temple was finished. It would have taken some time to get the priests' cells setup and the rotation begun, with all the training that could not take place while workmen were all over the place. By holding Dedication during the Feast of Tabernacles, on the first day of the month, the Temple would be ready for the upcoming Day of Atonement, just ten days away.

Solomon called a solemn assembly of the leaders of Israel and Judah. They all attended in parade the moving of the Ark up the hill from the tent David erected over it in old palace courtyard, up to the new Temple on the peak of Mount Moriah. By now the contents had been reduced to Moses' tablets, the manna pot and blooming rod of Aaron somehow lost. From the old Mosaic Tabernacle in Gibeon, all the other furnishings were brought over, leaving the ancient tent empty. The presence of the Lord returned in force. Once the Ark was placed, the priests were driven out by the smoke of God's Presence. Meanwhile, Solomon had prepared a steady stream of sacrificial animals and the fire of the Altar never dimmed. The ceremony included every priest from all the rotations at once and all the musicians were praising God.

8:12-53 -- Solomon delivered a speech recounting how his father David had commissioned him to build the Temple. He noted that all the promises of the Lord concerning the Temple and the Davidic throne had been kept. Then Solomon knelt publicly, facing the Temple, and offered a prayer so moving it has often been quoted since then. Many have gone so far as to refer to this as the Covenant of Solomon. However, there is nothing to indicate anything new was being established. This was a renewal of the standing Covenant of Moses. Solomon went into detail recounting the different ways the people as a nation might come before Jehovah to pray at the Temple, or facing it when far away. Each of them is but an echo of previous instruction from the Law.

8:54-66 -- Finishing this lavish prayer, Solomon turned and blessed the nation. Not only burnt offerings, but several other kinds of offerings were brought, to include the kind shared before the Lord. This ceremony carried on for seven days, celebrating at the same time the Feast of Trumpets. While it is noted Solomon dismissed the nation from the Feast on the 8th day, the parallel passage in 2 Chronicles 7 suggests that they stayed for the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles, finally leaving on the 23rd of that month.

This is rightly considered the spiritual high point for the entire history of Israel. There were plenty of wonders and miracles to follow, but nothing approached this event for grandness of scale and its impact on the minds of the nation and the watching world. That it went downhill from here is partly Solomon's own fault.

Chapter 8.4: Wisdom, Power and Wealth

It is not enough to know all the ways of justice and understand the full mystery of human behavior in light of God's revelation. One must also do justice. Solomon failed to grasp this. Our primary passage in 1 Kings is paralleled in 2 Chronicles 8-9.

1 Kings 9:1-9 -- We note there was no hint of scandal in Solomon's reign, unlike his father David. He also completely failed to rise to his father's level of spirituality. God had appeared to Solomon once at Gibeon. When the Temple was complete and Solomon had prayed, fire fell from Heaven to light the altar (2 Chronicles 7:1). The only time this had happened before, as far as we know, was at the dedication of Aaron as High Priest (Leviticus 9). After Solomon's dedication of the Temple, here the Lord appears to him again and speaks to him. There is a conditional offer, the same personal extension of the Covenant offered to David. If Solomon could obey the Lord by staying clean of idolatry, his dynasty was secure. Upon departing from that standard, the scepter would depart his household. Further, if his sin caused the people to sin also, the Temple of God's own Presence would be destroyed.

9:10-14 -- The passage here is quite unclear and assumes the reader knows far more than we do today. Scholars speculate that Solomon was unable to keep up the steady payments in grain and oil. After twenty years of building, the royal treasury had dwindled and may have actually been in arrears. To settle this debt, Solomon offered some 20 cities in a region west and north of what was then called Lake Chinnereth. Even then, this area of land was called Galilee. This would be a loss of land deeded to the Tribes of Asher and Naphthali, but apparently a part that had not been conquered, so it was still Gentile territory.

As far as we can tell, the area was rather swampy then. Hiram came up to see the cities, which would have been an extension of his eastern border. He was not impressed. His nickname for the place was Kabul, meaning worthless. That Hiram gave Solomon some gold may have been a symbol of suspending the payments and instead extended a cash loan for the sake of development. Hiram gave the cities back, and Solomon sent Israelites to colonize the place, something they had failed to do since Joshua's days. In the process, Solomon invested in the area to improve the likelihood of paying his debt to Hiram. It's not out of the question to see in all this Hiram giving Solomon a lesson or two in making a royal profit. We know for certain Hiram in his island fortress was very wealthy from trade. From this low point, Solomon becomes steadily wealthier.

9:15-23 -- We need to note a distinction here between the labor tax Solomon laid on Israel and the full-time enslavement of the resident Canaanites. The labor tax continued periodically throughout Solomon's reign, but must have been drastically reduced after the initial twenty years of building. Afterward, he used the slave labor almost exclusively for building.

Some of the projects included rebuilding the old Jebusite fortress and terrace, called the Millo, as a fortress to defend the main eastern gate in the Lower City of Jerusalem. It had been used as David's palace. He also built a fortress at Megiddo, which guarded the pass from the south into the Jezreel Valley. The city of Gezer, out on the edge of old Philistia near the Valley of Aijalon, had remained a Canaanite fortress, never taken during the Conquest. As a wedding gift to his new son-in-law, Pharaoh brought up forces from Egypt and laid siege until it fell. Solomon rebuilt it under Israeli control. Just east of there, Solomon built up both Upper and Lower Beth Horon, another critical pass. Baalath is not currently identified.

Tadmor is the name of a city far to the north, in the territory captured by David. Half-way between Damascus and the Euphrates was an oasis out in the desert wastes. By building a city there, it enabled the more hardy traders to save time and expense by cutting off a long loop up to Charan to enter Assyria. The investment was known to bear high returns in tolls and services. (In texts that add "in Judah" to verse 18, we note that is not in the original.) Throughout the rest of his domain, Solomon placed granaries and stables.

The men of Israel released from the labor tax became soldiers and officers. There was a battalion of officers riding herd over the slave labor working on building projects up to the end of Solomon's reign.

9:24-25 -- A brief section is inserted to note that, early in his reign, Solomon was quite circumspect in ritual observance. He quickly moved his first wife into her new quarters up beyond the peak of Zion. No doubt the residents of the city, as well as any visitors, had taken offense at the presence of an unconverted pagan in the vicinity of holy ground. The old palace terrace of David had been the resting place of the Ark of Covenant and it became known as Zion -- a holy landmark. The term eventually applied to that and the Temple grounds, too. Once she was moved from the old palace, Solomon then had it restored to its original purpose as a fortress.

9:26-28 -- At the north end of the Gulf of Aqaba was a city belonging to Edom, named Elath. Solomon controlled Edom at the time and built the Port of Ezion-geber there. He brought Hiram of Tyre in on the business, in part because of the debt still owed and in part because Israel knew little of sailing and shipping. Archaeology tells us that Solomon had copper smelters there and it was this he traded in places far down south of the Red Sea, trading with Sheba, known today as Yemen. He also traded on the coast of Africa, where perhaps was Ophir, though we do not know for sure. This was the turning point for Israel's treasury. Israel went from deeply in debt after 20 years of constant building around Jerusalem, to become the wealthiest kingdom in the world at that time.

10:1-10 -- Yemeni scholars claim during this period women ruled the land and it was called Sabah, so we have a tentative link with the biblical Sheba. An alternative spelling refers to the people as Sabeans. From Solomon's trade contacts there, the queen decided to come and see if the stories she heard were true. As typical of diplomatic and trade missions throughout history, she brought a huge retinue and rare trade goods, most likely from India and farther down the coast of Africa. We know from ancient records it was a sport of royalty to test each other on reputation. What she found was beyond her expectations, to the point she felt rather humble. Nothing she proposed to Solomon as judicial knots could he fail to resolve.

10:11-13 -- During her visit, Solomon arranged a trade deal between Sheba and Tyre. The almug or algum wood appears to have been red sandal wood from Ceylon and would be rare indeed in Israel. Solomon used it to build steps in the Temple Court and in the palace. The queen left all her gifts, taking away even more in terms of Israeli pricing. She spread abroad the fame of Solomon to all her trade partners and they in turn sought to visit him.

10:14-23 -- As the trade profits rolled in, Solomon pampered himself and built a lasting legacy of fabulous wealth and power. He had gold to waste on large shields to hang in the Lebanon Forest House. He had a throne built of ivory. More than just a fancy chair, this included six steps up and a platform, carved to resemble lions. This was then overlaid with gold decorations. Solomon brought in so much silver, it became far less valuable than gold. All the royal dishes were made of gold, along with just about every decoration one could imagine. On the long voyages of those days, it would take Solomon's ships three years to make a trade circuit. His wealth went beyond accounting.

10:24-29 -- No less was Solomon's political and military power. Every visitor coming to hear his words of wisdom brought lavish gifts. All his tributaries brought annual gifts, which included animals, armor and spices. Solomon amassed a huge army of chariots and horsemen. The royal city reeked of Lebanese cedar and silver festooned common objects. While Egypt was not known as a horse-breeding center, most likely Pharaoh was simply the agent for them as part of their trade in chariots.

There is some dispute as to what the original texts said here. What's worth noting is that this was a specific violation of Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 16:17) to buy horses from Egypt. It would appear the wealth and power was turning Solomon's heart from trusting wholly in God.

Chapter 8.5: Folly of the Wise

1 Kings 11:1-8 -- Solomon's heart drifted so far from his original promise to God, it destroys the kingdom. Moses warned specifically that the king should not gather up multiple foreign wives, nor pile up the gold and silver (Deuteronomy 17:17). The Temple scribe quotes this, yet, it is exactly what Solomon does. The warning had foreseen precisely what the danger would be: apostasy. Many pagan nations had a version of Astarte worship. From the mountains east of Babylon to the Phoenicians in the Mediterranean Sea, there were variations on the idea of a fertility goddess, usually symbolized by a carved tree stump. She was called Asherah, Ishtar, Esther, Oester and so forth. There were also variations of Molech: Milcom, Melech and it is believed Chemosh was related. Just below Jerusalem in the Valley of Hinnom, there had been an ancient shrine to Molech, where children were offered burned alive. During David's reign, the place had been defiled by garbage, burned from time to time to reduce its bulk. Solomon replaced the shrine at his own expense on the Mount of Olives.

All this was the result of marrying foreign women. They were offered by rulers as a means of making alliance with the most powerful man in that part of the world in those days. It went to Solomon's head. He utterly failed to convert any of them to Judaism. Instead, he allowed them to lead him into pagan idolatry.

11:9-13 -- Here was a man who had spoken with God twice, yet lacked the power to remain faithful. Only because of David's own faithfulness was the wrath of God tempered. Solomon was told directly that he had broken the Kingdom of Israel. While it would remain united during his lifetime, his son would lose all but one tribe, Judah. Of course, that included Simeon, but the other Ten Tribes, who had long kept their own identity, would depart.

11:14-22 -- As a way of demonstrating His seriousness, the Lord raised up a couple of rebels during Solomon's reign. Back when David and Joab were decimating the adult male population of Edom (2 Samuel 8:13-14), the heir escaped to Egypt as a boy, carried off by some of the soldiers from Edom's royal court. It appears he did not first go to Egypt proper, but stayed in Midian for awhile. When it was safe to travel, he passed through the Wilderness of Paran and gathered up a few supporters and moved on to Egypt. There, he became a favorite of Pharaoh's court. He was permitted to marry Pharaoh's sister-in-law and his son was raised with Pharaoh's. All of this signals very high honor. When David and Joab were dead, he begged leave to return to Edom. We aren't told what mischief he got into, but it gave Solomon trouble.

11:23-25 -- During David's battles with Zobah and Damascus, one of the chief officers of Hadadezer of Damascus deserted. This fellow, named Rezon ("Prince"), became a desert raider. Sometime later in Solomon's reign, he made a surprise attack on Damascus and drove out the Israeli garrison left by David. Solomon never managed to regain control and the city became a haven for caravan raiders. This threatened the tolls Solomon collected in that area.

11:26-28 -- The real threat was a member of Solomon's own court. Just after rebuilding the Millo, restoring it to its function as fortress, an Ephraimite named Jeroboam ("The People Will Contend") came to Solomon's attention as a talented man of character. He took Jeroboam into his service as overseer of public works in the House of Joseph, a nickname for the northern Ten Tribes of Israel. This position was prophesied to become King of Israel, as separate from King of Judah.

11:29-40 -- We first meet here the Prophet Ahijah of Shiloh. He made himself a new garment, then went out to meet Jeroboam on his rounds. They met in an open field and the prophet ripped his new robe into twelve pieces. Ten he gave to Jeroboam and told him what God was about to do. After Solomon passed the scepter to his son, Jeroboam was to lead a revolt. He was told specifically the reason for this: Solomon's apostasy. The prophet related the long list of sins and the various gods. He reminded Jeroboam that Jerusalem was the royal city and the Holy City. Then the Covenant of Kings was offered to him: if Jeroboam would be faithful, his reign would be secure and his dynasty could last forever. Further, the House of David would remain too weak to attack him. Solomon got wind of this and sought to execute his officer. He, too, fled to Egypt and took refuge with Pharaoh Shishak.

11:41-43 -- The scribe mentions the Chronicles of Solomon, no doubt a source for our 1 and 2 Chronicles. His reign is noted to have lasted forty years, with another two years at the start as co-regent with is father. His heir was Rehoboam ("The People Are Enlarged").

12:1-5 -- The year was approximately 931 BC. Our parallel passage is 2 Chronicles 10-11:4. The coronation was to be held at Shechem in Ephraim, the one city that had been allied to Israel from before the Conquest. Just before the ceremony, the elders of Israel called Jeroboam up from Egypt. In his office as Chief of Public Works over the Ten Tribes, he had formed a strong bond of leadership. He was their representative to present their complaint to Rehoboam. Before crowning him, they demanded to know if he would lighten the painful load of his father Solomon. With such a promise, the coronation would go off without a hitch. Rehoboam decided to consult with his advisers and promised an answer in three days.

12:6-11 -- The elder statesmen from his father's court advised him Jeroboam was right, that Solomon had been altogether excessive in his taxation. They told him his task as king was to serve the people, not the other way around. Rehoboam didn't like the sound of that and discussed it with his peers. They advised him to act the mighty king and arrogantly tell Jeroboam they had seen nothing yet. Solomon had been pretty light compared to Rehoboam's plans.

12:12-15 -- Deeply bitten with the arrogance of his father, Rehoboam told them to stop whining and get ready to work even harder. His tone was distinctly abusive and contemptuous. His father's rule was likened to a plain whip of leather straps, typically used judiciously on horses and the like merely to urge them on. The "scorpion" had metal studs in the straps and was used to discipline slaves. This was deeply insulting. The scribe reminds us this was what God had foretold.

12:16-20 -- In reply, the elders of Israel raised the old chant, rejecting the House of David as their ruler, as they had once before. The resounding refrain, "every man to his tent" was the same rejection David had faced more than once. It was a signal to go home; stop serving this man and let him take care of himself. As if the division had not previously been bad enough, from here on we must keep in mind a sharp division: "Israel" is the Northern Tribes and "Judah" the Southern.

We need not envision everyone suddenly turning and walking away. The two groups would have been camping out, assuredly in separate areas. During the aftermath, before departing Shechem, Rehoboam called out Adoram to go and present a demand for the next corvée for work. When he got to the camp of the elders of Israel, he was stoned to death. On seeing this, Rehoboam realized the seriousness of things. He mounted his chariot and fled to Jerusalem.

12:21-24 -- Upon gaining the safety of the City, Rehoboam called out the troops. We are told the troops of Benjamin joined them, which leaves Jeroboam with nine tribes, to be precise, but the term Ten Tribes remains symbolic of Israel. While preparations were under way, a prophet named Shemaiah brought a message from God that this was His doing and He would not bless any battles with their brethren to the north. They obeyed and called off the attack.

12:25-33 -- However, Jeroboam wasted no time in defying Jehovah. First, he fortified Shechem as his capital. He also went across the Jordan and fortified Penuel. Next, to prevent the hearts of Israel from longing for the Temple in Jerusalem, he built two rival temples. The first was at Bethel, a mere 12 miles north of Jerusalem. The other was far to the north at Dan. The problem was that he chose the old pre-Mosaic motif of golden calves. While it is widely understood folks did not worship the calves, but used them as symbolic mounts for their invisible God, this was clearly a departure from God's revealed will. Forever after, this would gain Jeroboam the nickname of "he who made Israel sin."

He also built numerous shrines throughout the land. Then, with all the Levites now tied to Solomon's Temple, he ordained priests from every tribe. There was now no reason at all for his people to travel to Jerusalem for worship. Then, to top it off, he made a celebration to rival the Feast of Tabernacles. Tabernacles was in early October and signaled the beginning of plowing season. Jeroboam moved his version to the end of October, during grain planting and the early rains.

Thus, we come to the end of era normally called the United Monarchy. This next period is, obviously, the Divided Monarchy.

Ed Hurst
08 October 2004, revised 07 February 2016

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: People of honor need no copyright laws; they are only too happy to give credit where credit is due. Others will ignore copyright laws whenever they please. If you are of the latter, please note what Moses said about dishonorable behavior -- "be sure your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23)