SOLOMON AND THE PROMISES (I KI. 1-11; IDB)
“So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong” (I Kin. 3:9). King David’s dream was to build a house for the Lord – a permanent place where the Law was to be preserved and God’s Mandate to be kept. Samuel was sent to tell David that this was given to his son, “He is the one who will build a house for my Name”(II Sam. 7:13). Now the king and the Lord were to have costly places. A tragic shift was taking place, namely, God was no longer king and the Law was being moved from the hearts of the people into a Temple. Solomon was that great builder of his father David the architect. Solomon was placed into the huge shoes of his father David. More correctly, he was the man who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His mother Bathsheba traded her love for a kingdom and then handed it to Solomon on a silver platter. It was David’s most costly love affair and the cause of all his troubles in his family and the fall of Israel.
King Solomon began to walk in his father’s footsteps and had a great beginning; but, after he had completed David’s instructions, he began to undo what his father had built. David had united the Israelites and Solomon indebted them to the point that upon his death the nation was ready to fall apart. Unfortunately for the heirs of Solomon’s indebtedness, his children were not able to cope with their father’s spending spree. Prior to asking God for wisdom, Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh, king of Egypt, by marrying his daughter. We do need to remember that this was the archenemy of Israel. In addition, Israel’s new king offered sacrifices and burned offerings on the high places. The historian’s mild objection to Solomon’s behavior was excused by his loyalty to his father’s statues. It was at the sacrifice of Gibeon that God appeared to Solomon in a dream and said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
The request that Solomon made unselfishly was patterned after his father David, who was “faithful to you (God) and righteous and upright in heart.” His wish was, “Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a child and do not know how to carry out my task. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” The Lord was pleased with the young king’s request and responded generously, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have you asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for – both riches and honor – so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you long life”(I Kin. 3:1-15).
When Solomon awoke from his dream and began to hear and judge cases, it became apparent that he had been endowed with rare and unusual wisdom. From his mouth came three thousand proverbs, over a thousand songs and insight into a multitude of things. In brief, Solomon became a world attraction. With his wisdom grew his material blessings. His four thousand stalls for chariots and twelve thousand horses were only a small portion of his wealth. He divided the country into districts and placed officers in charge and he had twelve governors overseeing and managing the affairs of his own court. We are not told how many people were in Solomon’s service, except that there were over one hundred thousand conscripted non-Israelites building the Temple and it took seven years to complete it. And there were 550 Israelis supervising his building projects alone. After the Temple was finished, the king spent thirteen years on building his palace, court and stables. He also built a palace for Pharaoh’s daughter and a navy (I Kin. 4-9).
Everything that king Solomon did was elaborate. To Hiram, king of Tyre, he gave twenty cities in Galilee for building material. These places were part of the Promises and not his to give away. For the dedication of the Temple, the king sacrificed 20,000 cattle and 120,000 sheep and goats. This did not include the burnt offerings, grain offerings and fat offerings. What is staggering to a modern reader is the fact that Solomon turned a simple desert faith into an elaborate and costly religious ritual. Three times a year, he personally sacrificed elaborately to God (I Kin. 8-9). The historian, of course, did not stress Solomon’s costly administration but his religious contributions. When the Ark of the Covenant was brought into the Temple and placed in the most inner court, the Glory of the Lord filled the Temple in the form of a dark cloud. Solomon prayed and spoke the most beautiful words anyone could speak. In person, he led the people in dedication and commitment to God. And God appeared to the king a second time, promising lasting blessings upon the Conditions of the Covenant made with his fathers.
In this dream, the Lord said, “I have heard the prayer and plea you have made before me; I have consecrated this Temple which you have built and by putting my Name there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there. As for you, if you walk before me in integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, ‘You shall never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.’ But if you or your sons turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and I will reject this Temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. And though this Temple is now imposing, all those who pass by will be appalled and will scoff and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this Temple?’ People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the Lord their God, who brought their fathers out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshipping and serving them – that is why the Lord brought all this disaster on them'”(I Kin. 9:1-9).
It did not take long before Solomon turned away from the Lord God. He loved foreign women – about one thousand, and many induced the king to worship their gods. He built high places and shrines for their gods and led his people astray. According to the historian, Solomon set a precedent for most of his descendants, namely, “So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.” God became angry with David’s son and declared, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my Covenant and my Decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen” (I Kin. 11:1-13).
Solomon became in Israel what no one else would ever be. He is being remembered for his belief in his father’s God and his many sayings, songs and marvelous prayers. Much of it may have come from his heart and mind before he turned away from God’s Promises to be faithful to the conditions set before him by his God. Much of the advice he gives reflects a period in his life when he realized that he had fallen away from what was essential to pleasing the God of his fathers. There is not doubt that he did wake up from the reality that he had build a materialistic monarchy and a religious system that his successors could never afford to maintain. A man by the name of Jeroboam reminded him that they could not even keep up the structures he had erected or continue the sacrifices he instituted. To mind came the kings and their achievements that crumbled in time before he built his. His too was bound to fail because he had not taken into account the cost. He gave his children a monarchy that could not fit into God’s promises. What he sowed could never be harvested. It all became vain and passive. He looked back on what he had done and declared, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What does a man profit from all his labor and his toils under the sun. Generations come and go, only the earth remains for ever.” “Is there anything of what one can say, ‘Look! This is something new (I have done)? It was here already, long ago. It was here before our time. There is no remembrance of men who preceded or of those that follow after.” “I have seen many things that are done under the sun and all are meaningless, chasing after the air.” “What we twist cannot be straightened, what we lack cannot be filled.” “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more we know, the more we grieve”(Ecc. 1). Grieves are regrets that cannot be changed. Solomon took them to the grave with him and so do we all. Men who become great in name leave little behind.