Solomon succeeded David, his father, as king of Israel. Solomon's rise met with widespread approval from the people, but David's officials were slow to accept the new king. They did warm up considerable, however, when they realized David was determined to anoint Solomon as his heir. Solomon became Israel's king because GOD had told David that Sauls heirs would not follow him to the throne. Thus, Solomon became king although there was no clear precedent for his succession.
According to the chronology in I Kings 11:42, Solomon was about 20 years old when he was crowned. He assumed leadership of Israel at a time of great material and spiritual prosperity. During his 40-year reign (970-930 B.C.), he expanded his kingdom until it covered about 50,000 square miles - from Egypt in the south to Syria in the north to the borders of Mesopotamia in the east.
Great Beginnings: One of the first things Solomon did as king was to go to Gibeon to offer sacrifices to the LORD. GOD appeared to the new king at night and asked him, "What shall I give thee?" Solomon asked for an understanding heart to judge the people of Israel and the ability to tell good from evil. GOD not only granted Solomon's request, but He also promised him riches and honor if he would walk in the steps of his father, David (I Kings 3:4-15).
Solomon organized Israel much as David had done, but he enlarged and expanded its government. He divided the country into 12 districts, each of which was responsible for providing the court with regular supplies, with a supply officer in charge of each district. As the years passed, Solomon's court reached a standard of luxury that had never existed in Israel's history.
Wisdom: Solomon is usually remembered as a wise man. His Proverbs and his "Song of Songs" demonstrate his deep knowledge of the natural world (plants, animals, etc). He also had a profound knowledge of human nature, as demonstrated by the two women who claimed the same child. His suggestion that the child be physically divided between the two was a masterful strategy for finding out who was the real mother (I Kings 3:16-28). Solomon's concern with the ethics of everyday life is evident in his Proverbs. They show that Solomon loved wisdom and was always trying to teach it to others. They also indicate he was a keen observer who could learn from the mistakes of others.
Solomon's sayings in these Proverbs are so true that they sound almost trite today. Their clarity sometimes hides their depth. During his lifetime, Solomon's fame as a man of wisdom spread to surrounding lands, and leaders came from afar to hear him speak. When the Queen of Sheba came to test his wisdom, he answered all her questions with ease. After she saw the extent of his empire and the vastness of his knowledge, she confessed that she had underestimated him (II Chron. 9:1-12).
Solomon's Temple: One of Solomon's first major feats was the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem as a place for worship of the GOD of Israel. The task was enormous, involving much planning and many workmen. A work force of 30,000 was employed in cutting timber from the cedars of Lebanon. Also working on this massive project were 70,000 ordinary workmen, and many superintendents. Gold, silver, and other precious metals were imported from other lands. Hiram, king of Tyre, sent architects and other craftsmen to assist with the project. The building was completed after seven years. The Temple was famous not for its size - since it was relatively small - but for the quality of its elaborate workmanship (I Kings 6-7).
After the Temple was completed, Solomon planned an elaborate program of dedication. he invited the leaders of all twelve tribes to attend as he presided over the ceremony. The Ark of the Covenant was brought into the most sacred place in the Temple as a cloud filled the room to hide GOD's presence. King Solomon then blessed the crowd, recounted the history of the building of the Temple, and offered long prayers of dedication while standing at the altar. This reveals the admirable spirit of devotion in Solomon's heart. The dedication ceremony lasting seven days was followed by observance of the Feast of Taberacles (I Kings 8-9).
Immediately after the dedication, the LORD appeared to Solomon once again. He assured the king that his prayers had been heard and that the Temple had been blessed. He also warned Solomon that the divine favor and protection which had been bestowed upon Israel would continue only if their faith remained uncorrupted by other beliefs. If idolatry should be introduced, Israel would be punished and the Temple would be destroyed (I Kings 9:1-9).
Other Buildings: After completing the Temple, Solomon built the palace complex, a series of five structures that took 13 years to complete. He also built many cities to assist the development of his trade empire. Among these were Tadmor (also called Palmyra) and Baalath (also called Baalbek) in Syria. To protect his kingdom, he built fortresses and lodgings for his army. These fortifications, especially the ones at Gezer, Megiddo, and Hazor, had strong double walls and massive gateways.
Commercial Enterprises: Trade with other nations was another of Solomon's contributions to the nation of Israel. The international situation was favorable for a strong leader to emerge in Palestine; traditional centers of strength in Egypt and Syria were at an all-time low. Solomon entered into trade agreements with a number of nations, increasing Israel's wealth and prestige.
Although Solomon had a strong army, he relied upon a system of treaties with his neighbors to keep the peace. Egypt was allied with Israel through the marriage of Solomon to the daughter of the Pharaoh. The sea-faring cities of Tyre and Sidon were also united to Israel by trade agreements.
Some of Israel's trade was conducted overland by way of camel caravans. But the most significant trade was by sea across the Mediterranean Sea through an alliance with Tyre. Solomon's ships apparently went as far west as Spain to bring back silver. Archaeologists have discovered an old mine in ancient Ethiopia that is believed to have been one of Solomon's sources of silver.
Soon Solomon became the ruler of a huge commercial empire. Archaeologists believe that Solomon's trading may have brought him into conflict with the Queen of Sheba. One purpose of her famous visit to Solomon may have been to establish trade agreements between Solomon's kingdom and her own nation (I Kings 10:1-13).
Solomon's Sins: Solomon's reign brought changes not only to Israel but also to his own life. Near the end of his life, the king lost the ideals of his youth, becoming restless and unsatisfied. His writings in Ecclesiastes, proclaiming that "all is vanity," support the view that the world's wisest man had become a pathetic figure in his old age.
Solomon's greatest sin was his loss of devotion to the GOD of the Hebrew people. In this, he fell victim to his own trade agreements. By custom, beautiful women were awarded to the most powerful member of a treaty to seal the covenant. The constant influx of wives and concubines in Solomon's court led eventually to his downfall. Thus, Solomon broke the Mosaic Law and violated the warning not to stray from the path of his father David.
The large number of foreign women in Solomon's court made many demands upon the king. He allowed these "outsiders" to practice their pagan religions. The result was that Jerusalem, and even its holy Temple, was the scene of pagn practices and idol worship (I Kings 11:1-13). Solomon's own faith was weakened. Eventually he approved of, and even participated in, these idolatrous acts. The example he set for the rest of the nation must have been demoralizing. This unfortunate error was a severe blow to the security of Solomon's throne and to the nation he had built.
The End of Solomon's Throne: Years before Solomon's death, his heavy taxation of the people brought unrest and rebellion. Surrounding nations began to marshal their forces to free themselves of Israel's tyranny, but the most serious uprising came from within the nation itself. Jeroboam, a young leader who had the support of Egypt, led ten of the twelve tribes out of Israel to the North. When Solomon's son Rehoboam ascended the throne after his father, Jeroboam returned to lead a successful civil war against him. The result was a division of Solomon's United Kingdom into two separate nations - the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel.
Solomon's Character: In many ways, Solomon's 40-year reign as king of the Hebrew people is a puzzle. In his early years he was both noble and humble - undoubtedly one of the best rulers of his day. Although he was surrounded by wealth and luxury as a young man, he seemed to be a person of honor and integrity. he was the first king in Israel who was the son of a king. The glory of his empire was a reflection of his own royal tastes, which he satisfied through a shrewd and succesful foreign policy.
Unfortunately, Solomon was not strong enough to withstand the temptations that go along with a long life of luxury. His contribution to the nation of Israel is figured largely in material terms. He made Jerusalem one of the most beautiful cities of the ancient world, and he will always be remembered as a great builder. The tragedy is that after the building of the Temple, Solomon did very little to promote the religious life of his people.
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