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Chapter V. Solomon.

The chronicler's history of Solomon is constructed on the same principles as that of David, and for similar reasons. The builder of the first Temple commanded the grateful reverence of a community whose national and religious life centred in the second Temple. While the Davidic king became the symbol of the hope of Israel, the Jews could not forget that this symbol derived much of its significance from the widespread dominion and royal magnificence of Solomon. The chronicler, indeed, attributes great splendour to the court of David, and ascribes to him a lion's share in the Temple itself. He provided his successor with treasure and materials and even the complete plans, so that on the principle, “Qui facit per alium, facit per se,” David might have been credited with the actual building. Solomon was almost in the position of a modern engineer who puts together a steamer that has been built in sections. But, with all these limitations, the clear and obvious fact remained that Solomon actually built and dedicated the Temple. Moreover, the memory of his wealth and grandeur kept a firm hold on the popular imagination; and these conspicuous blessings were received as certain tokens of the favour of Jehovah.

[pg 170]

Solomon's fame, however, was threefold: he was not only the Divinely appointed builder of the Temple and, by the same Divine grace, the richest and most powerful king of Israel: he had also received from Jehovah the gift of “wisdom and knowledge.” In his royal splendour and his sacred buildings he only differed in degree from other kings; but in his wisdom he stood alone, not only without equal, but almost without competitor. Herein he was under no obligation to his father, and the glory of Solomon could not be diminished by representing that he had been anticipated by David. Hence the name of Solomon came to symbolise Hebrew learning and philosophy.

In religious significance, however, Solomon cannot rank with David. The dynasty of Judah could have only one representative, and the founder and eponym of the royal house was the most important figure for the subsequent theology. The interest that later generations felt in Solomon lay apart from the main line of Jewish orthodoxy, and he is never mentioned by the prophets.194

Moreover, the darker aspects of Solomon's reign made more impression upon succeeding generations than even David's sins and misfortunes. Occasional lapses into vice and cruelty might be forgiven or even forgotten; but the systematic oppression of Solomon rankled for long generations in the hearts of the people, and the prophets always remembered his wanton idolatry. His memory was further discredited by the disasters which marked the close of his own reign and the beginning of Rehoboam's. Centuries later these [pg 171] feelings still prevailed. The prophets who adapted the Mosaic law for the closing period of the monarchy exhort the king to take warning by Solomon, and to multiply neither horses, nor wives, nor gold and silver.195

But as time went on Judah fell into growing poverty and distress, which came to a head in the Captivity, and were renewed with the Restoration. The Jews were willing to forget Solomon's faults in order that they might indulge in fond recollections of the material prosperity of his reign. Their experience of the culture of Babylon led them to feel greater interest and pride in his wisdom, and the figure of Solomon began to assume a mysterious grandeur, which has since become the nucleus for Jewish and Mohammedan legends. The chief monument of his fame in Jewish literature is the book of Proverbs, but his growing reputation is shown by the numerous Biblical and apocryphal works ascribed to him. His name was no doubt attached to Canticles because of a feature in his character which the chronicler ignores. His supposed authorship of Ecclesiastes and of the Wisdom of Solomon testifies to the fame of his wisdom, while the titles of the “Psalms of Solomon” and even of some canonical psalms credit him with spiritual feeling and poetic power.196

When the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach proposes to “praise famous men,” it dwells upon Solomon's temple and his wealth, and especially upon his wisdom; but it does not forget his failings.197 Josephus celebrates his glory at great length. The New Testament has comparatively few notices of Solomon; but these include [pg 172] references to his wisdom,198 his splendour,199 and his temple.200 The Koran, however, far surpasses the New Testament in its interest in Solomon; and his name and his seal play a leading part in Jewish and Arabian magic. The bulk of this literature is later than the chronicler, but the renewed interest in the glory of Solomon must have begun before his time. Perhaps, by connecting the building of the Temple as far as possible with David, the chronicler marks his sense of Solomon's unworthiness. On the other hand, there were many reasons why he should welcome the aid of popular sentiment to enable him to include Solomon among the ideal Hebrew kings. After all, Solomon had built and dedicated the Temple; he was the “pious founder,” and the beneficiaries of the foundation would wish to make the most of his piety. “Jehovah” had “magnified Solomon exceedingly in the sight of all Israel, and bestowed upon him such royal majesty as had not been on any king before him in Israel.”201 “King Solomon exceeded all the kings of the earth in riches and wisdom; and all the kings of the earth sought the presence of Solomon, to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart.”202 The chronicler would naturally wish to set forth the better side of Solomon's character as an ideal of royal wisdom and splendour, devoted to the service of the sanctuary. Let us briefly compare Chronicles and Kings to see how he accomplished his purpose.

The structure of the narrative in Kings rendered the task comparatively easy: it could be accomplished by removing the opening and closing sections and making [pg 173] a few minor changes in the intermediate portion. The opening section is the sequel to the conclusion of David's reign; the chronicler omitted this conclusion, and therefore also its sequel. But the contents of this section were objectionable in themselves. Solomon's admirers willingly forget that his reign was inaugurated by the execution of Shimei, of his brother Adonijah, and of his father's faithful minister Joab, and by the deposition of the high-priest Abiathar. The chronicler narrates with evident approval the strong measures of Ezra and Nehemiah against foreign marriages, and he is therefore not anxious to remind his readers that Solomon married Pharaoh's daughter. He does not, however, carry out his plan consistently. Elsewhere he wishes to emphasise the sanctity of the Ark and tells us that “Solomon brought up the daughter of Pharaoh out of the city of David unto the house that he had built for her, for he said, My wife shall not dwell in the house of David, king of Israel, because the places are holy whereunto the ark of the Lord hath come.”203

In Kings the history of Solomon closes with a long account of his numerous wives and concubines, his idolatry and consequent misfortunes. All this is omitted by the chronicler; but later on, with his usual inconsistency, he allows Nehemiah to point the moral of a tale he has left untold: “Did not Solomon, king of Israel, sin by these things?... Even him did strange women cause to sin.”204 In the intervening section he omits the famous judgment of Solomon, probably on account of the character of the women concerned. He introduces sundry changes which naturally follow from his belief that the Levitical law was then [pg 174] in force.205 His feeling for the dignity of the chosen people and their king comes out rather curiously in two minor alterations. Both authorities agree in telling us that Solomon had recourse to forced labour for his building operations; in fact, after the usual Eastern fashion from the Pyramids down to the Suez Canal, Solomon's temple and palaces were built by the corvée. According to the oldest narrative, he “raised a levy out of all Israel.”206 This suggests that forced labour was exacted from the Israelites themselves, and it would help to account for Jeroboam's successful rebellion. The chronicler omits this statement as open to an interpretation derogatory to the dignity of the chosen people, and not only inserts a later explanation which he found in the book of Kings, but also another express statement that Solomon raised his levy of the “strangers that were in the land of Israel.”207 These statements may have been partly suggested by the existence of a class of Temple slaves called Solomon's servants.

The other instance relates to Solomon's alliance with Hiram, king of Tyre. In the book of Kings we are told that “Solomon gave Hiram twenty cities in the land of Galilee.”208 There were indeed redeeming features connected with the transaction; the cities were not a very valuable possession for Hiram: “they pleased him not”; yet he “sent to the King six score talents of gold.” However, it seemed incredible to the chronicler that the most powerful and wealthy of the kings of [pg 175] Israel should either cede or sell any portion of Jehovah's inheritance. He emends the text of his authority so as to convert it into a casual reference to certain cities which Hiram had given to Solomon.209

We will now reproduce the story of Solomon as given by the chronicler. Solomon was the youngest of four sons born to David at Jerusalem by Bath-shua, the daughter of Ammiel. Besides these three brothers, he had at least six other elder brothers. As in the cases of Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and David himself, the birthright fell to a younger son. In the prophetic utterance which foretold his birth, he was designated to succeed to his father's throne and to build the Temple. At the great assembly which closed his father's reign he received instructions as to the plans and services of the Temple,210 and was exhorted to discharge his duties faithfully. He was declared king according to the Divine choice, freely accepted by David and ratified by popular acclamation. At David's death no one disputed his succession to the throne: “All Israel obeyed him; and all the princes and the mighty men and all the sons likewise of King David submitted themselves unto Solomon the king.”211

His first act after his accession was to sacrifice before the brazen altar of the ancient Tabernacle at Gibeon. That night God appeared unto him “and said unto him, Ask what I shall give thee.” Solomon chose wisdom and knowledge to qualify him for the arduous task of government. Having thus “sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” all other things—“riches, wealth, and honour”—were added unto him.212

He returned to Jerusalem, gathered a great array of [pg 176] chariots and horses by means of traffic with Egypt, and accumulated great wealth, so that silver, and gold, and cedars became abundant at Jerusalem.213

He next proceeded with the building of the Temple, collected workmen, obtained timber from Lebanon and an artificer from Tyre. The Temple was duly erected and dedicated, the king taking the chief and most conspicuous part in all the proceedings. Special reference, however, is made to the presence of the priests and Levites at the dedication. On this occasion the ministry of the sanctuary was not confined to the course whose turn it was to officiate, but “all the priests that were present had sanctified themselves and did not keep their courses; also the Levites, which were the singers, all of them, even Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun, and their sons and their brethren, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, and psalteries, and harps, stood at the east end of the altar, and with them a hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets.”214

Solomon's dedication prayer concludes with special petitions for the priests, the saints, and the king: “Now therefore arise, O Jehovah Elohim, into Thy resting-place, Thou and the ark of Thy strength; let Thy priests, O Jehovah Elohim, be clothed with salvation, and let Thy saints rejoice in goodness. O Jehovah Elohim, turn not away the face of Thine anointed; remember the mercies of David Thy servant.”215

When David sacrificed at the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite, the place had been indicated as the site of the future Temple by the descent of fire from heaven; and now, in token that the mercy shown to [pg 177] David should be continued to Solomon, the fire again fell from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of Jehovah “filled the house of Jehovah,”216 as it had done earlier in the day, when the Ark was brought into the Temple. Solomon concluded the opening ceremonies by a great festival: for eight days the Feast of Tabernacles was observed according to the Levitical law, and seven days more were specially devoted to a dedication feast.217

Afterwards Jehovah appeared again to Solomon, as He had before at Gibeon, and told him that this prayer was accepted. Taking up the several petitions that the king had offered, He promised, “If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I send pestilence among My people; if My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. Now Mine eyes shall be open, and Mine ears attent, unto the prayer that is made in this place.” Thus Jehovah, in His gracious condescension, adopts Solomon's own words218 to express His answer to the prayer. He allows Solomon to dictate the terms of the agreement, and merely appends His signature and seal.

Besides the Temple, Solomon built palaces for himself and his wife, and fortified many cities, among the rest Hamath-zobah, formerly allied to David.219 He also organised the people for civil and military purposes.

[pg 178]

As far as the account of his reign is concerned, the Solomon of Chronicles appears as “the husband of one wife”; and that wife is the daughter of Pharaoh. A second, however, is mentioned later on as the mother of Rehoboam; she too was a “strange woman,” an Ammonitess, Naamah by name.

Meanwhile Solomon was careful to maintain all the sacrifices and festivals ordained in the Levitical law, and all the musical and other arrangements for the sanctuary commanded by David, the man of God.220

We read next of his commerce by sea and land, his great wealth and wisdom, and the romantic visit of the queen of Sheba.221

And so the story of Solomon closes with this picture of royal state,—

The wealth of Ormus and of Ind, Or where the gorgeous East with richest hand Showers on her kings barbaric pearl and gold.

Wealth was combined with imperial power and Divine wisdom. Here, as in the case of Plato's own pupils Dionysius and Dion of Syracuse, Plato's dream came true; the prince was a philosopher, and the philosopher a prince.

At first sight it seems as if this marriage of authority and wisdom had happier issue at Jerusalem than at Syracuse. Solomon's history closes as brilliantly as David's, and Solomon was subject to no Satanic possession and brought no pestilence upon Israel. But testimonials are chiefly significant in what they omit; and when we compare the conclusions of the histories of David and Solomon, we note suggestive differences.

[pg 179]

Solomon's life does not close with any scene in which his people and his heir assemble to do him honour and to receive his last injunctions. There are no “last words” of the wise king; and it is not said of him that “he died in a good old age, full of days, riches, and honour.” “Solomon slept with his fathers, and he was buried in the city of David his father; and Rehoboam his son reigned in his stead”222: that is all. When the chronicler, the professed panegyrist of the house of David, brings his narrative of this great reign to so lame and impotent a conclusion, he really implies as severe a condemnation upon Solomon as the book of Kings does by its narrative of his sins.

Thus the Solomon of Chronicles shows the same piety and devotion to the Temple and its ritual which were shown by his father. His prayer at the dedication of the Temple is parallel to similar utterances of David. Instead of being a general and a soldier, he is a scholar and a philosopher. He succeeded to the administrative abilities of his father; and his prayer displays a deep interest in the welfare of his subjects. His record—in Chronicles—is even more faultless than that of David. And yet the careful student with nothing but Chronicles, even without Ezra and Nehemiah, might somehow get the impression that the story of Solomon, like that of Cambuscan, had been “left half told.” In addition to the points suggested by a comparison with the history of David, there is a certain abruptness about its conclusion. The last fact noted of Solomon, before the formal statistics about “the rest of his acts” and the years of his reign, is that horses were brought for him “out of Egypt and out of all lands.” Elsewhere [pg 180] the chronicler's use of his materials shows a feeling for dramatic effect. We should not have expected him to close the history of a great reign by a reference to the king's trade in horses.223

Perhaps we are apt to read into Chronicles what we know from the book of Kings; yet surely this abrupt conclusion would have raised a suspicion that there were omissions, that facts had been suppressed because they could not bear the light. Upon the splendid figure of the great king, with his wealth and wisdom, his piety and devotion, rests the vague shadow of unnamed sins and unrecorded misfortunes. A suggestion of unhallowed mystery attaches itself to the name of the builder of the Temple, and Solomon is already on the way to become the Master of the Genii and the chief of magicians.224

[pg 181]


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