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Chapter VI. Solomon (continued).
When we turn to consider the spiritual significance of this ideal picture of the history and character of Solomon, we are confronted by a difficulty that attends the exposition of any ideal history. An author's ideal of kingship in the early stages of literature is usually as much one and indivisible as his ideal of priesthood, of the office of the prophet, and of the wicked king. His authorities may record different incidents in connection with each individual; but he emphasises those which correspond with his ideal, or even anticipates the higher criticism by constructing incidents which seem required by the character and circumstances of his heroes. On the other hand, where the priest, or the prophet, or the king departs from the ideal, the incidents are minimised or passed over in silence. There will still be a certain variety because different individuals may present different elements of the ideal, and the chronicler does not insist on each of his good kings possessing all the characteristics of royal perfection. Still the tendency of the process is to make all the good kings alike. It would be monotonous to take each of them separately and deduce the lessons taught by their virtues, because the chronicler's intention is that [pg 182] they shall all teach the same lessons by the same kind of behaviour described from the same point of view. David has a unique position, and has to be taken by himself; but in considering the features that must be added to the picture of David in order to complete the picture of the good king, it is convenient to group Solomon with the reforming kings of Judah. We shall therefore defer for more consecutive treatment the chronicler's account of their general characters and careers. Here we shall merely gather up the suggestions of the different narratives as to the chronicler's ideal Hebrew king.
The leading points have already been indicated from the chronicler's history of David. The first and most indispensable feature is devotion to the temple at Jerusalem and the ritual of the Pentateuch. This has been abundantly illustrated from the account of Solomon. Taking the reforming kings in their order:—
Asa removed the high places which were rivals of the Temple,225 renewed the altar of Jehovah, gathered the people together for a great sacrifice,226 and made munificent donations to the Temple treasury.227
Joash repaired the Temple230; but, curiously enough, though Jehoram had restored the high places231 and Joash was acting under the direction of the high-priest [pg 183] Jehoiada, it is not stated that the high places were done away with. This is one of the chronicler's rather numerous oversights. Perhaps, however, he expected that so obvious a reform would be taken for granted.
Amaziah was careful to observe “the law in the book of Moses” that “the children should not die for the fathers,”232 but Amaziah soon turned away from following Jehovah. This is perhaps the reason why in his case also nothing is said about doing away with the high places.
Hezekiah had a special opportunity of showing his devotion to the Temple and the Law. The Temple had been polluted and closed by Ahaz, and its services discontinued. Hezekiah purified the Temple, reinstated the priests and Levites, and renewed the services; he made arrangements for the payment of the Temple revenues according to the provisions of the Levitical law, and took away the high places. He also held a reopening festival and a passover with numerous sacrifices.233
Manasseh's repentance is indicated by the restoration of the Temple ritual.234
Josiah took away the high places, repaired the Temple, made the people enter into a covenant to observe the rediscovered Law, and, like Hezekiah, held a great passover.235
The reforming kings, like David and Solomon, are specially interested in the music of the Temple and in [pg 184] all the arrangements that have to do with the porters and doorkeepers and other classes of Levites. Their enthusiasm for the exclusive rights of the one Temple symbolises their loyalty to the one God, Jehovah, and their hatred of idolatry.
Zeal for Jehovah and His temple is still combined with uncompromising assertion of the royal supremacy in matters of religion. The king, and not the priest, is the highest spiritual authority in the nation. Solomon, Hezekiah, and Josiah control the arrangements for public worship as completely as Moses or David. Solomon receives Divine communications without the intervention of either priest or prophet; he himself offers the great dedication prayer, and when he makes an end of praying, fire comes down from heaven. Under Hezekiah the civil authorities decide when the passover shall be observed: “For the king had taken counsel, and his princes, and all the congregation in Jerusalem, to keep the passover in the second month.”236 The great reforms of Josiah are throughout initiated and controlled by the king. He himself goes up to the Temple and reads in the ears of the people all the words of the book of the covenant that was found in the house of Jehovah. The chronicler still adheres to the primitive idea of the theocracy, according to which the chief, or judge, or king is the representative of Jehovah.
The title to the crown rests throughout on the grace of God and the will of the people. In Judah, however, the principle of hereditary succession prevails throughout. Athaliah is not really an exception: she reigned as the widow of a Davidic king. The double election [pg 185] of David by Jehovah and by Israel carried with it the election of his dynasty. The permanent rule of the house of David was secured by the Divine promise to its founder. Yet the title is not allowed to rest on mere hereditary right. Divine choice and popular recognition are recorded in the case of Solomon and other kings. “All Israel came to Shechem to make Rehoboam king,” and yet revolted from him when he refused to accept their conditions; but the obstinacy which caused the disruption “was brought about of God, that Jehovah might establish His word which He spake by the hand of Ahijah the Shilonite.”
Ahaziah, Joash, Uzziah, Josiah, Jehoahaz, were all set upon the throne by the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.237 After Solomon the Divine appointment of kings is not expressly mentioned; Jehovah's control over the tenure of the throne is chiefly shown by the removal of unworthy occupants.
It is interesting to note that the chronicler does not hesitate to record that of the last three sovereigns of Judah two were appointed by foreign kings: Jehoiakim was the nominee of Pharaoh Neco, king of Egypt; and the last king of all, Zedekiah, was appointed by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. In like manner, the Herods, the last rulers of the restored kingdom of Judah, were the nominees of the Roman emperors. Such nominations forcibly illustrate the degradations and ruin of the theocratic monarchy. But yet, according to the teaching of the prophets, Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar were tools in the hand of Jehovah; and their nomination was still an indirect Divine appointment. In the chronicler's time, however, Judah was [pg 186] thoroughly accustomed to receive her governors from a Persian or Greek king; and Jewish readers would not be scandalised by a similar state of affairs in the closing years of the earlier kingdom.
Thus the reforming kings illustrate the ideal kingship set forth in the history of David and Solomon: the royal authority originates in, and is controlled by, the will of God and the consent of the people; the king's highest duty is the maintenance of the worship of Jehovah; but the king and people are supreme both in Church and state.
The personal character of the good kings is also very similar to that of David and Solomon. Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah are men of spiritual feeling as well as careful observers of correct ritual. None of the good kings, with the exception of Joash and Josiah, are unsuccessful in war; and good reasons are given for the exceptions. They all display administrative ability by their buildings, the organisation of the Temple services and the army, and the arrangements for the collection of the revenue, especially the dues of the priests and Levites.
There is nothing, however, to indicate that the personal charm of David's character was inherited by his descendants; but when biography is made merely a means of edification, it often loses those touches of nature which make the whole world kin, and are capable of exciting either admiration or disgust.
The later narrative affords another illustration of the absence of any sentiment of humanity towards enemies. As in the case of David, the chronicler records the cruelty of a good king as if it were quite consistent with loyalty to Jehovah. Before he turned away from following Jehovah, Amariah defeated the Edomites and [pg 187] smote ten thousand of them. Others were treated like some of the Malagasy martyrs: “And other ten thousand did the children of Judah carry away alive, and brought them unto the top of the rock, and cast them down from the top of the rock, that they all were broken in pieces.”238 In this case, however, the chronicler is not simply reproducing Kings: he has taken the trouble to supplement his main authority from some other source, probably local tradition. His insertion of this verse is another testimony to the undying hatred of Israel for Edom.
But in one respect the reforming kings are sharply distinguished from David and Solomon. The record of their lives is by no means blameless, and their sins are visited by condign chastisement. They all, with the single exception of Jotham, come to a bad end. Asa consulted physicians, and was punished by being allowed to die of a painful disease.239 The last event of Jehoshaphat's life was the ruin of the navy, which he had built in unholy alliance with Ahaziah, king of Israel, who did very wickedly.240 Joash murdered the prophet Zechariah, the son of the high-priest Jehoiada; his great host was routed by a small company of Syrians, and Joash himself was assassinated by his servants.241 Amaziah turned away from following Jehovah, and “brought the gods of the children of Seir, and set them up to be his gods, and bowed down himself before them, and burned incense unto them.” He was accordingly defeated by Joash, king of Israel, and assassinated by his own people.242 Uzziah insisted on exercising the priestly function of burning incense to Jehovah, and so died a leper.243 “Even Hezekiah rendered [pg 188] not again according to the benefit done unto him, for his heart was lifted up in the business of ambassadors of the princes of Babylon; therefore there was wrath upon him and upon Judah and Jerusalem. Notwithstanding Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of Jehovah came not upon them in the days of Hezekiah.” But yet the last days of Hezekiah were clouded by the thought that he was leaving the punishment of his sin as a legacy to Judah and the house of David.244 Josiah refused to heed the warning sent to him by God through the king of Egypt: “He hearkened not unto the words of Neco from the mouth of God, and came to fight in the valley of Megiddo”; and so Josiah died like Ahab: he was wounded by the archers, carried out of the battle in his chariot, and died at Jerusalem.245
The melancholy record of the misfortunes of the good kings in their closing years is also found in the book of Kings. There too Asa in his old age was diseased in his feet, Jehoshaphat's ships were wrecked, Joash and Amaziah were assassinated, Uzziah became a leper, Hezekiah was rebuked for his pride, and Josiah slain at Megiddo. But, except in the case of Hezekiah, the book of Kings says nothing about the sins which, according to Chronicles, occasioned these sufferings and catastrophes. The narrative in the book of Kings carries upon the face of it the lesson that piety is not usually rewarded with unbroken prosperity, and that a pious career does not necessarily ensure a happy deathbed. The significance of the chronicler's additions will be considered elsewhere; [pg 189] what concerns us here is his departure from the principles he observed in dealing with the lives of David and Solomon. They also sinned and suffered; but the chronicler omits their sins and sufferings, especially in the case of Solomon. Why does he pursue an opposite course with other good kings and blacken their characters by perpetuating the memory of sins not mentioned in the book of Kings, instead of confining his record to the happier incidents of their career? Many considerations may have influenced him. The violent deaths of Joash, Amaziah, and Josiah could neither be ignored nor explained away. Hezekiah's sin and repentance are closely parallel to David's in the matter of the census. Although Asa's disease, Jehoshaphat's alliance with Israel, and Uzziah's leprosy might easily have been omitted, yet, if some reformers must be allowed to remain imperfect, there was no imperative necessity to ignore the infirmities of the rest. The great advantage of the course pursued by the chronicler consisted in bringing out a clearly defined contrast between David and Solomon on the one hand and the reforming kings on the other. The piety of the latter is conformed to the chronicler's ideal; but the glory and devotion of the former are enhanced by the crimes and humiliation of the best of their successors. Hezekiah, doubtless, is not more culpable than David, but David's pride was the first of a series of events which terminated in the building of the Temple; while the uplifting of Hezekiah's heart was a precursor of its destruction. Besides, Hezekiah ought to have prompted by David's experience.
By developing this contrast, the chronicler renders the position of David and Solomon even more unique, illustrious, and full of religious significance.
Thus as illustrations of ideal kingship the accounts of the good kings of Judah are altogether subordinate to the history of David and Solomon. While these kings of Judah remain loyal to Jehovah, they further illustrate the virtues of their great predecessors by showing how these virtues might have been exercised under different circumstances: how David would have dealt with an Ethiopian invasion and what Solomon would have done if he had found the Temple desecrated and its services stopped. But no essential feature is added to the earlier pictures.
The lapses of kings who began to walk in the law of the Lord and then fell away serve as foils to the undimmed glory of David and Solomon. Abrupt transitions within the limits of the individual lives of Asa, Joash, and Amaziah bring out the contrast between piety and apostacy with startling, dramatic effect.
We return from this brief survey to consider the significance of the life of Solomon according to Chronicles. Its relation to the life of David is summed up in the name Solomon, the Prince of peace. David is the ideal king, winning by force of arms for Israel empire and victory, security at home and tribute from abroad. Utterly subdued by his prowess, the natural enemies of Israel no longer venture to disturb her tranquillity. His successor inherits wide dominion, immense wealth, and assured peace. Solomon, the Prince of peace, is the ideal king, administering a great inheritance for the glory of Jehovah and His temple. His history in Chronicles is one of unbroken calm. He has a great army and many strong fortresses, but he never has occasion to use them. He implores Jehovah to be merciful to Israel when they suffer from [pg 191] the horrors of war; but he is interceding, not for his own subjects, but for future generations. In his time—
“No war or battle's sound Was heard the world around: The idle spear and shield were high uphung; The hookèd chariot stood Unstained with hostile blood; The trumpet spake not to the armèd throng.”246
Perhaps, to use a paradox, the greatest proof of Solomon's wisdom was that he asked for wisdom. He realised at the outset of his career that a wide dominion is more easily won than governed, that to use great wealth honourably requires more skill and character than are needed to amass it. To-day the world can boast half a dozen empires surpassing not merely Israel, but even Rome, in extent of dominion; the aggregate wealth of the world is far beyond the wildest dreams of the chronicler: but still the people perish for lack of knowledge. The physical and moral foulness of modern cities taints all the culture and tarnishes all the splendour of our civilisation; classes and trades, employers and employed, maim and crush one another in blind struggles to work out a selfish salvation; newly devised organisations move their unwieldy masses—
“... like dragons of the prime That tare each other.”247
They have a giant's strength, and use it like a giant. Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers; and the world waits for the reign of the Prince of peace who is not only the wise king, but the incarnate wisdom of God.
Too much stress, however, must not be laid on the twofold personality of the ideal king. This feature is adopted from the history, and does not express any opinion of the chronicler that the characteristic gifts of David and Solomon could not be combined in a single individual. Many great generals have also been successful administrators. Before Julius Cæsar was assassinated he had already shown his capacity to restore order and tranquillity to the Roman world; Alexander's plans for the civil government of his conquests were as far-reaching as his warlike ambition; Diocletian reorganised the empire which his sword had re-established; Cromwell's schemes of reform showed an almost prophetic insight into the future needs of the English people; the glory of Napoleon's victories is a doubtful legacy to France compared with the solid benefits of his internal reforms.
But even these instances, which illustrate the union of military genius and administrative ability, remind us that the assignment of success in war to one king and a reign of peace to the next is, after all, typical. The limits of human life narrow its possibilities. Cæsar's work had to be completed by Augustus; the great schemes of Alexander and Cromwell fell to the ground because no one arose to play Solomon to their David.
The chronicler has specially emphasised the indebtedness of Solomon to David. According to his narrative, the great achievement of Solomon's reign, the building of the Temple, has been rendered possible by David's preparations. Quite apart from plans and [pg 193] materials, the chronicler's view of the credit due to David in this matter is only a reasonable recognition of service rendered to the religion of Israel. Whoever provided the timber and stone, the silver and gold, for the Temple, David won for Jehovah the land and the city that were the outer courts of the sanctuary, and roused the national spirit that gave to Zion its most solemn consecration. Solomon's temple was alike the symbol of David's achievements and the coping-stone of his work.
By compelling our attention to the dependence of the Prince of Peace upon the man who “had shed much blood,” the chronicler admonishes us against forgetting the price that has been paid for liberty and culture. The splendid courtiers whose “apparel” specially pleased the feminine tastes of the queen of Sheba might feel all the contempt of the superior person for David's war-worn veterans. The latter probably were more at home in the “store cities” than at Jerusalem. But without the blood and toil of these rough soldiers Solomon would have had no opportunity to exchange riddles with his fair visitor and to dazzle her admiring eyes with the glories of his temple and palaces.
The blessings of peace are not likely to be preserved unless men still appreciate and cherish the stern virtues that flourish in troubled times. If our own times become troubled, and their serenity be invaded by fierce conflict, it will be ours to remember that the rugged life of “the hold in the wilderness” and the struggles with the Philistines may enable a later generation to build its temple to the Lord and to learn the answers to “hard questions.”248 Moses and Joshua, David and Solomon, [pg 194] remind us again how the Divine work is handed on from generation to generation: Moses leads Israel through the wilderness, but Joshua brings them into the Land of Promise; David collects the materials, but Solomon builds the Temple. The settlement in Palestine and the building of the Temple were only episodes in the working out of the “one increasing purpose,” but one leader and one life-time did not suffice for either episode. We grow impatient of the scale upon which God works: we want it reduced to the limits of our human faculties and of our earthly lives; yet all history preaches patience. In our demand for Divine interventions whereby—
“... sudden in a minute All is accomplished, and the work is done,”
we are very Esaus, eager to sell the birthright of the future for a mess of pottage to-day.
And the continuity of the Divine purpose is only realised through the continuity of human effort. We must indeed serve our own generation; but part of that service consists in providing that the next generation shall be trained to carry on the work, and that after David shall come Solomon—the Solomon of Chronicles, and not the Solomon of Kings—and that, if possible, Solomon shall not be succeeded by Rehoboam. As we attain this larger outlook, we shall be less tempted to employ doubtful means, which are supposed to be justified by their end; we shall be less enthusiastic for processes that bring “quick returns,” but give very “small profits” in the long run. Christian workers are a little too fond of spiritual jerry-building, as if sites in the kingdom of heaven were let out on [pg 195] ninety-nine-year leases; but God builds for eternity, and we are fellow-workers together with Him.
To complete the chronicler's picture of the ideal king, we have to add David's warlike prowess and Solomon's wisdom and splendour to the piety and graces common to both. The result is unique among the many pictures that have been drawn by historians, philosophers, and poets. It has a value of its own, because the chronicler's gifts in the way of history, philosophy, and poetry were entirely subordinated to his interest in theology; and most theologians have only been interested in the doctrine of the king when they could use it to gratify the vanity of a royal patron.
The full-length portrait in Chronicles contrasts curiously with the little vignette preserved in the book which bears the name of Solomon. There, in the oracle which King Lemuel's mother taught him, the king is simply admonished to avoid strange women and strong drink, to “judge righteously, and minister judgment to the poor and needy.”249
To pass to more modern theology, the theory of the king that is implied in Chronicles has much in common with Wyclif's doctrine of dominion: they both recognise the sanctity of the royal power and its temporal supremacy, and they both hold that obedience to God is the condition of the continued exercise of legitimate rule. But the priest of Lutterworth was less ecclesiastical and more democratic than our Levite.
A more orthodox authority on the Protestant doctrine of the king would be the Thirty-nine Articles. These, however, deal with the subject somewhat slightly. As [pg 196] far as they go, they are in harmony with the chronicler. They assert the unqualified supremacy of the king, both ecclesiastical and civil. Even “general councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of princes.”250 On the other hand, princes are not to imitate Uzziah in presuming to exercise the priestly function of offering incense: they are not to minister God's word or sacraments.
Outside theology the ideal of the king has been stated with greater fulness and freedom, but not many of the pictures drawn have much in common with the chronicler's David and Solomon. Machiavelli's prince and Bolingbroke's patriot king belong to a different world; moreover, their method is philosophical, and not historical: they state a theory rather than draw a picture. Tennyson's Arthur is, what he himself calls him, an “ideal knight” rather than an ideal king. Perhaps the best parallels to David are to be found in the Cyrus of the Greek historians and philosophers and the Alfred of English story. Alfred indeed combines many of the features both of David and Solomon: he secured English unity, and was the founder of English culture and literature; he had a keen interest in ecclesiastical affairs, great gifts of administration, and much personal attractiveness. Cyrus, again, specially illustrates what we may call the posthumous fortunes of David: his name stood for the ideal of kingship with both Greeks and Persians, and in the Cyropædia his life and character are made the basis of a picture of the ideal king.
Many points are of course common to almost all [pg 197] such pictures; they portray the king as a capable and benevolent ruler and a man of high personal character. The distinctive characteristic of Chronicles is the stress laid on the piety of the king, his care for the honour of God and the spiritual welfare of his subjects. If the practical influence of this teaching has not been altogether beneficent, it is because men have too invariably connected spiritual profit with organisation, and ceremonies, and forms of words, sound or otherwise.
But to-day the doctrine of the state takes the place of the doctrine of the king. Instead of Cyropædias we have Utopias. We are asked sometimes to look back, not to an ideal king, but to an ideal commonwealth, to the age of the Antonines or to some happy century of English history when we are told that the human race or the English people were “most happy and prosperous”; oftener we are invited to contemplate an imaginary future. We may add to those already made one or two further applications of the chronicler's principles to the modern state. His method suggests that the perfect society will have the virtues of our actual life without its vices, and that the possibilities of the future are best divined from a careful study of the past. The devotion of his kings to the Temple symbolises the truth that the ideal state is impossible without recognition of a Divine presence and obedience to a Divine will.
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