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230

CHAPTER XXI.

HOLLOW PROSPERITY.

1 Kings xi.

"Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity."—Eccles. i. 2.

"At every draught more large and large they grow

A bloated mass of rank unwieldy woe,

Till, sapp'd their strength, and every part unsound,

Down, down they sink, and spread a ruin round."

Goldsmith.

There was a ver rongeur at the root of all Solomon's prosperity. His home was afflicted with the curse of his polygamy, his kingdom with the curse of his despotism. Failure is stamped upon the issues of his life.

1. His Temple was a wonder of the world; yet his own reign was scarcely over before it was plundered by the Egyptian king who had overthrown the feeble dynasty on alliance with which he had trusted. Under later kings its secret chambers were sometimes desecrated, sometimes deserted. It failed to exercise the unique influence in support of the worship of Jehovah for which it had been designed. Some of Solomon's successors confronted it with a rival temple, and a rival high priest, of Baal, and suffered atrocious emblems of heathen nature-worship to profane its231 courts. He himself became an apostate from the high theocratic ideal which had inspired its origin.

2. His long alliance and friendship with Hiram ended, to all appearance, in coolness and disgust, even if it be true that a daughter of Hiram was one of the princesses of his harem.400400   See Euseb., Præp. Evang., x. 11. For his immense buildings had so greatly embarrassed his resources that, when the day for payment came, the only way in which he could discharge his obligations was by alienating a part of his dominions. He gave Hiram "twenty cities in the land of Galilee." The kings of Judah, down to the days of Hezekiah, and even of Josiah, show few traces of any consciousness that there was such a book as the Pentateuch and such a code as the Levitic law. Solomon may have been unaware that Phœnicia itself was part of the land which God had promised to His people. If that gift had lapsed through their inertness,401401   Lev. xxv. 23, 24. See Judg. i. 31, 32. the law still remained, which said, "The land shall not be sold for ever; for the land is Mine, for ye are strangers and sojourners with Me." It was a strong measure to resign any part of the soil of Judæa, even to discharge building debts, much more to pay for mercenaries and courtly ostentation. The transaction, dubious in every particular, was the evident cause of deep-seated dissatisfaction. Hiram thought himself ill-paid and unworthily treated. He found, by a personal visit, that these inland Galilæan towns, which were probably inhabited in great measure by a wretched and dwindling remnant of Canaanites,402402   Hence, perhaps, the name "Galilee of the nations" (Isa. ix. 1). Comp. "Harosheth of the nations" (Judg. iv. 2, 13). Hazor was in this district. were useless to him,232 whereas he had probably hoped to receive part, at least, of the Bay of Acco (Ptolemais).403403   Milman, Hist. of the Jews, i. 321. They added so little to his resources, that he complained to Solomon. He called the cities by the obscure, but evidently contemptuous name "Cabul," and gave them back to Solomon in disgust as not worth having.404404   1 Kings ix. 10-13. There was a place called Cabul in Asher (Josh. xix. 27). Ewald thinks that Cabul was a sort of witticism meaning "as nothing." Josephus (Antt., VIII. v. 3) says that in Phœnician χαβαλὼν means "not pleasing," and that Hiram would not take the cities. Nothing can be made of the allusion to this transaction in 2 Chron. viii. 1, 2. Why did Solomon re-occupy these cities? and why did Hiram give him one hundred and twenty talents of gold? The gloss put on the matter by late tradition cannot conceal the fact that Solomon tried to diminish his embarrassments by alienating some of the sacred territory. What significance lies in the strange and laconic addition, "And Hiram sent to the king six-score talents of gold," it is impossible for us to understand. If the Tyrian king gave as a present to Solomon a sum which was so vast as at least to equal £720,000—"apparently," as Canon Rawlinson thinks, "to show that, although disappointed, he was not offended!"—he must have been an angel in human form.

3. Solomon's palatial buildings, while they flattered his pride and ministered to his luxury, tended directly, as we shall see, to undermine his power. They represented the ill-requited toil of hopeless bondmen, and oppressed freedmen, whose sighs rose, not in vain, into the ears of the Lord God of Sabaoth.

4. His commerce, showy as it was, turned out to be transitory and useless. If for a time it enriched the king, it did not enrich his people. At Solomon's death, if not earlier, it not only languished but expired. Horses233 and chariots might give a pompous aspect to stately pageants, but they were practically useless in the endless hills of which Palestine is mainly composed. Apes, peacocks, and sandal wood were curious and interesting, but they certainly did not repay the expense incurred in their importation. No subsequent sovereign took the trouble to acquire these wonders, nor are they once mentioned in the later Scriptures. Precious stones might gleam on the necks of the concubine, or adorn the housings of the steed, but nothing was gained from their barren splendour. At one time the king's annual revenue is stated to have been six hundred and sixty-six talents of gold; but the story of Hiram, and the impoverishment to which Rehoboam succeeded, show that even this exchequer had been exhausted by the sumptuous prodigalities of a too luxurious court. And, indeed, the commerce of Solomon gave a new and untheocratic bias to Hebrew development. The ideal of the old Semitic life was the pastoral and agricultural ideal. No other is contemplated in Exod. xxi.-xxix. Commerce was left to the Phœnicians and other races, so that the word for "merchant" was "Canaanite." But after the days of Solomon in Judah, and Ahab in Israel, the Hebrews followed eagerly in the steps of Canaan, and trade and commerce acting on minds materialised into worldliness brought their natural consequences. "He is a merchant," says Hosea (xii. 7); "the balances of deceit are in his hand: he loveth to defraud." Here the words "he is a merchant" may equally well be rendered "as for Canaan"; and by Canaan is here meant Canaanised or commercial Ephraim. And the prophet continues, "And Ephraim said, Surely I am become rich, I have found me wealth: in all my labour they shall find in me none234 iniquity that were sin." In other words, these influences of foreign trade had destroyed the moral sense of Israel altogether: "Howl, ye inhabitants of Maktesh"—i.e., "The Mortar," a bazaar of that name in Jerusalem—"for all the people of Canaan" (i.e., the merchants) "are brought to silence." But the hypnotising influence of wealth became more and more a potent factor in the development of the people. By an absolute reversal of their ancient characteristics they learnt, in the days of the Rabbis, utterly to despise agriculture and extravagantly to laud the gains of commerce. Of too many of them it became true, that they

"With dumb despair their country's wrongs behold,

And dead to glory, only burn for gold."

It was the mighty hand of Solomon which first gave them an impulse in this direction, though he seems to have managed all his commerce with exclusive reference to his own revenues.

In the wake of commerce, and the inevitable intercourse with foreign nations which it involves, came as a matter of course the fondness for luxuries; the taste for magnificence; the fraternisation with neighbouring kings; the use of cavalry; the development of a military caste; the attempts at distant navigation; the total disappearance of the antique simplicity. In the train of these innovations followed the disastrous alterations of the old conditions of society of which the prophets so grievously complain—extortions of the corn market; the formation of large estates; the frequency of mortgages; the misery of peasant proprietorship, unable to hold its own against the accumulations of wealth; the increase of the wage-receiving class; and the fluctuations235 of the labour market. These changes caused, by way of consequence, so much distress and starvation that even freeborn Hebrews were sometimes compelled to sell themselves into slavery as the only way to keep themselves alive.

So that the age of Solomon can in no respect be regarded as an age of gold. Rather, it resembled that grim Colossus of Dante's vision, which not only rested on a right foot of brittle clay, but was cracked and fissured through and through, while the wretchedness and torment which lay behind the outward splendour ever dripped and trickled downward till its bitter streams swelled the rivers of hell:—

"Abhorrèd Styx, the flood of deadly hate,

Sad Acheron of sorrow black and deep,

Corytus named of lamentation loud

Heard on its rueful stream, fierce Phlegethon,

Whose waves of torrent fire inflame with rage."

But there was something worse even than this. The Book of Proverbs shows us that, as in Rome, so in Jerusalem, foreign immoralities became fatal to the growing youth. The picta lupa barbara mitrâ, with her fatal fascinations, and her banquets of which the guests were in the depths of Hades, became so common in Jerusalem that no admonitions of the wise were more needful than those which warned the "simple ones" that to yield to her seductive snares was to go as an ox to the slaughter, as a fool to the correction of the stocks.

5. Even were there no disastrous sequel to Solomon's story—if we saw him only in the flush of his early promise, and the noon of his highest prosperity—we could still readily believe that he passed through some of the experiences of the bitter and sated voluptuary236 who borrows his name in the Book of Ecclesiastes. The human pathos, the fresh and varied interest, which meet us at every page of the annals of David, are entirely lacking in the magnificent monotony of the annals of Solomon. The splendours of materialism, which are mainly dwelt upon, could never satisfy the poorest of human souls. There are but two broad gleams of religious interest in his entire story—the narrative of his prayer for wisdom, and the prayer, in its present form of later origin, attributed to him at the Dedication Festival. All the rest is a story of gorgeous despotism, which gradually paled into

"The dim grey life and apathetic end."

"There was no king like Solomon: he exceeded all the kings of the earth," we are told, "for riches and for wisdom." But all that we know of such kings furnishes fresh proof of the universal experience that "the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them" are absolutely valueless for all the contributions they can lend to human happiness. The autocrats who have been most conspicuous for unchecked power and limitless resources have also been the most conspicuous in misery. We have but to recall Tiberius "tristissimus ut constat hominum," who, from the enchanted isle which he had degraded into the stye of his infamies, wrote to his servile senate that "all the gods and goddesses were daily destroying him"; or Septimius Severus, who, rising step by step from a Dalmatian peasant and common soldier to be emperor of the world, remarked with pathetic conviction, "Omnia fui et nihil expedit"; or Abderrahman the Magnificent, who, in all his life of success and prosperity, could only count fourteen happy days; or Charles V., over-eating himself in his monastic237 retreat at San Yuste in Estremadura; or Alexander,405405   The later Jews chose the name "Alexander" as the Western equivalent for Solomon: hence the names "Alexander Jannæus," etc. dying "as a fool dieth"; or Louis XIV., surrounded by a darkening horizon, and disillusioned into infinite ennui and chagrin; or Napoleon I., saying, "I regard life with horror," and contrasting his "abject misery" with the adored and beloved dominion of Christ, who was meek and lowly of heart. Napoleon confessed that, even in the zenith of his empire, and the fullest flush of his endless victories, his days were consumed in vanity and his years in trouble. The cry of one and all, finding that the soul, which is infinite, cannot be satisfied with the transient and hollow boons of earth, is, and ever must be, "Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity." And this is one main lesson of the life of Solomon. Nothing is more certain than that, if earthly happiness is to be found at all, it can only be found in righteousness and truth; and if even these do not bring earthly happiness they securely give us a blessedness which is deeper and more eternal.

If the Book of Ecclesiastes, even traditionally, is the reflection and echo of Solomon's disenchantment, we see that in later years his soul had been sullied, his faith had grown dim, his fervour cold. All was emptiness. He stood horribly alone. His one son was not a wise man, but a fool. Gewgaws could no longer satisfy him. His wealth exhausted, his fame tarnished, his dominions reduced to insignificance, himself insulted by contemptible adversaries whom he could neither control nor punish, he entered on the long course of years "plus pâles et moins couronnées." The peaceful is harried by petty raids; the magnificent is laden with238 debts; the builder of the Temple has sanctioned polytheism; the favourite of the nation has become a tyrant, scourging with whips an impatient people; the "darling of the Lord" has built shrines for Moloch and Astarte. The glamour of youth, of empire, of gorgeous tyranny was dispelled, and the splendid boy-king is the weary and lonely old man. Hiram of Tyre has turned in disgust from an ungenerous recompense. A new Pharaoh has dispossessed his Egyptian father-in-law and shelters his rebel servant. His shameful harem has given him neither a real home nor a true love; his commerce has proved to be an expensive failure; his politic alliances a hollow sham. In another and direr sense than after his youthful vision, "Solomon awoke, and behold it was a dream."406406   1 Kings iii. 15. See Ecclus. xlvii. 12-21.

The Talmudists show some insight amid their fantasies when they write: "At first, before he married strange wives, Solomon reigned over the angels (1 Chron. xxix. 23); then only over all kingdoms (1 Kings iv. 21); then only over Israel (Eccles. i. 12); then only over Jerusalem (Eccles. i. 1). At last he reigned only over his staff—as it is said, 'And this was the portion of my labour'; for by the word 'this,'" says Rav, "he meant that the only possession left to him was the staff which he held in his hand." The staff was not "the rod and staff" of the Good Shepherd, but the earthly staff of pride and pomp, and (as in the Arabian legend) the worm of selfishness and sensuality was gnawing at its base.


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