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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
1 Kings 11

 

 

Verses 1-13

THE OLD AGE OF SOLOMON

1 Kings 11:1-13

"That uxorious king, whose heart, though large, Beguiled by fair idolatresses, fell To idols foul."

- MILTON, Paradise Lost.

"Did not Solomon, king of Israel, sin by these things?"

- Nehemiah 13:26

"That they might know, that wherewithal a man sinneth, by the same also shall he be punished."

- #/RAPC Wisdom of Solomon 11:15.

SOLOMON had endeavored to give a one-sided development to Israelitish nationality, and a development little in accord with the highest and purest traditions of the people. What he did with one hand by building the Temple he undid with the other by endowing and patronizing the worship of heathen deities. In point of fact, Solomon was hardly a genuine off-shoot of the stem of Jesse. It is at least doubtful whether Bathsheba was of Hebrew race, and from her he may have derived an alien strain. It is at all events a striking fact that, so far from being regarded as an ideal Hebrew king, he was rather the reverse. The chronicler, indeed, exalts him as the supporter and redintegrator of the Priestly-Levitic system, which it is the main object of that writer to glorify; but this picture of theocratic purity, even if it be not altogether an anachronism, is only obtained by the total suppression of every incident in the story of Solomon which militates against it. In the Book of Kings we are faithfully told of the disgust of Hiram at the reward offered to him; of the alienation of a fertile district of the promised land; of the apostasy, the idolatries, and the reverses which disgraced and darkened his later years. The Book of Chronicles ignores every one of these disturbing particulars. It does not tell us of the depths to which Solomon fell, though it tells us of the extreme scrupulosity which regarded as a profanation the residence of his Egyptian queen on the hill once hallowed as the resting-place of Jehovah s Ark. Yet, if we understand in their simple sense the statements of the editor of the Book of Kings, and the documents on which he based his narrative, Solomon, even at the Dedication Festival, ignored all distinction between the priesthood and the laity. Nay, more than this, he seems to have offered, with his own hands, both burnt offerings and peace offerings three times a year {1 Kings 9:25} and, unchecked by priestly opposition or remonstrance, to have "burnt incense before the altar that was before the Lord," though, according to the chronicler, it was for daring to attempt this that Uzziah was smitten with the horrible scourge of leprosy.

The ideal of a good and great king is set before us in the Book of Proverbs, and in many respects Solomon fell very far short of it. Further than this, there are in Scripture two warning sketches of everything which a good king should not be and should not do, and these sketches exactly describe the very things which Solomon was and did. Those who take the view that the books of Scripture have undergone large later revision, see in each of these passages an unfavorable allusion to the king who raised Israel highest amongst the nations, only to precipitate her disintegration and ruin, and who combined the highest service to the centralization of her religion with the deadliest insult to its supreme claim upon the reverence of the world.

1. The first of these pictures of selfish autocrats is found in 1 Samuel 8:10-18 :-

"And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people that asked of Him a king. And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint his captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be perfumers, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your olive yards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his courtiers, and to his servants., And he will take your menservants and your maidservants, and your goodliest oxen, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep, and you shall be his servants. And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day."

2. The other, which is still more detailed and significant, was perhaps written with the express intention of warning Solomon’s descendants from the example which Solomon had set. It is found in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. Thus, speaking of a king, the writer says:-

"Only he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the Lord hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way. Neither shall he multiply wives to himself; that his heart turn not away; neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold. And it shall be that when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book . . . that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, . . . that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, . . . and that he turn not aside from the commandment to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel."

If Deuteronomy be of no older date than the days of Josiah, it is difficult not to see in this passage a distinct polemic against Solomon; for he did not do what he is here commanded, and he most conspicuously did every one of the things which is here forbidden.

It is quite clear that in his foreign alliances, in his commerce, in his cavalry, in his standing army, in his extravagant polygamy, in his exaggerated and exhausting magnificence, in his despotic autocracy, in his palatial architecture, and in his patronage of alien art, in his system of enforced labor, in his perilous religious syncretism, Solomon was by no means a king after the hearts of the old faithful and simple Israelites. They did not look with entire favor even on the centralization of worship in a single Temple which interfered with local religious rites sanctioned by the example of their greatest prophets. His ideal differed entirely from that of the older patriarchs. He gave to the life of his people an alien development; he obliterated some of their best national characteristics; and the example which he set was at least as powerful for evil as for good.

When we read the lofty sentiments expressed by Solomon in his dedication prayer, we may well be amazed to hear that one who had aspirations so sublime could sink into idolatry so deplorable. If it was the object of the chronicler to present Solomon in unsullied splendor, he might well omit the deadly circumstance that when he was old, and prematurely old, "he loved many strange women, and went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and went not fully after the Lord as did David his father. Then did Solomon build a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech the abomination of the children of Ammon. likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods."

The sacred historian not only records the shameful fact, but records its cause and origin. The heart of Solomon was perverted, his will was weakened, his ideal was dragged into the mire by the "strange wives" who crowded his seraglio. He went the way that destroys kings. {Proverbs 31:3} The polygamy of Solomon sprang naturally from the false position which he had created for himself. A king who puts a space of awful distance between himself and the mass of his subjects-a king whose will is so absolute that life is in his smile and death in his frown-is inevitably punished by the loneliest isolation. He may have favorites, he may have flatterers, but he can have no friends. A thronged harem becomes to him not only a matter of ostentation and luxury, but a necessary resource from the vacuity and ennui of a desolate heart. Tiberius was driven to the orgies of Capreae by the intolerableness of his isolation. The weariness of the king who used to take his courtiers by the button-hole and say, "Ennuyons-nous ensemble," drove him to fill up his degraded leisure in the Parc aux Cerfs. Yet even Louis XV had more possibilities of rational intercourse with human beings than a Solomon or a Xerxes. It was in the nature of things that Solomon, when he had imitated all the other surroundings of an Oriental despot, should sink, like other Oriental despots, from sensuousness into sensualism, from sensualism into religious degeneracy and dishonorable enervation.

Two facts, both full of warning, are indicated as the sources of his ruin:

(1) the number of his wives; and

(2) their heathen extraction.

1. "He had," we are told, "seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines."

The numbers make up a thousand, and are almost incredible. We are told indeed that in the monstrosities of Indian absolutism the Great Mogul had a thousand wives; but even Darius, "the king" par excellence, the awful autocrat of Persia, had only one wife and thirty-two concubines. It is inconceivable that the monarch of a country so insignificant as Palestine could have maintained so exorbitant a household in a small city like Jerusalem. Moreover, there is, on every ground, reason to correct the statement. Saul, so far as we know, had only one wife, and one concubine; David, though he put so little restraint on himself, had only sixteen; no subsequent king of Israel or Judah appears to have had even a small fraction of the number which is here assigned to Solomon, either by the disease of exaggeration or by some corruption of the text. More probably we should read seventy wives, which at least partially assimilates the number to the "threescore queens" of whom we read in the Canticles. {Song of Solomon 6:8} Even then we have a household which must have led to miserable complications. The seraglio at Jerusalem must have been a burning fiery furnace of feuds, intrigues, jealousies, and discontent. It is this fact which gives additional meaning to the Song of Songs. That unique book of Scripture is a sweet idyll in honor of pure and holy love. It sets before us in glowing imagery and tender rhythms how the lovely maiden of Shunem, undazzled by all the splendors and luxuries of the great king’s court, unseduced by his gifts and his persistence, remained absolutely faithful to her humble shepherd lover, and, amid the gold and purple of the palace at Jerusalem, sighed for her simple home amid the groves of Lebanon. Surely she was as wise as fair, and her chances of happiness would be a thousandfold greater, her immunities from intolerable conditions a thousandfold more certain, as she wandered hand in hand with her shepherd youth amid pure scenes and in the vernal air, than amid the heavy exotic perfumes of a sensual and pampered court.

Perhaps in the word "princesses" we see some sort of excuse for that effeminating self-indulgence which would make the exhortations to simplicity and chastity in the Book of Proverbs sound very hollow on the lips of Solomon. It may have been worldly policy which originally led him to multiply his wives. The alliance with Pharaoh was secured by a marriage with his daughter, and possibly that with Hiram by the espousal of a Tyrian princess. The friendliness of Edom on the south, of Moab and Ammon on the east, of Sidon and the Hittites and Syria on the north, might be enhanced by matrimonial connections from which the greater potentates might profit and of which the smaller sheykhs were proud. Yet if this were so, the policy, like all other worldly policy unsanctioned by the law of God, was very unsuccessful. Egypt as usual proved herself to be a broken reed. The Hittites only preserved a dream and legend of their olden power. Edom and Moab neither forgot nor abandoned their implacable and immemorial hatred. Syria became a dangerous rival awaiting the day of future triumphs. "It is better to trust in the Lord than to put any confidence in man; it is better to trust in the Lord than to put any confidence in princes."

2. But the heathen religion of these strange women from so many nations "turned away the heart of Solomon after other gods." It may be doubted whether Solomon had ever read the stern prohibitions against intermarriage with the Canaanite nations which now stand on the page of the Pentateuch. If so he broke them, for the Hittites and the Phoenicians were Canaanites. Marriages with Egyptians, Moabites, and Edomites had not been, in so many words, forbidden, but the feeling of later ages applied the rule analogously to them. The result proved how necessary the law was. When Solomon was old his heart was no longer proof against feminine wiles. He was not old in years, for this was some time before his death, and when he died he was little more than sixty. But a polygamous despot gets old before his time.

The attempt made by Ewald and others to gloss over Solomon’s apostasy as a sign of a large-hearted tolerance is an astonishing misreading of history. Tolerance for harmless divergences of opinion there should always be, though it is only a growth of modern days; but tolerance for iniquity is a wrong to holiness.

The worship of these devils adored for deities was stained with the worst passions which degrade human nature. They were themselves the personification of perverted instincts. The main facts respecting them are collected in Selden’s famous De Dis Syris Syntagma, and Milton has enshrined them in his stateliest verse:-

"First Moloch, horrid king, besmeared with blood

Of human sacrifice, and parents’ tears

Next Chemos, the obscene dread of Moab’s sons,

Peor his other name, when he enticed Israel in Sittim, on their march from Nile,

To do him wanton rites, which cost them woe.

Yet thence his lustful orgies he enlarged

Even to that hill of scandal, by the Grove Of Moloch homicide; lust, hard by hate:

Till good Josiah drove them thence to hell."

"With these in troop

Came Ashtoreth, whom the Phoenicians call Astarte, queen of heaven, with crescent horns;

To whose bright image nightly by the moon Sidonian virgins paid their vows and songs;

In Sion also not unsung, where stood

Her temple on the offensive mountain, built

By that uxorious king, whose heart, though large,

Beguiled by fair idolatresses, fell To idols foul."

What tolerance should there be for idols whose service was horrible infanticide and shameless lust? "What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with an infidel? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?" How vile the worship of Chemosh was, Israel had already experienced in the wilderness where he was called Peor. {Numbers 25:3} What Moloch was they were to learn thereafter by many a horrible experience. Had Solomon never heard that the Lord God was a jealous God, and would not tolerate the rivalries of gods of fire and of lust? At least he was not afraid to desecrate one, if not two, of the summits of the Mount of Olives with shrines to these monstrous images, which seem to have been left "on that opprobrious mount" for many an age, so that they "durst abide."

"Jehovah, thundering out of Sion throned

Between the cherubim yea, often placed

Within His sanctuary itself their shrines,

Abominations, and with cursed things

His holy rites and solemn feasts profaned,

And with their darkness durst affront His light"

And, to crown all, Solomon not only showed this guilty complaisance to all his strange wives, but even, sinking into the lowest abyss of apostasy "burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods"

"He that built a temple for himself and for Israel in Zion," says Bishop Hall, "built a temple for Chemosh in the Mount of Scandal for his mistresses in the very face of God’s house. Because Solomon feeds them in their superstition, he draws the sin home to himself, and is branded for what he should have forbidden."


Verses 1-43

HOLLOW PROSPERITY

1 Kings 11:1-43

"Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity."

- Ecclesiastes 1:2

"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 its 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. 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 Phoenicia itself was part of the land which God had promised to His people. If that gift had lapsed through their inertness. {Leviticus 25:23-24} See 1:31-32, the law still remained, which said, The land shall not be sold forever; 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 Judaea, 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 Galilaean towns, which were probably inhabited in a great measure by a wretched and dwindling remnant of Canaanites, were useless to him, whereas he had probably hoped to receive part, at least, of the Bay of Aeco (Ptolemais). 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. 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. Horses 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 splendor. 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 Exodus 21:1-36; Exodus 22:1-31; Exodus 23:1-33; Exodus 24:1-18; Exodus 25:1-40; Exodus 26:1-37; Exodus 27:1-21; Exodus 28:1-43; Exodus 29:1-46. Commerce was left to the Phoenicians 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 materialized into worldliness brought their natural consequences. "He is a merchant," says Hosea; {Hosea 12:7} "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 labor they shall find in me none 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 hypnotizing 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 fraternization with neighboring 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 or 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 fluctuations of the labor 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 splendor ever dripped and trickled downward till its bitter streams swelled the rivers of hell:-

"Abhorred 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 mitre, 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 voluptuary 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 splendors 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 e nihil expedit"; or Abderrahman the Magnificent who, in all his day of success and prosperity, could only count fourteen happy days; or Charles V, over-eating himself in his monastic retreat at San Yuste in Estremadura; or Alexander, 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 fervor 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 pales et moins couronnees." The peaceful is harried by petty raids; the magnificent is laden with debts; the builder of the Temple has sanctioned polytheism; the favorite 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." (1 Kings 3:15. See Sirach 47:12-21)

The Talmudists show some insight amid their fantasies when they write: "At first, before he married strange wives, Solomon reigned over the angels"; {1 Chronicles 29:23} then only over all kingdoms; {1 Kings 4:21} then only over Israel; {Ecclesiastes 1:12} then only over Jerusalem. {Ecclesiastes 1:1} At last he reigned only over his staff-as it is said, ‘And this was the portion of my, labor’; for by the word ‘this,’ says Ray, 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.


Verses 14-41

THE WIND AND THE WHIRLWIND

1 Kings 11:14-41

"He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption."

- Galatians 6:8

SUCH degeneracy could not show itself in the king without danger to his people. "Delirant reges, plectuntur Achivi." In the disintegration of Solomon’s power and the general disenchantment from the glamour of his magnificence, the land became full of corruption and discontent. The wisdom and experience of the aged were contemptuously hissed off the seat of judgment by the irreverent folly of the young. The existence of a corrupt aristocracy is always a bad symptom of national disease. These "lisping hawthorn-buds" of fashion only bourgeon in tainted soil. The advice given by the "young men" who had "grown up with Rehoboam and stood before him" shows the insolence preceding doom which had been bred by the idolism of tyranny in the hearts of silly youths who had ceased to care for the wrongs of the people or to know anything about their condition. Violence, oppression, and commercial dishonesty, as we see in the Book of Proverbs, had been bred by the mad desire for gain; and even in the streets of holy Jerusalem, and under the shadow of its Temple, "strange women," introduced by the commerce with heathen countries and the attendants on heathen princesses lured to their destruction the souls of simple and God-forgetting youths. The simple and joyous agricultural prosperity in which the sons of the people grew up as young plants and their daughters as the polished corners of the Temple was replaced by struggling discontent and straining competition. And amid all these evils the voices of the courtly priests were silent, and for a long time, under the menacing and irresponsible dominance of an oracular royalty, there was no prophet more.

Early in Solomon’s reign two adversaries had declared their existence, but only became of much account in the darker and later days of its decline.

One of these was Hadad, Prince of Edom. Upon the Edomites in the days of David the prowess of Joab had inflicted an overwhelming and all but exterminating reverse. Joab had remained six months in the conquered district to bury his comrades who had been slain in the terrible encounter, and to extirpate as far as possible the detested race. But the king’s servants had been able to save Hadad, then but a little child, from the indiscriminate massacre, as the sole survivor of his house. The young Edomite prince was conveyed by them through Midian and the desert of Paran into Egypt, and there, for political reasons, had been kindly received by the Pharaoh of the day, probably Pinotem I of the Tanite dynasty, the father of Psinaces whose alliance Solomon had secured by marriage with his daughter. Pinotem not only welcomed the fugitive Edomite as the last scion of a kingly race, but even deigned to bestow on him the hand of the sister of Tahpenes, his own Gebria or queen-mother. Their son Genubath was brought up among the Egyptian princes. But amid the luxurious splendors of Pharaoh’s palace Hadad carried in his heart an undying thirst for vengeance on the destroyer of his family and race. The names of David and Joab inspired a terror which made rebellion impossible for a time; but when Hadad heard, with grim satisfaction, of Joab’s judicial murder, and that David had been succeeded by a peaceful son, no charm of an Egyptian palace and royal bride could weigh in the balance against the fierce passion of an avenger of blood. Better the wild freedom of Idumea than the sluggish ease of Egypt. He asked the Pharaoh’s leave to return to his own country, and, braving the reproach of ingratitude, made his way back to the desolated fields and cities of his unfortunate people. He developed their resources and nursed their hopes of the coming day of vengeance. If he could do nothing else he could at least act as a desperate marauder, and prove himself a "satan" to the successor of his foe. Solomon was strong enough to keep open the road to Ezion-Gebir but Hadad was probably master of Sela and Maon.

Another enemy was Rezon, of whom but little is known, David had won a great victory, the most remarkable of all his successes, over Hadadezer, King of Zobah, and had then signalized his conquest by placing garrisons in Syria of Damascus. On this occasion Rezon, the son of Eli, who is perhaps identical with Hezion, the grandfather of Benhadad, King of Syria in the days of Asa, fled from the host of Hadadezer with some of the Syrian forces. With these and all whom he could collect about him, he became a guerilla captain. After a successful period of predatory warfare he found himself strong enough to seize Damascus, where, to all appearance, he founded a powerful hereditary kingdom. Thus with Hadad in the south to plunder his commercial caravans, and Rezon on the north to threaten his communication with Tiphsah, and alarm his excursions to his pleasances in Lebanon, Solomon was made keenly to feel that his power was rather an unsubstantial pageant than a solid dominion.

The enmity of these powerful Emirs of Edom and Syria was a hereditary legacy from the wars of David and the ruthless savagery of Joab. A third adversary was far more terrible, and he was called into existence by the conduct of Solomon himself. This was Jeroboam, the son of Nebat. In himself he was of no account, being a man of isolated position and obscure origin. He was the son of a widow named Zeruah, who lived at Zarthan in the Jordan valley. The position of a widow in the ancient world was one of feebleness and difficulty; and if we may trust the apocryphal additions to the Septuagint, Zeruah was not only a widow but a harlot. But Jeroboam, whose name perhaps indicates that he was born in the golden days of Solomon’s prosperity, was a youth of vigor and capacity. He made his way from the wretched clay fields of Zeredah to Jerusalem, and there became one of the vast undistinguished gang who were known as "slaves of Solomon." The corvee of many thousands from all parts of Palestine was then engaged in building the Millo and the huge walls and causeway in the valley between Zion and Moriah, which was afterwards known as the Valley of the Cheesemongers (Tyropaeon). Here the unknown youth distinguished himself by his strenuousness, and by the influence which he rapidly acquired. Solomon knew the value of a man "diligent in his business," and therefore worthy to stand before kings. Untrammeled by any rules of seniority, and able to make and unmake as he thought fit, Solomon promoted him while still young, and at one bound, to a position of great rank and influence. Jeroboam was an Ephramite, and Solomon therefore "gave him charge over all the compulsory levies (Mas) of the tribe of the house of Joseph"-that is, of the proud and powerful tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, who practically represented all Israel except Judah, Benjamin, and the almost nominal Simeon.

The spark of ambition was now kindled in the youth’s heart, and as he toiled among the workmen he became aware of two secrets of deadly import to the master who had lifted him out of the dust-secrets which he well knew how to use. One was that a deep undercurrent of tribal jealousy was setting in with the force of a tide. Solomon had unduly favored his own tribe by exemptions from the general requisition, and Ephraim fretted under a sense of wrong. That proud tribe, the heir of Joseph’s preeminence, had never acquiesced in the loss of the hegemony which it so long had held. From Ephraim had sprung Joshua, the mighty successor of Moses, the conqueror of the Promised Land, and his sepulcher was still among them at Timnath-Serah. From their kith had sprung the princely Gideon, the greatest of the judges, who might, had he so chosen, have anticipated the foundation of royalty in Israel. Shiloh, which God had chosen for His inheritance, was in their domains. It required very little at any time to make the Ephraimites second the cry of the insurgents who followed Sheba, the son of Bichri, -

"We have no part in David, Neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse. Every man to his tents, O Israel."

Jeroboam, who was now by Solomon’s favor a chief ruler over his fellow-tribesmen, had many opportunities to foment this jealousy, and to win for himself by personal graciousness the popularity of Solomon which had so long begun to wane.

But a yet deeper feeling was at work against Solomon. The men of Ephraim and all the northern tribes had not only begun to ask why Judah was to monopolize the king’s partiality, but the much more dangerous question, What right has the king to enforce on us these dreary and interminable labors, in making a city of palaces and an impregnable fortress of a capital which is to overshadow our glory and command our subjection? With consummate astuteness, by a word here and a word there, Jeroboam was able to pose before Solomon as the enforcer of a stern yoke, and before his countrymen as one who hated the hard necessity and would fain be their deliverer from it.

And while he was already in heart a rebel against the House of David, he received what he regarded as a Divine sanction to his career of ambition.

The prophets, as we have seen, had sunk to silence before the oracular autocrat who so frequently impressed on the people that there is "a Divine sentence on the lips of kings." No special inspiration seemed to be needed either to correct or to corroborate so infallible a wisdom. But the heaven-enkindled spark of inspiration can never be permanently suffocated. Priests as a body have often proved amenable to royal seductions, but individual prophets are irrepressible.

What were the priests doing in the face of so fearful an apostasy? Apparently nothing. They seem to have sunk into comfortable acquiescence, satisfied with the augmentation of rank and revenue which the Temple and its offerings brought to them. They offered no opposition to the extravagances of the king, his violations of the theocratic ideal, or even his monstrous tolerance for the worship of idols. That prophets as a body existed in Judah during the early years of this reign there is no proof.

The atmosphere was ill-suited to their vocation. Nathan probably had died long before Solomon reached his zenith.

Of Iddo we know almost nothing. Two prophets are mentioned, but only towards the close of the reign-Ahijah of Shiloh, and Shemaiah; and there seems to have been some confusion in the roles respectively assigned to them by later tradition.

But the hour had now struck for a prophet to speak the word of the Lord. If the king, surrounded by formidable guards and a glittering court, was too exalted to be reached by a humble son of the people, it was time for Ahijah to follow the precedent of Samuel. He obeyed a divine intimation in selecting the successor who should punish the great king’s rebellion against God, and inaugurate a rule of purer obedience than now existed under the upas-shadow of the throne. He was the Mazkir, the annalist or historiographer of Solomon’s court; {2 Chronicles 9:29} but loyalty to a backsliding king had come to mean disloyalty to God. There was but one man who seemed marked out for the perilous honor of a throne. It was the brave, vigorous, ambitious youth of Ephraim who had risen to high promotion and had won the hearts of his people, though Solomon had made him the task-master of their forced labor. On one occasion Jeroboam left Jerusalem, perhaps to visit his native Zeredah and his widowed mother. Ahijah intentionally met him on the road. He drew him aside from the public path into a solitary place. There, seen by none, he took off his own shoulders the new stately abba in which he had clad himself, and proceeded to give to Jeroboam one of those object-lessons in the form of an acted parable, which to the Eastern mind are more effective than any words. Rending the new garment into twelve pieces, he gave ten to Jeroboam, telling him that Jehovah would thus rend the kingdom from the hands of Solomon because of his unfaithfulness, leaving his son but one tribe that the lamp of David might not be utterly extinguished. Jeroboam should be king over Israel; to the House of David should be left but an insignificant fragment. God would build a sure house for Jeroboam as He had done for David, if he would keep His commandments, though the House of David "should not be afflicted forever." {1 Kings 11:34-39}

A scene so memorable, a prophecy of such grave significance, could hardly remain a secret. Ahijah may have hinted it among his sympathizers. Jeroboam would hardly be able to conceal from his friends the immense hopes which it excited; and as his position probably gave him the command of troops he became dangerous. His designs reached the ears of Solomon, and he sought to put Jeroboam to death. The young man, who had probably betrayed his secret ambition, and may even have attempted some premature and abortive insurrection, escaped from Jerusalem, and took refuge in Egypt. There the Bubastite dynasty had displaced the Tanite and from Shishak I, the earliest Pharaoh whose individuality eclipsed the common dynastic name, he received so warm a welcome that, according to one story, Shishak gave him in marriage Ano, the elder sister of his Queen Tahpanes (or Thekemina, LXX) and of Hadad’s wife. He stayed in Egypt till the death of Solomon, and then returned to Zeredah, either in consequence of the summons of his countrymen, or that he might be ready for any turn of events.

Under such melancholy circumstances the last great king of the united kingdom passed away. Of the circumstances of his death we are told nothing, but the clouds had gathered thickly round his declining years. "The power to which he had elevated Israel," says the Jewish historian Gratz, "resembled that of a magic world built up by spirits. The spell was broken at his death." It must not, however, be imagined that no abiding results had followed from so remarkable a rule. The nation which he left behind him at his death was very different from the nation to whose throne he had succeeded as a youth. It had sprung from immature boyhood to the full-grown stature of manhood. If the purity of its spiritual ideal had been somewhat corrupted, its intellectual growth and its material power had been immensely stimulated. It had tasted the sweets of commerce, and never forgot the richness of that intoxicating draught which was destined in later ages to transform its entire nature. Tribal distinctions, if not obliterated, had been subordinated to a central organization. The knowledge of writing had been more widely spread, and this had led to the dawn of that literature which saved Israel front oblivion, and uplifted her to a place of supreme influence among the nations. Manners had been considerably softened from their old wild ferocity. The more childish forms of ancient superstition, such as the use of ephods and teraphim, had fallen into desuetude. The worship of Jehovah, and the sense of His unique supremacy over the whole world, was fostered in many hearts, and men began to feel the unfitness of giving to Him that name of "Baal" which began henceforth to be confined to the Syrian sun-god. Amid many aberrations the sense of religion was deepened among the faithful of Israel, and the ground was prepared for the more spiritual religion which, later reigns found its immortal expositors in those Hebrew prophets who rank foremost among the teachers of mankind.

But as for Solomon himself it is a melancholy thought that he is one of the three or four of whose salvation the Fathers and others have openly ventured to doubt! The discussion of such a question is, indeed, wholly absurd and profitless, and is only here alluded to in order to illustrate the completeness of Solomon’s fall. As the Book of Ecclesiastes is certainly not by him it can throw no light on the moods of his latter days, unless it be conceivable that it represents some faint: breath of olden tradition. The early commentators acquitted or condemned him as though they sat on the judgment-seat of the Almighty. They would have shown more wisdom if they had admitted that such decisions are-fortunately for all men-beyond the scope of human judges. Happily for us God, not man, is the judge, and He looks down on earth

"With larger other eyes than ours

To make allowance for us all."

Orcagna was wiser when, in his great picture in the Campo Santo at Pisa and in the Strozzi Chapel at Florence, he represented Solomon rising out of his sepulcher in robe and crown at the trump of the archangel, uncertain whether he is to turn to the right hand or to the left.

And Dante, as all men know, joins Solomon in Paradise with the Four Great Schoolmen. The great mediaeval poet of Latin Christianity did not side with St. Augustine and the Latin Fathers against the wise king, but with St. Chrysostom and the Greek Fathers for him. He did so because he accepted St. Bernard’s mystical interpretation of the Song of Songs:-

"La quinta luce, ch’e tra noi pitt bella Spira di tale amor, che tutto il mondo Laggiu ne gola di saver novella. Entro v’e l’alta mente, u’ si profondo Saver fu messo, che si il vero e vero, A veder tanto non surse il secondo."

There is a famous legend in the Qur’an about the death of Solomon.

"Work ye righteousness O ye family of David; for I see that which ye do. And we made the wind subject unto Solomon And we made a fountain of molten brass to flow for him. And some of the genii were obliged to work in his presence by the will of his Lord. They made for him whatever he pleased of palaces, and statues, and large dishes like fishponds, and caldrons standing firm on their trivets; and we said, Work righteousness, O family of David, with thanksgiving; for few of my servants are thankful. And when we had decreed that Solomon should die, nothing discovered his death unto them, except the creeping thing of the earth that gnawed his staff. And when his body fell down, the genii plainly perceived that if they had known that which is secret they had not continued in a vile punishment."

The legend briefly alluded to was that Solomon employed the genii to build his Temple, but, foreseeing that he would die before its completion, he prayed God to conceal his death from them, so that they might go on working. His prayer was heard, and the rest of the legend may best be told in the words of a poet:-

King Solomon stood in his crown of gold,

Between the pillars, before the altar

In the House of the Lord.

And the king was old,

And his strength began to falter,

So that he leaned on his ebony staff,

Sealed with the seal of the Pentegraph.

And the king stood still as a carven king,

The carven cedar beams below,

In his purple robe, with his signet-ring,

And his beard as white as snow.

And his face to the Oracle, where the hymn

Dies under the wings of the cherubim.

And it came to pass as the king stood there,

And looked on the House he had built with pride,

That the hand of the Lord came unaware

And touched him, so that he died

In his purple robe and his signet-ring

And the crown wherewith they had crowned him king.

And the stream of folk that came and went

To worship the Lord with prayer and praise,

Went softly ever in wonderment,

For the king stood there always;

And it was solemn and strange to behold

The dead king crowned with a crown of gold.

"So King Solomon stood up dead in the House Of the Lord, held there by the Pentegraph,

Until out from the pillar there ran a red mouse,

And gnawed through his ebony staff;

Then fiat on his face the king foil down,

And they picked from the dust a golden crown."

The legends of the East describe Solomon as tormented indeed, yet not without hope. In the romance of Vathek he is described as listening earnestly to the roar of a cataract, because when it ceases to roar his anguish will be at an end.

"The king so renowned for his wisdom was on the loftiest elevation, and placed immediately beneath the Dome. ‘The thunder,’ he said, ‘precipitated me hither, where, however, I do not remain totally destitute of hope; for an angel of light hath revealed that, in consideration of the piety of my early youth, my woes shall come to an end. Till then I am in torments, ineffable torments; an unrelenting fire preys on my heart.’ The caliph was ready to sink with terror when he heard the groans of Solomon. Having uttered this exclamation, Solomon raised his hands towards heaven, in token of supplication; and the caliph discerned through his bosom, which was transparent as crystal, his heart enveloped in flames."

So Solomon passed away-the last king of all Palestine till another king arose a thousand years later, like him in his fondness for magnificence, like him in his tamperings with idolatry, like him in being the builder of the Temple, but in all other respects a far more grievous sinner and a far more inexcusable tyrant-Herod, falsely called "The Great."

And in the same age arose another King of Solomon’s descendants, whose palace was the shop of the carpenter and His throne the cross, and whose mortal body was the true Temple of the Supreme-that King whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and whose dominion endureth throughout all ages.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 Kings 11:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/1-kings-11.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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