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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
Solomon (pacific). The reign of Solomon over all Israel, although second in importance only to that of David, has so little variety of incident as to occupy a far less space in the Bible narrative. In the declining age of David, his eldest surviving son, Adonijah, endeavored to place himself on the throne, by the aid of Joab the chief captain, and Abiathar one of the chief priests, both of whom had been associated with David's early sufferings under the persecution of Saul. The aged monarch did not for a moment give way to the formidable usurpation, but at the remonstrance of his favorite, Bathsheba, resolved forthwith to raise her son Solomon to the throne. To Joab he was able to oppose the celebrated name of Benaiah; to Abiathar his colleague Zadok and the aged prophet Nathan. The plot of Adonijah was at once defeated by this decisive measure; and Solomon, being anointed by Nathan, was solemnly acknowledged as king. The date of this event is, as nearly as can be ascertained, B.C. 1015. The death of David would seem to have followed very quick upon these transactions. At least, no public measures in the interval are recorded, except Solomon's verbal forgiveness of Adonijah. But after the removal of David, the first events of which we hear are the destruction of Adonijah, Joab, and Shimei son of Gera, with the degradation of Abiathar.
After this the history enters upon a general narrative of the reign of Solomon; but we have very few notices of time, and cannot attempt to fix the order of any of the events. All the information, however, which we have concerning him may be consolidated under the following heads: (1) his traffic and wealth; (2) his buildings; (3) his ecclesiastical arrangements; (4) his general administration; (5) his seraglio; (6) his enemies.
(1.) The overflowing wealth in which he is so vividly depicted is not easy to reduce to a modern financial estimate; partly because the numbers are so often treacherous, and partly because it is uncertain what items of expenditure fell on the general funds of the government. But abandoning all attempt at numerical estimates, it cannot be doubted that the wealth of Solomon was very great.
The profound peace which the nation enjoyed as a fruit of David's victories stimulated the industry of all Israel. The tribes beyond the Jordan had become rich by the plunder of the Hagarenes, and had a wide district where their cattle might multiply to an indefinite extent. The agricultural tribes enjoyed a soil and climate in some parts eminently fruitful, and in all richly rewarding the toil of irrigation; so that, in the security of peace, nothing more was wanted to develop the resources of the nation than markets for its various produce. In food for men and cattle, in timber and fruit trees, in stone, and probably in the useful metals, the land supplied of itself all the first wants of its people in abundance. For exportation, it is distinctly stated that wheat, barley, oil, and wine, were in chief demand; to which we may conjecturally add, wool, hides, and other raw materials. The king undoubtedly had large districts and extensive herds of his own; but besides this, he received presents in kind from his own people and from the subject nations. He was himself at once monarch and merchant. By his intimate commercial union with the Tyrians he was put into the most favorable of all positions for disposing of his goods; and by the aid of their enterprise and experience carried on a lucrative trade with various countries.
The visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon, although not strictly commercial, rose out of commercial intercourse, and may perhaps be here noticed. The territory of Sheba, according to Strabo, reached so far north as to meet that of the Nabathaeans, although its proper seat was at the southernmost angle of Arabia. The very rich presents made by the queen show the extreme value of her commerce with the Hebrew monarch; and this early interchange of hospitality derives a peculiar interest from the fact, that in much later ages—those of the Maccabees and downwards—the intercourse of the Jews with Sheba became so intimate, and their influence, and even power, so great. Jewish circumcision took root there, and princes held sway who were called Jewish.
(2.) Besides the great work which has rendered the name of Solomon so famous—the Temple at Jerusalem—we are informed of the palaces which he built, viz., his own palace, the queen's palace, and the house of the forest of Lebanon, his porch (or piazza) for no specified object, and his porch of judgment, or law court. He also added to the walls of Jerusalem, and fortified Millo ('in the city of David,' ), and many other strongholds. In all these works he had the aid of the Tyrians, whose skill in hewing timber and in carving stone, and in the application of machines for conveying heavy masses, was of the first importance.
(3.) The ecclesiastical arrangements of Solomon were of the most magnificent description, and for a time he zealously worshipped and faithfully served the God of his fathers. But, after the death of Nathan and Zadok, those faithful friends of David, 'his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not perfect with the Lord as was the heart of David his father' (). Side by side with the worship of Jehovah foreign idolatries were established; and the disgust which this inspired in the prophets of Jehovah is clearly seen in the address of Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam, so manifestly exciting him to rebel against the son of David ().
(4.) Concerning his general administration little is recorded beyond the names of various high officers. But it is probable that Solomon's peculiar talents and taste led him to perform one function which is always looked for in Oriental royalty, viz., to act personally as Judge in cases of oppression. His award between the two contending mothers cannot be regarded as an isolated fact: and 'the porch of judgment' which he built for himself may imply that he devoted fixed portions of time to the judicial duties (see , of Jotham). The celebrity which Solomon gained for wisdom, although founded mainly perhaps on his political and commercial sagacity must have received great popular impetus from his administration of law, and from his readiness in seeing through the entanglements of affairs which arise in commercial transactions.
(5.) For the harem of Solomon—consisting of 700 wives and 300 concubines—no other apology can be made, than the fact, that in countries where polygamy is not disreputable, an unlimited indulgence as to the number of wives is looked upon as the chief luxury of wealth, and the most appropriate appendage to royalty.
The commercial union of Tyre with Egypt, in spite of the vast diversity of genius between the two nations, was in those days very close; and it appears highly probable that the affinity to Pharaoh was sought by Solomon as a means of aiding his commercial projects. Although his possession of the Edomite ports on the gulf of Aqabah made him to a certain extent independent of Egypt, the friendship of that power must have been of extreme importance to him in the dangerous navigation of the Red Sea; and was perhaps a chief cause of his brilliant success in so new an enterprise. That Pharaoh continued for some time on good terms with him, appears from a singular present which the Egyptian king made him (): 'Pharaoh had gone up and taken Gezer, and burnt it with fire, and slain the Canaanites that dwelt in the city, and given it for a present unto his daughter, Solomon's wife;' in consequence of which Solomon rebuilt and fortified the town. In his declining years a very different spirit is manifested towards him by Shishak, the new Egyptian king; whether after the death of the princess who had been the link between the two kingdoms, or from a different view of policy in the new king, is unknown.
(6.) The enemies especially named as rising against him in his later years, are Jeroboam, Hadad the Edomite, and Rezon of Damascus. The first is described as having had no treasonable intentions, until Solomon sought to kill him on learning the prophecy made to him by Ahijah. Jeroboam was received and fostered by Shishak, king of Egypt, and ultimately became the providential instrument of punishing Solomon's iniquity, though not without heavy guilt of his own. As for Hadad, his enmity to Israel began from the times of David, and is ascribed to the savage butchery perpetrated by Joab on his people. He also, when a mere child, was warmly received in Egypt, apparently by the father-in-law of Solomon; but this does not seem to have been prompted by hostility to David. Having married the sister of Pharaoh's queen, he must have been in very high station in Egypt; still, upon the death of David, he begged leave to depart into Edom, and during the earlier part of Solomon's reign was probably forming his party in secret, and preparing for that dangerous border warfare which he carried on somewhat later. Rezon, on the contrary, seems to have had no personal cause against the Hebrew monarchy; but having become powerful at Damascus and on its frontier, sought, not in vain, to aggrandize himself at its expense. The revenues which would have maintained it were spent on a thousand royal wives: the king himself was unwarlike; and a petty foe, if energetic, was very formidable. Such were the vexations which darkened the setting splendors of the greatest Israelitish king. But from within also his prosperity was unsound. Deep discontent pervaded his own people, when the dazzle of his grandeur had become familiar; when it had become clear, that the royal wealth, instead of denoting national well being, was really sucked out of the nation's vitals. Having no constitutional organ to express their discontent, they waited sullenly, until the recognition of a successor to the crown should give them the opportunity of extorting a removal of burdens which could not permanently be endured.
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Solomon'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/s/solomon.html.