|International Bible Studies|
LESSON FOR SEPTEMBER 28, 1952
The Glory of Solomon’s Reign
GOLDEN TEXT: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” —Luke 12:15
I KINGS 4:20-26
SOLOMON, using his natural talents together with the wisdom given to him by the Lord, raised Israel to her greatest height of natural glory and prestige among the nations. Probably Jehovah overruled in this in order to supply a suitable type, or illustration, of the messianic kingdom and its glory. We are not necessarily to suppose that the Lord sanctioned everything which Solomon did to glorify himself in the eyes of Israel and of the surrounding nations, although there is no indication that the Lord condemned this aspect of his rulership.
The examples of royal splendor and despotic power seen in the courts of Egypt, Tyre, and the Euphrates, harmonizing with his own love of magnificence, may have served somewhat as a motive for his extravagances. Actually the nation was not sufficiently large to support a government along such fabulous lines as designed and executed by Solomon, so in order to maintain his position of glory he steadily extended the authority of the throne till he made it supreme and in great measure despotic.
True, he developed a very large foreign trade for those days—a trade which was almost wholly controlled by the throne—which produced large revenues. But even so, the Israelites were called upon to supply much that was needed to maintain the royal court. While the account indicates that despite the taxes upon the people, every man dwelt under his own vine and fig tree, nevertheless they were heavily burdened. This comes to light particularly at the death of Solomon, when the people petitioned his successor to the throne to ease this burden of taxation. This refusal to do so led to the division of the kingdom.
The provisions required to maintain the royal family and its guests for one day gives some idea of the pomp and elegance associated with Solomon’s reign. It has been estimated by some writers that there was a total of about fourteen thousand people who were supported by the throne. This, of course, would include the king’s seven hundred wives and his three hundred concubines.—I Kings 11:3
In order to supply food for all these, the land was divided into twelve districts, each under a special officer. Two of these were the king’s own sons-in-law. Each of these was given the task of supplying food for the royal table and household for a month out of the year. They seem to have been virtually the governors of their districts.—I Kings 4:7-19
Thus we see that Solomon’s wisdom was displayed by his genius for organization. Despite the top-heavy nature of his government as compared with the size of the nation, it functioned smoothly, and the fame of the king’s wisdom and riches spread throughout the then known world.
Evidently he was quite benevolent in the exercise of his autocratic power, for the record is that God gave him “largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore.” (I Kings 4:29) So we see in Solomon a king possessing great wisdom ruling the people with an understanding heart—a fitting symbol indeed of the great King who is to “have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.”—Ps. 72:8
I KINGS 11:4-8
WE BELIEVE we should put the best construction possible on the fact that Solomon acquired so many wives for himself. It has been suggested that this was in keeping with the customs of royalty at that time, being but a part of the extravagant magnificence of his court. It may, therefore, have reflected his effort to outshine the kings of surrounding nations.
Solomon’s wives—many of them at least—were women of high rank —“princesses.” This may indicate that Solomon took them into his family as hostages. This, it is claimed, was until recent years still the custom in Persia. In Solomon’s case, the purpose may have been to better control the lords or chieftains of the various small states which had come under his dominion.
But, however Solomon’s reasoning may have justified him in providing the doubtful luxury of so large a harem, there was no excuse whatever for allowing his wives to “turn away his heart” from the Lord. Despite his strong mind, he permitted himself to be enthralled by fair idolatresses with whom he had filled his house from the nations around. From their blandishments he was changed into another man, shorn of his glory and moral strength as the wise ruler of Israel.
Yielding to the wishes of his heathen wives, he at first tolerated their corruptions and worships. This soon grew into active patronage and participation. Soon, upon the high hills overlooking the temple of the Lord at Jerusalem there arose the shrines, the altars, and the images of Chemosh, of Molech, of Ashtaroth, and other gods worshipped by the king’s wives, and now by himself.
Solomon, the son of David, himself so highly favored by God, had now stooped to sanction the degrading worship of the grim and abominable idols of Moab, of Ammon, and of Zidon. To make it worse—if such were possible—he did this in the very presence of that “holy and beautiful house,” which in his younger days he had reared to the glory of the Lord.
Did Solomon repent? The Scriptures do not give us any positive indication. It is significant, though, that in the 11th chapter of Hebrews Paul omits his name from the list of ancient worthies whom he praises so highly for their faith and faithfulness.
It is generally supposed that Solomon wrote the Book of Ecclesiastes. In it there is much in the nature of warnings against the vanity and vexations of spirit by which the wicked and profligate are deceived. These expressions may reflect Solomon’s own experiences, and perhaps indicate that he at least had learned a valuable lesson. We believe that even though he may not become one of the “princes in all the earth,” he will be awakened from the sleep of death and be given an opportunity to live forever.
Of what was the royal splendor of Solomon’s kingdom a type?
How did the people of Israel fare during the reign of Solomon?
In what manner did Solomon’s many wives contribute to failure in his old age?