The name of Solomon is still evocative today. He is a striking picture of a man who possesses. His name is most familiar to us as a possessive adjective—Solomon’s wisdom, Solomon’s mines, Solomon’s wives, Solomon’s wealth, Solomon’s temple. And this is the basis of the story we must tell about him.
Solomon was the son of David the king, and Bathsheba, the former wife of Uriah. The name Solomon probably means peaceful, which is a good description of his reign. Nathan the prophet gave him another name, Jedidiah (2 Sam. 12:25), which means “beloved of the Lord.” Solomon was born early in David’s reign in Jerusalem (2 Sam. 5:14), but he does not enter the story of the Davidic dynasty as an active participant until very late in David’s reign.
RISE TO POWER
Absalom’s revolt against his father had come to nothing, but Absalom’s opposition to his father was carried on by the next oldest son, a man named Adonijah. Adonijah got the endorsements of Joab the general, and Abiathar, who was an influential priest. Adonijah went so far as to hold a coronation feast at a place called Enrogel. But Solomon had powerful allies at court—Benaiah, son of Jehoida, wanted to be general, and Zadok wanted to be priest. The most influential of this party were Nathan the prophet, and of course, Bathsheba, the queen. David had promised that Solomon would be king, and when reminded of this, he established Solomon on the throne before his own death.
THE WISDOM OF SOLOMON
The pattern of this story is that of a man who starts very well, is gradually corrupted by the fruit of his faithfulness, and who repents at the last. But the late repentance is a repentance granted to Solomon himself—and tragically not to those who were stumbled by him. But he nevertheless started well. Solomon came to the throne without a prior anointing from God, unlike his father and Saul. But he received his anointing at Gibeon (1 Kings 3:5), when God gave him a choice of gifts. Knowing the enormity of his responsibilities, Solomon asked for an “understanding heart.” This God gave to him, and added countless other blessings to him as well. And Solomon became the patron of Israel’s golden age of wisdom literature (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon). Two psalms are his as well (72 & 127)
CONSOLIDATION OF POWER
Solomon began his consolidation of power by settling some scores for his father—with Joab, and with Shimei. Of course, Solomon had to deal with Adonijah as well. Politically Solomon replaced tribal boundaries with administrative districts (1 Kings 4:7). Each district had to provide the food for the palace for a month, which was no small burden (vv. 22ff). This centralization and increased taxation was “tolerable” because of the widespread prosperity (v. 25).
As Solomon consolidated his position on the “land bridge” between Asia and Africa, he gained control of a town called Ezion-geber, located on the Gulf of Aqabah. This gave Israel access to the Indian Ocean. Solomon was not slow to make a treaty with the Phoenecians, a sea-going people, but a people who had no real access to the waterways of the east. But Solomon built a fleet of ships there in concert with the Phoenicians, and they began bringing gold back from Ophir (1 Kings. 9:26-28). The round trip there was three years in length (1 Kings 10:22). The phrase “ships of Tarshish” is probably best translated as “refinery ships,” ships equipped to carry smelted ore. The land of Ophir was probably Central America. And the annual weight of gold that would come to Solomon was 666 talents (1 Kings 10:14), the number of a man.
THE FLAW NEAR THE CENTER
Solomon’s great problem was not sensuality, despite the number of his wives. His problem was political—he did not limit the power of the state in the way that the law of God required a king of Israel to do. The law prohibited the multiplication of wives and horses, silver and gold (Deut. 17:16-17). At certain times, disobedience seems like it is a cultural or practical necessity. Suggested obedience is dismissed as “impractical” or “unrealistic.” But God’s promises to Solomon were not contingent upon him departing from the law of God.
At the same time, we cannot dismiss Solomon as a simple apostate. Christ speaks favorably of his wisdom (Luke 11:31-32). And the wisdom was a gift from God (1 Kings 10:24). Even his disobedience was conducted with wisdom, as he says in Ecclesiastes. And having looked over the precipice, he comes back to tell us that there is nothing better than to fear God and to keep His commandments. “Do not do what I did” is better than “go ahead and do it.” But there is a better way than both.
SHORT CATECHISM FOR LITTLE SAINTS
Solomon had wisdom from God as a great gift. What should he have done with it?
What was David’s great characteristic?
He was a man after God’s own heart.
What did Solomon ask God for?
He asked for an understanding heart.