Crash Course in Jewish
History Part 19 - King Solomon
Before David dies, he appoints as king his son Solomon, who is 12 years old at the time, with these words:
"I go the way of all the earth. You shall be strong, therefore, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the Lord your God to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes and His commandments and His testimonies. As it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn." (1 King 2:2-3)
This classic blessing is what today a boy receives on the day of his Bar Mitzvah. It restates the cardinal rule that has guided the Jewish people from the time of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai: in order to prosper just keep the Torah.
Shortly after Solomon is anointed king, God appears to him in a dream in which He invites Solomon to make a request for himself. Solomon answers:
"I am but a small child ... Give therefore your servant an understanding heart to judge your people..."
His request pleases God who tells him:
"Because you have not requested riches and honor but only that which would benefit all the people, I will give you not only an understanding heart like none other before or after you ... but also riches and honor like no other king in your days."(1 Kings 3:7-13)
Born in 848 BCE, Solomon dies at age 52 in 796 BCE, ruling as king for 40 years -- the best years in all of Israel's history. He is known as chacham mi'kol ha'adam, "wisest of all the men." The Bible relates that kings from all over the world came to hear his wisdom, which included not only Torah wisdom, but also wisdom in secular knowledge and science.
His fame spread through all the surrounding nations. He composed 3,000 parables, and 1,005 poems. He discoursed about trees, from the cedars of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows from the wall. He also discoursed about animals, birds, creeping things and fish. Men of all nations came to hear Solomon's wisdom, as did all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom. (1 Kings 5:11-14)
The crowning achievement of Solomon's reign is the building of the Temple which his father, King David, had dreamt about.
As we learned in the last installment in this series, King David brought the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem's Mount Moriah -- "the gate of heaven" -- but because he had been a warrior who had blood on his hands, he was not permitted by God to erect the Temple. However, this is left for his son to accomplish, which he does.
The Bible devotes several chapters to the construction of this most important building to the nation of Israel -- the place of communion between the Jewish people and God. It tells that the entire Temple both inside and outside, including floors and doors were overlaid with gold. Besides this there were bronze structures such as columns, an immersion tank, and basins. The magnificent structure took seven years to build.
When it is finished, Solomon dedicates the Temple:
"Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain You; how much less this house that I have built? Yet have regard for the prayer of Your servant, and for his supplication, O Lord my God, to listen to the cry and to the prayer, which Your servant prays before You today; that Your eyes may be open toward this house night and day, toward the place of which You have said, 'My name shall be there,' that You may listen to the prayer ... of your people Israel ..." (1 Kings 8:27-29)
This is the pinnacle of Jewish history. Everyone is united. Their neighbors don't bother the Jews -- in fact, they come to learn from the Jews. There is peace and prosperity.
This is as good as it gets for Israel. This is the zenith. So why doesn't this golden age last?
Solomon makes one big mistake. He takes too many wives. In fact, he has 700 wives and 300 concubines.
If we go back to the Book of Deuteronomy where the idea that Jews would one day want a king is first discussed, Moses warns that the king should not have too many horses or too many wives (Deut. 17:17). The great Torah commentator Rashi tells us that this means no more than 18, and that King David had only six. So we see that Solomon goes overboard a little bit.
This happens because at this time in history there were only two reasons for marriage among nobility -- to create offspring and to make political alliances.
The Middle East in Solomon's time is made up of many city-states and all the kings of these city-states want to send their daughters to marry King Solomon and in this way form an alliance with him.
That sounds good, but why is it wrong?
The Bible gives us the answer:
In his old age, his wives turned away Solomon's heart after other gods. (1 Kings 11:4-5).
This, of course, does not mean that King Solomon became an idolater, but the Bible uses these harsh words because he did not prevent his wives from carrying on their idolatrous practices. As a king, he is held responsible for the actions of those under his influence.
One of the greatest leaders of the Jewish people, a man on his spiritual level -- who wrote the Song of Songs, the Book of Ecclesiastes, and the Book of Proverbs -- must be suffering eternal pain in heaven knowing what has been written about him in the Bible.
The Bible ends Solomon's story relating that God was angry with him and told him:
"Since you are guilty of this, and you have not kept My covenant and My laws ... I will tear the kingdom away from you ... But I will not do this in your time, for the sake of your father David. Instead, I will tear it away from your son ... I will give your son one tribe for the sake of My servant David, and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen." (1 Kings 11:9-13)
It is clear from this how much God loved King David and how completely He had forgiven him for his faults. It is also clear that hard times are coming for the Jewish people as the kingdom of Israel is about to be torn in half.