An almost complete account of Solomon’s life is found in I Kings 1-11 and I Chronicles 22 through II Chronicles 9. His name appears 300 times in the Old Testament and a dozen times in the New Testament. Jesus mentions Him in the Sermon on the Mount to remind us to retain peace of mind (Mt. 6:29). He tells His followers that “the Queen of Sheba visited Solomon, awed by his great wisdom…but that One greater than Solomon has arrived” (Lk. 11:31).
A summary paragraph of Solomon’s life will prove helpful:
He is born around 990 BC. In his early twenties he is confirmed as king and marries Shulamith (I Kgs. 1:33). He co-reigns with his father until David dies. He eliminates threats to his throne and offers sacrifices to God (I Kgs. 2-3). God appears to him in a dream and grants him great wisdom (I Kgs. 3-4). He builds the temple (II Chron. 2:1–7:22) and dedicates it with pageantry and prayer (II Chron. 8 & I Kgs. 8). He then builds his own palace. The great Queen of Sheba pays him a royal visit (II Chron. 8-9). His numerous wives lead him astray. Solomon’s forty-year reign ends and he is buried in Jerusalem (I Kgs. 11). His sons Jeroboam and Rehoboam cause problems and the kingdom becomes divided (II Kgs. 12-14).
The life of Solomon serves to illustrate how bad decisions can ruin one’s future. His story is reminiscent of the voyage of the Titanic, for what seems destined for greatness ends in shipwreck. His intriguing history validates that the best advantages concerning parentage, giftedness, wealth, and wisdom guarantee nothing when it comes to making the right choices.
Solomon is the fourth of David’s sons to be born in Jerusalem (II Sam. 5) and the second son of his wife Bathsheba. Solomon is the tenth son of David. Six of Solomon’s brothers are born at Hebron, but each by a different mother (II Sam. 3). Both Bathsheba and Nathan the prophet are positive influences in his life (I Kgs. 1).
At Solomon’s birth we read “and the Lord loved him” (II Sam. 12:24). David names him “Solomon” which means “peaceable.” Perhaps this reflects David’s desire for peace after all the years of war. But the Lord instructs Nathan to christen him “Jedidiah,” which means “beloved of the Lord” (II Sam. 12:25). This name suggests Solomon will be highly favored and unusually gifted for God’s service. His heritage destines him to become an ancestor of the Messiah.
From his father he inherits a 50,000 square mile kingdom. Ultimately Solomon’s rule stretches from Egypt to Babylonia. Peace prevails through this era which has come to be known as “The Golden Age of Israel.”
David marries at least eighteen different women. As a result there are constant tensions and plotting among his wives and children to take his throne. Most of David’s offspring die violent deaths. In any case, none of them are spiritually qualified to rule. Solomon grows up surrounded by hatred, jealousy, and rebellion. Before he is thirty years of age, one of his half-brothers is murdered and one of his half-sisters is raped.
Because David is in poor health, Solomon’s brother Adonijah sees an opportunity to seize the kingdom. Although he is older than Solomon, the right of blood-succession has not yet been established in Israel. Adonijah gathers a sizable army. When Nathan learns of this potential threat to usurp the throne, he rushes to Bathsheba with the news. Both Nathan and Bathsheba pressure David to immediately anoint and appoint Solomon as the next king. The people agree and cry, “Long live King Solomon!” (I Kgs. 1). This move seems to take Adonijah by surprise and he seeks sanctuary and mercy at horns of the altar. It is agreed his life will be spared if he submits to Solomon’s authority.
During Adonijah’s cunning display of repentance, he asks Bathsheba to have David bless his marriage to Abishag, a member of David’s harem. In that era, if one marries one of the king’s women, it is tantamount to claiming the throne. Although Bathsheba does not seem to sense the threat, Solomon does and immediately has Adonijah executed. With all his internal foes now dead, Solomon is now free to rule as the third king of Israel (I Kgs. 1-2).
Perhaps no other book in the Bible has been so neglected or misunderstood as “The Song of Songs.” This is the book totally dedicated to picturing the love between a man and a woman.
There is tremendous unity throughout this progressive drama. In the Song of Solomon, no loaves and fish are multiplied, no one is raised from the dead, and there are no miracles…except the miracle of love between a husband and wife.
The first of Solomon’s writings, this narrative revolves around a girl from the village of Shulem who has come to be known as “Shulamith.” Her loyalty to young Solomon is the consistent theme of the book. She is seen as sincere, chaste, loving, persistent, and faithful. Solomon promotes her from a common person to be his queen. Interestingly, Solomon already had 60 wives and eighty concubines (SS 4:8). Later in his life, he will ultimately accumulate 700 wives and 300 concubines (I Kgs. 11:3).
His younger years picture Solomon as a spiritual man (I Kgs. 3:3-14). This book appears to be written during an era of humility in his life. In any case, Shulimith’s dynamic characteristics win the young king’s heart. This is the dynamic love story of their courtship and marriage. In the end, she returns with the king to his palace in Jerusalem.
Many theologians choke on the extreme intimacy of the book. Some deem it sexually explicit and erotic. However, the Song of Solomon is relevant for Believers in the twenty-first century. It is a story of mutual and reciprocal affection. The Song can be viewed as the soul’s journey, longing to be with the One she loves.
The narrative proves God not only loves nations, but individuals as well. It shows every Believer is born to be appreciated and cared for. It depicts the beauty of the bride through God’s eyes. This biblical book is allegorized as the desire for a sincere and permanent relationship between a Christian and Christ. The “longing to see His face” is the hope of the church (SS 2:14). “As a groom rejoices over a bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee” (Isa. 62:5).
SOLOMON’S REIGN AND EMPIRE
Solomon’s governance is an absolute monarchy which includes cabinet members, princes, priests, recorders,
secretaries, generals, and counselors. His rule is further established by purging his kingdom from ambitious men who seek to take his throne. These antagonists are not imaginary and he ultimately executes Joab, Adonijah, and Shimei. Solomon is a shrewd diplomat and organizes the nation into twelve administrative districts east and west of Jordan. Many vassal states pay the king tribute money (I Kgs. 4). The wealth of his kingdom is amassed through wise trade agreements. He eventually makes the Gulf of Aqabah a main port of trade concerning Arabia and Africa (I Kgs. 9).
His forces consist of 40,000 horses, 12,000 soldiers, and 1,400 chariots (I Kgs. 9-10). A large percentage of these troops are necessary to guard the caravan trade routes, especially those which cross Palestine. This tremendous standing army, prepared to engage enemies at any time, is a major reason for his reign of peace. The comparative weakness of both Assyria and Egypt during this era empowers Solomon to control and strengthen the northern and southern trade routes between the Red Sea and Asia Minor.
His kingship is fortified by relying on his father’s chief advisors whom he knows he can trust. David has firmly established the borders of Israel. Solomon does not enlarge the borders, but enriches the existing territory. He has control over all the tribes and nations between the Mediterranean Sea and the Euphrates River, thus fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham (Gen. 15:18). For forty years there are few hostilities with any nation. This will prove to be the only such period in the history of Israel (I Kgs. 11:42).
Solomon writes 1,005 songs and 3,000 proverbs (I Kgs. 4:32). A portion of these are preserved in the biblical book which bears this name. Most deal with the ethics of day-to-day living. Proverbs have been variously described as:
~ short precepts regulating conduct
~ quick moral lessons for daily living
~ pragmatism characterized by extreme brevity
~ easily memorized condensed wisdom
~ life solutions in snapshot phrases
~ self-illustrating truths
~ maxims from heaven for life on earth
Many proverbs state a brief prohibition followed by a reason.
Jesus also used this didactic device. “If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the ditch” (Lk. 6:39). A proverb is often a warning that states what is bad by comparing it with something good. “A wise man builds his house on the rock while the foolish man builds on sand” (Mt. 7:26).
As a grown man, Solomon has a vision at Gibeon. God asks him what he wants most in life. Although the king asks only for wisdom to rule God’s people, he is also bestowed with wealth and power (I Kgs. 3 & II Chron. 1). But there is one condition: he must obey God’s laws (I Kgs. 9:6). It is his deviation from these precepts that starts his gradual estrangement from Him. God’s Holy Spirit inspired Solomon to write the Proverbs, for He continually seeks to elevate His people to a higher standard of spiritual life. If Believers move away from godly common sense, the book of Proverbs can draws them back to reality. Solomon would have been wise to have heeded his own advice.
Jehovah does not allow David to build His great temple during a time of war. This work is left for Solomon. He can construct what is impossible earlier in Israel’s history. Due to a growing treasury and relative freedom from enemy nations, he makes Jerusalem one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
In order to build the temple, the king establishes groups of 10,000 workers who labor every forth month (I Kgs. 5:13-18). Through this huge labor force, great stones and timbers are brought to Jerusalem for temple construction. The actual building is only about thirty by one hundred feet. It is not famous for its size but its splendor.
Although it stands for nearly 400 years, it is finally destroyed in the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 BC. When the Jews return from exile, they begin to rebuild it. This “second temple” is completed in 515 BC. Herod the Great, another great architect, sets out to reconstruct it on an even grander scale in 20 BC. Jesus prophecies that not one stone of this this magnificent edifice will be left upon another (Mk. 13:2). In 70 AD the Romans level it during their war with Israel. The temple is never rebuilt.
If the commitment the king makes to God in his temple dedication prayer had prevailed, there is little he could not have accomplished (I Kgs. 8:15-21). The greatest challenges Solomon faces appear to be self-inflicted. The dangers prove to be more internal than external. Polygamy is common among pagan rulers during this time in history. Marriages with foreign women help strengthen bonds between countries. But such political betrothals are not typical of royal weddings that take place in Israel. Jehovah cannot not bless the marriage of the King of Israel and the Queen of Egypt (I Kgs. 9:24). When Solomon begins to intermarry with heathen nations, it is the beginning of his downfall. What was hoped would be politically advantageous proves to be spiritually disastrous.
When Solomon brings Pharaoh’s daughter into his family, he brings her false gods as well (I Kgs. 3:1). In direct violation of the first commandment, Solomon not only allows his wives to worship foreign gods but builds altars for them. These women turn his heart away from Jehovah (I Kgs. 11:3-9). Even during the reformation of the nation, the life of Solomon is heralded up as an example of evil. “Outlandish women caused him to sin” (Neh. 13:26).
In Ecclesiastes, the king identifies with the rest of the human race, wrestles with life’s problems, then states his conclusions. The book is a warning to those who are self-sufficient and materialistic. He describes how people seek satisfaction through philosophy, theology, science, entertainment, self-medication, money, sex, and social status. Solomon’s final statements give his readers deep insight into the brevity of life. Ecclesiastes answers the question, “Do you really possess anything after you possess everything?” In his sunset years, the king realizes the person who holds tightly his possessions can be held tightly by his possessions.
At the end of his race, the king concludes his entire lifespan consists of emptiness and vexation of spirit (Eccl. 1:14). The Hebrew word “vexation” pictures the frustration of chasing after something without ever catching it. It is a term he uses ten times in Ecclesiastes.
It is Solomon who brings the nation to the zenith of its destiny in size, wealth, and fame. But all his combined wisdom cannot teach him self-control. His pageantry and magnificence win him no favors with God. Jesus will later reflect, “Even a lily has more glory than all the glory of Solomon” (Lk. 12:27). He does not possess the spiritual strength to withstand a life of luxury and indulgence. He therefore wanders paths he is forbidden to tread. The wisest man who ever lived finds no lasting satisfaction in power, fame, women, or wealth.
It is noteworthy that Solomon says little or nothing regarding repentance in his final book. There are only faint traces of optimism, for he now views life with skepticism. It is difficult to find any verse or passage where the king seems concerned with the spiritual life of his people. Throughout Solomon’s reign we have no hint he imparted Israel with a sense of mission to spread the wonders and glory of Jehovah to other nations. When we leave Solomon at the end of Ecclesiastes, it appears he will die disillusioned, disheartened, and spiritually bankrupt.
Solomon begins life like a clear cloudless day but ends life under gloomy skies. The monarch dies, burned out by indulgences and excesses, leaving behind a spiritually lifeless people, a depleted treasury, and a shaky empire. As a result, God informs Solomon he will soon lose the kingdom and it will be torn apart (I Kgs. 11:11-12). The nation splits not long after his death due to the pride of his son Rehoboam.
Three thousand years since his demise, the life of Solomon continues to serve as a stern admonition to practice self-examination and self-control. In the end, the king concludes every person’s primary duty in life is to respect and obey God, for true wisdom is characterized by faithfulness to Jehovah. (Eccl. 12:13).
In the twenty-first century, with all of cyberspace to search for answers, only a personal relationship with the Son of God makes life truly meaningful.