Scripture Reading: 1 Kings 1-8, 10-11; 2 Chronicles 5-7; Proverbs 1-3, 6, 20-21
Significant Moments in The Story
Solomon anointed as King David’s successor – 1 Kings 1
The death of King David – 1 Kings 2
The wisdom of Solomon – 1 Kings 3
Solomon’s building programs – 1 Kings 5-7, 2 Chronicles 5-7
The dedication of the Temple – 1 Kings 8
Solomon’s failures – 1 Kings 11
The building and dedication of the Temple is the defining achievement of Solomon’s reign as king. We are given tremendous details about the ornateness and grandeur of the Temple structure. However, we cannot forget that the importance of the Temple was understood not in the building materials but in the belief that the Temple was where God lived and ruled. The space of the Temple captured the idea that God intends to dwell among His people. As we move forward, we will see that there will be times where the space itself or the rituals that take place in it will seem to become more important than the understanding of the presence of God. Today, we can struggle with making our church buildings or our church programs more important than communion with the living God. In his words of dedication, Solomon reminded the people that the Temple was for those who had sinned, those who are sinned against, those who have experienced loss, those who are experiencing trials, those who are strangers, and those who find themselves embattled. It is for them not because of the building itself but because it provides an opportunity for individuals and the community to come and pour their hearts out to God. It is space to worship and praise the Creator of the universe for His sake, not for the sake of the building.
Solomon is still remembered today as wise. However, what is meant by “the wisdom of Solomon”? There are various understandings of wisdom that we see in Solomon’s story. On the one hand, we see Solomon display wisdom in terms of his ability to consolidate his power as a king and form important alliances. Solomon shows shrewdness, cunning, and the ability to build relationships that bring fortune and glory to Israel. He also seems to be a good administrator, overseeing a tremendous building campaign that results in the Temple, a royal home, as well as several other structures. In addition, he efficiently organizes a kingdom larger than any ruler in Israel has ever known and proves to be a good adjudicator of legal cases.
A second understanding of wisdom emerges from the Proverbs, traditionally associated with Solomon. In short, wisdom here is defined as the ability to seek out God and His work in everyday life and apply the truths of God and His word so that one lives in faithfulness and righteousness. One could argue that Solomon’s excellence in the first area of wisdom ultimately compromised his wisdom in this second area.
1 Kings 3:3 says, “Solomon showed his love for the LORD by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.” Solomon’s life is a reminder that faithfulness is not a goal where our objective should be anything less than 100% success. God’s righteousness is not defined by being good and holy most of the time. Jesus himself said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. … Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:19, 48).
Adonijah’s claim to the throne – 1 Kings 1:5-2:25
It would seem, by age, that Adonijah is the presumptive heir to the throne. Adonijah was born to David during that time when Saul was seeking to kill David. Adonijah was the fourth son born to David during this time. The oldest son, Amnon, was killed by Absalom because of his rape of Tamar. We know nothing of David’s second son other than the mention of his birth in 2 Samuel 3:3 and 1 Chronicles 3:1. Some suggest he may have died in childhood. The third son, Absalom, was killed by Joab after he rose in revolt against David.
It is interesting that, unlike David and Saul, Solomon is raised up to the throne seemingly less by divine decree or prophetic act and more by political intrigue and manipulation. There seems to have been some uncertainty as to who exactly was the rightful heir, and Adonijah decides to start acting like the king so as to remove any rival claimants to the throne. However, Nathan and Bathsheba act quickly to have the people proclaim Solomon the king.
In response to Nathan and Bathsheba’s plotting, Adonijah seeks to claim the throne in a more roundabout way. Using Bathsheba as his go-between, Adonijah asks that Abishag the Shunammite, a nurse and concubine to David, be given to him as his wife. Solomon sees through the request, though, as an attempt by Adonijah to identify himself as the successor to David in marriage and thus on the throne.
The high places – 1 Kings 3:2
The high places were local shrines or altars. In the Old Testament, the high places will be associated with the worship of other gods, though at this point we should not necessarily assume such a connection. It is possible that some of these local shrines were being used to worship Israel’s God but were shrines left over from the Canaanite peoples who inhabited the land before Israel and who worshiped other gods. In 1 Kings 11:7-8, we are told that Solomon built “high places”, or altars, to the foreign gods that were worshiped by his wives.
Solomon’s governors – 1 Kings 4:7-19
Up until now, the indication is that the tribal leaders served as local governors in the different regions of Israel. However, Solomon relies on his own appointed governors to manage the regions of the country, and these governors did not necessarily have any tribal connections to the regions to which they were appointed. Each region was required to provide food for the king and his household for one month out of the year. It was the governor’s responsibility to insure that each region provided what was expected. There is some speculation that this organization and taxation may have contributed to the civil unrest at the end of Solomon’s reign. Another contributing factor may have been the forced labor that Solomon used for his grand building programs (1 Kings 5:13)
How long did it take? – 1 Kings 6:38-7:1
It is interesting to note that Solomon took 7 years to build the Temple and thirteen to build his palace. The Temple was built so close to the palace that there is some speculation that Solomon was attempting to make the Temple an annex of the palace, symbolizing that the religious life of Israel was under the control of the king.
Solomon’s wives – 1 Kings 11:1-3
Solomon is perhaps as known for his numerous wives as he is his wisdom. 700 wives? 300 concubines? It should be noted that royal marriages in ancient times were often as much about politics as anything else. It was not unusual for a king to give his daughter in marriage to another king as a sign of peace and agreement between the two countries. Thus, Solomon’s large number of wives may say more about his ability as a head of state than anything else. However, the Deuteronomic author of 1 Kings clearly believes that the reason for the troubles at the end of Solomon’s reign are to be found in his intermarriage with foreign women and his providing for the worship of foreign gods within Israel.
The book of Proverbs has traditionally been attributed to Solomon based on 1 Kings 4:32 as well as references within the book of Proverbs itself. While it is certainly likely that many of these proverbs came from the time of Solomon, not necessarily all of the contents of the book are to be attributed to Solomon and some clearly came from later times, perhaps even after the Babylonian exile.
The book of Proverbs is part of what is often called the Wisdom tradition, which focuses on coping with daily experiences. Other books associated with the Wisdom tradition include Job and Ecclesiastes. In the case of Proverbs, the emphasis is on understanding through observation and learning how faith is made manifest in day to day life. The Proverbs echo in many ways a Deuteronomic mindset: righteousness leads to happiness, evil leads to suffering. However, the proverbs are designed specifically to be teaching tools used by older parents/teachers to instruct young people.