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I have entitled this post Solomon’s Wisdom & Folly because we usually associate Solomon with wisdom.  However, the author of Kings has no interest in defending Solomon when the king made stupid choices.  Key to his folly was his multiple wives but you will see that they are not alone.

Rev. Justin Lee Marple, Niagara Presbyterian Church, chiasm of the United Kingdom in Kings like Solomon picture

Kings: Part I
Kings: Solomon
1 Kings 3: Wife and Wisdom

Immediately after the text says that YHWH has firmly established Solomon as King of Israel, the author makes some pointed criticisms of the king.  

First, Solomon married the daughter of Pharaoh as part of an alliance with Egypt.

Second, note the order: “his own house and the house of YHWH and the wall around Jerusalem.”

Third, because no house had yet been built for the name of YHWH people were sacrificing at the high places.

Fourth, Solomon loved YHWH and walked in the statutes of his father David, BUT Solomon sacrificed and made offerings at the high places.

Fifth, Solomon went to the Great High Place at Gibeon to sacrifice.  A place where he had offered 1,000 burnt offerings on that altar.

By making a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt, Solomon has already set the nation on a path that Isaiah will strongly condemn in the next book of the Prophets.  A wise interpretation of Deuteronomy 17:16 (in the regulations for the king) would include not looking to Egypt for military support and alliances.  It is also an unwise marriage since there is the potential for her to lead him astray to serve other gods.  This point is explicitly made in the parallel section of the chiasm.

The order of building projects is almost assuredly to make a point: Provan says, “Solomon spent almost twice as much time building the palace…as he did building the temple” and the authors “by positioning of the account of building the palace, imply that it interfered with and delayed the completion of the other project.”  The verse shows us not chronologically what took place when so much as it reveals Solomon’s priorities were misplaced.

Moreover, Kings does not look favorably upon sacrifices taking place on the high places.  And the fact that the people and the king are both doing this because Solomon is not making the temple building the priority means that it is his fault (likely under the influence of his new wife who wants her palace finished and is not a YHWH worshiper anyway).

At the parallel place (1 Kings 11) you will see that a wife has multiplied into wives and that then Solomon is sacrificing on the high places to multiple gods.

Thus here at the opening of 1 Kings 3 is the root cause of the problems that will lead to Solomon’s fall and to the fall of the nation of Israel.  

This love of YHWH that Solomon has is one of divided loyalties.  This is the significance of his wife (and later wives) and the theme of alliances and of his failure to centralize the sacrifices and offerings at Jerusalem.  He loves YHWH but not wholeheartedly.  It is no accident that 1 Kings 11:1-2 says, “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women…Solomon clung to these in love”  and paraphrases Exo 34:16 or Deut 7:3-4.

King Solomon then is presented almost as a prophet – He receives revelation in a dream.  The two main ways God communicated with prophets was by visions or dreams.

And the text presents Solomon as a wisdom teacher.  These teachers were to discern between good and evil (a priestly calling).

Despite his sinful inclinations, God heard his prayer for wisdom and gave him wisdom (as well as riches and the like).

God also promised Solomon long life based upon the condition of covenant obedience: “And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days” (1 Kings 3:15).  This brings the dream full circle as Solomon had begun by noting the faithful walk of David.  God is not requiring sinless perfection for this long-life but for covenant obedience (repentant, seeking forgiveness, and offering sacrifices).  It is no doubt noteworthy that the section ends with Solomon at Jerusalem standing before the ark and offering burnt offerings and peace offerings.

The reason this emphasis on long-life is important is because it is also true for the nation.  Upon the condition of covenant obedience, the nation would live long in the land.  If they broke the covenant, then the nation would go into exile (which is death).  Solomon is the king and what the king does prefigures what the nation that he represents will do.  When Solomon falls, he is showing us what will happen to the whole nation he represents.  The “strange” thing is how long the days of the nation were lengthened even though the covenant had been broken.

The next section in the chiasm displays Solomon’s God-given wisdom.  Two prostitutes came and stood before him.  The one said that they were the only two living in the house and that they had sons THREE days apart and that the second son died during the night after his mother laid on him and she switched the babies.  The mother who accidentally killed her son was jealous of the one whose son was still living.  Thus to reveal which one was telling the truth and which one was jealous, Solomon suggested cutting the living son in two and give half to the one mother and half to the other mother.

Leithart notes similarities between the situation where Solomon’s wisdom is first on display and what had happened earlier in Kings.

1 Kings 1-2: two mothers, Haggith and Bathsheba; two sons: Adonijah and Solomon; Bathsheba pleads for life of child; Solomon rescued from threat; David passes judgment in favor of Bathsheba.

1 Kings 3: two mothers, two sons, mother pleads for child, son rescued from threat, Solomon passes judgment.

The women argue in circles:

A. “No, the living child is mine,
B. And the dead child is yours.”
B. “No, the dead child is yours,
A. And the living child is mine”
(1 Kings 3:22).

And we are never told which one was the mother of the living son, just that the mother of the living son got her son back.

The important conclusion to the matter is this: “And all Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice” (1 Kings 3:28).

It is significant that the two women were prostitutes and that they did not sway him to make a decision contrary to wisdom.  Some have suggested that the two women represent true Israel and false Israel and that Solomon was able to distinguish the true from the false.

It is significant that at the parallel place in the chiasm we move from “all Israel” hearing about this wisdom to the “queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon” (1 Kings 10:1).  She says, “Happy are your men!  Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!  …  Because YHWH loved Israel forever, He has made you king, that you may execute justice and righteousness” (1 Kings 10:9).  This theme of executing justice and righteousness as well as the theme of the queen being in ‘awe’ of Solomon are similar to the conclusion of all Israel in 1 Kings 3:28.

1 Kings 4

1 Kings 4 continues the theme of Solomon’s glory.  For now let’s treat it as two parts: the first dealing with Israel (1 Kings 4:1-20) and the second with the nations (1 Kings 4:21-34).

The first section gives the impression of a wise order to the nation.  It begins noting that Solomon “was king over all Israel” and ends saying “Judah and Israel were as many as the sand by the sea.  They ate and drank and were happy.”  This is the first time a narrator has said that Israel was as many as the sand by the sea.  The picture is one of total blessing and fulfillment of the promises.   

There are eleven officials, twelve including the king, mentioned in 1 Kings 4:1-6, and twelve officers over all Israel in 1 Kings 4:7-19 (under Azariah the governor).  This totals 24 (12×2).  The picture is one of order, blessing, and it is a number representing the people of God.

The passage shows the reinstatement of Abiathar as priest and so the reversal of that judgment in chapter 2.  In other words, this order reflects God’s wisdom rather than Solomon’s earlier decisions.   

So far we have looked at chapter 4 as two parts, however, this division falls apart as we continue through the rest of the chapter.  The concern of the first part had to do with Solomon’s court being fed.  This theme continues in the second.

Rev. Justin Lee Marple, Niagara Presbyterian Church, chiasm of 1 Kings 4 image

Solomon’s kingdom is organized in a similar way to God’s visible kingdom.  He has priests around him, twelve administrative districts, “eating, drinking, and rejoicing” is what took place at God’s tabernacle/temple, and the Gentiles are included in the outer court.

Solomon is the new Adam and displays the same divided loyalties as Adam.  Why is Solomon’s table and not YHWH’s the center of attention?  Why does the text mention the large number of stalls for horses and chariots and such?  This cannot be good given the laws concerning kings.

At the climax of the chiasm is a list of seven different animals for Solomon’s table: “ten fat oxen, and twenty pasture-fed cattle, a hundred sheep, besides deer, gazelles, roebucks, and fattened fowl” (1 Kings 4:22).  The sacrificial animals representing Israel and the clean wild animals representing the God-fearing Gentiles. The sacrificial animals all have numbers in front of them. Thus as the Gentile nations become part of Solomon’s kingdom, animals representing the God-fearing Gentiles (clean wild animals) become part of Solomon’s body.  It is a table where Jews and Gentiles are welcome.

1 Kings 4:29-34 then serves as a conclusion to the whole section of 1 Kings 3:16-4:34.

“And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt.  For he was wiser than all other men, wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol, and his fame was in all the surrounding nations.  He also spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005.”

“He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall.  He spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish.  And people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom.”  Solomon is the new Adam.

Note that speaking of nature is a normal feature of wisdom and that wisdom teachers are usually noted for the proverbs they collect (3,000 proverbs).  Solomon considered everything.

Preparation to build the Temple: 1 Kings 5

Hiram king of Tyre is the best example of a God-fearing Gentile king in the Ancient Near East (ANE).  He had been a faithful vassal of David and now of Solomon.  David and Solomon together form a Christ-figure: “David my father could not build a house for the name of YHWH his God because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him, until YHWH put them under the soles of his feet.  But now YHWH my God has given me rest on every side” (1 Kings 5:3-4).

To use the language of typology.  Solomon was like a new Joshua.  This “rest” is a theme of Joshua.  

David had told Solomon to be strong and courageous and keep Torah (1 Kings 2:2-3, Joshua 1:6), Solomon judged between the prostitutes (1 Kings 3:16ff and Rahab the prostitute in Joshua 2), Solomon divided the land into twelve districts (1 Kings 4:7ff and Joshua 13-21), and Solomon will build the temple at Jerusalem as Joshua had set up the tabernacle at Shiloh.

The previous section had mentioned that Solomon spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon – this was a sign of his wisdom.  Now Hiram says about the matter of cedar and cypress timber: “Blessed be YHWH this day, who has given to David a wise son to be over this great people” (1 Kings 5:7).  And the narrator tells us, “And YHWH gave Solomon wisdom, as He promised him, and there was peace between Hiram and Solomon, and the two of them made a treaty” (1 Kings 5:12).

Remember the story: David built his own palace of cedar and then realized that it was wrong to have such a nice home without YHWH having one.  And now Solomon is asking for cedar to build YHWH a home, but it will not be long before he will be concentrating on his own palace instead.

The conclusion of this section discusses the forced labor that Solomon subjected people to do.  This is also a stress of the parallel section in the chiasm where it is made clear that the laborers were Canaanites (1 Kings 9:10-25).

Building of the Temple 6:1-9:9

The building of the Temple is at the center of the the Solomon chiasm.  Thus this is the really important part of the narrative.

The temple is a three-story structure (like all Biblical tabernacles/temples).  This temple took seven years to build (it is a new creation event) with reminders of the Edenic Garden (including cherubim).  The temple is significantly larger in all dimensions compared to the tabernacle it replaces.

After the opening description (1 Kings 6:1-10), the text says, “Now the word of YHWH came to Solomon, ‘Concerning this house that you are building, if you will walk in my statutes and obey my rules and keep all my commandments and walk in them, then I will establish my word with you, which I spoke to David your father.  And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake my people Israel” (1 Kings 6:11-13).  This is a shorter version of what YHWH will say at the end of this section (1 Kings 9:1-9) where it talks about the temple becoming a heap of ruins if they turn from worshiping YHWH.

After the opening description (1 Kings 6:1-10), the text says, “Now the word of YHWH came to Solomon, ‘Concerning this house that you are building, if you will walk in my statutes and obey my rules and keep all my commandments and walk in them, then I will establish my word with you, which I spoke to David your father.  And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake my people Israel” (1 Kings 6:11-13).  This is a shorter version of what YHWH will say at the end of this section (1 Kings 9:1-9) where it talks about the temple becoming a heap of ruins if they turn from worshiping YHWH.

In chapter 7 the description of Solomon’s house resembles the glory of the house of YHWH.  Moreover, it also mentions, “Solomon also made a house like this hall for Pharaoh’s daughter whom he had taken in marriage” (1 Kings 7:8).

Later the text mentions one of the men who would oversee the temple work saying, “And he was full of wisdom, understanding, and skill for making any work in bronze” (1 Kings 7:14).  Thus emphasizing the wisdom theme in building the temple.  This worker was named Hiram but is not to be confused with the king of Tyre.

And the wise craftsman that made the gold furnishings was Solomon himself.

In chapter 8 the ark is moved into the Temple.  “And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of YHWH, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of YHWH filled the house of YHWH” (1 Kings 8:11).

The glory-cloud of YHWH filled the Temple.

The climax of this Solomon cycle thus has prepared the nation for the coming exile.

“Why has YHWH done thus to this land and to this house?”

“Because they abandoned YHWH their God who brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them.  Therefore YHWH has brought all this disaster on them” (1 Kings 9:8c-9).

The truly important aspect of the Temple was not the valuables in it but YHWH who dwelt there.  Solomon says, “Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27).

Solomon’s prayer of dedication is an intercessory prayer that people would be able to come and God would forgive them.  It mentions various curses that might befall the nation if they sinned against YHWH and even captivity.  And it pleads that God will hear their prayer of forgiveness if they repent with all their mind and heart.

Kings: Solomon and Rehoboam

What takes place for Israel first takes place for her representative king.  

Solomon did what was evil in the sight of YWHH and did not wholly follow YHWH as David his father had done (1 Kings 11:6).

Thus YHWH was angry with Solomon and said that He would tear the kingdom from him and give it to his servant and let his son keep one tribe.

Rehoboam did not have the wisdom of his father and rejected the advice of his elders.  Telling the people of Israel that he would make their yoke even more heavy.  And when the people of Israel saw that the king was not responsive to them (as instigated by Jeroboam) they said, “What portion do we have in David?  We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse” (1 Kings 12:16).  These were the same lines as the rebellion of Sheba in Samuel (2 Sam 20:1).  Thus what had earlier happened to David (the true Israel) was now happening to the nation of Israel again.

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