|Old Testament History - 5.5 - Solomon's Dream and Wisdom|
Solomon marries the daughter of Pharaoh — his sacrifice at Gibeon — his dream and prayer — Solomon’s wisdom — Solomon’s officers and court — prosperity of the country — understanding
IT is remarkable how often seemingly unimportant details in the sacred narrative gain a fresh meaning and new interest if viewed in their higher bearing and spiritual import. Nor is such application of them arbitrary. On the contrary, we conclude that Scripture was intended to be so read. This is evident from the circumstance that it is, avowedly not a secular but a prophetic history,* and that, being such, it is not arranged according to the chronological succession of events, but grouped so as to bring into prominence that which concerns the kingdom of God. This plan of Scripture history is not only worthy of its object, but gives it its permanent interest and application.
* As noticed in the previous part, and even indicated by the position in the Hebrew Canon of the historical books among "the Prophets."
What has just been stated is aptly illustrated by the opening account of King Solomon's reign. Of course, no chronological arrangement could have been here intended, since the list of Solomon's officers, given in 1 Kings 4, contains the names of at least two of the king's sons-in-law (vers. 11,15), whose appointment must, therefore, date from a period considerably later than the commencement of his reign. What, then, we may ask, is the object of not only recording in a "prophetic history" such apparently unimportant details, but grouping them together irrespective of their dates? Without undervaluing them, considered as purely historical notices, we may venture to suggest a higher object in their record and arrangement.
This detailed account of all the court and government appointments serves as evidence, how thoroughly and even elaborately the kingdom of Solomon was organized - and by obvious inference, how fully God had made good in this respect His gracious promises to King David. But may we not go even beyond this, and see in the literal fulfillment of these outward promises a pledge and assurance that the spiritual realities connected with them, and of which they were the symbol and type, would likewise become true in the Kingdom of Him Who was "David's better Son?" Thus viewed, the Divine promise made to David (2 Samuel 7) was once more like a light casting the lengthening shadows of present events towards the far-off future.
The first event of national interest that occurred was the marriage of Solomon with the daughter of Pharaoh. It was of almost equal political importance to Egypt and to Palestine. An alliance with the great neighboring kingdom of Egypt might have seemed an eventuality almost unthought of among the possibilities of the new and somewhat doubtful monarchy in Israel. But, on the other hand, it may have been also of importance to the then reigning Egyptian dynasty (the 21st Time), which, as we know, was rapidly declining in authority.*
* Comp. Stuart Poole, in Smith's Bible Did., vol. 1. p. 511.
To Israel and to the countries around, such a union would now afford evidence of the position and influence which the Jewish monarchy had attained in the opinion of foreign politicians. All the more are we involuntarily carried back in spirit to the period when Israel was oppressed and in servitude to Egypt. As we contrast the relations in the past and in the time of Solomon, we realize how marvelously God had fulfilled His promises of deliverance to His people. And here we again turn to the great promise in 2 Samuel 7, as alike instructive to Israel as regarded their present, and as full of blessed hope for their future. The time of the Judges had been one of struggle and disorganization; that of David one of war and conflicts. But with Solomon the period of peace had begun, emblematic of the higher peace of the "Prince of Peace." Thus viewed, the account of the prosperity of the land and people, as further evidenced by the wealth displayed in the ordinary appointments of the Court; by the arrangement of the country into provinces under officers for fiscal administration and civil government; and, above all, by the wisdom of Solomon, - who, while encouraging by example literature and study of every kind, chiefly aimed after that higher knowledge and understanding which is God-given, and leads to the fear and service of the Lord, - acquires a new and a spiritual meaning.
But to return to the sacred narrative. This marriage of Solomon with the daughter of Pharaoh - to which, from its frequent mention, so much political importance seems to have been attached - took place in the first years of his reign, although some time after the building of the Temple and of his own palace had commenced.* Such a union was not forbidden by the law,** nor was the daughter of Pharaoh apparently implicated in the charge brought against Solomon's other foreign wives of having led him into idolatry (1 Kings 11:1-7).
* From 1 Kings 11:42, comp. with 14:21, we might infer that Solomon had married the Ammonitess Naamah before the death of his father. But as this seems incompatible with 2 Chronicles 13:7, and for other reason which will-readily occur to the reader, the numeral indicating the age of Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:21) seems to be a copyist's mistake for 21.
In fact, according to Jewish tradition, the daughter of Pharaoh actually became a Jewish proselyte. still, Solomon seems to have felt the incongruity of bringing her into the palace of David, within the bounds of which "the Ark of the Lord" appears to have been located (2 Chronicles 8:11), and she occupied a temporary abode "in the City of David," until the new palace of Solomon was ready for her reception.
But the great prosperity which, as we shall presently see, the country enjoyed during the reign of Solomon, was due to higher than merely outward causes. It was the blessing of the Lord which in this instance also made - rich that blessing which it was Solomon's chief concern to obtain. From the necessity of the case, Israel, and even Solomon, still worshipped on the ancient "high places."*
* Comp. the views expressed in the Mishnah on the lawfulness of such worship in vol. 3 of this "Bible History," p. 78.
Of these, the principal was naturally Gibeon - the twin height. For, right over against the city itself, on one of the two eminences ("mamelons") which gave it its name, the ancient Tabernacle which Moses had reared had been placed. Here Solomon, at the commencement of his reign, celebrated a great festival, probably to inaugurate and consecrate his accession by a public acknowledgment of Jehovah as the God of Israel. All the people took part in what was a service of hitherto unparalleled magnificence.*
* Similarly Xerxes offered a thousand oxen at Troy (Herod. 7. 43)
But something far better than the smoke of a thousand burnt-sacrifices offered in Israel's ancient Sanctuary, attested that the God, Who had brought Israel out of Egypt and led them through the Wilderness, still watched over His people. The services of those festive days were over, and king and people were about to return to their homes. As Solomon had surveyed the vast multitude which, from all parts of the country, had gathered to Gibeon, the difficulty must have painfully forced itself on him of wisely ruling an empire so vast as that belonging to him, stretching from Tiphsach (the Greek Thapsacus), "the fords," on the western bank of the Euphrates, in the north-east, to Gaza on the border of Egypt, in the southwest (1 Kings 4:24). The conquests so lately made had not yet been consolidated the means at the king's disposal were still comparatively scanty. tribal jealousies were scarcely appeased; and Solomon himself was young and wholly inexperienced. Any false step might prove fatal; even want of some brilliant success might disintegrate what was but imperfectly welded together. On the other hand, had Israel's history not been a series of constant miracles, through the gracious Personal interposition of the LORD? What, then, might Solomon not expect from His help?
Busy with such thoughts, the king had laid him down to rest on the last night of his stay in Gibeon. Ordinarily dreams are without deeper significance. So Solomon himself afterwards taught (Ecclesiastes 5:7); and so the spiritually enlightened among other nations, and the prophets in Israel equally declared (Job 20:8; Isaiah 29:7). And yet, while most fully admitting this (as in Ecclesiasticus 34:1-6), it must have been also felt, as indeed Holy Scripture teaches by many instances, that dreams might be employed by the Most High in the time of our visitation (Ecclesiasticus 34:6). So was it with Solomon on that night. It has been well remarked, that Adonijah would not have thus dreamed after his feast at En-rogel (1 Kings 1:9, 25), even had his attempt been crowned with the success for which he had hoped. The question which on that night the Lord put before Solomon, "Ask what I shall give thee?" was not only an answer to the unspoken entreaty for help expressed in the sacrifices that had been offered, but was also intended to search the deepest feelings of his heart. Like that of our Lord addressed to St. Peter, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?" it sounded the inmost depths of the soul. Such questions come, more or less distinctly, to us all, and that in every crisis of our lives. They may become fresh spiritual starting-points to us, seasons of greater nearness to God, and of spiritual advancement; or they may prove times of "temptation," if we allow ourselves to be "drawn away" and "enticed" of our own "lust."
The prayer of Solomon on this occasion once more combined the three elements of thanksgiving, confession, and petition. In his thanksgiving, acknowledgment of God mingled with humiliation; in his confession, a sense of inability with the expression of felt want; while his petition, evidently based on the Divine promise (Genesis 13:16; 32:12), was characterized by singleness of spiritual desire. For, in order to know what he sought, when so earnestly craving for "understanding," we have only to turn to his own "Book of Proverbs." And, as in the case of all whose spiritual aim is single, God not only granted his request, but also added to what He gave "all things" otherwise needful, thus proving that the "promise of the life that now is" is ever connected with that of the life "which is to come" (2 Timothy 4:8), just as in our present condition the soul is with the body. Perhaps we may put it otherwise in this manner. As so often, God extended the higher wisdom granted Solomon even to the lower concerns of this life, while He added to it the promise of longevity and prosperity - but only on condition of continued observance of God's statutes and commandments (1 Kings 3:14).* Such gracious condescension on the part of the LORD called for the expression of fresh public thanksgiving, which Solomon rendered on his return to Jerusalem (1 Kings 3:15).
* Accordingly, Solomon forfeited this promise on account of his later idolatry. He died at the age of about fifty-nine or sixty.
Evidence of the reality of God's promise soon appeared, and that in a manner peculiarly calculated to impress the Eastern mind. According to the simple manners of the times, a cause too difficult for ordinary judges was carried direct to the king, who, as God's representative, was regarded as able to give help to his people in all time of need. In such paternal dispensation of justice, there was no appeal to witnesses nor to statute-books, which indeed would have been equally accessible to inferior judges; but the king was expected to strike out some new light, in which the real bearings of a case would so appear as to appeal to all men's convictions, and to command their approval of his sentence. There was here no need for anything recondite - rather the opposite. To point out to practical common sense what was there, though unperceived until suddenly brought to prominence, would more than anything else appeal to the people, as a thing within the range of all, and yet showing the wise guidance of the king. Thus sympathy and universal trust, as well as admiration, would be called forth, especially among Orientals, whose wisdom is that of common life, and whose philosophy that of proverbs.
The story of the contention of the two women for the one living child, when from the absence of witnesses it seemed impossible to determine whose it really was, is sufficiently known. The ready wisdom with which Solomon devised means for ascertaining the truth would commend itself to the popular mind. It was just what they would appreciate in their king. Such a monarch would indeed be a terror to evil-doers, and a protection and praise to them that did well. It is probably in order to explain the rapid spread of Solomon's fame that this instance of his wisdom is related in Holy Scripture (1 Kings 3:28).
The prosperity of such a reign was commensurate with the fact that it was based upon the Divine promises, and typical of far greater blessings to come. The notices in 1 Kings 4 and 5 are strung together to indicate that prosperity by presenting to our view the condition of the Israelitish monarchy in the high-day of its glory. Wise and respected councilors surrounded the king.*
* The word Cohen in 1 Kings 4:2 ("Azariah, the son of Zadok the priest") should not be rendered "priest," but refers to a civil office - that of the king's representative to the people and his most intimate adviser. The same term is used of Zabud in ver. 5, where the Authorized Version translates "principal officer," and also of David's sons, 2 Samuel 8:18. A grand. son of Zadok could not have been old enough to be high-priest (comp. 1 Chronicles 6:10.)
The administration of the country was orderly, and the taxation not arbitrary but regulated. The land was divided, not according to the geographical boundaries of the "tribes," but according to population and resources, into twelve provinces, over each of which a governor was appointed. Among their number we find two sons-in-law of the king (4:11, 15), and other names well-known in the land (such as those of Baana, ver. 12, probably the brother of "the recorder," ver. 3, and Baanah, the son of Hushai, probably David's councilor, ver. 16). Had this policy of re-arranging the country into provinces been sufficiently consolidated, many of the tribal jealousies would have ceased. On the other hand, the financial administration, entrusted to these governors, was of the simplest kind. Apparently, no direct taxes were levied, but all that was requisite for the royal court and government had to be provided, each province supplying in turn what was required for one month. Such a system could not indeed press heavily, so long as the country continued prosperous; but with a luxurious court, in hard times, or under harsh governors, it might easily become an instrument of oppression and a source of discontent. From 1 Kings 12:4 we gather that such was ultimately the case. It need scarcely be added, that in each province the supreme civil government was in the hands of these royal officials; and such was the general quiet prevailing, that even in the extensive district east of the Jordan, which bordered on so many turbulent tributary nations, "one sole officer" (1 Kings 4:19) was sufficient to preserve the peace of the country.
Quite in accordance with these notices are the references both to the prosperity of Israel, and to the extent of Solomon's dominions (1 Kings 4:20, 21). They almost read like an initial fulfillment of that promise to Abraham, "Multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies" (Genesis 22:17).
And if, compared with the simplicity of Saul's and even of David's court, that of Solomon seems luxurious in its appointments,* we must remember that it was intended to show the altered state of the Israelitish monarchy, and that even so the daily consumption was far smaller than at the court of the Persian monarchs in the high-day of their power and glory.**
* The provision made was not only for the court and its dependants, but also for the royal stables (1 Kings 4:26-28), In verse 26 the number of his horses is by a clerical error given as 40,000 instead of 4,000 (comp. 2 Chronicles 9:25). If, according to 1 Kings 10:26, 2 Chronicles 1:14, Solomon had 1,400 chariots, each with two horses, and with, in most of them, a third horse as reserve, we have the number 4,000.
** It is difficult to give the exact equivalent of the "thirty measures of fine flour and threescore of meal" (in all, ninety measures), 1 Kings 4:22. According to the calculation of the Rabbis (Bibl. Dict. vol. 3, p, 1742) they would yield ninety-nine sacks of flour. Thenius (Studien u. Krit. for 1846, p. 73, etc.) calculates that they would yield two pounds of bread for 14,000 persons. But this computation is exaggerated. On competent authority I am informed that one bushel of flour makes up fourteen (four pound) loaves of bread; consequently, one sack (four bushels) fifty-six loaves, or 224 pounds of bread. This for ninety-nine sacks would give 22,176 pounds of bread, which at two pounds per person would supply 11,088 - or, with waste, about 11,000 persons. Of this total amount of bread, the thirty-three sacks of "fine flour" - probably for court use - would yield 1,848 loaves, or 7,392 pounds of bread. The number of persons fed daily at the court of the kings of Persia is said to have been 15,000 (see Speaker's Comm., p. 502). Thenius further calculates that, taken on an average, the thirty oxen and one hundred sheep would yield one and a half pounds of meat for each of the 14,000 persons. At the court of Cyrus, the daily provision seems to have been, 400 sheep, 300 lambs, 100 oxen, 30 horses, 30 deer, 400 fatted geese, 100 young geese, 300 pigeons, 600 small fowls, 3,750 gallons of wine, 75 gallons of new milk, and 75 of sour milk (comp. Bahr in Lange's Bibel W., vol. 7. p. 29). But here also the computation of Thenius seems too large, bearing in mind that cattle and sheep in the East are much smaller than in the West.
But the fame which accrued to the kingdom of Solomon from its prosperity and wealth would have been little worthy of the Jewish monarchy, had it been uncombined with that which alone truly exalteth a nation or an individual. The views of Solomon himself on this subject are pithily summed up in one of his own "Proverbs" (3:13, 14), "Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that causeth understanding to go forth; for merchandise (trading) with it, is better than merchandise with silver, and the gain from it than the most fine gold."*
* We translate literally.
All this the "wise king" exemplified in his own person. God gave him "wisdom" not only far wider in its range, but far other in its character (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10)than that of the East, or of far-famed Egypt, or even of those deemed wisest in Israel,* "and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea-shore"** (1 Kings 4:29). Not satisfied with the idle life of an Eastern monarch, he set the example of, and gave encouragement to study and literature, the range of his inquiries extending not only to philosophy and poetry,*** but also to natural science in all its branches.|* It must have been a mighty intellectual impulse which proceeded from such a king; it must have been a reign unparalleled in that age, as well as among that people, which Solomon inaugurated.
* Comp. 1 Chronicles 2:6. Ethan, 1 Chronicles 6:44; 15:17, 19; Psalm 89 (inscr.) Heman, 1 Chronicles 6:33; 25:5; Psalm 88 (inscr.) Chalcol and Darda, sons of Mahol, perhaps "sacras choreas ducendi periti."
** A hyperbole not uncommon in antiquity. I feel tempted here to quote the similar expression of Horace (Odes, 1:28): "Te maris et terrae numeroque carentis arenae Mensorem cohibent, Archyta."
*** Of these "Proverbs" only 915 verses have been preserved in the Book of that name; of "the Songs," besides the Song of Songs, only Psalm 72 and 127.
|* The word rendered "hyssop" in the Authorized Version is either the mint, the marjoram, the Orthotricum saxatile, or, according to Tristram (Nat. Hist. of the Bible, p. 457), the caper (Capparis spinosa).
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