|Old Testament History - 5.9 - Solomon, Polygamy, Wealth, Jeroboam|
Solomon’s court — his polygamy — spread of foreign ideas in the country — imitation of foreign manners — growing luxury — Solomon’s spiritual decline — judgment predicted — Solomon’s
GREATER contrast could scarcely be imagined than that between the state of Solomon's court and of the country generally, and the directions and restrictions laid down in Deuteronomy 17:16, 17 for the regulation of the Jewish monarchy. The first and most prominent circumstance which here presents itself to the mind, is the direct contravention of the Divine command as regarded the number of "princesses" and concubines which formed the harem of Solomon.* Granting that the notice in Cant. 6. 8 affords reason for believing that the numerals in 1 Kings 11:3 may have been due to a mistake on the part of a copyist, still the sacred narrative expressly states, that the polygamy of Solomon, and especially his alliances with nations excluded from intermarriage with Israel,** was the occasion, if not the cause, of his later sin and punishment.
* Bahr gives a number of instances, both from ancient and modern history, of far larger harems than that ascribed to Solomon.
** Properly speaking, only Canaanite women were excluded by the Law (Exodus 34:11-16; Deuteronomy 7:1-3). But alliance with those of other nations was contrary to the spirit of the law, at any rate so long as they continued idolaters. Comp. Ezra 9:1; Nehemiah 13:23. There is a legend that Solomon married a daughter of Hiram, king of Tyre.
While on this subject we may go back a step further, and mark (with Ewald) what sad consequences the infringement of the primitive Divine order in regard to marriage wrought throughout the history of Israel. It is undoubtedly to polygamy that we have to trace the troubles in the family of David; and to the same cause were due many of those which came on David's successors. If Moses was obliged to tolerate the infringement of the original institution of God, "the hardness of heart" which had necessitated it brought its own punishment, especially when the offender was an Eastern king. Thus the sin of the people, embodied, as it were, in the person of their representative, carried national judgment as its consequence.
But the elements which caused the fall of Solomon lay deeper than polygamy. Indeed, the latter was among the effects, as well as one of the further causes of his spiritual decline. First among these elements of evil at work, we reckon the growing luxury of the court. The whole atmosphere around, so to speak, was different from what it had been in the primitive times which preceded the reign of Solomon, and still more from the ideal of monarchy as sketched in the Book of Deuteronomy. Everything had become un-Jewish, foreign, purely Asiatic. Closely connected with this was the evident desire to emulate, and even outdo neighboring nations. Such wisdom, such splendor, such riches, and finally, such luxury, and such a court were not to be found elsewhere, as in the kingdom of which Jerusalem was the capital. An ominous beginning this of that long course of Jewish pride and self-exaltation which led to such fearful consequences. It is to this desire of surpassing other Eastern courts that the size of Solomon's harem must be attributed. Had it been coarse sensuality which influenced him, the earlier, not the later years of his reign, would have witnessed the introduction of so many strange wives. Moreover, it deserves special notice that the 700 wives of Solomon are designated as "princesses" (1 Kings 11:3). Without pressing this word in its most literal meaning, we may at least infer that Solomon courted influential connections with the reigning and other leading families of the clans around, and that the chief object of his great harem was, in a worldly sense, to strengthen his position, to give evidence of his wealth and power as an Eastern monarch, and to form promising alliances, no matter what spiritual elements were thus introduced into the country. Closely connected with all this was the rapidly growing intercourse between Israel and foreign nations. For one reason or another, strangers, whom Israel hitherto had only considered as heathens, crowded to Jerusalem. By their presence king and people would not only become familiar with foreign ideas, but so-called toleration would extend to these strangers the right of public worship, or rather, of public idolatry. And so strong was this feeling, that, although Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, and Hezekiah put an end to all idolatry, yet the high places which Solomon had built on the southern acclivity of the Mount of Olives remained in use until the time of Josiah (2 Kings 23:13), avowedly for the worship of those foreigners who came to, or were resident in, Jerusalem. Viewed in connection with what has just been stated, even the intellectual culture in the time of Solomon may have proved a source of serious danger.
All this may help us to form a more correct conception of the causes which led to the terrible decline in the spiritual history of Solomon, and this without either extenuating his guilt or, as is more commonly the case, exaggerating his sin. As Holy Scripture puts it, when Solomon was old, and less able to resist influences around, he so far yielded to his foreign wives as to build altars for their worship. This in the Scriptural and real sense was already to "go after Ashtoreth and Milcom" (1 Kings 11:5). But the sacred text does not state that Solomon personally "served them;"* nor is there any reason for supposing that he either relinquished the service of Jehovah, or personally took part in heathen rites. To have built altars to "the abominations of the Gentiles,"** and to have tolerated, if not encouraged, the idolatrous rites openly enacted there by his wives, implied great public guilt.
* Whenever the Jewish kings were personally guilty of idolatry, the Hebrew word avad, "served," is used. Comp. 1 Kings 16:31; 22:53; 2 Kings 16:3; 21:2-6, 20-22. Jewish tradition also emphatically asserts (Shab. 56 b.)that Solomon was not personally guilty of idolatry. The account of Josephus (Ant. 8:7, 5) is worthless.
** Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Phoenicians, was worshipped with impure rites. Milcom, Malcom, or Molech, was the principal deity of the Ammonites, but must be distinguished from Moloch, whose terrible rites were only introduced at a later period (2 Kings 16:3). Chemosh was the sun-god and war-god of the Moabites; his name frequently occurs on the celebrated Moabite Stone.
In the language of Scripture, "Solomon's heart was not perfect with Jehovah his God;" he "did evil in the sight of Jehovah, and went not fully after Jehovah." His sin was the more inexcusable, that he had in this respect the irreproachable example of David. Besides, even closer allegiance to the LORD might have been expected from Solomon than from David, since he had been privileged to build the Temple, and had on two occasions received personal communication from the Lord, whereas God had never appeared to David, but only employed prophets as intermediaries to make known His good pleasure.
It need scarcely be said, that public sin such as that of Solomon would soon bring down judgment. As preparatory to it we regard that solemn warning, when the LORD a second time appeared in vision to Solomon (1 Kings 9:4-9). This being misunderstood or neglected, the actual announcement of judgment followed, probably through Ahijah. The terms of the sentence were terribly explicit. Solomon's kingdom would be rent from him, and given to his servant. Yet even so Divine mercy would accord a twofold limitation-the event foretold should not happen in the days of Solomon himself, and when it took place the kingdom should not be wholly taken away, but partially remain in his line. And this for the sake of David - that is, not from partiality for him, nor on account of any supposed superabundant merit, but because of God's promise to David (2 Samuel 7:14-16), and for God's own glory, since He had made choice of Jerusalem as the place where He would forever reveal His Name (1 Kings 9:3).
But although execution of the judgment was stayed, indications of its reality and nearness soon appeared. Once more we mark a succession of natural and intelligible causes, of which the final outcome was the fulfillment of the Divine prediction. It will be remembered that, of the two great wars in which David was involved after his accession, the most formidable was that against the hostile combination of tribes along the eastern boundary of his kingdom.*
* Comp. the account of this war in vol. 4. of this Bible History, chapter 18.
The distance, the character of the country, the habits of the enemy - the alliance of so many nationalities, their determination, and the stubborn resistance which they offered, made this a really great war. We know that the armies of David, under the leadership of Joab and Abishai, were victorious at all points (2 Samuel 8; 10; 1 Chronicles 19.). But, although the enemy may have been subdued and even crushed for a time, it was, in the nature of things, impossible wholly to remove the elements of resistance. In the far southeast, terrible, almost savage, vengeance had been taken on Edom (1 Chronicles 18:12).
From the slaughter of the people a trusty band of Edomites had rescued one of the youthful royal princes, Hadad* (or Adad), and brought him ultimately to Egypt, where he met a hospitable reception from the then reigning Pharaoh - probably the predecessor of Solomon's father-in-law. If Pharaoh had at first been influenced by political motives in keeping near him one who might become a source of trouble to the growing Israelitish power, the young prince of Edom soon enlisted the sympathy and affection of his host (1 Kings 11:14-19). He married the sister of Tahpenes,** the Gevirah, or queen dominant (principal) of Pharaoh's harem; and their child was acknowledged and brought up among the royal princes of Egypt.
* Hadad, "the Sun," or "Sun-god" - an ancient name, perhaps a royal title among the Edomite princes (comp. Genesis 36:35). But it seems an ungrounded inference (by Ewald, Thenius, and even Canon Rawlinson) to connect him (as grandson)with the last king of the Edomites, who in 1 Chronicles 1:50 is by a clerical error called Hadad instead of Hadar (comp, Genesis 36:39.)
** The name occurs also on Egyptian monuments. Tahpenes, or rather Thacpenes, was also the name of an Egyptian goddess (Gesenius, Thesaurus, vol. 3., p. 1500 a.).
When tidings of the death of David and afterwards of Joab reached Hadad, he insisted on returning to Edom, even against the friendly remonstrances of Pharaoh, who by this time would rather have seen him enjoying his peaceful retreat in Egypt than entering upon difficult and dangerous enterprises. But, although Hadad returned to his own country in the beginning of Solomon's reign, it was only towards its close - when growing luxury had enervated king and people - that his presence there became a source of trouble and anxiety.* This we infer, not only from 1 Kings 4:24, but from such a notice as that in 1 Kings 9:26.
* The LXX have here an addition, upon which Josephus bases a notice (Ant. 8. 7, 6), to the effect that Hadad (Ader) raised the standard of revolt in Edom, but, being unsuccessful, combined with Rezon, and became king of part of Syria. The notice cannot be regarded as of historical authority.
But in the extreme northeast, as well as in the far southeast, a dark cloud gathered on the horizon. At the defeat of Hadadezer by the troops of David (2 Samuel 8:3; 10:18) one of the Syrian captains, Rezon by name, had "fled from his lord." In the then disorganized state of the country he gradually gathered around him a band of followers, and ultimately fell back upon Damascus, of which he became king. The sacred text leads us to infer that, although he probably did not venture on open warfare with Solomon, he cast off the Jewish suzerainty, and generally "was an adversary" - or, to use the pictorial language of the Bible, "abhorred Israel."*
* Canon Rawlinson (in the Speaker's Commentary, vol. ii., p. 550) arranges the succession of the Damascus kings as follows: Hadad-Ezer (Hadad I.), contemporary of David; Rezon (usurper), contemporary of Solomon; Hezion (Hadad II.), contemporary of Rehoboam; Tabrimon (Hadad III.), contemporary of Abijam; Ben-hadad (Hadad IV.), contemporary of Asa.
Ill-suppressed enmity in Edom (far southeast), and more active opposition and intrigue at Damascus (in the northeast) - in short, the danger of a combination like that which had so severely taxed the resources of David, such, then, so far as concerned external politics, were the darkening prospects of Solomon's later years. But the terms in which Holy Scripture speaks of these events deserve special notice. We are told, that "Jehovah stirred up" or, rather, "raised up" these adversaries unto Solomon (1 Kings 11:14, 23). The expression clearly points to Divine Causality in the matter (comp. Deuteronomy 18:15, 18; Judges 2:18; 1 Samuel 2:35; Jeremiah 29:15; Ezra 34:23). Not, indeed, that the ambitious or evil passions of men's hearts are incited of God, but that while each, in the exercise of his free will, chooses his own course, the LORD overrules all, so as to serve for the chastisement of sin and the carrying out of His own purposes (comp. Psalm 2:1, 2; Isaiah 10:1-3).
But yet another and far more serious danger threatened Solomon's throne. Besides "adversaries" without, elements of dissatisfaction were at work within Palestine, which only needed favoring circumstances to lead to open revolt. First, there was the old tribal jealousy between Ephraim and Judah. The high destiny foretold to Ephraim (Genesis 48:17-22; 49:22-26) must have excited hopes which the leadership of Joshua, himself an Ephraimite (Numbers 13:8), seemed for a time to warrant. Commanding, perhaps, the most important territorial position in the land, Ephraim claimed a dominating power over the tribes in the days of Gideon and of Jephthah (Judges 8:1; 12:1). In fact, one of the successors of these Judges, Abdon, was an Ephraimite (Judges 12:13). But, besides, Ephraim could boast not only of secular, but of ecclesiastical supremacy since Shiloh and Kirjath-jearim were within its tribal possession. And had not Samuel, the greatest of the Judges, the one outstanding personality in the history of a decrepit priesthood, been, though a Levite, yet "from Mount Ephraim" (1 Samuel 1:1)? Even the authority of Samuel could not secure the undisputed acknowledgment of Saul, who was only too painfully conscious of the objections which tribal jealousy would raise to his elevation (1 Samuel 9:21). It needed that glorious God-given victory at Jabesh-Gilead to hush, under strong religious convictions, those discordant voices, and to unite all Israel in acclamation of their new king. And yet the tribe of Benjamin, to which Saul belonged, was closely allied to that of Ephraim (Judges 21:19- 23). Again, it was the tribe of Ephraim which mainly upheld the cause of Ishbosheth (2 Samuel 2:9); and though the strong hand of David afterwards kept down all active opposition, no sooner did his power seem on the wane than "a man of Mount Ephraim" (2 Samuel 20:21) roused the tribal jealousies, and raised the standard of rebellion against him. And now, with the reign of King Solomon, all hope of tribal pre-eminence seemed to have passed from Ephraim. There was a new capital for the whole country, and that in the possession of Judah. The glory of the ancient Sanctuary had also been taken away. Jerusalem was the ecclesiastical as well as the political capital, and Ephraim had to contribute its wealth and even its forced labor to promote the schemes, to support the luxury, and to advance the glory of a new monarchy, taken from, and resident in, Judah!
But, secondly, the burden which the new monarchy imposed on the people must, in the course of time, have weighed very heavily on them (1 Kings 12:4). The building of a great national Sanctuary was, indeed, an exceptional work which might enlist the highest and best sympathies, and make the people willing to submit to any sacrifices. But this was followed by the construction of a magnificent palace, and then by a succession of architectural undertakings (1 Kings 9:15, 17-19) on an unprecedented scale. However useful some of these might be, they not only marked an innovation, but involved a continuance of forced labor (1 Kings 4:6; 5:13, 14; 11:28), wholly foreign to the spirit of a free people, and which diverted from their proper channels the industrial forces of the country. Nor was this all. The support of such a king and court must have proved a heavy demand on the resources of the nation (1 Kings 4:21-27). To have to pay enormous taxes, and for many long years to be deprived during so many months of the heads and the bread-winners of the family, that they might do what seemed slaves' labor for the glorification of a king, whose rule was every year becoming weaker, would have excited dissatisfaction even among a more enduring people than those tribes who had so long enjoyed the freedom and the privileges of a federated Republic.
It only needed a leader - and once more Ephraim furnished him. Jeroboam, the son of Nebat and of a widow named Zeruah, was a native of Zereda or Zererath* (Judges 7:22), within the territory of Ephraim.
The sacred text describes him as a "mighty man of valor." His energy, talent, and aptitude pointed him out as a fit permanent overseer of the forced labor of his tribe. It was a dangerous post to assign to a man of such power and ambition. His tribesmen, as a matter of course, came to know him as their chief and leader, while in daily close intercourse he would learn their grievances and sentiments. In such circumstances the result which followed was natural. The bold, strong, and ambitious Ephraimite, "ruler over all the burden of the house of Joseph," became the leader of the popular movement against Solomon.
It was, no doubt, in order to foment the elements of discontent already existing, as well as because his position in the city must have become untenable, that "Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem" (1 Kings 11:29). When "the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him in the way," Jeroboam had already planned, or rather commenced, his revolt against Solomon. Himself an Ephraimitc (from Shiloh), the prophet would not only be acquainted with Jeroboam, but also know the sentiments of his tribesmen and the views of their new leader. It was not, therefore, Ahijah who incited Jeroboam to rebellion* by the symbolical act of rending his new garment in twelve pieces,** giving him ten of the pieces, while those retained were emblematic of what would be left to the house of David.
* This is the view of some German critics.
** Much needless ingenuity has been employed to show in what sense Jeroboam had ten "pieces" or tribes, and Rehoboam "one" - or rather two - assigned to him. The language must not be too closely pressed. The "one" tribe left to the house of David was no doubt Judah, including "little Benjamin" as the second of the twelve "pieces" or tribes.
Rather did he act simply as the Divine messenger to Jeroboam, after the latter had resolved on his own course. The event was, indeed, ordered of God in punishment of the sin of Solomon (vers. 11-13); and the intimation of this fact, with its lessons of warning, was the principal object of Ahijah's mission and message. But the chief actor had long before chosen his own part, being prompted, as Holy Scripture puts it, by a settled ambition to usurp the throne (1 Kings 11:37); while the movement of which he took advantage was not only the result of causes long at work, but might almost have been forecast by any observer acquainted with the state of matters. Thus we learn once more how, in the Providence of God, a result which, when predicted, seems miraculous, and is really such, so far as the Divine operation is concerned, is brought about, not only through the free agency of man, but by a series of natural causes, while at the same time all is guided and overruled of God for His own wise and holy purposes.
Indeed, closely considered, the words of the prophet, so far from inciting Jeroboam to rebellion against Solomon, should rather have deterred him from it. The scene is sketched in vivid outline. Jeroboam, in whose soul tribal pride, disgust at his work, contempt for the king, irrepressible energy, and high-reaching ambition, combined with a knowledge of the feelings of his tribesmen, have ripened into stern resolve, has left Jerusalem. The time for secret intrigue and dissimulation is past; that for action has arrived. As he leaves the hated city-walls - memorials of Ephraim's servitude - and ascends towards the heights of Benjamin and Ephraim, a strange figure meets him. It is his countryman from Shiloh, the prophet Ahijah. No salutation passes between them, but Ahijah takes hold of the new square cloth or upper mantle in which he has been wrapped, and rends it in twelve pieces. It is not, as usually, in token of mourning (Genesis 37:29; 44:13; 2 Samuel 13:19), though sadness must have been in the prophet's heart, but as symbol of what is to happen - as it were, God's answer to Jeroboam's thoughts. Yet the judgment predicted is not to take effect in Solomon's lifetime (1 Kings 11:34, 35);* and any attempt at revolt, such as Jeroboam seems to have made (vers. 26, 40),** was in direct contravention of God's declared will.
* I cannot adopt Canon Rawlinson's proposed rendering of ver. 34 "I will not take ought of the kingdom out of his hand."
** The expression "to lift up the hand," means actual revolt. Comp. 2 Samuel 18:28; 20:21.
There were other parts of the prophet's message which Jeroboam would have done well to have borne in mind. David was always to "have a light before God" in Jerusalem, the city "which He had chosen to put His Name there" (1 Kings 11:36). In other words, David was always to have a descendant on the throne,* and Jerusalem with its Temple was always to be God's chosen place; that is, Israel's worship was to continue in the great central Sanctuary, and the descendants of David were to be the rightful occupants of the throne until He came Who was David's greater Son.
God had linked the Son of David with His City and the Temple, so that the final destruction of the latter marked the fulfillment of the prophecies concerning the house of David. Thus gloriously did the promise stretch beyond the immediate future, with its troubles and afflictions. Lastly, so far as regarded Jeroboam, the promise of succession to the kingdom of Israel in his family was made conditional on his observance of the statutes and commandments of God, as David had kept them (ver. 38). But Jeroboam was of far other spirit than David. His main motive had been personal ambition. Unlike David, who, though anointed king, would make no attempt upon the crown during Saul's lifetime, Jeroboam, despite the express warning of God, "lifted up his hand against the king." The result was failure* and flight into Egypt.
* Of course this is only an inference from the narrative.
Nor did Jeroboam keep the statutes and commandments of the LORD; and after a brief reign his son fell by the hand of the assassin (1 Kings 15:28). Lastly, and most important of all - the Messianic beating of the promise to David, and the Divine choice of Jerusalem and its Temple, were fatally put aside or forgotten by Jeroboam and his successors on the throne of Israel. The schism in the kingdom became one from the Theocracy; and the rejection of the central Sanctuary resulted, as might have been expected, in the establishment of idolatry in Israel.
Nor did King Solomon either live or die as his father David. A feeble attempt - perhaps justifiable - to rid himself of Jeroboam, and no more is told of him than that, at the close of a reign of forty years,* he "slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David his father."
* Josephus (Ant. 7, 8) assigns him a reign of eighty years. But this must either be a clerical error, or depend on one in Josephus' copy of the LXX. Solomon probably died at the age of about sixty. The question of his final repentance, so largely discussed at one time by theologians, may be safely left - where the Bible has left it.
So far as we know, in that death-chamber no words of earnest, loving entreaty to serve Jehovah were spoken to his successor, such as David had uttered; no joyous testimony here as regarded the past, nor yet strong faith and hope as concerned the future, such as had brightened the last hours of David. It is to us a silent death-chamber in which King Solomon lay. No bright sunset here, to be followed by a yet more glorious morning. He had done more than any king to denationalize Israel. And on the morrow of his death, rebellion within the land; outside its borders - Edom and Syria ready to spring to arms, Egypt under Shishak gathering up its might; and only a Rehoboam to hold the rudder of the State in the rising storm.
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