Before we begin today, let me briefly summarize King Solomon’s reign up to this point. When he was a young man, probably around 20 years old, his father David died leaving Solomon as the new ruler of Israel. Early on, he felt inept and unequipped to fill such an important role. When the LORD appeared to Solomon, the young king asked for wisdom and understanding. God granted this request and soon Solomon began to excel.
He oversaw the construction of the first temple in Jerusalem. It was a glorious structure that took over 7 years to complete. When it finally was done, Solomon held a 2-week celebration during which he dedicated the temple. The glory of God filled it and His manifest presence dwelt upon the Ark of the Covenant which had been placed inside. After this, Solomon spent another 13 years building his own palace and its surrounding courtyards.
This morning and next week we will discuss some of the events that took place during the final 10-15 years of Solomon’s reign. As you might expect, he continued building in Jerusalem and throughout Israel. Reports of his remarkable wisdom and success spread so much that he became famous among the nations.
I. EXPANSION AND COMMERCE (1 Kings 9:10-28; 2 Chronicles 8)
King Hiram of Tyre had been a great ally and helper of Solomon for many years. Solomon decided to give 20 cities in the region of Galilee to Hiram. When Hiram came to inspect these cities, he was not impressed. He referred to them collectively as Cabal, which is roughly translated “the good-for-nothing land”. Still, his friendly relations with King Solomon continued undeterred.
Solomon continued his emphasis on construction and expansion. He built, or perhaps rebuilt, the millo in Jerusalem. The millo was a large terraced fortification, sometimes thought of as a citadel, which served to defend the city. He also repaired the old and erected new walls around Jerusalem. In addition to this, he also built or rebuilt several cities throughout Israel. Some of these were residential cities which were settled by regular people, while others were designated as storage cities to house Solomon’s chariots, horses, and horsemen.
King Solomon also built a fleet of ships which were stationed in Ezion-geber. This important port city was located on the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba which empties into the Read Sea. King Hiram of Tyre sent skilled sailors to partner with those from Israel. Together they engaged in commercial importing and exporting by sea. These ships sailed to and from Ophir (which is believed to be in either India or Ethiopia) and brought huge quantities of gold, almug trees, and precious stones. They also went to Tarshish and returned every 3 years with gold, silver, ivory, apes and peacocks.
All of the labor required to build these cities, ships, and so forth required an enormous workforce. King Solomon identified and required all foreign citizens of Israel to serve as forced laborers. In essence, he enslaved these people and used them to complete numerous tasks. These included the remaining Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites who dwelt in the land. Apparently Solomon demanded much from these workers, and his treatment of them eventually became a major and divisive issue in Israel following his death.
II. THE QUEEN OF SHEBA (1 Kings 10:1-13; 2 Chronicles 9:1-12)
The ancient city of Sheba is believed by most Bible historians to have been in either Ethiopia or modern-day Yemen. Regardless of its location, the Queen of Sheba heard of Solomon’s great wisdom and wealth. Intrigued, she and her large entourage traveled to Jerusalem to see and experience it for herself. When she arrived and met with King Solomon, the queen was blown away by his hospitality and remarkable insight. Solomon’s great fame and reputation throughout the world was well deserved.
The Queen of Sheba gave Solomon 120 talents of gold, a great number of precious stones, and an abundance of spices. In return, he gave her a large bounty as well - all that she requested. After her visit, the queen and her servants returned to their homeland. It has been speculated by some that King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba had a child together in secret. Others theorize that they are, in fact, the lovesick male and female characters described in the Song of Solomon. While this is interesting to consider, it can’t be proven.
During her visit, the Queen of Sheba apparently asked Solomon about the source of his knowledge and riches. He told her that they had come from God through His abundant blessings. The queen listened intently, and as a result of Solomon’s testimony she placed her faith in God. Centuries later Jesus contrasted the queen’s receptiveness and belief of Solomon’s wisdom with the Jew’s stubbornness and doubt of His own. Jesus referred to her as “the Queen of the South” (Matthew 12:42; Luke 11:31).
III. WEALTH AND POWER (1 Kings 10:14-29; 2 Chronicles 9:13-28)
During the reign of Solomon gold was so abundant that silver lost its value. The king had hundreds of shields made of gold and placed many of them in his newly built armory. He crafted an elaborate throne made of ivory and overlaid in gold. The elevated throne featured 6 steps with lion statues on each side of each step facing inward towards each other and 2 additional lions on either side of the king’s chair. It was unlike anything that had ever been made before! All of the king’s drinking vessels were made of gold as well.
Solomon became the wealthiest and most powerful king in all the earth. Curious seekers came from everywhere to hear his wisdom and behold his kingdom. They continuously brought gifts such as silver and gold, garments, weapons, spices, horses, mules, and more. As mentioned earlier in this series, Solomon greatly increased the number and quality of chariots, horses, and horsemen in Israel’s army. He definitely followed the popular mantra “Peace through strength”.
Though not specifically mentioned in today’s passage, it seems timely to mention that near the end of his reign Solomon wrote the book of Ecclesiastes. In this book, he reflected upon all of the numerous accomplishments and accolades that he’d enjoyed over the years. For his entire life Solomon revelled in enormous wealth, fame, wisdom, power, and pleasure. He had and did whatever he wanted. In the book of Ecclesiastes the aging king concluded that - in the end - all of it was worthless. Solomon stated that true meaning and significance could only be found in God and not through the pursuit of worldly things.
Both Solomon and Jesus became very popular, but for somewhat different reasons. Solomon was known for his earthly riches, while our Lord lived a meager and modest lifestyle. People came in droves to hear Solomon’s wisdom, and later crowds gathered to hear the wise teachings of Jesus. They wanted to see all that Solomon had built and done, just as their descendants wanted to see the miracles that Jesus could do. The world was curious about the prosperous kingdom that Solomon had built, just as it was about the Kingdom that God that Jesus made accessible to sinners.
While both men were famous during their lifetimes, we can learn an important lesson from how each of them approached their acclaim. While Solomon embraced and lauded in his celebrity status, Jesus rejected and shunned His whenever possible. Solomon used his success to pursue personal ambitions and pleasures, while Jesus used his fame to spread the message of salvation. Solomon’s adoration and lavish pursuits eventually led to disastrous results for he and all of Israel, which we will study about next week. Christians should practice the humility of Christ rather than the prideful exuberance of Solomon.
Next Sunday we will finally finish our in-depth study of ancient Israel’s united kingdom. This has been a fascinating and transformative series for me. I’ve learned much about God, His people, and myself. I have been amazed by the many truths that we’ve found hidden in His word. May you all have a blessed week!