God’s choice to succeed David as king over Israel was Solomon, the son born to David and Bathsheba after their first (and illegitimate) son had died (2 Sam 12:24-25; 1 Chron 28:5). He was anointed as king before his father died, in order to overthrow the attempts of his brother Adonijah to seize the throne for himself (1 Kings 1:5-53).
Establishing his authority
Once David was dead, Solomon quickly dealt with Adonijah and the two leaders who had supported him. He interpreted a request from Adonijah as treason and executed him (1 Kings 2:13-25). He also executed the commander-in-chief of the army, Joab (1 Kings 2:28-34), and sent the priest Abiathar into exile (1 Kings 2:26-27). After this he executed Shimei, a relative of Saul who had always been hostile to the house of David (1 Kings 2:36-46; cf. 2 Sam 16:5-14). By marrying the daughter of the king of Egypt, Solomon entered into a treaty with Egypt that guaranteed peace between the two nations (1 Kings 3:1).
The formal treaty probably involved paying respect to foreign gods, a practice that was a repeated temptation to Solomon and brought him increasing trouble (1 Kings 11:1-8). Solomon’s love for lavish religious ceremony also led him into trouble (1 Kings 3:3-4), but his request for wisdom won God’s approval (1 Kings 3:5-14). He soon proved his wisdom when he had to give a decision over which of two women was the mother of a disputed baby (1 Kings 3:16-28). His fame grew rapidly, and people came from countries far and near to hear his wisdom (1 Kings 4:29-34; 10:1-13; Matt 12:42). People made collections of his proverbs and songs, and some of these are preserved in the Bible (1 Kings 4:32; Ps 72, 127; Prov 1:1; 10:1; 25:1; Song of Songs 1:1). (For further details of Solomon’s writings see PROVERBS.) Under Solomon there was a large increase in the numbers of officials in the royal court, the national administration and the armed forces. To maintain all these people, Solomon revised the taxation system. He divided Israel into twelve zones, each of which had to maintain the government for one month of the year (1 Kings 4:7). Neighbouring nations within the Israelite empire also paid taxes (1 Kings 4:21).
Development, trade and wealth
David had prepared plans, finances and materials for Solomon to build God a temple in Jerusalem (1 Chron 22:2-16; 28:11; Acts 7:45-47). Solomon’s plans, however, far exceeded David’s. His temple would be more lavish than anything David had in mind, and his extensive building program would make Jerusalem a showpiece to the world. Solomon bought costly building materials from Hiram, king of Tyre, and paid for them with produce taken from Israel’s hard-working farmers (1 Kings 5:1-11). He also made all Israel’s working men give three months work to the king each year, which provided a year-round workforce of 30,000 men. An additional 150,000, mainly Canaanites, were made full-time slaves (1 Kings 5:13-18). The temple was a richly ornamented building that took seven years to build (1 Kings 6:38; see TEMPLE). This temple was only part of a much larger building program that Solomon had planned. He built a magnificent palace, which took a further thirteen years (1 Kings 7:1; 9:10), a military headquarters called the House of the Forest of Lebanon (1 Kings 7:2; 10:17), an auditorium called the Hall of Pillars (1 Kings 7:6), a central law court called the Hall of Judgment (1 Kings 7:7) and a separate palace for his Egyptian queen (1 Kings 7:8).
All these buildings, including the temple, were made of costly stone and best quality timber, and were enclosed in an area known as the Great Court (1 Kings 7:9-12). Solomon also greatly strengthened Jerusalem’s defences (1 Kings 9:15). In the country regions he rebuilt ruined cities, established army bases, and set up cities to store the farm produce that maintained his government (1 Kings 9:16-19). To help finance his construction programs, Solomon borrowed huge amounts of gold from Hiram (1 Kings 9:14). Unable to repay his debts, Solomon decided to cut off twenty cities in northern Israel and give them to Hiram (1 Kings 9:10-11). This only increased the resentment that the people of northern Israel, and especially the farmers, felt towards Solomon and his showpiece city in the south. In spite of the hardship of the common people (1 Kings 12:4), Solomon spent extravagantly on himself (1 Kings 10:16-21,25,27; Song of Songs 3:7-10; cf. Matt 6:29). David’s power had come through military conquest, but Solomon’s came through political and commercial treaties with neighbouring countries. One profitable operation was a sea-land trading partnership he established with Hiram of Phoenicia. Goods from the Mediterranean were collected at Hiram’s port of Tyre, carried overland to Israel’s Red Sea port of Ezion-geber, then shipped east (1 Kings 9:26-28; 10:22; for map see PHOENICIA). Solomon gained additional income by taxing all goods that passed through Israel on the international trade routes (1 Kings 10:14-15). He further enriched himself by becoming the middleman in a profitable international horse and chariot trade (1 Kings 10:28-29).
A splendid kingdom lost
Although he taught wisdom to others, Solomon did not follow that wisdom himself. He ignored the instructions that God had given concerning the conduct of an Israelite king (Deut 17:15-17), and in particular earned God’s wrath through worshipping the gods of the many foreign women whom he had taken as wives and concubines (1 Kings 11:1-10,33; Neh 13:26). All the time that Solomon was developing his magnificent kingdom, he was preparing his own punishment. He had exploited the people in order to fulfil his ambitious plans, and now the people hated him. Soon they rebelled against him openly. The ten tribes to the north broke away from the Davidic rule, though for the sake of David, God withheld the inevitable judgment until after Solomon’s death (1 Kings 11:11-13). The rebellion against Solomon was led by a young man from the north, Jeroboam. Solomon had recognized Jeroboam’s abilities earlier, and put him in charge of a large portion of the workforce from the northern tribes (1 Kings 11:28). When Solomon felt that Jeroboam was gaining support among the northerners, he tried to kill him, but Jeroboam escaped to the safety of Egypt (1 Kings 11:29-32,40). After Solomon’s death, Jeroboam returned to Israel and successfully lead a breakaway rebellion (1 Kings 12:2- 4,16-20).