Solomon was chosen to succeed David as king of the United Monarchy as the result of a careful strategy developed by Nathan the prophet and Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother.
When Solomon became king, the political climate at home and abroad was one of moderate peace and stability. David had secured his kingdom and the kingdom was not experiencing any major military threat from its neighbors, particularly Egypt.
The political weakness of Egypt is clearly demonstrated in the political alliance established between the king of Egypt and Solomon. The alliance was ratified by the marriage of Pharaoh’s daughter to Solomon (1 Kings 3:1).
Assyria did not become a political threat to the nations of Canaan for another century. The neighboring nations had become vassals under David or had made political alliances with Solomon. Thus, when Solomon became king, Israel was enjoying a time of great peace and prosperity. The nation was united and Solomon was in complete control of his kingdom. Solomon was able to exploit these conditions to promote economic growth, commercial ventures, and develop a program to build the temple and his palace.
Solomon came to power after a struggle with his half-brother Adonijah. When Adonijah realized that David was too old to continue as king (1 Kings 1:4), he exalted himself and said: “I will be king” (1 Kings 1:5).
Since Adonijah was the oldest surviving son of David, he and the members of David’s court took for granted that he, Adonijah, would be the next king of a united Israel. He gathered unto himself a large retinue, consisting of the political, religious, and military leaders of Israel as well as horsemen and men on chariots.
Among those supporting Adonijah were Joab, the commander of the national army, Abiathar, the high priest who ministered to the Israelite population, the sons of David, and many of the palace officials. This group went to En-rogel and offered sacrifices and proclaimed “Long live King Adonijah” (1 Kings 1:9, 25).
When Nathan the prophet heard that Adonijah had been anointed king, he called Bathsheba and offered her advice on how to deal with this situation. Nathan said to Bathsheba: “Now therefore come, let me give you advice, so that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon” (1 Kings 1:12). Nathan and Bathsheba developed a plan to persuade David to select Solomon as the next king of Israel instead of Adonijah.
Some of the people who supported the kingship of Solomon were probably not Israelites. Nathan, the prophet, was a man whose place of birth and genealogy is unknown. Zadok was a priest who probably represented the Jebusite population of Jerusalem. Benaiah was the commander of the mercenary army which was composed of the Cherethites (Cretans) and the Pelethites (the Philistines). Bathsheba was the former wife of Uriah the Hittite, one of the elite warriors in David’s army.
Solomon was brought to the Gihon Spring (1 Kings 1:33) on David’s mule and there he was anointed king in a hasty ceremony orchestrated by the group which supported Solomon and with the tacit approval of David. Because Solomon had the support of the mercenary troops as well as the support of David and most of the palace establishment, he was able to be proclaimed king, even though there was no apparent popular support for his election.
Throughout the narrative of Solomon’s accession to the throne, the text presents Solomon as a passive instrument in the hands of others, a man who did not do anything to ensure his own selection as king over his half-brother Adonijah.
After the death of David, Solomon now moved from a passive to an active role in the story. Solomon moved swiftly to establish and secure his kingdom by eliminating those who posed a threat to his throne. By the hands of Benaiah, Solomon killed Adonijah and Joab. He banished Abiathar to his ancestral home in Anathoth. Thus, by removing those who posed a threat to his throne, “ the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon” (1Kings 2:46).
Solomon ruled with absolute power and without concern for the ancient social and religious traditions of Israel, caring little for the well-being of the people. Solomon was a very ambitious and selfish man. The lavish palace life and the extravagant lifestyle of the court reflect the ambitious accomplishments of Solomon and his disregard for the oppressive situation in which the people lived.
Surrounded by the wealth David left behind and not worried about attacks from neighboring nations and the great empires of the Ancient Near East, Solomon was able to turn his full attention to establishing his kingdom, developing the economy of Israel through trade, commercial ventures, and taxation. Solomon also began a building program that would become the source of pride and symbol of unity for the united kingdom.
It is precisely at this point that the reader begins to see another side of Solomon. Solomon faced a problem with which he would struggle throughout his reign. How can Solomon maintain the glory of his kingdom and develop such a huge building program with the limited resources available to him? How could Solomon maintain his faithfulness to Yahweh and yet satisfy the needs of his many wives, when most of them worshiped other gods? These are some of the questions with which the writer of the book of Kings wrestled as he wrote the story of Solomon’s kingdom and these are some of the questions I will address in future posts.
The words of Samuel to the elders of Israel about the evils of kingship became a reality with the oppressive policies of Solomon. Warning the elders about the oppressive policies of the king, Samuel said:
“These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.” (1 Samuel 8:11-17).
These things Solomon did and much more.
To be continued.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary