Saul and David completed the conquest of the Promised Land, allowing David’s son Solomon to rule in a time of peace and prosperity.
Israel controlled the land routes to Egypt from Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) and Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), which is the pathway to Europe. That is, trade from Europe and Asia had to go through Israel to get to Egypt, and vice versa.
Israel developed a substantial agricultural economy of its own, with olives, wine, wool, cheese, and pottery being produced for trade. In short, once the Promised Land was conquered, its borders secured, its cities walled, and the strong central government put in place with a standing military, Israel enjoyed a time of great prosperity.
King Solomon was fortunate to rule during such a time. God chose Solomon to reign out of all of David’s sons, and for many years, Solomon reigned well, strengthened by the Spirit of God.
Famously, Solomon began his kingship asking God for wisdom —
(1Ki 3:5-14 ESV) 5 At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.”
6 And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. 7 And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. 9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”
10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. 13 I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. 14 And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.”
As a result, Solomon became legendary for his wisdom. Among his accomplishments was obtaining tribute from neighboring nations. That is, to avoid being conquered, and to maintain friendly relations, his neighbors paid money and trade goods to Israel each year — showing that Israel was the superior military power.
Wives and concubines
Treaties of peace were made with the neighbors, and as was the custom of the day, the kings of the lesser nations gave their daughters in marriage to Solomon, as king of the greater nation. This practice served several purposes. It seems likely that the logic was something like the following:
* If a king’s daughter pleased Solomon as his wife, then Solomon would surely be kindly disposed toward her father and his kingdom.
* If the lesser king were to rebel, his daughter would be in the palace of Solomon, making her a possible hostage. The lesser king would risk the life of his daughter should he break the treaty.
* Having a large harem demonstrated Solomon’s personal prowess to the people and the surrounding nations.
* If Solomon were to have a son by a lesser king’s daughter, that son might become heir to both thrones, uniting the two kingdoms under a single king. This would be unlikely, because it would require the lesser king to have no sons who ascend to the throne, but it could happen.
* The wife served as a de facto ambassador, advocating for her father’s interests in the king’s court and bed chambers.
* The father of the bride, the lesser king, was likely required to pay Solomon a dowry. Girls did not inherit from their fathers but did receive a large gift upon marriage, which became their inheritance. The dowry was paid to the husband — Solomon — and it would have to be repaid as a penalty should they divorce. The dowry was thus a gift from the lesser king to Solomon to buy his goodwill. It was standard for a dowry to equal a tenth of the father’s estate — a very large sum for a king.
* Wives are expensive, especially in that culture. To have so many wives was therefore an ostentatious display of wealth — which served to enhance the king’s image.
Thus, as was typical of Ancient Near Eastern kings, Solomon built up a large harem, which served political and image-making purposes. No doubt, he also enjoyed the attentions of so many women.
He had 700 wives and 300 concubines. The nature of a concubine in that age is not entirely clear. Presumably, children by a concubine would not be heirs of the king and could not become king after him. And a concubine was likely more easily divorced than a wife, likely with no dowry to repay — but we know very little on the question.
Solomon took advantage of his wealth and this time of peace to build a permanent temple for God. David had brought the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, but the Tabernacle remained elsewhere. David instituted instrumental worship and choirs and sacrifices in Jerusalem on Mt. Moriah, but it was Solomon who re-united the ark of the covenant with the holy of holies by building the Temple.
The dedication of the Temple by Solomon is an important passage.
(1Ki 8:10-11 ESV) 10 And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.
The Shekinah — or glory of the Lord — appeared in the Holy of Holies, evidencing God’s decision to dwell among his people at the Temple.
(1Ki 8:22-24 ESV) 22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven, 23 and said, “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart; 24 you have kept with your servant David my father what you declared to him. You spoke with your mouth, and with your hand have fulfilled it this day.”
As we covered in an earlier lesson, God created the nation of Israel so he could reveal his nature to the world. Solomon gets this: “There is no God like you.” God’s faithfulness to his covenants and his hesed — his steadfast love — make him unlike the Baals and Ashteroths that surrounded Israel.
(1Ki 8:27 ESV) 27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!”
Solomon recognizes that although God will dwell in the Temple and have a very special presence there, the Temple does not contain God. God is bigger than the Creation itself!
(1Ki 8:28-30 ESV) 28 Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O LORD my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you this day, 29 that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you have said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place. 30 And listen to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.”
Solomon prays that God will always hear the prayers delivered at the Temple or offered by Jews anywhere bowing toward the Temple. Although God lives in heaven, let the Temple be a place of special presence and attentiveness to the prayers of Israel.
(1Ki 8:41-43 ESV) 41 “Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name’s sake 42 (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, 43 hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name. …
(1Ki 8:59-60 ESV) 59 “Let these words of mine, with which I have pleaded before the LORD, be near to the LORD our God day and night, and may he maintain the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel, as each day requires, 60 that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other.”
Solomon even prays that God will hear the prayer of foreigners so that “all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you.” The Temple was not just for the Jews but was also meant to glorify God among the nations.
This is truly a beautiful, insightful prayer and likely explains the Jewish practice of praying toward Jerusalem.