Who is Solomon?
The name of Solomon (Sol-Om-On) means Sun, as well as peace. Born to King David and Bathsheba, Solomon grew up in a polygamous home, for David had 18 wives. Early in his 39-year reign as king, which began in 961 B.C., he married the daughter of the Egyptian pharoah, whose dowry included 1000 musical instruments, and 80,000 Egyptian builders. The marriage may have been a political affair, for Solomon sought the architectural skills of the Egyptians; legends say that personally, she disappointed him. Later, Solomon took hundreds of wives and concubines. Many historians believe that he did not become polygamous until after his meeting with Sheba, early in his reign.
Whatever his marital status when he met Makeda, Solomon was a handsome man, attractive to women. With dark hair, a tanned lean body and gracious smile, he had an attentive bearing and compelling charm. He also possessed courtly manners and a lively, youthful spirit. Bedecked in elegant tunics of fine fabric dyed royal purple, he wore golden collars and chains, as well a golden circlet with sea-green stones.
Israel during the time of Solomon was a unified kingdom, 30,000 square miles in area - a small but respected power existing peacefully between Assyria and Egypt. Because Solomon was talented in international diplomacy, he negotiated trading agreements with neighboring kings, most notably the Phoenician king, Hiram of Tyre. As a result, his large fleet was built and manned by Phoenicians, and capable of sailing from Esyon-Geber or Eilat on the Red Sea to Ophir, Sheba, and India.
Solomon was (at least initially) a capable administrator, who raised the vast wealth required for his many projects by consolidating his central government and taxing the twelve districts of his kingdom, each which supported his court for one month each year. Later in his reign, his reliance upon heavy taxation, forced labor and slavery led to revolt.
Although reports in I Kings of his 40,000 horse stalls and 1400 chariots may be exaggerated, archaeologists have unearthed 450 horse stalls and 150 sheds for chariots at Megiddo alone. Indeed, Solomon was a wealthy king who gloried in splendor and luxury. His palace boasted vineyards, gardens, pools and singers with exotic musical instruments. Its three large pillared halls, built of cedar and cypress, were ornamented with carved ivory, gold, and sandalwood, with draperies of crimson and purple. Between two imposing gold lions, he sat on his great ivory throne with golden armrests and golden embroidery.
In order to build his Palace and Temple, Solomon sent 10,000 workers a month to Lebanon to fell and transport over land and sea the 120-foot feet high cedars of Lebanon. His great temple, built by Phoenician craftsmen, consisted of three large rooms of richly carved cedar, cypress and marble, with a huge bronze altar and bronze columns 40 feet high, hauled up to Jerusalem from the Jordan valley. Although costly, the Temple was a source of national pride and unity.
Solomon's commitment to building the Temple reflected not only his love of magnificent architecture, but also his piety. Early in his reign, he dedicated himself to God. When God asked him what he most wanted, instead of choosing riches or power, he said, "Give thy servant therefore an understanding heart to judge Thy people, that I may discern between good and evil." (11) Pleased at his request, God rewarded him not only with wisdom, but also honor and wealth. "So King Solomon exceeded all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. And all the earth sought the presence to Solomon, to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart."(12)
Over 3000 proverbs have been attributed to Solomon, as well as 1005 psalms, the book of Ecclesiastes and in the Christian Apocrypha, The Wisdom of Solomon. In this book, Solomon speaks of wisdom in a voice reminiscent of Makeda:
"When I reflected in my mind
Solomon's wisdom was not only political and theological; he was also
an expert on natural history. A gardener, he planted olive, spice and nut
trees as well as vineyards; he admired and studied spiders, locusts and
harvesting ants. According to the Bible, "he could talk about plants from
the cedar in Lebanon to the hyssop growing on the wall; and he could talk
of animals and birds and reptiles and fish." (14)
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