ABIATHAR the priest, standing before angry King Solomon, expected to be executed because he had told the people of Israel that Adonijah should be their king.
"You are guilty of treason!" Solomon exclaimed to Abiathar. "But I won't put you to death now because you served for so many years as priest during my father's reign and shared all his troubles. However, you are no longer to serve as a priest. Go to your home in the country outside Jerusalem and stay there." (I Kings 2:26-27.) Abiathar's removal from priestly duties brought about the fulfillment of God's prophecy to his ancestor, the high priest Eli, who had become careless in his office back in Samuel's time. God told him that the priesthood would be taken from his family. (I Samuel 2:12-36.) Abiathar was the last of the descendants of Eli's family. When Joab heard what had happened to his co-conspirators, Adonijah and Abiathar, his usual self-confidence suddenly left him. Fearing that he would be called before Solomon for sentencing, he followed Adonijah's example and fled to the tabernacle, where he claimed special refuge from death by clinging to the altar. On learning what Joab was doing, Solomon sent Benaiah to drag him away from the altar and execute him. When Benaiah ordered Joab to step away from the altar or be dragged away, Joab declared that he preferred to die at the altar. Benaiah hesitated to act. Instead, he reported to Solomon what Joab had said. "If Joab wants to die at the altar, so be it!" Solomon decreed. "Then bury him on his property out in the desert." The grim order was carried out, ending the life of a man who had been a very capable army commander, but who for years faced the penalty of death because of his brazen acts of treacherous murder. (I Kings 2:28-34; II Samuel 3:26-27; 20:8-10.) Benaiah then became the undisputed commander of the army of Israel, something that hadn't been possible while Joab and his supporters had been around to interfere. At the same time Solomon put Zadok the priest in Abiathar's place. (I Kings 2:35.) Zadok was of the family of Eleazar, and thus the priesthood returned to the family God had first chosen to be priests. (I Chronicles 6.)
No Mollycoddling of Criminals
Next Solomon sent for Shimei, the Benjamite who had cursed David. David had told Solomon that such an untrustworthy man shouldn't be allowed to live too long. "Get a home for yourself here in Jerusalem," Solomon ordered Shimei. "Then stay here. If you ever go outside the walls, you'll meet with death. If you wish to continue living, stay in this city." "You are a good man," Shimei grinned with relief at the king as he bowed low. "Your humble and thankful servant will do as you say." (I Kings 2:36-38.) Three years later two of Shimei's servants ran away from his home and hid themselves in the Philistine city of Gath. Shimei was determined to get the two back. When he was told where they were, he took other servants to Gath, found the runaway couple and brought them back to Jerusalem. All this was reported to Solomon, who had Shimei brought before him. "I warned you that if you ever left Jerusalem you would be responsible for your death," Solomon reminded the trembling Benjamite. "You promised then that you would obey that restriction. Why have you broken you word? Don't you realize that you're now subject to death? But even if you hadn't gone out of Jerusalem, you are still guilty of cursing my father the king, and for that wickedness it's God's judgment that you pay the death penalty." By this time Shimei was too frightened to answer. At a gesture from the king, soldiers removed Shimei from the palace. A little later he was executed. (I Kings 2:39-46.)
Solomon Marries Pharaoh's Daughter
Although God had told the Israelites that they shouldn't intermarry with those of other nations, Solomon desired to marry a daughter of the king of Egypt. There were many beautiful women in Israel, but the king had received reports that the Egyptian princess was so beautiful that he made a special effort to become friendly with the Egyptian king. Pharaoh was pleased that Israel's leader would make such harmonious gestures. It wasn't difficult, after that, to arrange for the Egyptian woman to be brought to Jerusalem, where she was married to Solomon. (I Kings 3:1.) At that time Solomon built a new palace and continued construction on a stronger wall around Jerusalem, started by David. Because matters went so well in Israel, Solomon declared a special day of worship at Gibeon, where the tabernacle was. In front of it was the brass altar that had been made by the Israelites when they were on their way from Egypt to Canaan. There Solomon and many of his people sacrificed to God. (I Kings 3:2-4; II Chronicles 1:1-6.) That night Solomon was weary from the many activities of the day, which included a moving speech to the men of high rank in the nation. The king fell into a deep sleep. He dreamed that he met God, and that God told him that because he had been obedient in so many things, he could have anything he wished to ask for as a special gift from the Creator. "You have already given me much by being so merciful to my father and allowing me to sit on the throne of Israel," Solomon said. "I don't have the wisdom I should have as king. There are problems and decisions that perplex me. I don't know sometimes which way to turn. I want to choose the right ways because a great nation should have great leadership. Above all things I choose to ask you for special wisdom with which to rightly and justly rule your people." (I Kings 3:5-9; II Chronicles 1:7-10.) Solomon dreamed that he prostrated himself before God during an uncomfortable silence that followed. Had God expected him to ask for something greater than wisdom? Should he have asked for good health for his people or for some other thing that would have been less personal? Finally God spoke.
A Divine Gift of Wisdom
"Because you have asked for wisdom with which to rule well, I shall grant you wisdom that is greater than that of any man. Your wisdom will surpass that of anyone who has ever lived, and will be greater than that of anyone to live in the future. I am pleased that you didn't ask for long life, riches or death to all your enemies. Therefore I shall also give you wealth. You shall be the most honored of kings. If you obey my laws, I shall give you a long life." When Solomon awoke he had a strange feeling that what had taken place was more than a dream. The more he pondered over it, the more clearly he realized that God had actually spoken to him. It was such an outstanding experience for him that as soon as he returned to Jerusalem, he made more burnt offerings and more peace offerings, and gave a special feast for his servants and those who worked with him in the governing of Israel. (I Kings 3:10-15; II Chronicles 1:11-13.) An example of the wisdom God gave to Solomon is shown in the case of two women of low character who came before the king to both claim the same child. They lived in the same house. One gave birth to a baby. The other gave birth to a child three days later. The woman who had the first birth claimed that the other woman accidentally lay on her own child and smothered it. "When she discovered it was dead," the first woman told the king, "she came into my room at night, while I was asleep, and stole my infant son from me. She put her dead son next to me. When I awoke to nurse him, I found him lifeless. I thought at the time that it was mine, but in the morning I discovered it wasn't my child. This is my child you see before you. I want him back." "But it didn't happen the way she told it," the second woman said to Solomon. "This baby is mine. I didn't steal it from her. The dead baby is hers." Solomon knew that one of the women wasn't telling the truth. Probably he could tell which one it was, but he wanted to show up the untruthful one before those present. He called for a soldier with a sword to come before him. When the man strode in, weapon in hand, Solomon instructed him to take the baby. "Cut this infant in two!" the king ordered the startled soldier. "Then give half to this woman and the other to that woman." "Don't!" exclaimed the true mother, leaping forward in anguished excitement. "Give her the baby! Please don't harm it!" "Don't listen to her!" the other woman blurted out. "That's enough!" Solomon said, holding up a restraining hand toward the women and the soldier. "Give the child to the woman who doesn't want you to harm it. She tried to save it, and that proves that she is its mother." Reports of this matter, as well as others that had to do with Solomon's decisions, spread around the nation. People could discern that Solomon was being inspired by God. Respect for the king of Israel grew with the news of how wisely he handled problems. God was keeping his promises made to Solomon in the dream. (I Kings 3:16-28.) Solomon enjoyed a peaceable and prosperous reign as the years went on. Nearby kingdoms such as Moab, Ammon, Syria and Damascus paid tribute to him. Including all the nations that came under his authority, Solomon's kingdom extended from the Euphrates River on the north and east to Egypt and the Great Sea (the Mediterranean) on the south and west.
Solomon Grows in Fame and Influence
From all parts of the land food was brought to Solomon's table. To feed everyone in the royal establishment the provisions for just one day included two hundred and forty bushels of fine flour, four hundred and eighty bushels of meal, ten stall-fattened bulls, twenty bulls from pastures and a hundred sheep and goats. To this was added varying numbers of deer, antelope and fattened fowl. How many people were fed every day by this amount of food isn't stated in the Bible, but there must have been quite a crowd. (I Kings 4:1-25.) God forbade Israel to maintain cavalry of chariot horses as part of a standing army. (Deuteronomy 17:14-16.) God didn't want the nation to build a mighty war machine that would cause the nation to lose sight of God as their protector and provoke the jealousy of other nations. However, Solomon accumulated thousands of war-horses. (I Kings 4:26-28; II Chronicles 1:14-17.) When war did come in a later age, the Israelites had less success in battle, using cavalry, than they did before they had any to use. Until Solomon's time the seats of learning were presumed to be in Egypt and the east, where the Arabians, Chaldeans and Persians lived. In these nations were a few men famous for their exceptional — and sometimes unusual — knowledge. There were seers and sages, and even wizards who received their information from demons. Because God had imbued Solomon with an exceptional mind, good sense and an understanding of people and things, he had more wisdom than any of the so-called wise men. He also had more knowledge than most, having a God-given ability to apply himself diligently to observing, studying and remembering. He could speak with authority on anything from small insects to animals, and from minute plants to large trees. He knew much about history, mathematics, music and other subjects. Probably he had at least a basic understanding of astronomy. He wrote more than a thousand songs. Hundreds of his proverbs, of which he produced thousands, are preserved in the book of Proverbs in the Bible for our learning. Solomon's fame for wisdom and knowledge became so great that kings from all nations came in person or sent representatives to ask his opinions and advice. (I Kings 4:29-34.) This was the result of the gift from God. When the Creator makes a promise, He carries it out in full and often unexpected measure.
Solomon Begins the Temple
Over a hundred miles north of Jerusalem, close to the territory of Asher, on the eastern edge of the Great Sea, was the little kingdom of Tyre. Hiram, king of Tyre, had always been friendly toward David. As a gesture of goodwill, he had sent craftsmen and materials, about thirty years before, for building David's home at Jerusalem. Much of it was constructed with cedar that grew near Tyre. (II Samuel 5:11; I Chronicles 14:1.) When Hiram heard that Solomon had become king, he sent emissaries to bring congratulations. Knowing what Hiram had done for his father, Solomon was appreciative. (I Kings 5:1.) It was then that the idea came to Solomon to employ the excellent craftsmen of Tyre to work on the temple he knew should be built during his reign. "You will remember that my father wanted to build a temple that would be dedicated to God," Solomon told Hiram in a return message taken to Tyre. "He had so many wars to fight in his time that it wasn't God's will that such a project should be undertaken. Now Israel is at peace. I intend to build that temple while my nation is free from strife. It would please me and my people if your nation would supply cedar and fir trees for lumber, for which I will pay you in gold, silver or any produce of Israel you desire. I also wish to hire your expert craftsmen to work with the men I shall supply as laborers." (I Kings 5:2-6; II Chronicles 2:1-10.) Hiram was happy to learn of this. He sent messengers back soon with a letter to the king of Israel. "I am honored to do what I can to help you build the temple," the letter read. "I shall supply all the fir, cedar and any other kind of trees you need. My men will move the timber down from the mountains to the sea after cutting it to the sizes you require. Then they will float it southward to Joppa, and from there you can transport it to Jerusalem. In payment for this, we choose to receive produce from your country." (I Kings 5:7-9; II Chronicles 2:11-16.) Eventually the timber, carefully cut to Solomon's orders, arrived in Jerusalem. In return, Solomon sent great amounts of wheat, barley, oil and wine. Part of it was for Hiram's workers, and part for Hiram and his household. The part for his household was sent every year for many years after that. (I Kings 5:10-12.) At that time there were many people in Israel who weren't Israelites. Some were prisoners of war from David's reign. Many others had been drawn to Israel because that nation had become so famous and respected due to Solomon's reputation for learning and wisdom. And many came because Israel was peaceful and prosperous. When Solomon found that there were 153,600 such people, he decided to use them in the preparation and transport of materials for the building of the temple, which had long before been planned by David, through God's inspiration, down to the smallest detail. Now it was Solomon's duty to carry out those plans. He put seventy thousand of the aliens in Israel to work leveling the temple site and transporting stones and timbers. Eighty thousand were used to cut gigantic foundation and building stones in the nearby hills. Thirty thousand men, picked mostly from the Israelites, were sent in relays of ten thousand at a time to help the Tyrians with the cutting of timber around Mt. Lebanon. Each unit worked a month, then rested for two months while another unit worked. There were so many workers in all that more than three thousand foremen were required to oversee them. (II Chronicles 2:17-18; I Kings 5:13-18.) For years this vast force labored to supply and prepare timber and stone for the temple. All the materials brought to Jerusalem were already cut, smoothed and grooved or bored to exact measurements, so that their placing together was the only process that remained, though that part required seven years of labor because of the care and perfection involved. Huge squared and polished stones, said by some writers to have been up to thirty feet in length and as much as six feet thick, were slowly moved into the city by large gangs of men and work animals. These were for the foundation. They were set into the top of Mt. Moriah, where a threshing floor had once been, and where David had later built an altar on which to make special sacrifices because of a plague that had come to Israel. With workmen teeming over Mt. Moriah, one can imagine that there was generally quite a din. The noises of tools on wood and stone might have been heard all over the city. But it didn't happen that way. There was no sound of a metal tool because all cutting, trimming, grinding, drilling and polishing had previously taken place. (I Kings 6; II Chronicles 3.) Slowly the temple took shape.