TO PAY A DEBT to the king of Tyre, Solomon required that the Israelites pay more taxes. With this extra revenue he also built a part of the wall around Jerusalem and repaired and fortified several cities to the northwest and north. Most of the hard labor on the cities was done by Canaanites living in those vicinities. These Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites were drafted for work, and were regarded almost as slaves. (I Kings 9:15-23; II Chronicles 8:1-10.)
Solomon's Fabulous Voyages
About the same time Solomon increased his fighting force by adding to the numbers of his horsemen and chariots. He even established a navy, but it was more for commercial purposes than for war. The home port was in the Gulf of Aqaba, the east finger of the Red Sea reaching up toward the rock-walled city of Petra. With these ships the king hoped to establish trade relations with distant countries that could supply unusual produce and rare items. The Israelites had recently become a maritime people. But Solomon had to ask aid of the Tyrians, many of whom were sailors because their people had lived for generations on the eastern shore of the Great Sea. Tyrians trained a number of Israelites in the crafts of shipbuilding and the skills of sailing. Probably the ships were manned by crews that were more Tyrian than Israelite. (I Kings 9:26-28; II Chronicles 8:17-18.) The ambitious voyages, some three years long, turned out to be profitable for Solomon. In one trip alone his ships would bring back cargoes that were worth fabulous sums. They sailed down the Red Sea, probably putting in at ports on the northeast coast of Africa. From there they went eastward into the Arabian Sea and on to the distant ports of India, Ceylon, Malaya and Japan. When the ships returned, they brought spices, apes, peacocks, gold, silver, ivory, rare kinds of wood and other kinds of valuable and unique objects that stirred up deep interest and wonder in the many Israelites who had the opportunity to view them or own some of them. (I Kings 10:11-12, 14-15, 22-23; II Chronicles 9:10-11, 13-14, 21-22.)
Queen of Sheba Visits Solomon
Meanwhile reports of Solomon's wisdom and wealth stirred the feminine curiosity of the Queen of Sheba to such an extent that she decided to make a trip to Jerusalem to find out in person how much the reports were exaggerated. The land of Sheba lay in Southern Arabia and in Ethiopia and Upper Egypt and Nubia. At that time the Queen of Sheba (Sheba was a son of Cush, the son of Ham) ruled Ethiopia and Egypt. Historians have so falsified Egyptian history that they have completely lost the identity of this famous queen who is dated in history books over 500 years too early. The Queen of Sheba, as she is referred to in the Bible, set out from her capital city Thebes with many servants and a large train of camels loaded with spices, gold and jewels. This wealth she presented to Solomon as a gift of friendship when she arrived in Jerusalem.
No Question Too Hard
To test the power of Solomon's mind, the queen asked him the answers to many difficult riddles. In ancient times this kind of mental gymnastic was a sort of equivalent of the higher type of intelligence test of today, except that it was regarded more of a game or a matching of wits. Solomon gave such prompt and outstanding answers that his guest was startled. She then asked him about many practical things, including her personal problems. The helpful and informative replies she received kindled in her a growing respect for the Israelite king. In the days that followed during her long visit, the queen was amazed at the beauty of the temple, the magnificence of Solomon's palace, the unusual design of his throne, the extraordinary choice of food at his table, the faithful obedience of his servants, the efficiency of his staff members and officers, his superb clothing and the rich attire of those about him and the way in which he made sacrifices to his God with such roaring fires. "When I heard glowing reports about your wisdom and prosperity, I didn't believe them," the queen admitted to Solomon. "Since coming here I've found that the reports should have been twice as exciting and colorful to completely inform me. Israel must be very happy to have a king like you. Your God must indeed love your people to allow them to have such a wise ruler." (I Kings 10:1-10; II Chronicles 9:1-9.) When the queen prepared to leave, Solomon didn't allow her camels to be taken back unloaded. She had given him gold of highest quality and of enormous value, besides costly stones and an immense quantity of spices. Not to be outdone, Solomon made a generous remark that could have cost him half his kingdom if his guest had been a very greedy person. "If there is anything I have that you desire," the king told her, "all you have to do is ask and it shall become yours." After she had made her choices, Solomon had them carefully packed for her camels to carry. In addition to what the queen asked for, he gave her many gifts he was certain she would like to have but for which she modestly refrained from asking. (I Kings 10:13; II Chronicles 9:12.) For a long time after the Queen of Sheba had returned up the Nile River to her native country, Solomon continued to prosper. In the course of a year it wasn't unusual for him to receive incredible quantities of gold. He was given regular tribute by bordering nations. He had established trade agreements with others. His merchant caravans were constantly on the move to and from the north, east and south. From Lower Egypt he brought up an increasing number of chariots and horses. Horses were in demand in Israel. (I Kings 10:24-26; II Chronicles 9:23-24.) God had forbidden their use in war. (Deuteronomy 17:14-16.) Solomon possibly reasoned that this ban applied only to the past. At any rate, he unwisely established a standing cavalry and a chariot brigade. After he obtained all the horses he wanted, those that continued coming from Egypt and elsewhere were sold at a profit to people who wanted them for domestic or sporting purposes. Many mules from Egypt also added to revenue for the king. (I Kings 10:28-29; II Chronicles 9:25, 28.)
Lust of the Flesh
The Bible states, in a figurative manner, that silver was so common in Jerusalem that it attracted little more attention than did the stones on the ground. Solomon had so much silver and considered it so low in value that he wouldn't allow any drinking vessels in his palace that were made of silver. All cups, chalices, goblets and tumblers had to be made of gold. Even some of the equipment for his army was made of gold instead of brass. Some of the soldiers' shields used at state functions were of great value because of the gold content. With all the income Israel's king received because of his keen business ability, plus the tributes and gifts he received, he became the wealthiest of kings at that time. But this wouldn't have come about without the help of God in many direct and indirect ways. (I Kings 10:16-17, 27; II Chronicles 9:15-16, 27.) While his wealth was increasing, Solomon remained faithful to God in the regularly required sacrifices and in most other matters of obedience. At the same time he had a growing weakness that increased with his wealth and his fame. It was the desire for the love of many women. His ability and means to obtain them was a great temptation to him. In spite of his wisdom, his choice of wives started with that of an Egyptian princess related, by marriage, to the Queen of Sheba. Possibly this had some bearing on the trade pact he developed with Egypt in his early years as king of Israel. From then on he seemed to have a special liking for foreign women, including those from the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians and Hittites. (I Kings 11:1-2.) Israel's powerful fighting force kept the pagan nations subdued. Solomon not only succeeded in keeping them in their respective territories, but he included some or parts of some of them in his expanding kingdom. They paid regular, heavy tributes. These were submitted in the form of gold, silver, precious stones, brasswork, cloth and livestock. (II Chronicles 9:26, 28.) It was possible that occasionally a young and pretty daughter of a king or chief was also included, eventually becoming another of Solomon's growing number of wives, of which there were seven hundred! Besides these, the king had three hundred concubines, or secondary wives. (I Kings 11:3.) When Israel had come to Canaan, God had forbidden His chosen people to intermarry with those of Canaan or nearby nations. The Creator knew that intermarriage with foreigners would result in the Israelites being drawn into the worship of idols and false gods. (Exodus 34:11-16; Deuteronomy 7:1-6; I Kings 11:2.) That is exactly what happened to Solomon, regardless of his brilliant mind and deep wisdom.
A Thousand Versions of Idolatry
During his years of attempting to please or at least stay on the friendly side of a thousand wives, Solomon was asked by many of them to consider turning to their several gods. At first the king gave in part way to the wishes of his favorites by promising them that he would consider the building of shrines and altars for the worship of their pagan deities. Solomon gradually lost sight of God and became totally concerned in physical things. As time passed Solomon made casual promises to so many of his wives that he found it was easier to carry out his promises than it was to listen to repeated, nagging requests — though probably he almost willingly carried out some of the favors because of his special affection for some of his women. Solomon therefore ordered small temples to be erected for the worship of the Zidonian goddess Ashtoreth (also known as Astarte or Easter), for Chemosh the god of the Moabites and for Molech and Milcom, idols of the Ammonites. This was done on the mount just south of the Mount of Olives, in full sight of the temple dedicated to God. (I Kings 11:4-8.) Meanwhile, Solomon was paying a price for his excesses. Instead of becoming wiser and more mentally alert as he reached middle age, his mind lost much of its God-given brilliance. At that same time he aged rapidly in a physical way, insomuch that he looked older than he was. His unwise manner of living was leading him toward an early grave. Then came a stinging message from the Creator, whose anger had been steadily growing because of Solomon's turning to idolatry. Whether it came to him in a dream or through some prophet who was close to God, what Solomon learned was a staggering shock to him. "You have ignored my repeated warning about turning to other gods," God told the king. "Because you have done this thing and have broken so many of my laws, I have decided to take the kingdom of Israel from you! "I am going to give it to one of your servants. But for the sake of David your father, I will not completely do it while you are alive. You are going to live long enough to witness the start of great trouble in this nation. After you are dead and your son has inherited the throne, it will quickly be wrested from him. Again, out of respect for David and for the sake of Jerusalem, I shall allow your son to retain leadership over the tribe of Judah." (I Kings 11:9-13.) Years previously, during David's rule, God had spared the life of a young Edomite prince named Hadad when Joab had tried to kill all the males of Edom. Hadad and some of the people had escaped to Egypt. Hadad later returned to his country to enlist a small but powerful army with which to plague Israel. This occurred at the time God told Solomon Israel would be troubled. Another man, by the name of Rezon, a captain in a Syrian army David had defeated, escaped to Damascus and established another small army with which to give Solomon's soldiers more grief. These two men were used by God to plague Israel, especially during Solomon's last days. (I Kings 11:14-25.)
And Now — a Real Competitor
Then a third man came on the scene to give Solomon even more concern. He was Jeroboam, an ambitious and capable man whom Solomon employed as the superintendent of public work projects in and around Jerusalem. He was the servant God had mentioned in His recent, dire prediction to Solomon. One day as Jeroboam was coming out of Jerusalem, a man stepped up to him when no one else was around and asked to speak with him. At first Jeroboam didn't recognize the fellow, who suddenly removed a new coat he was wearing. Then Jeroboam recognized him as the prophet Ahijah, who had succeeded Nathan and Gad, prophets in David's time. Ahijah's next surprising move was to violently tear his coat into twelve pieces. He kept two of the pieces and handed the other ten to the astonished Jeroboam. "These ten pieces of cloth represent ten tribes of Israel," Ahijah said. "Take them." "But why are you giving them to me?" Jeroboam asked. "God has told me that He is about to tear the kingdom of Israel from Solomon, and that He will give you ten of the tribes over which to rule," Ahijah explained. "But why me?" Jeroboam queried. "And why only ten tribes?" "Isn't it enough to learn that God chose you?" Ahijah pointed out. "And aren't ten tribes enough? For David's sake and for the sake of Jerusalem, Judah will remain under the rulership of Solomon's family. You will become king over ten of the tribes, which Solomon's family will lose because of the king's disobedience in turning to pagan gods and breaking so many of God's laws. God has instructed me to tell you that if you will be obedient, you and those after you of your family will continue to rule the ten tribes." (I Kings 11:26-39.) Later, after Jeroboam had thought over the exciting event, he could scarcely contain himself. He had much to say to his family and friends about what he was going to do. His statements soon reached Solomon, who became so envious and angry that he sent soldiers after Jeroboam. "That man is a traitor!" Solomon declared. "He is scheming to seize my throne! Bring him to me, and I shall sentence him to death!" Jeroboam had friends in the palace who warned him before the soldiers arrived. He escaped from Jerusalem, but he knew that it would be dangerous to stay anywhere in Palestine or even in bordering countries. He fled all the way to Egypt, where the young king there was pleased to harbor a man of Jeroboam's ability. (I Kings 11:40.) The highly talented and studious Solomon suddenly died at an age when he should have been at the prime of his wisdom — at about sixty. If he had been a more temperate and obedient king, probably he would have lived for many more years. The passing of such a famous ruler was a mournful event for Israel and for many people outside Israel. Solomon had reigned for forty years after having become king at about 20 years of age (I Kings 11:41-43; II Chronicles 9:29-31.) Through him God not only did great things for Israel of that time, but also for people of today who gain from reading the books of the Bible Solomon wrote — Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. Solomon designated his son Rehoboam to succeed him. After a period of mourning for Solomon, thousands of people gathered at Shechem, about thirty-five miles north of Jerusalem, to witness Rehoboam's being made king. Among those in the crowd was Jeroboam, who had returned from Egypt when he heard of Solomon's death. (I Kings 12:1-2; II Chronicles 10:1-2.) When Rehoboam appeared before the people on the inaugural platform, he expected them to cheer, but they didn't. He glared disdainfully at them, but his expression changed when he saw Jeroboam moving toward the platform. Many men of high rank were pressing in behind him. None of them looked either pleased or friendly.