The Reign of Solomon 1 Kings 1–11 and Psalm 89

This chapter continues the discussion of the United Monarchy by discussing the biblical presentation of Solomon, David’s successor. Here we find a greatly expanded focus on Deuteronomistic themes, including the need for centralized worship represented by the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Overall the Deuteronomistic historians stress that the continuation of the United Monarchy and the very survival of Israel depend on the observance of the law of Moses.

            Like 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings are a part of the Deuteronomistic History, and therefore the division of these books into separate entities is artificial. As we have already seen, the historians used a variety of materials in composing these narratives, including the conclusion of the “Succession Narrative.” The Deuteronomistic historians did not just edit the text; they also interpolated some of their own original compositions, including the account discussing the dedication of the Temple.

            The overall focus of 1 Kings 1–11 is to give a description of Solomon’s reign, recounting its positive aspects and also the religious and political problems that were brought about by his kingship. The narrative itself opens while David is still alive, but he is in both physical and political decline. After political maneuvering and court intrigue, Solomon is chosen as heir over David’s oldest surviving son, Adonijah. After Solomon’s coronation, the narrative continues with a series of accounts that describe Solomon’s piety, wisdom, and successes. The centerpiece of the narrative is the account of the Temple’s construction, which describes the building of the sanctuary itself, the palace complex, and then the furnishings (mostly of bronze) that were fashioned for the Temple. This is followed by the dedication of the Temple, which included the transfer of the ark into the Temple and a series of prayers by Solomon. The narrative continues by discussing Solomon’s other building projects throughout Israel and his international policy. The text also features a series of negatives concerning Solomon’s reign. Most notably, we are told how his foreign wives led him into apostasy. The narrative ends by describing the rebellion both of Israel’s vassal states and of Jeroboam in the north, forecasting the end of the United Monarchy after Solomon’s death.

History

No independent historical source verifies anything about Solomon outside of the covenant with Hiram, king of Tyre, discussed in the previous chapter. However, there is some likelihood that there was a historical Solomon who reigned from approximately 968 to 928 BCE. Solomon ruled in a time of peace and prosperity, and this led to an expansion of trade and wealth in Israel. It is this wealth that allowed Solomon to construct the Temple and his palace complex. In addition, we are told that Solomon built or fortified other sites in Israel, many of which can be dated archaeologically to the tenth century BCE.

Institutions

Solomon’s list of officials in 1 Kings 4.1–6 demonstrates some possible developments in royal administration. When we compare it to David’s list, we find a few key changes. Most significant is the placement of the priest at the top of the list, demonstrating the increased importance of centralized religion in Israel. Secretaries hold the second position, illustrating the increased need for record-keeping in Solomon’s expanding kingdom. Last, Solomon divided the kingdom into twelve districts, with each overseen by an appointed official.

            The focus on the construction of the Temple is vital to the Deuteronomistic historians, who stress the need for centralized worship of one God in one location. The importance of the Temple to the historians is also made clear by the expansive descriptions of the building and its furnishings. Based on these descriptions, as well as descriptions found in Ezekiel and data from parallel archaeological evidence, we have a vivid picture of what the Temple might have looked like. Moreover, 1 Kings tells us that the priests were appointed by the king and that the king himself offered sacrifice, all of which show that worship at the Temple was a manifestation of state religion.

Ideology of the Davidic Monarchy

The Davidic line lasted for more than four hundred years. As a result, there are several instances of the royal ideology, a cluster of concepts that both derived from and supported and shaped the institution of the monarchy. Examples of this appear throughout the Bible and especially in the historical books, the prophets, and the Psalms. There is no single formula for the royal ideology, but it is represented and developed through a variety of texts and themes. One theme found in the royal ideologies is the selection by God of the king, who then is described as the “son of God.” The concept of covenant is also common, as God committed himself to the Davidic dynasty, guaranteeing that the line would continue. This is revolutionary for Israel since in premonarchic times Israel was the son of God. The main purpose of the royal ideology was the religious and political centralization of Israel.

Implications for Our Study

The reign of Solomon marks a pivotal point in Israel’s religious and political history. On the one hand, this period marks the peak of Israel’s wealth and influence in the ancient Near East. More importantly, the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem signifies the realization of a nation unified under the worship of one God in one location. Furthermore, both Israel and the worship of Yahweh are now under the exclusive direction of the monarch. On the down side, this peace and unity would be short-lived. Beyond the façade of unification, many of the same old problems persisted, and a unified Israel would soon come to an end.