The reign of King Solomon is traditionally viewed as the Golden Age of Israel’s history. A king known for his great wisdom, Solomon oversaw an era of peace and prosperity, expanded Israel’s boundaries in every direction, and ordered the construction of the Temple.
However, as I read 1 Kings, I often find myself asking, “was Solomon really a good king?” After all, he begins his reign by arranging the assassination of a number of prominent rivals, and as his power grows he seems to increasingly resemble the kings of Israel’s pagan neighbors, at times even the Pharaohs of old.
In their brilliant Survey of the Old Testament, Hill and Walton address this tension in the Solomon narrative.
“The Kings historian rightly attributes the division of Israel’s united monarchy to Solomon’s sin of idolatry (cf. 1 Kings 11:33, perhaps foreshadowed in 3:3). However, the collapse of the empire was merely the regrettable by-product of years of gross mismanagement of the affairs of the state by Solomon.
The policies and programs instituted by Solomon contributing to the eventual split of the kingdom include
- Political alliance to foreign nations by marriage (e.g., 1 Kings 3:1-2)
- Tendencies towards religious syncretism in an effort to appease both the Canaanite and Hebrew population in Palestine (i.e., participation in both Hebrew religion associated with Yahweh and the Canaanite cults of Baal and other deities, 1 Kings 11:1-8)
- The geographical realignment of Israel into twelve administrative districts in an attempt to ease old tribal boundaries and loyalties (a practice similar to “gerrymandering” in modern politics, cf. 1 Kings 4:7-19)
- The proliferation of state bureaucracy (1 Kings 4:22-28)
- Lavish building projects that required slave labor among both the non-Hebrew and Hebrew residence of Israel (1 Kings 9:15-22; cf. 5:13-18 and 12:9-11)
- The influx of pagan political and religious ideology in Jerusalem as a result of international trade and commerce (cf. 1 Kings 9:26-28; 10:22-29)
- The revolt of satellite states as Solomon’s military power waned (with the ensuing loss of foreign tribute as revenue compensated for by increased taxation of the Israelites, 1 Kings 11:9-25)”
(A Survey of the Old Testament, 295-296)
And so the story of Solomon takes a tragic turn – having so much potential, accomplishing many great things, and possessing such wisdom, yet ultimately not following the wise council he gave to others and as a result leading his country towards the violent split that followed soon after his reign ended.
For me at least the question remains, was Solomon really a good king?
What do you think? Why or why not?