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CHAPTER XXII.

THE OLD AGE OF SOLOMON.

1 Kings xi. 1-13.

"That uxorious king, whose heart, though large,

Beguiled by fair idolatresses, fell

To idols foul."

Milton, Paradise Lost.

"Did not Solomon, king of Israel, sin by these things?"—Neh. xiii. 26.

"That they might know, that wherewithal a man sinneth, by the same also shall he be punished."—Wisdom xi. 16.

Solomon had endeavoured to give a one-sided development to Israelitish nationality, and a development little in accord with the highest and purest traditions of the people. What he did with one hand by building the Temple he undid with the other by endowing and patronising the worship of heathen deities.407407   "L'amour du luxe et de la nouveauté le conduira peu à peu à défaire l'œuvre de son père, à ruiner le peuple dont il pouvait faire le bonheur, à detruire les institutions, et à dédaigner le culte national, auquel il avait d'abord cherché à donner le plus grand éclat."—Munk, Palestine, p. 285. In point of fact, Solomon was hardly a genuine off-shoot of the stem of Jesse. It is at least doubtful whether Bathsheba was of Hebrew race, and from her he may have derived an alien strain. It is at all events a striking fact that, so far from being regarded as an ideal Hebrew king, he was rather the reverse. The chronicler, indeed, exalts him as the supporter and240 redintegrator of the Priestly-Levitic system, which it is the main object of that writer to glorify; but this picture of theocratic purity, even if it be not altogether an anachronism, is only obtained by the total suppression of every incident in the story of Solomon which militates against it. In the Book of Kings we are faithfully told of the disgust of Hiram at the reward offered to him; of the alienation of a fertile district of the promised land; of the apostasy, the idolatries, and the reverses which disgraced and darkened his later years. The Book of Chronicles ignores every one of these disturbing particulars. It does not tell us of the depths to which Solomon fell, though it tells us of the extreme scrupulosity which regarded as a profanation the residence of his Egyptian queen on the hill once hallowed as the resting-place of Jehovah's Ark. Yet, if we understand in their simple sense the statements of the editor of the Book of Kings, and the documents on which he based his narrative, Solomon, even at the Dedication Festival, ignored all distinction between the priesthood and the laity. Nay, more than this, he seems to have offered, with his own hands, both burnt offerings and peace offerings three times a year,408408   1 Kings ix. 25. and, unchecked by priestly opposition or remonstrance, to have "burnt incense before the altar that was before the Lord," though, according to the chronicler, it was for daring to attempt this that Uzziah was smitten with the horrible scourge of leprosy.

The ideal of a good and great king is set before us in the Book of Proverbs, and in many respects Solomon fell very far short of it. Further than this, there are in Scripture two warning sketches of everything which241 a good king should not be and should not do, and these sketches exactly describe the very things which Solomon was and did. Those who take the view that the books of Scripture have undergone large later revision, see in each of these passages an unfavourable allusion to the king who raised Israel highest amongst the nations, only to precipitate her disintegration and ruin, and who combined the highest service to the centralisation of her religion with the deadliest insult to its supreme claim upon the reverence of the world.

1. The first of these pictures of selfish autocrats is found in 1 Sam. viii. 10-18:—

"And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people that asked of Him a king. And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint his captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be perfumers, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his courtiers, and to his servants. And he will take your menservants and your maidservants, and your goodliest oxen, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep, and you shall be his servants. And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day."

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2. The other, which is still more detailed and significant, was perhaps written with the express intention of warning Solomon's descendants from the example which Solomon had set.409409   Modern criticism generally regards the Book of Deuteronomy, or some elements of it, as "the Book of the Law" which was found in the Temple by the high priest Hilkiah in the reign of Josiah. We shall speak of this in the following volume (in 2 Kings). See Deut. xvii. 18. It is found in Deut. xvii. 14-20. Thus, speaking of a king, the writer says:—

"Only he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the Lord hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way. Neither shall he multiply wives to himself; that his heart turn not away; neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold. And it shall be that when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book ... that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, ... that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, ... to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel."

If Deuteronomy be of no older date than the days of Josiah, it is difficult not to see in this passage a distinct polemic against Solomon; for he did not do what he is here commanded, and he most conspicuously did every one of the things which is here forbidden.

It is quite clear that in his foreign alliances, in his commerce, in his cavalry, in his standing army, in his extravagant polygamy, in his exaggerated and exhausting magnificence, in his despotic autocracy, in his palatial architecture, and in his patronage of alien243 art, in his system of enforced labour, in his perilous religious syncretism, Solomon was by no means a king after the hearts of the old faithful and simple Israelites. They did not look with entire favour even on the centralisation of worship in a single Temple which interfered with local religious rites sanctioned by the example of their greatest prophets. His ideal differed entirely from that of the older patriarchs. He gave to the life of his people an alien development; he obliterated some of their best national characteristics; and the example which he set was at least as powerful for evil as for good.

When we read the lofty sentiments expressed by Solomon in his dedication prayer, we may well be amazed to hear that one who had aspirations so sublime could sink into idolatry so deplorable. If it was the object of the chronicler to present Solomon in unsullied splendour, he might well omit the deadly circumstance that when he was old, and prematurely old, "he loved many strange women, and went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites.410410   LXX., ἦν φιλογύνγς. Vulg., adamavit mulieres alienigenus. And Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and went not fully after the Lord as did David his father. Then did Solomon build a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech the abomination of the children of Ammon.411411   Some suppose that this clause about Milcom is an interpolation from 2 Kings xxiii. 13. And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods."412412   See Exod. xxxiv. 11-17; Deut. vii. 1-4. The Talmud makes one of its dishonest attempts to get rid of the fact; Shabbath, p. 56, b. Sanhedrin, ff. 55, 56. Justin Martyr preserves a tradition (Dial. c. Tryph., 34) that Solomon in taking a Sidonian wife worshipped idols at Sidon. Muslim tradition attributes Solomon's idolatry to the tricks of demons who assumed his form (Qur'an, Sura ii. 99; but see Sura xxxviii. 30).

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The sacred historian not only records the shameful fact, but records its cause and origin. The heart of Solomon was perverted, his will was weakened, his ideal was dragged into the mire by the "strange wives" who crowded his seraglio. He went the way that destroys kings.413413   Prov. xxxi. 3. The polygamy of Solomon sprang naturally from the false position which he had created for himself. A king who puts a space of awful distance between himself and the mass of his subjects—a king whose will is so absolute that life is in his smile and death in his frown—is inevitably punished by the loneliest isolation. He may have favourites, he may have flatterers, but he can have no friends. A thronged harem becomes to him not only a matter of ostentation and luxury, but a necessary resource from the vacuity and ennui of a desolate heart. Tiberius was driven to the orgies of Capreæ by the intolerableness of his isolation. The weariness of the king who used to take his courtiers by the button-hole and say, "Ennuyons-nous ensemble," drove him to fill up his degraded leisure in the Parc aux Cerfs. Yet even Louis XV. had more possibilities of rational intercourse with human beings than a Solomon or a Xerxes. It was in the nature of things that Solomon, when he had imitated all the other surroundings of an Oriental despot, should sink, like other Oriental despots, from sensuousness into sensualism, from sensualism into religious degeneracy and dishonourable enervation.

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Two facts, both full of warning, are indicated as the sources of his ruin: (1) the number of his wives; and (2) their heathen extraction.

1. "He had," we are told, "seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines."414414   The Song of Solomon (vi. 8) gives him, besides the 'alamoth ("damsels") "without number," the sixty wives (saroth), and the eighty concubines, who were partly perhaps their slaves.

The numbers make up a thousand, and are almost incredible. We are told indeed that in the monstrosities of Indian absolutism the Great Mogul had a thousand wives; but even Darius, "the king" par excellence, the awful autocrat of Persia, had only one wife and thirty-two concubines.415415   Parmen. ap. Athen., Deipnos., iii. 3. Comp. Quint. Curt., Vit. Alex., iii. 3. Amehhate of Egypt had more than three hundred and seventeen wives (Brugsch, Egypt, iii. 607, E.T.). Rehoboam, who had eighteen wives and sixty concubines, left twenty-eight sons and sixty daughters. Solomon, so far as we know, had only one son and two daughters. It is inconceivable that the monarch of a country so insignificant as Palestine could have maintained so exorbitant a household in a small city like Jerusalem. Moreover, there is, on every ground, reason to correct the statement. Saul, so far as we know, had only one wife, and one concubine; David, though he put so little restraint on himself, had only sixteen; no subsequent king of Israel or Judah appears to have had even a small fraction of the number which is here assigned to Solomon, either by the disease of exaggeration or by some corruption of the text. More probably we should read seventy wives, which at least partially assimilates the number to the "threescore queens" of whom we read in the Canticles.416416   Cant. vi. 8. Even then we have a household which must have led to246 miserable complications. The seraglio at Jerusalem must have been a burning fiery furnace of feuds, intrigues, jealousies, and discontent. It is this fact which gives additional meaning to the Song of Songs. That unique book of Scripture is a sweet idyll in honour of pure and holy love. It sets before us in glowing imagery and tender rhythms how the lovely maiden of Shunem, undazzled by all the splendours and luxuries of the great king's court, unseduced by his gifts and his persistence, remained absolutely faithful to her humble shepherd lover, and, amid the gold and purple of the palace at Jerusalem, sighed for her simple home amid the groves of Lebanon. Surely she was as wise as fair, and her chances of happiness would be a thousandfold greater, her immunities from intolerable conditions a thousandfold more certain, as she wandered hand in hand with her shepherd youth amid pure scenes and in the vernal air, than amid the heavy exotic perfumes of a sensual and pampered court.

Perhaps in the word "princesses" we see some sort of excuse for that effeminating self-indulgence which would make the exhortations to simplicity and chastity in the Book of Proverbs sound very hollow on the lips of Solomon. It may have been worldly policy which originally led him to multiply his wives. The alliance with Pharaoh was secured by a marriage with his daughter, and possibly that with Hiram by the espousal of a Tyrian princess. The friendliness of Edom on the south, of Moab and Ammon on the east, of Sidon and the Hittites and Syria on the north, might be enhanced by matrimonial connexions from which the greater potentates might profit and of which the smaller sheykhs247 were proud.417417   The Vatican MS. of the LXX. adds Syrian and Amorite princesses to the number. Marriages with Sidonians and Hittites are expressly forbidden in Exod. xxxiv. 12-16, and with Canaanites in Deut. vii. 3 (comp. Ezra ix. 2 and Neh. xiii. 23). Yet if this were so, the policy, like all other worldly policy unsanctioned by the law of God, was very unsuccessful. Egypt as usual proved herself to be a broken reed. The Hittites only preserved a dream and legend of their olden power. Edom and Moab neither forgot nor abandoned their implacable and immemorial hatred. Syria became a dangerous rival awaiting the day of future triumphs. "It is better to trust in the Lord than to put any confidence in man; it is better to trust in the Lord than to put any confidence in princes."

2. But the heathen religion of these strange women from so many nations "turned away the heart of Solomon after other gods." It may be doubted whether Solomon had ever read the stern prohibitions against intermarriage with the Canaanite nations which now stand on the page of the Pentateuch. If so he broke them, for the Hittites and the Phœnicians were Canaanites. Marriages with Egyptians, Moabites, and Edomites had not been, in so many words, forbidden, but the feeling of later ages applied the rule analogously to them. The result proved how necessary the law was. When Solomon was old his heart was no longer proof against feminine wiles. He was not old in years, for this was some time before his death, and when he died he was little more than sixty. But a polygamous despot gets old before his time.

The attempt made by Ewald and others to gloss over Solomon's apostasy as a sign of a large-hearted tolerance is an astonishing misreading of history.248 Tolerance for harmless divergences of opinion there should always be, though it is only a growth of modern days; but tolerance for iniquity is a wrong to holiness.

The worship of these devils adored for deities was stained with the worst passions which degrade human nature. They were themselves the personification of perverted instincts. The main facts respecting them are collected in Selden's famous De Dis Syris Syntagma, and Milton has enshrined them in his stateliest verse:—

"First Moloch, horrid king, besmeared with blood

Of human sacrifice, and parents' tears: ...

Next, Chemos, the obscene dread of Moab's sons,

Peor his other name, when he enticed

Israel in Sittim, on their march from Nile,

To do him wanton rites, which cost them woe.

Yet thence his lustful orgies he enlarged

Even to that hill of scandal, by the Grove

Of Moloch homicide; lust, hard by hate:

Till good Josiah drove them thence to hell.

... With these in troop

Came Ashtoreth, whom the Phœnicians call

Astarte, queen of heaven, with crescent horns;

To whose bright image nightly by the moon

Sidonian virgins paid their vows and songs;

In Sion also not unsung, where stood

Her temple on the offensive mountain, built

By that uxorious king, whose heart, though large,

Beguiled by fair idolatresses, fell

To idols foul."

What tolerance should there be for idols whose service was horrible infanticide and shameless lust? "What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with an infidel? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?" How vile the worship of Chemosh was, Israel had already experienced in the wilderness where he was called249 Peor.418418   Numb. xxv. 3. What Moloch was they were to learn thereafter by many a horrible experience. Had Solomon never heard that the Lord God was a jealous God, and would not tolerate the rivalries of gods of fire and of lust? At least he was not afraid to desecrate one, if not two, of the summits of the Mount of Olives with shrines to these monstrous images, which seem to have been left "on that opprobrious mount" for many an age, so that they "durst abide"

"Jehovah, thundering out of Sion, throned

Between the cherubim; yea, often placed

Within His sanctuary itself their shrines,

Abominations, and with cursed things

His holy rites and solemn feasts profaned,

And with their darkness durst affront His light."

And, to crown all, Solomon not only showed this guilty complaisance to all his strange wives, but even, sinking into the lowest abyss of apostasy, "burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods."

"He that built a temple for himself and for Israel in Sion," says Bishop Hall, "built a temple for Chemoch in the Mount of Scandal for his mistresses in the very face of God's house. Because Solomon feeds them in their superstition, he draws the sin home to himself, and is branded for what he should have forbidden."


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