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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

1 Kings 3

 

 

Introduction

THE BEGINNING OF THE REIGN OF SOLOMON

(Note: 1 Kings 3:3-11 are devoted to a discussion of the reign of Solomon)

In a sense, the previous chapter gave us the beginning of Solomon's reign, but it was concerned chiefly with his "liquidation" of potential enemies such as Shimei and Abiathar and with his carrying out of David's sentence of death upon Joab. Here, we have the actual beginning of Solomon's reign, which is usually described in the most complimentary terms. As LaSor said, "For some strange reason Christian literature has idealized Solomon, so that he hardly resembles the scriptural portrait."[1]

It should be remembered that Solomon did NOT build his glorious empire; he only inherited it, and that he at once sowed the seeds of its destruction culminating in the near-total loss of it as soon as he died. His vaunted "wisdom" was not demonstrated by any noticeable application of it in his own undisciplined life. He violated with abandon the commandments of God: (1) which forbade his multiplying wives for himself; (2) the amassing of silver and gold; and (3) the accumulation of vast numbers of war-horses (Deuteronomy 17:16-17). In addition to all this, he became a gross idolater. Even that marvelous temple which he built, and to which God indeed accommodated himself for the sake of his people, was never, in any ultimate sense, the will of God, as a reference to 1 Samuel 8 clearly indicates.

Despite the consummate wickedness of Solomon and his scandalous reign, however, the Jewish people were completely captivated and enamoured by it, an infatuation which they never outgrew; because, even in the times of the Messiah, Jesus Christ our Lord, they desired nothing either in heaven or upon earth as much as they desired the restoration of that old Solomonic empire. Furthermore, their rejection of Christ himself was, in the last analysis, due solely to their realization that the Saviour's "Kingdom of Heaven" was something utterly different from the earthly kingdom of Solomon.

"The shipwreck of Solomon is surely the most terrible tragedy in all the world."[2] His Book of Ecclesiastes is a pessimistic description of the whole world, and even of life itself. "All rivers ran into Solomon's sea: wisdom and knowledge, wine and women, wealth and fame, music and songs; he tried them all but found them `vanity and vexation of spirit,' simply because he left God out of his life."[3] It would be wonderful to know that he repented and turned his life back to God, but there is no record of it. He never wrote a penitential psalm as did his father (Psalms 51). He was a strange contradiction in that all of his wisdom did not teach him self-control; and out of that harem of a thousand pagan women, the only thing Solomon received from it was a senseless egotistical fool for a son who at once lost the vast majority of that so-called `glorious' empire.


Verses 1-3

SOLOMON BECAME THE SON

-IN-LAW OF PHARAOH!

"And Solomon made affinity with Pharaoh king of Egypt, and took Pharaoh's daughter, and brought her into the city of David, until he had made an end of building his own house, and the house of Jehovah, and the wall of Jerusalem round about. Only the people sacrificed in the high places, because there was no house built for the name of Jehovah until those days. And Solomon loved Jehovah, walking in the statutes of David his father: only he sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places."

"Pharaoh's daughter" (1 Kings 3:1) Gates identified this Pharaoh as being, "Either the last of the 21st Dynasty of Egyptian rulers or the first of the 22nd Dynasty."[4] Most scholars declare him to be "unknown." The significance of this note is that it was unlawful for an Israelite to marry a foreign woman unless she changed her religion to that of her husband's nation. Even then, the permission to marry foreign women was usually related to captives taken in war. "But, at the same time, it was permitted only when the foreign wives renounced their idolatry and confessed their faith in Jehovah. It was only then that such marriages were in accordance with the spirit of God's law."[5]

Keil and other scholars, "Assume that this was the case in Solomon's marriage with Pharaoh's daughter," but this writer cannot allow the accuracy of such an assumption. Keil pleaded Solomon's love of Jehovah, as stated in 1 Kings 3:2, as the basis of his assumption; but those words appear to have been applicable only to a very short period of Solomon's reign. And the uncertainty of the date of this marriage leaves the question doubtful of whether or not it came within that very brief period of Solomon's loving Jehovah and keeping his commandments. As LaSor noted: "This account of the marriage has no chronological intention."[6]

Jamieson was of the opinion that the Song of Solomon and Psalms 45 were both composed in honor of this, marriage of Solomon to the daughter of Pharaoh.[7]

"Only he sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places" (1 Kings 3:3). Christian students should beware of the tenderness with which many scholars comment on Solomon's sins. Jamieson, for example, with regard to this passage wrote, "The word `only' here is not to be understood as a qualifying circumstance that reflected any degree of censure upon Solomon,"[8] to which it must be replied that it could not possibly reflect anything else.

Leviticus 17:9 makes it clear enough that worshipping Jehovah at the high places of Canaan was sinful. As Hammond stated it, "Israel's continuing to violate this sacred prohibition was among the sins that "God winked at (Acts 17:30)."[9] The excuse for this sin, already given in 1 Kings 3:2, was that, "No house had been built for the name of Jehovah in those days." However, that was only an excuse; because, in the first place God never desired a house (Temple) (2 Samuel 8) nor did he ever approve of David's notion of building one.


Verses 4-9

GOD APPEARED TO SOLOMON IN A DREAM

"And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there; for that was the great high place: a thousand burnt-offerings did Solomon offer upon that altar. In Gibeon Jehovah appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, Ask what I shall give thee. And Solomon said, Thou hast showed unto thy servant David my father great lovingkindness according as he walked before thee in truth, and righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with thee; and thou hast kept for him this great lovingkindness, that thou hast given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. And now, O Jehovah my God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child; I know not how to go out or come in. And thy servant is in the midst of thy people which thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude. Give thy servant therefore an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and evil; for who is able to judge this thy great people?"

"I am but a little child" (1 Kings 3:7). This is usually understood to mean that Solomon considered himself but a "little child" in the sense of his total inexperience in judging the people, also as a reference to his youth upon coming to the throne. As for his age when he became king, there seems to be quite a mystery. The Septuagint (LXX) gives it at age twelve (1 Kings 2:12); Josephus gave it as age fourteen;[10] and a popular scholarly guess is that he was about the age of twenty. There seems to be no way that his age can be dogmatically established.

God, in ancient times, often appeared to men in dreams; but that was no positive evidence of God's approval of the character of those to whom he appeared. Both Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar received prophetic dreams from God.

In this passage, Solomon asked God for wisdom that he might properly govern the people; but God, pleased with that request, also promised him riches and honor. This is emphasized in the next paragraph.


Verses 10-15

GOD'S RESPONSE TO SOLOMON'S WISE REQUEST

"And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing. And God said unto him, Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life, neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies, but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern justice; Behold, I have done according to thy word: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there hath been none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee. And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches and honor, so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee, all thy days. And if thou wilt walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as thy father David did walk, then I will lengthen thy days. And Solomon awoke; and, behold, it was a dream: and he came to Jerusalem and stood before the ark of the covenant of Jehovah, and offered up burnt-offerings, and offered peace-offerings, and made a feast to all his servants."

All of these things came to pass as God promised, except that due to Solomon's sins, God did not lengthen his days. Due to his youth when he was enthroned and the fact of his reigning forty years, he could not have been more than sixty years of age when he died, perhaps even less. In spite of the transgressions which later overwhelmed him, this chapter records a very beautiful and promising summary of the very beginning of his reign.

Another incident in which Solomon's wisdom in deciding a case of child custody is recorded, perhaps with the intention of giving Israel a glimpse of the young king's remarkable wisdom. That episode concludes the chapter.


Verses 16-22

SOLOMON JUDGED A VERY DIFFICULT CASE

"Then there came two women that were harlots, unto the king, and stood before him. And the one woman said, Oh, my lord, I and this woman dwell in one house; and I was delivered of a child with her in the house. And it came to pass the third day after I was delivered, that this woman was delivered also; and we were together; there was no stranger with us in the house, save we two in the house. And this woman's child died in the night, because she lay upon it. And she arose at midnight, and took my son from beside me, while thy handmaid slept, and laid it in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom. And when I arose in the morning to give my child suck, behold it was dead; but when I had looked at it in the morning, behold, it was not my son which I did bear. And the other woman said, Nay; but the living is my son, and the dead is thy son. And this said, No; but the dead is thy son, and the living is my son. Thus they spake before the king."

This was indeed a difficult case. It resembles other similar instances in antiquity. "A certain Thracian king was asked to choose between three men, each of whom claimed to be the son and heir of the dead Cimmerian king. He ordered the three men to cast a spear into the corpse of the dead king; and when one of them refused to do so, he was chosen."[11]


Verses 23-28

SOLOMON WISELY DISCERNED THE TRUE MOTHER

"Then said the king, The one saith, This is my son that liveth, and thy son is the dead; and the other saith, Nay; but thy son is the dead, and my son is the living. And the king said, Fetch me a sword. And they brought a sword before the king. And the king said, Divide the child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other. Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her heart yearned over her son, and she said, Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it. But the other said, It shall be neither mine nor thine; divide it. Then the king answered and said, Give her the living child, and in no wise slay it; for she is the mother thereof. And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do justice."

This beautiful and touching story needs no comment. It spoke in tones of thunder to "all Israel," convincing them that a wise and discerning king indeed was upon the throne.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Kings 3:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/1-kings-3.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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