My wife and I have had a longstanding interest in the history and culture of the people of antiquity. Whether studying the religion and practices of American Indians or visiting religious sites in the Caribbean, we have been fascinated by their conceptions of a "supreme being" (or beings) and the worship ceremonies associated with them. And no less interesting to us are the beliefs of the early Polynesians.
On a recent visit to Tahiti we noticed a large idol-statue in the foyer of the hotel where we were staying. It was quite unlike any we had seen on the different islands, for it wore a smile on its face. All the other representations of the gods that at one time had been worshiped by the people invariably had facial expressions that were horrific and reminded us of the cruel and rapacious representations of deities on the island of Hawaii.
One day, after returning from a tour, I asked our guide about the Tahitian gods. "Do you know of any that were benign or smiled?" I asked. "No," was his response, "these gods were designed to instill dread in their enemies and compel submission on the part of their followers." I then asked him about the larger-than-life idol in the foyer of the hotel. "Oh that," he said with a broad smile on his face, "that was made recently for the benefit of tourists. It looks old, but it isn't."
As we study the Bible we find that the God of biblical revelation is totally unlike the deities worshiped by people living in the ancient Near East. His true character is reflected in the passage before us.
The biblical writer's outline is easy to follow. We have:
When David's son, Solomon, was crowned king his brothers and all of the officials of David's court pledged their allegiance to him (29:23-35). Even though Solomon's parents had given him the name "Shelemoh" (from shalom, "peace") at the time of his birth, there was smoldering resentment over the fact that one of David's youngest sons had been chosen to succeed his father. And forgotten by those who opposed his elevation to the throne of a united Israel (viz., Adonijah, Joab) was the fact that about two decades earlier, the Lord (speaking through Nathan the prophet) had given Solomon another name, "Jedediah" ("Beloved of God"). If anyone remembered this incident they probably discounted it as the pious musing of an old man who wanted to encourage the royal couple with the prospect of God's blessing. And so, as time passed, less and less attention was paid to what the Lord had revealed. Now, however, Solomon sat on the throne of his father.
And Solomon the son of David made himself strong over his kingdom, and Yahweh his God was with him and made him great (1:1).
Dr. Martin J. Selman, in his excellent study of the Books of Chronicles, has established a valid connection between God's blessing of David and the favor He now showed David's son.
Every phrase in this verse illustrates that David's blessings continued under Solomon, as indicated by the addition of son of David to the original text (1 Kings 2:46b). David had also been "strengthened" at the beginning of his reign (cf. 1 Ch. 11:10), God was with him, had made him great (1 Ch. 11:9), and made him exceedingly great (also 1 Ch. 29:25). This continuity was not just the result of instituting a dynasty, but of God keeping His promises about establishing David's house (cf. vv. 8-9; 2 Ch. 6:3, 10; 1 Ch. 17:23-27).
This brief introductory statement covers the early trials of the young king's reign before he began building the Temple. During this time Adonijah attempted a coup (1 Kings 2:13-46), and Joab and Abiathar were removed from their positions of leadership. In spite of the opposition Solomon encountered, his kingdom was established with the help of the Lord; and, according to the Oxford historian, Professor George Rawlinson, Solomon's kingdom rivaled the splendor of the courts of Egypt and Assyria.
Readers of the parallel record in 1 Kings 3:4ff. will readily notice a difference in emphasis. Here the Chronicler emphasizes (1) Solomon's personal relationship with the Lord, as well as (2) his involvement of "all Israel" and "the whole assembly" in the activities that take place. Long before leadership styles were divided into authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative categories, Solomon set an example of proactive inclusion by taking the initiative and inviting all the leaders of Israel to participate with him in the events that were to take place at Gibeon.
And Solomon spoke to all Israel, to the heads of thousands, and [to the heads of] hundreds, and to the judges, and to every leader in all Israel, the chiefs of the fathers' [households]. And Solomon and all the assembly with him went to the high place that [was] at Gibeon; for God's tent of meeting was there, that Moses the servant of Yahweh had made in the wilderness. But David had brought up the Ark of God from Kiriath-jearim to the place he had prepared for it, for he had pitched a tent for it in Jerusalem. And the bronze altar, that Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, had made, was there before the Tabernacle of Yahweh, and Solomon and the assembly sought it out. And Solomon went up to the bronze altar before Yahweh that was at the tent of meeting, and offered on it a thousand burnt offerings (1:2-6).
Though there had been a deliberate move away from any form of worship on the "high places" (i.e., mountaintops) because of heathen connotations, the high place in Gibeon was an exception. Thomas Kirk, a well-known Scottish preacher of a former generation, wrote:
Gibeon, which was chosen as the place of thanksgiving, was invested with a particular sacredness on account of its having the Tabernacle that Moses had erected on the wilderness, and the brazen altar that Bazalel the grandson of Hur had made. The Ark, which had belonged to that old Tabernacle till its capture by the Philistines in the closing days of Eli, was now in the Tabernacle which David had erected for it on Mount Zion in the City of David.... Hence Gibeon and Mount Zion were then the two grand centers of national worship. The reason why Solomon gave the preference to Gibeon may have been to avoid giving offense to those with whom it was the favourite place of worship, which was probably the case with all the tribes other than Judah, and perhaps because, on account of the preparations going on at Jerusalem for building the Temple
The celebrations lasted several days during which time Solomon offered up a thousand burnt offerings. Some writers have disputed this number, claiming that such an act on such a large scale is highly improbable, and that the figure of one thousand animal sacrifices is in all likelihood an exaggeration. These critics are either ignorant of or ignore the fact that Croesus, king of Lydia, sacrificed 3,000 animals at one time, and that Xerxes, king of the Persians, offered up 1,000 animals at Troy. There is no reason to doubt the Bible's essential accuracy.
The Lord was obviously pleased with Solomon's devotion and his desire to unite "all Israel" in following Him, for He came to Solomon in a dream at night and said to him, "Ask what I shall give to you." And Solomon replied,
"You have dealt with my father David with great kindness, and have made me king in his place. Now, O Yahweh God, Your word (i.e., promise) to my father David is fulfilled, for You have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth. Now give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in before this people, for who can rule this great people of Yours?" (1:7-10).
Verse 7 is unique. There is nothing like it anywhere in the Old Testament. It does, however, set a precedent for Christ's promise in the New Testament when He said, "Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you" (John 15:7; cf. John 14:13-14; 15:16, 23; 16:23, 26; 1 John 5:14-15; etc.).
Of importance as we study this passage in 2 Chronicles is the fact that Solomon first acknowledged God's faithfulness to the promise He had made to David. He had fulfilled His word by making him king over Israel (something that, during the intervening years, may have seemed impossible in light of the fact that others had different ideas of what would be best for the nation). Then Solomon bore testimony to God's faithfulness to the patriarchs by making their descendents as numerous as the dust of the earth, for as he looked out over those assembled at Gibeon, their number could not be counted (cf. Genesis 13:16; 28:14).
Second, Solomon asked the Lord to give him wisdom and knowledge. "Wisdom," hokma, looks at a manner of thinking about life's experiences. It covers the whole spectrum of human knowledge, including matters of basic morality, a sagacious approach to secular affairs, moral sensitivity, and an understanding of the ways of the Lord. "Knowledge," maddaʿ, is frequently found in connection with "wisdom" and denotes the practical application of knowledge gained by experience.
All true wisdom begins and ends in the reverential awe of God (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; 15:33), and is expressed in a submission to His will (Job 28:28; Ecclesiastes 12:13). According to 2 Kings 4:29-34 Solomon's wisdom included great discernment and breadth of understanding, so that he became wiser than all the learned men of his time. His fame also spread, for his accomplishments embraced botany, literature, biology, ornithology, and other branches of science. In time he came to the attention of learned people in other lands, and they came to discuss their problems with him (1 Kings 4:29-34; Ecclesiastes 2:4-9; 12:9-10).
The Lord was evidently pleased with Solomon's desire to lead the people of Israel wisely, for he said:
Because this has been in your heart, and you have not asked [for yourself] riches, wealth, or honor, or the life of those who hate you, nor have you even asked for long life, but you have asked for yourself wisdom and knowledge that you may judge My people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge have been given to you, and I will give you riches and wealth and honor, such as none of the kings who [were] before you [possessed] nor those who will come after you (1:11-12).
These verses serve as an Old Testament illustration of two truths taught in the New Testament: (1) Christ's statement that we should seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be added to us (Matthew 6:33); and (2) Paul's promise that God is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we ask of think, according to the power that works in us (Ephesians 3:20).
In response to Solomon's request, the Lord gave him immeasurably more than he asked for, and a brief look ahead at the closing verses of this chapter gives some indication of the extent to which the Lord fulfilled His word.
The Chronicler does not tell us how the Lord communicated with Solomon. There were three ways in which God spoke to people in Old Testament times: dreams, visions, and face to face. The text of 1 Kings 3 informs us that "Solomon awoke" and so we conclude that all of this came in the form of a dream. But how do we know that this wasn't the wishful thinking on the part of the young king or the effects of too much rich food the night before? Perhaps some indication of what took place is to be found in Acts 7:2. There Stephen informs us that the God of glory appeared to Abraham and told him to leave Ur and journey to Canaan. And when the Lord Jesus appeared to Saul (later called Paul) on the road to Damascus, Saul saw a light brighter than the sun (Acts 9:3) and knew instinctively that it was God who spoke to him (Acts 22:6-7). It is possible that when the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream, Solomon was not only conscious of the words spoken to him but also of an intense bright light attesting the presence of the Lord.
Solomon was profoundly influenced by all that the Lord had said to him, and as soon as it was possible for him to leave Gibeon, he did so. He went to the Tabernacle in Jerusalem where, in a far more private ceremony, he offered up burnt offerings and thank offerings. He also made a great feast for his "servants" (i.e., court officials. 1 Kings 3:15).
This paragraph shows us that God made good His promise to Solomon.
Solomon amassed chariots and horsemen. He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen, and he stationed them in the chariot cities and with the king at Jerusalem. The king made silver and gold as plentiful in Jerusalem as stones, and he made cedars as plentiful as sycamores in the lowland. Solomon's horses were imported from Egypt and from Kue; the king's traders procured them from Kue for a price. They imported chariots from Egypt for 600 shekels of silver apiece and horses for 150 apiece, and by the same means they exported them to all the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Syria.
First, Solomon realized that a powerful standing army was his nation's best defense. To maintain the peace of his people he amassed chariots and horsemen, and stationed them in strategic places throughout the land. Other nations would think twice before making war with Israel, for any kind of hostile action could only be undertaken at great cost to themselves.
Second, by controlling the trade routes and imposing tariffs on goods being conveyed through the land of Israel via caravans from the east or the west, north or south, Solomon brought considerable wealth to his people.
Third, Solomon also assessed the need to maintain the balance of power among the other countries of the Near East. If their military strength was comparable, wars could be avoided. He saw that Israel was strategically situated to meet the needs of these countries, and so by strengthening them equally Israel could maintain the peace and also benefit economically. To further improve his nation's economy he imported horses and chariots from Egypt and Kue (possibly Cilicia) to the south and exported them to the Hittites and Syrians (Arameans) to the north. Thus strengthened, these nations could keep at bay their hostile neighbors (while also forming a buffer for Israel.)
The result of Solomon's wise administration was that "silver and gold become as plentiful in Jerusalem as stones," and the people were able to panel their houses with wood. The Chronicler's use of hyperbole in verse 15 paints a vivid pen-picture for us and illustrates the extent to which Solomon's wise administration brought wealth to his people.