on 1-kings 11 :43
Solomon slept with his fathers - He died in almost the flower of his age, and, it appears unregretted. His government was no blessing to Israel; and laid, by its exactions and oppressions, the foundation of that schism which was so fatal to the unhappy people of Israel and Judah, and was the most powerful procuring cause of the miseries which have fallen upon the Jewish people from that time until now.
I. It may now be necessary to give a more distinct outline of the character of this king.
1. In his infancy and youth he had the high honor of being peculiarly loved by the Lord; and he had a name given him by the express authority of God himself, which to himself and others must ever call to remembrance this peculiar favor of the Most High.
There is little doubt that he was a most amiable youth, and his whole conduct appeared to justify the high expectations that were formed of him.
2. He ascended the Israelitish throne at a time the most favorable for the cultivation of those arts so necessary to the comfort and improvement of life. Among all the surrounding nations Israel had not one open enemy; there was neither adversary, nor evil occurrent, 1 Kings 5:4. He had rest on every side, and from the universal and profound peace which he enjoyed, the very important name Jedidiah, "beloved of the Lord" which was given him by Divine authority was changed to that of Solomon, the Peaceable, 2 Samuel 12:24, 2 Samuel 12:25, which at once indicated the state of the country, and the character of his own mild, pacific mind.
3. To the dying charge of his pious father relative to the building a temple for the Lord, he paid the most punctual attention. He was fond of architecture, as we may learn from the account that is given of his numerous buildings and improvements; and yet it does not appear that he at all excelled in architectural knowledge. Hiram, the amiable king of Tyre, and his excellent workmen, were the grand directors and executors of the whole. By his public buildings he doubtless rendered Jerusalem highly respectable; but his passion for such works was not on the whole an advantage to his subjects, as it obliged him to have recourse to a burdensome system of taxation, which at first oppressed and exasperated his people, and ultimately led to the fatal separation of Israel and Judah.
4. That he improved the trade and commerce of his country is sufficiently evident: by his public buildings vast multitudes were employed; and knowledge in the most beneficial arts must have been greatly increased, and the spirit of industry highly cultivated.
Commerce does not appear to have been much regarded, if even known, in Israel, previously to the days of Solomon. The most celebrated maritime power then in the world was that of the Tyrians. With great address and prudence he availed himself of their experience and commercial knowledge, sent his ships in company with theirs to make long and dangerous but lucrative voyages, and, by getting their sailors aboard of his own vessels, gained possession of their nautical skill, and also a knowledge of those safe ports in which they harboured, and of the rich countries with which they traded. His friendly alliance with the king of Tyre was a source of advantage to Israel, and might have been much more so had it been prudently managed. But after the time of Solomon we find it scarcely mentioned, and therefore it does not appear that the Jews continued to follow a track which had been so successfully opened to them; their endless contentions, and the ruinous wars of the two kingdoms, paralyzed all their commercial exertions: till at length all the maritime skill which they had acquired from the expert and industrious Tyrians, dwindled down to the puny art of managing a few boats on the internal lakes of their own country. Had it not been for the destructive feuds that reigned between the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, that country might have become one of the best and richest maritime powers of either Asia or Europe. Their situation was grand and commanding, but their execrable jealousies deprived them of its advantages, exposed them to the aggressions of their enemies, and finally brought them to ruin.
5. I have intimated that Solomon was truly pious in his youth; of this there can be no doubt; it was on this account that the Lord loved him, and his zeal in the cause of true religion, and high respect for the honor of God, are strong indications of such a frame of mind. Had we no other proof of this than his prayer for wisdom, and his prayer at the dedication of the temple, it would put the matter for ever beyond dispute, independently of the direct testimonies we have from God himself on the subject. He loved the worship and ordinances of God, and was a pattern to his subjects of the strictest attention to religious duties. He even exceeded the requisitions of the law in the multitude of his sacrifices, and was a careful observer of those annual festivals so necessary to preserve the memory of the principal facts of the Israelitish history, and those miraculous interventions of God in the behalf of that people.
6. There can be no doubt that Solomon possessed the knowledge of governing well; of the importance of this knowledge he was duly aware, and this was the wisdom that he so particularly sought from God. "I am," said he, "but a little child; I know not how to go out or come in; and thy servant is in the midst of a great people that cannot be counted for multitude. Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, and that I may discern between good and bad; for who is able to judge this thy so great a people? And the speech pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing;" 1 Kings 3:8-10. This wisdom he did receive from God; and he is here a pattern to all kings, who, as they are the vicegerents of the Lord, should earnestly seek that wisdom which is from above, that they may be able to know how to govern the people intrusted to their care; because, in every civil government, there are a multitude of things on which a king may be called to decide, concerning which neither the laws, nor the commonly received political maxims by which, in particular cases, the conduct of a governor is to be regulated, can give any specific direction.
7. But the wisdom of Solomon was not confined to the art of government, he appears to have possessed a universal knowledge. The sages of the East were particularly distinguished by their accurate knowledge of human nature, from which they derived innumerable maxims for the regulation of man in every part of his moral conduct, and in all the relations in which he could possibly be placed. Hence their vast profusion of maxims, proverbs, instructive fables, apologues, enigmas, etc.; great collections of which still remain locked up in the languages of Asia, particularly the Sanscrit, Arabic, and Persian; besides those which, by the industry of learned men, have been translated and published in the languages of Europe. Much of this kind appears in the books of Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus in the Apocrypha, and in the very excellent collections of D'Herbelot, Visdelou, and Galand, in the Bibliotheque Orientale. That Solomon possessed this wisdom in a very high degree, the book of Proverbs bears ample testimony, leaving Ecclesiastes for the present out of the consideration.
8. As a poet, Solomon stands deservedly high, though of his one thousand and five poems not one, except the book of Song of Solomon, remains. This ode alone, taken in a literary point of view, is sufficient to raise any man to a high degree of poetic fame. It is a most interesting drama, where what Racine terms the genie createur, the creative genius, every where appears; in which the imagery, which is always borrowed from nature, is impressive and sublime; the characters accurately distinguished and defined, the strongest passion, in its purest and most vigorous workings, elegantly portrayed; and in which allusions the most delicate, to transactions of the tenderest complexion, while sufficiently described to make them intelligible, are nevertheless hidden from the eye of the gross vulgar by a tissue as light as a gossamer covering. Such is the nature of this inimitable ode, which, had it not been perverted by weak but well designing men to purposes to which it can never legitimately apply, would have ranked with the highest productions of the Epithalamian kind that ever came from the pen of man. But alas! for this exquisite poem, its true sense has been perverted; it has been forced to speak a language that was never intended, a language far from being honorable to the cause which it was brought to support, and subversive of the unity and simplicity of the ode itself. By a forced mode of interpretation it has been hackneyed to death, and allegorized to destruction. It is now little read, owing to the injudicious manner in which it has been interpreted.
It was scarcely to be expected that the son of such a father should not, independently of inspiration, have caught a portion of the pure poetic fire. Though the spirit of poetry, strictly speaking, is not transmissible by ordinary generation, yet most celebrated poets have had poetical parents; but in many cases the talent has degenerated into that of music, and the spirit of poetry in the sire has become a mere musical instrument in the hands of the son. This however was not the case with the son of David, for though vastly inferior to his father in this gift, he had nevertheless the spirit and powers of a first-rate poet.
9. His knowledge in natural history must have been very extensive; it is said, "He spake of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall. He spake also of beasts, of fowls, of reptiles, and of fishes;" 1 Kings 4:33. All this knowledge has perished; his countrymen, the prophets excepted, were without taste, and took no pains to preserve what they did not relish. A man of such mental power and comprehension under the direction of Divine light must have spoken of things as they are. His doctrine therefore of generation and corruption, of nutrition, vegetation, production, aliments, tribes, classes, families, and habits, relative to the different subjects in botany, zoology, ornithology, entomology, and ichthyology, which are all evidently referred to here, must have been at once correct, instructive, and delightful. I have already lamented the labor it has cost our Rays, Tourneforts, Linnes, Buffons, Willoughbys, Swammerdams, and Bloschs, to regain those sciences which possibly were possessed in their highest degree by the Israelitish king, and which, alas! are all lost, except a few traces in the book of Ecclesiastes, if that work can be traced to so remote an age as that of Solomon.
on 1-kings 11 :43
on 1-kings 11 :43
11:43 Slept - This expression is promiscuously used concerning good and bad; and signifies only, that they died as their fathers did. But did he repent before he died? This seems to be put out of dispute by the book of Ecclesiastes; written after his fall; as is evident, not only from the unanimous testimony of the Hebrew writers, but also, from the whole strain of that book, which was written long after he had finished all his works, and after he had liberally drunk of all sorts of sensual pleasures, and sadly experienced the bitter effects of his love of women, Eccles 7:17, and c. which makes it more than probable, that as David writ Psalm 51:1 - 19. So Solomon wrote this book as a publick testimony and profession of his repentance.