Solomon’s story is one of wisdom and foolishness.
The first baby born to David and Bathsheba died immediately after birth, as Nathan had prophesied. But Bathsheba then bore a son, Solomon, who was favored of the Lord (2 Samuel 12).
1 Kings begins with David aging and needing extra care. He was not able to get warm, no matter how he was clothed or how many blankets he used to cover himself (a common symptom of thyroid deficiency, now easily treated). David’s associates found a beautiful maiden to attend to him and even sleep with him, although she did not have a sexual relationship with him. Her main role was to keep him warm. She evidently attended to him with great affection and respect (1 Kings 1:4).
Another son of David — Adonijah, the son of David’s wife Haggith, and the younger brother of Absalom — began to lust after the throne. “According to the customs of succession, Adonijah could well have been the heir to the throne of David. Adonijah was the fourth son of David (see 2 Samuel 3:4 ). Two of his older brothers, Amnon and Absalom, were already dead, and a third, Chileab, is not mentioned in the text except for the account of his birth.” Adonijah gathered followers. Nathan the prophet counseled with Bathsheba in order to save her life and the life of her son Solomon. He coached her to approach David with the following words, “Didst not thou, my lord, O king, swear unto thine handmaid, saying, Assuredly Solomon thy son shall reign after me, and he shall sit upon my throne? why then doth Adonijah reign”? Nathan promised to enter the room at that point and confirm her words. Nathan did so, and David swore to Bathsheba, “Even as I sware unto thee by the Lord God of Israel, saying, Assuredly Solomon thy son shall reign after me, and he shall sit upon my throne in my stead; even so will I certainly do this day” (1 Kings 1:30).
The prophet and priests, responding to David’s command, caused Solomon (then age 20) to ride on David’s mule, and led him to the place of anointing (Gihon where the tabernacle was), and anointed him to reign in David’s stead. A huge celebration ensued, and the noise was so great, that Adonijah and his followers heard it. When they were informed that David had made Solomon king, they scattered in fear, and Adonijah went immediately to sanctuary and caught hold of the horns of the altar. According to the Law of Moses, this act protected one from blood vengeance. Adonijah was taken before Solomon, where he pled for his life to be spared. Solomon promised to spare him only if he was righteous and sent him to his house.
David knew he was nearing the time of his own death, so he drew Solomon to him and gave him counsel:
“I go the way of all the earth: be thou strong therefore, and shew thyself a man; And keep the charge of the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, that thou mayest prosper in all that thou doest, and whithersoever thou turnest thyself:
David also requested of Solomon that he avenge him of those who had wronged him, namely Joab — who had slain both Avner and Amasa, and who had gone over to Adonijah’s side — and Shimei, who had cursed David, when he was forced to flee from Absalom. The fact that David also called together his most important associates to give them counsel is recorded in 1 Chronicles 28:1–29:24 . At this gathering, David accomplished four important things:
(1) he gained the support of the people for the completion of the temple; (2) he presented a vast treasure for the temple; (3) he publicly turned over to Solomon the plans for the temple and disclosed that they had been given to him by divine revelation; and (4) he succeeded in having Solomon crowned and anointed a second time when the people of every tribe were officially represented and could declare their loyalty.
David passed away, having ruled from Hebron for seven years and from Jerusalem for thirty-three years. Though beset by problems later in his rule, David had been a formidable king. Solomon promised to make the kingdom even more grand.
“Amongst Eastern nations the wives and concubines of a deceased or dethroned king were taken by his successor [see 2 Samuel 12:8 ; 16:21–22 ]; and so Adonijah’s request for Abishag was regarded as tantamount to a claim on the throne” (Dummelow, Commentary, p. 212).
“Solomon knew and understood this law, as 1 Kings 2:22 makes clear. At first it may seem puzzling that Bath-sheba would take Adonijah’s request to Solomon since she almost certainly knew and understood this law. Perhaps she, knowing how Solomon would react, recognized an opportunity to rid Solomon of the threat that Adonijah continued to be to the throne of Israel. Solomon did react quickly, for this was the second time Adonijah had attempted to take the throne by subtlety.”
The Lord desired to bless Solomon and asked him in a dream what would be his greatest desire. Solomon replied that his desire was for wisdom: “Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people” (1 Kings 3:9)? The Lord was very pleased with Solomon’s unselfish request, so he granted him wisdom as was not known among men, but also riches, and if he continued in righteousness, long life.
In 1 Kings 3 Solomon’s wisdom and judgment are made clear. A now-famous story is of the two harlots fighting over one baby. Solomon’s decision was to cut the child in half and give each woman half of the baby. The real mother was willing to give up the child to spare its life, so Solomon was able to judge who the real mother was.
Solomon ruled a large, successful kingdom. Under his rule, Israel reached the borders promised to Abraham. His wisdom was renowned, and his reputation for wise judgment was known far beyond his own borders….”And there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom” (1 Kings 4:34). He developed a huge court, especially since he formed political alliances by marrying the sisters and daughters of kings of foreign nations. This would eventually be his undoing, for all the other nations in the world were pagan. Whenever a new wife entered the court, she brought her entourage with her, sometimes adding tens of people to the royal household.
“Early in his reign Solomon elected to marry the daughter of the Egyptian pharaoh. Since Israel had imposed its sovereignty throughout the region, Solomon apparently considered it important to neutralize any hostility on the part of Egypt, for Egypt had been accustomed to using Canaan as a base for military operations. Marriages between royal families were often politically motivated; such a marriage was a way of signing a treaty between two countries. Nevertheless, the marriage of Solomon to the daughter of the pharaoh showed a lack of faith in the Lord, who had promised to defend Israel and fight her battles (see Deuteronomy 20:4 ; Joshua 23:10 ). Later, this marriage and other marriages to foreign wives proved to be a major factor in the downfall of Israel, for Solomon began worshiping the false gods of these other nations and was condemned by the Lord” (see 1 Kings 11:1–9 ).
David’s plan for building a temple for the Lord fell to Solomon to bring to fruition. Solomon had peaceful relations with the Kings in Lebanon, especially with Hiram of Tyre (whose mother was an Israelite), and he traded for cedar and fir. Lebanese workers also helped to build the temple. The construction took seven years. Meanwhile, Solomon was building his own palace, which took 13 years to construct.
Solomon brought together the heads of all the tribes of Israel and organized a celebration to bring the Ark of the Covenant to the temple from Zion. The ark was carried to the Holy of Holies within the temple, and a cloud filled the temple. Solomon knew it was the spirit of the Lord. (1 Kings 8:11). The children of Israel had gathered for the dedication of the temple. After his dedicatory speech, Solomon prayed and then blessed the congregation (1 Kings 8). Then sacrifices were offered and a two week feast was observed.
“Although David received some revelation about the building of the temple (see 1 Kings 6:30–33 ), apparently Solomon received even more. President Brigham Young said: ‘The pattern of this temple, the length and breadth, and height of the inner and outer courts, with all the fixtures thereunto appertaining, were given to Solomon by revelation, through the proper source. And why was this revelation-pattern necessary? Because Solomon had never built a temple, and did not know what was necessary in the arrangement of the different apartments, any better than Moses did what was needed in the tabernacle.’” ( Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 414.)
After the temple had been dedicated, the Lord appeared once again to Solomon and told him the following:
“I have heard thy prayer and thy supplication, that thou hast made before me: I have hallowed this house, which thou hast built, to put my name there for ever; and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually. And if thou wilt walk before me, as David thy father walked, in integrity of heart, and in uprightness, to do according to all that I have commanded thee, and wilt keep my statutes and my judgments:
“Then I will establish the throne of thy kingdom upon Israel for ever, as I promised to David thy father, saying, There shall not fail thee a man upon the throne of Israel. But if ye shall at all turn from following me, ye or your children, and will not keep my commandments and my statutes which I have set before you, but go and serve other gods, and worship them: Then will I cut off Israel out of the land which I have given them; and this house, which I have hallowed for my name, will I cast out of my sight; and Israel shall be a proverb and a byword among all people” (1 Kings 9:3 – 7).
The Fall of King Solomon
“And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart. For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as wasthe heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. And Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord…” (1 Kings 11:1 – 6).
“There are numerous places in the historical books where David is held up as an example of one who was pleasing in God’s sight. The Prophet Joseph Smith corrected each of those references to show that David was being used by the Lord as an example of what David’s successors should not do. For example, in the Joseph Smith Translation 1 Kings 3:14 reads: ‘And if thou wilt walk in my ways to keep my statutes, and my commandments, then I will lengthen thy days, and thou shalt not walk in unrighteousness, as did thy father David.’
“In the King James Version, 1 Kings 11:4 records that Solomon’s heart ‘was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father.’ The Prophet corrected the passage to read that Solomon’s heart ‘was not perfect with the Lord his God, and it became as the heart of David his father’” ( JST, 1 Kings 11:4 ; see also 1 Kings 11:6 , 33 – 34 , 38 – 39 ; 14:8 ; 15:3 , 5 , 11 ; compare JST).
Solomon lost the Lord’s blessing and protection because he had turned to idol worship to placate his “strange wives.” This was what happened to any of the children of Israel who married outside the covenant. Solomon was not immune. The Lord promised to leave the kingship in David’s house while Solomon was alive, but that as soon as he died, the kingdom would be wrested from the house of David and awarded to Solomon’s servant. This is exactly what happened.
“After Solomon had directly disobeyed the Lord by going after the gods of his heathen wives, the Lord told him that the kingdom would be taken from him and given to one of his servants (see 1 Kings 11:11 ). The servant was Jeroboam, whom Solomon had given authority over Ephraim and Manasseh (see v. 28 ). Jeroboam was told by the prophet Ahijah that he would rule over ten of the tribes of Israel. The tribe of Judah, however, was to continue under the reign of David’s line so that the promise that the Messiah would come through the lineage of David and from the tribe of Judah would be fulfilled (see Genesis 49:10 ). The kingdom of Judah would include half the small tribe of Benjamin, the Levites, and the strangers that were in Judah’s territory. At first, only part of Levi was with Judah, but after Jeroboam turned to idolatry, many more deserted to Judah. Eventually a good share of the tribe of Levi was in the south. (See 2 Chronicles 15:9 .)
“Because Ephraim and Manasseh, the two sons of Joseph, were two tribes, counting Levi there were thirteen tribes at this time instead of twelve.”
Solomon, therefore, sought to kill Jeroboam, who fled to Egypt for protection. Solomon had reigned for forty years. When he died, his son Rehoboam took over the kingdom, as fragile as it was.
*This article was adapted from the LDS Institute Old Testament Manual.
Next: The Wisdom of Solomon