When Solomon became king, he inherited an Israel at the height of its power and wealth. Solomon’s father, David, had spent decades fighting numerous wars to carve out territory for himself and fighting off rivals. David’s legacy of violence permeated his whole family, and his heirs fought over who would inherit royal power. Early on in Solomon’s reign, he has his ambitious half-brother Adonijah executed. King Solomon rooted out and destroyed anyone who would threaten his kingship.
For me, this isn’t an easy part of the Bible to read. I’m disoriented by a story in which God’s chosen leader establishes himself through bloodshed, even murdering his own brother. My king, Jesus, was nailed to a cross rather than imposing his will by force. Yet, there’s no denying that this story of imperial rule was part of Jesus’ Bible, too. What sense do I make of this?
One detail that feels important to me is that all of this violent consolidation of power takes place before Solomon has a conversation with God that changes his life. Not long after the bloody events at the beginning of his reign, God appears to Solomon in a dream and says, Ask what I should give you. The young king’s response is to ask for an understanding mind to govern [God's] people, able to discern between good and evil…
God is very pleased with this response, and not only grants Solomon great wisdom, but also wealth and long life. God establishes Solomon as ruler over a vast territory, larger than Israel has ever been, before or since, and Solomon reigns with justice so famous that even foreigners come to hear his wisdom. The people of Israel stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to execute justice. Solomon becomes a man transformed by God’s grace and power.
I wonder how Solomon might have handled his brother Adonijah, and the other rivals that he killed, if he had asked God for wisdom earlier. I can’t help but think that the same spirit of justice that made him the greatest human ruler the world has ever known might have led him on a different path in those early days of his kingship.
Along with his famed wisdom, wealth and influence, God gives peace to Solomon’s Israel. The seemingly endless warfare of David’s reign is over, and Israel experiences a rest and prosperity that is rare in history. In this period of general well-being and stability, Solomon perceives that it is time to build a temple for the God of Israel.
David had wanted to build the Temple, but he was disqualified from building the Temple precisely because of his violent ways. It is written that David said to Solomon, ‘”My son, I had planned to build a house to the name of the LORD my God. But the word of the LORD came to me, saying… ‘You shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood in my sight on the earth…’”
Beyond the moral problems that this violence raised, David would have had a hard time building the Temple, even if he felt he were permitted to. Simply put, David had too many other irons in the fire. There were so many wars to fight, enemies to defeat, and armies to organize, that David never had the breathing room to attend to this holy work.
But Solomon does. At peace with his neighbors and in a position of great wealth and tranquility, Solomon has the time, energy and attention to focus on that which is most important. Solomon explains to a neighboring king:
…Now the LORD my God has given me rest on every side; there is neither adversary nor misfortune. So I intend to build a house for the name of the LORD my God…
For Solomon, there is finally space for the truly essential work to get done. The time of clawing and scratching to consolidate power is over. Finally, there is a king in Jerusalem who has the mind of the Lord, who reigns in peace and justice. Without the need to fight for survival, engage in conquest, or eliminate rivals, Solomon is freed to attend to the core service that God is calling him to.
As I read this passage, I find myself looking deeper, seeking the various levels of meaning in the text. On a literal level, of course, the Scripture speaks about the conditions surrounding the construction of the Temple. Yet, I also see here an invitation into a different way of living today. Rather than allowing myself to be distracted by life’s constant struggles for security and control, what does it look like for me to experience rest on every side, and to turn my attention to building a house for the name of the LORD my God?
My mind is drawn to a passage from the teachings of Jesus. He tells the story of a sower tossing seeds on the ground. Some of them fell on the path and were eaten by birds. Others fell on rocky soil and were unable to flourish. Other seeds fell among the thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!
What would it be like for my life to be like the seed that falls on good soil, having rest on every side? So often, I allow God’s purposes for me to be snatched up by the birds of distraction. My endurance fails because of the rocky conditions of my routines and patterns of thinking. And the weeds of the world – selfish ambitions, scarcity thinking, and false relationships – frequently threaten to choke out the good seed of God in my life.
What would it mean for me to have rest on every side, allowing me to focus all my attention on making my life a a house for the name of the LORD my God?