Tracing King Solomon’s life from triumph to tragic failure, Ryken helps readers connect Solomon’s experiences to the Christian life and urges us to avoid Solomon’s mistakes.
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About the Author
Philip Graham Ryken (DPhil, University of Oxford) is the eighth president of Wheaton College. He preached at Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church from 1995 until his appointment at Wheaton in 2010. Ryken has published more than 50 books, including When Trouble Comes and expository commentaries on Exodus, Ecclesiastes, and Jeremiah. He serves as a board member for the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, the Lausanne Movement, and the National Association of Evangelicals.
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LONG LIVE THE KING!
And the king said to them, "Take with you the servants of your lord and have Solomon my son ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon. And let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet there anoint him king over Israel. Then blow the trumpet and say, 'Long live King Solomon!'"
1 KINGS 1:33–34
The story of King Solomon begins with King David, who "was old and advanced in years. And although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm" (1 Kings 1:1). For anyone who admires King David, this scene is full of pathos. David was among the greatest of earthly kings — maybe the greatest. From boyhood he performed many heroic feats in battle. He killed lions and bears to defend his father's flocks and herds. He slew giants. He conquered kingdoms. He established a fortress for his people in Jerusalem. He sired a royal dynasty, fathering many sons to be the princes of Israel, including Prince Solomon. But now the famous king was old and gray, and for all his former greatness, it was all he could do to stay warm in bed (or should I say deathbed?).
OLD KING DAVID
David's feeble decline is a sad reminder of our own frailty. The king was about seventy years old when these events took place. What happened to him will happen to (almost) all of us. Our hearing will fail; our eyesight will grow dim; our limbs will get weak and brittle. Eventually we will be confined to bed, and maybe we will find it hard to stay warm. How important it is, therefore, for everyone to heed the counsel that Solomon later gave, in the days of his wisdom: "Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, 'I have no pleasure in them'" (Eccles. 12:1). If, like David, we give our hearts to God when we are young, we will still remember him when we are old, and he will remember us.
Poor David! As he tried to get warm, his servants tried to help. They put him in warmer pajamas, but the king was still cold. Then they piled heavy blankets on his royal person, but still he shivered under the covers. So they proposed a practical remedy — one mentioned in several ancient medical textbooks:
His servants said to him, "Let a young woman be sought for my lord the king, and let her wait on the king and be in his service. Let her lie in your arms, that my lord the king may be warm." So they sought for a beautiful young woman throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king. The young woman was very beautiful, and she was of service to the king and attended to him, but the king knew her not. (1 Kings 1:2–4)
Abishag's employment as a kind of human hot water bottle raises more questions than it answers. Were David's servants simply trying to keep him warm? If so, then why did they conduct a Miss Israel pageant to find the prettiest young thing in the whole country? The situation seems charged with sexuality, and even though we are told that David did not have sexual relations with this woman, there is a lingering sense of impropriety.
We also sense that the king is diminished. This is hardly the David who knew Bathsheba — the David who fathered Solomon and many other sons. Not even a stunning young virgin can warm his blood. On the contrary, he has suffered the loss of vitality and virility.
As David's kingship came to an end, his royal court was full of intrigue. The courtiers were whispering in the passageways: "Who will be the next king?" This question had been on people's minds for years, much the way that people have speculated about who will succeed England's Elizabeth II. In fact, there had already been at least two attempts to take the throne away from David: the rebellion of his son Absalom, which led to civil war (2 Samuel 14–18), and the uprising of Sheba the Benjamite (2 Samuel 20). David was able to quell both of those rebellions, but as he grew older he also grew weaker. Now he couldn't even get warm in bed, and what one scholar has described as "his shivering impotence" was creating a power vacuum.
As far as God was concerned, David's rightful heir was supposed to be Solomon. Although Solomon was not the oldest son — he was tenth in line — he was the chosen son. God does not always choose the oldest son, as David's own coronation illustrates (1 Sam. 16:10–13). We know that the word of the Lord had announced to David that Solomon would be the king: "Behold, a son shall be born to you who shall be a man of rest. I will give him rest from all his surrounding enemies. For his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days. He shall build a house for my name. He shall be my son, and I will be his father, and I will establish his royal throne in Israel forever" (1 Chron. 22:9–10). By divine right, Solomon would be Israel's king.
There was another contender for the kingship, however — an alternative candidate to sit on Israel's throne. Most people saw him as the heir apparent. His name was Adonijah, and he seemed to be everything that David used to be but wasn't anymore. The Bible describes him as "a very handsome man, and he was born next after Absalom" (1 Kings 1:6). Humanly speaking, Adonijah had everything going for him. He had all the qualifications that people look for. Like his older brother Absalom (an ominous connection), he was easy on the eyes, which counts for a lot in life — more than we sometimes like to admit. As far as kingship was concerned, Adonijah looked the part (at least to people who look at outward appearances, which God doesn't; 1 Sam. 16:7). Furthermore, as David's oldest living son, Adonijah was next in line for the throne.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR A CORONATION
According to ancient custom, the death of a ruler is greeted with the following words: "The king is dead; long live the king!" This may seem like a contradictory thing to say. If the king is dead, then what use is there in wishing him long life? But the point is that the kingdom will endure. Even though one king is dead, another king lives to take his place. The kingship will survive, and therefore people who hope for the continuity of the monarchy say, "The king is dead. Long live the king!"
This custom helps to explain what Queen Bathsheba said to King David, as she sought to secure the throne for Solomon as Israel's rightful king. The old king was having trouble getting warm, so everyone thought he was on his deathbed. His oldest son, Adonijah, had gone so far as to proclaim himself the next king (1 Kings 1:5–10). Meanwhile, the prophet Nathan had been doing everything he could do to secure the throne for Solomon, whom God had promised would sit on David's throne. Together Nathan and Bathsheba went to inform David what was happening to his kingdom and to persuade him to crown Solomon as king. Once he had promised to do this, "Bathsheba bowed with her face to the ground and paid homage to the king and said, 'May my lord King David live forever!'" (v. 31).
Under the circumstances, this may seem like a strange thing to say. The very reason David and Bathsheba were having this conversation was that they both knew that the king wouldn't live forever; he was about to die. So why did she say this? Bathsheba still hoped in the promise of David's everlasting kingdom. The king still lives and so does his dynasty, to the everlasting joy of all the people of God.
David may have been dying, but he was not dead yet. As soon as he finished his audience with Bathsheba, he started giving orders. There was not a moment to lose. In trying to usurp the throne, Adonijah had already announced that he would be king. David knew that it was now or never: if he did not act immediately and decisively to put Solomon on the throne, his son would never become king.
So the king resumed command. He said, "Call to me Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada" (v. 32). This was a shrewd and godly maneuver. David was calling together the prophet, the priest, and the representative of the king. Adonijah had not consulted any of these men, but David did, and in doing so he united his kingdom under the rule of God, who had appointed them to serve as the rulers of Israel. Then David gave the orders for Solomon's coronation. Here were his royal instructions:
Take with you the servants of your lord and have Solomon my son ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon. And let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet there anoint him king over Israel. Then blow the trumpet and say, "Long live King Solomon!" You shall then come up after him, and he shall come and sit on my throne, for he shall be king in my place. And I have appointed him to be ruler over Israel and over Judah. (vv. 33–35)
We can tell that the king was used to giving orders and that he knew exactly what to do. First Solomon would ride on David's personal mule — the royal mule, the one that signified his kingship. Riding a mule or donkey was an ancient symbol of royal office. By comparison, seeing Solomon riding a mule would be like seeing the Queen of England in her royal carriage or watching Air Force One take off with the president of the United States. The king was on parade in all his royal dignity.
Then Solomon would be anointed — the sacred ritual that officially consecrated him as the next king. This was in keeping with the will of God, who, as we have seen, had promised that Solomon would rule on David's throne. Anointing was also a custom; Israel's first two kings — Saul and David — had both been anointed with oil (1 Sam. 10:1; 16:13). Now Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet would pour sacred oil on Solomon's head, divinely designating him as the new king for the people of God.
Next came Solomon's enthronement. Loud trumpets would announce his royal approach to David's throne. With shouts of acclamation, people would proclaim his kingship: "Long live King Solomon!" Then Israel's leaders would follow their new ruler to Israel's throne, where he would sit in the kingly place of David.
This was the right way for King David to announce his immediate successor and for the leaders of Israel to make Solomon their king. David had always called Solomon his beloved son; now he was the first to proclaim him as king. He did it by his royal authority as God's representative, and he did it in broad daylight. Unlike Adonijah, who hosted his own private coronation, Solomon would be paraded through the city streets and crowned at the royal palace — not by his own will but by godly men acting under the will of God. This was the proper way to conduct a coronation: with a royal mule on kingly parade, with holy oil for sacred anointing, with loud shouts and blaring trumpets, and with the new king seated on his golden throne.
Once David had given these orders, people had a choice to make. It is the same choice we face every day in the Christian life: will we accept the King that God has anointed, submitting to his rule for our lives, or will we put ourselves on the throne, living by the rules of some other kingdom?
First Kings 1 shows what choice people made when David said that Solomon would be king. The people who accepted David's authority as the royal will of God immediately moved to crown Solomon as king. We sense their joy in the marvelous answer that Benaiah the son of Jehoiada gave to the king: "Amen! May the Lord, the God of my lord the king, say so. As the Lord has been with my lord the king, even so may he be with Solomon, and make his throne greater than the throne of my lord King David" (vv. 36–37).
With a heart full of joy, Benaiah said "Amen!" to the coronation of Solomon, making his choice for the kingdom of God. He honored King David by agreeing with his instructions. He honored King Solomon by affirming his kingship. And he honored God as the Lord of all kings by recognizing his sovereignty over all these events. Benaiah was for the King and for his kingdom.
Benaiah was also a man of prayer, for that is what he was really doing: praying for the kingdom to come. He was asking God to help David's plans come to fruition. He was asking God to be with Solomon the way he had always been with David. And he was asking God to expand his kingdom by blessing Solomon even more than he had ever blessed David. Benaiah had the vision to see the glory of the coming kingdom, and he prayed accordingly, asking God to enlarge the greatness of David's dominion. He asked God to do more than he hoped or imagined, and in doing so he honored David, honored Solomon, and honored their God.
Yet Benaiah was not the only person who chose the right king. The Bible says further that "Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites went down and had Solomon ride on King David's mule and brought him to Gihon. There Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the tent and anointed Solomon" (vv. 38–39). These men carefully followed David's royal instructions. The prophet, the priest, and the representative of the king helped Solomon onto the royal mule. They were joined by David's "mighty men" (v. 8), his own personal troops. Together these men brought him to the holy tent where the priest kept his sacred oil for ritual anointing. Thus they anointed Solomon as king.
Immediately his kingship received the acclamation that it deserved. The whole kingdom was choosing for Solomon. The priests "blew the trumpet, and all the people said, 'Long live King Solomon!' And all the people went up after him, playing on pipes, and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth was split by their noise" (vv. 39–40).
The repetition of the royal refrain functions as the climax of 1 Kings 1. What joy it was to see King Solomon take this throne on that happy day! News of his coronation spread through the city like wildfire, and soon everyone was following his parade. Musicians were blowing trumpets. Grown men were cheering and shouting. Women were singing and dancing in the streets. Children were jumping up and down, so excited they hardly knew what to do. The sound of their celebration was almost loud enough to start an earthquake. This is the way to welcome a king: with royal pomp, regal circumstance, and public celebration — something most people would be fortunate to witness just once in a lifetime.
Even old King David could feel the joy. The king was still too weak to get up out of bed, but later we are told that "the king's servants came to congratulate our lord King David, saying, 'May your God make the name of Solomon more famous than yours, and make his throne greater than your throne.' And the king bowed himself on the bed. And the king also said, 'Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who has granted someone to sit on my throne this day, my own eyes seeing it'" (vv. 47–48).
When these servants prayed that Solomon's kingdom would surpass David's, they were not insulting their master but honoring God's promise to give him a royal dynasty (see 2 Sam. 7:12–16). God would indeed expand his kingdom, and David rejoiced to see the day. Right then and there, while he was still on his bed, he bowed down to worship God and to bless him for the gift of Solomon's kingship. David didn't have to be the greatest king with the most famous kingdom. What he wanted to see was the glory of the kingdom of God. Far from envying his son, therefore, David praised God for the newly anointed king of his future kingdom.
THE CORONATION OF THE CHRIST
Almost every detail of this coronation celebration helps us understand the kingship of Jesus Christ — his anointing, his enthronement, and his everlasting dominion. Most people have never witnessed a real live coronation. In the United States we have never crowned anyone king at all. But proper kings are supposed to be crowned, and in telling us how Solomon was crowned, 1 Kings 1 also helps us understand the coronation of Christ as king.
Jesus of Nazareth was the rightful heir of David's throne. As the Gospel of Matthew tells us in its famous genealogy, Jesus was a lineal descendant of Solomon and of David by way of Bathsheba (1:6–7). Thus he had a rightful claim to David's throne. And when it was time for his kingship to be openly acknowledged, Jesus rode a royal donkey into the kingdom city of Jerusalem (Matt. 21:1–11). It had long been promised that the Christ would ride the foal of a donkey (Zech. 9:9). So when Jesus rode a donkey on the first Palm Sunday, making his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, it was a public declaration of his royal office. The King was on parade.
King Jesus was also anointed. Indeed, this is the very meaning of the word Christ, which is literally "the Anointed One." Jesus was not anointed by a prophet or a priest but by the Spirit of God. This took place at his baptism in the Jordan River, when the Holy Spirit descended from heaven like a dove and rested on the Son of God (Matt. 3:16; Luke 3:21–22). As Jesus later said, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me" (Luke 4:18).(Continues…)
Excerpted from "King Solomon"
Copyright © 2011 Philip Graham Ryken.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 Long Live the King!, 15,
2 Putting the Kingdom First, 27,
3 Solomon's Wish, 43,
4 The Wisdom of Solomon, 59,
5 The Peaceable Kingdom, 73,
6 Inside Solomon's Temple, 87,
7 Better Homes and Gardens, 101,
8 The Ark of the Covenant and the Glory, 115,
9 Solomon's Choice, 129,
10 Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, 143,
11 Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, 157,
12 A Royal Tragedy, 171,
13 The Fall of the House of David, 187,
Solomon's Epitaph, 203,
Study Guide, 209,
General Index, 243,
Scripture Index, 249,
What People are Saying About This
“With the skill of a theologian and the heart of a pastor, Ryken takes you from the demise of one king to the victory of the King of kings. Read and you’ll find more than the story of Solomon; you’ll find the gospel in beautiful and powerful relief.”
Paul David Tripp, President, Paul Tripp Ministries; author, New Morning Mercies and Suffering
“Vintage Ryken: full of truth, wisdom, and insight. This book tells the story of Solomon, his rise and fall, and expertly traces the themes of his strange tragedy in the light of the hope of the gospel. There is a range of compelling and motivating illustrations drawn from classical and contemporary sources, as well as literary insights about how the story of Solomon fits into the Bible. Ryken leaves open the question as to whether Solomon in the end came back to God, although implies he may well have done so, through the lens of the end of Ecclesiastes. The section where Ryken describes, in pastoral and effective detail, the possible temptations that may come with power and success and how to avoid them are particularly helpful. All in all a great read, an insightful meditation on Solomon, and a case for maintaining godliness in the midst of the pressure of success well made.”
Josh Moody, Senior Pastor, College Church, Wheaton, Illinois; author, Journey to Joy: The Psalms of Ascent
“Ryken has produced another excellent pastoral asset to assist believers in their spiritual growth while also equipping leaders for an effective, gospel-centered discipleship ministry. The display of the majesty of Christ, ‘One greater than Solomon,’ is the pinnacle blessing from this biblically faithful, biographical treatment of the life of Solomon. As Phil traverses Solomon’s life, examining his divine gift of wisdom, startling passions, and significant achievements, he simultaneously exposes the great sins of Solomon and the greater grace of God in Christ. This astounding exposition also allows the reader to benefit from informative insights as to the subtle snares and entangling schemes of Satan in the idolatrous use of money, power, and sex. Although a page-turner, it warrants intentional pauses for thoughtful meditation and reflection, allowing us to make life applications that fulfill the biblical admonition to ‘not be ignorant of Satan’s devices’ yet focus upon the sufficiency of the great King, Christ Jesus, our Lord.”
Harry L. Reeder III, Senior Pastor, Briarwood Presbyterian Church, Birmingham, Alabama