2 Chronicles begins with King Solomon on the throne of a unified kingdom of Judah and Israel. Will this guy turn out to be just as awesome as his father, King David?
2 Chronicles covers the stories of 21 rulers of Israel, and Solomon's tale takes up about a quarter of the whole book. He's definitely a legendary monarch.
So what's so great about Solomon?
Basically, Solomon's successful reign is an extension of King David's. If you remember from back in 1 Chronicles, David was the greatest king who ever walked the face of the earth (in the Chronicler's opinion). Solomon comes in a close second.
Spiritual wisdom and worldly knowledge rolled into one—that's Solomon. Kind of a Dalai-Lama-meets-Ken-Jennings-meets Bob-Vila type. When people think about Solomon, wisdom's usually the first thing that comes to mind. He's often given credit for writing the biblical books of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs as well as the Song of Songs, that sexy ancient Billboard 100 smash hit. Legend has it that he can even speak the language of animals and birds. The Chronicler tells us that Solomon asked God for wisdom as soon as he took the throne (a pretty wise move to begin with).
Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can rule this great people of yours? (1:10)
That wisdom comes to be known throughout the world. King Huram of Tyre hears about it:
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who made heaven and earth, who has given King David a wise son, endowed with discretion and understanding, who will build a temple for the Lord, and a royal palace for himself. (2:11)
Word of Solomon's wisdom even reaches the distant kingdom of the Queen of Sheba, who comes to check it out:
The report was true that I heard in my own land of your accomplishments and of your wisdom but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes saw it. Not even half of the greatness of your wisdom had been told to me; you far surpass the report that I had heard. (9:5-6)
The Chronicler concludes that
Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. All the kings of the earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind. (9:22-23)
In Chronicles, we see Solomon's wisdom in how skillfully he rules the Kingdom of Judah and makes it prosper. In the Book of Kings, we get more juicy detail. For your reading enjoyment, here's a peek at one of the judgments that made Solomon's wisdom into a timeless cliché:
Now two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. One of them said, "Pardon me, my lord. This woman and I live in the same house, and I had a baby while she was there with me. The third day after my child was born, this woman also had a baby. We were alone; there was no one in the house but the two of us.
"During the night this woman's son died because she lay on him. So she got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while I your servant was asleep. She put him by her breast and put her dead son by my breast. The next morning, I got up to nurse my son—and he was dead! But when I looked at him closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn't the son I had borne."
The other woman said, "No! The living one is my son; the dead one is yours."
But the first one insisted, "No! The dead one is yours; the living one is mine." And so they argued before the king.
The king said, "This one says, 'My son is alive and your son is dead,' while that one says, 'No! Your son is dead and mine is alive.'"
Then the king said, "Bring me a sword." So they brought a sword for the king. He then gave an order: "Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other."
The woman whose son was alive was deeply moved out of love for her son and said to the king, "Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don't kill him!"
But the other said, "Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!"
Then the king gave his ruling: "Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother."
When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice. (1 Kings, 3:16-28)
The "wisdom of Solomon" finds its way into literature throughout the ages, from the 14th-century Dante, who discusses Solomon's wisdom in Paradiso, and Boccaccio, whose Decameron tells a tale about two men seeking advice from the wise king, to Sholem Aleichem's Tevye the Milkman, who dreams that one day people would seek his advice like a "Solomon the Wise." And you know it's permeated the culture when it shows up in a Seinfeld episode, this time about a bicycle instead of a baby.
Speaking of Tevye…Why is Solomon so wise and rich and beloved by everyone? Well, in the Chronicler's eyes, outside appearances correspond with inner worth:
God answered Solomon, "Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may rule my people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like." (1:11-13)
Clearly, Solomon has money and wisdom and power because he's humbly following God. All those expensive palaces and loyal subjects mean one thing—Solomon has God's complete approval.
This is a major theme in the Chronicler's writings. If you do good things, good things will come to you in return. Since Solomon has stayed faithful to God and followed all his laws, then of course God would give him all kinds of money and power. It's a simple formula. We wonder what Job would have to say about that?
We can't stress enough how important it is that Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem. This is God's house, the place where he dwells among his people, and Solomon's the one picking out the flowers for the lobby. It's a very high-profile project.
Back in 1 Chronicles, it was David who was doing the heavy lifting by getting the plans for the Temple underway. But now that David's out of the picture, Solomon takes center stage. The author emphasizes Solomon's role in every aspect of building this Temple. He says over and over again how the ruler of Israel personally oversaw every detail of construction:
Solomon made all the things that were in the house of God: the golden altar, the tables for the bread of the Presence, the lampstands and their lamps of pure gold to burn before the inner sanctuary, as prescribed; the flowers, the lamps, and the tongs, of purest gold; the snuffers, basins, ladles, and firepans, of pure gold […] Thus all the work that Solomon did for the house of the Lord was finished. Solomon brought in the things that his father David had dedicated, and stored the silver, the gold, and all the vessels in the treasuries of the house of God. (4:19-22; 5:1)
Sounds like the king was pretty busy. But no, he didn't actually sit in his palace fashioning little golden angels. Although that sounds like a lot of fun, he had master craftsmen do that work. But like any good politician, Solomon isn't afraid to claim credit for the work of others. After all, it was his vision and his organizational skills that got this project underway.
The Chronicler isn't afraid to give him credit, either. David may have drawn up the blueprints, but it was Solomon who finished the project. To this day, the first Temple in Jerusalem is known as Solomon's Temple. If you pay for it, they'll name it after you. Kind of like AT&T Stadium or PNC Park.
The Chronicler loves Solomon so much that we're guessing he drew little hearts around his name every time he wrote it. But his unqualified adoration for Israel's newest king does keep him from mentioning some of Solomon's not-so-great moments. According to other books of the Bible, Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (and, we imagine, not a lot of free time). It's these wives that get him into trouble:
King Solomon loved many foreign women […] from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the Israelites, "You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you; for they will surely incline your heart to follow their gods"; Solomon clung to these in love […] when Solomon was old, his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David. (1 Kings 11:1-4)
So here's Solomon doing the same exact thing that the Chronicler condemns every other king for. And yet it never comes up. The author also forgets to let us know that the fracturing of Israel began under Solomon's watch:
Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, "See, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon […] This is because he has forsaken me, worshiped Astarte the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the Ammonites, and has not walked in my ways, doing what is right in my sight and keeping my statutes and my ordinances, as his father David did." (1 Kings 11:31-33)
Not only did God decide to divide the kingdom, he decided to divide it because of Solomon's sins. Chronicles is starting to look like a whitewash, at least as far as David and Solomon are concerned.
Blame for the division of the united kingdom gets pushed onto Solomon's son Rehoboam. The Chronicler can safely assume the folks who are reading his stories probably already know the original versions. They've read the books of Kings. Now they're getting a different spin on Solomon's life. The Chronicler's verdict—this king was almost perfect.