Thursday, February 11, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 12. Solomon's Palace

Prophets And Kings
Day 12
Solomon's Palace

Today we studies some things about the palace Solomon built for himself and we talk about how Solomon was led astray by his wealth and power. 

1 KINGS 7:1-12
Yesterday we learned that it took Solomon seven years to build the temple. Today we find out it took much longer to build his own palace, not because the palace was grander, but I think because the temple was a more urgent priority to him. "It took Solomon thirteen years, however, to complete the construction of his palace." (1 Kings 7:1) I've found some commentaries in which Bible scholars criticize Solomon for taking longer to build his palace because they are assuming it was far grander and more important to him. I respectfully disagree with those who hold this view. I could very well be wrong but I just don't get the impression Solomon's house was more magnificent than the temple. I think he wanted to build the temple as quickly as possible and put more men on the job full time. Since David built himself a palace, I assume Solomon lived there until his own palace was built, making the need for a home of his own less important than completing the temple.

"He built the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon a hundred cubits long, fifty wide and thirty high, with four rows of cedar columns supporting trimmed cedar beams. It was roofed with cedar above the beams that rested on the columns---forty-five beams, fifteen to a row. Its windows were placed high in sets of three, facing each other. All the doorways had rectangular frames; they were in the front part in sets of three, facing each other." (1 Kings 7:2-5) This is a very large structure with tall and impressive doors and windows. 

"He made a colonnade fifty cubits long and thirty wide. In front of it was a portico, and in front of that were pillars and an overhanging roof. He built the throne hall, the Hall of Justice, where he was to judge, and he covered it with cedar from floor to ceiling. And the palace in which he was to live, set farther back, was similar in design. Solomon also made a palace like this hall for Pharaoh's daughter, whom he had married." (1 Kings 7:7-8) The hall where he would sit to hear legal cases was evidently in a separate building than the palace, which makes sense. The king wouldn't want any dangerous criminals in his home. 

Solomon seems to have given special honor to Pharaoh's daughter. I found quite a few references to the possibility that he was already married when he came to the throne, judging by how many years he reigned and by the age of his son Rehoboam when he ascended to the throne. This wife would be someone other than Pharoah's daughter, since he married her after he took the throne, but it could be that his first wife died, making Pharaoh's daughter his chief wife and queen. It was quite common in ancient times for women to perish in childbirth and it wouldn't be unusual if his first wife died at a young age. Little is known about the mother of Solomon's son Rehoboam other than that her name was Naamah and she was an Ammonite, which tells us she was from a pagan culture. There was something about foreign women that Solomon couldn't get enough of and these women and their idols will get between him and the Lord. The Bible tells us that, "As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been." (1 Kings 11:4) 

"All these structures, from the outside to the great courtyard and from foundation to eaves, were made of blocks of high-grade stone cut to size and smoothed on their inner and outer faces. The foundations were laid with large stones of good quality, some measuring ten cubits and some eight. Above were high-grade stones, cut to size, and cedar beams. The great courtyard was surrounded by a wall of three courses of dressed stone and one course of trimmed cedar beams, as was the inner courtyard of the temple of the Lord with its portico." (1 Kings 11:9-12) The author is very careful to give us a mental picture of the palace. In contrast, little is told to us in the Bible regarding the appearance of David's palace. We know he used stone and cedar but I tend to think David's palace was much more modest than Solomon's. 

King Solomon started out fairly well in his reign as king but was led astray by his own wealth and power. It's not good for us to be able to have everything we want. Look what that kind of wealth has done to many famous musicians and actors. It certainly hasn't given them happiness. Later in his life Solomon would write the book of Ecclesiastes and in it we find he has come to the conclusion that chasing after worldly things is meaningless. He has made many mistakes but has learned from them. In Chapter 2 he tells us of all the ways he sought meaning in life: with laughter and pleasure, by the use of wine, by scientific pursuits, by building great monuments to his own name, by storing up treasures and accumulating a huge harem full of beautiful women. But none of these things soothed the emptiness in his heart. "I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11) For a time we can numb ourselves to the emptiness in our hearts by staying busy but in the twilight of his life Solomon realized that a life not centered around the Lord is like "chasing after the wind". 

Solomon turned aside after many worldly things when he became king. In his youth I think he was quite carried away with his wealth and power, with the ability to be able to have anything his eyes lingered on in lust. He fell into the trap of heaping up treasures for himself on earth rather than storing up treasures in heaven. (Matthew 6:19-21) Jesus said that wherever our treasure is, that's where our heart is. And for a time Solomon's treasures and his heart were on the material things of this life. But as he aged he was able to look back on all this busywork and conclude that it meant nothing without the Lord. "Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind." (Ecclesiastes 2:13) All our labor and toil is meaningless unless we make the Lord a part of everything we do. Solomon would say in Psalm 127, "Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain." 

The Apostle Paul learned a similar lesson to the one Solomon learned. He was once a fairly well-to-do young man, highly educated, moving up swiftly in the ranks of the Pharisaical order. But when he turned to Christ, he lost all these worldly things because of persecution for the sake of the gospel, and he realized that gaining Christ meant more to him than the whole world. "But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is faith in Christ---the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ---yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, attaining the resurrection from the dead." (Philippians 3:7-11) Paul wrote these words near the end of his life while imprisoned for the faith, and yet this is the most joyful letter of all his writings. He had learned the most valuable lesson, a lesson which Solomon had learned by the end of his life, a lesson the Lord Jesus stressed to His listeners in Mark 8:36, "What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?" 

I am middle aged and can already attest to the fact that nothing in my life has brought me satisfaction all the way to the core of my soul except the Lord Jesus Christ. If we seek this satisfaction in anything or anyone else we will be disappointed. I know that because I've tried to fill the emptiness in other ways. No amount of worldly goods or recognition for hard work will fill up the empty space. No amount of romantic relationships or carousing with friends will fill up the empty space. In the dark of night, it's just us alone with our thoughts which mirror Solomon's, "All is vanity. All is chasing after the wind." But with Christ at the center of our lives, the empty space that is especially designed for Him is filled, giving greater enjoyment to every other blessing. With Christ at the center, our work is more joyful. With Christ at the center, our marriages are happier. With Christ at the center, our friendships are more fulfilling. With Christ at the center, even our troubles are easier to bear. Solomon came to the sober realization that none of his accomplishments meant anything unless the Lord was a part of them. The Apostle Paul willingly opened his hands and let go of everything that formerly meant something to him, realizing his wealth and status and position were things he had gotten without a relationship with the Lord Jesus. When we come to the end of our days, only those things which center around Christ will matter.

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