The Bible Story
Volume 5, Chapters 104-109
Civil War Threatens
DAVID WAS warned that Absalom, his son, was near and would probably try to attack Jerusalem in a violent effort to seize the government of Israel. King David and hundreds of his faithful subjects, soldiers and servants and their families hurriedly moved out of the city so that it wouldn't become a scarred site of battle. (II Samuel 15:13-23.)
When David realized that the ark was being taken from its place in Jerusalem, he was very upset.
King David's Secret Agent
"Don't bring the ark out of Jerusalem," David told the priests, Zadok and Abiathar. "Return it to where it was. It shouldn't be exposed to the uncertainty of travel. We should rely on God, not the ark."
Zadok and Abiathar obeyed with the understanding that by staying in Jerusalem they could also observe what would take place there and inform David of the circumstances. David hardly knew whom else he could trust in this time when so many of his subjects were deserting him. (II Samuel 15:24-29.)
He felt that this terrible situation could be the result of past sins concerning Uriah and Uriah's wife, as God had warned. (II Samuel 12:7-10.) Accordingly, he decided to walk to the top of Mount Olivet, just east of Jerusalem, to pray to God. This he did in a repentant manner, covering his head and wearing nothing on his feet. Many others accompanied him, weeping as they went.
After a period of worshipping at the top of the hill, David was approached by a friend by the name of Hushai, who was not a warrior, but a counselor. Hushai spoke of his desire to accompany the king wherever he would go. (II Samuel 15:30-32.)
"Instead of going with me," David told him, "you could help me more if you would return to Jerusalem and join Zadok and Abiathar to keep me posted, through their sons, of how matters take place in Jerusalem when Absalom arrives there. Perhaps you can even come into Absalom's confidence and wisely offset any advice that might be given to him by Ahithophel, who forsook me for my son." Hushai wanted to do anything he could for the king. He obediently returned to the city. (II Samuel 15:33-37.)
On the way down Mount Olivet, David was hailed in a respectful manner by a man named Ziba. He was a servant of Mephibosheth, a son of Jonathan, who was Saul's son and David's boyhood friend. Ziba was leading two donkeys heavily loaded with food. When David asked him where he was taking it, Ziba told him that the donkeys were for carrying David and the members of his family, by turns, so that they wouldn't become so weary by walking.
"The bread and the fruit are for keeping up the strength of the young men, and the goatskin of wine is to refresh any who become faint if you have to go into the desert," Ziba explained. "I trust you will return soon to your throne."
"Where is Mephibosheth?" David asked. "I'd like to thank him."
"This isn't my master's idea," Ziba replied. "He stayed in Jerusalem. He feels that he should be the new king because he is of the royal family of Saul."
David was surprised and disappointed to hear that one he had thought of as being so loyal should suddenly become almost as ambitious as Absalom. Under the strain of his distress, David made an error in perception.
"You seem to be more faithful to me than Mephibosheth is," David observed. "I think you deserve everything that belongs to him."
Ziba bowed low and grinned with satisfaction. He had just lied about Mephibosheth, who was still loyal to David. The wily servant was making every effort to obtain David's goodwill and gratitude. He was certain that it would be well worthwhile, because he was convinced that David would return to the leadership of Israel (II Samuel 16:1-4.)
Curses and Hatred
Later, as David and his followers moved along a ravine well outside of Jerusalem, a man of Saul's tribe came running along one bank of the gully, throwing stones at David and those with the king. He angrily shouted insults and curses, and accused David of having murderously taken the throne of Israel from Saul.
"Now at last you're paying for all the bloody crimes you've committed!" the Benjamite yelled. "Your own son is taking from you what you took from Saul! Get out of Israel before someone carries you out as a corpse!"
Abishai, second in command of Israel's military forces, was among those accompanying David. When he noticed what the angry man was doing, he became angry too.
"Why should this miserable dog be allowed to treat you like this?" he asked David. "Let me send men up the bank to catch him and cut off his head!"
"No!" David quickly replied, holding out a restraining hand. "Your way isn't the way I wish to take in this matter. Let him curse me. God allows him to curse me. God hasn't prevented my son from seeking my life, so why should He prevent this man from showing his hate for me? It could be that if I patiently endure abuse, God will have mercy on me, and will perhaps rescue me from this time of trouble."
Begrudgingly Abishai restrained his men. The angry Benjamite continued shouting and throwing stones and dust until he became weary and hoarse. Then he disappeared over the side of the ravine. David and the hundreds of people moved on to the northeast toward the Jordan valley. (II Samuel 16:5-14.)
Meanwhile, Absalom and his soldiers and supporters moved into Jerusalem from the south, triumphantly taking over the undefended city. Among those who welcomed the king's son was Hushai, David's friend who had agreed to return to Jerusalem to try to help David in any way he could.
"God save the king!" Hushai kept on shouting as Absalom passed up a street with his guards.
Absalom smugly looked around to see who was greeting him so enthusiastically, not realizing the words were meant for King David instead of for him. When he recognized Hushai, whom he knew was a close friend of his father, he ordered the procession halted.
"What are you doing here?" he called out to Hushai. "What has become of your loyalty to my father? I'm surprised that you haven't fled with him and his few remaining subjects!"
"Whoever is chosen by God to be king, and whoever is preferred by the people, that is the man I choose to be with," Hushai declared. "I served your father well, and now I am ready to serve in your presence, too." (II Samuel 16:15-19.) Hushai really meant he would serve David in Absalom's presence.
Conceitedly assuming that Hushai was seeking to come over to his side, and knowing him for a wise and capable man, Absalom was pleased to welcome him as one of his advisors. Shortly afterwards he held a council meeting to decide what his next major move should be. Here was the opportunity for Ahithophel, David's disloyal former advisor, to make a base suggestion aimed at forcing Absalom and his father even further apart. Ahithophel knew that a reconciliation between David and Absalom would be disastrous to himself.
"The ten women who were left in your father's palace were his wives," Ahithophel whispered to Absalom. "As victor, you should openly take them as YOUR wives. I shall see that the public soon hears you are abhorred by your father. When it is common knowledge, people will take a more definite stand on one side or the other. The result will undoubtedly be in your favor." You see, Ahithophel, like many people today, believed in "situation ethics."
Absalom went by Ahithophel's advice, and took his father's ten wives. They were actually concubines, women who were part-time mates. (II Samuel 16:20-23.) God allowed this crime as the fulfillment of a prophecy made to David through Nathan. The old prophet had told the king that someone else would openly take his wives because he had taken Bathsheba, Uriah's wife. (II Samuel 12:9-12.)
Later, Ahithophel gave Absalom more counsel. It was a simple plan by which David's son could quickly and surely become the undisputed king of Israel.
"Let me have twelve thousand of the best Israelite soldiers available to us," the advisor told Absalom. "I'll take them tonight in pursuit of David and the people with him. We'll make sure that David dies, but that no one else is harmed. Those who escape won't be pursued, but we'll bring back as many as we can to join you, including those soldiers who have been so attached to David in recent years. Our greater numbers will be their speedy undoing."
The idea was to Absalom's liking, as well as that of his leaders. (II Samuel 17:1-4.) However, Absalom called for Hushai, explained Ahithophel's proposal, and asked what Hushai thought about it.
"Ahithophel is a wise counselor," observed Hushai, "but I don't believe his plan for this situation is good," Hushai knew the plan would work. So he just said it wasn't good.
"Even twelve thousand men probably couldn't as much as find David, and he'd have to be found to be killed," Hushai said, making the most of this opportunity to belittle Ahithophel's idea. "David is an old hand at war strategy. In his state of mind now, he's probably being especially wary not to be overtaken. He's like a mother bear that has had her cubs taken away from her. He can be both furious and clever. Undoubtedly he's hiding in some cave or pit right now, separate from his people, with his soldiers concealed to trap any who come looking for him, even in greater numbers than theirs. If his men were to kill just some of the twelve thousand of yours, your new recruits may panic. Israel would rally at once to your father's side, and you would lose your chance at the throne. You would be most unwise to follow Ahithophel's advice on this matter." (II Samuel 17:5-10.)
Counterespionage Service in Action
"Then suggest a better way to help me into quickly becoming the undisputed king of Israel," Absalom impatiently demanded.
"I suggest that many more men than twelve thousand be used against David," Hushai replied. "Soldiers should be drafted from all parts of Israel to build you a mighty army that you can personally lead into battle anywhere without fearing defeat. Then you can be certain of taking David and destroying all who would defend him. If he is hiding out in the open, he will surely be found. If he is concealed in some city, there'll be enough men available to tear that city down. Besides, you'll need a large fighting force to repel any surprise attack from outside the nation."
The thought of being at the head of an army of multiple thousands appealed strongly to Absalom's sizable vanity, just as Hushai knew it would. When Absalom made it known that he was greatly in favor of this plan, his supporters enthusiastically agreed with him, and that was just as God knew it would be because He had decided it that way. (II Samuel 17:11-14.)
While plans were being made for drafting a large army, Hushai went to Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, to tell them what had taken place.
"David must be informed of this," Hushai said. "Send a message to your sons, wherever they are, and instruct them to take word to the king."
The priests told a certain woman what to do and say. She sought out their sons, Jonathan and Ahimaaz, where she knew they were hiding outside Jerusalem, and conveyed the message to them. They took it to David, who learned that he should hurry eastward across the Jordan River as soon as possible. There was the chance that Absalom would change his mind and decide to immediately send a small army in pursuit of the king.
Contacting David wasn't without its perils. Just as the priest's sons started on their mission, they passed a young man who recognized them. It wasn't long before Absalom heard that Jonathan and Ahimaaz were seen hurrying northward. Absalom guessed that something contrary to his welfare could be taking place. He sent soldiers to find the priests' sons and bring them back for questioning.
Aware that something like that might happen after they were recognized, Jonathan and Ahimaaz decided to delay their trip for a little while, lest they be overtaken in open country. They sought refuge at the home of a friend who was loyal to David, and not any too soon. Absalom's men were scouring the neighborhood, and even entering and searching homes. When they came to the home where the priests' sons were hiding, their search was in vain. After the soldiers had gone, the woman of the house went outdoors to where some ground corn was spread on a cloth. She took up the corn in the cloth, thereby uncovering the mouth of a well from which Jonathan and Ahimaaz climbed out and went safely and thankfully on their way.
After David had been told what had been taking place, he and those with him set off at a brisk pace eastward across the Jordan River. They crossed the stream that same night and continued to the northeast. (II Samuel 17:15-22.)
Ahithophel was told that Absalom favored building a large army over the next few days instead of a quick pursuit of David with only a few thousand men. When the advisor learned that his suggestion wouldn't be followed, he realized that Absalom's cause was lost. Ahithophel was very wise in politics. (II Samuel 16:23.) He knew that any delay long enough to raise up a large army would give David time to recruit a loyal army among the rugged cattlemen of the eastern tribes. This would mean that support for David would grow even faster than support for Absalom. Absalom wouldn't stand much chance of overcoming that support, since David's army would have better leadership. Ahithopel knew then that he had been very foolish for deserting David, that there was no more political future for him, and that he would soon be regarded as a traitor to his nation and probably be put to death as one.
Later, somebody found him hanging lifeless from a rafter in his home. He knew that it would eventually happen to him, and he preferred that it would come about by his own hand. (II Samuel 17:23.)
Eastern Tribes Are Loyal
David's group soon reached the city of Mahanaim on the south border of the territory of Manasseh, adjoining the territory of Gad. There they were welcomed to stay by loyal Manassites and Gadites. Loyal clan chiefs quickly began to rally support around King David. Every day more and more followers joined David from all parts of Israel, most of them having come to volunteer for a growing army.
While King David was at Mahanaim, even Shobi, son of the former king of Ammon, brought gifts and help to David and the people with him. So did two chief Israelites, Barzillai and Machir of the tribe of Manasseh. Having heard that the Manassite city was overcrowded and short on food because of the many guests, they sent beds, metal basins, earthen vessels, grains, beans, lentils, flour, honey, butter, cheese and even sheep. David was very thankful for these needed things. (II Samuel 17:27-29.)
So many people came to join David that it was necessary for him to count them and put leaders in command of an organized army. It was divided into three parts, with Joab, Abishai and Ittai in charge.
Meanwhile, Absalom's army had been mobilized. It wasn't as large as David's son hoped it would be, but he didn't have the patience to wait for the size of fighting force Hushai had talked about. Anxious to pursue David, Absalom moved his army across the Jordan River to a wooded area on the high plains south of Mahanaim.
When David heard that Absalom's army was so close, he ordered his officers to take their troops out to meet Absalom before his army could surround the city of Mahanaim. David intended to go along, but the chief men under him pointed out that it was going to be a battle for the safety of the king, and that he should remain in the city and pray for God's help. (II Samuel 18:1-3.)
"So be it," David finally agreed, addressing Joab, Abishai and Ittai. "One reason I want to go is to see that Absalom is taken prisoner without being harmed. If I can't be there, then it is the responsibility of you three." (II Samuel 18:4-5.)
Absalom was surprised and troubled when he heard that David's smaller army was coming to meet his. He was disappointed that he wouldn't get a chance to besiege Mahanaim. Riding on a mule at the head of his army, he tried to convince himself that David's men were bluffing, and would not be so foolish as to actually clash with a much larger number of troops.
At last the two armies were very close. Then they rushed together in deadly combat. There was the thumping of many feet, a clashing of swords, shrieks of pain and the rattle of armor. Absalom was aware that all about him his men were falling, but no one tried to attack him or even get near him. The noisy, bloody action moved on, leaving him alive and strangely alone among his dying soldiers.
Bible Story Book Index
THE ARMY of Absalom and the smaller army of David had rushed together in battle on the high plains east of the Jordan River. (II Samuel 18:1-6.) Absalom, mounted on a mule, found himself surrounded by his dead and dying men, but he hadn't even been attacked.
Then Absalom became aware that his father's well-trained soldiers, even though smaller in number than those of their Israelite enemies, had begun to rout Absalom's quickly mobilized and ill-trained army. His men were running for their lives in all directions, furiously pursued by David's experienced troops.
There was nothing for the shocked Absalom to do but follow his men. Most of them tried to escape in a nearby forest known as the Wood of Ephraim, though it wasn't in the territory of Ephraim. This forest may have been the spot where Jehpthah's army had defeated the army of Ephraim many years previously. (Judges 12:1-6.)
Riding under an oak tree with low-spreading boughs, Absalom was either caught by the head in a forked branch or got his hair tangled in the branches. The original Hebrew in this instance is not specific. The mule raced on, leaving its rider dangling with his feet off the ground. He struggled to release himself, but he was only half-conscious because of the blow to his head when caught in the crotch of the branch. He couldn't force or wriggle himself loose. (II Samuel 18:6-9.)
One of David's men saw Absalom hanging from the oak limb, and reported it to Joab, who demanded to know why he hadn't walked up to the helpless man and killed him.
"If you had brought him to me dead, I would have given you a fancy armor belt and ten pieces of silver," Joab stated.
"But everyone knows that David wants his son brought back unharmed," the man countered. "I wouldn't have done anything to Absalom for a thousand pieces of silver. Why should you want me to go against the king's wishes?"
"I don't have time to discuss the matter," Joab said impatiently. "Just show me where Absalom is." Joab was more concerned about David's safety and the unity of the nation than he was about David's love for his rebellious son. Joab was also a murderer at heart.
When Joab and ten of his men found David's son still hanging by his head from a tree limb, Absalom was barely moving. Contrary to David's order, Joab threw three heavy, metal darts into Absalom's chest. Joab's ten men then yanked him down from the tree and made certain, by use of their swords, that his life was ended. (II Samuel 18:10-15.)
Absalom might have died even though Joab and his ten men hadn't attacked him. But Joab had disobeyed David.
Absalom's body was thrown into a pit in the forest and covered with a heap of stones. Fairly close to Jerusalem Absalom had already caused a monument to be erected to his memory in the event he didn't have a son to carry on his name. Instead of being buried there, he ended up in a hole in the Wood of Ephraim.
Joab instructed the trumpeters to sound a signal that the battle was over and that this needless bloodshed should be stopped. About twenty thousand men died that day. Almost all of them were from Absalom's army. More than half that number lost their lives by trying to escape into the forest, where they died from injuries, by fatigue, from being trapped by their pursuers and even by the attacks of wild beasts. (II Samuel 18: 16-18.)
Ahimaaz, son of Zadok the priest and one of the two young men who had taken a message from Jerusalem to David days previously, was present at the battle site. Being an athletic young man with a desire to be helpful, he hoped that he could be the one to run with the news of battle back to David. He was so anxious for this opportunity that he boldly suggested it to Joab.
Eager to Report Violence
"This isn't a very good time for you to be a messenger," is a happier one for the king. Surely you wouldn't want to be the one to tell him that his son is dead."
Ahimaaz was disappointed, especially after Joab sent a young Ethiopian runner off for Mahanaim to tell David that the battle had been won. Joab intended that the runner should give only news of the battle's outcome, but without telling anything about Absalom.
"Let me be a second runner," Ahimaaz suggested to Joab. "Even though I arrive later, I would very much like the opportunity to take news to the king."
"I don't understand you," Joab frowned. "There would be no reward coming to you for bringing news that somebody else already has brought.
But go ahead and run if it means so much to you." Ahimaaz eagerly set off in pursuit of the Ethiopian. At a certain point he turned off on a different route, through level country, which he knew would help him reach Mahanaim sooner, even though the distance was greater. By the time he wearily neared the city, the other runner was behind him. A watchman on the wall saw Ahimaaz approaching and called down to David, who was waiting in a high enclosure near the main gate, to tell him that there was a man running toward the city. (II Samuel 18:19-24.)
"If he is alone, then probably he is bringing a message," David observed concernedly.
"Now I see another man running behind him," the watchman called down.
"Another runner could be bringing even more news," David said. By that time the watchman recognized Ahimaaz by the way he ran. He told David, who was certain that the priest's son would be bringing only a good report. (II Samuel 18:25-27.)
"I have good news!" Ahimaaz breathlessly called out as he neared the gate.
He looked up to see the king, and crouched down with his forehead to the ground in a gesture of respect. He was happy that David was there to personally receive his message.
"Today the great God has saved you from your enemies!" Ahimaaz excitedly shouted up to the king. "Your men have won the battle!"
"I am thankful to God," David answered. "You say my men have won the battle, but if my son's army has been defeated, what has become of my son?"
"When Joab sent me, there was much excitement about some matter," Ahimaaz carefully replied. "I started out before I could learn what it was all about."
"Stay here while I talk to the other messenger who is coming behind you," David told Ahimaaz. "Probably he can tell me more" (II Samuel 18:28-30.) David anxiously awaited the next message.
As the tired Ethiopian neared the gate he shouted between gasps that he had been sent to tell the king that God had destroyed David's enemies by giving a complete victory to his army.
"Is my son Absalom safe?" David anxiously called down to the messenger.
"May all your enemies die as your son did," the Ethiopian blurted out, not realizing how blunt his answer was to the king.
The Criminal Pitied
Shocked and sick at heart, David went to his living quarters. On the way he couldn't help weeping, muttering Absalom's name repeatedly, and wishing aloud that he could have died in Absalom's stead. So great was David's affection for his son that he seemed to forget all the evil and even murderous intentions Absalom had harbored toward him. (II Samuel 18:31-33.)
A report rapidly spread to David's army that the king was almost ill with grief because of Absalom's death. From there the news was carried to other areas, soon plunging much of the nation into a state of mourning, whereas people who were faithful to the king should have been pleased and happy because David's army had won. But King David's excessive grief for Absalom and his seeming lack of concern of his faithful subjects quickly gave them a feeling of despair. They felt that their devotion to David had been rejected.
Instead of returning to Mahanaim with triumphant jubilance, the men of David's army silently skulked back as though they had committed some kind of crime. Soon they began to feel resentful. (II Samuel 19:1-4.)
The gloomy attitude of David in spite of his offense to so many people angered Joab. Without any effort to be respectful to his superior, Joab rudely told David what he thought.
"Your attitude has made the people feel dejected," Joab declared in a tone of irritation. "Instead of being thankful to your army for saving your life and the lives of your family, you have caused the men to feel ashamed. You act as though you care more for your enemies than you do for your friends. Would it have pleased you if Absalom had lived and your troops would have died? Only you can bring your subjects out of the gloom that is over the nation. It's up to you to come out of your solitude and go out and show your good will and gratitude. If you don't, your army and your followers will forsake you before this night is over, and you'll run into far more trouble than you've had all your life!"
In spite of this emphatic, even insolent talk, David didn't command Joab to cease speaking, although the king thought much less of his army commander from then on. He realized that the blunt Joab was right about showing gratitude to the army and his friends. Shortly David appeared in public to greet the people and dispel their gloom with cheerful words of thanks and friendliness. Within a few days many Israelites were in a more pleasant mood. (II Samuel 19:5-8.)
At the same time there was growing unrest in many parts of the land. The civil war had all but torn the nation apart. There were still many who wished that Absalom had become king. Others were displeased because David didn't return to Jerusalem after the victory over Absalom's military forces. (II Samuel 19:9-10.) But the people of the tribe of Judah, who made up a large part of Absalom's following, weren't anxious for David to return. Because Jerusalem was at the border of the territory of Judah, the attitude of the people there naturally gave David a reason for concern.
"Remind the leaders of Judah that I am of their tribe and that I am looking to them for their support and confidence," David declared in a message to Zadok and Abiather, the priests at Jerusalem. "Tell Amasa that I am going to remove Joab as commander of my army, and that I wish to replace him with Amasa, the commander of my son's defeated army."
Welcome to Dissension
When news of this intended change went throughout Judah, the people were pleased because Amasa was also of the tribe of Judah and Joab was disliked by so many in that tribe. David was aware of that. His strategy was wise for more than one reason.
Amasa went through Judah persuading the tribal elders to support King David. Soon the inhabitants of Judah began to be friendly toward David. They even sent a delegation of leaders to him to inform him that he was welcome back to Jerusalem as king of the nation. When the people of that tribe heard that David was about to leave Mahanaim, thousands of them swarmed down to Gilgal, and from there eastward to the Jordan River. (II Samuel 19:11-15.)
By the time David, his family and many of his followers appeared on the east side of the Jordan, a special ferry had been built for bringing the king across the river. As David stepped off on the west bank, a roar of welcome went up from the throats of the great crowd.
Among the first to come to greet David was Shimei, the Benjamite who had angrily thrown stones at David when the king was previously fleeing from Jerusalem. With him were a thousand other Benjamites to help Shimei impress King David. All of them bowed toward. David as he came across the river. Ahead of them Shimei threw himself on the ground before the king.
"I am the one who cursed you and threw stones at you when you were escaping from Absalom," Shimei despairingly confessed. "Because I know how wrong I was at the time, I was the first here today so that I might ask you to forgive me and forget my foolish and disrespectful conduct." (II Samuel 19:16-20.)
There was an awkward silence while David gazed at the prostrate man. Abishai, Joab's brother, gave a signal to some of his soldiers, who strode forward and roughly jerked Shimei to his feet.
"Any man who curses our leader, who was chosen by God, deserves only death!" Abishai growled. "Is that not right, my king?"
"As king of Israel, it is my responsibility to make such decisions," David spoke out with subdued anger. "I don't understand why you should choose to make them for me, particularly when I don't approve of them, and I am not in favor of this man or any other man being put to death on this day!"
His face red with embarrassment, Abishai barked at his men to release Shimei, who fell trembling to the ground again.
"I shall pardon the things you regret doing to me," David told the Benjamite. "You shall not die. Return to your home in peace." (II Samuel 19:21-23.)
As the procession started toward the west, David noticed the familiar figure of Mephibosheth, Saul's crippled grandson. When David had been on his way out of Jerusalem because of Absalom threatening to take the city, Mephibosheth's servant, Ziba, had told the king that his master had expected to become king. David was so disappointed by Mephibosheth's attitude that he had decreed that Ziba should take over Mephibosheth's possessions. (II Samuel 16:1-4.)
"I regretted to hear from Ziba that you were hopeful of becoming king when I left Jerusalem," David told Mephibosheth. "I had thought you to be loyal to me." (II Samuel 19:24-25.)
"I never had the idea of becoming king, and I have always been loyal to you," Mephibosheth declared staunchly. "Ziba lied to you about me. Because of that, I lost everything I owned. But why should I cry about that when you have already done so much for my family?"
David could tell that the man was speaking the truth. He looked at Ziba, who was standing uncomfortably off to one side, trying to hide his expression of guilt.
"I told you before that you could have your master's possessions," David said to Ziba. "Now that I find that you didn't tell me the truth, I want you to give Mephibosheth's property back to him and divide the produce of the land as before."
"He is welcome to all of it," Mephibosheth said. "All that matters to me now is that my king is returning to his home to rule." (II Samuel 19:26-30.)
Barzillai, the Manassite who had been David's foremost host in Mahanaim, also accompanied King David across the Jordan. David invited Barzillai to accompany him to Jerusalem so the king could honor him for all he had done for David at Mahanaim. Being an aged man, Barzillai insisted upon returning home. But he allowed his son Chimham to go with King David. (II Samuel 19:31-40; I Kings 2:7.) Apparently King David gave this young man a share of his own family's inheritance at Bethlehem. (Jeremiah 41:17.)
After parting with Barzillai and the people of Mahanaim who had become close friends to him, David later went on to Gilgal and from there to Jerusalem. But while this trip was taking place, the leaders of the various tribes began to argue about the manner in which the king was conducted back to the capital. There was much ill will among the other tribes because the people of Judah had taken over the ceremonies that had to do with David's return. Feeling ran higher and higher in this matter. (II Samuel 19:41-43.) This mounting envy was the start of strife that would promptly divide the nation of Israel.
A Benjamite named Sheba, a scheming and ambitious man of much influence and means, realized that the time could be right, even during David's triumphant return to Jerusalem, for ten of the tribes to form an army with which Judah could be controlled or even overpowered.
"We don't have enough voice in the government in Judah," Sheba declared to the people. "We should band together to build our own power!"
Men from every tribe except Judah flocked to Sheba. But the tribe of Judah escorted David safely to Jerusalem. (II Samuel 20:1-2.) When David found out that an army was being recruited to be used against Judah, he told Amasa, his new army commander, to assemble an army within three days.
In his desire to be more obedient, David put away the ten concubines he had left to take care of his home, and never had anything more to do with them than to see that they were cared for the rest of their lives. (II Samuel 20:3-4.)
Amasa failed to get a fighting force together in three days. David turned to Abishai, Joab's brother and an experienced military leader, and ordered him to pursue Sheba with the troops who were with David in Jerusalem. Abishai started northward. With Abishai was his brother Joab, ambitious to regain command of the army.
Bible Story Book Index
A Plague of Numbers
AMASA David's new commander, had taken soldiers northward to pursue Sheba and the rebellious Israelites. David decided that Amasa was too slow and Abishai, a more experienced officer, would do much better. So Abishai was sent with more troops.
Joab went with Abishai because he was intent on regaining command of the army. When they overtook Amasa, Joab pretended to be friendly with him, but suddenly ran his sword into Amasa's chest. (II Samuel 20:1-10.)
A Cruel Age
In plain view of many soldiers Amasa fell by Joab's cruel and deceptive action. He died in great agony. Not a man had the courage to protest. Joab then proceeded to boldly take over the command of Amasa's soldiers as well as those of his brother, Abishai.
Joab and his soldiers continued northward in their pursuit of Sheba's army. Perhaps Sheba would have escaped if it had not been for a reliable report that Sheba and his men were in the city of Abel. When Joab and his men arrived at Abel, which was south of Mount Lebanon in the territory of Dan, they were unable to batter their way through the gates.
Unhampered by the inhabitants, who made no move to defend themselves, Joab's troops piled a bank of sand and rocks up against one section of the wall, so that they could use battering rams against the higher, thinner part of the wall. (II Samuel 20:11-15.)
When they were about to break through, a wise woman appeared on top of the wall and loudly requested to speak with Joab. Action ceased while Joab came forward to identify himself and find out what the woman wanted.
"We are a peaceful, faithful people!" she called down. "Why have you come here to destroy our city?"
"I'm not here for the purpose of destroying a city!" Joab shouted back. "I am here to capture a Benjamite by the name of Sheba, who with his army is fortified within your walls. He has conspired against King David, and deserves to die. If your city doesn't give him up to us, we'll come in after him. We'll subdue him even if we have to tear your city apart!"
"What if we deliver him to you?" the woman asked. "If you do that, we'll go away in peace," Joab promised. "Then do no more damage to our walls," the woman said. "Give us a little while, and we'll throw this Sheba's head out to you!"
There was no way of knowing whether or not the woman had enough influence to fulfill her promise. But Joab waited. In any event, she was a person of considerable influence there, and managed to have Sheba beheaded. The head was tossed down to Joab, who made certain that it was really Sheba's head. As he promised, Joab left Abel and returned to Jerusalem to report to David that another plan to take over the government of Israel had been foiled. (II Samuel 20:16-22.)
David was relieved to learn that the present danger was over. But he was disappointed and troubled because Joab had forced his way, even by murder, back into the command of the army of Israel. David could hardly change the situation, inasmuch as Joab was so admired for his ability as an army officer -- though he had enemies. God was obviously allowing Joab to remain as commander. Even the king of Israel couldn't do much to change that.
David took advantage of this period of peace to improve the organization of his government and to appoint officials to various responsibilities. (II Samuel 20:23-26.)
Murder Brings Famine
During the next year the amount of rainfall in Israel was so small that there was a serious crop failure throughout the land. The following year the rainfall was even less. The year after that there was an even greater drought. David was very concerned. He was certain that God had brought on the condition for some specific reason. He asked the priests, Zadok and Abiathar, to try to find out why God had withheld rain from the Israelites.
An answer came from God to the priests, who told David that the famine had come to Israel because of Saul. He had ordered many Gibeonites to be slain in spite of a promise Joshua had made that they wouldn't be killed even though they were Canaanites.
David called the leaders of the Gibeonites to find out how they felt about the matter. He was told that they remembered the incident with very strong feelings, and that they still expected some kind of settlement from the Israelites, but not with money, valuables or property.
"To right that wrong made by Saul, payment must be made with seven lives from the family of Saul" the Gibeonites firmly stated.
On behalf of the nation David promised to give the seven men to the Gibeonites. (II Samuel 21:1-6.) This would seem to be a heartless thing to do, but something had to be done, because a whole nation was suffering a famine brought on by faithless King Saul who broke the agreement between Israel and the Gibeonites. Seven men were chosen from among Saul's descendants and turned over to the Gibeonites. Mephibosheth was excluded because of the oath of perpetual friendship between his father Jonathan and King David. (I Samuel 20:12-17, 42.) The Gibeonites hanged the seven men David gave to them. The hanging corpses were protected from wild beasts and birds for some time. They weren't cut down until it started to rain days later when David finally took pity on their guardian. (II Samuel 21:7-14.)
When he was much younger, David had led his army in a long and successful struggle against the Philistines. For years they had remained subdued. Now a small army of them appeared on the west border of Judah to threaten the Israelite civilians living there. When the aging king heard of it, he set out with troops to stop the invaders before they could grow in numbers or penetrate farther into Israel.
A little while after the Israelites attacked the Philistines, David found that the vigorous action of battle was very tiring to him. He grew so weary that he sank to his knees on the ground. The champion of the Philistine troops, a giant named Ishbi-benob, thought that David was wounded, and that this was a wonderful opportunity to become famous as the slayer of the king of Israel. (II Samuel 21:15-16).
Casting aside his huge spear, which was much heavier than the average man could use, Ishbi-benob pulled out his oversize sword and rushed toward David. Abishai, brother of Joab, noticed the giant charging toward David with his sword upraised. Abishai leaped forward in time to thrust his shield over David just as the Philistine slashed viciously at the king. The blow landed on Abishai's shield, or otherwise it would have meant instant death for David.
Ishbi-benob was enraged at Abishai's action. He yanked back his sword to thrust at Abishai, but the smaller man was too quick for him. It was the giant who fell from a sword thrust, and not the Israelite. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they gave up the fight and fled westward back to their home territory.
David had come very close to losing his life because of the weariness that was natural for a man of his years. His officers and advisors begged him not to go into the battle again. They pointed out to him that it would be a blow to the whole nation if he were killed in battle. Besides, it would invite unqualified men to seek control of the kingdom. (II Samuel 21:17.)
Not long afterward the Philistine troops moved back into Judah. Again the champion was another giant, this one named Saph. David didn't go with his soldiers for this encounter, which resulted in victory for the Israelites when a man named Sibbechai courageously stood up to Saph and killed him in hand-to-hand combat.
Undaunted, the Philistines came into Judah a third time, and with still another giant, a brother of Goliath. As before, the Philistines hastily retreated when their champion was overcome by an Israelite named Elhanan.
The Philistines couldn't seem to learn that having giants on their side wasn't necessarily a guarantee for victory. For a fourth time they came into Israel, this time accompanied by a man who was unique not only for his enormous size, but because he had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot. Apparently the Philistines thought that this freak would somehow impress and terrorize the Israelites to the point that they would give up. The giant was killed by David's nephew Jonathan, regardless of all his extra toes and fingers. For the fourth time the Philistines retreated to their home country. This ended, for a time, a period of trouble for Israel. (II Samuel 21:18-22.)
To show his thanks to God for protection, blessings and promises, David was inspired to compose a song. It is recorded in the Bible from II Samuel 22:2 to 23:7.
Surrounded by capable leaders and protected from invasion by many heroes (II Samuel 23:8-39), Israel's matters were going well. David allowed himself to feel too secure and powerful. He began to wonder just how many people were in his kingdom, and how Israel compared in numbers to other nations. The more he thought about it, the more he was tempted to take a census, although God didn't want such a thing to be done.
At last the king called in Joab, his army commander, and asked him to take men to every part of Israel to find out how many men were fit for army duty.
"May all the people in our land be multiplied by God a hundred times," Joab remarked. "But no matter what their numbers, sir, it surely would displease God if we were to count them with the purpose of trying to measure our nation's strength. If we were to find that it is greater than we think, we could be tempted to make some unwise moves against other nations."
"For one who obviously has been without fear of God," David observed after giving Joab a long stare, "your present concern with what could displease the Creator shows quite a change in your thinking."
"Believe as you choose," Joab replied in his usual brusque manner. "I don't think the idea is wise, and I know that the officers under me think the same."
An Error Progresses
"I respect your opinion and those of the other officers," the king went on firmly. "Nevertheless, I shall meet with you and those officers to give you the details of how I want the census taken." (II Samuel 24:1-4; I Chronicles 21:1-4.)
Nine months and twenty days later the unwilling Joab and his men returned to Jerusalem with their report after spending that much time in covering almost all of Israel to number the able-bodied men. (II Samuel 24:5-9.) The report given to David was that Judah had about half a million men who could serve as soldiers, and the other tribes, not counting Levi and Benjamin, could supply over a million men. The grand total included the standing army and frontier guard. (II Samuel 6:1.) Also the twelve monthly courses of troops that did garrison duty for King David at Jerusalem, and the twelve tribal chiefs' reserves. (I Chronicles 21:5; 27:1-22.)
Joab and his men didn't take a census of the tribe of Levi because that tribe supplied the priests and their helpers. They didn't get around to counting the men in the tribe of Benjamin or completing the census because the census was disgusting to Joab. Besides, by the time they got back to Jerusalem David was in a state of great distress and told Joab not to bother to complete the count. (I Chronicles 21:6; 27:24.)
The prophet Gad had come to the king with the alarming news that God had disclosed to him that He was very displeased with David for counting the people, a function that God would have performed only at His command.
"You would be making a grievous mistake to discount what I'm telling you," Gad warned. "God told me something terrible to tell you. He said that because of what you have done punishment will come to Israel. It will come in one of three ways. God is allowing you to choose that way!"
"Go on," David muttered, shakily fearful of what Gad was about to say.
"You must decide between three years of famine for Israel, three months of heavy attacks by enemy nations and three days pestilence from God," Gad continued. "Tell me what your choice is. I must speak to God for you." (II Samuel 24:10-13; I Chronicles 21:7-12.)
David was quite shocked by Gad's words. For a brief period he sat and stared blankly while the stark, awful truth sank into his consciousness that God was again calling him to account for a sin. But even under the stress it wasn't difficult for him to make the decision that had to be made.
"Even though God is most powerful, I would rather fall into His merciful hands than fall into the hands of my vengeful enemies," the king told Gad. "If famine comes to our nation, I might not suffer as much as others, but if pestilence comes, it could fall upon all with equal misery. Therefore tell our God that if punishment must come to Israel because of my sin, let it be pestilence. May the Creator have mercy on us." (II Samuel 24:14; I Chronicles 21:13.)
Next morning, in the outlying sections of Israel, hundreds of people fell dead. It was as though their hearts had stopped beating. The abrupt deaths were confusing and terrifying to the people who saw others dropping all about them. They couldn't know that it was only the start of a terrible punishment sent supernaturally by God. By the end of the day the mysterious lethal malady had spread inward over the land, killing thousands more people.
God's Altar of Mercy
When a whole day had passed, many people were dead. The awful reports had reached so much of Israel that the nation was in a devastating state of fear and mourning. But the situation grew steadily worse, and as a third day rolled around the pestilence had crept inward across Israel from all directions almost to Jerusalem. By that time seventy thousand Israelites had died!
From the death reports that flooded into Jerusalem, it was evident to David that the area of the capital was the only region left in Israel where people hadn't been touched by the fatal seizures. It occurred to the king that possibly God was leaving Jerusalem till the last so that the thousands living there would receive the full measure of God's anger.
"I have sinned! I have done a wicked thing!" David loudly groaned, at last prostrating himself in repentant dejection on the floor. "Don't let any more of my people die, God! Take me, instead! Spare those in Jerusalem!" (II Samuel 24:15-17, I Chronicles 21:14-17.)
Only a little while later that day Gad came to David to tell him, and other leaders who were dressed in sackcloth as a sign of mourning and repentance, that God had instructed that a special altar should be quickly erected at a certain place on Mount Moriah, a high area on the northeast side of the city.
"God knows that you deeply regret that you did wrong," Gad said to David. "If you build this altar and make sacrifices there as soon as possible, God won't allow the awful death plague to continue."
The king heeded Gad's advice without delay. Together with some of his advisors, he hurried to Mount Moriah. The top area of the hill was owned by a local Jebusite king by the name of Ornan (or Araunah), who had built a threshing floor there. King Ornan's city, Jebus, was adjoining David's city and the two kings were friends. Ornan was there at the time threshing wheat with his four sons.
King Ornan was aware that people were dying in the regions outside the city, and he was fearful of his sons or himself being struck down at any time. But he had work to do, and he reasoned that they would be no safer at home than at work. He was even more concerned when he looked up to see the brilliance of an angel above the land and to see David approaching with a few men. Ornan's first impulse was to run and hide somewhere because he thought the king wouldn't be coming to visit him at such a time unless he had some reason to be angry with him. Hesitantly he went to meet David and inquired how he could be of service to the ruler.
"I would like to buy this property from you," David told Ornan.
"If the king desires my property, he can have it," Ornan declared.
"I'll give you more than a fair price," David said eagerly, "I need this high spot on which to build an altar to make special sacrifices to God. If it can be done this very day, perhaps He won't let any more people die, and Jerusalem could be spared!" (II Samuel 24:18-23; I Chronicles 21:18-24.)
Ornan stared at the anxious face of the king. He wondered if selling his property could really be such a matter of life or death.
Bible Story Book Index
God Chooses Solomon
BECAUSE DAVID had gone against divine orders and had taken a census in Israel, God had caused seventy thousand sudden deaths in Israel.
Israel's king had then heeded the advice of the prophet Gad, who had told him that the plague would be stopped if David would quickly build an altar. The site God had chosen for the altar was Mount Moriah, a high area on the northeast side of Jerusalem.
God Selects His Temple Site
The spot was owned by a local Jebusite king named Ornan. Ornan had a threshing floor there and with his four sons was busy threshing wheat when David arrived. (II Samuel 24:1-18; I Chronicles 21:1-20.) As king over all the land of Israel, David could have taken over the place to do as he wished. But it wasn't his way to conduct himself in such a manner. When Ornan learned why the king wanted his property, he was very anxious to cooperate.
"You are welcome to all that I have here without price," he told David. "If you are in need of wood for the fire, use my threshing instruments. If you need animals for sacrificing, take my oxen."
David was pleased at Ornan's willing and helpful attitude. Because he wanted to act in a hurry, he accepted all that Ornan offered, but he insisted on paying. The oxen cost the usual price for farm animals. But David wanted several acres of land so God's temple could later be built on the spot God had chosen. So he bought the whole hill at a fair price. (II Samuel 24:19-25; I Chronicles 21:21-25.) An altar was hastily erected, and animals were sacrificed on it as soon as possible. God showed His approval by sending fire from heaven to kindle flames on the altar.
A little while later servants came to David to inform him that reports of new plague deaths had suddenly ceased coming in from surrounding areas, and that no deaths had been reported from within the city. (I Chronicles 21:26-30).
"That means that God has accepted your prayers and your sacrifices," Gad assured David. "The plague has been stopped!"
Relieved and thankful, David dropped to his knees to worship God for being so merciful as to halt the terrible spread of death before it could reach the people of Jerusalem.
Realizing that this was the place where God wanted His future temple to be built, David spent the rest of his life preparing materials and setting aside most of his wealth to pay construction costs and to decorate the temple. He gave his son Solomon the complete plans and instructions God had given him. (I Chronicles 22:1-19; 29:1-19.)
David also thoroughly organized the priesthood and the government. (I Chronicles, chapters 23-28.)
David's life had been so eventful and wearing that two years later, although he was only sixty-nine years of age, his body was as worn and weakened as that of a much older man. Among his various infirmities mentioned slightly in Psalms 31:10 and 38:3 was his inability to remain comfortably warm, especially during the cool evenings. Even though blankets were piled on him, his circulation was so poor that he always felt chilled.
His servants and advisors decided that the only way he could be helped was by putting a much younger person close to him, so that the vigor, strength and warmth of youth would be imparted, even in a small measure, to the ailing king. Using their own judgment, the advisors chose a young woman for this purpose -- surprising as it may seem to those who read this account and who will perhaps be moved to decide that David was again being very foolish. This wasn't David's idea. The Bible states that she was very helpful in caring for David and that there was no kind of wrong relationship. (I Kings 1:1-4.)
A Brother's Schemes
The deplorable thing that resulted from the king's infirmity was the conduct of Adonijah, at that time David's oldest son. Adonijah decided that his father was too old and senile to rule Israel, and that he, Adonijah, should be the one to take his father's place. He tried to impress the people by copying the overly colorful ways of the late Absalom when he was attempting to win the public to his cause. Adonijah chose several very fancy chariots in which to ride about, and hired fifty men to run in front of his chariots to loudly announce to the people that an important person was passing through and to clear the roads or streets of all obstructions.
David, in his ailing condition, wasn't told of all Adonijah was doing. On the other hand, he was aware that his son was strutting around with attendants, but he did nothing about it. David was very sentimental about his sons, and wasn't always as firm as he should have been for their good as well as his.
Whatever the situation, David made no move to prevent his son from trying to take over the reins of the government of Israel. Adonijah managed to obtain the backing of some of the influential figures of the nation, including Joab, the military commander, and Abiathar the priest. Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet refused to help him. So did most of the powerful men and leaders who had been close to David. (I Kings 1:5-8.)
To promote his cause and establish goodwill among his friends and others whom he hoped to win over to his side, Adonijah arranged for what we of this age would call a campaign rally. It was held at a place where such functions were popular, and where impressive sacrifices were made. Food and wine were in abundance. The mood of those invited was anything but solemn. Most of David's sons were asked to attend, as were many high officials. (I Kings 1:9-10.) Most of David's officers were ignored. So was Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba, the one David knew God had appointed to be the next king of Israel. (I Chronicles 28:5.)
Nathan the prophet decided that Adonijah had carried matters much too far, and that David should be stirred up to do something about it. Knowing that Bathsheba had great influence with David, he asked her to go to the king to warn him that there was danger of Solomon and his mother losing their lives if Adonijah decided to take extreme measures to obtain full and certain leadership.
"I am aware that you know David wants your son to succeed him as God has commanded," Nathan told Bathsheba. "You must go to your husband and tell him that this won't happen unless Adonijah's ambition is brought to an end at once. God wants David to do his part. When I know that you are speaking about this matter to David, I'll join the two of you and repeat that the matter is extremely urgent." (I Kings 1:11-14.)
Bathsheba was anxious to do what she could to insure Solomon's stepping into his father's place. She went at once to David to explain how Adonijah had been acting and how he was already the king of Israel in the minds of some of the people. She pointed out that if his following increased and if David should die, she and Solomon would come to be regarded as enemies of the state because they were not included in Adonijah's followers.
The Plot Defeated
It was one of those days when David wasn't feeling too well. The young woman especially chosen to wait on him was trying to make him comfortable. Bathsheba could see that the king was moved by the things she said, but he only nodded or shook his head. Then it was announced that Nathan the prophet wished to speak with David, whereupon Bathsheba left. When Nathan came in, he mentioned to David all that Bathsheba had told her husband, but in a different way intended to appeal to David's greatest interests.
"I don't understand why you are allowing another to become king of Israel when it has long been God's command that Solomon should come after you," Nathan pointed out to David. (I Kings 1:15-27.)
"Call Bathsheba. Have her come to me at once," David responded, straightening up and suddenly looking very determined.
Nathan knew as he departed that the king had made a decision of some kind. He was sure that it was the right one. When Bathsheba arrived, David spiritedly reminded her that he had made a vow that Solomon should surely become king of Israel and that he wished to repeat that vow. Turning from Bathsheba, he told a guard to call Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet and Benaiah, a great hero and captain of his guards. (II Samuel 23:20-23; 8:18.) When these three men arrived, David instructed them to take Solomon to a public gathering place just outside the west gates of Jerusalem.
"Benaiah, see that he is accompanied by most of my guards," David ordered. "And have him ride on my personal mule. Nathan and Zadok, you will anoint my son Solomon as the next king of Israel. Make a public proclamation so that the people will know what is taking place. After the ceremonies are over, bring Solomon back here."
"So be it!" Benaiah exclaimed. "I know this is according to God's will. God has been with you, my king. May He be with Solomon to exalt the throne of Israel, and to make it even greater than it has been during your reign."
When the people in and around Jerusalem saw the king's guard marching before and after the mule-borne Solomon and the two priests, they swarmed together in increasing numbers to follow the parade. By the time the ceremonies were over, and Solomon had been anointed king, a huge crowd had gathered. There were the sounds of great celebration, including the blowing of trumpets and pipes and shouts of "Long live King Solomon!" with such volume that the noise was heard in all the city and in some areas beyond. (I Kings 1:28-40; I Chronicles 29:20-25.)
Just at this time Adonijah's long, party-like rally to gain followers was coming to an end. The last meal was over. Guests were beginning to leave when the sounds of musical instruments and the shouts of thousands of voices came clearly to Adonijah and those with him.
Conspirators in Trouble
"There must be trouble somewhere," Joab observed concernedly. "Perhaps the city is being attacked. What else could cause such an uproar?"
As the wondering listeners paused anxiously, Jonathan the son of Abiathar the priest came in from the street to join them. Adonijah greeted him warmly, remarking what a brave man he was and that surely he must be the bearer of good news.
"It could be good news for some, but I doubt that it is for you," Jonathan replied uneasily. "David's son Solomon has just been anointed the next king by Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet. The loud music and shouts you hear are coming from the huge crowd that witnessed the ceremony. The people are happy and enthusiastic about it." (I Kings 1:41-48).
A cheerless silence came over Adonijah's guests. Wordlessly they filed out of the place and hurried to their homes, not wishing to have anything more to do with any movement to try to force their erstwhile champion on the throne of Israel. As for Adonijah, he was the most uncomfortable and fearful. It was evident that most of the people wanted Solomon to become king, and that David would deal harshly with anyone who opposed the king.
There was dancing and singing in celebration of Solomon's appointment as king. But Adonijah became alarmed at what he imagined would happen to him because he had tried to become king against his father's will. So he decided to seek protection at the tabernacle. There he went to the altar where the sacrifices were made, and clung to it desperately. The altar was regarded as a refuge for those who had sinned. Adonijah thought it would be the safest place for him if David's soldiers should come after him. (I Kings 1:49-50.)
Solomon had taken over the responsibilities of the ruler of Israel as soon as he had returned to the palace. Although he was only about twenty years of age, he was capable of good judgment, and took his high office very seriously. When he heard that Adonijah was at the tabernacle and was trusting in the king to spare his life, he sent men after Adonijah. The would-be king thought that his end had come when he saw the soldiers swiftly approaching the altar, and heard one of them order him to come with them.
"If I step away from this sacred altar, you'll kill me," Adonijah shouted fearfully.
Strong arms reached up to wrest him down from the altar. He was hustled quickly off and brought before Solomon. He prostrated himself before his half-brother, expecting the new king to give an order for his execution.
"You know that you have acted foolishly in trying to become king," Solomon stated. "Because of this, whether you live or die will depend on how you conduct yourself from now on. If you go the right way, not a hair of your head will be harmed by any of my men. Now return to your home."
Surprised and relieved, Adonijah muttered his thanks and hastily left the palace. (I Kings 1:51-53.)
A Wise Father's Advice
Not long afterward, David informed Solomon that he was about to die, and that he had some valuable advice to give him. The advice was the kind that any wise father should give his son, but there were reminders from the former king of Israel to the new king.
"Keep God's commandments and statutes and judgments," David told Solomon. "You will prosper and be successful if you do. God told me that if my children would live according to His laws, men of our family would continue on the throne of Israel. So prove yourself an obedient man, worthy of being a king.
"Consider Joab and the murders he has committed in the name of warfare. Handle him with care and good judgment, remembering that he has great influence with many people, but don't let him live long enough to die of old age. I should have had him punished by death long before now.
"Be kind to those of the family of Barzillai the Gileadite, who was such a help to me at the city of Mahanaim while I stayed there in my forced absence from Jerusalem.
"Consider also the case of Shimei the Benjamite, who cursed me when I was fleeing from Jerusalem. He tried to make amends by meeting me at the Jordan river when I was returning to Jerusalem. I promised him that I would not give orders to have him put to death. But you know he was guilty. You should deal with him as harshly as you should deal with Joab."
Some months after Solomon had become king, David died. He served forty years as king of Israel. (I Kings 2:1-11; I Chronicles 29:26-30.)
During that time Israel became a powerful nation, but not as wealthy and powerful as it would have been if David and especially the people had followed God's laws more closely. Probably David is the most remembered king of Israel because of his eventful life and because he wrote a great portion of that part of the Bible called the Book of Psalms. With much mourning David was buried in a special sepulchre at Jerusalem. A great amount of wealth was buried with him, part of which was taken from his tomb centuries later.
Solomon used unusual wisdom at times during his reign, insomuch that Israel remained strong and respected by the surrounding nations. But matters didn't always go smoothly for the new, young ruler.
Adonijah Tries Again
Adonijah, who had tried to become king, decided that he would like to marry Abishag, the young woman who had been chosen to physically strengthen David during his last days. Adonijah cleverly went to Bathsheba about the matter, knowing that she would have far more influence with the king than he would have.
Bathsheba promised Adonijah that she would ask her son the favor. When she did, Solomon became very angry. He considered Adonijah's request through his mother very improper. He rightly suspected that this was the beginning of some kind of plot to seize the government.
"Adonijah might as well have asked for the whole kingdom as well," Solomon observed wrathfully to his mother. "I warned him that his conduct would determine his fate. This turn of events proves to me that he isn't worthy to live!" (I Kings 2:12-23.)
Solomon was concerned mostly by the thought that Adonijah was making a move to again gain popularity with the people for the purpose of another effort to become king. He ordered Benaiah, the commander of the royal guard, to see that Adonijah should be executed. (I Chronicles 18:17; I Kings 2:24-25.)
Afterward he ordered Abiathar the priest to come before him. "I know how vigorously you worked for Adonijah to become king," Solomon frowningly reminded Abiathar. "You were against David my father, even though you knew God had set him on the throne. It's my opinion that you deserve death as much as Adonijah has deserved it." Abiathar's face turned white. Judging from the king's stern expression, he was about to order another execution.
Bible Story Book Index
Solomon Builds the Temple
ABIATHAR the priest, standing before angry King Solomon, expected to be executed because he had told the people of Israel that Adonijah should be their king.
"You are guilty of treason!" Solomon exclaimed to Abiathar. "But I won't put you to death now because you served for so many years as priest during my father's reign and shared all his troubles. However, you are no longer to serve as a priest. Go to your home in the country outside Jerusalem and stay there." (I Kings 2:26-27.)
Abiathar's removal from priestly duties brought about the fulfillment of God's prophecy to his ancestor, the high priest Eli, who had become careless in his office back in Samuel's time. God told him that the priesthood would be taken from his family. (I Samuel 2:12-36.) Abiathar was the last of the descendants of Eli's family.
When Joab heard what had happened to his co-conspirators, Adonijah and Abiathar, his usual self-confidence suddenly left him. Fearing that he would be called before Solomon for sentencing, he followed Adonijah's example and fled to the tabernacle, where he claimed special refuge from death by clinging to the altar.
On learning what Joab was doing, Solomon sent Benaiah to drag him away from the altar and execute him. When Benaiah ordered Joab to step away from the altar or be dragged away, Joab declared that he preferred to die at the altar. Benaiah hesitated to act. Instead, he reported to Solomon what Joab had said.
"If Joab wants to die at the altar, so be it!" Solomon decreed. "Then bury him on his property out in the desert."
The grim order was carried out, ending the life of a man who had been a very capable army commander, but who for years faced the penalty of death because of his brazen acts of treacherous murder. (I Kings 2:28-34; II Samuel 3:26-27; 20:8-10.)
Benaiah then became the undisputed commander of the army of Israel, something that hadn't been possible while Joab and his supporters had been around to interfere. At the same time Solomon put Zadok the priest in Abiathar's place. (I Kings 2:35.) Zadok was of the family of Eleazar, and thus the priesthood returned to the family God had first chosen to be priests. (I Chronicles 6.)
No Mollycoddling of Criminals
Next Solomon sent for Shimei, the Benjamite who had cursed David. David had told Solomon that such an untrustworthy man shouldn't be allowed to live too long.
"Get a home for yourself here in Jerusalem," Solomon ordered Shimei. "Then stay here. If you ever go outside the walls, you'll meet with death. If you wish to continue living, stay in this city."
"You are a good man," Shimei grinned with relief at the king as he bowed low. "Your humble and thankful servant will do as you say." (I Kings 2:36-38.)
Three years later two of Shimei's servants ran away from his home and hid themselves in the Philistine city of Gath. Shimei was determined to get the two back. When he was told where they were, he took other servants to Gath, found the runaway couple and brought them back to Jerusalem. All this was reported to Solomon, who had Shimei brought before him.
"I warned you that if you ever left Jerusalem you would be responsible for your death," Solomon reminded the trembling Benjamite. "You promised then that you would obey that restriction. Why have you broken you word? Don't you realize that you're now subject to death? But even if you hadn't gone out of Jerusalem, you are still guilty of cursing my father the king, and for that wickedness it's God's judgment that you pay the death penalty."
By this time Shimei was too frightened to answer. At a gesture from the king, soldiers removed Shimei from the palace. A little later he was executed. (I Kings 2:39-46.)
Solomon Marries Pharaoh's Daughter
Although God had told the Israelites that they shouldn't intermarry with those of other nations, Solomon desired to marry a daughter of the king of Egypt. There were many beautiful women in Israel, but the king had received reports that the Egyptian princess was so beautiful that he made a special effort to become friendly with the Egyptian king. Pharaoh was pleased that Israel's leader would make such harmonious gestures. It wasn't difficult, after that, to arrange for the Egyptian woman to be brought to Jerusalem, where she was married to Solomon. (I Kings 3:1.)
At that time Solomon built a new palace and continued construction on a stronger wall around Jerusalem, started by David. Because matters went so well in Israel, Solomon declared a special day of worship at Gibeon, where the tabernacle was. In front of it was the brass altar that had been made by the Israelites when they were on their way from Egypt to Canaan. There Solomon and many of his people sacrificed to God. (I Kings 3:2-4; II Chronicles 1:1-6.)
That night Solomon was weary from the many activities of the day, which included a moving speech to the men of high rank in the nation. The king fell into a deep sleep. He dreamed that he met God, and that God told him that because he had been obedient in so many things, he could have anything he wished to ask for as a special gift from the Creator.
"You have already given me much by being so merciful to my father and allowing me to sit on the throne of Israel," Solomon said. "I don't have the wisdom I should have as king. There are problems and decisions that perplex me. I don't know sometimes which way to turn. I want to choose the right ways because a great nation should have great leadership. Above all things I choose to ask you for special wisdom with which to rightly and justly rule your people." (I Kings 3:5-9; II Chronicles 1:7-10.)
Solomon dreamed that he prostrated himself before God during an uncomfortable silence that followed. Had God expected him to ask for something greater than wisdom? Should he have asked for good health for his people or for some other thing that would have been less personal?
Finally God spoke. A Divine Gift of Wisdom
"Because you have asked for wisdom with which to rule well, I shall grant you wisdom that is greater than that of any man. Your wisdom will surpass that of anyone who has ever lived, and will be greater than that of anyone to live in the future. I am pleased that you didn't ask for long life, riches or death to all your enemies. Therefore I shall also give you wealth. You shall be the most honored of kings. If you obey my laws, I shall give you a long life."
When Solomon awoke he had a strange feeling that what had taken place was more than a dream. The more he pondered over it, the more clearly he realized that God had actually spoken to him. It was such an outstanding experience for him that as soon as he returned to Jerusalem, he made more burnt offerings and more peace offerings, and gave a special feast for his servants and those who worked with him in the governing of Israel. (I Kings 3:10-15; II Chronicles 1:11-13.)
An example of the wisdom God gave to Solomon is shown in the case of two women of low character who came before the king to both claim the same child. They lived in the same house. One gave birth to a baby. The other gave birth to a child three days later. The woman who had the first birth claimed that the other woman accidentally lay on her own child and smothered it. l
"When she discovered it was dead," the first woman told the king, "she came into my room at night, while I was asleep, and stole my infant son from me. She put her dead son next to me. When I awoke to nurse him, I found him lifeless. I thought at the time that it was mine, but in the morning I discovered it wasn't my child. This is my child you see before you. I want him back."
"But it didn't happen the way she told it," the second woman said to Solomon. "This baby is mine. I didn't steal it from her. The dead baby is hers."
Solomon knew that one of the women wasn't telling the truth. Probably he could tell which one it was, but he wanted to show up the untruthful one before those present. He called for a soldier with a sword to come before him. When the man strode in, weapon in hand, Solomon instructed him to take the baby.
"Cut this infant in two!" the king ordered the startled soldier. "Then give half to this woman and the other to that woman."
"Don't!" exclaimed the true mother, leaping forward in anguished excitement. "Give her the baby! Please don't harm it!"
"Don't listen to her!" the other woman blurted out. "That's enough!" Solomon said, holding up a restraining hand toward the women and the soldier. "Give the child to the woman who doesn't want you to harm it. She tried to save it, and that proves that she is its mother."
Reports of this matter, as well as others that had to do with Solomon's decisions, spread around the nation. People could discern that Solomon was being inspired by God. Respect for the king of Israel grew with the news of how wisely he handled problems. God was keeping his promises made to Solomon in the dream. (I Kings 3:16-28.)
Solomon enjoyed a peaceable and prosperous reign as the years went on. Nearby kingdoms such as Moab, Ammon, Syria and Damascus paid tribute to him. Including all the nations that came under his authority, Solomon's kingdom extended from the Euphrates River on the north and east to Egypt and the Great Sea (the Mediterranean) on the south and west.
Solomon Grows in Fame and Influence
From all parts of the land food was brought to Solomon's table. To feed everyone in the royal establishment the provisions for just one day included two hundred and forty bushels of fine flour, four hundred and eighty bushels of meal, ten stall-fattened bulls, twenty bulls from pastures and a hundred sheep and goats. To this was added varying numbers of deer, antelope and fattened fowl. How many people were fed every day by this amount of food isn't stated in the Bible, but there must have been quite a crowd. (I Kings 4:1-25.)
God forbade Israel to maintain cavalry of chariot horses as part of a standing army. (Deuteronomy 17:14-16.) God didn't want the nation to build a mighty war machine that would cause the nation to lose sight of God as their protector and provoke the jealousy of other nations. However, Solomon accumulated thousands of war-horses. (I Kings 4:26-28; II Chronicles 1:14-17.) When war did come in a later age, the Israelites had less success in battle, using cavalry, than they did before they had any to use.
Until Solomon's time the seats of learning were presumed to be in Egypt and the east, where the Arabians, Chaldeans and Persians lived. In these nations were a few men famous for their exceptional -- and sometimes unusual -- knowledge. There were seers and sages, and even wizards who received their information from demons.
Because God had imbued Solomon with an exceptional mind, good sense and an understanding of people and things, he had more wisdom than any of the so-called wise men. He also had more knowledge than most, having a God-given ability to apply himself diligently to observing, studying and remembering. He could speak with authority on anything from small insects to animals, and from minute plants to large trees. He knew much about history, mathematics, music and other subjects. Probably he had at least a basic understanding of astronomy. He wrote more than a thousand songs. Hundreds of his proverbs, of which he produced thousands, are preserved in the book of Proverbs in the Bible for our learning. Solomon's fame for wisdom and knowledge became so great that kings from all nations came in person or sent representatives to ask his opinions and advice. (I Kings 4:29-34.)
This was the result of the gift from God. When the Creator makes a promise, He carries it out in full and often unexpected measure.
Solomon Begins the Temple
Over a hundred miles north of Jerusalem, close to the territory of Asher, on the eastern edge of the Great Sea, was the little kingdom of Tyre. Hiram, king of Tyre, had always been friendly toward David. As a gesture of goodwill, he had sent craftsmen and materials, about thirty years before, for building David's home at Jerusalem. Much of it was constructed with cedar that grew near Tyre. (II Samuel 5:11; I Chronicles 14:1.)
When Hiram heard that Solomon had become king, he sent emissaries to bring congratulations. Knowing what Hiram had done for his father, Solomon was appreciative. (I Kings 5:1.) It was then that the idea came to Solomon to employ the excellent craftsmen of Tyre to work on the temple he knew should be built during his reign.
"You will remember that my father wanted to build a temple that would be dedicated to God," Solomon told Hiram in a return message taken to Tyre. "He had so many wars to fight in his time that it wasn't God's will that such a project should be undertaken. Now Israel is at peace. I intend to build that temple while my nation is free from strife. It would please me and my people if your nation would supply cedar and fir trees for lumber, for which I will pay you in gold, silver or any produce of Israel you desire. I also wish to hire your expert craftsmen to work with the men I shall supply as laborers." (I Kings 5:2-6; II Chronicles 2:1-10.)
Hiram was happy to learn of this. He sent messengers back soon with a letter to the king of Israel.
"I am honored to do what I can to help you build the temple," the letter read. "I shall supply all the fir, cedar and any other kind of trees you need. My men will move the timber down from the mountains to the sea after cutting it to the sizes you require. Then they will float it southward to Joppa, and from there you can transport it to Jerusalem. In payment for this, we choose to receive produce from your country." (I Kings 5:7-9; II Chronicles 2:11-16.)
Eventually the timber, carefully cut to Solomon's orders, arrived in Jerusalem. In return, Solomon sent great amounts of wheat, barley, oil and wine. Part of it was for Hiram's workers, and part for Hiram and his household. The part for his household was sent every year for many years after that. (I Kings 5:10-12.)
At that time there were many people in Israel who weren't Israelites. Some were prisoners of war from David's reign. Many others had been drawn to Israel because that nation had become so famous and respected due to Solomon's reputation for learning and wisdom. And many came because Israel was peaceful and prosperous. When Solomon found that there were 153,600 such people, he decided to use them in the preparation and transport of materials for the building of the temple, which had long before been planned by David, through God's inspiration, down to the smallest detail.
Now it was Solomon's duty to carry out those plans. He put seventy thousand of the aliens in Israel to work leveling the temple site and transporting stones and timbers. Eighty thousand were used to cut gigantic foundation and building stones in the nearby hills. Thirty thousand men, picked mostly from the Israelites, were sent in relays of ten thousand at a time to help the Tyrians with the cutting of timber around Mt. Lebanon. Each unit worked a month, then rested for two months while another unit worked. There were so many workers in all that more than three thousand foremen were required to oversee them. (II Chronicles 2:17-18; I Kings 5:13-18.)
For years this vast force labored to supply and prepare timber and stone for the temple. All the materials brought to Jerusalem were already cut, smoothed and grooved or bored to exact measurements, so that their placing together was the only process that remained, though that part required seven years of labor because of the care and perfection involved. Huge squared and polished stones, said by some writers to have been up to thirty feet in length and as much as six feet thick, were slowly moved into the city by large gangs of men and work animals. These were for the foundation. They were set into the top of Mt. Moriah, where a threshing floor had once been, and where David had later built an altar on which to make special sacrifices because of a plague that had come to Israel.
With workmen teeming over Mt. Moriah, one can imagine that there was generally quite a din. The noises of tools on wood and stone might have been heard all over the city. But it didn't happen that way. There was no sound of a metal tool because all cutting, trimming, grinding, drilling and polishing had previously taken place. (I Kings 6; II Chronicles 3.)
Slowly the temple took shape.
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Solomon Dedicates God's Temple
IN THE EARLY years of Solomon's reign the top of Mt. Moriah began to look much different than it did about a decade before. Then there was only a threshing floor there. The threshing operations had been removed so that David could build a special altar. (II Samuel 24:15-25.)
Lay a Firm Foundation
In Solomon's reign the altar was removed and the top of the small mountain was leveled off to make a much wider area. The leveled mountain had to receive the huge foundation stones that were laboriously moved in to form the base of the temple and its surrounding flat area. All this was encompassed by a stone wall. Within it came into being some of the most elaborate and ornate structures that had ever been built. (I Kings 6.) These beautiful buildings and their highly decorative interiors had been planned by David, but God had forbidden him to carry out their construction because David had so often relied on his army to protect Israel instead of relying on God. (I Kings 5:2-3.)
The chief architect and skilled metal worker on this great project was a man from Tyre by the name of Hiram, the same name as that of the king of that country. Besides putting plans for the temple into workable order, he also designed and labored on much of the decorative work and on such things as vessels, tables, lamps and pillars (I Kings 7.)
Ever since the tabernacle had been constructed when the Israelites had been at Mt. Sinai, it had consisted mainly of fabric and skins so that it could be taken down and carried. Now, at last, the tabernacle was replaced by a beautiful, solid structure of stone, timber, gold, silver, precious stones, carved figures, dazzling colors of linen and carved palm trees, flowers and fruit. As in the original tabernacle, there was the outer area, the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The Ark of the Covenant was later placed in the Holy of Holies.
To the sides and back of the main buildings were added chambers for the priests and attendants, and rooms for storing treasures. The portable brass laver for the priests to wash in, made at Mt. Sinai, was replaced by a round brass, bowl-shaped container twenty-one feet across and supported by twelve large brass bulls.
The main sections of the temple were much larger than similar sections of the tabernacle. The outer part, or porch, was about forty-two feet wide. The main building was floored with fir and had inner walls of cedar. Both were then covered with gold. Aside from the priest's chambers, this building was about a hundred and twenty-six feet long, forty-two feet wide and sixty-three feet high. That wasn't a huge building, but with other structures, stone-paved court, towers and walls, the whole establishment covered several acres.
The furnishings of the temple were many, including chains, candlesticks, tongs, bowls, snuffers, basins, spoons, and censers to burn incense in. All these were fashioned from brass, gold or silver, and in a style and skill that made them outstanding in appearance and quality. (I Kings 6 and 7; II Chronicles 3 and 4.) The temple was finished, along with its furnishings in the eleventh year of Solomon's reign. (I Kings 6:1, 37-38; II Chronicles 3:1-2.) In the next several months Solomon placed in the temple the very fine furnishings that David had dedicated for the temple.
Almost a year after the temple was completed, when abundant crops had been harvested and it was time for the Festival of Tabernacles, Solomon invited the leaders of all the tribes of Israel and all of the chiefs of the clans to come to Jerusalem. (I Kings 8:1-2; II Chronicles 5:1-3.)
It wasn't necessary for the king to invite anyone to Jerusalem for the Festival of Tabernacles, because that was an assembly commanded by God, just as it still is. (See Leviticus 23:33-35, 41; Zechariah 14:16-19; Deuteronomy 16:13-15.) Observing God's annual Holy Days is as important to God and to obedient people as is the observance of the weekly Sabbath. (John 4:45; 7:10; Acts 18:21.) Solomon knew that Israelites who respected their Creator would come to the Fall Festival at Jerusalem of their own accord. But on this occasion he invited them to arrive a week earlier to attend the dedication of the temple. (II Chronicles 7:8-9.)
Thousands upon thousands of Israelites poured into Jerusalem to attend the greatest occasion since the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai. There was an elaborate parade in which the Ark of the Covenant was brought from the place where David had housed it. The priests and their assistants followed, bearing the costly equipment, such as bowls and candlesticks, with which the tabernacle in the wilderness had been furnished.
The ark was carefully and ceremoniously deposited beyond the holy veil in the Holy of Holies, where had been constructed two cherubim of olive wood, overlaid with gold. Standing side by side, each was twenty-one feet high and with two wings ten and a half feet long, so that their four wings extended out from the figures for a distance of forty-two feet. The ark was placed beneath these towering, gleaming statues.
At that time there was nothing inside the ark except the two tables of stone inscribed with the Ten Commandments. They had been there since Moses had put them in the ark at Mt. Sinai. (I Kings 8:3-9; II Chronicles 5:4-10.)
During the parade and the ceremonious furnishing of the temple and even long afterward, sacrifices were made at many places in Jerusalem by priests who weren't otherwise occupied. So many sheep and oxen were sacrificed and eaten in the next several days that the number was never known or recorded. The multitudes of people who had come to the city showed such an enthusiasm for making offerings that Solomon was quite pleased. What was much more important was how much God was pleased. He must have been in some measure, or the next awe-inspiring event wouldn't have taken place.
Priests were coming in and out of the holy area. At a brief interval when all were outside for a musical portion of the dedication, a strange, thick glowing cloud suddenly filled the temple.
Nearby were the many singers and musicians performing at the time, possibly rendering the 136th Psalm written by David. When they noticed what was taking place, it was difficult for them to continue. Some of the priests tried to get back inside the building, but quickly retreated when they found that the mysterious cloudiness was more than just an ordinary mass of vapor. Then other people who were close to the temple saw the strange cloud. The festive noise and music died down to be replaced by an awed silence. (I Kings 8:10-11; II Chronicles 5:11-14.)
Solomon was standing facing the altar, which contained wood and flesh laid on it for a burnt offering. He turned to the crowd and enthusiastically pointed to the cloud-like mass that wafted through the doors and windows of the temple.
"This is a sign that God is with us!" he exclaimed loudly to the people. "The Eternal -- Yahweh -- the God of Israel has accepted the house we have built for Him! This has become His dwelling place!"
While the crowd stood in respectful awe Solomon ascended a brass platform erected especially for the occasion. From there he reminded the people how merciful God had been to them ever since their ancestors had left Egypt, and how the temple had at last come into being.
Then the king dropped to his knees, held his hands toward the sky and voiced a prayer with such volume that it could be heard by thousands. He praised God for how great He is. He observed that the temple wasn't much of a residence, compared to the whole universe, for a Creator who was great enough to fill all the universe. Solomon asked that God would put His name on the temple nevertheless, as a place where He would come to be close to His people, and that God would listen to their prayers, forgive their sins when they repented, and rescue them from their enemies, famine, disease, drought and pestilence. (I Kings 8: 12-53; II Chronicles 6:1-42.)
The Eternal Answers
Right after Solomon had spoken the last words of the eloquent and moving address to God, a blinding bolt of fire hissed down from the sky, followed by a sharp, deafening crack of thunder. The fire struck squarely on the altar. There was a burst of thick smoke. When it cleared away only seconds later, the wood and animal flesh that had been there were entirely gone!
God's dramatic manner of showing that He was pleased with the temple, the sacrifices and Solomon's prayer caused the thousands of startled onlookers to bow with their faces to the ground in reverence. (II Chronicles 7:1-3.)
To encourage the crowd, Solomon waved to the musicians and singers to continue. They soon regained their composure and went on with their playing and singing with more zest than ever. Gradually the people got to their feet and joined them in song. The sound of their spirited voices could be heard for miles. Meanwhile, the vapor-like cloud continued slowly swirling through the temple, still delaying the priests in carrying out many of their intended duties. A great part of them joined the musicians with instruments of their own, adding to the volume of the music.
The people were so inspired by the unusual events at the dedication of the temple that they moved into the days of the Festival of Tabernacles with an exceptionally happy and worshipful attitude. There was much activity, including informative addresses from the king and from the high priest, musical concerts, periods of mass worship and prayer, dancing, visiting, dining and the sacrificing and eating of many animals. It was a happy time. The occasion is one commanded by God for the benefit of His people. It is to be observed by God's New Testament Church also, although there is now no need of sacrificing animal flesh because Christ is the sacrifice for those who repent, believe and obey God's laws.
Twenty-two thousand cattle and a hundred and twenty thousand sheep were sacrificed and eaten at the temple dedication alone. Because the main brass altar was too small to handle the offerings that were to be consumed, another temporary altar was erected nearby. (I Kings 8:54-64; II Chronicles 7:4-7.)
A Palace, Too
The cloud departed from the temple after the seven-day festival -- plus an eighth day that was a Holy Day -- was over. The Israelites returned to their homes in a joyful and thankful state of mind. It had been a prosperous year for them, and they had been brought closer to God because of their experiences at the temple and the inspiration and instruction they had received from God through Solomon and the priests. (I Kings 8:65-66; II Chronicles 7:8-11.) Years later Solomon wrote, among his many wise observations, one that fitted the occasion well: "When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice." (Proverbs 29:2.)
The cost of the temple was more than paid for by the offerings set aside by David for the project, and by other offerings made to God over the early years of Solomon's reign.
Solomon's next project was the building of a palace for himself. It was thirteen years in construction! It took longer to build than the temple because fewer men worked on it and the king wasn't as anxious to finish the palace as he had been to finish the building dedicated to God. The main section was a beautiful structure of costly stone and cedar more than two hundred feet long, over a hundred feet wide and as high as a modern six-story office building. In this part was Solomon's sumptuous throne room, furnished with costly objects and decorated with precious stones set in lavish areas of gold. Here was where thousands of problems were brought to him, and where he made so many of his wise judgments and decisions.
Another section was built for Solomon's wife, the Egyptian princess who had been brought up from her native land years before. (I Kings 7-89:24; II Chronicles 8:11.) Other areas contained dining rooms, game rooms and guest quarters. One ancient authority refers to Solomon's palace as being a somewhat mysterious place, inasmuch as the exact number of rooms remained a secret. Many of them were allegedly underground, some connected by obscure passages to vaults.
Whatever the facts, the outstanding one was that Solomon's palace was a most unusual residence. It was surrounded by vast porches built of huge blocks of stone. Beyond the porches were beautiful gardens embellished with unique sculpture. Porticos, pillars, walls, towers and gateways were supported, connected or bedecked by hundreds of cedar beams.
As with the temple, much of the material for the palace came from Tyre or nearby territory in exchange for produce from Israel. And again Solomon hired the expert artisans from Tyre.
"Obey Me and I Will Make You Great"
After Solomon finished building the temple and palace, God contacted him a second time. Again it was in the same manner in which He had appeared to Solomon after he had become king and when he had made special sacrifices at Gibeon. He was awakened from a deep sleep by a firm, commanding voice speaking his name. Perhaps he was only dreaming that he had awakened. However it happened, he realized later that it was God's voice or the voice of an angel bringing a message from the Creator.
"When you dedicated the temple to me," the voice uttered, "I answered your prayer by hallowing that place. I put my name there and occupied the temple with the desire to remain there on and on into the future.
"If you will obey me as well as did David your father, and if you will live according to my commandments, statutes and judgments, men from your family will be on the throne over all Israel forever. I made the same promise to your father. But if you or your children turn from my laws to follow pagan religions, I will cut off Israel from the land I provided. Your nation will become only a word spoken in mockery and derision. I shall leave that high temple. It will fall into ruins, and People passing will ask what I have done to it. They shall learn that it happened because Israel forsook their God, who had rescued them from Egypt. If they choose to follow other gods, those gods won't be able to rescue the people from the evil I shall bring on them." (I Kings 9:1-9; II Chronicles 7:12-22.)
After this reminder, Solomon renewed his determination to continue to obey God. His intentions and attitude at that time were right. He was thankful for his personal prosperity and that of his nation. But the king had certain strong desires that could cause trouble for the whole nation unless they were controlled.
When the complete cost of Solomon's palace and his other public buildings was finally summed up, it was evident that produce from Israel wasn't enough to fairly pay the king of Tyre for all he had provided for king Solomon's projects. Solomon decided that the difference could be generously made up for by giving the king of Tyre twenty towns in the north border region of the territories of the Israelite tribes of Asher and Naphtali.
These towns were inhabited by Canaanites, living in the nation Israel. King Hiram of Tyre was anxious to learn just what he had obtained. He set out on a tour of his reward, pleased that his small kingdom could be enlarged by so many towns.
Hiram was somewhat shocked when he found that the towns were inhabited by mostly rather poor farm workers. Because he preferred to deal in other kinds of commerce, he was disappointed that there was so little activity except in agriculture. The message Hiram soon sent to Solomon was not a happy one for the king of Israel.
"I have decided that it would not be to the best interests of either of us for me to accept the proffered towns. Undoubtedly they are of much greater value to Israel than to my nation. For you they could be necessary fortifications. For me they are a bit too far inland to be of sufficient benefit." (I Kings 9:10-14; II Chronicles 8:1-2.)
This refusal of the towns, a matter which Solomon considered somewhat of an indignity, meant that some other way would have to be found for paying Israel's debt to Tyre.
Possibly the king could have come up with some means besides that he finally chose. (I Kings 9:15.) It had a part in the eventual downfall of his nation. It has been a cause of other nations failing financially. Our nation is burdened heavily with it.
Solomon decided that he would pay Israel's debt on the palace and other public projects simply by demanding more taxes from the people.
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