Occasional Papers and Reviews
by John Keble
London: James Parker, 1877.
THE CHARACTER AND HISTORY OF SOLOMON,
WITH A VIEW ESPECIALLY TO THE QUESTION OF HIS FINAL PENITENCE.
IT may seem at first sight as if the instruction which may be gleaned from the history of Solomon, important as all must allow it to be, lay quite on the surface of Scripture, too obvious to require express statement or careful bringing out on the part of expositors: at least, where they have to do with educated and considerate people. That the deliberate choice of wisdom, practical wisdom, should be encouraged by a large share of other and minor blessings also, and the whole be turned to account, according to the way of the Most High, for such a work as the building of the Temple; that the abundance, however, of these blessings should prove too potent a snare even for one so highly favoured; that prosperity should breed sensuality, and sensuality practical irreligion, and so not only the greatest but the wisest also of men become a warning rather than an example to all generations of the Church:all this, it might be thought and said, is not so far out of the common course. This, he who runs may read; and more than this we need not and cannot ascertain; except indeed as matter of history, interesting to the lover of antiquity, but not so immediately within the province of the Christian divine.
But not to dwell on the possible danger of lightness and irreverence in resting contented with what appears to us the obvious meaning of an inspired moral lesson, and fancying we knew it all before; whereby many are led to turn from the most aweful revelations of Gods will as from mere truisms, of which they are half impatient to be reminded:not to dwell on this, those who read the Old Testament by the light reflected on it from the New, will consider that Solomon was not merely a wise and rich and great king, but also that he was the Son of David, the King of Israel, a link and most important one in that mysterious chain, whereby He who is the end .of the Old Testament was, as it were, visibly and sacramentally connected with its earliest beginning: one of that holy succession, which prepared on earth the way of Christ and His Church. Now it is evidently enough indicated in the Christian Scriptures, and clearly set forth in the early ecclesiastical writers, that all the members of that succession,all the great and holy men of the Patriarchal and Jewish times,more especially those whose names occur in the genealogy of our Lord,those who held either of the anointed offices of Priest, King, or Prophet, and those who had eminent parts to accomplish in the great providential scheme or mystery of godliness:it is evident, I say, from Scripture and Antiquity, that all such are to be considered in other aspects besides the literal and historical. Not unto themselves, but unto us they were ministering the things which were afterwards made known by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. Their free-will and personal responsibility being kept entire, their proceedings were nevertheless so divinely overruled, as that all should be, in their respective lines, shadows, examples, types, of the great Anointed One, in Whom it was the Fathers will one day to sum up all things: of Whose Person and office, therefore, all former things would one day prove to have been so many partial developments.
Again: if they were types of Christ, they were also types of His Church; by the law of that intimate communion which joins the Head to the members, the living to Him Who is their life. Thus all Israel was a type of the Lord Jesus; their coming out of Egypt in the infancy of their nation prefigured our Lord in His childhood going up from thence; and again, it was also a plain undoubted shadow of the deliverance of Christs people everywhere from the bondage of the world and the devil. Thus the Psalms,however in their first meaning they might seem to respect David only, and in their second and principal one the spiritual David, our Lord,have yet ever been understood and used as Gods good gift to His Church, for expressing in words wherewith He will be well pleased whatever she as the body of Christ would most desire to have said to her God, both for herself and for each of her members, in all her trials and combats, during this her exile. Davids words are in such sort the words of the Church as well as of Christ, that we may not doubt Him to have been an intended type of both. It will be assumed in the following enquiry that the same principle may be carried throughout the History of the Old Testament: that Solomon, therefore, among the other persons on whom Gods seal is there set, represented not only Christ, but the Church, in some one or more of her many aspects and relations.
But before proceeding to consider him in that light, it may be well to point out some special providences, traceable in the course of his early history, whereby the Holy Spirit would seem to draw the attention of believers to him more particularly. So that even one who doubted the universality of the rule just given, might still be inclined to allow it in this case.
First, Solomon is one of the few whose persons, and the part they were to perform in the oeconomy of Gods Kingdom, were marked out by prophecy before ever they were born; therein resembling Isaac and Jacob alone in the preceding part of the sacred genealogy, Josiah alone afterwards, Sampson and Cyrus being out of that mysterious line. By which it appears that in two cases only was unborn child especially the subject: either when some great and definite consolation was to be provided for Gods people in a condition else apparently hopeless; or when it pleased God to make an election among brethren whose claims might otherwise come into mutual competition. The latter, the case of an election, was the case of two Patriarchs, and of Solomon. And we are expressly told in Holy Scripture, that the preference of him among the sons of David was typical of the sanctification or anointing of the only, the well-beloved Son to be Head of Gods people. For the Epistle to the Hebrews informs us that the words, "I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son," which were first spoken to David concerning Solomon, do in fact refer, principally and literally, to our Lord.
Another providential circumstance, worthy of note as indicating the close analogy between the birth of this son of David and former types of our Lords coming, is their being in each instance the reward of the piety of those who went before them in the sacred line of Gods Kingdom, yet in each instance ushered in by dispensations trying and disappointing at first. Thus the birth of Isaac was the seal of Gods favour vouchsafed to his fathers exemplary faith; yet it was not without a pang that Abraham gave up his wish and prayer, that Ishmael might have lived before God. Isaacs patience and quietness of spirit was rewarded by Gods mercy to Jacob; but Isaac had longed to bless Esau, and it required a special interposition of the Almighty, causing him to tremble very exceedingly with an ecstacy of prophetic awe, feeling how near God was to him, before he could acquiesce in the transference of the blessing to his younger son. Jacob, apparently, had he been left to himself, would have had the sacred line continue through Joseph and not Judah: as he vested in him the other prerogatives of the birthright. Moses could not enter the promised land, thereby losing the one thing which he had most desired on earth. Samuels latter days were passed in mourning Sauls unworthy forfeiture of Gods grace and anointing. Lastly, David himself received the promise of Solomon under the implied condition of giving up once for all that on which he had set his heart ever since he had received the kingdom; the honour, namely, of building a Temple, a place of settled abode for the Ark of God. As if these emblems and forerunners of the Crucified were all more or less bound to typify, even in Gods most bountiful dealings with them, the Doctrine of the Cross, the mysterious condition of being made perfect through sufferings.
A third not unusual mark of the sacred line was to have their birth accompanied by some extraordinary, sometimes miraculous, Providence. Neither is this wanting in the instance of Solomon. For surely it was extraordinary that the chosen seed should be a child of Bathsheba, rather than any other of the numerous progeny of David, whose birth was unaccompanied by the like painful and shameful recollections. "David the king," says the inspired genealogist, "begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias." Not without some deep providential meaning, we may well believe, was this special notice taken of the adulterous wife of an alien in that sacred list It has often been remarked that four women only are there mentioned: Thamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba; all of them by birth or character, or both, remote at first from Gods people and household. Each case, probably, with certain shades of difference, was meant to represent to the eye of faith the same mystery which the Prophet Hosea was commanded to enact in his own person, when the Lord said unto him, "Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms, and children of whoredoms; for the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the Lord."
Such, at least, is the general sentiment of antiquity. Neither need we shrink from it, as though it represented God in any way as approving of sin. It was but a part of the same aweful Providence which turned the sin of Judas and the Jews to the reconciling of the world. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with Christians, that even gross and deadly sin might be so overruled by the invisible arm as to become in certain instances typical of Gods miraculous condescension? of the calling of the abandoned Gentile Church to be the bride of the Messiah, or of the union of lost human nature to the Most Holy?
Very significant, to the same purpose, is the name which was given to the child of Bathsheba immediately on its birth. He was called Jedidiah, because of the Lord, i.e. as we were told just before, "because the Lord loved him; for Jedidiah signifies agaphtoV, "the dearly beloved," beloved in such sense as an only child would be so called. Can we err in believing that the Holy Spirit intended the readers of the New Testament to discern One greater than Solomon here?
I observe, further, that this name was sent by the hand of the prophet Nathan: and this suggests another point of harmony with the course of Gods mystical oeconomies before and since. God appoints a Prophet, Nathan, not only to announce His intention concerning Solomon, but also to watch over its fulfilment, and take those steps which, humanly speaking, were necessary. Prophecy, from the time of its revival in Samuel, waited on Gods Kingdom as a handmaid, not as a messenger and herald merely. Samuel himself, as he first announced Sauls downfall, and the exaltation of David, so he was commissioned to take the first steps towards both: reproving and abandoning Saul: anointing David, and providing him with a refuge in one of Sauls persecutions; and after death even, if Scripture may be literally understood, ministering to the same momentous change by his communication with Saul at Endor. In like manner Nathan, by whom at first God gave out His promise concerning Solomon, was the chosen instrument to reprove David, and bring him back to that share in Gods covenant which his sins had else forfeited: as also, when he had repented, to sanction Bathshebas continuing with him as his wife, and to convey to him his childs new name, a token of forgiveness and especial favour. Further; when Solomons succession was in danger by the practices of Adonijah, it was Nathan who came forward to lay the thing before David, and encouraged Bathsheba to do the same. So that in his person, throughout the whole transaction, the general office of sacred prophecy in the scheme of Christs Kingdom was illustrated. And this is rendered more striking by the fact that Nathan was probably the instrument of the Holy Ghost to record these events for the Church. The Book of Nathan the Prophet, which is quoted in the Chronicles for certain particulars concerning David;may we not feel morally sure that it was virtually identical with certain chapters of the Second Book of Samuel and First of Kings?
Yet again: as in other dispensations, so in this, matters were ordered in a way quite contrary to what human foresight would have anticipated. First of all, when David was planning the Temple, Nathan, speaking merely as a man who had come to know something of the Lords doings, gave him all encouragement to go on with the work. For what indeed would seem so natural and proper, as for one who had approved himself so loyal, so full of affection to the ark of God, to provide It a settled place of abode, now that he had rest from his enemies round about? Next, David had many sons at the time, and doubtless his thoughts would turn towards one or other of them, as most likely to be intended in the prophecy. And it may be the fatal events in his family had their use, in reconciling his mind to the preference of the younger son; as also in taking away those, such as Absalom and Adonijah, who would naturally have proved the most formidable rivals to Solomon. Certainly it would appear, from many hints in the later portion of Davids history, that the popular feeling, and latterly also that of the chief nobles, would have rather singled out one of the elder sons. And it is not impossible that the old jealousy between Judah and the other tribes, which had caused the rebellion under Sheba, may have been more or less exasperated in secret by the last public transaction of Davids life, so intimately connected with the intended succession of Solomon, I mean the choice of Mount Moriah for the site of the Temple. The providential infatuation of Adonijah, declaring himself before his fathers death, put an end to these murmurings, occasioning as it did the immediate coronation of Solomon, under the sanction of one whom all knew to be a prophet.
On the whole, there are glimpses of extraordinary divine interference in this portion of history, sufficient to fix a religious mans regard on him in whom the whole terminates, as on one from whom great things might be expected, and in whom still greater were prefigured.
With regard to the cruelty which some might lay to his charge in the executions with which his reign commenced; first, he was in all of them strictly obeying his fathers commands; a strong presumption, though it stood alone, against the suspicion of extreme harshness. For David had been throughout, to his own enemies, the most merciful and gentle of conquerors. When he was severe, it was against the enemies of the Lord. Next, it is not doubtfully indicated, that the conspiracy of Adonijah, though repressed for the time, was still subsisting, and in such vigour as could only be quelled by the sentence of the law taking effect upon its leaders. For Adonijahs demand of Abishag, as the commentators have remarked, according to the notions of that age, was equivalent to a claim on the kingdom; as was seen a few years before, in the case of Absalom and his fathers concubines. His sending, therefore, such a message to Solomon, was no better than a treasonable defiance:
"Solomon knew," says Theodoret, "that his brother was aiming at usurpation;... and although he excused his former daring attempt, and promised him security if he would make up his mind to be quiet, yet when he proceeded to demand the concubine of his father, he not only refused the request, which would have been a step to usurpation, but also, providing for the stability of the monarchy, commanded him to be put to death."
Of Joab and Shimei, the same writer gives the following brief but sufficient account:
"Why did he slay Joab, having fled for refuge to God?-The law of God expressly ordered it: it enjoined that the person seeking sanctuary, if a homicide, should be executed. As for Shimei, he drew the fatal sentence on himself. For having pledged himself to abide in Jerusalem, and confirmed his promise by an oath, he broke that oath, and dared to absent himself contrary to his engagement."
Abiathars being only ejected from the priesthood, after his sharing in the treason, was an instance of great clemency, and at the same time an act of religious obedience to the declared will of God concerning the family of Eli. (It may be remarked, by the. way, that Abiathars taking part in the conspiracy, connected as he was with the old establishment of the ark in Shiloh, countenances the idea that a jealousy was felt of the tribe of Judah and the hill of Sion, as well as of Solomon individually.) Neither is it unworthy of consideration, whether in these executions the newly anointed was not exhibiting a providential type of that which our Lord so awefully describes in the parable of the Ten Pounds. "Those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me."
The successive chapters of Solomons history, apart from all mystical or religious bearing, mark him out surely as one of the greatest men not of the Jewish only, but of all ancient memory. First comes that remarkable vision, the turning-point of his whole character and history. God said, "Ask what I shall give thee," and he chose wisdom, practical wisdom, above all other gifts. It seems as though the bountiful offer came by way of answer to his solemn prayer and sacrifice, offered at Gibeon before the tabernacle as the first act of his reign. For there is every appearance of an inversion in the order of the history, so as that the whole business of Adonijah, his conspiracy and punishment, should be related uninterruptedly. And thus, by the way, the execution of the conspirators will be further justified, as an act of that supernatural wisdom with which he was endowed at Gibeon.
As to his worshipping in the high place, the tone of the narrative shews that, though irregular, it was what God approved of under the circumstances. As yet the place had not been fixed where only God would be worshipped; the Ark had by a special providence come to be separated from the tabernacle, and had found a resting-place in Jerusalem, but the tabernacle itself, and altar, and other sacred furniture, were lodged for the present in Gibeon, in the portion, as it seems, and custody, of the sons of Ithamar, to whom the priesthood for a time had devolved. How the tabernacle came there, and how it was removed from Shiloh, where it had continued from Joshua to Eli, and whether it did not remain for a season at Nob, the city of the priests, which paid so dear a penalty for Ahimelechs hospitality to David (which the mention of the shewbread would appear to indicate) are matters of no more than probable conjecture. If fully recorded, they might perhaps throw light on the gradual separation, which so many things at this time pointed at, of the whole Jewish nation into the parties of Judah and of Ephraim. However, Solomons worshipping first at Gibeon, and afterwards repeating his solemn sacrifice before the ark in the city of David, may be reasonably considered not merely as an act of good policy, for abating the jealousies which the effort of Adonijah (among other recent events) might have stirred up; but much more as an humble acknowledgment, on his own part and the peoples, of the fallen and disjointed state into which their sins had brought them, and an expression of a pious wish, that he might be Gods instrument for establishing a more perfect order. The vision of extraordinary favour may be well regarded as Gods answer to those offerings and prayers, and may by implication encourage us Christians also, and shew us how to proceed in perplexing times; for instance, to explore and honour, as we best may, the remains, more or less scattered or united, of the old ecclesiastical truth and order, and to do what little we can towards bringing them together again; not to withdraw from a Church that is a Church indeed on account of mere disorders, but to pursue that line which may best tend to bring out the neglected parts of the system, and keep within bounds those which are exaggerated; not, in short, to destroy, but to fulfil; (if the phrase may be borrowed without presumption).
Of the choice itself of Solomon, we may affirm that it were but an inadequate representation of it to say, that he chose wisdom, and was rewarded over and above with riches and honour. It was not wisdom in every sense of the word, but it was that practical and civil wisdom which was requisite for the discharge of his immediate personal duties. It was "an understanding heart, to judge Gods people, that he might discern between good and bad." Again, his recompense was not merely external riches and wealth and honour beyond all other kings, but it is clearly indicated that his natural knowledge also, and what in modern times would be called his great eminence in philosophy and literature, formed part of Gods bounty vouchsafed in approbation of his choice. " God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding, exceeding much; and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea-shore." The latter expression, "largeness of heart," corresponds remarkably in its very sound to the phrases commonly employed in our own days; enlarged views, reach of mind, comprehensive intellect, and the like. And is there not something very instructive to a generation like ours, so greedy of that kind of praise, in our finding it assigned as a prize to the straightforward conscientiousness, which had caused him, postponing for the present all other desires, to seek that knowledge only which lay in the line of his daily practical duty? Does it not shew that in the choice among mental gifts themselves, as well as in the comparison of external things with spiritual, he will ever prove wisest who shall depend most unreservedly on the rule and promise of our Saviour, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness," and all these thingsnot only meat, drink, and clothing, but learning also, and skill in arts, and every kind of mental accomplishment, shall be given you, as far as is needful for you, over and above.
Hooker, indeed, appears to think that Solomons excellency of knowledge was limited to natural, moral, and civil wisdom, much as Aristotles was afterwards, and in distinction from the Egyptian and Chaldean wisdom mathematical, wherewith Moses and Daniel were furnished.
"But does not the sacred Text attribute to Solomon the science both of Chaldea and of Egypt, as expressly as to either of the two great prophets. " Solomons wisdom," we read, " excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt." There is also a passage in the opening of the book of Ecclesiastes, which, if I mistake not, implies the authors proficiency in those sciences, which seem more than any to give the key to the secrets of nature. " I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven; this sore travail hath God given to the sons of men to be exercised therewith. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit. That which is crooked cannot be made straight, and that which is wanting cannot be numbered &." Is not this last verse, with all its simplicity of language, exquisitely fitted to the expression as well of physical as of moral difficulties? "That which is crooked cannot be made straight," is a literal account of one of the chief perplexities which occur in the science of space; "that which is wanting cannot be numbered," is a no less precise statement of the analogous problem in arithmetic, with which later ages have tried to grapple by so many refinements of analysis. This interpretation I wish to offer without prejudice to the moral meaning of the verse, and at most as a conjecture to be judged of by those who know more both of science and of Hebrew. Meanwhile the application to the abstract sciences of the passage which sets Solomon above the Egyptians, and Orientals seems unquestionable;- considering what is elsewhere said of the wisdom both of Chaldea and of Egypt.
The next verse also, if I read it not wrong, represents him in a new character; as the most skilful poet and musician of his time. " He was wiser than all men; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Maholh." There is a difficulty, certainly, in identifying the persons here mentioned. Two of the names, Heman and Ethan, occur in two several parts of the Hebrew genealogies; i.e. both in the tribe of Judah and family of Zerah and also in the tribe of Levi and families of Kohath* and Merari; and the latter, the Levites, being contemporary with David and Solomon, the mind is naturally turned towards them as the persons most likely to be intended in this comparison. But the other two names, Chalcol and Darda, are not found in that generation, but are found following those of the first Heman and Ethan, as grandsons of the Patriarch Judah. These might be properly called Ezrahites, i.e. by a slight and common transposition, Zerahites: whereas the name of Ezra or Zerah does not occur in the Levitical genealogy. Here indeed in the Book of Kings, they are called sons not of Zerah, but of Mahol. But it is conjectured by a commentator of note, and appears quite consistent with Hebrew phraseology, that Mahol is not here an appellation, but an abstract noun, meaning choral or festive music; in which sense it occurs repeatedly in the Psalms and Jeremiah. In this construction, "the sons of Mahol," or "of music," would be an idiom similar to "sons of Thunder," or "sons of Belial;" and the whole verse would then run as follows: "He was wiser or more skilful than Ethan, the son of Zerah, and his brethren, Heman, Chalcol, and Darda, renowned as minstrels." This would agree well enough with the fact, that certain strains, or poems, or both, were known to the Collector of the Psalms by the title of Maschil of Heman, or Ethan the Ezrahite. Other singers of the tribe of Levi might afterwards bear the same names, either accidentally, or by way of distinction, as though they were thought to come near those ancient founders of Israelitish musical art; who must have flourished, by the way, in the time of the Egyptian exile. But Solomon seems here to be compared with those ancients themselves, and to be set above them in their own line. And, accordingly, the next thing related of him, is the abundance of his poetical composition. "He spake three thousand proverbs, and his songs were a thousand and five." Of his excellency in both these kinds of poetry, humanly speaking, we may judge by what remainsthe books of Proverbs and of Canticles: so thoroughly different one from the other, yet each so exquisite in its own sort and vein. Thus it appears that to Solomons fame for civil and moral wisdom, we must add whatever is due to proficiency both in abstract science and in poetical art.
As to his attainments in natural history, the inspired record is quite express. "He spake of trees, from the cedar-tree that is in Lebanon, even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes." If the time permitted, this might be largely illustrated from his writings now extant; which indicate a mind peculiarly conversant with the forms and habits of every plant and animal. Theodoret indeed affirms, that much of the best information to be found in ancient writers on natural history, was derived from the recorded observations of Solomon.
Standing thus, in the Book of Inspiration, as the appropriate example of those great and rare minds, whom the world, especially in these later ages, has agreed most throughly to spoil with admirationin which point of view, Lord Bacon particularly among moderns, delighted to regard him, and has accordingly filled his writings with quotations and allusions to those of Solomon, more than to any other parts of Holy Scriptureconsidering Solomon, I say, in this light, it is very instructive to remark, first, how religiously he makes his physical and scientific wisdom defer to that which is moral and practical, (e.g. the unvaried tone of the Book of Proverbs). Secondly, how among practical principles themselves, he gives the first and highest place, not studiously, but by a kind of divine instinct, to certain simple though noble axioms, which a mere human philosophy might have scorned as truisms. Filial piety is the one string, out of which, according to his philosophy, all moral harmonies may be brought It n i Kings iv. 32. ¡ Ibid. 33.
is the chosen type and preliminary exercise of devotion towards God. This is a favourite theme in the Book of Proverbs; but it is nowhere more deeply and more pathetically enforced, than in the following verses, where Solomon is referring to the experience of his own childhood: "Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding. For I give you good doctrine, forsake ye not my law. For I was my fathers son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother. He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words; keep my commandments, and live." Again, how touching is the appeal to the recollections of a safe and innocent home, conveyed in this description of a strange woman, That "she forsaketh the guide of her youth, and forgetteth the covenant of her God." In short, throughout that divine Book, as we are taught that purity of heart is the regular way to the favour and treasures of wisdom, so obedience to parents is inculcated as the only way to purity of heart.
Observe, now, how well the history agrees with the Proverbs in this respect. The very first transaction in which it pleased God that Solomon should exercise that supernatural understanding with which he had been just endowed, was the famous case of the two harlots, decided, as we all know, by an appeal to the force of parental love. To the same purpose is the fondness with which he recurs, from time to time, to the memory of his father David: sparing Abiathar, because he had borne the ark of God before him; and in his solemn inauguration of the Temple, adopting that hymn which David had framed long before, for the precious ceremony of bringing the ark to Jerusalem. "Arise, O Lord God, into Thy resting-place, Thou, and the ark of Thy strength: let Thy Priests, O Lord God, be clothed with salvation, and let Thy Saints rejoice in goodness. O Lord God, turn not away the face of Thine Anointed: remember the mercies of David Thy servant." An ancient writer has remarked the correspondence between the example of the father, refusing to honour God with that which cost him nothing, and the sons precept, "Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the first-fruits, the very best of thine increases." And perhaps we pj.ay discover not a little of the characteristic reverence of David, when we read of Solomon, that he "brought up the daughter of Pharaoh out of the city of David, unto the house that he had built for her: for he said, My wife shall not dwell in the house of David King of Israel, because the places are holy, whereunto the ark of the Lord hath come *." Here is something of the same humble piety, which David shewed when he refused to let the ark of God accompany him in his exile, keenly as he felt his separation from it, " like as the hart desireth the water-brooks."
Two other observations remain, serving at once to complete the view which Scripture gives of Solomons largeness of heart, and also to shew how divinely his character was adapted to his appointed work. First, as to the external prosperity, the wealth and honour with which God crowned him. He is represented not merely as the richest of monarchs, but also as the one who best understood the science of wealth, public and private. The reflection of the sacred historian, after describing the trade with Tharshish, is: " So King Solomon exceeded all the kings of the earth for riches and for wisdom u." A remark the more striking, if there be ground for the suggestion of Dean Prideaux, a very competent judge as I suppose; that David and Solomon, by occasion of the conquest of Edom, and consequent possession of the two ports of Elath and Eziongaber on the Red Sea, were the first to open that regular trade with the East Indies, which has ever since been accounted the channel of wealth both to Europe and Western Asia. It is as if the Spirit of God said in effect to the spirit of this world, Even for this Tharshish and Ophir of yours, this India and China, on which you so much depend, you are indebted to the princes of Gods people, and to the wisdom wherewith He inspired them for the uses of His Church. From a subsequent passage, it appears that Solomon acquired also the command of the trade between Egypt and Palestine, for the linen yarn, the spun byssus or fine flax, which was the staple commodity of Egypt. For agriculture, the other source of public wealth, his especial attention to it is implied in the establishment, minutely related, of twelve officers as purveyors to superintend as many districts of Palestine, in his annual present to Hiram of wheat and oil; in his finding it necessary to have "store cities," or places of deposit, for the produce of his lands; and not least, by the many precepts of rural ceconomy, and by the touches of vivid rural imagery which abound in his writings. But this is nothing peculiar, as the Jews were an agricultural nation, and David in particular had extensive establishments of that sort. On the whole, it is not a little curious to find so many of those arts and inventions on which our age most prides itself, meeting us one after another in the history of Solomon, and appearing there as fruits of his supernatural wisdom; lest man should think he has any good thing of his own, or any which cannot and ought not to be devoted to God and His Church.
This leads us to mention the other quality, which obviously runs through the Scripture record of the power and wealth and splendour of this great King: the true magnificence, the sense of the beautiful and becoming, with which he constantly wielded and applied his resources. This was his wisdom, his largeness of heart, in its application to works of art, and to the arrangements of his court and palace. It was exemplified in that variety of works which he enumerates in the Book of Ecclesiastes: houses, vineyards, gardens and orchards, plantations of trees, pools of water, establishments of servants, great and small cattle, silver and gold, singers and musical instruments: to which he adds, "my wisdom remained with me: and whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy." Who does not feel how exactly this represents the way of life of thousands of wealthy and refined persons; persons who know they can afford much, and see no reason they should not have whatever they can afford.
The history accordingly gives in minute detail the plan of his palace, his portico or hall of judgment, his throne of gold and ivory, the rare jewels, timbers for carving, trinkets and animals, which his trading vessels brought from the East. In another department of magnificence, it dwells on the great works of utility and defence, wherewith he was continually enriching his country; such as Millo, the outer rampart of Jerusalem, the fortresses and cities of store which he built. All which is further set off by the relation of the order and splendour of his household, the meat of his table, the sitting of his servants, and all that so astonished the Queen of Sheba, that there was no breath left in her.
Of all these varieties of sumptuousness, there are traces most evident in the Song of Solomon. The imagery differs from that of the Psalms in nothing so entirely as in this, that it is borrowed in good measure from Kings courts and royal gardens, from the palace, the bed, the chariot, the vineyard of Solomon, the fortresses he was building, the spices which adorned his banquet, the rare exotics of his herbary: while Davids figures are freer and bolder, and borrowed from things that are more within cognizance of all men. This contrast, considered in detail, might serve perhaps to set in a stronger light, the crowning quality of Solomons wisdom,his refinement, his intuitive sense of fitness and beauty, in works of art and utility, and in domestic arrangements.
Now this is a quality, the possession or absence of which may seem comparatively of small consequence in the serious estimate of a persons character; but for the great work with a view to which Solomon was raised upfor the building of the Templeit is obvious how much depends on it. Indeed, it may be interesting and profitable to observe, how all these varieties of wisdom in the favoured prince, did as it were converge that one way: his justice and political sagacity serving to keep both his own country and the surrounding nations tranquil, his knowledge of oeconomies accumulating wealth, and his skill in science and the useful arts, and that sense of order and harmony which belonged to him as a Poet, enabling him to apply that wealth to the best advantage.
With all these resources it is very observable, that he took no pains to be original in his plans of the Temple. In all things, says the writer in Chronicles, he "was instructed for the building of the house of God." The plans were not his own, any more than the treasure was. David, who had collected the one, had also most carefully drawn the other: " David gave to Solomon his son, the pattern of the porch and of the houses thereof, and of the treasuries thereof, and of the upper chambers thereof, and of the inner parlours thereof, and the place of the mercy-seat, and the pattern of all that he had by the Spirit, of the courts of the house of the Lord, and of all the chambers round about, of the treasuries of the house of God, and of the treasuries of the dedicated things: also for the courses of the priests and the Levites, and for all the work of the service of the house of the Lord, and for all the vessels of service in the house of the Lord." He went so far into detail, as to weigh out separately the gold and the silver for each vessel.
Not that it was Davids own plan; for he himself assured his son: "All this the Lord made me understand in writing by His hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern." So that, as in the first tabernacle Moses made all things not of his own mind, but as he had seen them in the mount, so in the Temple also there was nothing, properly speaking, of mans work. Solomon and David were but the agents of Gods Spirit, the one in designing, the other in executing that series of mystical wonders; yet so as to leave to each his precise and distinctive character, as entirely as he leaves to each Prophet his own style of writing, to each one whom he sanctifies his own air and tone of goodness. However, it is of great consequence to observe, that the Temple was from beginning to end supernatural. And from the close analogy between it and the Tabernacle, we cannot doubt that to both the same mystery belongs; and that the parts of the Temple, and processes of its worship, are to be explained by the same key which St. Paul has taught us to apply to its predecessor in the wilderness.
What change, then, did Solomon make in the condition of the Hebrew people? How was his reign such an aera in their history, as it is commonly represented? How could the mere difference of a moveable or fixed place of worship be of such material consequence? One might answer in the words of George Herbert, "King Solomon finished and fixed the old religion." He finished, by fixing it: by determining once for all the metropolis of the religion, the place where the Lord would set His name, and whither all the people should resort for the solemn annual ceremonials, as well as to the oracle provided for great occasions: the only place, in a word, where sacrifice could be offered. It is evident that this could not be done in any way more effectual than by building a fixed Temple instead of the migratory Tabernacle, of which, when God had once approved, and taken possession of it by His cloud of glory, the religion was so far fixed, even in point of place, until some new revelation should intimate Gods will to depart. Although, therefore, the books of Moses contain no express command to build a temple like that of Jerusalem, yet the thoughts of pious and considerate Israelites would naturally turn that way. When they read the earnest exhortations to remember the place which the Lord should choose in one of their tribes, and reserve for that place all their more solemn services; and when they reflected on the many profanations which the ark of God had to sustain as long as it dwelt between curtains, and its place of abode was left to mans discretion; they would long for the time to come when God should accomplish His prophecy by Moses, by actually marking out the spot of ground, towards which every Israelite should worship, and in which only he might thenceforth offer sacrifice. That spot being once made known, they would feel, with David, that it would not be enough to pitch the Tabernacle there; but rather, if it might be, to build a Temple, a more glorious and abiding, and therefore a worthier symbol of the Lords mysterious Presence. The project of the Temple in short was a developement, by the piety of David and such as David, of what they read in the original letter of Gods word. And its adoption, so to speak, by the Almighty, seems to offer a remarkable instance of encouragement given to that diligent Faith, which limits not itself to the bare letter, but humbly endeavours to carry out the commandments of the Lord in their spirit and full meaning.
So much for the immediate national end for which Solomon was raised up, and the critical adaptation of his character and history to it. Before proceeding to the deeper and more awful view which the New Testament instructs us to take of him, it may be well to mention one other immediate purpose of Divine Providence in raising him up: a purpose not confined as the former within the limits of Judea. He was evidently Gods instrument for diffusing among the Gentiles such nations as He willed should be brought within their reach of Himself, His chosen people, His Law and His Prophets. By Solomons great power and wealth, by his widely-spread commercial dealings, and by the fame of his wisdom, distant nations were brought into contact with Judea, and the attention of those on the borders was attracted to the Jewish polity, in a degree surpassing what had ever before been known. Pharaoh, Hiram, the Queen of Sheba, may be named as undoubted instances of this. And the praise which our Saviour has bestowed on the Queen of Sheba implies, that others who heard of Solomons fame were as much put on their probation thereby as she was, and are responsible if they declined Gods intended favours. What a vision does this suggest of the possible benefits which the Gentiles also might have received from the Jewish oeconomy, had the monarchs of Tyre and Egypt and the other nations followed that queens example! Who can say how much it may have had to do with the proselytism of the eunuch in the Acts of the Apostles, and that again with the subsequent conversion of Abyssinia to Christianity, in which it continues to this day! However, the statement is self-evident, that in such measure as the Jewish nation was providentially meant to be a witness to the Gentiles, Solomon was the prime instrument in accomplishing Gods will. And I know not whether it be worth observing in connection with this subject, that of all the writings of the Old Testament,excepting, perhaps, the Book of Job, which is commonly supposed to have been written before the Law,Solomons have least in them of what belongs to the Mosaic dispensation, and might seem best adapted to the use of thoughtful Gentiles, believers in true natural religion; a circumstance the more remarkable, as Solomon himself was so deeply versed in the Mosaic ritual, and so anxiously bent on following out the system.
In this his relation to the Gentiles, as in some other material respects, the character and office of Solomon is a confessed type of that Son of David who is the light of the Gentiles, as well as the glory of Israel. He is our Peace, Who made both one; and Solomons name and peaceful reign manifestly point to that attribute. And whereas the building of the Temple was withheld from David, because he was a man of blood, and reserved for Solomon, of whom we read not that he was ever engaged in any war; the ancient interpreters understood by this, that as the Hebrew worthies all prefigured the same Christ, but variously, and in several aspects and relations, so Solomons province was to represent Him in His character of a triumphant King, seated on His throne, and bountifully establishing and building up His Church; His humiliation and struggles, represented by Davids wars, are past and gone; and now He is endowed with all the treasures and glories, intellectual as well as external, of this present world, to be turned in their several ways to His honour and the increase of His Kingdom, the Church; even as Solomons unequalled accomplishments were all made subservient to his calling as Founder of the Temple. The presents from Tharshish and the Isles, from Arabia and Saba, were manifest emblems of the kings of the earth bringing their glory and honour into the Church; as such they are alluded to by the Prophet Isaiah, and further exemplified by the offerings of the Magi to our Lord. Solomons prayer at the Dedication of the Temple bears an obvious and a most instructive analogy to that which may be called, perhaps without irreverence, the Dedication or Inauguration Prayer of our great High Priest and King; that most solemn of all Intercessions, commending His Church to His Father, after He had finished His work on earth. As Solomon pronounced his Temple Gods settled habitation, the place where He should abide for ever; so Christ declared that the work was now to be finished; no other Gospel, no other dispensation to be looked for, the vision and covenant to be sealed up, the Faith once for all delivered to the saints. As Solomon asked that those might be heard who should pray to God, not any how, but in or towards the Temple; so our Lords intercession was not for the world, but for the Church: that Body in Communion with which all acceptable prayer must henceforth be offered. Solomons Litany then uttered was a model to the Hebrew Church. That portion of it especially which was appointed for a time of national humiliation, "we have sinned, we have done iniquity, we have dealt wickedly," occurs, we find, as the received form, taken up by the penitents of after times; probably by Jehoshaphat and Nehemiah, certainly by Daniel and one of the later Psalmists. So our Lord not only endowed His Church with the spirit of Prayer, but also taught her in what form to pray: actually in the case of the Lords Prayer, and virtually in the case of those Primitive Liturgies, which, as learned men have lately shewn, are in effect one and the same Liturgy, sanctioned, as we have great reason to believe, by His Apostles acting in His Name. Finally, as in answer to Solomons supplication, the cloud of glory filled the Temple; so the Holy Ghost came down from heaven and dwells in the Church, realizing the prayer of our Lord.
I pass over other analogies, which will readily suggest themselves to a mind familiar wllffi Scripture; especially that most sacred one which was embodied in Solomons marriage with a Gentile princess; to explain which at large would be to write a comment on the Book of Canticles. The object of this paper is rather to direct attention to the other typical view of Solomons character, as not being, in general, so much considered: to regard him, i.e. as an emblem of The Church in one or more of her conditions and aspects; assuming, what was before intimated, the Union between the Head CHRIST JESUS and His mystical Body to be such, and such also the fulness of the spiritual meaning of the Bible, that the types of our Lord suffering or reigning are always types also of His Church, persecuted or triumphant. If so, we must be careful to consider them in both lights: else we may lose much instruction bearing directly on our own practice.
Solomon, then, in his choice at Gibeon, is, if I mistake not, a very significant emblem of the Church as our Lord left her, giving up all things for the sake of the true wisdom. And the riches, and honour, and intellectual greatness with which God endowed him over and above, do they not aptly shadow out the same Church gradually prevailing against, and turning to her own divine uses, the Greek philosophy, the power and polity of Rome, the splendour of the East, and the poetry of every nation? As Solomon turned all to account in completing his task, so the Church in her own way might and ought to use heathen art and science, and whatever else of this world God has put into her hands, to the perfecting the heavenly building, i.e. herself. She did so for a time. And so doing, she might as surely expect to draw the attention of the world, and make converts, as Solomon to have the Queen of Sheba and other princes of the earth to come and hear his wisdom. That Queen, admiring the splendour of Solomons court, and wondering that anything so noble and beautiful, nay, so sacred in its whole appearance, should be made out of mere gold and jewels, of tapestry, and the movements of waiting men and women,what was she but an image of the unlearned and unbelievers, coming into Christian assemblies, and witnessing the divine order, the godly discipline, the prophetical glories of the Church) radiant with the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit; and so falling down on their face to worship God, and acknowledge His peculiar Presence? Again, as in the whole construction of the Temple, Solomon was mindful of his father, and of the pattern, divinely drawn, which he had received from his hands; so the Church Catholic, in her uncorrupt days, availed herself of the splendours of human learning, the wealth and honour offered by devout kings, only in developement and extension of her first divine rules, not at all so as to change, contradict, or suppress them.
Well would it be if the parallel ended here: but there is another scene of Solomons history, to which also the records of the Church afford, it must be feared, too near an analogy: his sad apostacy in his old age. He fell, in spite of two warnings in solemn vision from the Almighty,a fact which the sacred historian especially notices; to say nothing of the silent and hardly less awful warning, the remembrance of what had happened to his father David. He fell in his old age: not, as it should seem, in an unaccountable burst of passion like Davids: his disobedience appears rather the natural fruit of an inordinate desire to be, as the great Poet words it, "in both worlds full:" to take the best in every kind for himself, instead of rejoicing, as his father in his bitter hour did, in all opportunities of giving up something to the will of his bountiful God. He sought to excel at once in every line, to taste one after another the choicest of every pleasure; according to the dreary and wearisome course which he represents himself as pursuing in the opening of the Book of Ecclesiastes. His crowded seraglio was but one instance more of the sort of ambition which made him seek to surpass all men in his gardening, his agriculture, his treasures of gold and jewelry, his establishment of musicians and slaves, of horses and chariots, of rarities of nature and art from all quarters. In his wish thus to unite in his own person the most opposite kinds of enjoyment, he transgressed Gods express law, first by going down to Egypt for horses and chariots, next in multiplying to himself without measure wealth both of that and of other kinds, afterwards in carrying to excess the licence which God had not yet withdrawn from polygamy; lastly, and chiefly, in marrying without scruple women of the surrounding idolatrous nations. It is, indeed, both curious and melancholy to compare his history with the following passage in Deuteronomy, written, no doubt, with a prophetic eye to his case: "He shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: . . . . neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold." Here was another plain warning, in contempt of which he seems to have acted: no wonder, then, if he first indulged and then practised his wives gross and extreme idolatry. He not only connived at, but practised it himself; and not only practised, but took steps to continue it; profaning the very neighbourhood of the Temple with high places, and groves, and altars, which lasted until the reign of Josiah.
So far Scripture is express: we cannot doubt of the greatness of Solomons fall; but an interesting, nay, a fearful question remains, Whether he ever came to Repentance? I call it a question, because I do not know that there is any express affirmation of Holy Scripture, or any clear undeviating tradition of antiquity, to tell us whether that great and wise king went down to the grave an idolater and apostate, or no. It maybe worth while to sum up concisely the grounds of probability on both sides; and then, should the result be that we remain in doubt, to point out the practical import of that very doubtfulness.
The first and most obvious presumption against Solomon is the silence of the Book of Kings, which, it may be thought, would hardly have omitted so memorable an example of repentance as his would have been. It were unsafe, however, to build positively on this, since the same Book altogether omits the repentance of Manasseh, of which there is no doubt:a less important personage certainly than Solomon, yet a very signal instance of Gods mercy, and at the same time a great and grave example of that which the story of David so emphatically teaches:that the truest repentance will save indeed the penitents soul, but cannot do away the whole result of the sin. Whatever account may be given of his change of heart in the Book of Kings, the same, if we knew it, might serve to explain the omission of Solomons also.
It would seem at first a more decisive circumstance, that the high places of the idols which he built to gratify his wives remained even till the days of Josiah; although to remove these, one might imagine, would be the first act of his penitence. But neither can this be relied on; since Manasseh, whose repentance is unquestionable, left within the very courts of the Temple certain altars which he had made to the host of heaven, for his grandson Josiah to demolish: a grosser case than Solomons, so far as that his were at least without the holy place, and most likely by the Mount of Olives, at least a mile and a half from the city. The most, therefore, that could be inferred from this fact alone would be the melancholy certainty that the utmost industry of penitence, when it comes late and after gross transgression, will seldom be adequate to the rooting out all the visible consequences of the sin.
But the case assumes a more unfavourable light, when we turn to the Books of Chronicles. The writer of them, for whatever cause, has given a far more cheerful view of the portion of sacred history allotted to him, than we find in the Books of Kings, going over the same ground. He has passed over, evidently on principle, (a principle not of mans wisdom, but of Gods, and worthy of reverential inquiry, as a separate subject,) he has, I say, passed over the sin of David, the sad history of Ahab, and the other kings of Israel; has touched but lightly on Hezekiahs error in the matter of the embassy from Babylon; has carefully inserted the repentance of Manasseh, and the particulars of the reformations by Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah. As far as one can gather his rule of selection, it would seem prima facie strictly in accordance with it to supply the account, as of Manassehs, so also of Solomons repentance, if he really did repent. Whereas he has omitted all mention both of it and of the previous course of sin. Nor is this omission parallel to that in Davids case, because of that full records had been supplied in the Book of Samuel. The point certainly may be argued in both ways, but on the whole the silence of the Chronicles appears to me rather unfavourable to the conjecture one should wish to acquiesce in.
The tradition of the later Hebrews again, at the time of the Christian aera, appears to have been against Solomon: and perhaps more weight may be fairly due to it than as if it had taken the other direction, since Solomon was surely one whom they would have delighted to honour. However, Josephus says of him, "He died ingloriously;" and only suggests in excuse for him, that his better judgment was impaired by extreme old age: for he makes his reign eighty years long, and his age when he died ninety-four. He must therefore have found different numbers from the present in the Books both of Kings and Chronicles, which allow but forty years for Solomons reign, and for his life, as near as we can calculate, about fifty-eight. And this agrees better with the significant prediction, "If thou wilt walk in My ways to keep My statutes and My commandments, as thy father David did walk, then I will lengthen thy days."
The question, as might be expected, drew the attention of the Fathers of the Christian Church: and if they were positive and unanimous, or very nearly so, it would go near to decide the point. For then it would seem as if they were witnessing a traditive interpretation of more than human origin. As it is, they differ too much to warrant any assertion of the sort. They can only be considered, in this instance, as giving each his own view of the probable meaning of Scripture. The African Church appears to have judged that the history left no room for Solomons repentance. Tertullians language is, "He lost that glory which he had some time in the Lord, being allured by the love of women into no less than idolatry." Elsewhere, justifying the Old Testament against the slanders of Marcion, who had represented it as charging God with inconsistency, he mentions Solomon as an instance of rejection after special favour, in the same class with Saul. St. Austin is still more express; saying in one place, "Solomon was unchaste, and rejected by God, reprobatur a Deo;" and in another place arguing for his opinion as follows:
"Whyin defence of the Bible against the Manichaeanswhy dwell on the case of Solomon, whom Holy Scripture severely reproves and condemns, nor yet records any thing of any repentance of his, or any indulgence on Gods part towards him. Nor can I positively say that even in allegory any good meaning occurs to me, whereunto to apply his melancholy downfall."
A little below, he adds,
"We see in this single person, Solomon, both a wonderful excellency and a ruin no less wonderful. Now that which happened to him at several times, first good and afterwards evil, the same befals the Church, while yet in this world, at one and the same time. By his goodness, as I conceive, are represented the righteous ones of the Church; by his profligacy, the evil ones; as the grain and chaff in one threshing-floor, the wheat and tares in one crop."
And in his sketch of the Jewish history in the "City of God," the same St. Augustine says,
"Solomons beginning was excellent, but his end evil. For prosperity, which even wise men find a constant wear and trial to the spirit, did him more harm than even his wisdom did good, memorable as that is now, and has been quite down from his time, and far and wide as his praises then extended."
Prosper, of Aquitaine, the disciple of St. Austin, speaks even more decidedly:
"Falling away in his old age from the precepts of the Lord, he lost at once both life and wisdom.". . . "Having become in his declining years adulterous in mind and body, the Lord deserting him, he died wretchedly."
Prosper adds, as do others of the same school, a providential reason, why this might have been permitted:
"Many divine promises being uttered in his name, there was danger lest men should ascribe to him, the representative, the glories which he only prefigured."
Neither was this severe judgment confined to the African Church, in some respects more rigid perhaps than those of the East. St. Basil produces the case of Solomon, among others, to illustrate the saying in Ezekiel, "When the righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die."
"Where," says St. Basil, "are the many labours of him who was eminently Gods servant, Moses? The contradiction of a moment was enough to annul his chance of entering into the land of promise. Where is Gehazis conversation with Elisha, now that from covetousness he has drawn on him the curse of leprosy? What, again, availed the abundant wisdom of Solomon, and the mind which he at first bore towards God, corresponding with that wisdom, when afterwards through his wild voluptuousness he had cast himself into idolatry?"
This condemnation, however, is less decisive than those quoted above; since the example of David follows, by citing which St. Basil shews that his view in the above enumeration did not exclude all chance of future repentance. Cyril, also, of Alexandria, though in one place he enlarges rhetorically on the greatness of Solomons fall, saying, " His presumptuous sin in his old age was beyond all extremes of impiety;" yet in his answer to Julian he in some sort palliates it by the supposed decay of his faculties:
"He was carried away, being now on the very threshold of old age: .... his mind no longer in its first bloom, but partaking of the decrepitude of the body m."
It is plain enough under what bias the Fathers hitherto cited expressed themselves: and any opinion of theirs on that side, is so far the more considerable, as it moves contrary to the natural stream of their thoughts. For many reasons, they counted it a part of piety to put the mildest possible construction on the conduct of the elder worthies, and to give them the benefit of any doubt which the terms of the record might appear to leave: and that more especially in one so conspicuous in the holy line, and among the types of our Lord, and so particularly marked as one of Gods beloved and elect. The undoubting tone, therefore, in which some of them speak of him as dying impenitent, would seem like the echo of a Catholic tradition, were it not for certain grave and not very rare exceptions, which may be specified as the first topic on the side of the more indulgent hypothesis.
St. Hilary on the fifty-second Psalm (the fifty-third in our reckoning), produces Solomon as an instance of Gods great indulgence. The passage is remarkable, as referring for the contrary purpose to the very same scriptural facts which we have just seen Basil adducing as examples of severity:
"God said indeed to Moses, His faithful friend, as we know, and appointed by Him to be as a God to Pharaoh, Because thou glorifiedst me not at the waters of strife, go up into the mount and die; yet this same person afterwards (no man knowing the place of his tomb) him, I say, whom the Apostles saw with Elias in the mountGod reserved to be the partner and witness of His blessed and eternal kingdom. And, not to go through Aarons case, and Davids, and Solomons, and many others, examples of the same divine goodness, who for their faiths sake found ready pardon, after each had been duly rebuked for the sin and scandal of his backsliding: the Lord, conscious of human infirmity, .... took not away from Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven."
St. Ambrose speaks gravely of Solomons fall, and conjectures it, as Augustine and Prosper did afterwards, to have been permitted, lest men should imagine that the great Prophecies had their accomplishment in him; but I do not find that he affirms or implies his impenitence. His language is,
"Solomon, by his own experience, asks, Can a man take fire in his bosom, and not be burned? Shall one walk on burning coals, and not scorch his feet ¡? . . . . Solomon builded a Temple to God: would that he had himself preserved the temple of his own body. ... If David was weak, art thou strong? If Solomon fell, art thou immoveable. If Paul was the chief of sinners, canst thou be the chief of saints? In short, if the just erred, they erred as men, but as just men they acknowledged their sin."
St. Cyril of Jerusalem follows on the same side, and in a more undoubting tone. In his second Catechetical Homily on Repentance and Confession, he says,
""Thou seest the excellency of confession: thou seest that to all penitents is salvation. Even Solomon failed, but what says he? Afterwards I repented?"
The text he refers to will be better considered presently: but as St. Jerome also quotes it to the same purpose, it may be as well to complete the course of testimonies from the Fathers, by producing some of his statements also.
In a letter to Salvina, a young widow, pressing on her the need of extreme caution and self-denial, he writes:
"If Paul fears, which of us can be free from anxiety? If David the friend of God, and Solomon his beloved one, were overcome as men, to be our examples both of degeneracy to teach wholesome fear, and of repentance to salvation, who would not fear a downfall in the slippery path?"
He assumes, it will be perceived, that it was a known case of repentance. Also in his Commentary on Ezekiel:
"Greatly inferior was Solomons Temple to that here shewn to the Prophet, since not only the worshippers therein and attendants, but its founder also, Solomon, sinned and offended God: though afterwards he repented."
These, I believe, are the chief authorities among the old writers on the favourable side of the question. It may be worth considering, whether or no they are not all traceable with some probability to the same theological school; a school which may be supposed to have originated in and near Palestine, and to have been more or less influenced by Hebrew recollections and associations. For Cyril was Patriarch of Jerusalem; Hilary, in his exile from his native Gaul under Constantius, was much conversant, both there and in Antioch, and in all the neighbouring Churches: Ambrose had his education, and afterwards his charge, in those parts of Christendom which were most under the influence of Hilary: Jerome was a monk of Palestine, and a Hebrew scholar, and not likely to miss any of the speculations current either among the Christians of the Circumcision, or among the Jews of the great academy of Tiberias, which at that time was very flourishing: and he tells us himself, in his Commentary on Ecclesiastes, that the Hebrew interpreters considered that Book to be the real record of Solomons penitence.
The texts of Scripture alleged by the Fathers in support of the more consoling view are these: First, the tone of the prophecy to David, though strictly applicable to none but our Lord, is yet such as to encourage the idea, that Solomon, the typical subject of it, may have repented, though without express scriptural notice of his repentance. On that prophecy a contemporary of St. Augustine descants,
"What say we concerning Solomon? is he with God? or after his idolatry was he utterly rejected? If we shall say, With God, we shall be promising impunity to idolaters. For Scripture says not that Solomon repented or recovered his wisdom. If on the other hand we call him reprobate, we are met by the voice of God, saying, that for Davids sake He would not take from Solomon so much as his earthly kingdom."
Which latter argument is apparently countenanced by the significant way in which Saul is mentioned, and his case opposed to Solomons. "My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee."
Nor is the fact altogether irrelevant, that Solomon was buried with his fathers in the City of David: whereas later kings, whose recorded apostasies were (some of them at least) no more flagrant than his, Jehoram, Jehoash, Amaziah, Uzziah, Manasseh, Amon, were not allowed the fulness of that honour; they were buried in Jerusalem, indeed, but not with David; not even Manasseh, whose repentance was so signal. This may be gathered from the Second Book of Chronicles; and as far as it goes, it affords some sort of presumption, that not only Solomon, but also Rehoboam and others, whose funerals are related in just the same phrase, were known to have repented in time. The matter is urged as follows by a writer of one generation below the last mentioned:
"That Solomon obtained pardon we know hereby: after he was released from the body, Scripture relates his burial among the remains of the Kings of Israel; an honour which we find elsewhere denied to guilty kings, those, I mean, who to their lives end continued in their perverse determination. Since, then, he obtained a burial among the righteous kings, he was not cut off from pardon: but that pardon without repentance, it was out of his power to obtain."
The same writer anticipates the objection from the silence of the historical Scriptures:
"He who in prophetic strain acknowledged the guilt of his error, must we account him an outcast from the mercy of Heaven? But you may say, Nowhere in the Canon do I read that he repented and obtained mercy. Hear, then, my brother. His repentance, which is not set down in any public record, some perhaps may say was therefore the more acceptable, because he repented not to be seen of the people, but in the retirement of his own conscience, God being his witness."
It will be asked, What are the "prophetic strains" in which Solomon acknowledged his error? and the right answer probably would be, the Book of Ecclesiastes, and a certain verse (the 2ist) in the 24th chapter of Proverbs: which we have seen already quoted both by Cyril of Jerusalem, and by Jerome. The verse occurs in the well-known description of the sluggard, but the argument raised on it depends entirely on the wording of the LXX. version: which differs so widely from the Hebrew here, that it may be well to quote the whole passage. The authorized English done literally from the Hebrew, runs thus:
"I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction."
The LXX. reads,
"As a field for husbandry, so is a fool; and as a vineyard, so is a man void of understanding. If thou let him alone, his soil will grow stiff, and his grass rank all over, and it becometh desolate; also the stone walls of that man are broken down."
The sacred writer then goes on:
usteron egw metenohsa; "it was late when I repented, I set mine eyes to select for myself instruction. But little do I slumber, but little sleep, but little fold mine arms upon my bosom. But if thou do so, (i.e. if thou slumber,) thy poverty shall come travelling onward, and thy need as one that runneth swiftly."
According to the view then received by the universal Church concerning the LXX. version, that even its variations from the Hebrew were providentially ordered or controuled, (an opinion strongly warranted by several passages of the New Testament,) it is not surprising that such an expression as this, usteron egw metenohsa,in which the word egw occurs with so remarkable an emphasis,should have caught their attention as designedly suited to the writers own case: more especially as the context, without any violence, might be adapted to such an interpretation. For it might be paraphrased as follows: "See what danger a man is in left to his own natural folly, how sure to be overrun with a rank growth of mischief. Even I myself came but late to repentance, it was late when I considered in earnest to lay hold of Discipline."
It has indeed been said, but surely without sufficient evidence, that no text from the Book of Proverbs can be alleged to the required purpose; the whole book (so it is assumed) having been written before Solomons fall. But what is the external proof of this? None internal surely can be adduced; a collection of miscellaneous aphorisms itself tells us nothing of the date of its composition; and we know that the later portion of the book, in which the verse occurs, was transcribed long after by scribes in the employ of Hezekiah. Moreover, were the fact ever so indisputable, that the whole book was written in the happier time of his life, it would not affect the present question, for that applies only to the LXX. version.
I conceive it therefore not impossible, that the clause of which we have been speaking, may be at least a supernatural hint, not to pass sentence positively against Solomon.
The main hinge, however, of this whole discussion, is undoubtedly the Book of Ecclesiastes. The time does not allow, but neither, fortunately, does the argument require, that the question should be here entered into, which biblical critics have so largely discussed, Whether this Book were really written by Solomon, or, in his name, by Isaiah, Hezekiah, Zerubbabel, or some other inspired person, using Solomons character as a vehicle for the heavenly warnings therein contained; in the same way as some have thought the Book of Job to have been written by Ezra? The mere differences of style, perhaps, will hardly prove the author other than Solomon: considering that the Proverbs and Canticles are both poems; which description applies to Ecclesiastes but in part: considering also that at least as marked a difference subsists between those compositions and the Prayer at the Dedication of the Temple: yet all these are confessedly Solomons.
But it is sufficient to our present purpose, that Ecclesiastes was written in Solomons name by inspiration of the Holy Ghost. For thus, as in the supposed case of Job, the foundation would be laid in historical truth; the Unerring Recorder would not represent him as either a penitent or a reprobate, contrary to the real fact. The simple question therefore will be, Does the Book represent its author as a penitent? does it at all imply itself to have been written after such a fall as that of Solomon? Does it encourage us to take that view of his case which all who honour and believe the Communion of Saints would wish to take if they could?
First, the Book is clearly written in the character of an aged man, of one who had lived long enough to give thorough trial to the vanities both of youth and of middle age. This I take to be so clear that it need only just be mentioned. Now Solomon was but fifty-eight at the time of his death, by the most probable reckoning.
Next, consider whether the argument of the Book will not be much more complete if we suppose it the termination of all its authors wanderings, than if we imagine him again falling away, and striking off afresh, and more wildly than ever, into those faults which he had found to be vanity of vanities. For, as was above remarked, the history of his fall is very unlike that of Davids. It was no sudden burst of passion, but the gradual perversion of a mind accustomed to please itself with the flower, the best of everything, whether in the way of speculation divine or human, or in the honours and enjoyments of this present world. We have already compared the description in Ecclesiastes with the communication in the historical books of the various pursuits in which he sought to excel, and have seen how critically the two coincide. The history goes on from that enumeration straight to the mention of his fall, as the natural consequence of his unlimited self-indulgence: the Confessions (for so surely Ecclesiastes may be rightly termed), make no mention of any fall into grievous sin, but simply describe their author as having, it is not said how, discovered his own nothingness and folly: not sinking, however, into morbid melancholy, but bracing himself up with the sober yet thrilling conclusion, "Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole [duty] of man." What I mean is this, were one to light for the first time on the Book of Ecclesiastes, and read it without previous knowledge of Solomons history, one would certainly feel curious to know what had happened to bring the person, so spoiled by fortune, and so far gone in spoiling himself, to a truer sense of things. If, feeling such curiosity, one further met with the First Book of Kings, would not this be a natural thought: Here is the secret of this great kings conversion; he went on, as many do, indulging himself merely because he could afford it; he kept not his soul back from any good, until his indulgences had plunged him into deadly sin. Suppose him then awakened, and the tenor of this book is accounted for.
One obvious objection to this reasoning would be, the omission of such expressions as would seem most natural in a person, snatched (if this hypothesis be correct) as a brand out of the burning. There are no deep, earnest words of passionate self-abhorrence, such as many would expect in such a case, who might allege perhaps the language of David in his penitency. To this it might be replied, that whatever solution would account for the silence of the narrative on Solomons repentance, would account also for its not being expressly recorded, or brought out strongly, in this his public confession. We have seen what occurred to an ancient writer: that Solomon avoided being set up as an example of penitence, counting himself unworthy, and choosing rather to do penance, as it were, after his death, in the doubtful or unfavourable judgment of Gods people concerning him. And it is easy to conceive, how a deep sense of his fault and frailty might cause him purposely to abstain from all bitter and touching language, such as would draw attention to his change of heart, and make him, like his father, a model of holy compunction. Not to dwell on that which is evident, and of which the pastoral care gives constant experience; how very different, in different persons, are the words and tones of contrition equally unfeigned. It would be a gross error to exact from people of rough, downright, and silent mood, the overflowings which are natural to open, unreserved tempers; or from men of refined education and deep thought, the frank disclosures of the ruder and simpler sort; why, then, should the calm, philosophical tone of the Book of Ecclesiastes be deemed inconsistent with a troubled and broken spirit? Perhaps, too, the observation may not be irrelevant here, which was made before concerning his writings in general; that they designedly omit all reference to the Jewish oeconomy; which omission could not so well consist with express confession of apostasy by idol-worship.
Supposing that for these, or any other reasons, it seemed good to the Unerring Informer to leave the expression of Solomons penitence more or less faint and ambiguous; the Book of Ecclesiastes seems very well to answer to what would be looked for from one writing under such Influence. From time to time we meet with expressions which acquire in this way a very affecting significance. He seems as one approaching a subject which lay heavy at his heart, but restrained somehow from more than faint allusions to it. Consider in this light the following passage, "There is a time when one man ruleth over another to his own hurt. And so I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of the holy, and they were forgotten in the city where they had so done."
And again, "I applied .... to know the wickedness of folly even of foolishness and madness; and I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her, but the sinner shall be taken by her;" a passage which leads directly to the remembrance of the cause of Solomons fall. Again, observe the emphasis laid, in the following verses, on Gods prolonging a mans days, and compare it with the promise given to Solomon: "If thou wilt walk in My commandments, then I will lengthen thy days." "Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before Him: but it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days." Again, in a part of the treatise peculiarly marked by the same sententious style which prevails in the Book of Proverbs, we read, "Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour; so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour;" the application of which is obvious. And "may we not imagine a certain pang of conscience mingled with the wording of such a verse as this? "Better is a poor and a wise child, than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished?"
To these occasional indications in the book itself, we may add what St. Jerome testifies of the general opinion of the Jews of his time:
"The Hebrews say that the book is Solomons, repenting for the offence he had given to God in the matter of the women whom he took to himself, relying, as he did, too much on his wisdom and riches."
As far as the tradition of the earlier Hebrews can be gathered from the apocryphal books, I know of nothing to contradict this statement. The Wisdom of Solomon, indeed, contains hardly anything which bears at all on the question: except that it seems not very probable that such an exposition of the folly of idolatry as the later chapters contain, could be put into the mouth of one who was understood to have died an impenitent idolater. Also, there is one expression, which might seem to confess inexcusable thoughtlessness on the highest of all subjects. He says of wisdom, "All good things together came to me with her, and innumerable riches in her hands; and I rejoiced in them all, because wisdom goeth before them: and I knew not that she was the mother of them." As far as it goes, this agrees well enough with the frame of mind described in Ecclesiastes. However, it must be admitted that this Book of Wisdom, noble and admirable as it is in many respects, can hardly be relied on for its views of the ancient Jewish history. In its sketch of the Exodus, e.g., it misrepresents the gift of manna, as though, "serving to the appetite of the eater," it "tempered itself to every mans liking;" whereas we read in the Book of Numbers, that its taste was but as fresh oil, and that its insipidity gave rise to a fatal mutiny in the camp. And generally this book describes those who came out of Egypt as objects of Gods unmixed favour. We cannot therefore quite depend on the impressions it would give concerning Solomon. It is more interesting to observe the manner in which the son of Sirach speaks of him. He evidently took Solomon for his model; and many of his sayings, for aught we know, are preserved in the Book of Ecclesiasticus. Thus, then, he commemorates Solomons fall and punishment. "Thou didst bow thy loins unto women, and by thy body thou wast brought into subjection. Thou didst stain thy honour, and pollute thy seed, so that thou broughtest wrath upon thy children, and wast grieved for thy folly." This last clause certainly sounds like a direct assertion of Solomons repentance. But I fear it will be found, on comparison with the original, one of the few oversights of our translators. All the copies of the LXX. appear to read katenughn, not katenughV, epi th abrosunh sou: not, "thou didst feel compunction," but, "it saddens my heart to think of it." Still, the tone of what follows may be thought to encourage the more favourable judgment. "So the kingdom was divided ... but the Lord will never leave off His mercy, neither shall any of His works perish . . . wherefore He gave a remnant unto Jacob, and out of him a root unto David . . . Thus rested Solomon with his fathers."
On the whole, comparing the hints of Holy Scripture with the relics of tradition, whether Jewish or Christian, on this interesting question, it would perhaps be safe to say, that the evidence in favour of him rather preponderates, yet not so decidedly, but that we have reason to think the matter was left in designed obscurity. We pass from that page of sacred history which contains his name, with hope indeed, but not with that joyful hope, which commonly accompanies the departure of those who are named in Scripture as the Lords Beloved. Now, that such a point should be even doubtful, is surely a very awful dispensation of Gods Providence, and ought to fill such an age as this with alarm, for the ultimate tendency of the knowledge and wisdom and ingenuity on which it so prides itself. High civilization, as far as it goes, what is it but that very condition, which proved so fatal to this great king? a condition which enables each person to take to himself more and more of the very best in the several departments of life which come within the range of each respectively? How can it then be otherwise than ruinous, except it be met by a corresponding enforcement of the Christian principle of self-denial?
Looking again to Solomon as an emblem of the Church in her flourishing worldly estate,of her politikoV bioV, so an ancient Father expresses it,we cannot well doubt that we see a significant warning of the peril brought on her by close union and alliance with the powers of the earth. We see in his fall how hard, I had almost said how impossible it is, for her to enjoy together the best of everything; to keep up her own impartial discipline, and yet be popular with the many and in favour with princes.
We see in the doubt which hangs over the close of his life, an alarming correspondence with that which hangs over the consummation of the Scripture prophecies concerning the Church in this world; whether such a blessing be yet in store for her, as shall realize on earth the brilliant predictions, of which Solomon in all his glory was the visible emblem; or whether the pollutions which she has contracted by too free intercourse with the world, will not gather on her more hopelessly, so that her last scene should rather resemble those of Sodom, or Babylon, or Jerusalem.
Finally, we see, if "I mistake not, a plain rule for the Churchs conduct, in cases where the question lies between spiritual privileges and visible external advantages; e. g., between an Establishment on the one hand, and on the other hand the restoration of godly discipline, or the integrity of the ministerial succession. If Solomon, though he chose practical wisdom alone, fell, we can but hope not irretrievably, by the seductions of worldly wisdom, riches, and honour, heaped on him over and above; how dare we expect to stand upright, if we choose for our Church, or for ourselves, so much only of true wisdom as we can get without foregoing those inferior things? The conclusion, in short, which I come to as a Churchman, is this: that it is the part of Faith to leave the Establishment as a great temporal blessing, in the hands of Him who knows whether we shall improve or abuse it; but that our fears, our jealousies, our prayers, our efforts, should be mainly, not to say exclusively, directed to the preservation and well-being of the Church Catholic among us, as such; that we may restore what is gone to decay, and strengthen the things which remain and are ready to die; lest our work be found at last wilfully imperfect before our God.