Shelomo's Monarchy in Jerusalem (I): General Survey

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Jerusalem in the Bible
Yeshivat Har Etzion



Rav Yitzchak Levi



            In the previous shiurim, we described David's actions in Jerusalem, from his choosing the city as the capital of his kingdom to his turning it into the city of the Temple. We shall now proceed to discuss Shelomo's monarchy in Jerusalem.




Shelomo's monarchy should have been an ideal monarchy in all senses:


*     Shelomo was the first king to succeed his father.

*     Peace prevailed in the entire region:


"For he had dominion over all the region of this side of the river, from Tifsach to Azza, over all the kings on this side of the river; and he had peace on all sides round about him. And Yehuda and Israel dwelt in safety, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan to Be'er-Sheva, all the days of Shelomo." (I Melakhim 5:4-5)


*     The borders of the kingdom were the widest ever:


"And Shelomo reigned over all kingdoms from the river to the land of the Philistines, and to the border of Egypt; they brought presents, and served Shelomo all the days of his life." (Ibid. v. 1)


*     Economic prosperity reached extraordinary heights:


"And Shelomo's provision for one day was thirty kor of fine flour, and sixty kor of meal, ten fat oxen, and twenty oxen out of the pasture, and a hundred sheep, apart from deer and gazelles, and fallow deer, and geese." (Ibid. vv. 2-3)


"Now the weight of gold that came to Shelomo in one year was six hundred and sixty six talents of gold… And King Shelomo made two hundred targets of beaten gold: six hundred shekels of gold went to one target. And he made three hundred shields of beaten gold; three pounds of gold went to one shield… Moreover the king made a great throne of ivory, and overlaid it with the best gold… And all King Shelomo's drinking vessels were of gold, and all the vessels of the house of the forest of Lebanon were of pure gold, none were of silver; that was considered nothing in the days of Shelomo… And the king made silver to be in Jerusalem like stones, and he made cedars to be like the sycamore trees that are in the lowlands for abundance." (Ibid. 10:14-27)


*     Shelomo's wisdom was known throughout Israel and all across the world, as is stated in the judgment involving the two harlots (Ibid. 3:16-28), and as is stated by the Queen of Sheba upon her arrival (Ibid. 10:1-10).

*     The entire world recognizes Shelomo's superiority, strength and wisdom:


"And there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Shelomo, from all kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom." (Ibid. 5:14)


"So King Shelomo exceeded all the kings of the earth for riches and for wisdom. And all the earth sought of Shelomo, to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart. And they brought every man his present, vessels of silver, and vessels of gold, and garments, and armor, and spices, horses, and mules, and so it was year by year." (Ibid. 10:23-25)


*     David had made all the possible preparations for the building of the Temple, and commanded the heads of the nation to help Shelomo on the matter (I Divrei Ha-yamim 22:6-28).


Shelomo's opening circumstances seem to very promising from all perspectives – spiritual, political, internal, and economic. He is able to begin construction of the Temple and fortify his kingdom in every way.




The eleven chapters of I Melakhim that deal with Shelomo's kingdom are divided into several sections:[1]



The anointing of Shelomo as king and David's testament. The section ends: "Then Shelomo sat upon the throne of David his father; and his kingdom was firmly established" (2:12).


The solidification of Shelomo's kingdom. The section ends: "And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king has judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgment. So King Shelomo was king over all Israel." (3:28-4:1).


The kingdom of Shelomo: his officers, his rule, his wealth, his strength, and his wisdom.


The treaty with Chiram and the wisdom of Shelomo, the construction of the house of God and the house of the king.


The dedication of the Temple, Shelomo's blessing and prayer


Shelomo's second night vision (the promise regarding a dynasty and the Temple – on condition that they follow in the path of God).


Strengthening of the kingdom, its security and its economy.


The wisdom of Shelomo, his wealth, his greatness, and his strength.


Shelomo's sins and punishment.



The internal division indicates that the chapters dealing with the Temple (5:15-8) lie at the heart of the chapters dealing with Shelomo, and divide them into three periods: the period prior to the building of the Temple, the chapters of the Temple, and the period following the building. This is attested to by the chiastic correspondence of chapters 3-5 to chapters 9-11, as we shall spell out in detail below.


At the beginning of chapter 3, it is stated:


"And Shelomo became allied by marriage with Pharaoh, King of Egypt, and took Pharaoh's daughter, and brought her into the City of David, until he had made an end of building his own house, and the house of the Lord, and the wall of Jerusalem round about. Only the people sacrificed in high places, because there was no house built to the name of the Lord, until those days. And Shelomo loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father; only he sacrificed and burnt incense in high places." (3:1-3)


            There is here a hint of criticism about the fact that a house of God had not yet been built, and that the people were still offering sacrifices in the high places. Later in the chapter, there is a description of God's first appearance to Shelomo at Giv'on, Shelomo's opting for wisdom, and the judgment involving the two harlots.


            Chapter 5 contains a description of Shelomo's wealth, a separate verse being dedicated to the number of his horses (40,000 stalls and 12,000 horsemen!). Later, Scripture expands greatly about Shelomo's wisdom and his alliance with Chiram, King of Tzor.


            Chapter 9 describes God's second appearance in Giv'on, where he warns Shelomo that if he fails to observe His commandments and statutes, the Temple and the kingdom will be destroyed.


            In chapter 10, following a description of Shelomo's construction projects and the visit of the Queen of Sheba, there is another detailed account of Shelomo's enormous wealth: the gold and silver found in his kingdom and the gold and silver brought to him. It seems that chapter 10 translates Shelomo's wisdom, described in chapter 5, primarily into wealth. That same chapter relates once again to the great number of chariots and horsemen, mentioning that they originated in Egypt.


In chapter 11, Shelomo's love of God in chapter 3 is replaced by his love for foreign women who turn his heart away, and by the construction of bamot for idol worship to the east of the city.


            It is precisely the first permanent king in Israel, the son of David, who exemplifies in his actions the very opposite of the laws of the king (Devarim 17): he multiplies silver and gold, wives and horses, and maintains a close connection with Egypt. All of these sins are described already at the outset, in chapters 3-5, but there the criticism is still only by allusion. In chapters 9-11 – where Shelomo's wisdom, wealth, and fame reach their climax – there is already an explicit threat regarding the destruction of the Temple, Shelomo's wisdom is translated primarily into gold and silver, the Egyptian source of the great number of horses is explicitly mentioned, and the place of the love of God is seized by the love of foreign women, which leads to idol worship.


Separating between these two units are the chapters dealing with the construction of the house of God and the house of the king. The chapters dealing with the Temple are the crowning chapters of Shelomo's monarchy – but they are also what led to his downfall. Shelomo's lust, his grand and lavish construction projects (in the wake of which work and monetary taxes were imposed on the people), the emphasis placed on enormous wealth and the expansion of power (which was esteemed throughout the world) – all these turned from a means of revealing God's kingdom in the world to a goal in and of itself. The noble objective set by David – the capital of the kingdom of Israel enjoying the patronage of the kingdom of God – was not achieved. Shelomo's kingdom turned into a goal in and of itself, putting his wealth, his wives, his horses and his glory in the eyes of the world at the center of his interest. The earthly kingdom brought into its shadow the lofty dream of its connection with the kingdom of God. It is precisely Shelomo's climactic chapters – dealing with the building of the house of God and the king's house – that bring about his mighty fall.




We do not have an orderly description of the various stages of Shelomo's life, but it is reasonable to assume that the events described in I Melakhim are arranged in chronological order:


*     Chapters 1-2 deal with the anointing of Shelomo as king, and with the solidification of his kingdom, that is, the beginning of his reign.

*     Chapters 3-5 describe, according to our understanding, the period that preceded the building of the Temple.

*     Chapters 9-11 deal with the period following the completion of the house of God and the house of the king and the dedication of the Temple.

*     Chapter 11:4 states: "For it came to pass, when Shelomo was old."


Explicit dates and durations of time are recorded only in the chapters dealing with the Temple. The construction of the Temple began in the fourth year of Shelomo's monarchy (I Melakhim 6:1, 37), and lasted seven years, that is to say, it concluded in Shelomo's eleventh year (Ibid. v. 38). Shelomo occupied himself in the building of his own house for 13 years (I Melakhim 7:1), and from what is stated in I Melakhim 9:10 – "And it came to pass at the end of twenty years, when Shelomo had built the two houses, the house of the Lord, and the king's house" – we learn that the house of the king was built after the house of God, that is to say, until the twenty-fourth year of Shelomo's kingdom. Thus, we learn that chapters 3-5 describe the first three years of Shelomo's kingdom; chapters 6-8 describe years four to twenty-four of his kingdom; and chapters 9-11 describe the rest of the years of his reign (which lasted 40 years [I Melakhim 11:42]).


In the continuation of this shiur, we shall try to offer an overview of Shelomo's own attitude towards the meaning of God's Temple.




"In the fourth year was the foundation of the house of the Lord laid, in the month Ziv; and in the eleventh year, in the month Bul (which is the eight month) was the house finished throughout all its parts, and according to all the fashion of it. So was he seven years in building it." (I Melakhim 6:37-38)


            The building of the Temple began during the fourth year in the month Ziv, and it was finished after seven years, in the eleventh year of Shelomo's kingdom in the month Bul. Its dedication, according to our understanding, was at the end of the twenty years of constructing God's house and the king's house, in the seventh month, on the festival of Sukkot:


"And all the men of Israel assembled themselves to king Shelomo at the feast in the month of Eitanim, which is the seventh month." (Ibid. 8:2)


"Also at that time Shelomo kept the feast for seven days, and all Israel with him, a very great congregation, from the entrance of Chamat to the wadi of Egypt. And on the eighth day they made a solemn assembly: for they kept the consecration of the altar for seven days, and the feast for seven days. And on the twenty-third day of the seventh month he sent the people away to their tents, glad and merry in heart for the bounty that the Lord had bestowed on David, and to Shelomo, and to Israel his people." (II Divrei Ha-yamim 7:8-10)



According to the plain sense of the text, Shelomo dedicated the first four years to the solidification of his kingdom, a process that required the full execution of David's testament including the killing of Shim'i at the end of three years (I Melakhim 2:39). Abravanel (following Pesikta Rabbati 6, 7) explains that Shelomo did not want to build the Temple with the materials that David had prepared for him, but rather with his own property, and three years were needed to attain all that was needed for the construction.




            The Vilna Gaon writes:


"These are the names by which they called the months before they went into exile in Bavel, that is, Iyar was called Ziv, Tishrei - Eitanim, Marcheshvan - Bul and Nissan - Aviv. The names that we use, that is, Nissan and Iyar, are from after they went down to Bavel."


            The Gemara in Rosh Ha-shana (11a) explains that the month of Iyar is called Ziv because during that month "the trees have splendor [ziva]," that is to say, the splendor and beauty of blossoms and flowers. So too Targum Yonatan renders the term: "The month of the splendor of blossoms" (I Melakhim 6:1). The term for Marcheshvan, "Bul," might mean "produce" ("yevul") (as in "the mountains bring forth food [bul]"; Iyyov 40:20), for that is the month in which the harvest of the fruits of the previous year comes to an end. And such is the term rendered by Yonatan: "The month of gathering produce."[3] There is a certain symbolism here: The construction begins in the season of blossoming and flowering, and concludes in the period of the gathering of the crop.




Assuming that the dedication ceremony indeed took place at the end of the twenty-year period of building God's house and the house of the king, it stands to reason that Shelomo chose the date. One might have expected that the Temple would be dedicated, following the tradition of the dedication of the Mishkan, in Nisan: a special month for Israel, the first of the months, a month of renewal throughout the world. I would like to suggest that Shelomo chose Tishrei in order to express his conviction that the Temple was intended for the entire world, for there is nothing like Sukkot to express the entire world's connection to the Temple: seventy bulls are offered on Sukkot corresponding to the seventy nations of the world, and it is on Sukkot that the nations will in the future go up to the house of God, to prostrate themselves before the King, Lord of hosts, and celebrate before Him (Zekharya 14:15).[4]


Shelomo gives expression to his understanding that the Temple is meant for the entire world in the prayer that he offers:


"Moreover concerning a stranger, that is not of your people Israel, but comes out of a far country for Your name's sake: (for they shall hear of Your great name, and of Your strong hand, and of Your stretched out arm;) when he shall come and pray towards this house; hear You in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all that the stranger calls to You for: that all people of the earth may know Your name, to fear You, as do Your people Israel; and that they may know that this house, which I have built is called by Your name." (I Melakhim 8:41-43)


            Shelomo tries to realize the vision of the prophets that in the future all the nations will go up to bow down before God on the holy mountain in Jerusalem (Yishayahu 2, Mikha 4, Zekharya 14), and "My house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples" (Yishayahu 56:7). It seems that Shelomo thought that the transition from Mishkan to Temple meant a transition from God's dwelling among the people of Israel to His dwelling among all the nations of the world.


            This outlook fits in well with Shelomo's political and economic situation: the kingdom of Israel was living in peace with extensive borders; Shelomo became allied through marriage with Pharaoh, King of Egypt, taking his daughter as a wife[5]; he makes a pact with Chiram, King of Tzor, and develops extensive commercial and political connections with the surrounding nations; even the ruler of distant countries, like the Queen of Sheba, are aware of his wisdom, his wealth, and his greatness:


"And all the earth sought of Shelomo, to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart. And they brought every man his present, vessels of silver, and vessels of gold, and garments, and armor, and spices, horses, and mules, and so it was year by year." (I Melakhim 10:24-25)


"And a chariot going out of Egypt would cost six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse, a hundred and fifty: and so by their means they brought them out also for all the kings of Chittim and the kings of Aram." (Ibid. v. 29).


            Even Shelomo's love for "many foreign women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, Mo'avite, Ammonite, Tzidonian and Chittite women" (I Melakhim 11:1) – some have seen this as part of the same tendency of uniting the entire world under the sovereignty of God:


"'Neither shall he multiply wives to himself' (Devarim 17:17). And it is written: 'But King Shelomo loved many foreign women.' Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai said: He loved them, literally, for fornication… Rabbi Yose said: To draw them near to the words of the Torah and to draw them under the wings of the Shekhina." (Yerushalmi, Sanhedrin 2:6)


            To summarize, Shelomo's aspiration to assign the Temple to the entire world stems from the circumstances of his rule: marital alliances with the neighboring powers, wide-scoped commercial ties and broad recognition of his wisdom and greatness.




On two occasions God reveals Himself to Shelomo and sets the conditions for the continued existence of the Temple. The first time – over the course of the construction of God's house, between the description of the external structure of the Temple and the description of its internal structure:


"And the word of the Lord came to Shelomo, saying, Concerning the house, which you are building, if you will follow My statutes, and execute My judgments, and keep all My commandments to walk in them; then will I perform My word with you, which I spoke to David your father; and I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake My people Israel." (I Melakhim 6:11-13)


            Here we find only the positive element of the condition: If Shelomo follows God's statutes, executes His judgments, and keeps His commandments, God will dwell among the people of Israel and not forsake them.


            In the second revelation, immediately following the dedication of the Temple, we find already the two sides of the condition:


"And the Lord appeared to Shelomo a second time, as He had appeared to him at Giv'on. And the Lord said to him, I have heard your prayer and your supplication, that you have made before Me. I have hallowed this house, which you have built, to put My name there for ever; and My eyes and My heart shall be there perpetually. And if you will walk before Me, as David your father walked, in integrity of heart, and in uprightness, to do according to all that I have commanded you, and will keep My statutes and My judgments: then I will establish the throne of your kingdom upon Israel for ever, as I promised to David your father, saying, There shall not fail you a man upon the throne of Israel. But if you shall turn from following Me, you or your children, and will not keep My commandments and My statutes which I have set before you, but go and serve other gods, and worship them: then will I cut off Israel out of the land which I have given them; and this house, which I have hallowed for My name, will I cast out of My sight; and Israel shall be a proverb and a byword among all people. And at this house, which is high, every one that passes by it shall be astonished, and shall hiss, and they shall say, Why has the Lord done thus to this land, and to this house? And they shall answer, Because they forsook the Lord their God, who brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt, and have taken hold of other gods, and have worshipped them, and served them: therefore has the Lord brought upon them all this evil." (I Melakhim 9:2-9)


            Why does the prophet Yirmiyahu, author of the book of Melakhim, spell out the negative element of the condition – the destruction of the Temple if the people of Israel transgress the will of God – immediately following the joyous verses dealing with the building and dedication of the Temple? We understand that the two Divine revelations constitute a response to Shelomo's perception of the meaning of the building. We have already demonstrated that Shelomo understood that the Temple was intended for the entire world, this being the vision of the prophets concerning the end of days. We now wish to argue that Shelomo also believed that this building was permanent, never to be destroyed: an eternal house – an everlasting Temple intended for the entire world. Proof for this may be brought from the prayer that he offered at the Temple's dedication:


"If you people go out to battle against their enemy, wherever you shall send them, and shall pray to the Lord towards the city which You have chosen, and towards the house that I have built for Your name. Then hear You in heaven their prayer and their supplication, and maintain their cause. If they sin against You, (for there is no man who does not sin) and You be angry with them, and deliver them to the enemy, so that they carry them away captives to the land of the enemy, far or near; yet if they take thought in the land where they were carried captive, and repent, and make supplication to You in the land of their captors, saying, We have sinned, and have done perversely, we have committed wickedness; and so they return to You with all their heart, and with all their soul, in the land of their enemies, who led them away captive, and pray to You toward their land, which You did give to their fathers, the city which You have chosen, and the house which I have built for Your name; then hear You their prayer and their supplication in heaven your dwelling place, and maintain their cause, and forgive Your people that have sinned against You, and all their transgressions in which they have transgressed against You, and give them compassion before them who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them; for they are Your people, and your inheritance, whom You did bring out of Egypt, out of the midst of the iron furnace. That Your eyes may be open to the supplication of Your servant, and to the supplication of Your people Israel, to hearken to them in all that they call for to You. For You did separate them from among all the people of the earth, to be Your inheritance, as You did speak by the hand of Moshe Your servant, when You did bring our fathers out of Egypt, O Lord God." (I Melakhim 8:44-53)


            Shelomo does not consider the possibility of the destruction of the Temple. Even if Israel will go out into exile, they will always be able to pray to God by way of the Temple, because the Temple will stand forever.


            There is no doubt that the building's grandeur and splendor contributed to Shelomo's feeling that the Temple was permanent and would never be destroyed. Nevertheless, the notion that the Temple's standing is not conditional upon the observance of Torah and mitzvot was liable to impair the meticulous observance thereof on the part of the king and the people. Over the course of the Temple's construction, therefore, God clarifies that the continued existence of the kingdom and the Temple are conditional upon Israel's observance of Torah and mitzvot, and that if Israel transgresses the will of God, both the kingdom and the Temple will be destroyed.


            It seems to me that Shelomo's error is summed up in a statement of Rabbi Yitzchak:


"Rabbi Yitzchak said: Why were the reasons of [some] Biblical laws not revealed? — Because in two verses reasons were revealed, and they caused the greatest in the world [Shelomo] to stumble. Thus it is written: 'He shall not multiply wives to himself' (Devarim 17:17) whereon Shelomo said: I will multiply wives yet not let my heart be perverted. Yet we read: 'When Shelomo was old, his wives turned away his heart' (I Melakhim 11:4).  Again it is written: 'He shall not multiply to himself horses' (Devarim 17:16); concerning which Shelomo said: I will multiply them, but will not cause [Israel] to return [to Egypt]. Yet we read: 'And a chariot came up and went out of Egypt for six [hundred shekels of silver]' (I Melakhim 10:29)."  (Sanhedrin 21b)


            Even the supernal wisdom that God bestowed upon Shelomo is incapable of fully comprehending the reasons for the mitzvot of the Torah.


            Regarding the kingdom of Shelomo – the first permanent king – there arises the issue of the boundaries of earthly kingdom in relation to the kingdom of God. The great royal building of the house of God and the house of the king, which continues for twenty years, gives rise in Shelomo to feelings of grandiosity, which express themselves in many areas. The relationship between the house of the king and the house of God, the splendor and grandeur of the buildings, the proximity of the two structures – all these cause Shelomo to imagine himself as standing together with God on one side, opposite the nation on the other side. This understanding is expressed in the construction of the milo (see I Melakhim 9:24) and in the blurring between the marriage to Pharaoh's daughter and the dedication of the Temple (Vayikra Rabba 12, 5). The idea that the house of God is a permanent structure intended for the entire world, as in the vision of the prophets, means that Shelomo's kingdom itself is also a supernal kingdom, something to which Chazal gave sharp expression in their words concerning the Ark's entry into the Holy of Holies.[6] The deterioration ends with the practice of idolatry under the influence of Shelomo's foreign wives.


            From such an elevated starting point – peace, wide and safe borders, abundance, and readiness to establish the kingdom and build the Temple – Shelomo fell into the deep pit of idolatry, and in its wake came the prophecy concerning the division of the kingdom.


            It is not by chance that the bamot erected by Shelomo for idol worship remained standing until the days of Yoshiyahu – almost the end of the first Temple period:


"One verse says: 'For the Lord has chosen Zion' (Tehillim 132:13), but another verse says: 'For this city has been to me a provocation of Mine anger and of My fury from the day that they built it even unto this day' (Yirmiyahu 32:31)! The former applied to the time before Shelomo married the daughter of Pharaoh, while the latter applied to the time after Shelomo married the daughter of Pharaoh." (Nidda 70b)


During the very days of Shelomo – the high point of the kingdom of Israel and Jerusalem – destruction was already decreed for the city and the Temple.


The lesson to be learned from the period of Shelomo is that kingdom necessitates extreme humility. The king must always remember that he is sitting on the throne of God; he must bend himself before the will of God; and he must direct the day-to-day life of the kingdom to the eternal life of God's Torah.




            We have tried to present in this shiur an overall picture of the period of Shelomo and the manner in which he himself viewed the building of God's Temple. In the upcoming shiurim we will, God willing, examine through the prism of a view from above the various components of the chapters dealing with Shelomo.


(Translated by David Strauss)

[1] This division is brought in the introduction to the Da'at Mikra commentary to the book of Melakhim, pp. 27-29.

[2] The chronological relationship between the building of the God's Temple and the construction of the house of the king will be discussed in a separate shiur. Here we shall deal with the building and the dedication of the Temple in and of themselves.

[3] Radak explains: "'In the month Bul' – this is Marcheshvan… And it is called by this name because of the rains which begin to fall in that month, in the sense of mabul, flood. And in the words of the Rabbis: 'In the month Bul' - when the leaves decay, and the ground is cloddy, and the month when cattle is given mixed fodder from what is in the house, that is to say, when there is no more animal fodder in the field."

[4] The universal significance of the festival of Sukkot appears to be rooted in the fact that it is the harvest festival, when one agricultural year comes to an end and another one begins.

[5] The marriage of the daughter of an Egyptian king to a foreigner was exceedingly exceptional during that period.

[6] See Shabbat 30a: "When Shelomo built the Temple, he desired to take the Ark into the Holy of Holies, whereupon the gates clave to each other. Shelomo uttered twenty-four prayers, yet he was not answered. He opened [his mouth] and exclaimed: 'Lift up your heads, O you gates; and be you lifted up, you everlasting doors: And the King of glory shall come in' (Tehillim  24:7). They rushed upon him to swallow him up, crying: 'Who is the king of glory?' (v. 10). 'The Lord, strong and mighty,' he answered (v. 8)." A similar Midrash is found in Shemot Rabba 8, 1.