Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
This chapter completes, in a narrative singularly beautiful and instructive, the detailed record of the early days of Solomon’s reign—a record which bears such marks of continuity as argue derivation from a single source.
And Solomon made affinity 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.(1) Pharaoh king of Egypt.—At this time it would appear, from the Egyptian records and traditions, that Egypt was weak and divided, and that what is called the twenty-first dynasty of the Tanite kings was ruling in Lower Egypt. This, and a corresponding abeyance (judging from the monuments) of Assyrian power, gave scope for the rise to sudden greatness and wealth of the Israelite kingdom under Solomon, and probably induced the Egyptian king of those days to consent to an alliance which, at other times, the greatness of the Pharaohs might have spumed. No fault is found with the alliance by the sacred historian, for the Egyptians were never looked upon with the same aversion as the strange women of the Canaanite races. As, moreover, it is not in any way connected with Solomon’s subsequent declension into idolatry, noticed in 1Kings 11:1-8, it is not unlikely that the new queen literally acted on the call of the Psalmist (Psalm 45:10) to “forget her own people and her father’s house.”
Only the people sacrificed in high places, because there was no house built unto the name of the LORD, until those days.(2) In high places.—The historian, writing from the point of view of his own time, when, after the solemn consecration of the Temple, the worship at “the high places,” which form natural sanctuaries, was forbidden, explains that “because there was no house built unto the name of the Lord,” the people, and Solomon himself, sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places. It is clear that these high places were of two kinds—places of sacrifice to false gods, and unauthorised sanctuaries of the Lord, probably associating His worship with visible representations of Deity. The former class were, of course, absolute abominations, like the high places of the Canaanite races, so sternly denounced in Deuteronomy 12:2-3. The prohibition of the other class of high places—constantly disobeyed by some even of the better kings—appears to have had two distinct objects—(a) to guard against all local corruptions of God’s service, and all idolatry, worshipping Him (as at Bethel) under visible forms; (b) to prevent the breach of national unity, by the congregation of the separate tribes round local sanctuaries. But besides these objects, it served (c), as a very remarkable spiritual education for the worship of the invisible God, without the aid of local and visible emblems of His presence, in accordance with the higher prophetic teaching, and preparatory for the perfect spirituality of the future. It is, indeed, hardly to be conceived that there should not have been before the Captivity some places of non-sacrificial worship, in some degree like the synagogues of the period after the exile, although not as yet developed into a fully organised system. Unless we refer Psalm 74:8 to the Maccabæan times, it must be supposed to describe the Chaldæan invasion, as destroying not only the Temple, but also “all the houses of God”—properly “assemblies,” and in our Bible version actually translated “synagogues “—“in the land.” But these places of prayer and praise and instruction would be different in their whole idea from the “high places” rivalling the Temple. Up to this time it is clear that, even under Samuel and David, sacrificial worship elsewhere than in the Tabernacle was used without scruple, though certainly alien from the spirit of the Mosaic Law as to the supreme sacredness of the “place which God should choose to place his name there.” (See, for example, 1Samuel 7:10; 1Samuel 13:9; 1Samuel 14:35; 1Samuel 16:5; 1Chronicles 21:26.) After the solemn consecration of the Temple, the circumstances and the character of such worship were altogether changed.
And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there; for that was the great high place: a thousand burnt offerings did Solomon offer upon that altar.(4) Gibeon.—The name itself, signifying “belonging to a hill,” indicates its position on the central plateau of Israel, in the land of Benjamin, whence rise several round hills, on one of which the town stood. There was now reared the Tabernacle, with the brazen altar of sacrifice, to which the descendants of the old Gibeonites were attached as “hewers of wood and drawers of water” (Joshua 9:23). It was therefore naturally “the great high place.”
In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night: and God said, Ask what I shall give thee.(5) The Lord appeared.—This direct communication to Solomon by a dream—standing in contrast with the indirect knowledge of the Lord’s will by David through the prophets Nathan and Gad (2Samuel 7:2-17; 2Samuel 12:1-14; 2Samuel 24:11-14), and by “enquiring of the Lord” through the priest (1Samuel 23:9-12; 1Samuel 30:7; 2Samuel 2:1)—is perhaps the first indication of some temporary abeyance of the prophetic office, and (as appears still more clearly from the history of the consecration of the Temple), of a loss of leadership in the priesthood. At the same time it is to be noted that the vision of the Lord through dreams, being of a lower type than the waking vision, is mostly recorded as given to those outside the Covenant, as Abimelech (Genesis 20:3-7), Laban (Genesis 31:24), Pharaoh and his servants (Genesis 40:5; Genesis 41:1-8), the Midianite (Judges 7:13), and Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:1; Daniel 4:10-18); as belonging to the early stages of revelation, to Abraham (Genesis 15:12), Jacob (Genesis 28:12-15), and Joseph (Genesis 37:5-10); and as marking the time of cessation of the regular succession of the prophets during the Captivity (Daniel 2:19; Daniel 7:1).
And Solomon said, Thou hast shewed unto thy servant David my father great mercy, according as he walked before thee in truth, and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with thee; and thou hast kept for him this great kindness, that thou hast given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day.(6) And Solomon said.—On Solomon’s “wisdom,” see Note on 1Kings 4:29. Here it is clear that the wisdom which he asks is that of the ruler, involving elements both moral and intellectual—the wisdom to discern and do true justice between man and man. He calls himself “a little child”—his age is variously estimated from twelve to twenty at this time—and trembles at the responsibility of ruling over “so great a people.” But, in the characteristic spirit of the true godliness of the Old Testament, he looks for wisdom, not as the mere result of human teaching and experience, but as an inspiration of God, and prays for it accordingly, in a prayer of singular beauty and humility, pleading simply God’s promise to his father, and its fulfilment in his own accession to the throne.
And God said unto him, Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life; neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies; but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern judgment;(11) Because thou hast asked.—It is obvious to note this verse as a fulfilment of the Divine law, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and -all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). All these secondary blessings are good, just so far as they conduce to the supreme good, which is the growth of the human nature, by the knowledge of God and by faithfully doing His work on earth, to the perfection designed for it in His wisdom. So long as Solomon used them in subordination to true wisdom, they were a blessing to him; when he made them idols, they became a curse. The connection of these lower gifts with the moral and intellectual gifts of wisdom, is the result of the natural law of God’s Providence, so far as that law overcomes the resistance of evil and folly, still allowed to strive against it.
And 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.(14) I will lengthen.—In this promise only one point, “length of days,” is conditional; and it was not fulfilled. For though Solomon’s age at the time of death is not given, yet, as his reign is given as lasting forty years, it could hardly have exceeded sixty. (Josephus, indeed, with his usual tendency to amplification, extends the reign to eighty years, and makes Solomon die in extreme old age.) The rest received an extraordinary fulfilment. The greatness of Solomon’s kingdom stands out remarkable in its sudden and unique development, the fruit of David’s long career of conquest and improvement, destined to wither at once at Solomon’s death. Then, for the first and last time, did the monarchy assume something of the character of an empire, unequalled in peaceful prosperity of wealth and power, and in splendour of civilisation.
And Solomon awoke; and, behold, it was a dream. And he came to Jerusalem, and stood before the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and offered up burnt offerings, and offered peace offerings, and made a feast to all his servants.(15) Stood before the ark of the covenant, in its Tabernacle on Mount Sion, which now constituted a second, and probably still more sacred, place of worship. The great sacrifice—now distinctly a thank-offering, followed as usual by a sacred feast—is naturally repeated there.
Then came there two women, that were harlots, unto the king, and stood before him.(16) Then came there.—The celebrated “judgment of Solomon,” given here as a specimen of his wisdom, is simply an instance of intuitive sagacity, cutting the Gordian knot of hopeless difficulty by the appear to maternal instinct—an appeal which might, of course, fail, but which was, under the exceptional circumstances, the only appeal possible. It is in the knowledge how to risk failure rather than be reduced to impotence, and how to go straight to the heart of a difficulty when the slow, regular approaches of science are impossible, that we recognise what men call “a touch of genius,” and what Scripture here calls the “wisdom of God.”