We have here a further account of Solomon’s prosperity.
I. How he increased his wealth. Though he had much, he still coveted to have more, being willing to try the utmost the things of this world could do to make men happy. 1. Besides the gold that came from Ophir (1 Kgs. 9:28), he brought so much into his country from other places that the whole amounted, every year, to 666 talents (1 Kgs. 10:14), an ominous number, compare Rev. 13:18; Ezra 2:13. 2. He received a great deal in customs from the merchants, and in land-taxes from the countries his father had conquered and made tributaries to Israel, 1 Kgs. 10:15. 3. He was Hiram’s partner in a Tharshish fleet, of and for Tyre, which imported once in three years, not only gold, and silver, and ivory, substantial goods and serviceable, but apes to play with and peacocks to please the eye with their feathers, 1 Kgs. 10:22. I wish this may not be an evidence that Solomon and his people, being overcharged with prosperity, by this time grew childish and wanton. 4. He had presents made him, every year, from the neighbouring princes and great men, to engage the continuance of his friendship, not so much because they feared him or were jealous of him as because they loved him and admired his wisdom, had often occasion to consult him as an oracle, and sent him these presents by way of recompence for his advice in politics, and (whether it became his grandeur and generosity or no we will not enquire) he took all that came, even garments and spices, horses and mules, 1 Kgs. 10:24, 25. 5. He traded to Egypt for horses and linen-yarn (or, as some read it, linen-cloth), the staple commodities of that country, and had his own merchants or factors whom he employed in this traffic and who were accountable to him, 1 Kgs. 10:28, 29. The custom to be paid to the king of Egypt for exported chariots and horses out of Egypt was very high, but (as bishop Patrick understands it) Solomon, having married his daughter, got him to compound for the customs, so that he could bring them up cheaper than his neighbours, which obliged them to buy them of him, which he was wise enough no doubt to make his advantage of. This puts an honour upon the trading part of a nation, and sets a tradesman not so much below a gentleman as some place him, that Solomon, one of the greatest men that ever was, thought it no disparagement to him to deal in trade. In all labour there is profit.
II. What use he made of his wealth. He did not hoard it up in his coffers, that he might have it to look upon and leave behind him. He has, in his Ecclesiastes, so much exposed the folly of hoarding that we cannot suppose he would himself be guilty of it. No, God that had given him riches, and wealth, and honour, gave him also power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, Eccl. 5:19.
1. He laid out his gold in fine things for himself, which he might the better be allowed to do when he had before laid out so much in fine things for the house of God. (1.) He made 200 targets, and 300 shields, of beaten gold (1 Kgs. 10:16, 17), not for service, but for state, to be carried before him when he appeared in pomp. With us, magistrates have swords and maces carried before them, as the Romans had their rods and axes, in token of their power to correct and punish the bad, to whom they are to be a terror. But Solomon had shields and targets carried before him, to signify that he took more pleasure in using his power for the defence and protection of the good, to whom he would be a praise. Magistrates are shields of the earth. (2.) He made a stately throne, on which he sat, to give laws to his subjects, audience to ambassadors, and judgment upon appeals, 1 Kgs. 10:18-20. It was made of ivory, or elephants’ teeth, which was very rich; and yet, as if he had so much gold that he knew not what to do with it, he overlaid that with gold, the best gold. Yet some think he did not cover the ivory all over, but here and there. He rolled it, flowered it, or inlaid it, with gold. The stays or arms of this stately chair were supported by the images of lions in gold; so were the steps and paces by which he went up to it, to be a memorandum to him of that courage and resolution wherewith he ought to execute judgment, not fearing the face of man. The righteous, in that post, is bold as a lion. (3.) He made all his drinking vessels, and all the furniture of his table, even at his country seat, of pure gold, 1 Kgs. 10:21. He did not grudge himself what he had, but took the credit and comfort of it, such as it was. That is good that does us good.
2. He made it circulate among his subjects, so that the kingdom was as rich as the king; for he had no separate interests of his own to consult, but sought the welfare of his people. Those princes are not governed by Solomon’s maxims who think it policy to keep their subjects poor. Solomon was herein a type of Christ, who is not only rich himself, but enriches all that are his. Solomon was instrumental to bring so much gold into the country, and disperse it, that silver was nothing accounted of, 1 Kgs. 10:21. There was such plenty of it in Jerusalem that it was as the stones; and cedars, that used to be great rarities, were as common as sycamore trees, 1 Kgs. 10:27. Such is the nature of worldly wealth, plenty of it makes it the less valuable; much more should the enjoyment of spiritual riches lessen our esteem of all earthly possessions. If gold in abundance would make silver to seem so despicable, shall not wisdom, and grace, and the foretastes of heaven, which are far better than gold, make earthly wealth seem much more despicable?
Lastly, Well, thus rich, thus great, was Solomon, and thus did he exceed all the kings of the earth, 1 Kgs. 10:23. Now let us remember, 1. That this was he who, when he was setting out in the world, did not ask for the wealth and honour of it, but asked for a wise and understanding heart. The more moderate our desires are towards earthly things the better qualified we are for the enjoyment of them and the more likely to have them. See, in Solomon’s greatness, the performance of God’s promise (1 Kgs. 3:13), and let it encourage us to seek first the righteousness of God’s kingdom. 2. That this was he who, having tasted all these enjoyments, wrote a whole book to show the vanity of all worldly things and the vexation of spirit that attends them, their insufficiency to make us happy and the folly of setting our hearts upon them, and to recommend to us the practice of serious godliness, as that which is the whole of man, and will do infinitely more towards the making of us easy and happy than all the wealth and power that he was master of, and which, through the grace of God, is within our reach, when the thousandth part of Solomon’s greatness is a thousand times more than we can ever be so vain as to promise ourselves in this world.