We have here a further account of Solomon’s greatness.
I. His buildings. He raised a great levy both of men and money, because he projected a great deal of building, which would both employ many hands and put him to a vast expense, 1 Kgs. 9:15. And he was a wise builder, who sat down first, and counted the cost, and would not begin to build till he found himself able to finish. Perhaps there was some complaint of the heaviness of the taxes, which the historian excuses from the greatness of his undertakings. He raised it, not for war (as other princes), which would spend the blood of his subjects, but for building, which would require only their labour and purses. Perhaps David observed Solomon’s genius to lie towards building, and foresaw he would have his head and hands full of it, when he penned that song of degrees for Solomon, which begins, Except the Lord build the house, those labour in vain that build it (Ps. 127:1), directing him to acknowledge God in all his ways, and, by prayer and faith in his providence, to take him along with him in all his designs of this kind. And Solomon verily began his work at the right end, for he built God’s house first, and finished that before he began his own; and then God blessed him, and he prospered in all his other buildings. If we begin with God, he will go on with us. Let the first-fruits be his, and the after-fruits will the more comfortably be ours, Matt. 6:33. Solomon built a church first and then he was enabled to build houses, and cities, and walls. Those consult not their own interest that defer to the last what they design for pious uses. The further order in Solomon’s buildings is observable. God’s house first for religion, then his own for his own convenience, then a house for his wife, to which she removed as soon as it was ready for her (1 Kgs. 9:24), then Millo, the town-house or guild-hall, then the wall of Jerusalem, the royal city, then some cities of note and strength in the country, which were decayed and unfortified, Hazor, Megiddo, etc. As he rebuilt these at his own charge, the inhabitants would be not only his subjects, but his tenants, which would increase the revenues of the crown for the benefit of his successors. Among the rest, he built Gezer, which Pharaoh took out of the hands of the Canaanites, and made a present of to his daughter, Solomon’s wife, 1 Kgs. 9:16. See how God maketh the earth to help the woman. Solomon was not himself a warlike prince, but the king of Egypt, who was, took cities for him to build. Then he built cities for convenience, for store, for his chariots, and for his horsemen, 1 Kgs. 9:19. And, lastly, he built for pleasure in Lebanon, for his hunting perhaps, or other diversions there. Let piety begin, and profit proceed, and leave pleasure to the last.
II. His workmen and servants. In doing such great works, he must needs employ abundance of workmen. The honour of great men is borrowed from their inferiors, who do that which they have the credit of. 1. Solomon employed those who remained of the conquered and devoted nations in all the slavish work, 1 Kgs. 9:20, 21. We may suppose that they renounced their idolatry and submitted to Solomon’s government, so that he could not, in honour, utterly destroy them, and they were so poor that he could not levy money on them; therefore he served himself of their labour. Herein he observed God’s law (Lev. 25:44; Thy bondmen shall be of the heathen), and fulfilled Noah’s curse upon Canaan, A servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren, Gen. 9:25. 2. He employed Israelites in the more creditable services (1 Kgs. 9:22, 23): Of them he made no bondmen, for they were God’s freemen, but he made them soldiers and courtiers, and gave them offices, as he saw them qualified, among his chariots and horsemen, appointing some to support the service of the inferior labourers. Thus he preserved the dignity and liberty of Israel and honoured their relation to God as a kingdom of priests.
III. His piety and devotion (1 Kgs. 9:25): Three times in a year he offered burnt-offerings extraordinary (namely, at the three yearly feasts, the passover, pentecost, and feast of tabernacles) in honour of the divine institution, besides what he offered at other times, both statedly and upon special occasions. With his sacrifices he burnt incense, not himself (that was king Uzziah’s crime), but the priest for him, at his charge, and for his particular use. It is said, He offered on the altar which he himself built. He took care to build it, and then, 1. He himself made use of it. Many will assist the devotions of others that neglect their own. Solomon did not think his building an altar would excuse him from sacrificing, but rather engage him the more to it. 2. He himself had the benefit and comfort of it. Whatever pains we take, for the support of religion, to the glory of God and the edification of others, we ourselves are likely to have the advantage of it.
IV. His merchandise. He built a fleet of trading ships at Ezion-geber (1 Kgs. 9:26), a port on the coast of the Red Sea, the furthest stage of the Israelites when they wandered in the wilderness, Num. 33:35. Probably that wilderness now began to be peopled by the Edomites, which it was not then. To them this port had belonged, but, David having subdued the Edomites, it now pertained to the crown of Judah. The fleet traded to Ophir in the East Indies, supposed to be that which is now called Ceylon. Gold was the commodity traded for, substantial wealth. It should seem, Solomon had before been Hiram’s partner, or put a venture into his ships, which made him a rich return of 120 talents (1 Kgs. 9:14), which encouraged him to build a fleet of his own. The success of others in any employment should quicken our industry; for in all labour there is profit. Solomon sent his own servants as factors, and merchants, and super-cargoes, but hired Tyrians for sailors, for they had knowledge of the sea, 1 Kgs. 9:27. Thus one nation needs another, Providence so ordering it that there may be mutual commerce and assistance; for not only as Christians, but as men, we are members one of another. The fleet brought home to Solomon 420 talents of gold, 1 Kgs. 9:28. Canaan, the holy land, the glory of all lands, had no gold in it, which teaches us that that part of the wealth of this world which is for hoarding and trading is not the best part of it, but that which is more immediately for the present support and comfort of life, our own and others’; such were the productions of Canaan. Solomon got much by his merchandise, but, it should seem, David got much more by his conquests. What were Solomon’s 420 talents to David’s 100,000 talents of gold? 1 Chron. 22:14; 29:4. Solomon got much by his merchandise, and yet has directed us to a better trade, within reach of the poorest, having assured us from his own experience of both that the merchandise of wisdom is better than the merchandise of silver and the gain thereof than fine gold, Prov. 3:14.