Solomon became king of Israel after the death of his father David. Soon after he became king, God came to Solomon in a dream and told him to ask for anything he wanted. Rather than choosing a long life or riches, Solomon chose wisdom. Because he chose wisdom, God blessed him and he became one of the wisest men who ever lived. He was known throughout the world for his wisdom and people came from far away to receive his advice.
One story that is told about the wisdom of Solomon concerns two women who came to him. In the hands of one woman was a living baby and in the hands of the other was a baby who had died. The women were arguing over which baby belonged to whom. One of the woman said, “Her baby died while it was sleeping next to her and she came and stole my baby and placed the dead baby next to me.” The other woman said, “No, her baby died while it was sleeping next to her and now she has brought me here to try to take my baby away from me.” As they continued to argue back and forth, Solomon stood up from his throne and ordered, “Silence!” He sat and thought for a moment. Finally, he said, “Since both of you claim to be the mother of the living baby and since you cannot agree who is the real mother, each of you will have half of the living baby.” He turned to his guards and ordered them to cut the baby in half and give one half to each woman. One of the women said, “Good; that is fair!” The other woman cried out, “No, please! Don’t hurt the baby! Just give it to her!” Solomon said, “The woman who cried out is the mother. Give the child to her.” There are many stories like this that are told about Solomon’s great wisdom and the ways he solved difficult cases by thinking very carefully.
Solomon was also known for his great wealth. He acquired many possessions, including many animals and a great deal of gold and jewels while he was king of Israel. He used his money to build a large, beautiful temple dedicated to his God. This temple became the center of religion in Israel. People from all around Israel gathered at this temple to worship their God and offer sacrifices to him.
In spite of his great wisdom and wealth, however, Solomon also made many mistakes. He allowed his wives to influence him to build temples dedicated to other gods than the God of Israel. As a result, Israel began to suffer terribly and fall apart after Solomon’s death.
In 930 BC, almost immediately after the death of Solomon, there was a civil war in which the southern portion of Israel, called Judah, split off and formed its own kingdom. The two kingdoms remained at war for a very long time as each claimed to be the true heir of the kingdom of David and Solomon. Eventually, however, both were swallowed up by other nations. In 722 BC, the Assyrian Empire conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. In 586 BC, the Babylonians conquered the Assyrian Empire, including Israel. They also conquered the southern kingdom of Judah.
In order to force the people of Israel and Judah to stop worshipping their God and start worshipping the Babylonian gods, the Babylonians took the people of Israel and Judah away from their homeland and destroyed the temple which Solomon had built. For 50 years, the Israelites were forced to live in Mesopotamia, where they were treated as slaves by the Babylonians. This is the period called the Babylonian Captivity, during which Psalm 137, which you have already read, was written.
In 536 BC, however, the Persian Empire conquered the Babylonian Empire. The king of the Persians, Cyrus the Great, who was also a monotheist, allowed the Jews to return to their homeland. He even gave them money to help rebuild their temple. For a while, while the Jews were ruled by the Persians, they were allowed to live at peace in their homeland and to worship their own God. This situation, however, would not last long.
1. What virtue was Solomon known for? How did he gain this virtue?
2. List the events which occurred in each of the following years:
a. 930 BC
b. 722 BC
c. 586 BC
d. 536 BC
3. Which king of Persia conquered the Babylonian Empire and allowed the Jews to return to their homeland to rebuild their temple?
Civil war – a war between two groups within the same nation or country
Wisdom – a combination of experience and knowledge which produces good judgment