of Solomon's first cares was to go to Hebron and sacrifice to God on the brazen altar that
was built by Moses. He offered up there one thousand sheep and oxen as a burnt offering.
God was pleased with his piety, and appeared to the king in his sleep and offered him
anything that he desired to have. Solomon did not ask for gold or silver or other riches,
as many young men would have done, but he
"Give me, O Lord, a sound mind and a good understanding, so that I may speak and judge the people according to truth and righteousness."
With this answer God was well pleased, and He said He would give Solomon wisdom greater than that of any other mortal who had ever lived, and He would add to this gift all those things which Solomon had not asked for, such as riches, glory, and victory over his enemies. God also said that He would preserve the kingdom to Solomon's descendants if he continued righteous and obedient to Him, and imitated the virtues of his father.
Solomon soon had an opportunity of showing his wisdom. For there came before him at
his royal palace in Jerusalem two women. One of them said to
"O king, I and this other woman dwell together in one room, and we each of us had a little son. And this woman, by accident, smothered her child in the night so that it died, and while I was sleeping she put her dead child in my arms, and took from me my child, which was alive, and laid it in her bed. And when I rose in the morning to feed my child, I found in its place this dead body, and I saw my child in the arms of the woman, and she refused to give it back to me."
When this woman had done speaking, Solomon turned to the other and asked her what she had to say. She replied that the child was hers, and that the other woman had not told the truth. Every one present was puzzled and knew not which of the women to believe. Then the king bade them bring in both the dead child and the living child. And he sent for one of his guards, and commanded him to draw his sword and cut both the children into two pieces, that each of the women might have half the living and half the dead child. All the people present laughed secretly at the king, thinking he was but a boy and that the decision was a very silly one. But they soon changed their minds and were forced to admire his wisdom. For she that was the real mother of the living child cried out that he should not do so.
"Rather than see my son die," she said, "I would have you give it to the other woman and believe it is hers, for then I should be able at least to see it again."
But the other woman was willing to see the child divided, and even mocked at the sorrow of her neighbor.
Then the king knew which was the true mother. And he gave the child to her that had cried out to save it, and condemned the other as a wicked woman, who had not only killed her own child through carelessness, but was willing to see her friend's child killed also.
The people looked upon this judgment as a sign of great wisdom, and they ever after accepted all the king's decisions as being just and wise.
In the fourth year of his reign Solomon began to build the temple. Before this time he had been engaged in continuing the preparations made by David, and in gathering together timber and stone and iron. Hiram, king of Tyre, who had been David's friend, made a league of friendship with Solomon also, and let Solomon have many of his most skilful workmen, and Solomon in return sent him corn and oil and wine. And Hiram's servants and Solomon's servants hewed down the cedar-trees on Mount Lebanon, and split them up into beams, and went to the quarries and cut out large stones, and shaped them so that they would fit together, and other workmen carried the timber and the stones into Jerusalem.
The temple was built according to the plans left by David. The foundations were made of great stones, buried deep in the ground. The body of the building was of white stone, and was two stories high. In the front part was a porch, the top of which was built up in the form of a steeple or tower above the rest of the building, and was about two hundred feet high. The roof was made of cedar, and the walls also were covered on the inside with boards of cedar, that were carved in the shape of flowers, and inlaid with gold.
The interior of the temple was divided into two chambers. The innermost of these, which was called the Most Holy Place, was for the ark; and across the door-way, between these two chambers, there hung a veil of blue and purple and scarlet, and the brightest and softest linen. Two angels, carved out of gold, and about fifteen feet high, stood in the Most Holy Place, with their wings spread out, so that the right wing of one touched the wall at one side, and the left wing of the other touched the wall at the other side, and the other wings just touched each other, and were a covering to the ark, which was placed beneath the figures.
In the other chamber stood the altar of incense, which was made of cedar covered with gold, and ten thousand candle-sticks, of which one was always kept lighted. There were, moreover, in this room a great many tables, one of which was large and made of gold, and upon this were set the loaves that were given to God, but the others were smaller, and contained vessels of gold and silver, many thousand in number.
In the court before the temple stood the brazen altar upon which sacrifices were offered. And there was a great basin here, so large that it was called a sea of brass, that rested on the backs of twelve brass oxen. This was to hold water for the priests to wash their hands and their feet in before they offered the sacrifices. There were ten lavers also, which were set upon wheels, and could be moved about from place to place, and these were used for washing the dead bodies of the animals that were to be sacrificed.
At the entrance to the temple stood two great pillars of brass, one at the right hand and the other at the left, and one of these pillars was called Jachin, and the other Boaz. It took seven years to build the temple. When it was finished, Solomon ordered all the Israelites to gather together at Jerusalem, both to see the temple he had built and to remove the ark into it. And all the people came, and they celebrated a great feast, and the priests took up the ark and carried it into the temple. When the ark had been put into the Most Holy Place, under the wings of the angels, and the priests had left it, there came down a cloud from heaven and spread itself in a gentle manner through the temple, sprinkling everywhere a mild and pleasant dew. Then everybody knew that God had descended into the house that had been built for Him, to show that He was well pleased. Solomon kneeled down before the temple and prayed God to watch over the children of Israel, and to accept the sacrifices and listen to the prayers that were offered up in the temple.
Then Solomon rose and addressed the people, exhorting them to serve God and obey the laws that Moses had given them. After having spoken many words of wisdom, he brought sacrifices to the altar. And there came a fire running out of the air, and it rushed upon the altar in the sight of all, and consumed the victims that were laid upon it. The people marvelled greatly, and knew that the Lord accepted the sacrifices.
The king offered up other sacrifices also,—in all, twenty-two thousand oxen and a hundred and twenty thousand sheep. He celebrated a great feast at the same time, which lasted for fourteen days, and all the people of Israel were invited to it, and they came and feasted on the flesh of the peace offerings that he had made. After this the people were dismissed to their own homes, and they went with joyful hearts, thankful to the king for all the great works he had done for them, and praying to God to preserve him as their king for a long time.
In the night-time God again appeared to Solomon, and told him that He had heard his prayers and would abide in the temple and watch over the people of Israel. When they sinned He would punish them, but when they had repented and came to the temple and prayed for pardon He would pardon them. And He promised again that if Solomon would obey Him and worship Him, he should have a long life and his descendants should reign after him. But if he fell away and abandoned the true God and worshipped idols, then He would cut him off in his youth; and if the people fell away, they should be cast out of the land which God had given to their fathers, and be scattered over strange lands, and their temple should be destroyed by the enemy, and their cities overthrown.