5.37 1 Kings --Solomon's Marriage

Solomon started his reign by getting rid of his own and his father’s enemies:  he killed his brother Adonijah  when he asked for permission to marry Abishag the Shunamite; Joab, who had shown no mercy to his enemies in his own life, died holding onto the horns of the altar; Abiathar, the long-time ally of David, was sentenced to house-arrest; and Shimei, who had cursed David, was executed after he violated his sentence of house-arrest.

 

        The kingdom was firmly established in Solomon's hands (1 Kings 2:46).

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After getting rid of his rivals, Solomon made a bold stroke by marrying a daughter of Pharaoh (1 Kings 3:1).  This was an act with extraordinary political and religious significance.  The names of the daughter and of the Pharaoh are unknown, but this marriage must have occurred around 950 BC.  This would mark it as taking place towards the end of the 21st Dynasty of Egypt.  There is no known reference to this marriage in Egyptian records.  

       

This marriage was not so much a testimony to the power of inter-racial love as a reflection of the stature of Israel as a political force at the end of David’s reign.  No such alliance would have been made by Egypt with a petty kingdom, such as one of the Israel’s neighboring states of Edom, Moab, or Philistia.  The marriage shows that Israel was pre-eminent among its enemies in the eyes of the major powers in the region.  Pharaoh was acting out of self-interest, to strengthen the influence of Egypt in the Mid-East region, and possibly to create a friendly buffer state against northern aggressors such as Assyria and Aram.

       

Solomon’s political interests were also served by such a union:  immediate credibility was given to his throne by such a connection with Egypt.  Likewise, the numerous traditional enemies of Israel might think twice before attacking an ally of Egypt.  The economies of both Egypt and Israel would benefit from an increase in trade between those nations and throughout the region (1 Kings 10:28-29).  In sum, it was a superlative diplomatic achievement.

       

There was also considerable symbolic impact.  If we consider that the Exodus from Egypt took place around 1450 BC and Solomon’s marriage around 950 BC, then 500 years had occurred between slavery under Egypt and marriage to an Egyptian princess.  This was a national milestone:  Israel had “arrived” at last at a point of international renown.  In fact, most of the progress occurred in the last 100 years, during the reigns of Saul and David. The first 400 years of Israel’s settlement in Canaan were largely “tribal”:  there was only a federation of clans loosely bound by a common faith, language and history, but no central administration.  It was Saul and David who forged the nation of Israel -- defining and protecting its external borders, creating an internal administrative machine and a standing army.  For the first time, Pharaoh and other national leaders had a single point of contact with the amorphous Israelite tribes.  And Israel, for the first time, was able to develop a consistent foreign policy, whether to wage war or make treaties….or, as in this case, to negotiate an alliance of marriage.  

        

And so the former slave returned as a king.  It was a great moment for national pride:  “see what we have become.”   At last, they could feel that they were on a par with their former masters.  It was an “Obama” moment, full of symbolism:  the descendant of slaves occupying the seat of power and privilege.  And perhaps the symbolism outweighed the reality, as the disastrous aftermath of Solomon’s rule shows: the nation would soon decline and disintegrate into a condition worse than tribalism.  But for the moment, it marked the zenith of Hebrew self-esteem.