תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

pomp and extravagance was followed by worldliness, luxury, and folly. From agricultural pursuits the people had passed to commercial; the Israelites had become merchants and traders, and the foul idolatries of Phænicians and Syrians had overspread the land. The king having lost the respect and affection of the nation, the rebellion of Jeroboam was a logical sequence.

I have not read of any king who so belied the promises of his early days, and on whom prosperity produced so fatal an apostasy as Solomon. With all his wisdom and early piety, he became an egotist, a sensualist, and a tyrant. What vanity he displayed before the Queen of Sheba! What a slave he became to wicked women! How disgraceful was his toleration of the gods of Phænicia and Egypt! How hard was the bondage to which he subjected his subjects! How different was his ordinary life from that of his illustrious father, with no repentance, no remorse, no self-abasement! He was a Nebuchadnezzar and a Sardanapalus combined, going from bad to worse. And he was not only a sensualist and a tyrant, an egotist, and to some extent an idolater, but he was a cynic, sceptical of all good, and of the very attainments which had made him famous. We read of no illustrious name whose glory passed through so dark an eclipse. The satiated, disenchanted, disappointed monarch, prematurely old, and worn out by

self-indulgence, passed away without honor or regret, at the age of sixty, and was buried in the City of David; and Rehoboam, his son, reigned in his stead.

The Christian fathers and many subsequent theological writers have puzzled their brains with unsatisfactory speculations whether Solomon finally repented or not; but the Scriptures are silent on that point. We have no means of knowing at what period of his life his heart was weaned from the religion of David, or when he entered upon a life of pleasure. There are some passages in the Book of Ecclesiastes which lead us to suppose that before he died he came to himself, and was a preacher of righteousness. This is the more charitable and humane view to take; yet even so, his moral teachings and warnings are not imbued with the personal contrition that endeared David's soul to God; they are unimpassioned, cold-hearted, intellectual, impersonal. Moreover, it may be that even in the midst of his follies he retained the perception of moral distinctions. His will was probably enslaved, so that he had not the power to restrain his passions, and his head may have become giddy in his high elevation. How few men could have resisted such powerful temptations as assailed Solomon on every side! The heart of the Christian world cannot but feel that so gifted a man, endowed with every intellectual attraction, who reigned for a time with so much wisdom, who recognized Jehovah as the guide and Lord of Israel, as especially appears at the dedication of the Temple, and who wrote such profound lessons of moral wisdom, would not be suffered to descend to the grave without the divine forgiveness. All that we know is that he was wise, and favored beyond all precedent, but that he adopted the habits and fell in with the vices of Oriental kings, and lost the affections of his people. He was exalted to the highest pinnacle of glory; he descended to an abyss of shame, - a sad example of the infirmity of human nature which all ages will lament.

In one sense Solomon left nothing to his nation but monuments of despotic power, and trophies of a material civilization which implied the decay of primitive virtues. He did not perpetuate his greatness; he did not even enlarge the boundaries of his kingdom. Like Louis XIV. he simply squandered a great inheritance. He did not leave his kingdom morally so strong as it was under David ; it was even dismembered under his legitimate successor. The grand Temple indeed remained the pride of every Jew, but David had bequeathed the treasures to build it. The national resources had been wasted in palaces and in court festivities; and although these had contributed to a material civilization, especially the sums expended on fortresses, aqueducts, reservoirs, and roads for the caravans, this civilization, so highly and justly prized in our age, may — under the peculiar circumstances of the Jews, and the end for which, by the Mosaic dispensation, they were intended to be kept isolated have weakened those simpler habits and sentiments which favored the establishment of their religion. Il must never be lost sight of that the isolation of the Hebrew race, unfavorable to such developments of civilization as commerce and the arts, was providentially designed (as is evidenced by the fact of accomplishment in spite of all obstacles) to keep alive the worship of Jehovah until the fulness of time should come, – until the Messiah should appear to establish a new dispensation. The glory and grandeur of Solomon did not contribute to this end, but on the other hanc favored idolatrous rites and corrupting foreign customs; and this is proved by the rapid decline of the Jews in religious life, patriotic ardor, and primitive virtues under the succeeding kings, both of Judah and Israel, which led ultimately to their captivity. Politically, Solomon may have added to the temporary power of the nation, but spiritually, and so fundamentally, he caused an eclipse of glory. And this is why his kingdom departed from his house, and he left a sullied name.

Nevertheless, in many important respects Solomon rendered great services to humanity, which redeemed

his memory from shame and made him a truly immortal man, and even a great benefactor. He left writings which are still among the most treasured inheritances of his nation and of mankind. It is recorded that he spoke three thousand proverbs, and his songs were a thousand and five. Only a small portion of these have descended to us in the sacred writings, but they doubtless entered into the literature of the Jews. Enough remains, whenever they were compiled and collected, to establish his fame as one of the wisest and most gifted of mortals. And these writings, whatever may have been his backslidings, are pervaded with moral wisdom. Whether written in youth or in old age, on the summit of human glory or in the depths of despair, they are generally accepted as among the most precious gems of the Old Testament. His profound experience, conveyed to us in proverbs and songs, remains as a guide in life through all generations. The dignity of intellect shines triumphantly through all the obscuration of virtues. Thus do poets live even when buried in ignominious graves ; thus do philosophers instruct the world even though, like Seneca, and possibly Bacon, their lives present a sad contrast to their precepts. Great thoughts emancipate the soul, from age to age, while he who uttered them may have been enslaved by vices. Who knows what the private life of Shakspeare and Goethe may have been, but who would part with

« הקודםהמשך »