The coup d'état by which Solomon gained the throne was followed, shortly after David's death, by the brutal removal of possible rivals and opponents. Adonijah, Joab and Shimei (a member of Saul's family) were killed; and Abiathar the priest was expelled from the capital to his patrimony in Anathoth. Although we are told (1 Ki.2:1-9 that David had on his deathbed instructed Solomon to carry out two of these acts, they give an unpleasant indication of what seems to have been one element in Solomon's reign, the ruthless exercise of royal power. In tradition he has been celebrated as the father of Israelite Wisdom, the builder of the Temple, the king who, after the almost unbroken warfare of his father's reign, gave Israel a period of peace and of fabulous prosperity. But it is clear that there was another and harsher side to the story.
By contrast with the account of David's reign, there is an almost total absence of dramatic movement in the record of the achievements of Solomon (1 Ki.3-11). The Deuteronomistic historian has assembled lists, statistics, annalistic fragments, and stories of various kinds round what was for him Solomon's supreme undertaking, the building of the Temple; but he has not given a chronological consecutive narrative. It is not possible to trace the progress of events; but the chief aspects of Solomon's policy are sufficiently clear.
The Temple, Solomon's most conspicuous legacy to later ages, is a significant pointer to some of these aspects: the combination of opulence and extravagance, the exacting demands made on the nation's resources, the important foreign contacts. It was situated just north of David's city, and was orientated east and west. A porch led to the main hall (the Holy Place), behind which lay the dark inner shrine (the Holy of Holies) where the ark rested. The general plan was derived from Phoenician and Canaanite temples. Phoenicia supplied both materials and skilled craftsmen for the work. It has often been described as a royal chapel. It was something more, for the ark have it the status of Israel's national sanctuary. But it did form part of a complex of royal buildings (1 Ki.7:1-12) and was thus closely linked with the royal house and household.
This ostentatious building programme was matched by the maintenance of an extensive royal establishment if courtiers and officials and a harge harem. Some impression of its size and of the corresponding drain on the national resources is given by the account of its daily requirements (1 Ki.4:22-23).
So that the resources of the country might be more effectively exploited, Solomon divided Israel into 12 administrative districts (1 Ki.4:7-19). Not only did the people have to sustain a heavy burden of taxation in kind; forced labour was also imposed on them. According to 1 Kings 9:20-22, only the non-Israelite population had to serve in this way; but 1 Kings 5:13-14 states that "all Israel" was affected, which is corroborated by the complaint made by the people at the beginning of the reign of Solomon's successor (1 Ki.12:1-20).
Solomon was overspending the wealth of the country. One indication of his financial embarrassment is the transfer of some Israelite towns to Tyre (1 Ki.9:10-14). On the other hand, his reign was undoubtedly one of intense commercial and industrial activity and of expanding trade, in which Hiram, King of Tyre, was an active partner. David's conquest of Edom had given Israel access to extensive deposits of copper. Modern archaelogical investigation has shown that the metal was mined, smelted, and refined on a large scale. A substantial refinery has been excavated on the site of Ezion-geber, which was also, by reason of its situation at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba, a base from which Solomon's merchant fleet, manned by Phoenician sailors, voyaged on trading missions along the coasts of the Red Sea and beyond (1 Ki.9:26-28; 10:11ff). Solomon's commercial interests in that region indicate the reason for the visit to Jerusalem of the Queen of Sheba (1 Ki.10:1-10,13), whose kingdom lay in southern Arabia. Another of Solomon's enterprises was the trade which he carried on as a middleman in horses and chariots bought from Asia Minor and Egypt (1 Ki.10:28ff).
Solomon further strengthened the position of his country by political and matrimonial alliances. His marriage to an Egyptian princess is recorded as of special importance (1 Ki.3:1; 7:8; 9:16). He also did much to reinforce the military strength of the country. One aspect of his ambitious building programme was the fortification of key cities (1 Ki.9:15). At Megiddo and elsewhere he maintained formidable forces of chariotry, an arm which at the time of the conquest had daunted the invading Istraelites and of which David appears to have made no use, but which subsequently played an important part in Israelite military strength.
As Solomon's ambitions and lucrative trading activities did not prevent the impoverishment of his kingdom, so his political and military measures to strengthen it did not safeguard him against serious reverses. The capture of Damascus by Rezon (1 Ki.11:23-25) must have been a hard blow at Israelite influence in Syria; and in Edom the activities of Hadad, a rebel prince, threatened Solomon's control of an important region. But the greatest source of weakness was internal. As subsequent events showed, Solomon's harsh and extortionate measures and his autocratic rule had provoked something more serious than discontent. His centralising administrative policy was a serious blow to the old tribal or local administration and the traditional structure of Israelite society. But administrative unification could not produce true unity; nor could it stifle the will to revolt. Solomon's peculiar blend of astuteness and regal folly gave to Israel a golden age of propserity and a legacy of division. His reputation for wisdom may well point to something more that his own quick-wittedness and command of proverbial lore. The range of Israel's international contacts in his time probably facilitated acquaintance with the cosmopolitan teaching of the ancient Near East and stimulated the cultural and intellectual life of the nation. But it is difficult to deny Solomon a high place in any respreseentative list of wise fools who have occupied a throne.