King Solomon was the son of David and the third king of Israel. Like his father, Solomon reigned for 40 years, probably from around 970–931 BC. He’s often referred to as the wisest (and wealthiest) man who ever lived, and he’s the traditional author of multiple books of the Bible, all of which fall into the “poetry” section of the Old Testament. Solomon also built God’s first temple in Jerusalem, which is why it’s known as Solomon’s temple.
Solomon is a key figure in the biblical narrative and holds an important place in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. Almost everything we know about him comes from the books of 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles, which leaves scholars unsure how much we really know about him.
He was the last king of Israel before the nation split in two, with his son Rehoboam ruling the Southern Kingdom of Judah and Solomon’s former advisor Jeroboam ruling the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
While Solomon is revered for his wisdom and establishing the first Jewish temple, he’s also renowned for his sin. He had numerous wives and concubines, indulged in idolatry, and married foreign women (which was against the Mosaic Law).
In this guide, we’ll explore what the Bible says about this significant Old Testament figure.
What is King Solomon known for?
Solomon is most known for his wealth, wisdom, and writings. And building God’s temple. And having a lot of wives. And . . . OK, so he’s known for a lot of things. Let’s go through them one by one.
He asked God for wisdom
Jews and Christians alike often regard Solomon as the wisest man who ever lived. According to the Bible, Solomon’s wisdom came directly from God. At the beginning of the narrative about Solomon, we learn that God appeared to him and said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you” (2 Chronicles 1:7).
Solomon asked for wisdom and knowledge, so he could better govern God’s people (2 Chronicles 1:10). As a result, God basically gave him the jackpot of divine gifts:
“Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, possessions or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, possessions and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.” —2 Chronicles 1:11–12
In time, Solomon’s wisdom became known throughout the region, and as his reputation grew, other rulers came to question and learn from him:
“King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth. All the kings of the earth sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart.” —2 Chronicles 9:22–23
Solomon is traditionally credited with writing the vast majority of Proverbs, the entire books of Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes, plus a couple of Psalms. Basically, about half of the “poetry and wisdom books” in the Bible are attributed to him. To this day, people turn to Solomon’s words for advice about relationships, wisdom, wealth, work, and just about everything else.
The writer of 1 Kings tells us that “Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else, including Ethan the Ezrahite—wiser than Heman, Kalkol and Darda, the sons of Mahol. And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations” (1 Kings 4:30–31).
He was incredibly wealthy
Solomon obviously inherited a great deal of wealth from his father, David, who built up an immense treasury through the spoils of war. (Which is just a nicer way of saying “he stole it from people he killed or conquered.”) To help Solomon build the temple, David set aside “a hundred thousand talents of gold, a million talents of silver” as well as “quantities of bronze and iron too great to be weighed” (1 Chronicles 22:14).
But Solomon didn’t just live off his father’s fortune. God’s promise to give Solomon wisdom included a promise to give him wealth—and God delivered.
“The Lord highly exalted Solomon in the sight of all Israel and bestowed on him royal splendor such as no king over Israel ever had before.” —1 Chronicles 29:25
The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly how much money Solomon had. But it does give us some specifics.
“Solomon accumulated chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses, which he kept in the chariot cities and also with him in Jerusalem. The king made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore-fig trees in the foothills. Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and from Kue—the royal merchants purchased them from Kue at the current price. They imported a chariot from Egypt for six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse for a hundred and fifty.” —2 Chronicles 1:14–17
Interestingly, Solomon’s wealth here is tied to Israel’s prosperity. It doesn’t say Solomon himself had so much gold and silver that these precious metals were as common as stones. It says he made them as common as stones in Jerusalem. Similarly, cedar trees—which were traditionally the strongest, tallest, most beautiful trees—became as plentiful as one of the most common fruit trees. Solomon was an active participant in this change, too. He made silver and gold more common, and he made cedar more plentiful. So while God blessed Solomon with wealth, this blessing spilled over to God’s people as well.
It’s also worth noting: God had explicitly told the Israelites not to let their king do this.
“The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.” —Deuteronomy 17:16–17
He literally sent people to Egypt to get a horse and chariot. For such a wise king, it almost looks like Solomon treated God’s warning as a to-do list.
He built God’s temple
Solomon built the first Jewish temple, which immediately became a focal point of the Jewish faith. But the story of the temple begins long before Solomon.
Since the time of Moses, God’s dwelling place had been the Ark of the Covenant, which was kept in the tabernacle. While the tabernacle was elaborate, beautiful, and meticulously designed, it was essentially a fancy tent.
One day David (Israel’s second king and Solomon’s father) became uncomfortably aware that while he lived in a palace, God’s “house” was a tent:
After David was settled in his palace, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of the covenant of the Lord is under a tent.” —1 Chronicles 17:1
Through Nathan, God told David that one of his sons would build his temple:
“When your days are over and you go to be with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever.” —1 Chronicles 17:11–12
Later, God reveals that this was because David had shed too much blood (1 Chronicles 22:8, 1 Chronicles 28:3). While David couldn’t build the temple, at the end of his reign, he dedicated a massive stockpile of gold, silver, bronze, iron, onyx, turquoise and “all kinds of fine stone and marble” (1 Chronicles 29:2) for the building.
The actual building of the temple is recorded in 2 Chronicles 2–5 and 1 Kings 5-6. In the fourth year of his reign (1 Kings 6:1), with more than 150,000 workers, Solomon began the seven-year project (1 Kings 7:1).
While it was lavishly constructed with gold-overlaid cedar, luxurious furnishings, and a valuable treasury, the temple was surprisingly small. It was only about 90 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 45 feet high (1 Kings 6:2, 2 Chronicles 3:3).
According to the first-century historian Flavius Josephus, “the temple was burnt four hundred and seventy years, six months, and ten days after it was built” (Jewish Antiquities). It stood from about the tenth century BC until King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it in the early sixth century BC.
He had many wives
Solomon was God’s anointed, and God blessed him tremendously. But he wasn’t exactly famous for his purity. According to 1 Kings 11:3, Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines! (A concubine was a sexual partner of lower status than a wife, often essentially a sex slave.)
The Bible is pretty clear that this was not what God intended or desired. Before the Israelites even reached the promised land, God warned that a king with many wives would be led astray by his heart (Deuteronomy 17:17). He told the Israelites not to marry people from specific lands because it would lead them to serve other gods (Deuteronomy 7:3–4).
Solomon knew all that. As king of God’s chosen people, and as someone who had been blessed with God’s wisdom, he couldn’t not know it. And still, he chose to take hundreds of women as his wives and lovers.
For many people, the fact that Solomon had many wives (and perhaps the irony that he holds such a place of honor in Christianity and Judaism) is one of the more memorable things about him. But it’s important to remember that the Bible doesn’t shy away from this fact, and it’s even directly tied to Solomon’s downfall. His wives “turned his heart” toward other gods—including Molek, the god of child sacrifice—and in kind, he turned Israel’s heart toward them, too.
He promoted idolatry
Since ancient religions were so deeply embedded in their cultures of origin, marrying foreigners exposed the Israelites to other gods, rituals, and traditions that shaped their worldview and behavior. Idols were revered as the embodiment of the gods they represented, so bringing idols (and idol-worshippers) into your home brought you under the influence of these other gods.
Solomon had intimate relationships with hundreds of women from the very nations God had told the Israelites not to intermarry with (1 Kings 11:2). As you can imagine, many of these women would have worshipped the same gods, and Solomon would’ve been facing constant pressure to both join them in the rituals, traditions, and beliefs they’d been brought up in and pressure to normalize the actions and beliefs of his family within Israelite culture. So surprise, surprise, “his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God” (1 Kings 11:4).
Specifically, Solomon’s wives convinced him to follow the Sidonian goddess Ashtoreth, the Moabite god Chemosh, and the Ammonite god, Molek. He even built places for worship, so that his wives (and anyone else who followed these gods) could offer sacrifices to them (1 Kings 11:7). He did this for all of his wives and their gods (1 Kings 11:8).
So while the Israelites had no idols or images of Yahweh, they were surrounded by idols and constantly seeing royalty sacrifice to other gods. Solomon built Yahweh a beautiful temple to house the ark of the covenant. But he also accumulated so much wealth that precious metals became as common as stones, and he dedicated prominent places to foreign gods.
At the start of his reign, Solomon established a special place for God. But by the end of his reign, Solomon’s temple was just one of many places to honor one of many gods, and the house he built for Yahweh, the God of Israel, was overshadowed by the places people went to worship and serve other gods.
He wrote and spoke many proverbs
The author of Kings claims Solomon “spoke three thousand proverbs” (1 Kings 4:32). His wisdom explored just about every topic, and rulers from all nations came to Israel to hear his proverbs:
“He spoke about plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also spoke about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. From all nations people came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom.” —1 Kings 4:33–34
Hundreds of Solomon’s proverbs are preserved in the Bible’s Book of Proverbs alongside some of his poems and the wisdom of others. Some of them are instructions, and others are simply observations, but together they promote the pursuit of wisdom, justice, and righteousness.
Solomon’s proverbs used a variety of styles to convey meaning, but in the Book of Proverbs, his most common sayings were two line reflections that compared or contrasted two things (such as wisdom and foolishness), or where the second line is a consequence (positive or negative) of the first.
Here are a couple of examples.
“As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.” —Proverbs 26:11
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” —Proverbs 1:7
“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” —Proverbs 22:6
He wrote a book about sex
Solomon’s father, King David, was a famous musician. Even as a boy, he played for King Saul. Over the course of his life, David wrote about half of the Psalms in the Bible. Solomon was a songwriter, too, and he was perhaps even more prolific than his father. 1 Kings 4:32 says Solomon wrote more than 1,000 songs.
One of those songs was the book we know as Song of Songs, or the Song of Solomon.
This intimate book is a celebration of marriage, sex, and love, written from the perspective of a bride, a bridegroom, and their friends. While Solomon doesn’t come right out and say it’s about him and his wife, most readers generally assume it is, and there are six direct references to Solomon (Song of Songs 1:5; 3:7, 9, 11; 8:11–12) and three references to a king (Song of Songs 1:4, 12; 7:6). And the bridegroom singles out the bride as unique among more than a hundred queens, concubines, and virgins, which are presumably his.
Which kind of begs the question: which wife is this about?
. . . We don’t know. There were a lot of them, OK?
While it’s easy to read the whole book as one cohesive piece, scholars debate about how many distinct poems it actually contains.
“There is no scholarly consensus concerning the structure of the Song. As few as six poems have been suggested (Miller 1927), and some scholars have recognized as many as twenty-five or more . . .” —Professor Roland E. Murphy, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary
Throughout the song (or . . . collection of songs?) Solomon uses some pretty strange imagery to describe this beautiful bride. She has teeth like a flock of sheep (Song of Songs 6:6), hair like a flock of goats (Song of Songs 6:5), and breasts like twin fawns (Song of Songs 4:5).
It’s not a modern love song. But the story, message, and romance of the song is timeless.
He may have written Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes is a book of poetry and wisdom literature which never refers to the author by name. But it gives some pretty big hints Solomon wrote it, so he’s traditionally been considered the author.
The first verse refers to the author as a “son of David” and a “king.” Later, it says the author “was king of Israel in Jerusalem” (Ecclesiastes 1:12) and refers to him as a well-known wiseman (Ecclesiastes 12:9–10). Only two sons of David ruled Israel in Jerusalem: his son Solomon and his grandson Rehoboam. And, well, Rehoboam wasn’t exactly known for his wisdom.
Ecclesiastes isn’t a narrative, or collection of songs, proverbs, or laws. It’s an extended discourse on the meaning of life. And let’s just say it’s not the book most people turn to when they’re looking for encouragement:
“I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.” —Ecclesiastes 1:14
The book explores the pursuits of wisdom, wealth, work, and other areas of life where the author has “seen it all.” But while the author sees everything as meaningless, they also urge readers to obey God, because even if we don’t see the point of doing good or the consequences of doing evil right now, in the end, God will judge:
“The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” —Ecclesiastes 12:13–14
How did King Solomon die?
Near the end of his reign, Solomon had several enemies, and even one of his own advisors—Jeroboam—rebelled against him. But after 40 years as king, Solomon died of natural causes.
He was the last king to rule over the 12 united tribes of Israel. After his death, his son Rehoboam succeeded the throne and quickly began oppressing the Israelites. About 10 of the tribes chose to make Jeroboam their king, forming the Northern Kingdom of Israel, leaving Rehoboam to rule the two remaining tribes in what became the Kingdom of Judah.
The wise and foolish king
Solomon was renowned for his wisdom, but that didn’t protect him from making some pretty serious mistakes. He understood how the world worked, and instead of living in harmony with God and his order for the world, he tried to exploit it and bend it to his own advantage.
He built God a temple, then surrounded it with places to worship other gods. He ignored God’s warnings against having many wives, accumulating great wealth, and sending Israelites back to Egypt.
Solomon was given so much more than his father before him, but while in many ways he followed his father’s footsteps, he ultimately failed to live up to his father’s example of obedience.
Wisdom is a valuable gift, and God gave Solomon an abundance of it. But with that wisdom came an even greater temptation to trust his own judgement, rather than humbly walking with God. Which makes it all the more remarkable that Solomon said:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.” —Proverbs 3:5-6
Solomon probably learned that lesson the hard way. There’s a lot we can gain from Solomon’s wisdom. And thankfully, we can learn from his mistakes, too.