SOLOMON (Part 16)

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Researched and studied by HH, Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div

Solomon’s Navy.

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1 Kings 9:26-28; 10:11, 22.

No single passages of the historical part of the Scriptures have been the subject of so much research or of such varied conjectures as those which relate to Solomon’s navy and its achievements. After all that has been done and suggested to elucidate the sacred texts which relate to this subject, the land that afforded Solomon a supply of gold and silver, elephants’ teeth, apes and peacocks, remains to this day a matter of uncertainty. Perhaps India is entitled to rank first in the scale of probability. It seems entitled to do so in regard to its productions. And if the fleet, which made a three years’ voyage, mentioned in chapter 10, is the same as that mentioned in the previous chapter, which sailed from Ezion-Geber, on the shore of the Red Sea, the voyage does not present itself as a matter of serious, or at least of insuperable difficulty, even in those days of coasting navigation. If, however, this navy of Tarshish sailed from some port on the coast of the Mediterranean instead of the Red Sea, to reach India it must have sailed around the whole coast of Africa, a feat which is believed to have been accomplished two hundred years later, but which we can hardly suppose could be mentioned as more than a single, but not as a repeated occurrence, in the reign of Solomon. Tarshish, of which so frequent mention is made in the Old Testament, is understood to be the ancient Tartessus on the coast of Spain, one of the numerous colonies of Tyre; but a navy or a ship of Tarshish is not considered to mean one that sailed to that distant colony only, but to be a term applied generally to vessels of the largest class, and such as were therefore employed in the longest and most important voyages. A navy of Tarshish might thus sail from the Red Sea in a direction opposite to Tarshish itself; and we can hardly conceive that, if India was the destination of Solomon’s navy, it could take any other course than through the straits of Bab el Mandeb into the Arabian Sea, and east along the coast of Hindustan.

Such investigations as these, though not entirely destitute of interest to the reader of the Scriptures, are not the highest that can engage his attention; and the solution of the questions that have been so largely discussed is not essentially necessary to the spiritual understanding of the passage.

The general object of the tenth chapter seems to be to show, not only that Solomon was the wisest and richest of kings, but that all the earth came to hear his wisdom, and that the most distant parts of the world were made to enrich him with their treasures. The greatness of his power, the wealth of his kingdom, and the extent of his dominion seem to be the great themes of the sacred historian. Not only were the king of Tyre and the queen of Sheba his admirers and allies, and contributed to his greatness and magnificence, but those who came from all the earth to hear his wisdom ” brought every man his present, vessels of silver, and vessels of gold, and garments, and armour, and spices, horses, and mules, a rate year by year.” The power, the riches, and the dominion of the King of spiritual Israel were symbolized by those of Solomon.

And this universal homage rendered to that eminent type of Jesus was but the shadow of that which shall yet be rendered to Him, to whom every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, of things on earth, as it already is of things in heaven; for He whom all the angels of God worship, and to whom they offer their most precious gifts of love and gratitude and devotion, shall yet be the one grand Object to whom all the earth shall come, to hear His wisdom, and to whom they will spontaneously render their continual service. In the true Church of the Lord, where His true character is known, such homage and offerings must be unreserved and constant.

The ships built by Solomon on the Red Sea formed the first and perhaps the only navy that ever existed in connection with the kingdom of Israel. Much less important in themselves, and much humbler in their immediate commercial objects, were the ships that so many ages afterwards were navigated upon the Sea of Galilee by the disciples of Jesus; but far more precious was their freight when they carried from place to place Him in whom dwelt all the riches of wisdom and knowledge, and all the blessings of redemption and salvation, and who came on earth to dispense them without limit or partiality to His creatures. In both cases, however, the ships had the same signification, and in both cases, the use they performed teaches us a similar spiritual lesson. A ship in Scripture is the symbol of knowledge, and the analogy is to be discovered in its use. Knowledge is not wisdom, but knowledge is a vessel which contains wisdom and conveys it to the mind. A ship, by means of which the merchant visits different and distant lands, and exchanges the produce of his own country for that of others, and by which both are enriched, is the symbol of that knowledge which, though it does not constitute the true riches, is a medium by which they are acquired—a vessel, so to speak, that contains them, and carries them on to their proposed end, which is their application to the purposes of life. It is for this reason that those who by knowledge enter into the Divine Word, that they may contemplate the wonders of redeeming love and acquire the wisdom of realizing its benefits, are represented as going down into the sea in ships, and doing business in great waters; of whom it is said, that they see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. For the same reason, those in the mystical Babylon who had made traffic of sacred knowledge are represented as lamenting her fall. For “every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off, and cried, Alas, alas, for that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea, by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate.”

The navy which Solomon built, and by which he had communication and commerce with the most distant lands, may be regarded as symbolizing that knowledge which under the Gospel is to convey to the most distant nations the blessings of religious light and virtue, and to extend the knowledge of the Lord, that is to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. But besides this very general view which may be taken of its typical meaning, we are no doubt to understand the ships of Solomon, like those of the disciples, in which our Lord travelled, from which He taught, and from which He stilled the tempest, as representing the knowledges of His own Divine Word, in which He eminently is, by which He is brought near to us and we to Him, from which He instructs us in the great doctrines of life and immortality, and the true means of realizing them, and from which He restores tranquillity to the troubled soul.

The articles with which the ships of Solomon were freighted have, however, a specific spiritual signification. The gold and silver signify the goodness and truth of the inner man, the ivory, apes, and peacocks those of the outer man. Gold and silver are so frequently employed by the prophets as emblematical of the most precious spiritual graces, that everyone must at once recognise their meaning. Of all the graces love is the purest and the most precious, and of this gold is the universal emblem. Because the reign of Solomon represented the reign of love—because his kingdom represented the kingdom of the Lord, in which love to Him is the ruling and cherished principle—therefore it was, in order to represent it, that Solomon made targets and shields of beaten gold, and that all his drinking vessels were of gold, and all the vessels of the house of the forest of Lebanon were of pure gold; and that silver, of which none of them was made, was nothing accounted of in the days of Solomon, who made it be in Jerusalem as stones. And by this mode of expressing the abundance of gold, and the relative worthlessness of silver, we are instructed, that when love to the Lord reigns in the heart, good is the ground of defence, intelligence, and reason, and that spiritual truth, which is silver, takes the place of natural truth, which is stone. Of the three natural productions of the country to which the ships of Solomon went, ivory signifies rational truth, which is the highest truth of the natural mind or outer man. Solomon, therefore, made a great throne of ivory, which he overlaid with the best gold. The appropriateness of this will at once be apparent; for judgement is peculiarly the function of the rational faculty of the mind; it is this that weighs and compares evidence, that discriminates and separates between truth and error, and that forms from the whole a conclusion which constitutes a judgement. Yet judgement is not to be formed and pronounced from truth alone; for truth alone, though it may be not unjust, is yet severe, in its judgements. Judgement should be according to the truth, but it should be tempered with mercy. The throne of judgement should indeed be of ivory, but it ought to be overlaid with gold. The rational faculty is, strictly considered, intermediate, occupying a place, and forming a medium between the inner and outer, or the spiritual and natural mind. The ivory, which is the symbol of rational truth, occupies here a middle place between the gold and silver, which signify the good and truth of the inner man, and the apes and peacocks, which signify the good and truth of the outer man. It is not of essential importance for us to know, nor shall we attempt to determine the disputed question, whether these are the very creatures which the original terms were intended to designate. It is sufficient for our purpose that one is a beast and the other a bird, which we know correspond to the principles of good and truth, or to the affections and thoughts. Their reference to the natural mind is determined not simply by the nature of the animals themselves, but by the place they occupy in the enumeration, and by the circumstance that animals specifically signify the natural affections and perceptions of the mind, because the natural mind of man is in its nature similar to that of animals.

The voyage which was undertaken for the purpose of bringing these rare and-precious things from foreign countries to the land of Israel was performed once in three years. And as a trine is the symbol of state; and three is a figure which involves the idea of that trine, in which the circle of every state is completed and its purpose is fulfilled, this period is expressive of the completeness of the regenerated state, by which the highest and lowest, the most interior and the most exterior, principles of the mind are brought into connection and harmony.

But the navy of Solomon, in these expeditions, was accompanied by the navy of Hiram, as that mentioned in the previous chapter is said to have been accompanied by the servants of Hiram, shipmen that had knowledge of the sea. Israel was not a naval or commercial nation, but Phoenicia, the Britain of the ancient world, was eminently so. Tyre, “that crowning city whose merchants were princes,” had numerous trading colonies on either shore of the Mediterranean and beyond it, another commerce extended even to the British Isles. It was no doubt her commercial character that gave her the representative character that she has in the Scriptures. We have already spoken of Tyre and its king Hiram when treating of the building of Solomon’s temple, of which he supplied so much of the material. Tyre, we have seen, represented the knowledge of good and truth, of which a ship itself is the symbol. As everything is recorded in the Word for the sake of the spiritual sense, the shipment and the fleet of Hiram accompanied those of Solomon to represent the fact that even the higher faculties of the mind are aided by the lower in carrying out their useful objects. There is also in the Church, as in the world, a variety of gifts; and all its members are capable of being useful to each other; and all work together for the general as well as for mutual good when however diverse their gifts, they are all animated by the same spirit. Some are suited for study and some for action, some find their satisfaction in pursuing their religious object by the most practical means, others find their peculiar delight in the acquirement of knowledge. Of this last description are the Hirams and the Tyrians. As the spirits of Mercury, they are pleased with knowledge alone and see in every object and in every pursuit what ministers to the desire and the delight of knowing. They are in some respects and in some of their uses like the Gibeonites, the hewers of wood and drawers of water to the house of God. Or they are like those outsiders, those lecturers who deal in other people’s wares, but who care little for them themselves, except so far as they can be made matters of profitable merchandise. They labour for others rather than for themselves, yet without intending to confer on others the benefits they are able to extract from their labours. This character, in its uses and its dangers, might be exemplified from the history of Solomon as given in the Scriptures;—in its usefulness, as exemplified in the important services Hiram rendered to David and Solomon, in assisting them to procure the materials for building up the temple of the Lord; and in its dangers, from the pride of Tyre, against which so many and awful denunciations are uttered by the prophets, and by the state of utter ruin to which her loftiness and corruption finally reduced her. We see, I apprehend, the character of that state which Tyre and Hiram represented in one incident recorded in the previous chapter. When Solomon had completed his great works, he gave to Hiram, for the valuable assistance he had rendered him during their progress, twenty cities in the land of Canaan. But when Hiram came to see them they pleased him not. “And he said, What cities are these which you have given me, my brother? And he called them the land of Cabul to this day.” These cities in Galilee of Canaan signified doctrines of the Church, which are of a more internal character and of a more practical nature than the knowledge which is represented by ships of the sea. And the king of Tyre being displeased with these cities which were given him by Solomon, who, there is reason to think, would not be wanting in liberality to the friend and lover of himself and his father, only shows in the representative language of inspiration, that those who are delighted with knowledge alone, can see no beauty and feel no pleasure in those truths which come immediately from the Lord and lead immediately to Him. We speak of such a state as relative, not absolute—as one in which the external delight is so prominent and active as to render the internal delight comparatively, though not absolutely, unfelt. We do not, therefore, mean an outward delight in the knowledge that nauseates and rejects every inward principle of religion. Hiram did not refuse the cities of Solomon, though they were not pleasing to him. The positive dislike and rejection of inward truth and good is the abuse of the love of knowledge. In this case, knowledge puffs up; and such was the ultimate result with Tyre. Hence the judgements against her. “Say to the prince of Tyrus, Thus says the Lord God, Because your heart is lifted up, and you have said, I am a god, in the midst of the seas; with your wisdom and with your understanding you have gotten you riches, and have gotten gold and silver into your treasures: you have been in Eden the garden of God, every precious stone was your covering; you sealest up the sum, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you have corrupted your wisdom by reason of your brightness. Therefore thus says the Lord, you shall die the death of the uncircumcised by the hand of strangers.” It was because Tyre signifies the knowledge of goodness and truth, and these are meant by her riches, that it is said, her meretricious hire should become holiness to the Lord. For when knowledge, which the unfaithful have made a matter of traffic, is taken away from them, and is given to the faithful, it becomes a means of promoting the life of holiness, being devoted to the service of the Lord, like the jewels of gold and silver, and the garments, that were taken from the Egyptians, and were put upon the sons and daughters of Israel, some of the precious things being devoted to the adorning of the tabernacle itself.

We have spoken of the fleet that was built at, and that sailed from, Ezion-Geber on the Red Sea by the land of Edom, as being possibly the same as that mentioned in this place. The place where the fleet was built and whence it sailed is mentioned on account of the spiritual sense. The Red Sea, so famous in the history of the Israelitish deliverance from Egypt, signifies science, or the simple knowledge of spiritual things, and which is specifically meant by Ezion-Geber. It is from science that knowledge is derived, and from science that the mindsets out in the search for spiritual good and truth, just as Israel set out from Egypt in their journey to Canaan. The religious journey commences with religious science. And when this science, or scientific knowledge of religion, is grounded in natural goodness—represented in the present instance by this port is on the land of Edom—the commencing state is such as to promise prosperity.

If the spiritual life be compared to a voyage, that achieved by the fleet of Solomon must be representative of an important circle in the progress of the soul, from which therefore we may learn how we may become rich in the wealth of heaven, by entering into the deep mines and far-off regions of wisdom that are now opened up to us in the spiritual sense of the Divine Word.

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Author: Sir Godfrey Gregg

Sir Godfrey Gregg is one of the Administrators and managing Director of this site

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