Solomon built many merchant ships manned by both Israelite and Phoenician sailors. The wealth accumulated by this maritime traffic is astounding, even by modern standards.
How far did those fleets travel to amass such wealth? We don't know, but the Scriptures tell us the sailors sometimes required three years to make a round-trip voyage because the distance was so great. They brought back valuable commodities such as gold, silver and ivory along with exotic curiosities such as apes and monkeys (1 Kings 10:22).
More than two millennia later Ferdinand Magellan sailed around the world on a voyage that also took three years. The fleets of Solomon and the Phoenicians could sail far and wide over the oceans. The Scriptures note that King Hiram's mariners "knew the sea" (1 Kings 9:27).
Having an international fleet of ships, an alliance with the Phoenicians and control of the major Middle Eastern inland trade routes, Solomon engaged in his own import and export ventures. For example, "Solomon's import of horses was from Egypt and Kue, and the king's traders received them from Kue at a price. A chariot could be imported from Egypt for six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse for one hundred fifty; so through the king's traders they were exported to all the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Aram" (1 Kings 10:28-29, NRSV).
The Bible notes that Solomon's yearly base revenues amounted to 50,000 pounds of gold, not counting the gold he received from gifts and tribute (2 Chronicles 9:13-14). Having access to this vast wealth, Solomon built a magnificent temple for God and a palace complex for himself in Jerusalem.
He covered the inside walls and even the floors of the temple with pure gold. Images of two cherubim, each with two almost eight-foot-wide outstretched wings, overshadowed the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant. Artisans overlaid these likenesses with pure gold. Craftsmen made the seven-branched menorah, table for the showbread, bowls, pans, other lampstands, lamp trimmers, ladles and censers of solid gold (2 Chronicles 9:3-4).
Solomon had a large throne of ivory overlaid with gold. He supplied his guards with hundreds of golden ceremonial shields, the large ones made with about 7 1⁄2 pounds of hammered gold. His palace's dining service included solid-gold cups and plates. The Scriptures note that none of them was made of silver during Solomon's time because it was considered too ordinary (1 Kings 10:21). This was literally Israel's golden era.