The word: مِنسَأ (minsa'ah, translated in the text as 'scepter' ) in verse 14 beginning with: فَلَمَّا قَضَيْنَا عَلَيْهِ الْمَوْتَ (So, when We decided (that) death (should come) upon him, - 14) appears in the sense of staff or pole (as of purpose or authority). Some early commentators have said that it is a word taken from the Ethiopian language and denotes staff. Others have said that it is an Arabic word from: نَسَاء (nasa) which means move back, drive away, postpone. Since a staff or stick is used to remove things undesirable or harmful, therefore, it was called: مِنسأۃ : 'minsa'ah,' that is, the device to remove. By describing the circumstances of Sayyidna Sulayman's (علیہ السلام) unusual death, the text has opened a gateway of many lessons and gems of guidance.
The strange event of the death of Sayyidna Sulayman (علیہ السلام)
The elements of guidance embedded in this event are many. For example, Sayyidna Sulayman (علیہ السلام) was a ruler having such an unmatched state at his command that ruled not simply over the world of his time, but over the Jinns and birds and the wind as well. Yet, despite all these assets at his command, he too had no escape from death, and that it had to come only when the time was appointed for it to come. The construction of Baytul-Maqdis started by Sayyidna Dawud (علیہ السلام) and completed by Sayyidna Sulayman (علیہ السلام) had part of it still unfinished. This construction job was entrusted with the Jinns. They were contumacious by nature but kept working in fear of Sayyidna Sulayman (علیہ السلام) . If they were to find out that he had died, they would have stopped working instantly and the structure would have been left incomplete. With the leave of Allah, Sayyidna Sulayman (علیہ السلام) made appropriate arrangements to offset this situation. So, when came the time of his death, he got ready for it and entered the mihrab (seat of authority in the palace) which was made of sparking transparent glass. His presence could be clearly seen from outside. As was his routine, he stood there in a stance of worship slightly supported by his scepter, so that, once his soul departs (when he dies), the body remains poised at its place with the support of his staff.
The soul of Sayyidna Sulayman (علیہ السلام) was taken away at the appointed hour, but he kept firmly reclining on his staff and from the outside it appeared as if he was engrossed in worship. In that state, Jinns would not dare come close and peek at him. They kept working under the impression that Sayyidna Sulayman (علیہ السلام) was alive. Thus passed a full year and when the remaining work on Baytul-Maqdis was complete, Allah Ta’ ala empowered the termite, (which is referred to by the Qur'an as دَابَّۃ الارض (dabbatul-ard: a creature of the earth), to occupy the staff of Sayyidna Sulayman (علیہ السلام) . The termite ate out the wood and weakened the staff. When the staff was gone, Sayyidna Sulayman (علیہ السلام) fell down. That was the time when the Jinns came to know about his death.
Allah Ta’ ala has given the Jinns the capability of traversing very long distances within moments. They used to be aware of many circumstances and events not known by human beings. When they would communicate this information to human beings, they took it to be news from the unseen surmising that the Jinns too possess the knowledge of the unseen ('ilm-ul-ghaib). Moreover, the possibility that the Jinns themselves had a claim of possessing the knowledge of the unseen cannot be ruled out. But, this unusual incidence of death unfolded the reality of all that. The Jinns themselves found out - and human beings too - that the Jinns are no possessors of the knowledge of the unseen. Because, had that been the case and had they been aware of the workings of the unseen, they would have come to know about the death of Sayyidna Sulayman (علیہ السلام) more than a year ago, and would have been spared of the hard labor they went on doing on the assumption that he was alive. This is what has been stated in the last sentence of the verse:
فَلَمَّا خَرَّ تَبَيَّنَتِ الْجِنُّ أَن لَّوْ كَانُوا يَعْلَمُونَ الْغَيْبَ مَا لَبِثُوا فِي الْعَذَابِ الْمُهِينِ
So, when he fell down, the Jinns came to know that if they had the knowledge of the Unseen, they would not have stayed (so long) in the humiliating punishment. (34:14).
Here, the expression: الْعَذَابِ الْمُهِينِ (al-'adhabil-muhin: humiliating punishment) refers to the hard labor they had to do in completing the edifice of Baytul-Maqdis under the orders of Sayyidna Sulayman Part of this unusual event of the death of Sayyidna Sulayman (علیہ السلام) has been mentioned in this very verse of the Qur'an while its details have been reported from several Tafsir authorities, including Sayyidna ` Abdullah Ibn ` Abbas ؓ ، and are there in Ibn Kathir and all other Tafsirs.
From this unusual event, we also learn the essential lesson that there is no escape from death for anyone and also that Allah Ta’ ala can, when He decides to have someone do something, arrange to have it done the way He wills. This is exactly as it happened during the course of this event when Sayyidna Sulayman (علیہ السلام) was kept, despite his death, standing at his place and the Jinns were made to complete the work assigned to them. This event also shows that all causes and instruments of the whole world keep fulfilling their function until such time as Allah would let them do so. When He would not let them do so, causes and instruments fail, like the support of the staff here that was terminated through the termite. Moreover, soon after the death of Sayyidna Sulayman ill there existed the danger that people, who notice the astonishing performance of the Jinns and come across their apparently unbelievable access to things unseen, might take them as their objects of worship. This danger was also eliminated by this event of death. Everyone came to know that the Jinns were really unaware and helpless in this matter.
From this submission, it becomes clear that Sayyidna Sulayman (علیہ السلام) had adopted this particular mode at the time of his death for two reasons: (1) That the remaining work on the construction of Baytul-Maqdis gets to be completed. (2) That people find out the truth about the Jinns, realize that they were really unaware and helpless, and thus there remains no danger of Jinns being taken by them as objects of veneration and worship. (Qurtubi)
According to a narration of Sayyidna ` Abdullah Ibn ` Amr reported by Imam Nasa'i with sound chains of authority, the Holy Prophet ﷺ said, "When Sulayman (علیہ السلام) accomplished the building of Baytul-Maqdis, he made some prayers that were answered. One of these was: 0 Allah, whoever enters this masjid with the sole intention of making Salah (and having no other worldly motive), purify him before he goes out of this masjid, from all his sins (making him) as pure as he was when born from the womb of his mother."
And in the narration of Suddiyy, it also appears that soon after Sayyidna Sulayman (علیہ السلام) was finished with the building of Baytul-Maqdis, he sacrificed twelve thousand cows and heifers and twenty thousand goats as a token of thanksgiving and declared the feast open to all. Celebrating the day as a day of rejoicing, he stood on the Sakhrah of Baytul-Maqdis praying: 0 Allah, it is You who bestowed this power, and all these resources, on me by virtue of which the edifice of Baytul-Maqdis reached its completion. Now, also give me the ability to thank you for this blessing; and give me death while adhering to the faith you chose for me; and once you have given me right guidance, let there come no crookedness or deviation in it." And he further supplicated, "0 my Lord, for a person who enters this masjid, I ask you of five things:
(1) Accept the repentance of a sinner who enters this masjid to confess and repent, and forgive his sins.
(2) Guarantee peace for a person who enters this masjid to remain safe from fear and danger, and deliver him from all dangers.
(3) Heal the sick person who enters this masjid.
(4) Make the poor person who enters here need-free.
(5) Let Your mercy be on the person who enters it as long as he remains here - except a person who is busy doing something unjust or faithless. (Qurtubi)
This Hadith tells us that the work of building Baytul-Maqdis was already completed during the lifetime of Sayyidna Sulayman. But, the event mentioned above is really not contrary to the possibility that there remained some construction work left out even after the completion of the main building, as is usually done in the case of such huge projects. May be, Sayyidna Sulayman (علیہ السلام) had devised the plan mentioned above for the completion of the remaining work.
It has also been reported from Sayyidna ` Abdullah Ibn ` Abbas ؓ that Sayyidna Sulayman (علیہ السلام) kept standing for a year supported by his staff, even after his death. (Qurtubi) And according to some narrations, when the Jinns found out that a long time had passed since the death of Sayyidna Sulayman علیہ لسلام while they had remained in the dark all along, they tried to determine the time of his death, and for that purpose, they went for an experiment. They released a termite on a piece of wood. Thus, from whatever of the wood was eaten by the termite in one day and night, they calculated that a year had passed over the staff of Sayyidna Sulayman (علیہ السلام) in that state.
Citing historians, al-Baghawi has said that Sayyidna Sulayman (علیہ السلام) lived for fifty three years and ruled for forty years. He had succeeded to the throne at the age of thirteen years and had started building Baytul-Maqdis in the fourth year of his reign. (Mazhari, Qurtubi)