Good morning! Today’s passage of 1 Kings 4-5 emphasizes again the prominence and worldwide appeal of Solomon’s reign (at least from a Hebrew perspective), then introduces the project Solomon undertakes, building the temple to God in Jerusalem.
The list of Solomon’s officials that begins chapter 4 includes a “who’s who” of Hebrew society and the children of David’s officials, emphasizing a continuity with the past administration. I find it curious that though twelve officials are named over different regions, these are not synonymous with the twelve tribes. Evidently there was some flexibility in how regions were divided. Each of the twelve took one month to provision Solomon’s administration, and we read how much his entourage consumes! Nevertheless, the nation prospers. Living under one’s own vine and fig tree is a biblical metaphor for having “made it”—we read that everyone in Judah and Israel experienced this. If David fought to expand the territories, Solomon enjoys the benefit of it with peace on every side (maintained by a costly standing military of horses, riders and soldiers). He attracted the wisest talent from around the known world, people drawn to his legendary insight. His proverbs and compositions are rumored to have been gathered into the Bible in at least three places—Song of Songs, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. It seems clear that Solomon was an impressive leader, but he also seems to have benefited from a time of unusual peace in Palestine. Life in Solomon’s Israel sounds rather idyllic in this telling of it, but we’ll also see some negative implications of his lifestyle for the everyday person.
1 Kings 5 opens a section of this book dedicated to temple construction. Solomon plans to build the temple to God in Jerusalem as a benefit of and a monument to these good times. (Note that God does not give him the instruction here; Solomon decides himself that now is the time to fulfil the prophecy given to David.) The cedars of Lebanon—famed as the best timber around—were used in the king’s palace under David, and now Solomon orders them for the temple’s construction too. He basically tells King Hiram, “Name any price you want!” This trade between them benefits both and creates work for Israelites, but it requires so much labor that Solomon has to conscript workers from his own people, demanding thirty thousand people from across Israel. These forced laborers were sent in shifts to work harvesting trees in Lebanon and digging out stones for the temple’s foundation. Does the big-picture vision of Solomon—honoring God but also burnishing his own reputation in this massive project—justify the disruptive consequences to the rest of Israel? Biblical writers differ on this question, and perhaps we will also. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is 1 Kings 6-7. Thanks for reading!