1 Kings 10-12

Good morning! Today in 1 Kings 10-12 we see both the pinnacle of Solomon’s reputation and the plunge of Israel’s fortunes due to the ill-considered leadership that Solomon offers. His acquisition of ever more wealth and women leads to idolatrous downfall, and the kingdom splits under the equally foolish reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam.

Chapter 10 establishes the dominance of Solomon’s international reach by describing the Queen of Sheba’s visit to learn from Solomon’s wisdom. She suggests that even her own impressive wealth and talent are no match for that of Solomon’s Israel, which argues for the universal appeal of Israel’s God. Her comments on how happy his wives and servants must be, and how he’s positioned to execute justice and righteousness, are ironic considering what comes next. All manner of rarities are gathered into Solomon’s palace, made into massive golden shields, a throne, and other finery. This glittering palace leaves little doubt that Solomon’s true delight lies in his acquisitions rather than in serving God. Nevertheless, Solomon wants the world to believe that his soul is as golden as his throne room.

Fortune reveals it all to be fool’s gold in 1 Kings 11. Solomon’s appetites lead him astray to non-Israelite women and foreign gods, which unravels all his allegiances. God had explicitly warned him against worshipping other deities, but apparently it’s possible to forget not one but two encounters with the living God. In punishment God will take the kingdom away from his descendants, yet leave a small remnant under their control for the sake of God’s covenant with David. Here we see interpreters of Israel’s history trying to make sense of what later happens: civil war, defeat and occupation. Though this won’t take place until after Solomon’s death, enemies and bandits start cropping up around the frontiers of Solomon’s realm. The greatest opponent is Jeroboam. Ahijah the prophet convinces Jeroboam (perhaps also informed by his proximity to the forced labor and their growing resentment) that Solomon’s hold on Israel will fail. Jeroboam flees Solomon and finds sanctuary in Egypt. Solomon dies, and there’s the possibility for a new start when his son Rehoboam takes over.

The new king, fresh from being crowned at Shechem, must take his first steps carefully at the beginning of chapter 12. Though elder statesmen suggest that he show compassion for those who were run ragged in earning Solomon’s wealth, Rehoboam instead listens to foolish counsel, and chooses poorly on his first big test in office. Jeroboam’s forces echo the rebellion of Sheba in 2 Samuel 20, only this time their call to abandon Jerusalem is successful. The united kingdom of Israel under Saul, David and Solomon breaks apart forever under Rehoboam. This decision results in a civil war that lasted for dozens of years. The strong northern kingdom of Israel is ruled by Jeroboam and his successors, while Rehoboam in the south keeps only Judah and Benjamin (interesting because Benjamin is the tribe of Saul). Prophetic word keeps Rehoboam from starting civil war against Jeroboam’s forces (for now). Jeroboam’s survival plan includes doing what Saul, David and Solomon all did—uniting the priestly and political functions to suggest divine underwriting for their royal actions. Jeroboam creates two golden calves and sets up shrines for them in the northern territory of Israel, discouraging a pilgrimage to the Jerusalem temple in southern Judah. The writer makes the effort to demonstrate that this was Jeroboam’s calculated innovation, without any divine inspiration whatsoever.

These chapters describing a fabulously wealthy, well-known and ultimately foolish Solomon puts me in mind of current affairs, but perhaps a nursery rhyme makes a better ending. “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty [or the people] back together again.” Happy reading!

Read 1 Kings 10-12.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is 1 Kings 13-14. Thanks for reading!

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