1 Kings 4 A Prosperous Beginning of Solomon’s Reign

Edward Poynter, The Visit of the Queen of Shebe to King Solomon (1890)

1 Kings 4: 1-19 The Administration of Solomon

1 King Solomon was king over all Israel, 2 and these were his high officials: Azariah son of Zadok was the priest; 3 Elihoreph and Ahijah sons of Shisha were secretaries; Jehoshaphat son of Ahilud was recorder; 4 Benaiah son of Jehoiada was in command of the army; Zadok and Abiathar were priests; 5 Azariah son of Nathan was over the officials; Zabud son of Nathan was priest and king’s friend; 6 Ahishar was in charge of the palace; and Adoniram son of Abda was in charge of the forced labor.

7 Solomon had twelve officials over all Israel, who provided food for the king and his household; each one had to make provision for one month in the year. 8 These were their names: Ben-hur, in the hill country of Ephraim; 9 Ben-deker, in Makaz, Shaalbim, Beth-shemesh, and Elon-beth-hanan; 10 Ben-hesed, in Arubboth (to him belonged Socoh and all the land of Hepher); 11 Ben-abinadab, in all Naphath-dor (he had Taphath, Solomon’s daughter, as his wife); 12 Baana son of Ahilud, in Taanach, Megiddo, and all Beth-shean, which is beside Zarethan below Jezreel, and from Beth-shean to Abel-meholah, as far as the other side of Jokmeam; 13 Ben-geber, in Ramoth-gilead (he had the villages of Jair son of Manasseh, which are in Gilead, and he had the region of Argob, which is in Bashan, sixty great cities with walls and bronze bars); 14 Ahinadab son of Iddo, in Mahanaim; 15 Ahimaaz, in Naphtali (he had taken Basemath, Solomon’s daughter, as his wife); 16 Baana son of Hushai, in Asher and Bealoth; 17 Jehoshaphat son of Paruah, in Issachar; 18 Shimei son of Ela, in Benjamin; 19 Geber son of Uri, in the land of Gilead, the country of King Sihon of the Amorites and of King Og of Bashan. And there was one official in the land of Judah.

The reign of Solomon and the beginning of his administration of the people and resources of Israel is the culmination of two generations of rapid change. Prior to the anointing of King Saul, Israel was a collection of tribal and familial allegiances governing towns and small territories. The tribes of Israel would occasionally work together, but there was probably very little formal authority beyond the family and tribal roles. Under Saul and David, the tribes were united for military purposes and both these kings were primarily warrior leaders, but under Solomon we see a consolidation of power and the beginning of a bureaucratic administration and the infrastructure for a system of taxation for the people.  The organization of the country under Solomon would have been a dramatic change from what the people had known previously. In Walter Brueggemann’s assessment, “The regime must have been enormously successful and deeply impressive to Israelites who were only two generations removed from hill-country subsistence.” (Brueggemann, 2000, p. 57)

Any honest evaluation of the administration of Solomon brings in both the perspective of 1 Kings (and the Deuteronomic history in general) and the perspective the author commenting upon it. We have already seen hints that 1 Kings’ evaluation of Solomon may not be entirely positive, although this chapter is primarily cast in a positive light. Through much of history the view of Solomon’s reign was viewed as a model for a wise monarch, but more recent scholarship tends to have an anti-monarchical or anti-imperial attitude. As an author I stand between both the standard and more modern scholastic view. The bureaucratic ordering of a modern society which can leverage the combined resources of a nation can be a source of great good and stability, and I tend to have a more positive view of government and authority than many other people my age or younger. Yet, a bureaucracy which enables the acquisition of material goods by those in power while neglecting the broader good of the society and world can cause great harm. The evaluation of the efficacy of Solomon’s administration will need to be viewed within the context of the actions of his reign as it is reported by 1 Kings rather than by a simple evaluation of its structure. Nevertheless, a close reading of the structure may give us some clues to examine when placed within the broader reporting of Solomon’s reign.

A sensible place to begin would be to compare Solomon’s administration to his father David’s. David’s officers are listed in both 2 Samuel 8: 16-18, and with some small changes in 2 Samuel 20: 23-26. One significant difference is due to the character of Solomon’s reign in comparison with David. David was a king governing a nation continually engaged in conflict and the position of the military leaders take first precedence in the lists of David’s administrators, while they come later in Solomon’s peaceful reign. Many of the administrators are either sons of people from David’s regime or members of David’s regime. Zadok, Nathan, and Benaiah are rewarded for their loyalty with either positions for themselves or for their sons (or both). Solomon’s regime also has more people filling the role of secretaries or recorders and it is likely this reflects a government where written records and accounting are used to facilitate the administration of the territory. Zabud son of Nathan is listed as both priest and king’s friend. Zabud may have been a trusted advisor to the king, but an accurate description of his position is impossible based on the lack of additional information of Zabud in the narrative. There is a strong priestly presence in Solomon’s administration, and this may be critical in the construction of the temple and in an idealized king the presence of the priests would help the king adhere to the law of God. Finally in the initial list is the presence of Adoniram who is in charge of forced labor. King David had an official over forced labor in 2 Samuel 20, and the use of forced labor will factor in the construction of the temple and the house of King Solomon. However, the people of Israel were forced to participate in forced labor in Egypt and this may point to an ominous return to the ways of Egypt. The organization of Solomon’s high officials doubtless reflects the courts of the other nations around Israel, and while it may be wise to examine the workings of other governments this also would need to be examined under the covenant relationship of the law of God. How these priests and officers execute the administration of Israel will ultimately determine whether they model the kingdom after God’s vision or whether they imitate Egypt and the neighboring kingdoms.

Solomon’s officials over the land of Israel responsible for gathering the resources for the centralized government replaces the tribal systems of administration. It is possible that the redistricting beyond the tribal boundaries enabled a fairer collection of resources based upon population and it also collects from areas beyond the traditional borders of Israel. Yet, it may also be a significant move away from the traditional power structure of tribes, clans, and families. It is unclear whether the administrators are from Solomon’s tribe of Judah (as some commentaries believe) or whether Solomon uses local leaders to administer the provinces. The alliance by marriage of two of the twelve administrators is not surprising since this was a way of ensuring economic cooperation in the ancient world. However, it is worth noting that, in contrast to the NRSV’s translation, there is no provision for the tribe of Judah in the Hebrew, and some believe that Judah may have been exempted from the requirements of taxation that the rest of the kingdom bore. By the end of Solomon’s reign, the areas outside of Judah will view the burden of supporting the projects of Solomon and his administration as a heavy burden which leads to the eventual breaking of the kingdom under his son. Yet, the initial report of the administration of Solomon related in the second half of the chapter is predominantly positive.

1 Kings 4: 20-28

20 Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand by the sea; they ate and drank and were happy. 21 Solomon was sovereign over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines, even to the border of Egypt; they brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life.

22 Solomon’s provision for one day was thirty cors of choice flour, and sixty cors of meal, 23 ten fat oxen, and twenty pasture-fed cattle, one hundred sheep, besides deer, gazelles, roebucks, and fatted fowl. 24 For he had dominion over all the region west of the Euphrates from Tiphsah to Gaza, over all the kings west of the Euphrates; and he had peace on all sides. 25 During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel lived in safety, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, all of them under their vines and fig trees. 26 Solomon also had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen. 27 Those officials supplied provisions for King Solomon and for all who came to King Solomon’s table, each one in his month; they let nothing be lacking. 28 They also brought to the required place barley and straw for the horses and swift steeds, each according to his charge.

The initial reports in 1 Kings of Solomon’s reign are idyllic. The population reflects the fulfillment of the  promise of God to Abraham about his descendants (Genesis 15:3). After generations during the time of Judges where the population decreased due to conflicts with neighboring kingdoms, the people of Israel seem to be flourishing in this peaceful and well administered time. The wealth of the surrounding nations is now flowing into Israel instead of being extracted by raids or given in tribute to surrounding nations.

Yet, within this prosperity creeps the initial warning of the danger of this affluence. The provision of Solomon’s administration is a phenomenal amount of grain and meat, but even more sinister is the accumulation of military power reflected in the building of a large chariot force. As Deuteronomy states, “16 Even so, he must not acquire many horses for himself, or return the people to Egypt in order to acquire more horses, since the LORD has said to you, “You must never return that way again.”  (Deuteronomy 17: 16). The immense resources poured into the acquisition, feeding, and housing forty-thousands horses and twelve thousand chariot drivers may make sense from a military perspective, but the law wants Israel to understand their reliance upon God rather than their military might. This becomes another indication that Israel, under Solomon, may be pursuing a path that will make them an imitator of Egypt rather than God’s desire.  Granted that the descriptions of the wealth and power of Israel under Solomon may be hyperbole, yet the concentration of the resources of the nation to provide for Solomon will prove to be a drain in the future.

1 Kings 4: 29-34

29 God gave Solomon very great wisdom, discernment, and breadth of understanding as vast as the sand on the seashore, 30 so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt. 31 He was wiser than anyone else, wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, children of Mahol; his fame spread throughout all the surrounding nations. 32 He composed three thousand proverbs, and his songs numbered a thousand and five. 33 He would speak of trees, from the cedar that is in the Lebanon to the hyssop that grows in the wall; he would speak of animals, and birds, and reptiles, and fish. 34 People came from all the nations to hear the wisdom of Solomon; they came from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom.

Solomon is portrayed as a renaissance man, studying broadly and surpassing the wisdom of the wise men of his time. He is compared to both Egypt, as a center of learning, and the east and becomes famous internationally for his speaking on the natural world. Writing songs, having wise sayings and reflecting upon the world all are viewed as integral parts to the gift of wisdom Solomon has to share with the world. Solomon would be attributed as the author of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs due to this view of his wisdom which excelled all the renowned wise men of his days. Yet, the coming chapters will move away from this renaissance man approach to wisdom and focus the wisdom of Solomon on urban matters of construction, imperial matters of administration, and ultimately on the acquisition of greater wealth and power for the kingdom. Solomon idyllic start and gifted knowledge will now enter into the temptations of the wealth and power that are present as he administers this kingdom at the height of its prosperity and influence.

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