1 Kings 12: Things Fall Apart

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Unfortunately for Rehoboam, he does not get off to a very good start. We were told in the last chapter that this would happen because of Solomon’s polytheism (or perhaps merely his tolerance of his wives’ faiths), but here we see that Rehoboam’s actions might well have led to the fall of the united monarchy without any divine help.

In the beginning of the chapter, Rehoboam heads to Shechem for his coronation. This is a strong indication that the issues that have plagued the monarchy since its very beginning with Saul have never really gone away. After all, Jerusalem is both the religious and political capital of the monarchy, so why wouldn’t Rehoboam be crowned there? Unless he was, and then needed to a separate coronation in the north, showing us that the two regions had been maintaining their separate identities – never a good sign for a nation that wishes to be united.

Looking at the narrative so far, we see that the north originally formed the monarchy under Saul, possibly encompassing only the northern tribes until the south joined up (we see him chosen by lot in 1 Sam. 10:21, and then later elected in 1 Sam. 11:15). It could be that the monarchy was initially a northern alliance, which the south joined up for defense against the Philistines. Later, of course, David ruled only over Judah for seven years (2 Sam. 2:4) before replacing the Benjaminite monarchy in 2 Sam. 5:3. Later, particularly in 2 Sam. 20, we see David struggling to maintain the united monarchy. Things get much worse under Solomon where he appears to be enslaving and over-taxing the northern tribes to support Jerusalem and Judah, making it clear that he saw Judah as the true nation, and the other tribes as subjects states.

But Solomon was an established king, and therefore difficult to challenge. It’s much easier to resist a newbie. So when Rehoboam comes to Shechem to be crowned, Jeroboam comes up out of Egypt to meet him there and, with the backing of “all the assembly of Israel” (1 Kgs 12:3), he presented Rehoboam with an ultimatum: Either ease up from the way Solomon has been treating the northern tribes, or the north will no longer serve the Judahite king.

Despite the claim in 1 Kgs 9:22 that Israelites were not counted among the forced labourers, but were instead given the cushier jobs, it seems here that the situation was quite a bit worse. In fact, even Rehoboam soon admits that Solomon used a whip against the Israelites, which is not something I imagine would be done to overseers so much as by overseers.

It seems notable that the word used for Solomon’s treatment of the Israelites is “yoke,” which, as my New Bible Commentary points out, is “used elsewhere concerning the subjugation of a foreign nation” (p.337).

Rehoboam takes up the shovel

Rehoboam isn’t sure what to do, so he asks for three days to think it over. In a story that sounds like it’s straight out of a Boomer’s “kids these days” article, he first approaches the old men, who tell him to acquiesce now and get to keep his nation. All well and good, but then he goes to the young men who advice him instead to tell the Israelites that “my little finger is thicker than my father’s loins” (1 Kgs 12:10), and that as hard as they found it under Solomon, Rehoboam will only make it harder. Rehoboam, of course, chooses to listen to his buddies.

Rehoboam, wall painting from the Basel Town Hall Council Chamber, by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1530

Rehoboam, wall painting from the Basel Town Hall Council Chamber, by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1530

The story is hilarious and awful, but it also rings extremely true. How often have politicians bought their own propaganda and behaved in such atrocious ways? The story also serves to show us that, even though Rehoboam was doomed to see his nation splinter because of his father’s actions, it’s not like he was an innocent party. He’s certainly not Bathsheba’s first son.

The Israelites, of course, are unimpressed. They ask: “What portion have we in David?” (1 Kgs 12:16), the phrasing nearly identical to that used in the last great division in 2 Sam. 20:1, clearly reinforcing that the united monarchy was the abnormality, not the divided one. So all of Israel abandoned Rehoboam, save for the cities in Judah – though the phrasing seems to be indicating that the individuals who remained loyal to Rehoboam were not all Judahites. It seems that there had some migration outside of traditional tribal boundaries, and that perhaps the people from other tribes who were living in Judahite cities chose to remain there rather than migrate back north. None of this is stated explicitly, though, so I may well be reading too much into the narrative.

Rehoboam, being an overconfident jerkwad, decides to send in Adoram as his mediator. It’s hard to imagine that this was anything other than a deliberate insult from a man who still believed that he was too powerful to be challenged, since Adoram is his overseer of forced labour (likely the same as Adoniram, mentioned in 1 Kgs 4:6 and 1 Kgs 5:14). Predictably, the Israelites see the statement for what it is and react by stoning Adoram to death. Apparently only now realizing, yes, he really is about to lose half his nation and, yes, he is currently on the wrong side of the fledgeling border, Rehoboam flees back to Jerusalem.

The narrator tells us that “Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day” (1 Kgs 12:19). Yet despite the use of the word “rebellion,” I’m not feeling much resentment toward Israel. Throughout, the narrative seems clear that Jeroboam was acting with God’s approval, and even under God’s guidance. Further, both Solomon and Rehoboam are described as fully deserving the loss of their united nation. So we’re left with a sort of tug-o-war between the theological idea that the nation only fails when it is deserved, and the political resentment against the rebels. It feels like this was definitely propaganda meant for an internal audience.

Aftermath

When Rehoboam reaches Jerusalem, he raises an army of 180,000 men (an obvious exaggeration) from both Judah and Benjamin – though it seems that the inclusion here of Benjamin is thought to have been an editorial insert to bring the total number of tribes up to twelve. Though in contradiction to 1 Kgs 12:20, my study Bible suggests that perhaps the tribe of Benjamin was “split in the division,” allowing Rehoboam to both remain king only over Judah (as a complete tribe) and for him to be able to raise soldiers from Benjamin, though I can’t imagine those soldiers’ feelings would have been uncomplicated.

Either way, this suppression never seems to go anywhere as Rehoboam is called back by a prophecy, delivered through Shemaiah, instructing him not to bother. Rehoboam packs it in and sends everyone home.

Back in Israel, Jeroboam quickly realizes that he won’t remain king for long if Jerusalem is still the centre of Hebrew worship. Not only is there the influence factor, where his people will be going into Jerusalem and there be exposed to anti-Jeroboam propaganda, there’s also the strong possibility that his peoples’ faith will be held hostage by Rehoboam and the priests loyal to him.

To eliminate this vulnerability, Jeroboam makes two golden calves, one in Bethel and one in Dan. He also makes temples in several high places, and appoints priests of his own – who are explicitly not Levites, as though this were a bad thing and as though we hadn’t seen the Judahites appointing non-Levite priests as well.

The golden calves are obviously important. It’s possible that the golden calf story in Exodus 32:4 was meant as an indictment of Jeroboam’s shrines. However, it’s also possible that the calves were part of a pre-existing exodus/YHWH tradition that Jeroboam was appealing to, and which later authors disparaged in Exodus 32, once that aspect of the cult had fallen out of favour. After all, the bull was also used by the Baal cult.

It may also be important to note that Jeroboam’s words here, “Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (1 Kgs 12:28), are very similar to Aaron’s words, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 32:4). The use in both of the plural “gods,” which sort of makes sense here given the two calves but is absolutely out of place in Exodus 32, suggests that the two passages are connected.

As Collins explains, “Jeroboam may have drawn a parallel with an older tradition about the exodus to led legitimacy to his revolt, but it is also possible that the celebration of the exodus became central to the cult of YHWH only at this time” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.137).

The choice of Bethel as a site is an obvious one given its cultic significance (mentioned in Genesis 28 and Genesis 35). Dan also seems to have had some religious significance, a hint of which can be found in Judges 18:29-31.

We’re told that Jeroboam initiated a special festival, likely the new year, on the 15th day of the eighth month. According to Victor Matthews, it could be that Jeroboam was “reverting to an old agrarian calendar that was followed in the north before David and Solomon centralized Israel’s worship in Jerusalem. Such a calendar would reflect the difference harvest seasons in the Levant, which varied according to the temperature ranges of specific regions” (Manners & Customs of the Bible, p.90).

Between this, the calves, the non-Levite priests, and the multiple shrines, it looks an awful lot like Jeroboam was reinstating the legitimacy of the folk religion – likely still practised by most of his subjects – that Solomon had attempted to turn into a politically-controlled state cult. While the only grievance specifically mentioned in this chapter is of Solomon’s use of forced labour from Israel, it may well be that the Israelites were not happy about the changes he had been making to their faith, either.

Finally, we’re told that Jeroboam build (or, rather, rebuilt, or perhaps expanded) Shechem and Penuel. Building up Shechem makes sense, as a capitol would require better defences and more infrastructure than a regular city. His reasons for construction in Penuel aren’t explained, however its location in the Transjordan offers up a few possibilities. Given its strategic location, it may have been “an attempt to keep the Transjordan areas from Rehoboam.” The New Bible Commentary also suggests that “it may have been connected with the invasion of Sheshonq (Shishak) who mentions Penuel on the inscription telling of his campaign, but there is no OT record of this” (p.337).

This last bit is an intriguing line of thought. So far, Sheshonq has been the only named Pharaoh of Egypt (1 Kgs 11:40). Combined with the connection between Jeroboam and the exodus narrative (as exemplified by the mention of the golden calves above), it could be that the memory of an exodus, or perhaps of an exodus specifically from Egypt, could have begun as a story of refugees fleeing from Sheshonq’s invasion. It seems quite plausible that this became a seminal event in the cultic worship of Israel, or that the details of fleeing from Egypt were simply grafted onto an existing migration narrative. If anyone knows a bit more about the context and how plausible this interpretation might be, I’d love some additional information!

This chapter also gives us a good hint as to why David has been so idealized in recent chapters, despite the far more complicated view of him in 2 Samuel. As Victor Matthews explains:  “Despite his attempts to consolidate power through political and religious reforms, Jeroboam still lacked one thing that his rival Rehoboam possessed. This was the sense of legitimacy that comes from multigenerational dynastic rule. Rehoboam had made mistakes, but loyalty to the Davidic line kept him in power, at least in Judah, and protected his descendants on the throne for the next three centuries. The tradition of an “everlasting covenant” with David’s house (2 Sam 7:18-29; 1 Kgs 11:34-39) grew in importance and influence over the years” (Manners & Customs of the Bible, p.92).

The Kings of Judah and Israel

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There seems to be some wiggle room in the dates given for the various kings of Israel and Judah. We’ll be seeing several instances of overlapping reigns, totals that don’t add up, and other problems. This is, it seems, compounded once the dates are verified against external references, such as the names and dates from Egypt or Assyria. As a result, the dates my New Bible Commentary settles on are wildly different form the dates John Collins has settled on for his Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible. For my own purposes, I’ll be following the latter. For ease of reference, here’s the chart:

Kings of Judah Kings of Israel
Rehoboam 922-915 Jeroboam 922-901
Abijah (Abijam) 915-873
Asa 913-873 Nadab 901-900
Baasha 900-877
Elah 877-876
Zimri 876
Omride Era
Omri 876-869
Jehoshaphat 873-849 Ahab 869-850
Ahaziah 850-849
Jehoram 849-843 Jehoram 849-843
Ahaziah 843-842 Jehu Dynasty
Jehu 843-815
Athaliah 842-837
Joash 837-800
Jehoahaz 815-802
Amaziah 800-783 Jehoash 802-786
Uzziah (Azariah) 783-742 Jeroboam II 786-746
Assyrian Intervention
Jotham 742-735 Zechariah 746-745
Shallum 745
Menahem 745-737
Pekahiah 737-736
Ahaz 735-727/715 Pekah 736-732
Hoshea 732-722
Hezekiah 727/715-687
Fall of Samaria 722
Manasseh 687-642
Amon 642-640
Josiah 640-609
Jehoahaz 609
Jehoiakim 609-598
Jehoiachin 598-597
Babylonian capture of Jerusalem 597
Zedekiah 597-586
Destruction of Jerusalem 586

1 Kings 11: Mistakes were made

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When it comes to women, Solomon has gotta catch them all – or at least a multi-national representative sample. Over his lifetime, he manages to accumulate 700 wives and 300 concubines (almost certainly hyperbole, though such numbers – and higher – are not unheard of for kings), brought in from many nations, including some that God specifically forbade (a reference to passages like Deut. 7:1-4).

The passage is clearly meant to be a shock, an indication of just how far Solomon had fallen, though it’s the sin seems more to be the foreignness of the women than their number.

Solomon led astray, by Giovanni Battista Venanzi, 1668

Solomon led astray, by Giovanni Battista Venanzi, 1668

As Solomon ages, we are told that his wives began to steer him toward their foreign gods, even though God had specifically told Solomon not to stray! Solomon builds a “high place” dedicated to Chemosh (the Moabite god) and Molech (the Ammonite god), and his wives build some high places of their own.

At first reading, I assumed that this meant that Solomon was a polytheist (or at least taking Pascal’s Wager to its logical conclusion), but now I’m wondering if accommodating his wives’ faiths might not simply have been part of the marriage deal. The women are described as princesses, and the marriages are diplomatic. Dogmatically cutting off the women from something as deeply meaningful as the worship of their natal lands could have caused trouble. It’s entirely possible, then, that Solomon remained personally faithful to YHWH, but provided accommodations for the other faiths in his household.

Regardless, God is a jealous god, and he decides that he will give Israel to Solomon’s “servant” (1 Kgs 11:11). Only, for David’s sake, he will wait until after Solomon has died before doing it. The use of Israel here refers to the northern tribes, as will be made clear later on. Once again, it seems rather clear that Deut. 17:14-20 was written specifically with Solomon in mind.

Adversaries

As punishment for Solomon tolerating other gods, God raises up three adversaries to make trouble for David’s dynasty.

The first is Hadad of Edom. We’re told that David campaigned in Edom, and that Joab slaughtered every male Edomite (it’s not clear whether this was at David’s command or just another example of Joab being Joab). Either way, it’s clearly hyperbole.

Hadad was only a child (or perhaps a young man) when this happened, and he fled with a small retinue to Egypt, where he was given shelter and the Pharaoh’s sister-in-law for a wife. He seems to have had a fairly close relationship with the Pharaoh, as his son, Genubath, was weaned by the queen and raised alongside the princes. He asked to return to Israel once he hears that David has died.

Incidentally, the queen is named Tahpenes. My New Bible Commentary claims that this is “believed to be an Egyptian title meaning ‘the wife of the king'” (p.336), making it the equivalent of “Pharaoh,” rather than a personal name. However, I didn’t find very much support for this online. Instead, sources like this one seem to agree that Tahpenes seems related to the name of a city, and that both mean “Head of the Age.”

The second adversary is Rezon, the son of Eliada. The grammar is a little fuddled, but either Rezon or Eliada fled from King Hadadezer of Zobah, and Rezon became a bandit leader. With his band, he returned to Damascus and was made the king of Syria. The trajectory of fleeing a court, raising an army, and returning to take power is eerily similar to David’s own rise. Incidentally, it seems that we may have some independent attestations for King Hadadezer.

The final adversary is internal, and this one has God’s backing. Jeroboam, son of Nebat and Zeruah, was an Ephraimite and a servant of Solomon. Remember back in 1 Kgs 11:11, where God said he would give Israel to one of Solomon’s servants? Yeah, the author just stuck a big neon sign pointing directly at Jeroboam.

Jeroboam was put in charge of the forced labour raised from “the house of Joseph” (1 Kgs 11:29), meaning from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, during the construction of the Millo. One day, he left Jerusalem and met the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite. It seems that Shiloh was not destroyed as implied by 1 Samuel 6, and was still a location of sufficient cultic significance to still be producing prophets.

Ahijah tore his robe (which we are told was new, so we can know that he really meant it) into twelve pieces in some rather obvious symbolism. He handed Jeroboam ten of those pieces, indicating that God would grant Jeroboam leadership of ten tribes (the northern tribes). One piece of the robe is to belong to Solomon, for David’s sake. The twelfth piece is never mentioned – there are several theories circulating for why this might be the case, but nothing seems particularly definitive.

If he is faithful, Jeroboam will get his dynasty (albeit only a temporary one) once Solomon has died.

It seems that Jeroboam was not quite willing to wait that long, or perhaps had thought to get a head start at winning the support of the northern tribes, because Solomon tried to kill him. In a story that feels rather similar to David’s escape from Saul to the court of a foreign king, Jeroboam flees to Egypt and the court of King Shishak – the first Pharaoh to be mentioned by name. He remains there until Solomon’s death.

King Shishak is thought to be Sheshonk I, the founder of the Kushite dynasty in Egypt. He is known to have lead a campaign into Canaan, which might explain why two out of our three adversaries found protection and support in Egypt. A great strategy for winning military campaigns is to destabilize a country by stirring up and supporting internal dissent.

Finishing up the chapter, we are directed to the book of the acts of Solomon if we’d like to know more details about Solomon’s reign. But for text itself, the author is content to simply tell us that he reigned forty years, died, and was succeeded by his son, Rehoboam.

1 Kings 10: Picking the brain

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1 Kings 3 was something of a pony show for Solomon’s wisdom. We get the same thing here, and once again it is a woman who is used as a prop to bear witness to how awesome Solomon is.

This time, rather than a prostitute, we have a queen. It’s not stated whether she was queen consort or queen in her own right, though the exchange of gifts with Solomon certainly seems to suggest that this was a diplomatic visit in which the queen had the authority to make and receive gifts.

The Visit of the Queen of Sheba, by Edward Poynter, 1890

The Visit of the Queen of Sheba, by Edward Poynter, 1890

It’s unknown where Sheba actually is. The standard assumption is that it was in south-west Arabia, in the area that is now Yemen. It’s also been suggested that it was a colony of Sheba in north Arabia, where my study Bible says that “a number of queens are known to have ruled” (p.431). A less likely explanation is that Sheba was in Ethiopia, and that the queen went home pregnant (founding a Davidic dynasty there).

The flattering cover story for the queen’s visit is that she’s heard of Solomon’s great wisdom and amazing wealth, of his “affairs and of [his] wisdom” (1 Kgs 10:6). So when she arrives, she puts him to the test with “hard questions” (1 Kgs 10:1), likely riddles or questions covering a breadth of knowledge. Solomon, of course, passes with flying colours, as “there was nothing hidden from the king which he could not explain to her” (1 Kgs 10:3). She’s so impressed by his wisdom and fancy court that she gives him a bunch of riches.

Between that and the success of the trade missions to Ophir, it seems that Solomon might just be able to get the country back on track before he has to sell off more pieces of it. He manages to send the queen home with an impressive quantity of gifts.

A listing of Solomon’s riches is made, as well as the various treasures he has made: everything from instruments, to decorative shields, to a great ivory throne, to a bunch of fancy dishes. He was just totally the best in a way that is likely exaggerated by nostalgia. It’s hard not to imagine, though, that Solomon was whom the author of Deut. 17:16-17 had in mind.

Among all the lists of fancy things he has, an unknown animal is listed that is usually translated as either peacocks or baboons. Claude Mariottini has an explanation of why translations differ.

1 Kings 9: Hints of trouble

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God last phoned home in 1 Kings 3, where he gifted Solomon some wisdom (among other things). Like an absent father who does try to keep in touch sometimes, God calls in to congratulate Solomon for having build “all that Solomon desired to build” (1 Kgs 9:1), what with the temple and the palace, and a bunch of fortifications, and the palace for his Egyptian queen, and whatnot.

The conversation is fairly typical Deuteronomist fair: Follow the rules and all will be well, disobey and I’ll exile you. This time, he has a temple to point to and can tell Solomon that “this house will become a heap of ruins” (1 Kgs 9:8) if he’s disobeyed. Interestingly, he points again to David as both a religious exemplar and as an example of the rewards for faithfulness. You know, the David who lost a child and then his throne at least once (possibly twice) because God was angry with him. But now the gears have shifted and he is the paragon king. It’s the privilege of the dead, I suppose.

Dream of Solomon, by Luca Giordano, 1693

Dream of Solomon, by Luca Giordano, 1693

The rest of the chapter hints at Solomon’s mismanagement of Israel as he focused on his grandiose building projects. We’re told that he gave twenty cities to King Hiram of Tyre, who had previously sold him the wood for use in construction. It would be an odd thank you gift, since Solomon paid for the wood, and is made odder still when we learn that King Hiram sent Solomon 120 talents of gold. This suggests that Solomon sold parts of the country to Tyre. But Solomon seems to be a jerk to his friends as well as his subjects, as Hiram was quite disappointed in the cities when he visited them. So disappointed, in fact, that “they are called the land of Cabul to this day” (1 Kgs 9:13). The meaning of Cabul is unknown, but seems related to “like nothing.”

This is followed by a list of Solomon’s building projects, which required forced labour to build. The list includes something called “the Millo,” which is mentioned as already existing in 2 Sam. 5:9, so either Solomon improved it, rebuilt it, or one of the sources was in error. The list also includes Gezer, which we are told was conquered from the Canaanite inhabitants by Pharaoh. Despite burning the city down and slaughtering its inhabitants, Pharaoh thought it was still a suitable dowry, and gave it to Solomon along with his daughter. Solomon then rebuilt it.

Apparently contradicting 1 Kgs 5:13, we’re here told that the forced labour Solomon used was of the non-Israelite variety. Instead, he forcibly enslaved all the other ethnic groups left in the country, such as the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. Unlike the Israelite levy, these other enslaved groups remained enslaved “to this day” (1 Kgs 9:21). It’s possible that the distinction is in the type of forced labour, that when the text reads that “of the Israelites Solomon made no slaves” (1 Kgs 9:22), what is meant is that they are merely forced to work for the government for a defined period of time, but that their status is not changed to slave. It could also be that the brute labour was to be done by the non-Israelites, whereas the Israelite levy was to work as overseers and such (which appears to be supported by this chapter).

There’s a very brief mention of Solomon’s cultic activities, telling us that he made offerings three times a year at the temple. Knowledge of the context is assumed, unfortunately, but it seemed to me that Solomon was acting as a Priest King, leading the sacrifices at three major festivals per year. If that’s correct, then we see something of a continuation of the Mosaic tradition, with the strict division between king and priest not being introduced until later on. This would all be supported by 2 Samuel 8:18, where David’s sons were made priests despite being Judahites, not Levites. It seems that, at the time of the early monarchy, the royal family was still intimately involved in the ritual life of the nation.

There’s a final note about one of Solomon’s trade ventures. Despite the disappointment of the twenty cities, King Hiram continues to be on Team Israel and helps Solomon build a bunch of ships for a trade mission to Ophir so that Solomon can get gold.

1 Kings 8: Consecration

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According to Collins, it’s a feature of the Deuteronomist that key turning points are marked by speeches (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.94). Some of the others we’ve seen have been Joshua’s speech in Joshua 1 to make the beginning of the conquest, and its mirror in Joshua 23 to mark its conclusion. In 1 Samuel 12, Samuel’s speech marked the dawn of the monarchy. Here, Solomon’s speech rings in the first temple era.

He begins by assembling all the elders of Israel, the tribal heads, and the leaders of the “fathers’ houses” (1 Kgs 8:1), a change in the language of “all Israel” that we’ve seen previously. Another change has been the use of “Israel” alone as a designation for the people, rather than Israel and Judah. This could either indicate the work of a different author, or it could be a subtle signal that the schism had largely been quelled by this point.

The gathering occurs in Ethanim, which would put it around September-October. When compared to the completion of the construction in 1 Kgs 6:38, it seems that eleven months had elapsed. According to my study Bible, it could be that the consecration was postponed so that it could coincide with the New Year.

The ark was brought up from where it was being kept in the City of David, along with its tent and accompanying stuff, to the new temple. It seems that the priests and Levites carried the gear while the rest of the people made sacrifices before it. When the ark is placed in the inner sanctuary (under the wings of the cherubim), its carrying poles were visible and were still there “to this day” (1 Kgs 8:8), allowing us to date that particular passage to sometime prior to the destruction of temple.

We’re told that there was nothing inside the ark except the two tables of stone Moses had received at Horeb (1 Kgs 8:9). This struck me as odd as I was sure I could remember other items being mentioned. However, once I looked it up, I realized that the jar of manna (Exodus 16:33-34) and Aaron’s staff (Numbers 17:10) had only been placed in front of the ark, not necessarily inside. It seems that this is not a unique misremembering, as the author of Hebrews seems to have done the same thing (Hebrews 9:3-4). That said, I still find it interesting that neither the jar of manna nor the staff are mentioned here as being among the relics moved into the temple (an omission that may or may not be significant).

Apparently, this whole passage is a fair bit shorter in the LXX – which, as we’ve seen so far for 1 Kings, may indicate that it was originally shorter and only elaborated in the Hebrew after the Septuagint was written. Another possibility is, of course, that the LXX was corrupted and portions of it lost.

1 Kings 8 - ConsecrationFinally, it seems that during the ceremony, “a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud” (1 Kgs 8:10-11). While the imagery is clearly meant to evoke the pillar of cloud from the exodus (Exodus 14:19), yet it reminded me of my stint at a Catholic school. At Christmas, we were packed off to our patron church to sing in the choir. Unfortunately, the one year I participated, whoever was in charge had decided to use far too much incense – well beyond what was reasonable even for Catholics. Rather than sing, the entire choir suffered a prolonged coughing fit and my friend, who was an actual practising Catholic unlike your humble narrator, had to be taken outside because it had made her feel so ill. I could imagine the priests, still new to the whole temple business and unaccustomed to solid, windowless walls, might have accidentally used far too much incense and been forced out of the building on the temple’s inaugural ministering.

The spiel

The first part of Solomon’s speech was, according to the LXX, taken from the Book of Jashar (mentioned as a source in Joshua 10:13 and 2 Sam. 1:18). It is also, according to my study Bible, the work of the first Deuteronomist editor (close to the end of the monarchy, prior to the fall of Jerusalem). In it, Solomon declares that God has fulfilled his promise not to have a temple built by any tribe until now. David had wanted to build a temple, to his credit, yet the task had been saved for Solomon. Now, Solomon has fulfilled his destiny and the temple is built.

The second part of Solomon’s speech is also, apparently, mostly from the first Deuteronomist. In it, he makes liberal use of thees and thous, which seems rather protestant for someone in the tenth century BCE. In it, he goes on with the usual shtick about David’s dynasty lasting forever, though only so long as his descendants are as godly as he was (which, if we remember, was so godly that he was deposed at least once in his lifetime, and possibly twice).

The only thing that really stands out in the chapter is Solomon’s insistence that the building of the temple was proper. It seems that the tradition of the mobile, tent-dwelling god was a strong one, perhaps even right up until the first temple was destroyed (or perhaps the destruction ignited a wave of doubt). Solomon concedes that no temple can contain god, revealing a shift from the discrete God who can possess and enter a temple or icon (or even a God whose power is limited to geographic bounds) toward a god who can be ever-present – a necessity for an exiled religious community.

Solomon argues that his temple does not attempt to contain God, but merely to house his name and to direct his eye so that he can listen to prayers. Which seems contrary to the idea of an omnipresent God, explained only, it seems, by the fact that Solomon wanted to excuse his actions (and the Deuteronomist author likely didn’t want to hand over the argument to those who would worship at alternative shrines).

He then moves on to specific situations in which he would implore God to pay attention:

  • If a man sins against his neighbour and the two are made to swear an oath at the altar, the guilty party is to be condemned by God. Clearly an arrangement that would have put an awful lot of judiciary power into the hands of the priests, and therefore subject to nasty things like bribery. Especially since the method by which the guilty is to be condemned is not specified.
  • When the people are defeated because they’ve been so terribly sinful (the possibility that they might simply be defeated regardless of their purity is never allowed), they should be forgiven if they repent.
  • If a foreigner (it seems a true foreigner is meant here, rather than a sojourner – or non-Israelite resident of Israel) comes to Israel to seek out God, God should listen to them.
  • God should side with the Israelites if they pray toward the temple prior to battle.
  • If the people sin (“for there is no man who does not sin” – 1 Kgs 8:46) and are punished with exile, they should be returned to Israel if they repent.

Obviously, these are all phrased as requests rather than an indication of the order of things – a hope rather than an expectation. Throughout this portion, particularly after the bit about foreigners, the idea that the people might be exiled by an enemy and might hope for a return to Israel is mentioned several times. This would indicate that at least one author or editor was working after the fall of Jerusalem.

My New Bible Commentary, which does not like the multi-authorship idea one bit, argues instead that the mentions of exile are simply realism. The Israelites had not experienced it themselves when 1 Kings was authored, but would be aware of the practice, and would have known that it was likely that at least some portion of their population would find themselves in exile and one point or another. To defend the assertion, the authors argue: “Hammurabi’s law Code, among other documents that are much earlier than Solomon, speaks of redeeming captives and returning them to their own lands” (p.332). In other words, the authors of 1 Kings would have been familiar with both the concept of exile and of return.

In 1 Kgs 8:22, Solomon stands before God. This requires some cultural context, since standing over someone is usually (though not always) seen as an aggressive/dominant act in my culture. My New Bible Commentary helps: “Solomon is described as standing in prayer. Art from the Ancient Near East always indicates the inferior standing and the superior seated. Thus kings are represented as standing before a sitting deity” (p.332). We see the break between the first and second Deuteronomist editors when, in 1 Kgs 8:54, he stands from a kneeling position. This my New Bible Commentary explains away by implying that Solomon was so overwhelmed that he fell to his knees during his speech.

To end the consecration, the people sacrifice 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep, plus other miscellaneous offerings made in the courtyard because the altar was too small for so much at once. Israel then feasted for seven days (or two weeks, according to the Masoretic Text, says Both Saint and Cynic). The chapter closes with Solomon sending everyone packing on the eighth day.

1 Kings 5-7: Time for building up

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When David tried to build a temple to house the ark, God told him that it was a job for his offspring (2 Sam. 7:12). Now that the offspring is on the throne, it’s time to get cracking!

As I’ve learned from my many watchings (and re-watchings) of Bob the Builder, the first step to any construction project is to make sure you have all your materials (well, actually, Bob is quite clear that the first step is planning, but I assume the narrator is just skipping over that stage). For help, Solomon sends to King Hiram of Tyre, who had provided cedar trees, carpenters, and masons when David had built his palace in 2 Sam. 5:11-12, and who is described as having been a good friend of David’s. The narrative actually has Hiram contact Solomon first, when his reign begins, to remind him of what good friends he and David were. I’m sure that was political, though, and not a bid for a big construction contract.

In his message to Hiram, Solomon explains that David had been unable to build a temple “because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him” (1 Kgs 5:3) – a different explanation from what we were given in 2 Sam. 7, though they aren’t mutually exclusive. Now that there is peace, Solomon has the time to focus on his great works. He offers to send servants of his own to supplement Hiram’s, and to pay wages for Hiram’s workers. Hiram agrees with the stipulation that Solomon pay him in food for his household, and makes arrangements to send the wood down by sea from Lebanon. Both parties agree, Solomon sends Hiram 20,000 cors of wheat and 20,000 cors of beaten oil per year, and the two make a treaty.

Solomon’s next problem is finding the labour. Rather than offering appealing wages and other incentives, he decides simply to raise a levy of forced labour, to be directed by Adoniram, mentioned in 1 Kgs 4:6, and presumably the same person as the Adoram in 2 Sam. 20:24. Thirty thousand people are conscripted, to serve in groups of 10,000 for one month each in rotation (one on, two off) in Lebanon. Solomon also procures 70,000 burden-bearers and 80,000 hewers of stone to work in the hill country, presumably forced labour as well.

Paul Davidson has a great discussion about the various forms of slavery in the Bible that doesn’t fall under the category of “private ownership of slaves.” The term he uses in place of levy is “corvée,” – “the “right” of the king to force his subjects into mandatory labour as a sort of taxation for public works and other projects” (whereas “levy,” at least in my mind, carries the connotation that the services is to be military in nature). Davidson continues to explain that the nature of the slavery described here is one of temporary service for a specific task, citing 1 Kgs 9:22 (“But of the Israelites Solomon made no slaves”) to argue that this forced labour was socially considered to be a separate class from slavery.

Also, if the list in 2 Sam. 20:24 is correct, it seems that the practice of this kind of forced labour was already happening under David, and not a Solomonic invention to deal with the building of the temple. Another detail I noticed is that the levies are only said to be raised “out of all Israel” (1 Kgs 5:13), whereas the nation has generally been referred to as “Israel and Judah” for the last little while. I’m not sure of this is significant and Solomon is only “recruiting” from tribes other than his own, or if his is just a different source that is reverting to the earlier use of “Israel” to refer to the whole populace.

Solomon also brought in men from Gebal to do the hewing and preparation of the materials for construction, as well as a master stonemason named Hiram of Tyre, who was  the son of a Naphtali woman and a Tyrian man (1 Kgs 7:13-14).

Construction

We’re told that construction on the temple began in the 418th year since the Hebrews came out of Egypt, and the fourth year of Solomon’s reign. Even more specifically, it began in Ziv, which would be somewhere around April-May. According to my New Bible Commentary, there are a few problems here, the first being with the number of years since the exodus, which “would put the Exodus about 1447 BC, which is not in keeping with other evidence, either biblical or extra-biblical. There are indications that this verse may be a late gloss in the text. It is inserted two verses earlier in LXX, and reads ‘440’ instead of ‘480’” (p.328).

There’s another issue with the beginning month. Ziv is said to be the second month of the year in the text, yet it “was the second month of the later Babylonian calendar, but the eighth month of the pre-exilic calendar. LXX omits in the month of Ziv” (p.328).

What follows is an incredibly long description of the temple. The TL;DR version is that it’s pretty small for something that was meant for congregation-based worship activities, so it was likely used more for priestly rituals. All the stone used in the construction was prepared at the quarry  to reduce the amount of noise at the site – the reason is not stated, though I’m sure we’re to assume that it was for cultic reasons and not because Solomon lived nearby and liked to sleep in.

There was an innermost chamber to house the ark, and an outer nave or entryway that was a bit larger. Surrounding both were chambers. If I understand correctly, there was another structure surrounding this inner centre with a courtyard buffer. The inside of the temple was panelled with cedar and either foiled or inlaid with gold – the inner sanctuary entirely so, so that none of the stonework could be seen. This panelling was apparently quite ornate, as mention is made of images of gourds and open flowers.

Basically, it looked like this:

1 Kings 6

Perhaps as part of the temple complex, he made two free-standing pillars of bronze, one named Jachin and the other Boaz. My New Bible Commentary says that: “the use of free-standing columns in front of the Temple is attested in coins which were found at Sion and on the sculpture which tells that the pillars before the Baal temple at Tyre held a fire which glowed at night. It has been suggested that the pillars in front of Solomon’s Temple may have contained a sacred fire reminding the Israelites of the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night of the wilderness period; but all suggestions are largely speculative” (p.330). In other words, for all the ink wasted in the description of the temple, frustratingly little information actually comes through.

On the names of the pillar, my New Bible Commentary explains that Jachin meant “he establishes” and Boaz meant “in him is strength” (p.331), both perfectly plausible literal names.

There was also a “molten sea” (1 Kgs 7:23) – a round structure filled with water and standing on twelve oxen – three facing out toward each compass point. According to Collins, “the symbolism of these objects is not explained, but the sea recalls the prominence of Yamm (Sea) in the Ugaritic myths” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.135).

All through the temple were images of various flowers, fruits, and animals – which is difficult to reconcile with the rather clear prohibitions in Exodus 20:4, Leviticus 26:1, and Deuteronomy 27:15.

In addition to all of this were stands, lavers, pots, shovels, and basins. Once the construction was over, Solomon brought in all the stuff David had already begun collecting and dedicating for storage in the temple’s treasuries.

The entire construction took seven years to complete.

It seems that the temple may have been part of a building complex that included Solomon’s personal apartments (which seem to have been called the House of the Forest of Lebanon), his Egyptian wife’s apartments, a Hall of Pillars (whatever that might have been used for), a Hall of the Throne (from which he made his kingly pronouncements), and a Hall of Judgement (in which he presumably saw petitioners like the two prostitutes in 1 Kgs).

As fancy as the temple seem to have been, it took only seven years to build. Solomon’s own house took thirteen. As Brant Clements puts it, “That may say something about how YHWH rates….”

1 Kings 3-4: Solomon tries to cut a baby in half

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The court cleared of dissent, Solomon starts working on external politics – marrying the daughter of an Egyptian Pharaoh. He brought her to the city of David, pending the completion of his own house (presumably here meaning “palace” rather than “dynasty”) and the wall around Jerusalem.

The Deuteronomist editor slips in a bit about how “the people were sacrificing at high place,” though this is excusable for the time being because “no house had yet been built for the name of the Lord” (1 Kgs 3:2). We know by content that this is the Deuteronomist talking, but we know to look because it makes no sense in context. This location for the verse seems to have been chosen only because of the mention of construction preceding it, and the mention of Solomon worshipping at high places following.

In fact, the source material seems to approve quite plainly of Solomon’s worship at the high places, saying that he did it because he “loved the Lord” (1 Kgs 3:3). Solomon, we are told, was quite a fan of these high places (and of God!), and sacrificed a hyperbolic amount. In particular, he made a huge sacrifice at Gibeon, which occasioned God’s appearance in his dreams.

Like some sort of magical fish, God offers to grant one wish. Solomon chooses wisdom, and God is so pleased with the choice that he just grants riches, honour, and long life, too – so long as Solomon always obeys God, of course. Then again, the bar is set rather low, since God only requires that Solomon walk on God’s road “as your father David walked” (1 Kgs 3:14) – has he been reading the same book I’ve been reading?

Solomon is so pleased with how that dream, went (and who wouldn’t be!) that he rushes back to Jerusalem to make another offering before the ark.

Practical Wisdom

The next seems to have been included to show us an example of Solomon’s new-found wisdom in action. It takes place while he sites in judgement, apparently bridging the gap between local chieftain and king, since it seems unlikely that a king would have the time to see more than a symbolic handful of petitioners – a lesson Moses learned way back in Exodus 18 and Deuteronomy 16.

Victor Matthews says that Solomon may have taken up the task for political reasons:

These shifts [introduction of monarchy and movement of population to urban centres] contributed to significant changes in legal customs and the administration of justice in ancient Israel. Naturally the Israelite kings, like their ancient Near Eastern counterparts (see the preface to Hammurabi’s code in ANET, 164), wished to exercise as much control over the law and its enforcement as possible in order to increase their own authority. This meant the king had to be identified with dispensing of justice to all segments of society, especially the weak. The ideal, perhaps best exemplified by Solomon’s judging of the two prostitutes (1 Kgs 3:16-28), was to create the perception that he was a “just king.” With this accomplished, it would be more likely that people would look to him first for justice. (Manners & Customs of the Bible, p.119)

The scene is very similar to David’s dealings with Ziba and Mephibosheth back in 2 Samuel 19. In that case, David had granted Mephibosheth’s lands to Ziba after the latter claims that the former failed to support David when he fled Jerusalem. When David returns, Mephibosheth claims that Ziba had lied. In this case, two prostitutes come before Solomon, claiming that they had given birth within three days of each other and, while alone in the house one night, one of them had lain on her baby, suffocating it by accidentally. Now, each are claiming that the mother of the dead child secretly switched it for the other woman’s living child.

The Judgement of Solomon, by Peter Paul Rubens, c,1617

The Judgement of Solomon, by Peter Paul Rubens, c.1617

When David had dealt with Ziba and Mephibosheth, he tried to resolve the argument by splitting the lands in half, so that each would get a share. Solomon claims that he will do the same here, fetching a sword to cut the baby in half so that each woman could have a share.

When the solution was given, both Mephibosheth and the (presumably) true mother gave up their claim (the other woman demanding the child’s death so that “it shall be neither mine nor yours” – 1 Kgs 3:26), preferring that the land/baby be whole and out of their possession, rather than divided/dead and only half theirs. David shrugged and accepted Mephibosheth’s relinquishing of his claim to the lands. Solomon, by contrast, declares her to be the true mother and gives her the baby, whole.

This story only really works in contrast to David’s, so that we can see Solomon’s wisdom boost in contrast to how David dealt with a similar issue. But neither story works except in contrast to the other. David dealt horribly with Ziba and Mephibosheth, rewarding a man who seems to have been opportunistic and perfectly willing to betray his master (not something a king should particularly be encouraging – though the fact that David does certainly goes a way toward explaining how his reign came to be so troubled), while screwing over a cripple whose livelihood was probably put into question by the ruling.

In Solomon’s case, there was really only one way to resolve the issue, and it depended entirely on one woman (and only the one) relinquishing her claim. Any other outcome would have required Solomon to either reveal his bluff or murder a baby – neither which, I imagine, would have particularly endeared him to his people.

The second woman had recently lost her baby and resorted to kidnapping a replacement. While it’s certainly possible that she might have been so bitter that she would rather see a second baby die rather than live in a house with a healthy baby who wasn’t her own, that seems far from the only way she could have responded. So unless Solomon’s wisdom included clairvoyance, I think his gambit was far more of a long shot than the narrative implies – unless, of course, he really was perfectly willing to murder the baby.

Incidentally, Tim Bulkeley points out that neither woman is called “mother” by the narrative, only by Solomon and only at the very end when he renders his judgement. He also mentions that when the one who is determined to be the true mother is moved by “compassion” (1 Kgs 3:26) to relinquish her claim, the word used is etymologically related to the word for “womb.”

Solomon’s Administration

Chapter 4 begins with Solomon’s cabinet. From the very first, there’s some confusion as we are told that Azariah, the son of Zadok was the priest, while a few verses later has both Zadok and Abiathar as priests (Abiathar, of course, having been deposed earlier). Explaining Abiathar’s presence requires that we assume that some time-hopping is going on, but Azariah is more complicated. I can only guess, but it’s possible that Azariah’s role is as a family priest, perhaps tending exclusively to Solomon and his household, while Zadok and Abiathar are meant to be the co-high priests, in charge of all the other priests. Sort of like the difference between a family chaplain and a pope.

We also get another Azariah, this time the son of Nathan, who is in charge of the officers. Zabud, also the son of Nathan, is another priest and king’s friend. My first thought was that both of these Nathans were Nathan the Prophet, though it seems more probable given the lack of honorific that he was David’s son, mentioned in 2 Sam. 5:14.

  • Elihoreph and Ahijah, the sons of Shisha, served as secretaries;
  • Jehoshaphat, son of Ahilud, was recorder;
  • Benaiah, son of Jehoiada, was commander of the army;
  • Ahishar was in charge of the palace;
  • Adoniram, son of Abda, was in charge of the forced labor.

We’re also told that Solomon appointed twelve officers, overseers of the various territories in the nation. Interestingly, these territories do not “conform to the old tribal boundaries,” as my study Bible puts it. These officers seem to be in charge of collecting taxes, providing food for the king and his household (apparently each being responsible for one month of the court’s needs per year). These officers were:

  1. Ben-hur over the hill country of Ephraim
  2. Ben-decker over Makaz, Shaal’bim, Bethshemesh, and Elonbeth-hanan
  3. Ben-hesed over Arubboth
  4. Ben-abinadab over Naphathdor (and he was married to Taphath, Solomon’s daughter)
  5. Baana, son of Ahilud, over Taanach, Megiddo, and Bethshean
  6. Ben-geber over Ramoth-gilead
  7. Ahinadab, son of Iddo, over Mahanaim
  8. Ahimaaz over Naphtali (and he was married to Basemath, Solomon’s daughter)
  9. Baana, son of Hushai, over Asher and Bealoth
  10. Jehoshaphat, son of Paruah, over Issachar
  11. Shimei, son of Ela, over Benjamin
  12. Geber, son of Uri, over Gilead
  13. An unknown officer over Judah

The count is more than twelve, perhaps indicating that the unknown officer over Judah was separate from the others, perhaps meaning that Judah was exempt from the taxes Solomon required of the other regions. If so, this looks more like a primary tribe collecting tribute from vassal tribes than a real unified nation.

I also find it interesting that Solomon has married two of his daughters to these regional leaders, particularly when he’s clearly dabbling in external politics. There’s probably nothing to it, but it makes me wonder if perhaps Solomon was still working to settle a turbulent court. He either executed or exiled all the major threats, and I wonder if this is evidence of him trying to secure internal allies through marriage. (Though Crusader Kings II has taught me that these internal unions can be quite a double-edged sword, since they give the descendants of those courtiers hereditary claims to the crown that may cause problems for your successors.)

Despite the mention of taxes and forced labour, we’re assured that everyone in Judah and Israel was happy, and that Solomon’s kingdom was very large. We’re given a list of the provisions he went through in one day, which I assume indicates the size of his court rather than the size of his belly. It seems a bit much even if it’s for his entire family.

We get some gushing about the awesome number of horses, chariots, and horsemen, not to mention the stables required to house such numbers. This detail – clearly presented here in a positive light – obviously comes from a different source than Deut. 17:16.

The boundaries of Solomon’s kingdom are rather unlikely. The fact that they fit with the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 15 suggests that they are likely a romanticized fantasy of the nations “glory days,” rather than an accurate description of a small, new nation just beginning to emerge from its origins as a tribal confederacy.

Solomon’s Wisdom

To close off the chapter, we get another reminder that Solomon was so terribly wise. In fact, he was so wise that he “surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt” (1 Kgs 4:30) – though the only demonstration we’ve seen so far leaves me rather unconvinced. Unless he is meant to only seem wise by comparison.

Solomon is mentioned to be wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, as well as the sons of Mahol: Heman, Calcol, and Darda. Clearly, this is a reference the reader is supposed to get.

We’re told that he composed 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs, and that he seems to have had a fair bit of knowledge of the natural sciences (or liked nature themes in his songs and proverbs, I suppose). People came from “all the kings of the earth” to seek out his wisdom, clearly implying that – at least as far as threatening to cut babies in half was concerned – Solomon was better than any other king.

1 Kings 2: Cleaning the slate

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In this chapter, we see a very different David. With death approaching, he decides to impart some kingly advice to Solomon, starting with a reminder to obey the “law of Moses” (1 Kgs 2:3), a clear Deuteronomist concern.

And that’s all well and good, but the rest of his “advice” is far more personal – or at least is spun as such. He blames Joab’s murders of Abner (in 2 Sam. 3:27) and Amasa (in 2 Sam. 20:8-10) for “putting innocent blood upon the girdle about my loins” (1 Kgs 2:5). As if Uriah’s murder didn’t do that quite sufficiently on its own. The crime in these murders, according to David, was that Joab was “avenging in time of peace blood which had been shed in war” (1 Kgs 2:5), suggesting that he would have been quite happy to see both Abner and Amasa dead so long as it had happened on a battlefield (contradicting Solomon’s later words that the crime was that Joab had killed men who were better than him – 1 Kgs 2:32).

According to Victor Matthews, David’s concern over the cleanliness of his girdle is important because:

The girdle, which was used to tie the kethoneth and simlah, also functioned as a weapons belt and a sign of rank. In 2 Sam 20:8, Joab wears a “soldier’s garment” tied with a girdle (hagor) through which he has sheathed his sword. David uses the same term in describing Joab’s crimes to Solomon in 1 Kgs 2:5. In this case, however, the hagor, and thus the authority, has been symbolically soiled with the blood of Joab’s murder victims. (Manners & Customs of the Bible, p.111)

David asks Solomon to execute Joab. Same for Shimei, who had cursed David in 2 Sam. 16. David’s request, here, changes the tone of Shimei’s curses, and his subsequent forgivingness (2 Sam. 19). While David was fleeing Jerusalem, he argued against rebuking Shimei, considering that he may be speaking God’s own condemnations. When he returns to Jerusalem, he prevents Abishai from killing Shimei, arguing that the man’s curses had clearly meant nothing since David was now returning. At the time, he had promised not to kill Shimei (2 Sam. 19:23). Not only do we now see that David has been harbouring his resentment all this time, but also he is willing to use Solomon as a loophole to get the revenge he had promised not to seek.

My study Bible proposes that, when Joab and Shimei had angered David, his political position was was too precarious to dare act against two men with a fair bit of status and power (when Shimei appears before David in 2 Sam. 19, he is accompanied by a thousand soldiers – the implication clearly being that anything short of official pardon would have resulted in bloodshed).

That’s all assuming, of course, that this scene played out as recorded. Having played a great deal of Crusader Kings II, I know how unstable a nation is with a new king. There’s considerable upheaval inherent in a change of leadership, and factions will frequently use the opportunity to press their interests in the hopes that the new king’s lack of experience might make him weak enough to be cowed (such has been the downfall of many of my dynasties). It wouldn’t have been unlikely for a new king – especially one as young as Solomon seems to have been, placed on the throne by the manoeuvrings of his mother while his brothers acted on their own behalf – to pre-emptively squash any possible dissent.

Joab, having supported Adonijah over Solomon, would have been an obvious candidate for the axeman’s block. Shimei, who clearly had a lot of support in Benjamin (over which the united monarchy clearly had an unstable hold) and had demonstrated how quickly he could turn against a Judahite king, would be another.

It’s plausible, then, that Solomon might have used “my pa’s last wish” as a covering rhetoric for what he had decided to do for himself.

But David’s last words to Solomon aren’t all terrible. He also asks that Solomon deal loyally with the sons of Barzillai, since they had been good to David.

The requests made, David died and was buried, and we’re told that he ruled over Israel for a total of 40 years, 7 of them in Hebron and 37 in Jerusalem. This sounds like a mathematical error, but remember that he was only king over Judah for 4 of his Hebron years. If we don’t count all the years he spent on the run from his sons or under Solomon’s regency, 40 would be the correct number.

Adonijah’s fate

With much trepidation and fear for his safety, Adonijah approaches Bathsheba, asking her to ask Solomon for Abishag (David’s breast-powered radiator) for a wife. He guilts her into accepting his request, saying: “You know that the kingdom was mine, and that all Israel fully expected me to reign; however the kingdom has turned about and become my brother’s, for it was his from the Lord” (1 Kgs 2:15). His words make it clear that there was an expectation of primogeniture.

He is certain that Solomon will listen if Bathsheba is the one making the request.

Joab dying at the altar

Joab dying at the altar

As she promised, she brings his request to Solomon. Solomon, however, is disinclined to accept. As we’ve seen, taking the old king’s wives was a way of declaring one’s self the legitimate successor. Absalom did it in 2 Sam. 16:22, and it seems likely that David himself did this with Saul’s wives (2 Sam. 12:8). Given that Adonijah is the elder, and that he has considerable support in the court, allowing him to marry one of David’s concubines would be greatly increasing the legitimacy of his claim to the crown.

It seems that this is where the detail about David not having sex with Abishag (1 Kgs 1:4) comes into play. Her status as a concubine may have been subject to interpretation. It’s possible, then, that Adonijah was counting on Solomon not considering Abishag to have been one of David’s official female retinue, so that he might unthinkingly accept the proposal. Abishag in the bag, Adonijah would then be free to argue her case and, in so doing, argue his own. It seems to me that this is meant to be a story about Solomon sussing out Adonijah’s scheme – particularly since it seems unthinkable that Bathsheba would have relayed the request in such a straightforward manner if she had known what Adonijah was up to.

Speaking of Bathsheba, it’s interesting to me how diminished her role is. In the last chapter, the scheme to get Solomon on the throne is made out to be all Nathan’s doing, even thought Bathsheba is the principle actor. Here, she seems to fall for Adonijah’s trick. Yet despite all this, it seems that she had a reputation as an advisor to Solomon (given Adonijah’s assumption that the request would be accepted if it came from her). On top of that, when she enters Solomon’s presence, he bows to her and she takes a seat at his right hand. It could be that she was a woman who adroitly navigated the intrigue of the court, and that her role in the events of Solomon’s succession were minimized due to sexism (not exactly an uncommon thing through history). Or it could just all be an attempt to show that Solomon is young (and therefore assumed to still be under the influence of his mother) and that he is respectful of his parents.

Complicating the issue further is how the text is presented in translations. According to Joel M. Hoffman over at God Didn’t Say That, there’s some discussion over whether Solomon should sit on a chair or a throne. In the Hebrew, the word is the same for both Solomon and Bathsheba’s seats. However, several translators have chosen to give Solomon a throne, but Bathsheba merely receives a seat. As Hoffman puts it: “The original Hebrew of I Kings 2:19 emphasizes the equality of Solomon and his mother. The KJV emphasizes the inequality of the two. The NRSV preserves the equality, but does so by giving Bathsheba a throne.”

It’s possible that Solomon had hoped that his brother, once beaten, would accept Solomon’s reign. Once it becomes clear that this isn’t the case, Solomon quickly has Adonijah. In his defence, keeping an aggressive competitor with stronger claims to the crown around would have almost certainly been a terrible idea. After all, in the Game of Thrones, you win or you die.

Another possibility is that Solomon may have hesitated to kill his brother, displaying the same reticence as David in similar situations. So Bathsheba, knowing that the son she put on the throne wouldn’t keep it long with Adonijah poking about, made up the request to prod Solomon into action. Given that no one is said to have witnessed Adonijah’s request save for Bathsheba, it’s as good an explanation as any, and it has oodles of narrative potential.

The supporters

Next, David turns his eye toward the men who supported Adonijah’s bid for power: Joab and Abiathar. Because Abiathar was a priest and had carried the ark of the covenant, he was too sacred to simply execute. Instead, Solomon gets rid of him by exiling him from court. This, we are told, completes the prophecy that had been made about the house of Eli (by “a man of God” in 1 Sam. 2:31-24, and by Samuel in 1 Sam. 3:13-14).

Having heard what happened to Adonijah and Abiathar, Joab figured that he was next. He tries the same trick as Abiathar in 1 Kgs 1, running to the tent of God and grabbing hold of the altar thorns, and Solomon sends Benaiah after him. When Benaiah tries to get Joab to come out of the tent and face his fate, Joab refuses, saying: “No, I will die here” (1 Kgs 2:30). Benaiah returns to Solomon, who tells him to grant Joab’s “request.” In so doing, Solomon says that Benaiah will “take away from me and from my father’s house the guilt for the blood which Joab shed without cause.”

So Benaiah goes back to the tent of God and slays Joab at the alter – which, it would seem to me, would be a major ritual no-no and likely to bring a great deal more guilt down on Solomon than Joab’s actions ever did (especially since at no time prior to this chapter are Joab’s murders said to curse David’s house, whereas David’s own actions toward Uriah and Bathsheba are said by Nathan to mark the start of their troubles).

With that Solomon gets rid of everyone in court who opposed his succession. To fill the vacuum he’s created, he appoints Benaiah as commander of the army, and has Zadok take Abiathar’s place as high priest.

Shimmy-Shimei

The last person on Solomon’s First Days’ Hit List is Shimei, who had cursed David during his escape from Jerusalem in 2 Sam. 16. In one tradition, at least, cursing a ruler warranted the death penalty (Exodus 22:28), though it’s unclear whether it would have applied in this case since, by David’s own admission, Absalom was the king at that time. This could be why Solomon decides not to execute Shimei.

Or it could be a nod to David’s promise not to harm Shimei, plus the fact that Shimei had never moved against Solomon himself – making a capital retaliation rather difficult to defend. Whatever the reason, he opts instead to make Shimei build a house in Jerusalem (where he can be close enough to keep an eye on) and places him under house arrest.

After three years, however, Shimei leaves his house to reclaim two escaped slaves. Perhaps he thought it was no big deal, since he returns as soon as he’s done. Solomon, however, is quite happy to use the excuse to have Benaiah execute him.

In his rebuke to Shimei, Solomon says: “King Solomon shall be blessed, and the throne of David shall be established before the Lord for ever” (1 Kgs 2:45), which seems to be a direct reference to Shimei’s curse in 2 Sam. 16:7-8.

1 Kings 1: Unruly Sons

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1 Kings opens with a greatly aged King David, who is no longer able to keep his own body warm. As a solution, his court decides to find a beautiful maiden (because of course she has to be beautiful) upon whose bosom David might be warmed. They choose a woman named Abishag the Shunammite, and we are assured that she passed muster as far as beauty is concerned (no comment on her breast temperature, though, which I would have thought the more salient information). Perhaps in an attempt to make this sound a little less skeevy, the text assures us that, while Abishag tended to David, “the king knew her not” (1 Kgs 1:4), in the biblical sense, as it were. I’m not sure whether the comment is meant to provide additional evidence of David’s frailty (as Brant Clements of Both Saint And Cynic puts it, the verse could be implying that “the king’s sexual prowess has abated”), or to clarify that Abishag was brought in solely as a fleshy radiator and did not have any official status as royal wife/concubine.

Adonijah’s Succession

With David so weakened, it’s time for another one of his sons to make a play for the crown. This time, it’s Adonijah. If you will remember from way back in 2 Samuel 3, David’s sons are, in order of birth:

  1. Amnon, son of Ahinoam of Jezreel: Murdered by his brother, Absalom, for having raped their sister, Tamar.
  2. Chileab, son of Abigail: Never mentioned again after 2 Sam. 3:3. Presumably dead in infancy.
  3. Absalom, son of Maacah and grandson of Talmai, king of Geshur: Took the crown by force, then killed in the ensuing battle.
  4. Adonijah, son of Haggith.
  5. Shephatiah, son of Abital.
  6. Ithream, son of Eglah.
  7. Solomon, son of Bathsheba.

Based on the actions of Absalom and Adonijah, there seems to have been an assumption of primogeniture (and I’ve already mentioned my suspicion that Absalom’s murder of Amnon had more to do with his later power play than with Tamar). Given that the people wanted a warrior king who would defend the Hebrew nation against Philistines and other external threats, its perfectly conceivable that Adonijah honestly did believe that it was time for his father to retire and leave the ruling of the country to his eldest son.

And Adonijah wouldn’t have been alone in thinking that, as the text tells us that he had the support of Joab and Abiathar, the priest. He may even have had implicit approval from David, since we’re told that he gathered together chariots, horsemen, and fifty infantrymen as part of his retinue, and David never said a word in rebuke.

Either way, the whole succession narrative sounds positively Welsh in its messiness.

Adonijah’s ascent didn’t go uncontested, however. He was unable to get the support of Zadok, Benaiah, Nathan, Shimei, Rei (the only novel name in the list, my New Bible Commentary suggests that it may be “‘Shimei the friend’ following Josephus, since each of the other persons in the verse has a descriptive title,” p.325), and David’s “might men,” leaving most of David’s inner court against him.

We’re told that Adonijah made a sacrifice at the Serpent’s Stone, inviting all his brothers (except Solomon) and all the royal officials of Judah (except Nathan, Benaiah, or the “mighty men” – most of the people who refuse to support him). Interestingly, though not explicitly excluded, no mention is made of Israelite royal officials, suggesting that perhaps the confederation that had united the two halves of the Hebrew nation was, at least at this time, dissolved. The fact that he explicitly did not invite Solomon suggests that perhaps he had already identified him as a threat (or perhaps Solomon was invited, but he eventually became king and uninvited himself to place the brotherly rift firmly on Adonijah’s side).

Adonijah’s sacrifice appears to be a coronation ceremony, or else he was ordering it with the authority of a king, because his kingship seems to have been viewed as a fait accompli at this point.

Behind the scenes

Nathan turns to Bathsheba, convincing her that Adonijah’s succession puts her and her son, Solomon, in danger. Given Adonijah’s lack of support and the general violence with which succession has so far been taking place in this infant nation, his expression of concern seems quite legitimate. While primogeniture seems to be assumed, Israel/Judah is now on its fifth king and the other two eldest sons who were crowns were rather violently – and fatally – deposed. Getting rid of any other serious contenders would certainly be appealing to someone in Adonijah’s position.

Coronation of Pharamond, from Grandes Chroniques de France

Coronation of Pharamond, from Grandes Chroniques de France

What’s really interesting about the scene, if we accept Nathan’s sentiment as genuine, is that Nathan is the one who originally condemned David for his relationship with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 12. Yet here he is, on Bathsheba’s side. However much guilt and punishment is heaped onto David for his lechery, none of the blame seems to be placed on Bathsheba (except the loss of her first child, though that is framed as a punishment for David – not for her, however much grief is splash damaged onto her by it). To me, this suggests that the author(s) did not understand Bathsheba’s participation in the affair to be consensual.

Nathan tells Bathsheba that Adonijah has become the king without David’s knowing, strongly suggesting that he as all but retired and is no longer paying any attention to the affairs of state. This inattentiveness could be why the names of inner circle are repeated so frequently – they were known because they were the ones doing all the work.

Nathan’s plan is to have Bathsheba approach David and remind him that he had promised her that Solomon would succeed him (which, if true, would explain the gaps in the courtier support for Adonijah, as well as any urgency Adonijah might feel in disposing of his little half-brother). Why then, she is to ask, is Adonijah the king? Then, while she is still speaking with David, Nathan will burst in and confirm the news.

When Bathsheba enters David’s chamber, we’re told that Abishag was in the middle of “ministering” to him (1 Kgs 1:15), which could not have been a particularly comfortable situation for Bathsheba. The scene reminds me of Lord Robert Arryn breastfeeding on his throne in Game of Thrones. Still, no mention is made of her reaction and she follows the plan. She seems to imply that the whole situation is caused by David’s failure to tell his subjects who will rule after him – a very legitimate accusation.

Finishing up, she tells David that she and Solomon will be “counted offenders” (1 Kgs. 1:22) when David is dead. It’s unclear whether she means that Adonijah will want to have them put well away from anywhere where they might cause harm, or because she intends to press for Solomon’s succession, which would make him a rebel if primogeniture is assumed without the old’s king direction. It is not explained why, if David hasn’t publicly declared Solomon his successor, Nathan knew of his apparent promise to Bathsheba.

When she is done, Nathan asks for an audience and tells David of Adonijah’s sacrificial ceremony and the support he has already gathered. He plays innocent, asking this is all part of a plan David has failed to mention to his servants (an accusation, since if this were truly what had happened, it would mean that David had put his followers in the position of having to choose between supporting a claimant against David, or failing to support David’s chosen heir).

As in Genesis 27, when Rebekah similarly secured a younger son’s inheritance, the plan works and David is moved into action.

Getting the right man for the job

David sends for Zadok, Nathan, and Benaiah, instructing them to bring Solomon to Gihon (on David’s own mule, no less!), so that Zadok and Nathan might anoint him as king. Certainly, crowning Solomon now, while David is still alive, would eliminate any confusion as to whom David supports. It would also force Adonijah to actually rebel against an anointed king if he intends to press the issue, rather than simply positioning himself as the heir apparent (as he seems to be doing, whatever Nathan and Bathsheba say). He intends to formally retire and have Solomon “be king in my stead” (1 Kgs. 1:35 – noting that he would rule over both Israel and Judah, while Adonijah only seems to have Judahite support).

My study Bible notes that Gihon would have been chosen because, while not visible from Enrogel – where Adonijah is having his festivities – is “well within earshot” (p.415). That means that when Solomon is anointed and they do the whole shtick of blowing the trumpet and proclaiming him king, it will be heard by Adonijah and all of his supporters.

They follow David’s instructions, accompanied by the Cherethites and Pelethites (who appear to be the royal guard – together with David’s mule, they are clear symbols of Solomon’s legitimacy).

As planned, Joab hears the uproar of Solomon’s coronation and asks about the noise. While he is still speaking, Jonathan, the son of Abiathar, approaches, and Adonijah assumes that he must be bringing good news. Jonathan disappoints, however, and informs Adonijah that his little brother beat him to the punch.

Adonijah’s guests, clearly realizing their mistake and the danger in which picking the losing side has placed him, tremble and scatter. Of course, whatever danger the guests are in would have been greatly multiplied for Adonijah, and he knows it. So he grasps at straws – or, rather, at the horns of the altar (my study Bible describes them as “projections resembling horns at the four corners of an altar” (p.415-426) in what appears to be a form of claiming sanctuary (a tradition that had clearly fallen out of favour by the time Exodus 21:14 was written). He refuses to release the altar until Solomon swears that he will not kill Adonijah with a sword – which seems absurdly specific, and gives Solomon a really obvious means to get away with killing Adonijah on a technicality.

Solomon agrees, but only if Adonijah is a “worthy man” (1 Kgs. 1:52). The meaning is unclear, but my New Bible Commentary says that “the term suggests a man of wealth, not one living on the king” (p.325). Whatever it means, Adonijah apparently passes the test, and he is sent home (suggesting, perhaps, that his remaining there would be compulsory).

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