2 Chronicles 19-20: Jumping Jehoshaphat!

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The second half of Jehoshaphat’s story begins with the king’s return to Jerusalem from his ill-fated adventures with Ahab.

Unfortunately for him, the matter isn’t quite settled yet. He must first deal with Jehu, the son of Hanani the seer. Jehu, as it happens, has taken up the family business, and is ready to accost the king!

He berates Jehoshaphat for “[helping] the wicked and [loving] those who hate the Lord” (2 Chron. 19:2). God, you see, doesn’t seem to have entered his “love thine enemies” phase just yet (or perhaps we should read that more literally – it is our enemies who must be loved, but God is allowed some pettiness). While Jehu never specifics what he’s talking about, the placement and topic implies that he means Jehoshaphat’s alliance with Ahab. In any case, God is mad but at least Jehoshaphat has been a complete jerk to people of other faiths, so he’ll let this one go.

We have another mention of a prophet named Jehu son of Hanani, who goes to Baasha, king of the northern kingdom (1 Kgs 16:1-4). Just glancing at my chart o’ kings, we can see that Baasha’s rule seems to have ended around 877 BCE and Jehoshaphat’s rule began around 873 BCE – close enough for both events to occur within the lifetime of a single plausible prophet.

Commentators all seem to disagree, however, and probably for very good reasons. They put the two appearances 50 years apart, making it unlikely (though still not impossible) for Jehu’s mission to overlap both kings.

It’s possible that the Chronicler wanted to insert an explicit condemnation of Jehoshaphat’s dealings with the northern kingdom, and he had Jehu’s name from his source materials in Kings. Adopting the name of a recognized authority to give your words more weight was viewed far more favourably in antiquity than it is now, so it’s not impossible that this explains Jehu’s appearance here.

My New Bible Commentary proposes a second solution (p.388): That Jehu was given the same name as his grandfather (as was Hanani). This king of repeat naming isn’t exactly unheard of either.

Legal Reforms

We know from the book of Judges that individual communities had (titular) ways of dealing with local disputes. As the nation moved in a more national direction, the monarch was understood as a judge writ large. But that kind of power just doesn’t scale well.

That’s Victor Matthews’s interpretation, as he writes: “During the early monarchy, royal judicial authority was held as a prerogative of the king, and little delegation of authority to local judges was allowed. However, by the reign of King Jehoshaphat (ca. 873-849 B.C.), the complexity of running the nation of Judah, and the sheer number of cases, led to a major reform of the judicial system” (Manners & Customs of the Bible, p.119).

The Triumph of Jehoshaphat, by Jean Fouquet, 1470-1475

The Triumph of Jehoshaphat, by Jean Fouquet, 1470-1475

So while Jehoshaphat hides from his errors in Jerusalem, he appoints judges throughout the country and urges them to take their jobs seriously (not to take partiality, to avoid partiality, etc.) because they are doing God’s work, not humanity’s.

We saw a similar story in Ex. 18:13-27, where Moses found that the needs of a whole people were just too much for a single leader to tend. In that story, it took Moses’s father-in-law to convince him that it was time to delegate. Jehoshaphat needed no such prompting.

Incidentally, we’ve seen the Chronicler allude to Moses quite a bit, but I haven’t noticed it since Solomon’s passing. Given the perfect opportunity here, I think it’s safe to say that the Chronicler was only interested in casting David and Solomon as Mosaic figures and is now just really into miraculous battle scenes.

To supervise these local judges, Jehoshaphat appoints the high priest, Amariah, over the Levitical judges, and one of the king’s chief officers, Zebadiah, over the civil judges.

I found the dichotomy rather interesting, since the books of ordinances didn’t really seem to see a distinction between religious and secular life.

Realizing that local judges may not be quite enough, Jehoshaphat also appoints a supreme court of sources, based in Jerusalem and comprised of Levites, priests, and family heads. They exist to clarify matters of law and to oversee disputed cases. Again he urges them to take their job seriously, and again he appoints the chief priest Amariah as their leader (Zebadiah, however, is set as governor of the house of Judah and in charge of the king’s matters). Levites serve as this supreme court’s officers.

This mention of judges isn’t found in Kings, and it seems rather convenient that, according to my study Bible, Jehoshaphat’s name means “the Lord judges.” It’s possible that the Chronicler used the occasion of Jehoshaphat’s name to insert some subtle instructions for how to handle judicial matters once the kingdom is re-established.

Yet Another Miraculous Battle

It what the New Bible Commentary sees as the fulfilment of Jehu’s prophecy in 2 Chron. 19:1-3 (p.388), an army moves against Judah. This time, it is comprised of Moabites, Ammonites, and some of the Meunites, apparently coming from Edom.

Wait, Meunites? It seems we have a mystery group. From what I can tell, they only seem to appear in Chronicles and other books that were apparently written from the same historical vantage point (they appear in Ezra 2:50, Nehemiah 7:52, 1 Chron. 4:41, and 2 Chron. 26:7). It seems likely that the Meunites were anachronistically written into this story.

When Jehoshaphat finds out that the army is coming, he becomes afraid and seeks out God. He declares a national fast, and gathers the people for an assembly. This is, of course, accompanied by the usual speech while all of Judah (explicitly including women and children) look on.

The Spirit of God delivers, broadcasting through a member of the crowd – Jahaziel son of Zechariah son of Benaiah son of Jeiel son of Mattaniah, a Levite in the line of Asaph (whose historicity may be confirmed by archeologists). He calls out for them not to fear the large number of enemies approaching, for God himself will be taking them on. He instructs the people to assemble east of the wilderness of Jeruel tomorrow. No fighting will be necessary, just show up with popcorn. (The speech has echoes of Deut. 20.)

Jehoshaphat and the Judahites all face-plant, and the Korahites sing out God’s praises.

The next morning, the Judahites woke early and head out to the meeting place. Jehoshaphat gives another speech, this time about believing in God and his prophets. While God had never asked for it, “the people” (2 Chron. 20:21) suggest that singers be appointed to lead the procession, and Jehoshaphat agrees.

As the singers sing, we learn that God set up an ambush. Ambushes typically require bodies – were there fighting angels? I had fun imaging the Edomite-affiliated army being surrounded by the mist Mashadar like in the final battle of Wheel of Time. The New Bible Commentary went a little more realistic and images retaliation from the inhabitants of the overrun lands (p.389). But I think, given the next passage, that we’re meant to understand that this was an ambush of a more spiritual kind. The ambush, you see, turns the allied armies against each other, so that they destroy each other before ever reaching the gathered Judahites.

When the Judahites arrive at their watchpost, they find the invaders slaughtered with no survivors. You’d think there’d be at least one – the one to kill the final comrade – but no. Firm believers in “waste not, want not,” the Judahites rush out into the battlefield to scavenge. They find much cattle, many goods, many clothes, and plenty of precious things. They loaded themselves up until they could carry no more.

On the fourth day, the Judahites gathered again to bless God – this time in the Valley of Beracah, giving the name to the location (which my study Bible says means “blessing”). Then they return to Jerusalem, pleased as punch.

When surrounding nations hear about this miraculous battle, they became afraid and left Judah in peace.

This story, as with many of the Chronicler’s miraculous battles, doesn’t appear in Kings. It does, however, share some general similarities with the invasion of Israel by Moab in 2 Kgs 3:4-27. In that story, the Moabites take advantage of Ahab’s death to rebel against Israel, and Israel’s new king, Jehoram, calls out to Jehoshaphat for help. The prophet in that story is Elisha, and God grants them victory out of his regard for Jehoshaphat. Whether the Chronicler adapted that story, both refer to the same historical event in their own special way, or the two are simply different stories with a few coincidental similarities.

Wrap Up

We definitely return to Kings for the ending of Jehoshaphat’s story.

After the victory over the Edomite-affiliated army, Jehoshaphat joins in an alliance with King Ahaziah of Israel. Ahaziah was a bad bad man, and Jehoshaphat apparently has trouble learning lessons.

Together, the kings build some ships to go to Tarshish. A prophet named Eliezer son of Dodavahu of Mareshah prophesied against this venture, warning that Jehoshaphat will be destroyed by it, but the kings go ahead with it anyway. Of course, the ships were wrecked before they ever reach Tarshish. (In the 1 Kgs 22:48 version, no prophet appears and the wrecking of the ships is not seen as a judgement).

Despite Eliezer’s claims, this episode doesn’t seem to have any bearing on Jehoshaphat’s fate. He is not stricken by any foot disease, or tossed from a window and eaten by dogs, or overthrown by a new dynasty.

Instead, he dies at the perfectly respectable age of 60, having ruled for 25 years.

His mother’s name was Azubah daughter of Shilhi. He is deemed a good and godly king, despite the fact that he failed to remove the high places (agreeing with 1 Kgs 22:42-43, but contradicting 2 Chron. 17:5-6) and his people were not homogeneous in their cultic preferences.

For more information, the Chronicler sends us in search for the chronicles of Jehu son of Hanani, which are recorded in the Book of the Kings of Israel.

2 Chronicles 8-9: Solomon’s Stuff

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In these two chapters, the Chronicler fawns some more over Solomon, his wisdom, and his wealth. It’s terribly dull. Awfully dull. However, this is the last set of chapters about the Super Awesome Mega Kings of Israel Who Are Awesome, and we’ll be getting into the histories on Monday. That should be a lot more fun.

We open with some miscellaneous constructions and expansions:

Solomon rebuilt the cities that King Huram gave him, which he then settled with Israelites. Of course, in 1 Kgs 9:10-14, it is Solomon who cedes the cities to King Hiram, not the other way around. In that passage, he did so either in direct exchange for goods, or in gratitude for Hiram’s business during the construction of the Temple. Here, not only is the direction of the gifting changed, but no reason is given. Many commentaries try to smooth the discrepancy over by arguing that Solomon had only given the cities to Hiram temporarily, perhaps as collateral until he could pay off all the goods Hiram was sending. That reads an awful lot into the text, however, since no such arrangement is described. In both passages, we learn of only a single trade, with the direction of that trade completely reversed.

On the subject, James Bradford Pate writes:

I tend to believe that there are two separate agendas in I Kings and II Chronicles.  I Kings is trying to explain why those cities came to be called Cabul, which is rather disparaging.  The reason, in I Kings 9, goes back to Hiram’s dissatisfaction with those cities.  II Chronicles 8, however, is presenting Huram as adoring and subordinating himself to Solomon, and thus giving Solomon cities.  And Solomon rebuilding the cities and settling Israelites in them occurs within the context of his projects of expansion and building, which we read about in the subsequent verses.

We are told that Solomon conquered Hamath-zobah. The last time we heard from Hamath, their king was so happy that David had defeated King Hadadezer of Zobah that he sent his son to David with a load of gifts (2 Sam. 8:9-12, 1 Chron. 18:9-11). It was unclear whether the gifts were meant as a one-time show of gratitude or part of a more formal vassalage. One would hope that, whatever their arrangement, it was over before Solomon took sword to the region. Of course, this raises a second issue – the Chronicler seems to believe that Solomon was chosen to build the Temple because he was unbloodied (mentioned several times, such as 1 Chron. 22:7-10), yet here we see him conquering regions. Is it okay because he’s already finished the Temple?

The text tells us that Solomon built Tadmor in the wilderness. Commentaries seem to agree that the text should read “Tamar” instead, since it’s unlikely that Solomon would have been building anything in the region of Tadmor.

The text also tells us that he built several store-cities in Hamath, and that he built Upper and Lower Beth-horon (which were fortified cities), Baalath (though it is not explained why he was building towns with “Baal” in the name), plus more store-cities and special cities for his chariots and horsemen.

Of Slaves and Overseers

The Chronicler tells us that Solomon enslaved all the non-Israelites who still lived within his borders, and that their descendants are still enslaved “to this day” (2 Chron. 8:8). This a problem we’ve encountered before with the Chronicler, since he clearly doesn’t mean his own day. So is the phrase simply the product of careless copying from sources, or is there a point the Chronicler intended to make?

As in Kings, we are told that Solomon made no slaves from Israelites. It’s hard to see, however, how the distinctions might have been made, given that there were certainly intermarriages. Was there a “one drop” rule? Or were only parents of one gender taken into account?

Finally, we learn that Solomon appointed 250 chief officers to oversee the people, compared to 550 officers in 1 Kgs 9:23. This seems like an error, and likely is – the Chronicler frequently deviates from the numbers in Samuel and Kings. However, the New Bible Commentary points out that we arrive at the same total – 3,850 – by adding together 1 Kgs 5:16 and 1 Kgs 9:23, or by adding 2 Chron. 2:18 and 2 Chron. 8:10 (p.386). So are the Chronicler’s two figures in error and the sums a coincidence? Or did his source material organize the overseers differently from the author of Kings? Given the number of variants in Chronicles, I suspect that we’re more likely than not to find coincidences like this, especially if we start adding figures from difference places and otherwise manipulating them. We get into bibliomancy territory, where we’re bound to find some way to make the numbers work. But I could certainly be wrong.

Social Shuffling

Though the account of Solomon’s marriage to an Egyptian princess (1 Kgs 3:1) is omitted by the Chronicler, we do learn of her existence when he moves her into a house he’s built for her. References to her house can be found in 1 Kgs 7:8 and 1 Kgs 9:24, but the Chronicler adds an explanation for the move when Solomon declares: “My wife shall not live in the house of David king of Israel, for the places to which the ark of the Lord has come are holy” (2 Chron. 8:11). It’s not clear why he felt the need to add this explanation, but it comes off rather gross. I suppose the meaning is that she, as a foreigner, has no right to live so near the ark, but would this have applied to all foreigners? Or is the Chronicler trying to address Solomon’s adopting/tolerance of his wives’ religions by having him be so finicky that he won’t even let his foreign wife live near the ark?

In 2 Chron. 8:12-15, we learn that Solomon was in the habit of making offerings before the vestibule (altered from 1 Kgs 9:25, where Solomon made his sacrifices directly before God – like to avoid the appearance that this king played the priest). He did so on all the days required by Mosaic law (such as the Sabbaths and the annual feasts). According to David’s instructions, he appointed the Temple’s staff, “for so David the man of God had commanded” (2 Chron. 8:14).

The Queen of Sheba

2 Chron. 9 begins with a visit from the queen of Sheba, lifted from 1 Kgs 10:1-13. We are told that Solomon had a reputation for his great wisdom, so she came to test his reputation with hard questions. Solomon performed suitably, since “there was nothing hidden from Solomon which he could not explain to her” (2 Chron. 9:2). She is terribly impressed by his answers, by the house he’s built (though it’s unclear whether this refers to his palace or to the Temple), the food he serves, his court, and his sacrifices to God. She is so impressed, in fact, that “there was no more spirit in her” (2 Chron. 9:4).

The Queen of Sheba, by Isabella Colette

The Queen of Sheba, by Isabella Colette

Unfortunately, these hard questions aren’t in any way preserved. It would have been very interesting to see them, as well as Solomon’s answers. Not only because it would give us the chance to see if he really did turn out to be right, but also because it would tell us what kinds of questions they were – philosophical? scientific? religious? all of the above?

In any case, the queen pronounces Solomon even wiser than his reputation, and that his wives and servants are quite lucky to have him.

She gives Solomon 120 talents of gold, plus a few other luxuries. In return, Solomon agrees to give the queen whatever she asks for (though her request, if any, is never told), and she returns home.

Solomon’s Wealth

There’s a bit in both 2 Chron.8 and 2 Chron. 9 about Solomon and Huram’s joint trading ventures to Ophir. In 2 Chron. 8:18, they manage to earn Solomon 450 talents of gold (compared to 420 talents in 1 Kgs 9:27-28). In 2 Chron. 9:10-11, they bring back gold, precious stones, and algum wood (which Solomon used to make steps for the Temple and instruments for the temple musicians).

2 Chron. 9:21 gives us another expedition with Huram, this time to Tarshish. It seems they went every three years to bring back gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks.

We learn that Solomon made 666 talents of gold a year (an auspicious number!), in addition to what the traders brought. He also received tributes from many nations.

Solomon made 200 large shields of beaten gold, using 600 shekels of gold per shield, which were put in the House of the Forest of Lebanon. He also made himself an ivory throne, inlaid with gold. It had six steps, with a lion on either side of each step, and a golden footstool. There were standing lion armrests on either side.

His drinking cups were all made of gold, and all the kings of the earth sought out his wisdom (which must have been quite a swim for those in the Americas). All of them, of course, brought gifts. Solomon brought so much wealth into Jerusalem that “silver was not considered as anything in the days of Solomon” (2 Chron. 9:2), silver was as common as stone, and cedar as common as sycamore.

Solomon had 4,000 horse and chariot stalls. He had 12,000 horsemen, who were stationed in Jerusalem and in special chariot cities. He imported his horses from Egypt and elsewhere. In 2 Chron. 1:14-17, we were told that he had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horses, and that his horses were imported from Egypt and Kue, then exported to the Hittites and Aramites. In 1 Kgs 4:26, he had 40,000 stalls of horses (used for chariots) and 12,000 horsemen.

Conclusion

The Chronicler’s “Further Reading” section includes three books we no longer have access to: the history of Nathan the prophet, the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, and the visions of Iddo the seer (concerning Jeroboam son of Nebat).

Solomon reigned in Jerusalem for 40 years and, when he died, he was buried in the city of David. He was succeeded by his son, Rehoboam.

Closing up our account of Solomon, we can note that the Chronicler left out most of the less flattering accounts, such as pretty much all of 1 Kgs 11, as he had done with David. Let’s see how the other kings fare!

1 Kings 22: Tricking the Prophets

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Though ostensibly about Ahab, the majority of this story does not mention Ahab by name (he is mentioned only once, in 1 Kings 22:19, before the the chronicle of the kings portion that comes right at the end). Rather, the story talks about “the king of Israel.” According to J.R. Porter, this could be an indication that this story “was not originally about Ahab at all” (The New Illustrated Companion to the Bible, p.90). Particularly since, as Porter points out, the phrase used in the chronicle section – that Ahab “slept with his ancestors” – tends to indicate a peaceful death.

The peace we saw forged in 1 Kings 20 between Syria and Israel lasted for only three years. According to my study Bible, during this time, Syria and Israel formed a military alliance to defend against the Assyrians (culminating in a battle at Qarqar in 853 B.C.E.). Though the text doesn’t explain why, suddenly, Israel was willing to break the alliance, the historical events suggest that Israel may no longer have considered it necessary with the Assyrians defeated.

1 Kings 22In the text, we just have King Jehoshaphat of Judah coming to visit, and Ahab proposing on a lark that they go conquer Ramoth-gilead together (apparently it was one city that the Syrians did not return, as per Benhadad’s promise in 1 Kings 20:34).

Jehoshaphat is game with bells on, saying: “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses” (1 Kings 22:4). This response seems a little subservient to me, as does Jehoshaphat’s agreement to go along with Ahab’s plan later on, and I’m not sure what to make of that.

Jehoshaphat’s only reservation is that prophets ought to be consulted first, before they get into a messy military conflict. According to Collins, “Most prophets were not isolated individuals but were members of a guild. One of the functions of prophets seems to have been to whip up enthusiasm at the beginning of a campaign. Here the prophets hold a virtual pep rally for the king” (A Short History of the Hebrew Bible, p.141).

And that’s precisely what they do. Four hundred prophets are summoned, and they are unanimous: Yes! Fight! You’ll be victorious! It’ll be great! One prophet, Zedekiah, is so excited that he even makes a pair of iron horns and declares that Ahab will use them to vanquish Syria (the imagery is quite similar to Deut. 33:17).

But Jehoshaphat isn’t convinced, and wants to get a 401st opinion. It could be that he is meant to see through the political purpose of the prophets Ahab has chosen and wants to hear what a real prophet has to say. However, as we later find out, the 400 prophets aren’t just Yes Men, they are relaying what they believe to be God’s message to Ahab (and, in fact, that’s precisely what it is). So the charge that they are just sycophants is misplaced. What, then, does that say about Jehoshaphat’s mistrust? It seems like a small thing, but it becomes quite a complicated knot, and makes for difficult theology.

Enter Micaiah

There is one other prophet, admits Ahab, but he’s a total jerk. Micaiah, son of Imlah, never prophecies anything good. But Jehoshaphat insists and, surprising everyone, Micaiah actually agrees with the other prophets. Ahab is rightly suspicious.

Only then does Micaiah admit that, it’s true, his real prophecy is that the Israelites will soon be scattered and masterless. That’s more like it, says Ahab.

Micaiah continues to describe his vision, in which God sat on his throne, surrounded by host of heaven. God asked his entourage to come up with a way to mess with Ahab and entice him to his death at Ramoth-Gilead. Several spirits make suggestions, but the winner is the one who suggests that he be a “lying spirit” (1 Kings 22:22) and plant a false prophecy. Again, we see the prioritizing of God’s strength and power over his goodness. Lying may be forbidden, but it is perfectly acceptable to view God as the originator/director of the lie so long as it demonstrates that nothing happens outside of his direct control.

None of this makes Zedekiah “Iron Horns” ben Chenaanah very happy, so he punches Micaiah in the face. “How did the Spirit of the Lord go from me to speak to you?” (1 Kings 22:24), he asks. According to my New Bible Commentary, he is asking “by what authority does Micaiah give a prophecy different from that of the other prophets?” (p.348). However, I read it as an acknowledgement of Micaiah’s superior prophecy, and a resentment that God had chosen to give Zedekiah only the trick version.

To this, Micaiah tells Zedekiah that he will see once he goes into hiding. I think. It’s a little unclear, but I think the point he’s making is that Micaiah has proven himself willing to challenge Ahab (and therefore has perhaps needed to go into hiding to dodge the repercussions on a few occasions), and that this is why he was chosen to receive the true prophecy. Since Zedekiah was acting more the cheerleader, he was given the false prophecy instead.

Ramoth-Gilead

Ahab is furious about Micaiah’s prophecy and has him arrested. Yet he does still seem to believe him – or has at least decided to hedge his bets. While he still goes after Ramoth-Gilead, he disguises himself, while Jehoshaphat is to wear his normal royal getup.

This initially seems to work, as the king of Syria (here unnamed) orders his men to focus fire on the king. They see Jehoshaphat wearing royal garb and head for him, but realize that he isn’t Ahab once they get close and they break off. As they are moving away from Jehoshaphat, however, they loose an arrow that just happens to Ahab by chance. This “you can’t escape your fate” motif is a very common in mythology.

So Ahab is indeed brought down at Ramoth-Gilead, and his body ends up bleeding out in the floor of his chariot while his men scatter, masterless. Finally, his chariot is brought back to Samaria and washed out by a pool, from which the dogs drink (1 Kings 21:19) and harlots bathe. Even though this takes place in Samaria and not in Jezreel (where Naboth died, though 1 Kings 21:19 is quite specific that Ahab’s blood will be licked by dogs in the same place as Naboth’s), and even though the referenced passage doesn’t mention anything about harlots, my study Bible suggests that the treatment of Ahab’s body and the fate of his blood may have been an editorial insert, intended to make his death harmonize with the earlier prediction.

Chronology

After the Ahab-themed narrative interlude, we return to the princely chronology. Once Ahab was safely tucked in with his fathers, it was his son Ahaziah’s turn at the throne, in the seventeenth year of Jehoshaphat. He only reigned two years, and was a total baddie.

According to Porter, there’s some evidence that Ahab was actually a fairly accomplished ruler, who oversaw a surprisingly stable government given the external pressures:

He built cities and secured his state by renewing the Israelite alliance with the Phoenicians of Tyre. He dominated the southern kingdom of Judah through marriage of his daughter, Athaliah, to Jehoram, the son of the Judean king Jehoshaphat (873-849 BCE). Ahab’s importance is strikingly shown in an inscription of Shalmaneser III, king of Assyria (ca. 859-824 BCE), the first Assyrian monument to include an Israelite king’s name. Ahab allied with Israel’s old foe, Damascus, against Shalmaneser, and the allies met the Assyrians at Qarqar in the Orontes Valley in 853 BCE. Although Shalmaneser claimed victory, his advance was checked. His inscription records that Ahab had two thousand chariots and then thousand infantry. (The New Illustrated Companion to the Bible, p. 90)

Back over in Judah, Jehoshaphat came to the throne in Ahab’s fourth year, when he was 35 years old. He then reigned for a further 25 years from Jerusalem. His parents were Asa and Azubah, the daughter of Shilhi. According to the author, he was one cool dude, and a chip off the ol’ block. His only downside was that he did not take away the high places, though he did get rid of male cultic prostitution. He managed to oversee a period of peace, at last, between Judah and Israel.

He seems to have had control over Edom, appointing a deputy to rule it on his behalf. While he lost merchant ships at Eziongeber, Ahaziah still wanted to partner in on subsequent trade excursions, which Jehoshaphat refused.

When he died, he was succeeded by Jehoram.

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.