2 Chronicles 1: A Heavenly Gift

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Our opening chapter of 2 Chronicles is mostly drawn from 1 Kings 3, in which Solomon receives wisdom from God, genie-style. This skips over much of the political details from the 1 Kings account, such Solomon’s purging of the court in 1 Kings 2, and his political marriage to a princess of Egypt in 1 Kgs 3:1-2.

Instead, the narrative of David’s and Solomon’s reign is bridged by telling us that God was on Solomon’s side, and he made Solomon “exceedingly great” (2 Chron. 1:1).

At Gibeon

In the Chronicler’s version, Solomon assembles the Israelite elite at Gibeon, where the tent of meeting and Bezalel’s altar (built in Exodus 27:1-2) are located, to make a sacrifice. The ark, we are told, was not there, since David had brought it to Jerusalem. There, the assembly makes a rather large sacrifice (a thousand burnt offerings in all).

This deviates quite a bit from the 1 Kings 3 version, for reasons that should be fairly apparent. Gibeon, you see, was a high place (a rather prominent one, if 1 Kgs 3:3-4 is to be believed). So why is Solomon making such big sacrifices at Gibeon when God has been so very clear that worship must take place only in Jerusalem?

The author of 1 Kings solves this problem by assuring readers that Solomon really did love God, but he had this terrible vice of making sacrifices at high places. The Chronicler, however, really wants Solomon to be a good guy, so he fudges it by making it very clear that there was a legitimate altar (tied to Moses via Bezalel) at Gibeon.

The Chronicler also makes it very clear that Solomon wasn’t alone, but had the support of Israel’s leadership. While 1 Kings mentions only Solomon going to Gibeon, the Chronicler has Solomon assemble Israel’s elite there first, and the lot of them making their sacrifice together.

The Wish

During his stay at Gibeon, Solomon is approached by God and offered one wish. Strangely, this is explicitly said to have occurred in a dream in 1 Kgs 3:5, and again in 1 Kgs 3:15, but no mention is made of a dream in 2 Chron. 1. Instead, the Chronicler tells us only that conversation occurred “in that night” (2 Chron. 1:7).

For his one wish, Solomon asks for wisdom and knowledge (which would technically be two wishes, but God doesn’t seem bothered) so that he is better able to lead God’s people.

Specifically, he mentions that he would use the wisdom and knowledge to “go out and come in” (2 Chron. 1:10). It’s a strange phrase, and really stands out. James Bradford Pate notes that the phrase is generally meant in a military context, but this hardly applies to a king  who, we have been told several times, will rule over an era of peace.

Solomon's Dream, by Marc Chagall

Solomon’s Dream, by Marc Chagall

But when I did a search for the phrase, I found that it was uttered by Moses in all three instances that I could dig up in a 3 second search (in Num. 27:15-17, the episode in which Joshua is chosen as Moses’s successor, Moses expresses the need for someone “who shall go out before them and come in before them”; In his blessing, Moses tells the people that they will be blessed when they come in and go out if they follow the rules (Deut. 28:1-6); And when Moses announces his impending death, he describes himself as being too old for going out and coming in (Deut. 31:1-2). So while Pate argues that the phrase may have had non-military applications, I wonder if the point isn’t more just to connect Solomon to Moses.

This isn’t the first time that the Chronicler seems to be trying to connect Solomon and David to Moses. In 1 Chron. 22, David’s instructions to Solomon had phrases and constructions that seemed to have been lifted straight out of Moses’s instructions to Aaron in Deut. 31. In 1 Chron. 28, David’s instructions to Solomon have a very similar feel to God’s instructions to Moses in Exodus 25. Lastly, the freewill offering in 1 Chron. 29 may be a mirroring of the freewill offering Moses receives for the construction of the tabernacle in Exodus 35.

Once or twice is a coincidence, but given that we’ve only seen the phrase “going out and coming in” in connection to Moses, and given that the Chronicler has been adding details that are strongly reminiscent of Moses, it feels deliberate.

Both here and in 1 Kings, God is so happy that Solomon asked for wisdom (to be used for others) rather than something to benefit himself that he decides to give Solomon his wisdom and lots of riches and honour.

In the interaction, God expresses his joy that Solomon asked for wisdom instead of things like the death of an enemy. Of course, those of us who have read 1 Kings 2 will now that, by this point in the chronology, Solomon’s already taken care of all that!

After this episode, Solomon returns from Gibeon, and the Chronicler skips over the story of Solomon’s judgement over the two harlots narrated in 1 Kgs 3:16-28. James Bradford Pate mentions a theory that this indicates a difference in focus. In Kings, the main purpose of Solomon’s acquired wisdom is so that he may judge the people (which is them exemplified with a case study). By contrast, the purpose of Solomon’s wisdom here is to make him suitable for the task of building the Temple (making him into the king his father always doubted that he’d be). I should note that Pate does not agree with this theory.

Riches

Closing out the chapter, the Chronicler copies a description of Solomon’s wealth and position from 1 Kgs 10:26-29. It begins with Solomon stationing a fair number of chariots and horsemen in Jerusalem and in special chariot cities.

We are also told that, under Solomon, gold and silver became as common as stone in Jerusalem, and cedar as common as sycamore. He also seems to have made Jerusalem into something of a trade hub, moving horses from Egypt and Kue to the Hittites and Syria.

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.