1 Kings 9:15-11:25
The primary focus of 1 Kings since chapter 5 has been on Solomon as the builder. The building of the temple and its dedication have occupied the majority of chapters 5-8. The building of Solomon's house received minor attention. Following God's response to the dedication of the temple in 1 Kings 9:1-9, the author turns in verses 10-25 to describe other building projects under Solomon's reign. The focus then shifts from Solomon the builder to Solomon the trader or financier. First Kings 9:26-10:29 describe the various commercial enterprises of Solomon and recount the tremendous wealth he amassed.
After all the glorious achievements of Solomon the author finally introduces Solomon the sinner in 1 Kings 11. The hints that all was not well that had been dropped along the way are gathered up and Solomon's later years are portrayed as disastrously disobedient. The inevitable result would be division of the kingdom and political difficulties. The last part of chapter 11 introduces three adversaries that arise to haunt Solomon. The final adversary, Jeroboam, described in verses 26-40, will eventually tear most of the kingdom from Solomon's son.
1 Kings 9:15-25 - Solomon's Other Building Projects
First Kings 9:10-14 provides an interesting transition from the account of Solomon's vision of the Lord at the beginning of the chapter and the record of his other building projects in the following verses. King Hiram of Tyre had been supplying Solomon with cedar and cypress timber according to the agreement laid out in 1 Kings 5:1-12. Solomon had been paying for the lumber with wheat and oil.
For reasons that are not clear Solomon deeded twenty Israelite cities along the border to Hiram. Whether Solomon had fallen behind on his agricultural payments for the lumber used in the temple and in his own house or whether he was raising capital for further building is not clear at all. According to verse 14 Hiram paid 120 talents of gold for the twenty villages. (A talent was about 30 kilograms or 66 pounds. At $365 per ounce, Hiram would have paid Solomon the 1991 equivalent of over $45 million.)
But when he inspected them Hiram was not impressed. His response was Cabul, a Hebrew word meaning "as nothing" or "worthless." The paragraph performs a dual role in the context. By coming before the further building activities mentioned in the following verses, we are given the impression that the 120 talents of gold helped finance the building projects described in 1 Kings 9:15-25. The story would have been read by Israelites with a great deal of enjoyment. Hiram was a noted trader and businessman. That he would have paid this astronomical sum for twenty worthless villages would have seemed a good joke to Israel. The laugh was on their rival. Solomon had outwitted him. In this sense the story functions to anticipate the treatment of Solomon the trader and financier in 1 Kings 9:26-10:29.
1 Kings 9:15 indicates that it was forced labor that enabled Solomon to forge ahead in his building projects. Verses 20-23, however, introduce a new idea into the mention of forced labor. These verses declare that Solomon did not enslave the Israelites. This stands in tension with 1 Kings 5:13-18 where the author clearly states that Solomon conscripted forced labor out of all Israel. In technical detail, 1 Kings 5 also mentions that the Israelites "only" served in rotation, one month out of every three months. By contrast Solomon reduced to slavery various Canaanite tribes who had not been exterminated by Israel's conquest of the Land in earlier days. Verse 20 specifically mentions the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. These five tribal groups are specifically mentioned in Deuteronomy 7:1-5 (along with the Canaanites and the Girgashites) and in Deuteronomy 20:17-18 (along with the Canaanites) as the peoples whom Israel must totally destroy when they entered the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 20:10-11 notes that if the native Canaanites seek peace they were to be enslaved as forced labor.
Modern readers often have a hard time understanding God's severe commandments regarding the Canaanites. How could a God of love order the extermination of whole groups of people as Deuteronomy 20:17 requires? The reason is given in Deuteronomy 20:18, "so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against the LORD your God." The fact of the matter was that the Canaanites whom Israel did not exterminate led Israel into Baal worship that eventually caused the downfall of God's people (see Did God Order the Massacre of Canaanites?).
There are some sinful influences that must be rooted out of our lives. To allow them to continue is lay ourselves open to potential destruction. The value that contemporary American culture places on tolerance is often destructive to people who struggle with certain sins. To ever recover an alcoholic must understand that he or she can never drink even one drink again. Whether the addiction is to chemicals or pornography or immorality, tolerance destroys. Only a fanatic commitment to total victory over the addiction or sin provides any hope of survival. The "Canaanite" influences of our lives must go.
Deuteronomy did allow subjugation of Canaanites to forced labor if they sued for peace. We have no way of knowing whether the peoples mentioned in verse 20 had sought peace in earlier years or if they had been militarily subjugated by David or Solomon. Regardless, their enslavement was seen as obedience to the commandments of Deuteronomy. And the writer of 1 Kings wants to make it clear that the real slaves were the Canaanites whom God instructed to be enslaved. The Israelites' forced labor was a matter of civic duty for a short term, not the permanent enslavement suffered by the Canaanites. In fact, the author notes that Israelites functioned as supervisors over the Canaanites.
After the temple and Solomon's house, the forced labor was used to build the Millo, the wall around the new portions of Jerusalem, Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer, Lower Beth-Horon, Baalath, and Tamar. Most of these constructions appear to have military purposes.
The Millo is referred to fairly frequently in the Old Testament (2 Samuel 5:9; 1 Kings 11:27; 2 Kings 12:21; and 2 Chronicles 32:5). In spite of its significance the meaning is not clear at all. The Hebrew word means "full" or "filling." Some scholars believe that it referred to a solid tower built in the wall in Jerusalem that became a famous landmark. Others suggest that Solomon "filled" in a depression in the landscape between Jerusalem as it was in the time of David and the new area of Jerusalem where the temple and Solomon's palace were built.
Another possibility is that the Millo referred to the terracing and building up with a retaining wall on the steep slopes surrounding the temple area. This would have been necessary to prevent the erosion that would have eventually caused the city defense wall and even the temple to shift and crumble. Regardless of which explanation one takes for the Millo, the purpose was the security of the city. The wall of Jerusalem that is mentioned in verse 15 also had defensive purposes. Jerusalem in David's time was completely surrounded by a fortress wall. When Solomon expanded the city to the north with the temple, his palace, and other buildings, it was then necessary to enclose the new area within a new fortress wall.
Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer were all major fortress cities built for military purposes. Hazor was about 10 miles north of the Sea of Galilee on the west side of the Jordan River valley where the valley began to give way to the hills. It was a strategic location on one of the major highways of antiquity, the Via Maris, a trade route connecting Damascus and Mesopotamia with Egypt. Its significance is revealed by the fact that Joshua's conquest of the city (Joshua 11:1-15) is seen as the key to a victorious "northern campaign" to take possession of the northern section of Israel. Solomon's purpose was to establish a fortress that could defend the country against invasion from the north. He created a chariot city so that his most modern technology (the chariot) would be available to defend the northern front.
Megiddo was about twenty miles inland east from the Mediterranean Sea southwest of Mt. Carmel and the modern city of Haifa. It was also located on the Via Maris as it rose from the Valley of Jezreel into a low mountain pass leading to the coastal plains. It was the most important strategic location in Israel for control of traffic from Egypt to Syria and Mesopotamia. Archaeologists have extensively excavated the site of the ancient city. A large stable complex has been discovered, and at least some archaeologists believe some of the findings are the remnants of Solomon's chariot city. The strategic importance of Megiddo was so fixed in the mind of the Biblical world that the author of Revelation proclaims that the last great battle of history will be there. Revelation 16:16 speaks of that taking place at Armageddon, which is a transliteration of the Hebrew (as Rev. 16:16 notes) phrase Harmegiddo meaning mountain or hill of Megiddo.
Gezer was located about 20 miles southwest of the modern city of Tel Aviv. It was also located on the Via Maris and controlled the intersection of that highway with the road leading into the Judean hills and Jerusalem, via Lower Beth-horon, about 10 miles east, northeast of Gezer. The building of fortifications at Gezer and Beth-horon reveal Solomon's concern to protect against an invasion from Egypt. In spite of the fact that he had married one of the Pharaoh's daughters, relations with Egypt deteriorated throughout Solomon's reign. The location of Baalath is uncertain, though it is thought to be somewhere in the desert on Israel's southern border. Tamar was just south of the Dead Sea, also in the desert. The function of Baalath and Tamar was to provide defense against invasion, primarily from Egypt, that might not come along the main highway.
Verses 24 and 25 seem to be out of place in their present contexts. Verse 24 provides a chronological note that Pharaoh's daughter moved from her location in old Davidic Jerusalem into the new palace (see 1 Kings 3:1) prior to the building of the Millo mentioned in 9:15. Verse 25 describes Solomon functioning as the priest for all Israel in the three major festivals: Passover, First Fruits (Pentecost), and Tabernacles (Ingathering). The last phrase of verse 25 is uncertain in meaning as is clear from a comparison of "so he finished the house," (most translations) with the NIV, "so [he] fulfilled the temple obligations." The Hebrew expression is different than that used several times in 1 Kings 6 and 7. Its meaning is unclear, but it probably refers to the fulfillment of sacrificial requirements.
Solomon's building activities are not mentioned again in 1 Kings. The purpose of verses 15-25 is to portray Solomon's influence, wisdom, wealth, and power. Ancient kings often published - either in their archives or on a monument - a list of their great achievements. Solomon's building projects represent an example of that kind of list.
1 Kings 9:26-10:29 - Solomon the Trader and Financier
A part of Solomon's wisdom and power is reflected in his commercial ventures. Neither David nor Saul nor any other Israelite mentioned in history prior to Solomon carried out any major international business ventures. He is the first Israelite who is described as involved in the shipping industry. The general view of Israelites was to distrust the sea. Solomon's shipping was an indication of his confidence that wisdom and wealth could conquer any obstacle.
First Kings 9:26-28 describe Solomon's Red Sea shipping interests. It is interesting that though Israel had many miles of coastline at the east end of the Mediterranean Sea, not a single seaworthy harbor was developed on the Mediterranean during the Old Testament period. Solomon chose to place his harbor at Ezion-geber at the tip of the eastern finger of the Red Sea. Ezion-geber is now called Elath and the port was at the north end of the Gulf of Aqaba. Because Israel had no expertise in shipbuilding, sailing, and shipping, Solomon again turned to Hiram, king of Tyre, for assistance. Tyre, the leading city of the Phoenicians, was already world famous for its shipbuilding and shipping throughout the Mediterranean.
With Ezion-geber as a port, Solomon was able to sail down the Red Sea and venture north to the Persian Gulf, south along the coast of East Africa, and even east into the Indian Ocean. This would allow Solomon much cheaper access to goods from Persia, Arabia, and especially Africa than had previously been the case when overland caravans were the means of supply.
Verse 28 specifically mentions Ophir as a port of call. The location of Ophir is unknown. The Greek translators of the Old Testament seemed to think that it was in India. Many Bible scholars assume that it was in south Arabia, near present day Yemen. Others, in view of 1 Kings 10:22 mentioning three-year voyages, believe that Ophir was on the eastern coast of Africa in present-day Somalia.
The gold of Ophir became renowned, and some biblical scholars believe that the phrase "gold of Ophir" came to simply mean "gold of the finest quality." Archaeologists have found references to the gold of Ophir used in a similar fashion. The 420 talents of gold mentioned in verse 28 would correspond to almost 14 tons of gold (almost $160 million at $365 per ounce). This is impressive evidence of Solomon's financial genius.
Suddenly, in the middle of this statistical report on Solomon's financial affairs, is the story of the visit of the Queen of Sheba. First Kings 10:24-25 indicates that Solomon received visitors from all over the world as it was known at that time and that they all brought him gifts. Perhaps the visit of the Queen of Sheba was typical and she represents all those visitors. Perhaps she made a greater impression on the Israelite court historians than any of the others. It was not unusual for a woman to be head of state in that time and culture. Five different Arabian queens are mentioned in Assyrian inscriptions from the 8th and 7th centuries BC. Some scholars suggest that Arabian rulers had a matriarchal (rather than patriarchal) system of succession at that period of history.
Sheba was at the southwestern corner of Arabia, roughly the territory of modern Yemen. The Red Sea that separates Arabia and Africa is only 15 miles wide at that point. There is considerable evidence that suggests that Sheba also controlled northeastern Africa at the time of Solomon. Historical and archaeological knowledge of Sheba is not complete yet, but it appears that at the time of Solomon Sheba was a strong and prosperous nation. Its location enabled it to trade from India and Africa to the Mediterranean and Europe.
First Kings 10:1 indicates that the queen had heard of Solomon's fame and came to check out his wisdom by testing him with hard questions or riddles. Rulers of the ancient Near East highly prized wisdom and administrative skills. Contests of wit were not uncommon and rulers would travel to match wits with other famous kings. Oriental hospitality included the giving of lavish gifts. Thus there is nothing implausible about the motivation mentioned in verses 1-4 or about her caravan of spices, gold, and precious stones.
However, it is likely that the queen had economic interests at heart also. Solomon's entry into the shipping business via the Red Sea to Ophir was cutting into her territory. Further, her overland caravan route of trade to Mediterranean passed through Solomon's southern borders. He had the ability to cut off her trade route or to raise steeply the customs duties her caravans would have to pay. The queen was sizing Solomon up to see how significant a threat he might be to the economic future of Sheba. The comment in verse 2 that she told him all that was on her mind is an understatement implying her commercial concerns.
Unfortunately for her Solomon's performance, his palace, and his whole grand life matched his reputation. In fact, Solomon exceeded her expectations by far. Verse 5 comments that she was overwhelmed. The Hebrew literally states that there was no more ruach (spirit or breath) left in her. We might paraphrase by saying, "Solomon took the wind out of her sails." Clearly she would not win any battle of wits with him, nor would she gain significant concessions in any negotiations over trade. This does not mean that her praise of Solomon was cynical or bitter. Ancient rulers could be quite pragmatic. She had come hoping to improve her situation and to perhaps to take advantage of Solomon if she could. It became clear she could not outwit him or take advantage of him. Her economic concerns would not be improved; the best she could hope for would be to not lose what she had. It was time to make the best of things and celebrate honestly the wisdom and success of Solomon.
Perhaps it is most significant that she turns to theological language in her compliments. Blessed be Yahweh your God who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. In the midst of all the talk of Solomon's impressive wisdom and great wealth that appeared in recent chapters, the queen reminds us that Solomon's position was the gift of God.
That important fact must never be forgotten; all human achievement is by the gracious gift of God who gives abilities, insight, and opportunities. In fact, Solomon's kingship was not for Solomon and his aggrandizement; it was for Israel. Because the Lord loved Israel forever, He has made you king to do justice and righteousness. God had committed Himself to a people through the covenant. When that people chose a king rather than the LORD (1 Samuel 8:7) God then sought the best king He could get for His people. God wills excellent government for the sake of people. The queen's closing remark makes Solomon's responsibility clear. He is king to do justice and righteousness. This is the first mention of justice and righteousness since 1 Kings 3 and the vision in which God appeared to Solomon at the beginning of his reign. The queen of Sheba has returned the focus to the will of God for Solomon's life. It was a healthy spiritual reminder in the midst of all the materialistic success being enjoyed by Solomon.
The exchange of valuable gifts was a customary part of Oriental courtesy. However, the queen's gift of 120 talents of gold (almost $50 million in 1991 prices) suggests that perhaps she was also purchasing the right to continue her trade routes. Historical information about the queen of Sheba is only given here and in the parallel passage in 2 Chronicles 9:1-12. Though it was not impossible, the Bible gives no indication that Solomon fathered a child for the queen. The Ethiopian tradition to that effect is not based on exegesis of the Bible.
The remainder of chapter 10 returns to the themes of Solomon's income from trading and evidences of his wealth. His annual income of gold is said to be 666 talents (over $200 million in 1991 prices) plus various revenues from customs and taxes on various trade routes. Gold was so plentiful that Solomon had five hundred golden shields made for decoration in the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon. His throne was of inlaid ivory and gold. Even the drinking glasses were made of gold. The author struggles to make the reader grasp the incredible wealth of Solomon's reign. He declares that silver was considered worthless because of how plentiful the gold was. Chariots and horses were accumulated and traded. There seemed to be no limits to the wealth and commercial genius of Solomon.
1 Kings 11:1-43 - Solomon the Sinner
1 Kings 3-10 has been the story of unrivaled success and status for Solomon. Yet along the way have been hints that not all was well in the way in which Solomon achieved his wealth and the symbols of his power. Suddenly, chapter 11 shifts from hints to outright declarations that Solomon, especially as he grew older, lived in open idolatry against the LORD who had given him his great wealth and wisdom.
1 Kings 11:1-13 - Solomon's Sin and God's Judgment
The author of 1 Kings focuses on Solomon's marriages as the pivotal place in his life from which he turned away from the LORD. The first condemnation of Solomon is that he loved many foreign women. Not only did he marry Pharaoh's daughter (see 1 Kings 3:1), he also married women from all the surrounding nations. Verse 1 mentions five surrounding nations. Three, Moab, Ammon, and Edom, were close neighbors and had been subdued by David. 1 Kings 5:1-12 and 10:29 indicate that the Sidonians (Phoenicians) and the Hittites were involved in trading arrangements with Solomon. Thus it is likely that all of the marriages with women from these five nations were politically motivated marriages.
However, Deuteronomy 7:3-4 had specifically forbidden intermarriage with foreigners from the surrounding nations. The reason for this prohibition was not God's prejudice against foreigners nor His desire to repress the natural desires that would spring up between Israelites and attractive foreigners. The reason was spiritual; foreign wives would turn Israelite hearts toward the false gods of the wives and away from allegiance to the LORD. The command of God was clear. Equally clear was Solomon's open rejection of God's command, Solomon held fast to them in love.
Verse 5 specifically mentions Solomon's commitments to Ashtoreth (Astarte), a Sidonian (Phoenician) goddess, and to Molech (Milcolm), the Ammonite god. Ashtoreth was a goddess of fertility and her worship involved cultic prostitution. Molech was worshipped by child sacrifice and is ferociously denounced by Old Testament writers.
Verses 7-8 notes that Solomon actually built worship centers for the gods of all his foreign wives. These shrines were built on the Mount of Olives overlooking the temple Solomon had built for the LORD. The wives, at least, regularly worshipped in these shrines in open view of the temple and in open disregard for Israel's covenantal relationship with the LORD.
The condemnation of Solomon that is repeated in verses 2, 4, 6, 9, and 10 is that his heart was turned away from the LORD toward these other gods. This is a clear example of the Old Testament's characteristic view of sin. Sin is a matter of the heart, which in Hebrew thought means the will. Sin is the deliberate choice to disobey the command of God. That is not a matter of slipping up somewhere. It is a matter of the heart, the will, one's own deliberate choice.
God's response to Solomon's deliberate disobedience is anger that expressed itself in judgment. The kingdom that God had so graciously helped Solomon gain (1 Kings 1-2) would be torn from his son. For the sake of David and the promise of 2 Samuel 7:14 a portion of the kingdom and Jerusalem would remain under the rule of the Davidic dynasty. But the majority of Israel would go another way. It is incredible that the power, wisdom, and wealth that have been described in the previous chapters will suddenly melt away because of the word of God's judgment. But the following chapters show the complete fulfillment of God's word.
1 Kings 11:14-43 - Opposition to Solomon
As soon as God's judgment against Solomon was pronounced, the author of 1 Kings skillfully turned to describe the rise of opposition against Solomon. 1 Kings 11:14-22 focus on Hadad. Verses 23-25 mention Rezon and verses 26-40 portray the rebellion of Jeroboam, the man who will eventually rule the part of the kingdom lost to Solomon's son. (continued in Lesson 8)
Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion
These readings and study questions are in preparation for next week's lesson.
These are study and reflection questions to facilitate a weeklong devotional journey into the Books of Kings. As you begin each day pray that the Lord will speak to you through His Word and that the Holy Spirit will breathe spiritual life into your heart through your study and reflection.
First Day: Read the notes on 1 Kings 9:15-11:25. Look up the Scripture references.
1. Identify one or two new pieces of information that seemed important to you.
2. Select one or two spiritual insights that you would like to apply to your own life. Jot down the insights and your application of them.
3. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord call to your attention anytime your heart is turned away from Him.
Second Day: Read 1 Kings 11:26-12:24. Now focus in on 1 Kings 11:26-43.
1. What do the focus verses tell you about Jeroboam? Based on the focus verses alone, how would you evaluate him? Why did Solomon fear him?
2. What promises did Ahijah the prophet make to Jeroboam? What conditions were placed on those promises?
3. If you had been Jeroboam, how would you have responded to the message of Ahijah? Where would you have fled when Solomon wanted to kill you? Why?
Third Day: Read 1 Kings 12:1-33. Focus in on 1 Kings 12:1-20.
1. What was the request of Jeroboam and Israel to King Rehoboam? Why do you think they made the request? Was it justified?
2. How did Rehoboam come to his decision about how to respond to the request? Was his procedure a correct one? Where did he go wrong?
3. Why did the Israelites rebel against Rehoboam? What does that teach you about the way other people should be valued? Where do you need improvement in the way in which you treat other people?
Fourth Day: Read 1 Kings 12:1-33. Now focus on 1 Kings 12:21-33.
1. Why did Rehoboam not try to use military force to end the rebellion of the northern tribes of Israel? Would it have worked? Why not?
2. In what ways does Jeroboam violate the will of God according to the focus verses? What was his justification? Was it valid? Why?
3. Do you ever allow human circumstances to convince you that God's commands won't work? Write a brief prayer asking God's forgiveness and asking Him to lead you to the faith to obey Him in spite of circumstances.
Fifth Day: Read 1 Kings 12:25-13:32. Now focus in on 1 Kings 13:1-10.
1. What do you think is the meaning of the prophecy of the man of God in verses 2-3 and its partial fulfillment in verse 5?
2. What do you think is the meaning of Jeroboam's hand being shriveled? Was Jeroboam's request in verse 6 appropriate? How should it have been different?
3. Compare or contrast the attitude of Jeroboam and the "man of God" toward God in the focus verses? What applications can you draw for yourself?
Sixth Day: Read 1 Kings 13:1-32. Now focus in on 1 Kings 13:11-32.
1. What lesson would you draw from verses 10-26? Was God being fair to the man of God from Judah? Why or why not?
2. Why did the old prophet from Bethel want to be buried with the man of God from Judah? What does this passage say about how we should relate to those who speak a true word from God?
3. What picture of the word of God do you get from these verses? How far can we trust God's word? Write a brief prayer asking God to help you trust and obey Him in all that He reveals to you.