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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

1 Kings 4

 

 

Verses 1-21

Details of The Administrative Organisation Of Solomon As King Over All Israel (1 Kings 4:1-21).

The splendour of Solomon’s reign is now brought out by reference to the wisdom of his administrative appointments, and concluding with a picture of the general prosperity of the land. The description includes both the appointment of his chief officers (1 Kings 4:2-6), and of his district fiscal governors (1 Kings 4:7-21), together with the nature of their tasks. Comparison may be made with David’s chief officers in 2 Samuel 8:15-18. The repeated reference to ‘priests’ in both may suggest that old Jebusite titles had been taken over in Jerusalem which in fact indicated that previously such offices had been held by priests (cohanim) of the old Jebusite religion, possibly the worship of El Elyon (Genesis 14:18), overseen by the priest-king himself. That was why David and Solomon saw themselves as being ‘a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek’ (Psalms 110:4), and some of their appointees as similar ‘priests’. They were probably seen, along with their other duties, as having intercessory responsibilities before YHWH on behalf of God’s people.

Now, therefore, the new appointees would be worshippers of YHWH. Azariah, the son of Zadok, was probably the prime minister (described under the ancient Canaanite title of ‘cohen’) with Elihoreph and Ahijah being the two secretaries of state, Jehoshaphat being the Chancellor, Benaiah being the commander-in-chief of the armies of Israel, Zadok and Abiathar still being High Priests (a position the status of which was for life even though Abiathar’s authority to act may have been removed), Azariah the son of Nathan (probably the Nathan who was the son of David) being the superintendent of the district officers, Zabud the son of Nathan being the king’s chief adviser (his ‘friend’) and also designated by the ancient title of ‘cohen’, thus possibly being also a priestly intercessor (compare how the king’s sons had been ‘priests’ in 2 Samuel 8:18), Abishar being over the king’s household, and Adoniram being over the forcibly enlisted labour.

It will be noted that under David the leading official who had been mentioned first had been the commander-in-chief of the armies of Israel (2 Samuel 8:15). The change to a Prime Minister thus now indicated emphasises that things had moved away from the necessity of being on a war footing to a period of more peaceful coexistence and consolidation, albeit with the commander-in-chief still being very important.

These appointments were then followed by the appointing of ‘officers’ over the twelve districts into which Israel/Judah was divided up, one of their purposes being to ensure provision of ample supplies of food and drink for the royal court.

It will be noted that the first four, and the sixth, of these officials are simply described as ‘son of’ (ben), which is unusual. It has been surmised that that was because one edge of the tablet on which their names had been recorded had either been broken off or had become unreadable. It is important to note, if that is the case, that no attempt was made to invent names to make up for the loss. The writer was scrupulous about sticking with the facts that he had, (thus underlining the reliability of the narrative). An alternative possibility is that they were so named because their positions were seen as hereditary, as with the similar situation pertaining at Ugarit, with each successor bearing the name of the original holder of the position. A third alternative is that in some circles naming oneself in this way had become the latest craze.

Analysis.

a And king Solomon was king over all Israel (1 Kings 4:1).

b And these were the princes whom he had:

Azariah, the son of Zadok, (was) the priest;

Elihoreph and Ahijah, the sons of Shisha, (were) scribes;

Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud, (was) the recorder;

And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the host;

And Zadok and Abiathar were priests;

And Azariah the son of Nathan was over the officers;

And Zabud the son of Nathan was priest, and the king’s friend;

And Ahishar was over the household;

And Adoniram the son of Abda was over the men subject to taskwork. (1 Kings 4:2-6).

c And Solomon had twelve officers over all Israel, who provided victuals for the king and his household, each man had to make provision for a month in the year (1 Kings 4:7).

b And these are their names:

Ben-hur, in the hill-country of Ephraim;

Ben-deker, in Makaz, and in Shaalbim, and Beth-shemesh, and Elon-beth-hanan;

Ben-hesed, in Arubboth (to him pertained Socoh, and all the land of Hepher);

Ben-abinadab, in all the height of Dor (he had Taphath the daughter of Solomon to wife)

Baana the son of Ahilud, in Taanach and Megiddo, and all Beth-shean which is beside Zarethan, beneath Jezreel, from Beth-shean to Abel-meholah, as far as beyond Jokmeam;

Ben-geber, in Ramoth-gilead (to him pertained the towns of Jair the son of Manasseh, which are in Gilead; even to him pertained the region of Argob, which is in Bashan, threescore great cities with walls and brazen bars);

Ahinadab the son of Iddo, in Mahanaim;

Ahimaaz, in Naphtali (he also took Basemath the daughter of Solomon to wife);

Baana the son of Hushai, in Asher and Bealoth;

Jehoshaphat the son of Paruah, in Issachar;

Shimei the son of Ela, in Benjamin;

Geber the son of Uri, in the land of Gilead, the country of Sihon king of the Amorites and of Og king of Bashan; and he was the only officer who was in the land (1 Kings 4:8-19).

a Judah and Israel were many, as the sand which is by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking and making merry, and Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines, and to the border of Egypt. They brought tribute, and served Solomon all the days of his life (1 Kings 4:20-21).

Note that in ‘a’ it is emphasised that Solomon was king over all Israel, his chief domain, while in the parallel he also ruled from the Euphrates to the border of Egypt, but in some cases through kings of some of these areas who were his vassals. In ‘b’ we have the list of leading officials, and in the parallel the list of the governors of the administrative districts. Centrally in ‘c’ we have indicated the means of provisioning the royal court.

1 Kings 4:1

And king Solomon was king over all Israel.’

Solomon now reigned in glory over all Israel. The details that follow are not, however, to be seen as signifying the situation at the beginning of his reign. As ever the account is not chronological but topical. It will be noted, for example, that some of the officials were married to Solomon’s daughters. It is true, of course that they might have been appointed before they did marry them, and that the daughters may only have been twelve years of age with their husbands as older men, but nevertheless at least a few years would appear to be required. When Solomon came to the throne he may have been anywhere between, say, sixteen to twenty two. We are never told his age at the time when he came to the throne.

1 Kings 4:2-6

And these were the princes whom he had:

Azariah, the son of Zadok, (was) the priest;

Elihoreph and Ahijah, the sons of Shisha, (were) scribes;

Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud, (was) the recorder;

And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the host;

And Zadok and Abiathar were priests;

And Azariah the son of Nathan was over the officers;

And Zabud the son of Nathan was priest, and the king’s friend;

And Ahishar was over the household;

And Adoniram the son of Abda was over the men subject to taskwork.’

We have here a list of the chief officials (sarim - compare Judges 8:6; Judges 8:14, and the Egyptian sr.w) in the land. First comes Azariah, the son of Zadok. He was ‘the cohen’ (priest). As we have seen this title was probably taken over from the old Jebusite officialdom, where all the leading officials were ‘priests’ under the ‘king-priest’. Thus ‘the priest’ would come next in authority to the king-priest. Solomon, as David before him, had taken on himself the title ‘priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek’ (Psalms 110:4), for both he and David acted as intercessory priests (see 1 Kings 8:22-53; 2 Samuel 24:10; 2 Samuel 24:17). Thus his chief official was also given the title of ‘the priest’. He was basically the Prime Minister, but may well also have had intercessory duties.

“The son of Zadok.” He was possibly the grandson (‘son of’ is always vague and often means ‘descendant of’) of Zadok the Priest, being the son of Ahimaaz (1 Chronicles 6:8-9). Or he may have been another Azariah (a common name in the priestly families) who was brother to Ahimaaz. It will be noted how many of the leading officials we are dealing with are descended from previous leading officials. There had in fact been such ‘princely families’ from the earliest days (e.g. Numbers 1:4-16).

“Elihoreph and Ahijah, the sons of Shisha, were scribes.” The title ‘scribe’ could be given both to the highest officials in the land, and to humble copyists and letter writers. There were probably two Scribes (secretaries of state) because one saw to ‘home affairs’ to do with Israel/Judah and the other with ‘foreign affairs’ to do with the wider empire. The one who took the latter position may well have been required to be an expert in ‘foreign languages’ (compare 2 Kings 18:26). By the time of Hezekiah there was one ‘Scribe’ who was one of the three leading officials in the land (2 Kings 18:18) because by then there was no empire.

“Elihoreph.” The name could mean ‘God of Autumn’ (the God Who provides through harvest) or it may have been a Canaanite name ‘borrowed’ by Shisha who, of course, lived in the former Canaanite city of Jerusalem. It need not indicate Canaanite descent, although Shisha may have taken a Jebusite wife who had become a Yahwist. Alternatively it may have been given to him on appointment, as being seen as suitable for someone engaged in foreign correspondence. It is similar to the Hurrian name E(h)liarip. Ahijah (Yah is my brother’) was a relatively common Hebrew name.

“The sons of Shisha.” Shisha was probably the same as ‘Seraiah the scribe’ (2 Samuel 8:17). In 2 Samuel 20:25 he was called Sheva. In 1 Chronicles 8:16 this becomes Shavshah. These are probably simply variants of his official name received on appointment. Ancient names were very flexible. Alternately Shisha (compare Egyptian ss) may simply mean ‘official scribe’, with Seraiah being his original name Thus these also are at least semi-hereditary appointments.

“Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud, (was) the recorder.” This was as he had been under David (2 Samuel 8:16). The recorder is ‘he who causes to be heard’. Thus he was responsible for disseminating the king’s will vocally among the people and ensuring that it was responded to. He may also have recorded the day to day events related to the king. A similar figure in Egypt regulated the ceremonies of the palace and gave audience to people with the king, and transmitted and explained royal commands.

“And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the host.” As we know he had been commander of David’s bodyguard and had taken over the position of commander-in-chief from Joab (1 Kings 2:35).

“And Zadok and Abiathar were priests.” These were both official High Priests, the former, descended from Aaron through Eliezer, appointed, probably by Saul, over the Tabernacle, and later presiding at the Sacred Tent in Jerusalem, the latter by David, for he was descended from Aaron through Ihamar and was the only surviving son of the previous High Priest slain by Saul at Nob, and had fled with the Ephod to David, and would for a time have been High Priest in Ziklag, then in Hebron, and then in Gibeon. The High Priesthood was for life, so that once appointed a man remained High Priest until death (Numbers 35:25; Numbers 35:28), even though he had been relieved of his duties as Abiathar had been (1 Kings 2:35).

“And Azariah the son of Nathan was over the officers.” He was probably Solomon’s nephew, being the son of his brother Nathan (2 Samuel 5:14). He presumably had responsibility over the district ‘officers’ mentioned below.

“And Zabud the son of Nathan was priest, and the king”s friend.’ Another nephew of Solomon’s, Zabud (‘bestowed’) was also called ‘cohen’ and was the king’s chief adviser (‘friend’, compare Hushai the Gittite in 2 Samuel 16:16-19; 1 Chronicles 27:23). The title ‘king’s friend’ is also mentioned in Amarna (Canaanite) texts. As ‘cohen’ he may well also, like Azariah above, have shared in the intercessory responsibilities which fell on the king.

“Ahishar was over the household.” Solomon’s household was huge, as what follows indicates. Ahishar therefore had responsibility for overseeing the whole. The non-mention of his father’s name may suggest that he was a ‘commoner’, appointed because of his special abilities having in mind the needs of the king’s household. The title would later be applied to the Prime Minister (see 2 Kings 15:5; 2 Kings 18:18; Isaiah 22:20-22 with Isaiah 36:3), replacing the title ‘cohen’ (see on Azariah above), but we must not read that into Ahishar’s role. The title has been found on a seal impression excavated at Lachish.

“Adoniram the son of Abda was over the men subject to taskwork.” This may be the same man as the one who was appointed by David (2 Samuel 20:24) and survived up to the beginning of Rehoboam’s reign (1 Kings 12:18). At one time he had ‘five hundred and fifty’ slave-masters (1 Kings 9:23). Enforced labour was a necessary part of being a great king, for it was the only means by which large building projects could go forward (compare the warning in 1 Samuel 8:16). The worst aspect of this kind of servitude was limited to ‘foreigners’ (1 Kings 9:15; 1 Kings 9:21-22; 2 Samuel 12:31; 2 Chronicles 2:18) but the need became so great that native Israelites were also drafted in (1 Kings 5:13 ff), although in their case on a part time basis, and it was this, and their treatment while involved, as much as anything else that resulted in the disaffection that caused the later division of the kingdom.

1 Kings 4:7

And Solomon had twelve officers over all Israel, who provided victuals for the king and his household, each man had to make provision for a month in the year.’

Solomon also divided up Israel (excluding Judah) into twelve regions over whom he placed district ‘tax collectors or governors’ (literally ‘those appointed’). One of their major responsibilities was that of collecting the king’s taxes, mainly in the form of produce, and in each case it included ensuring that sufficient provisions were made available to the king’s vast household for one moon period out of twelve. But this would undoubtedly also have required the official to exercise control in other spheres, for they would not act directly themselves, delegating the main collection to others, and would require a wide authority in order to carry out what would not have been something welcomed by the Israelites. They were learning what having a king really involved.

The situation in Israel was by this time far too complicated to allow a simple division of the Israelites into tribes, and the divisions were thus not simply based on tribal divisions, even if that had been possible with the situation as it was, with so many movements and counter-movements of sections of tribes having taken place since the Conquest. On the other hand tribal divisions undoubtedly played their part with regard to tribes that had maintained their own independent identity. Solomon was not trying to break down tribal identity. He was seeking to efficiently (from his point of view) organise the whole area of Israel so as to ensure that the needs of his court were continually met, taking into account the complexities or otherwise of each area. On the other hand there were also the great Canaanite cities such as Taanach and Megiddo, and other similar large Canaanite enclaves, which had to be taken into account, and had to be brought into the system. These had in many cases been brought within Israel more by absorption than conquest as a result of the activities described in Judges 1:27-36, and by such as Saul and David, and had probably in the course of it been forced to submit to Yahwism. All these had to be brought within the sphere of Solomon’s administration. They would also be more used to such tight administration having suffered under kings for centuries.

The list commences with the hill country of Ephraim, which being situated where it was, and being the land first settled by the Israelites (if we ignore Judah) in comparatively virgin territory, was the most secure and prominent area among the northern tribes, and this is then followed by six areas mainly designated in terms of Canaanite cities, after which come areas named after tribes which had clearly not been so affected by having Canaanite cities among them, and had maintained their prominence and independence in the face of all the changes that had taken place, and were seen as administratively capable. Thus Ephraim, Naphtali, Asher, Issachar and Benjamin were seen as still compact enough, and independent enough, to form their own units, whereas other areas were more fragmented and had to take in the Canaanite conclaves, and be run from them.

Transjordan had three ‘appointed officers’, but the division was not simply on the basis of tribal boundaries. The first was stationed in Ramoth-gilead, which was in the upper territory of Gad, and the district covered the northern part of the country, including the area allocated to the half tribe of Manasseh. The second was in Mahanaim, from where Ish-bosheth had ruled Israel, and where David had established himself during Absalom’s rebellion. This was also located in the territory of Gad, and covered the central section of Transjordan. The third covered the larger southern area and gathered up all parts not covered by the other two, the area being described as ‘the land of Gilead’ (ever a vague description to us due to the many geographical uses of the term Gilead), and was so complex an area that it had to be explained in terms that sound as if it contained the whole of Transjordan, with the result that it had to be explained that he was the only officer in that particular area.

Alternately, the latter phrase ‘and one officer over the land’ might refer to the ‘officer’ over Judah (the Assyrians spoke of their homeland as ‘the land’) which is otherwise not mentioned. It could, however, be argued that Judah may rather have been centrally controlled directly from Jerusalem by one of the ‘chief officials’ described above. It may have been responsible for the thirteenth moon period which had to be inserted at regular intervals through the years in order to keep the seasons under control (twelve moon periods not making up a full year).

The remaining nine appointed officers were set over nine regions west of the Jordan Rift Valley, partly on the basis of principle cities or other regional descriptions, and partly on the basis of tribal designation. Thus we have the well known ‘hill country of Ephraim, followed by designations in terms of leading cities in different central areas, and finalised by designations in terms of the principle independently surviving northern tribes such as Naphtali, Asher and Issachar, and in terms of Benjamin.

1 Kings 4:8-19

And these are their names:

Ben-hur, in the hill-country of Ephraim;

Ben-deker, in Makaz, and in Shaalbim, and Beth-shemesh, and Elon-beth-hanan;

Ben-hesed, in Arubboth (to him pertained Socoh, and all the land of Hepher);

Ben-abinadab, in all the height of Dor (he had Taphath the daughter of Solomon to wife)

Baana the son of Ahilud, in Taanach and Megiddo, and all Beth-shean which is beside Zarethan, beneath Jezreel, from Beth-shean to Abel-meholah, as far as beyond Jokmeam;

Ben-geber, in Ramoth-gilead (to him pertained the towns of Jair the son of Manasseh, which are in Gilead; even to him pertained the region of Argob, which is in Bashan, threescore great cities with walls and brazen bars);

Ahinadab the son of Iddo, in Mahanaim;

Ahimaaz, in Naphtali (he also took Basemath the daughter of Solomon to wife);

Baana the son of Hushai, in Asher and Bealoth;

Jehoshaphat the son of Paruah, in Issachar;

Shimei the son of Ela, in Benjamin;

Geber the son of Uri, in the land of Gilead, the country of Sihon king of the Amorites and of Og king of Bashan;

And there was one officer who was over the land’ (i.e. of Judah).’

As previously mentioned it will be noted that the first four names and the sixth name are given in terms of the names of their fathers only (Ben-hur, Ben-deker, Ben hesed, Ben-abinadab, Ben-geber), for ‘ben’ means ‘son of’. This may because it had become a fad in certain circles to be known in this way (such usage certainly does occur later, although not in such profusion. Compare ‘Ben-chanan’ in 1 Chronicles 4:20 and the well known ‘Bar-timaeus’ in the New Testament), or because the office was hereditary (such a usage is evidenced at Ugarit), or it may even have been a case where the official tablet containing the record had been broken off at the edge, or become partly obliterated, through much use, so that the initial names were lost.

“Ben-hur, in the hill-country of Ephraim.” The name ‘Hur’ is attested to elsewhere (Numbers 31:8; 1 Chronicles 2:19). This area would include the tribal area of Ephraim combined with some of Manasseh up to the plain of Jezreel. Its southern border would be about fifteen kilometres (ten miles) north of Jerusalem and its northern border just beyond Shechem. To the east would be the Jordan and to the west the lower foothills about twenty two kilometres (fifteen miles) from the sea.

“Ben-deker, in Makaz, and in Shaalbim, and Beth-shemesh, and Elon-beth-hanan.” This probably indicates the four border cities, or central regional cities, of the area over which Ben-deker had responsibility. It includes the eastern Shephelah (lower hills), the south-eastern section of Ephraim, and the territory originally assigned to Dan. Makaz is unknown but would mark the eastern border, Shaalbim is modern Selbit, eleven kilometres (seven miles) south east of Lydda and is within the northern part of the Valley of Aijalon (Joshua 19:42; Judges 1:35) which would mark the northern border, Beth-shemesh marked the southern border and is modern Tell el-Rumeilah, twenty four kilometres (sixteen miles) west of Jerusalem, Elon-beth-hanan marked the western border. The name Deker may possibly be attested to it the name ‘Bidkar’ (shortening of ‘ben Deker’? - 2 Kings 9:25).

“Ben-hesed, in Arubboth (to him pertained Socoh, and all the land of Hepher).” This was the coastal area which included Sharon and part of Manasseh. Arubboth was probably modern Arrabeh on the coastal plain, south of the valley of Dothan, and seventeen kilometres (twelve miles) north east of Khirbet Suweikeh; Socoh is mentioned in Egyptian records as on the high road that led through the coastal plain and is Khirbet Suweikeh, three kilometres (two miles) north of Tulkarm. ‘All the land of Hepher’ may refer to the area occupied by the Manassite clan of Hepher (Joshua 17:2), although a Canaanite city of the name is mentioned in Joshua 12:17.

“Ben-abinadab, in all the height of Dor (he had Taphath the daughter of Solomon to wife).” Ben-abinadab was one of Solomon’s sons-in-law, having married his daughter Taphath. This very fact indicates the high status of these ‘officials’. He was quite possibly the son of Abinadab, David’s brother, and exercised his office in ‘all the foothills of Dor’ (or ‘Naphath-dor’). Compare Joshua 12:23, ‘the king of Dor in Naphath-dor’. He was thus responsible for the coastal plain from below Dor up to Carmel. The port of Dor may have been his administrative centre.

“Baana the son of Ahilud, in Taanach and Megiddo, and all Beth-shean which is beside Zarethan, beneath Jezreel, from Beth-shean to Abel-meholah, as far as beyond Jokmeam.” Baanah, the son of Ahilud, was seemingly the brother of Jehoshaphat, the son of Ahilud, the recorder (1 Kings 4:3). His territory included the southern Jezreel plain, the territory of Issachar and the west Jordan Valley. It included the great Canaanite cities of Taanach and Megiddo, which were clearly associated (here and Judges 5:19). Taanach was on the southern edge of the valley of Jezreel, with Megiddo opposite it on the northern part of Carmel, across the pass which guarded the way to the plain of Esdraelon. ‘all Beth-shean which is beside Zarethan’ is puzzling to us because Zarethan was in the Jordan Valley near the ford of the Jordan at Adamah, whereas the city of Beth-shean was situated where the valley of Jezreel met the Jordan Valley, but the geographical terminology ‘all Bethshean’ indicates a district which presumably stretched as far as Zarethan, and the situation was probably very plain then. The area is then defined as being ‘from (the city of) Beth-shean to Abel-meholah’, the latter also being in the Jordan Valley. ‘Beneath Jezreel’ distinguished his territory from that in Issachar, which included Jezreel, but may have in mind the height of Jezreel which has been described as “comparatively high, and commands a wide and noble view, extending down the broad low valley on the east of Beisan (Bethshean) and to the mountains of Ajlun beyond the Jordan.”

“Ben-geber, in Ramoth-gilead (to him pertained the tent villages of Jair the son of Manasseh, which are in Gilead; even to him pertained the region of Argob, which is in Bashan, threescore great cities with walls and brazen bars).” With this description we move to the east side of the Jordan, and this description basically covers northern Transjordan. For ‘the tent villages of Jair’ compare Numbers 32:41; Deuteronomy 3:14; Judges 10:3. For the region of Argob with its sixty ‘great walled cities’ compare Deuteronomy 3:4. Ramoth-gilead was in Gad.

“Ahinadab the son of Iddo, in Mahanaim.” This was the region below Ben-geber’s, in central Gilead, and centred on Mahanaim, (also in Gad) which was the royal city of Ish-bosheth (2 Samuel 2:8 ff), and, during the short period of his flight from Absalom, of David (2 Samuel 17:24).

“Ahimaaz, in Naphtali (he also took Basemath the daughter of Solomon to wife).” This was probably Ahimaaz the son of Zadok (2 Samuel 15:27; 2 Samuel 15:36; 2 Samuel 17:17 ff), and he became the son-in-law of Solomon. He administered Naphtali in the eastern part of Galilee.

“Baana the son of Hushai, in Asher and Bealoth.” Baanah was presumably the son (or grandson) of Hushai the Archite, David’s ‘Friend’, who had served David so faithfully (2 Samuel 15:32-37; 2 Samuel 16:16-19; 2 Samuel 17:5-14). He administered ‘Asher and Bealoth’ in Western Galilee. ‘Be-aloth’ is possibly ‘in Aloth’, and may be another name for Zebulun.

“Jehoshaphat the son of Paruah, in Issachar.” This territory ran from the central Jezreel plain to the River Jordan.

“Shimei the son of Ela, in Benjamin.” For this Shimei compare 1 Kings 1:8. He was responsible for administering fiercely independent Benjamin which still remembered its Saulide days when it had been ‘king-pin’. The Shimei who had cursed David and had been executed by Solomon had also been a Benjaminite. This area lay north of Jerusalem and covered the southern central Ephraim highlands.

“Geber the son of Uri, in the land of Gilead, the country of Sihon king of the Amorites and of Og king of Bashan.” This description could be seen as covering the whole of Transjordan, but is presumably intended to cover that part not administered by Ben-geber and Abinadab above.

“And there was one officer who was over the land” (i.e. of Judah?).’ This could be a note indicating that Geber administered his own administrative section, or it could explain why Judah is nowhere mentioned. ‘The land’ was how Assyria described their homeland, and Judah was David’s ‘land’. Thus this may refer to an officer over the land of Judah, whose contribution would fill in the gaps resulting from the calendar (the thirteenth month which had to be inserted regularly), and from any lack arising from what was provided by the other districts. (We would expect a reference to Judah because of 1 Kings 4:20).

1 Kings 4:20

Judah and Israel were many as the sand which is by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking and making merry.’

The writer then emphasises the prosperity of all Judah and Israel under Solomon’s rule. They multiplied in numbers, and they continually ate, drank and made merry. And this in spite of the burden of Solomon’s taxation. It was a time of peace and great prosperity for all. (But such prosperity led to a decline in loyalty to YHWH, with their worship becoming more syncretistic. They no longer felt the same loyalty to the wilderness God Who had led His people out of Egypt. They preferred to give Him local colour as One fitted to a static and more sophisticated people).

Some have tried to suggest that naming Judah and Israel in this order is an indication of a late insertion, but the argument does not hold. Judah and Israel are only mentioned as a unit three times in Kings, in 1 Kings 1:35; 1 Kings 4:20 and 1 Kings 4:25, and twice it is as Judah and Israel. In 1 Kings 1:35 it is as ‘over Israel and over Judah’ when David is talking about the receiving of the kingship, and the order is probably dependent on the source. Thus the order here is almost certainly because the writer saw Judah as having the precedence at this point, having in mind the future separation of the kingdom, and the prominence of Judah thereafter. It therefore simply indicates the author’s preference. The use in Samuel is therefore irrelevant. That was the emphasis of a different writer. The separateness of Judah and Israel has, however, been constantly in mind in both and is certainly not something new. See 1 Samuel 11:8; 1 Samuel 17:52; 1 Samuel 18:16; 2 Samuel 3:10; 2 Samuel 5:5; 2 Samuel 11:11; 2 Samuel 12:8; 2 Samuel 20:2; 2 Samuel 24:1.

1 Kings 4:21

And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines, and to the border of Egypt. They brought tribute, and served Solomon all the days of his life.’

Meanwhile Solomon ruled over a wide area, thanks mainly to the previous activities of David, which on the whole had been forced on him. He ruled over an area from the Euphrates to the border of Egypt. This did not include the whole of that area for it excluded, for example, Tyre and Sidon, with whom, however, he had a firm treaty, so that there was peace on every side. The reference to the land of the Philistines was emphasising the fact that the ‘ancient enemy’ were so no more, but were at peace with Israel, (while themselves, unlike Israel, being subject to attack from Egypt). And the area that he ruled brought tribute and presents to him, and served him all the days of his life. The glowing picture (if not strictly accurate, especially towards the later part of his reign, although his curbing and containment of insurgents may have been seen as signifying that they were still seen as under his general jurisdiction) is emphasising his great and continuing success and prosperity. Compare for its range Genesis 13:14-17; Genesis 15:18; Exodus 23:31; Deuteronomy 11:24; Joshua 1:4).

There is a lesson for us all in this in that it demonstrates that of we are to make the most of our lives we must ensure they are administered properly. It is not sufficient to allow our lives to drift on. We need to organise them to the best advantage so that we can make the best use of our time and money, with a view to being pleasing to the Lord.


Verses 22-28

The Prosperity, Safety And Security Of Solomon’s Reign (1 Kings 4:22-28).

There were few periods in Israel’s history when they enjoyed unbroken peace with no enemies coming over the horizon to spoil them, but Solomon’s long reign was one of them. For the common people there was not even a whiff of danger. Such battles as there were occurred far away. And so they prospered and felt secure. And that prosperity was reflected in the quantity of supplies constantly provided to the king for his wide household, the level of which demonstrated the greatness of their king. When they considered what Solomon had brought to the kingship they must have felt that the golden age was almost upon them. And they may well have felt that providing for his table was a price worth paying.

Analysis.

a And Solomon’s provision for one day was thirty measures of fine flour, and threescore measures of meal, ten fat oxen, and twenty oxen out of the pastures, and a hundred sheep, besides harts, and gazelles, and roebucks, and fatted fowl (1 Kings 4:23).

b For he had dominion over all the region on this side of the River, from Tiphsah even to Gaza, over all the kings on this side the River, and he had peace on all sides round about him (1 Kings 4:24).

c And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig-tree, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, all the days of Solomon (1 Kings 4:25).

b And Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen (1 Kings 4:26).

a And those officers provided victuals for king Solomon, and for all who came to king Solomon’s table, every man in his month. They let nothing be lacking. Barley also and straw for the horses and swift steeds brought they to the place where the officers were, every man according to his charge (1 Kings 4:27-28).

Note that in ‘a’ we have details of the provisions for Solomon’s household, and in the parallel we have confirmation of those provisions to the household and a description of the details of the provisions for Solomon’s horses. In ‘b’ we learn of his complete dominion and control over the whole land and its kings from the Euphrates to Gaza, and in the parallel we learn of the source of that peace in his mighty armaments. Centrally in ‘c’ we have the idealistic picture of every man throughout the whole of Israel and Judah dwelling freely and without fear in possession of their own personal land. In centuries to come it would be that hope and dream that would keep men looking forward to the coming of the everlasting king, when all would enjoy such a situation permanently.

1 Kings 4:22-23

And Solomon’s provision for one day was thirty measures (kors) of fine flour, and threescore measures (kors) of meal, ten fat oxen, and twenty oxen out of the pastures, and a hundred sheep, besides harts, and gazelles, and roebucks, and fatted fowl.’

The size and prosperity of Solomon’s magnificent court comes out in the daily provisions required to keep them. There is no reason to doubt that these details come from official records. There was nothing limited about the extent or variety of their diet. It reflected one continual festival. But there is nothing grossly excessive about the details either. They are in fact directly comparable with the range of supplies for other royal courts in the ancient Near East as far apart as Mari and Egypt. The ‘kor’ was a large dry measure of around 220 litres/1 Kings 6:3 imperial bushels, (the equivalent of a ‘homer’ which was about 220 litres or 48 gallons).

Note the fattened oxen for the king’s own table in contrast to the oxen out of the pastures for the lesser participants. We are not sure what kind of ‘fowl’ were in mind, possibly geese or hens, or even more exotic birds which were seen as titbits.

1 Kings 4:24

For he had dominion over all the region on this side of the River (or ‘of Beyond-the River’), from Tiphsah even to Gaza, over all the kings on this side the River, and he had peace on all sides round about him.’

“Dominion” was either as Overlord, or by peace treaty in which he was a dominant partner. ‘Beyond the River’ was looking at it from the Mesopotamian aspect, i.e. ‘south of the River’. Tiphsah (Thapsacus) was ‘the ford’ at the Euphrates crossing, forming the north east boundary of the province. It was placed strategically on the great east-west trade route. Gaza represented the south western boundary. The idea is possibly that there was not an enemy in sight, the later troubles being conveniently sidelined, or alternately that he controlled (and benefited from) ‘all who passed through’ his area.

1 Kings 4:25

And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig-tree, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, all the days of Solomon.’

This was ever seen by Israel as a description of ideal conditions when every man was free and possessed his own fruitful land (compare Micah 4:4), and it would have been looked back on enviously by future centuries. It was a picture cited semi-mockingly by Sennacherib’s henchmen to the Jerusalem of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:31), possibly suggesting that his intelligence service were well aware that it was a favourite way in Israel/Judah of describing the ideal life. This was their idea of what life should be like, a picture of freedom and security and pleasant living (compare Micah 4:4; Zechariah 3:10, and see Deuteronomy 8:8). In reality there would, of course, be many in the kingdom not enjoying such freedom, (there are always the poor among us), and large numbers of these ‘free citizens’ would themselves be required to participate in the building of the Temple as we shall shortly learn (something no doubt justified on religious grounds). But it does express how most in Israel probably saw themselves at the time, especially before Solomon began work on his grandiose schemes. ‘From Dan (in the north) to Beersheba (in the Negev)’ is a common description of Israel/Judah as a whole (e.g. Judges 20:1; 1 Samuel 3:20; etc.).

1 Kings 4:26

And Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen.’

Israel’s safety from attack was guaranteed by their military power. Solomon had stalls containing forty ‘thousands’ (eleph, military units) of horses for his chariots, and twelve military units of horsemen (chariot drivers). The Chronicler conveys the same idea when he speaks of ‘four thousand’ which signifies ‘forty hundreds (military units)’ (2 Chronicles 9:25). The size of a military unit of chariots would necessarily be much less than a military unit, say, of chariot drivers or footmen.

The numbers are not in any way excessive however we take them. Three or four centuries before Solomon, the king of the small, but wealthy, state of Ugarit was described as negotiating for 2,000 horses on just one single occasion, no doubt in addition to what he already possessed. It is not therefore surprising that Solomon should have full stables. The charioteers would not be standing by all the time. They would spend part of their time at home, living in their home cities and seeing to their fields, being called upon when necessary. We can compare for this the situation in Ugarit, where the literature contains lists of towns together with the names of the charioteers living in them, waiting to be called on when needed.

1 Kings 4:27

And those officers provided victuals for king Solomon, and for all who came to king Solomon’s table, every man in his month. They let nothing be lacking.’

The tax officers appointed by Solomon faithfully carried out their responsibilities, providing victuals for Solomon and all who came to his table, and ensuring that no lack of provision ever occurred. Every good thing was provided.

1 Kings 4:28

Barley also and straw for the horses and swift steeds brought they to the place where they were, every man according to his charge.’

The tax officers also fulfilled the responsibility with which they had been charged and ensured that that there was sufficient barley and straw for the horses, and ‘swift steeds’ (horses for the use of messengers?), although the latter may signify ‘horses alongside’, i.e. trainee chariot horses.

The prosperity of the kingdom always depends on faithful servants, often unsung, for we are all called on by our Lord Jesus Christ to ‘feed my sheep’. It is as we faithfully fulfil this task that the Kingly Rule of God will advance and spread. But let us once fail in this responsibility and the kingdom will suffer. That is why in His parable our Lord Jesus Christ constantly urged on us the need to be ‘faithful servants’ (e.g. Luke 12:35-48; Luke 19:12-27).


Verses 29-34

Solomon’s Great Reputation For Wisdom (1 Kings 4:29-34).

As the picture of Solomon’s magnificence grows we now learn more about the wisdom that YHWH gave him. It included wisdom which was revealed both in wise sayings, and in his careful consideration of natural things. He himself learned lessons from the wise, and expanded on them, and discovered important lessons from nature. (It was not, of course, scientific enquiry. It was in order to learn lessons from nature). He may well have generally encouraged the study of ‘wisdom’ in his court, and it could therefore well be that these wise men whose names are given here visited his court and admitted him to be their superior. We can compare with their ‘sudden appearance’ the sudden appearance of ‘wise women’ (although having ‘wisdom’ of a somewhat different kind) who appeared now and again during the life of David (2 Samuel 14:2; 2 Samuel 20:16 and note 1 Kings 20:18 where Abel is noted for its wise people). We know of them simply because the political history required it. Otherwise we would have known nothing of them.

“Wisdom” in a number of forms was, however, a major and continual preoccupation in the Ancient Near East, and wisdom literature (dealing, for example, with the question of how to live successfully) was found in many countries over many centuries. Consider for example: the Egyptians Hardjedef and Ptah-hotep and the Old-Sumerian Shuruppak (third millennium BC); the Egyptian (Dua)Khety, ‘Sehetepibre’, ‘Man to his Son’, and Amenemhat I, plus classical Sumerian and Akkadian versions of Shuruppak (all early second millennium); the Egyptians Aniy, High Priest Amenemhat, Amenemope, Amennakht, the Akkadian Counsels of Wisdom, and Shube-awilim (late second millennium); the Egyptian Amenothes and Ankh-sheshongy and the Levantine/Mesopotamian (Aramaic) Ahiqar (first millennium BC). Solomon was thus in good and notable company, and there is no good reason (apart from prejudice) for denying that he could participate with the best of them. He was seen as responsible for a large part of the book of Proverbs, and it is noteworthy that the section of Proverbs (1-24) which is directly associated with him follows a similar ‘form’ to other ancient wisdom writers, namely commencement with a formal title, followed by a prologue which was very often devoted to exhortations, a later sub-title, and then the main body of the work. This format is well attested at all periods in the biblical world. Consider such examples as the Egyptian Ptahhotep and Old-Sumerian Shuruppak (third millennium BC); the Egyptian (Dua)Khety, ‘Sehetepibre’, Man to his Son, and Amenemhat I, plus classical Sumerian and Akkadian versions of Shuruppak (all early second millennium); Egyptian Aniy, High Priest Amenemhat, Amenemope, Amennakht, and the Akkadian Counsels of Wisdom (late second millennium); Egyptian Ankh-sheshongy and Levantine/Mesopotamian (Aramaic) Ahiqar (first millennium BC).

Analysis.

a And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart (mind, thought), even as the sand that is on the seashore, and Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt (1 Kings 4:29-30).

b For he was wiser than all men; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol, and his fame was in all the nations round about (1 Kings 4:31).

c And he spoke three thousand proverbs, and his songs were a thousand and five (1 Kings 4:32).

b And he spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon even to the hyssop which springs out of the wall. He spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of creeping things, and of fishes (1 Kings 4:33).

a And there came of all peoples to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom (1 Kings 4:34).

Note that in ‘a’ Solomon excelled all his contemporaries in wisdom, and in the parallel all the world came to hear his wisdom. In ‘b’ those above whom he excelled are listed, and in the parallel the subjects in which he excelled. Centrally in ‘c’ we are given details of his specific productivity.

1 Kings 4:29-30

And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart (mind, thought), even as the sand that is on the seashore. And Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt.’

Solomon’s wide breadth of knowledge impressed his contemporaries. He was a man of large mental vision (the heart was seen as the source of mind and thought), and knew so much that it could be compared with the sand on the seashore, so much so that he excelled over all the wisdom of either Arabia (compare Judges 6:3; Judges 6:33; Judges 7:12; Judges 8:10; Job 1:3; Isaiah 11:14 etc.), or Mesopotamia (compare ‘the one from the east’ in Isaiah 41:2 : ‘the land of the people of the east’ in Genesis 29:1) and Egypt. The point is not, of course, that there was a scholarly examination of all wisdom literature from all ages, with points being awarded accordingly. It was rather expressing the feeling and sense that men had in his day about his wisdom. (We usually see someone from our own generation as ‘the best ever’ even though the judgment cannot really be seen as reliable. How do you measure ‘the best’ when you have no real acquaintance with people of the past?).

1 Kings 4:31

For he was wiser than all men; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol, and his fame was in all the nations round about.’

His wisdom exceeded that of all contemporary figures known to people in Palestine, and an indication of the finest of such is given. We do not know anything about these people but that is more due to our ignorance than their lack of substance (see, however, the headings to Psalms 88, 89 and 1 Chronicles 2:6). Had we lived in that day we would undoubtedly have had no problem in recognising their names and their status. They were the leading scholars of their day. Thus his fame was acknowledged in all nations round about.

In 1 Chronicles 2:6, assuming the people there to be identical, they are called ‘the sons of Zerach’ (Ezrachites), but that is because Zerach was their tribal ancestor not because he was their father. In that case they would have been selected for mention in the genealogy precisely because of their fame. Some see ‘the sons of Mahol’ (literally ‘sons of dancing’) as signifying Tabernacle/Temple professional singers and worshippers, but in view of the context here in Kings that is very questionable, although the headings in the Psalms do indicate that, like Solomon, they composed ‘songs’.

1 Kings 4:32

And he spoke three thousand proverbs, and his songs were a thousand and five.’

He was especially famed for his proverbs (some of which we can find in Proverbs) and his songs. We would in fact have expected a son of David to be musical so that the number of songs is not difficult to understand. But, unlike David’s, they were not preserved, possibly because of their content (or lack of it). See, however, Psalms 72; Psalms 127. ’Three thousand’ indicates simply a large and complete collection (three for completeness, a thousand for a large number). A thousand and five is probably the equivalent of our ‘a thousand and one things to do’, indicating not so many songs as proverbs.

1 Kings 4:33

And he spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon even to the hyssop which springs out of the wall. He spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of creeping things, and of fishes.’

Had we known of Ethan, Heman and the others it is quite probable that we would have discovered that they ranged over these subjects too. But they seemingly had to give best to Solomon. The descriptions are intended to cover the whole range of nature. For the use of cedars of Lebanon in this way compare the use in Psalms 92:12; Psalms 104:16. But the emphasis in this particular case is not so much specifically on the cedars as on indicating ‘from the largest and most important (the cedars of Lebanon) to the smallest and most insignificant’ (the local hyssop that abounds in walls) of vegetation in nature. He also covered all aspects of living creatures. Note, for examples of this, Proverbs 6:5-8; Proverbs 7:22; Proverbs 14:4; Proverbs 20:2; Proverbs 23:31-32; Proverbs 26:2-3; Proverbs 26:11; Proverbs 26:17; Proverbs 27:8; Proverbs 27:26-27; Proverbs 28:15. Beasts, birds, creeping things and fishes cover the whole sphere of such living creatures (Genesis 1:26).

1 Kings 4:34

And there came of all peoples to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom.’

And the result was that visitors from far and near came to hear the wisdom of Solomon. It was a new interest, and a bright light, that had appeared in an all too mundane world. And it was from God.

It is not given to all of us to have the wisdom of Solomon. But even Solomon’s wisdom depended on him applying his mind to what was about him. It is therefore given to us also to ‘study to show ourselves approved to God, workmen who do not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth’ (2 Timothy 2:15). The sad thing about Solomon’s wisdom was that it became so diverse that he lost sight of the fact that ‘the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil, that is understanding’ (Job 28:28). We must beware lest the same happen to us.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Kings 4:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/1-kings-4.html. 2013.

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