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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary

1 Kings 4

 

 

Verses 1-34

SOLOMON’S COURT AND KINGDOM

1 Kings 4:1-34.

"But what more oft in nations grown corrupt And by their vices brought to servitude, Than to love bondage more than liberty, Bondage with ease than strenuous liberty?"

-Samson Agonistes.

WHEN David was dead, and Solomon was established on his throne, his first thoughts were turned to the consolidation of his kingdom. He was probably quite a youth. He was not, nor did he ever desire to be, a warlike prince; but he was compelled to make himself secure from two enemies-Hadad and Rezon-who began almost at once to threaten his frontiers. Of these, however, we shall speak later on, since it is only towards the close of Solomon’s reign that they seem to have given serious trouble. If the second psalm is by Solomon it may point to some early disturbances among heathen neighbors which he had successfully put down.

The only actual expedition which Solomon ever made was one against a certain Hamath-Zobah, to which, however, very little importance can be attached. It is simply mentioned in one line in the Book of Chronicles, and it is hard to believe-considering that Rezon had possession of Damascus - that Solomon was master of the great Hamath. He made a material alteration in the military organization of his kingdom by establishing a standing army of fourteen hundred war chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen, whom he dispersed in various cities and barracks, keeping some of them at Jerusalem. {1 Kings 10:26}

In order to save his kingdom from attack Solomon expended vast sums on the fortification of frontier towns. In the north he fortified Hazor; in the northwest Megiddo. The passes to Jerusalem on the west were rendered safe by the fortresses at Upper and Nether Bethhoron. The southern districts were overawed by the building of Baalath and Tamar, "the palm-city," which is described as "in the wilderness in the land,"-perhaps in the desolate tract on the road from Hebron to Elath. Movers thinks that Hazezon-Tamar or Engedi is meant, as this town is called Tamar in Ezekiel 47:19.

As the king grew more and more in power he gave full reins to his innate love of magnificence. We can best estimate the sudden leap of the kingdom into luxurious civilization if we contrast the royalty of Saul with that of Solomon. Saul was little more than a peasant-prince, a local emir, and such state as he had was of the humblest description. But Solomon vied with the gorgeous secular dynasts of historic empires.

His position had become much more splendid owing to his alliance with the King of Egypt-an alliance of which his humbler predecessors would scarcely have dreamed. We are not told the name of his Egyptian bride, but she must have been the daughter of one of the last kings of the twenty-first Tanite dynasty-either Psinaces, or Psusennes II The dynasty had been founded at Tanis (Zoan) about B.C. 1100 by an ambitious priest named Hit-hor. It only lasted for five generations. Whatever other dower Solomon received with this Egyptian princess, his father-in-law rendered him one signal service. He advanced from Egypt with an army against the Canaanite town of Gezer, which he conquered and destroyed. Solomon rebuilt it as an outpost of defense for Jerusalem. Further than this the Egyptian alliance did not prove to be of much use. The last king of this weak twenty-first dynasty was succeeded B.C. 990 by the founder of a new Bubastite dynasty, the great Shishak I (Shesonk), the protector of Jeroboam and the plunderer of Jerusalem and its Temple. Ker’amat, niece of the last king of the dynasty, married Shishak, the founder of the new dynasty, and was the mother of U-Sark-on I (Zerah the Ethiopian).

It has been a matter of dispute among the Rabbis whether Solomon was commendable or blameworthy for contracting this foreign alliance. If we judge him simply from the secular standpoint, nothing could be more obviously politic than the course he took. Nor did he break any law in marrying Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses had not forbidden the union with an Egyptian woman. Still, from the religious point of view, it was inevitable that such a connection would involve consequences little in accordance with the theocratic ideal. The kings of Judah must not be judged as though they were ordinary sovereigns. They were meant to be something more than mere worldly potentates. The Egyptian alliance, instead of flattering the pride, only wounded the susceptibilities of the later Jews. The Rabbis had a fantastic notion that Shimei had been Solomon’s teacher, and that the king did not fall into the error of wedding an alien {See Deuteronomy 23:7-8} until Shimei had been driven from Jerusalem. That there was some sense of doubt in Solomon’s mind appears from the statement in 2 Chronicles 8:11, that he deemed it unfit for his bride to have her residence on Mount Moriah, a spot hallowed by the presence of the Ark of God. That she became a proselytess has been suggested, hut it is most unlikely. Had this been the case it would have been mentioned in contrast with the heathenism of the fair idolatresses who in later years beguiled the king’s heart. On the other hand, the princess, who was his chief if not his earliest bride, does not seem to have asked for any shrine or chapel for the practice of her Egyptian rites. This is the more remarkable since Solomon, ashamed of the humble cedar house of David-which would look despicable to a lady who had lived in "the gigantic edifices, and labyrinthine palace of Egyptian kings" expended vast sums in building her a palace which should seem worthy of her royal race.

From this time forward the story of Solomon becomes more the record of a passing pageant preserved for us in loosely arranged fragments. It can never be one tithe so interesting as the history of a human heart with its sufferings and passions. "Solomon in all his glory," that figure so unique, so lonely in its wearisome pomp, can never stir our sympathy or win our affection as does the natural, impetuous David, or even the fallen, unhappy Saul. "The low sun makes the color." The bright gleams and dark shadows of David’s life are more instructive than the dull monotony of Solomon’s magnificence.

The large space of Scripture devoted to him in the Books of Kings and Chronicles is occupied almost exclusively with the details of architecture and display. It is only in the first and last sections of his story that we catch the least glimpse of the man himself. In the central section we see nothing of him, but are absorbed in measurements and descriptions which have a purely archaeological, or, at the best, a dimly symbolic significance. The man is lost in the monarch, the monarch in the appurtenances of his royal display. His annals degenerate into the record of a sumptuous parade.

The fourth chapter of the Book of Kings gives us the constitution of his court as it was in the middle of his reign, when two of his daughters were already married. It need not detain us long.

The highest officers of the kingdom were called Sarim, "princes," a title which in David’s reign had been borne almost alone by Joab, who was Sar-lia-zaba, or captain of the host. The son of Zadok is named first as "the priest." The two chief secretaries (Sopherim) were Elihoreph and Ahiah. They inherited the office of their father Shavsha, {1 Chronicles 18:16} who had been the secretary of David. It was their duty to record decrees and draw up the documents of state. Jehoshaphat, the son of Ahilud, continued to hold the office of annalist or historiographer (Mazkir), the officer known as the Waka Nuwish in Persian courts. Azariah was over the twelve prefects (Nitza-bim), or farmers-general, who administered the revenues. His brother Zabud became "priest" and "king’s friend." Ahishar was "over the household" (al-hab-Baith); that is, he was the chamberlain, vizier, or mayor of the palace, wearing on his shoulder the key which was the symbol of his authority. {Isaiah 22:21} Adoniram or Adoram who had been tax-collector for David, still held that onerous and invidious office, {2 Samuel 20:24} which subsequently, in his advanced old age, cost him his life. Benaiah succeeded to the chief-captaincy of Joab. We hear nothing more of him, but the subsequent history shows that when David gathered around him this half alien and wholly mercenary force in a country which had no standing army, he turned the sovereignty into what the Greeks would have called a tyranny. As the only armed force in the kingdom the body-guard overawed opposition, and was wholly at the disposal of the king. These troops were to Solomon at Jerusalem what the Praetorians were to Tiberius at Rome.

The chief points of interest presented by the list are these:-

1. First we mark the absence of any prophet. Neither Nathan nor Gad is even mentioned. The pure ray of Divine illumination is overpowered by the glitter of material prosperity.

2. Secondly, the priests are quite subordinate. They are only mentioned fifth in order, and Abia-thar is named with Zadok, though after his deposition he was living in enforced retirement. The sacerdotal authority was at this time quite overshadowed by the royal. In all the elaborate details of the pomp which attended the consecration of the Temple, Solomon is everything, the priests comparatively nothing. Zadok is not even mentioned as taking any part in the sacrifices in spite of his exalted rank. Solomon acts throughout as supreme head of the Church. Nor was this unnatural, since the two capital events in the history of the worship of Jehovah-the removal of the Ark to Mount Zion, and the suggestion, inception, and completion of the building of the Temple-were due to Solomon and David, not to Zadok or Ahiathar. The priests, throughout the monarchy, suggest nothing, inaugurate nothing. They are lost in functions and formal ceremonies. They are but obedient administrative servants, and, so far from protecting religion, they acquiesce with tame indifference in every innovation and every apostasy. History has few titles which form so poor a claim to distinction as that of Levitic priest.

3. Further, we have two curious and significant phenomena. The title "the priest" is given to Azariab, who is first mentioned among the court functionaries. Solomon had not the least intention to allow either the priestly or the much loftier prophetic functions to interfere with his autocracy. He did not choose that there should be any danger of a priest usurping an exorbitant influence, as Hir-hor had done in Egypt, or Ethbaal afterwards did in the court of Tyre, or Thomas 'a-Becket in the court of England, or Torquemada in that of Spain. He was too much a king to submit to priestly domination. He therefore appointed one who should be "the priest," for courtly and official purposes, and should stand in immediate subordination to himself.

4. The Nathan whose two sons, Azariah and Zabud, held such high positions, was in all probability not Nathan the Prophet, who is rarely introduced without his distinctive title, but Nathan, the younger brother of Solomon, in whose line the race of David was continued after the extinction of the elder branch in Jeconiah. Here again we note the union of civil with priestly functions. Zabud is called "a priest" though he is a layman, a prince of the tribe of Judah. Nor was this the first instance in which princes of the royal house had found maintenance, occupation, and high official rank by being in some sort engaged in the functions of the priesthood. Already in David’s reign we find the title "priests" (Kohanim) given to the sons of David in the list of court officials-"and David’s sons were priests." In this we trace the possible results of Phoenician influences.

5. Incidentally it is pleasing to find that, though Solomon put Adonijah to death, he stood in close and kindly relations with his other brothers, and gave high promotions to the sons of the brothers who stood nearest to him in age, in one of whom we see the destined ancestor of the future Messiah. {2 Kings 18:18; Isaiah 22:15}

6. The growth of imposing officialism, and its accompanying gulf between the king and his people, is marked by the first appearance of "the chamberlain" as a new functionary. On him fell the arrangement of court pageants and court etiquette. The chamberlain in despotic Eastern courts becomes a personage of immense importance because he controls the right of admission into the royal presence. Such officers, even when chosen from the lowest rank of slaves-like Eutropius the eunuch-minister of Arcadius, or Olivier le Daim, the barber-minister of Louis XI-often absorb no mean part of the influence of the sovereign with whom they are brought into daily connection. In the court of Solomon the chamberlain stands only ninth in order; but three centuries later, in the days of Hezekiah, he has become the greatest of the officials, and "Eliakim who was over the household" is placed before Shebna, the influential scribe, and Joah, the son of Asaph the recorder. {2 Samuel 20:24} He is not mentioned in 1 Chronicles 27:25-31.

7. Last on the list stands the minister who has the ominous title of al-ham-Mas, or "over the tribute." The Mas means the "levy," corvee, or forced labor. In other words, Adoram was overseer of the soccagers. Saul had required an overseer of the flocks and David a guardian of the treasury, but Adoram is not mentioned till late in his reign. The gravamen of David’s numbering of the people seems to have lain in the intention to subject them to a poll tax, or to personal service, such as had become necessary to maintain the expenses of the court. It is obvious that, as royalty developed from the conception of the theocratic king to that of the Oriental despot, the stern warning of Samuel to the people of Israel was more and more fulfilled. They had said, "Nay, but we will have a king to reign over us, when Jehovah was their king"; and Samuel had told them how much less blessed was bondage with ease than their strenuous liberty. He had warned them that their king would take their sons for his runners and charioteers and reapers and soldiers and armorers, and their daughters for his perfumers and confectioners; and that he would seize their fields and vineyards for his courtiers, and claim the tithes of their possession, and use their asses, and put their oxen to his work. The word "Mas" representing soccage, serfdom, forced labor (corvee; Germ., Frohndienst), first became odiously familiar in the days of Solomon.

Solomon was an expensive king, and the Jewish kings had no private revenue from which the necessary resources could be supplied. In order to secure contributions for the maintenance of the royal establishment, Solomon appointed his twelve Prefects. The list of them is incorporated from a document so ancient that in several instances the names have dropped out, and only "son of" remains. The districts entirely and designedly ignored the old tribal limits, which Solomon probably wished to obliterate. Ben-Hur administered the hill country of Ephraim; Ben-Dekar had his headquarters in Dan; Ben-Hesed had the maritime plain; BenAbinadab the fertile region of Carmel, and he was wedded to Solomon’s daughter Taphath; Baana, son of Ahilud, managed the plain of Esdraelon; Ben-Geberthe mountainous country east of Jordan, including Gilead and Argob with its basaltic towns; Ahinadab, son of Iddo, was officer in Mahanaim; Ahimaaz in Naphtali (he was married to Solomon’s daughter Basmath, and was perhaps the son of Zadok); Baanah, son of David’s faithful Hushai, was in Asher; Shimei, son of Elah, in Benjamin; Jehoshaphat in Issachar. Geber administered alone the ancient dominions of Sihon and Og. We see with surprise that Judah seems to have been exempted from the burdens imposed on the other districts, and if so the impolitic exemption was a main cause of the subsequent jealousies.

The chief function of these officers was to furnish provisions for the immense numbers who were connected with the court. The curious list is given of the provision required for one day-thirty measures of fine flour, sixty of bread, ten fat oxen, twenty pasture oxen, and one hundred sheep, besides the delicacies of harts, gazelles, fallow-deer, and fatted guinea-hens or swans. Bunsen reckons that this would provide for about fifteen thousand persons. In this there is nothing extraordinary, though the number is disproportionate to the smallness of the kingdom. About the same number were daily supported by the kings of the great empire of Persia. We see how rapidly the state of royalty had developed when we compare Solomon’s superb surroundings with the humble palace of Ishbosheth less than fifty years earlier-a palace of which the only guard was a single sleepy woman, who had been sifting wheat in the noontide, and had fallen asleep over her task in the porch. {2 Samuel 4:6}

Yet in the earlier years of the reign, while the people, dazzled by the novel sense of national importance, felt the stimulus given to trade and industry, the burden was not painfully felt. They multiplied in numbers, and lived under their vines and fig trees in peace and festivity. But much of their prosperity was hollow and short-lived. Wealth led to vice and corruption, and in place of the old mountain breezes of freedom which purified the air, the nation, like Issachar, became like an ass crouching between two burdens, and bowing its shoulders to the yoke in the hot valley of sensuous servitude.

"Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,

Where wealth accumulates and men decay!"

It is impossible to overlook the general drift of Jewish royalty towards pure materialism in the days of Solomon. We search in vain for the lofty spirituality which survived even in the rough epoch of the Judges and the rude simplicity of David’s earlier reign. The noble aspirations which throb in one Davidic psalm are worth all the gorgeous formalism of the Temple service. Amid the luxuries of plenty and the feasts of wine on the lees there seems to have been an ever-deepening famine of the Word of God.

There was one innovation, which struck the imagination of Solomon’s contemporaries, but was looked on with entire disfavor by those who had been trained in the old pious days. Solomon had immense stables for his chariot horses (susim), and the swift riding horses of his couriers (parashim). It seems to have been Solomon’s ambition to equal or outshine "the chariots of Pharaoh," {Song of Solomon 1:9} with which his Egyptian queen had been familiar at Tanis. This feature of his reign is dwelt upon in the Arabian legends, as well as in all the historical records of his greatness. But the maintenance of a cavalry force had always been discouraged by the religious teachers of Israel. The use of horses in war is forbidden in Deuteronomy. {Deuteronomy 17:16} Joshua had houghed the horses of the Canaanites, and burned their chariots at Misre-photh-maim. David had followed his example. Barak had defeated the iron chariots of Sisera, and David the splendid cavalry of Hadadezer with the simple infantry of Israel. {Joshua 11:9; 1 Samuel 8:11-12; 2 Samuel 8:4} The spirit of the olden faithfulness spoke in such words as, "Some put their trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will trust in the name of the Lord our God." Solomon’s successors discovered that they had not gained in strength by adopting this branch of military service in their hilly and rocky land. They found that "a horse is but a vain thing to save a man, neither shall he deliver any man by his great strength." {Psalms 33:17; Psalms 76:6; Psalms 147:10}

For a time, however, Solomon’s strenuous centralization was successful. His dominion extended, at least nominally, from Tiphzah (Thapsacus), beside the ford on the west bank of the Euphrates, to the Mediterranean; over the whole domain of the Philistines; and from Damascus to "the river of Egypt," that is, the Rhinokolura or Wady el-Areesh. The names Jeroboam and Rehoboam imply that they were born in an epoch of prosperity. But the sequel proves that it was that sort of empire which,

"Like expanded gold, Exchanges solid strength for feeble splendor."

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 Kings 4:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/1-kings-4.html.

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