Thursday, October 6, 2022

The Kings Of Israel And Judah. Day 18, Preparing To Build The Temple, Part Two

In yesterday's study of 1 Kings 5 we found King Solomon replying to King Hiram's congratulations by wanting to enter into a trade agreement with him. He asked for timber from Hiram's country because it was some of the best (or perhaps the best) that could be had. Hiram was happy to grant this request and asked in return that Solomon would provide food for his royal household. As we pick up our study today we are told, "In this way Hiram kept Solomon supplied with all the cedar and juniper logs he wanted, and Solomon gave Hiram twenty thousand cors of wheat as food for his household, in addition to twenty thousand baths of pressed olive oil. Solomon continue to do this for Hiram year after year. The Lord gave Solomon wisdom, just as He had promised him. There were peaceful relations between Hiram and Solomon, and the two of them made a treaty." (1 Kings 5:10-12)

Solomon's letter to Hiram appears in an abridged form in 1 Kings 5. In 2 Chronicles 2 we find that in addition to wanting to hire woodcutters from Hiram, Solomon also wanted to hire artisans from Hiram who were skilled in working with gold, silver, bronze, iron, fabrics, and yarn and who are experts at engraving. He offered a good salary for the men who would come to Jerusalem to work for him. Hiram agreed to the terms of his offer and supplied the timber and the workers Solomon needed. 

Solomon needs not only skilled artisans but also workers capable of doing the basic labor on the project and. He obtains many of these laborers from among his fellow citizens. He "drafts" men into his workforce in the same way men are drafted into the army. If Israel had not been at peace during Solomon's reign, the temple could not have been built during his lifetime because the young and able-bodied men would have been called up for the army instead. "King Solomon conscripted laborers from all Israel---thirty thousand men. He sent them off to Lebanon in shifts of ten thousand a month, so that they spent one month in Lebanon and two months at home." (1 Kings 5:13-14a) The area of Lebanon is where the tall cedars are being cut.

Solomon conscripts foreigners living among the Israelites as well. "Solomon took a census of all the able-bodied male foreigners residing in Israel, after the census his father David had taken; and they were found to be 153,600. He assigned 70,000 of them to be carriers and 80,000 to be stonecutters in the hills, with 3,600 foremen over them to keep the people working." (2 Chronicles 2:17-18) No one conscripted by Solomon into these jobs has a choice in the matter, as far as I can tell from the text. We don't know whether the foremen who worked over them were kindhearted and reasonable or whether they were cruel but there is no doubt that this is a forced labor situation, not only for the foreigners but for the Israelites who were called up for the work. I suspect that at least one of the taskmasters over the Israelite workers was a cruel one. We learn his name in this next segment.

"Adoniram was in charge of forced labor." (1 Kings 5:14b) Since Adoniram is mentioned in the segment regarding the Israelites who were called up for the temple project, I assume he is an overseer of the Israelites and not of the foreign workers. The reason I believe he was a cruel taskmaster is because the people of Israel will stone him to death in 1 Kings 12:18 when Solomon's son and successor, Rehoboam, appoints him to go out and conscript even more people than Solomon conscripted for forced labor. Rehoboam does this in anger because the people appeal to him for relief from being conscripted for forced labor and for relief from heavy taxation. So when he sends Adoniram out to number the people and force many more of them into his service, they seize Adoniram and kill him. Then, because Rehoboam himself is an impulsive and unwise king, he loses hold of a united Israel when the ten northern tribes secede in protest over the way he is running the country.

But all that is some years away and our text from Chapter 5 concludes with this information: "Solomon had seventy thousand carriers and eighty thousand stonecutters in the hills, as well as thirty-three hundred foremen who supervised the project and directed the workers. At the king's command they removed from the quarry large block of high-grade stone to provide a foundation of dressed stone for the temple. The craftsmen of Solomon and Hiram and workers from Byblos cut and prepared the timber and stone for the building of the temple." (1 Kings 5:15:18) 2 Chronicles 2:18 lists thirty-six hundred foremen rather than thirty-three hundred but that is a minor point and may be due to the similarities in the shape of the number 3 and the number 6 in the original texts. If the original texts were unclear or damaged, that would explain why the author of 1 Kings 5 and the author of 2 Chronicles 2 have translated the number of foremen differently from each other.

This enormous undertaking is about to begin, so we'll close with the first verse of Chapter 6: "In the four hundred and eightieth year after the Israelites came out of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, the second month, he began to build the temple of the Lord." (1 Kings 6:1)

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

The Kings Of Israel And Judah. Day 17, Preparing To Build The Temple, Part One

While King David was alive he worked to make Solomon's job of building the temple easier by accumulating many of the materials for it. In today's text from 1 Kings 5 we'll look at some of the materials Solomon imported for use in the temple but first we'll learn what items David already had stored up for him. The books of 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles go along with 1 Kings and 2 Kings so we will be combining information from all these volumes in our study of the kings.

In 1 Chronicles 29 David told the assembled people that he was providing gold, silver, bronze, iron, onyx and turquoise and a variety of other gemstones, fine stone and marble. He asked the people what they would be willing to contribute for the construction of the temple and they donated gold, silver, bronze, iron, and precious stones. All these items have been kept in the treasury of the temple of the Lord under the care of a man named Jehiel the Gershonite ever since. Solomon also needs wood for building materials and in yesterday's text we found King Hiram of Tyre offering his hand of friendship to Solomon. King Hiram and King David had always been on good terms with each other and Hiram wants his alliance with Israel and his trade agreement with Israel to continue now that Solomon has succeeded his father as king.

Hiram sent envoys with gifts for Solomon and in today's passage Solomon sends a letter back to him (no doubt accompanied by many fine gifts) and in this letter he wants to purchase fine wood from Hiram and wants to hire Hiram's laborers for any price Hiram might want to name. "Solomon sent back this message to Hiram: 'You know that because of the wars waged against my father David from all sides, he could not build a temple for the name of his God until the Lord put his enemies under his feet. But now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side, and there is no adversary or disaster. I intend, therefore, to build a temple for the name of the Lord my God, as the Lord told my father David, when He said, 'Your son whom I will put on the throne in your place will build the temple for My name.' So give orders that cedars of Lebanon be cut for me. My men will work with yours, and I will pay for your men whatever wages you set. You know that we have no one so skilled in felling timber as the Sidonians.'" (1 Kings 5:2-6) Solomon clearly wants to continue trading with the kingdom of Tyre. The Sidonians are mentioned because Tyre and Sidon are often mentioned in the Bible in conjunction with each other. They were neighboring cities and were the two most important cities of all of ancient Phoenicia. 

Hiram is happy when he receives Solomon's friendly and respectful letter. He knows now that he can continue being on peaceful terms with Israel. He agrees to Solomon's request for the timber and tells him what he'd like sent from Israel in return. "When Hiram heard Solomon's message, he was greatly pleased and said, 'Praise be to the Lord today, for He has given David a wise son to rule over this great nation.' So Hiram sent word to Solomon: 'I have received the message you sent me and will do all you want in providing the cedar and juniper logs. My men will haul them down from Lebanon to the Mediterranean Sea, and I will float them as rafts by sea to the place you specify. There I will separate them and you can take them away. And you are to grant my wish by providing food for my royal household.'" (1 Kings 4:7-9)

We don't know whether Hiram ever forsook the gods of his people and gave his heart solely to the one true God. But what we do know is that he believes the God of Israel exists. What we do know is that he respects the God of Israel. Hiram praises the name of the Lord not in front of King Solomon or any of the people of Israel but in front of his own palace officials after one of them reads Solomon's letter to him. By this we know he is not mouthing empty words. He's free to say whatever he wants in his own palace in front of his own people. He doesn't have to speak words of praise that he doesn't mean. So whether or not he ever converted to the God of Israel, the thanks he gives Him is sincere. Hiram really is grateful to the Lord for placing a man on the throne of Israel who is reasonable and easy to deal with. He refers to Israel as a "great nation" and appears to want Solomon to succeed as king and appears to want to see Israel continuing to prosper.

Another thing we do know for sure from our passage today is that God always comes through on time. Solomon knows it's time to begin constructing the temple because the nation is enjoying an era of peace and prosperity. He does not have to turn his attentions to dealing with wars and disasters. He can concentrate on building the temple and building up the infrastructure of Israel. He has the fine metals and fine stones that his father and the people donated to the treasury for the temple but he doesn't have the lumber needed for such a large structure. At just the time he's wondering how and where to obtain lumber in the size and quality he needs, a king contacts him---a king whose nation has some of the tallest and finest (if not the finest) hardwood trees in the world. The Lord promises to provide His children's needs. (Philippians 4:19) In today's text we find Him providing a need for Solomon right on time.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

The Kings Of Israel And Judah. Day 16, Solomon's Fame; The King Of Tyre Wants An Alliance With Him

The remaining verses of Chapter 4 have to do with the great wisdom of Solomon that was given to him by the Lord.

"God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. Solomon's wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else, including Ethan the Ezrahite---wiser than Heman, Kalkol and Darda, the sons of Mahol." (1 Kings 4:29-31a) Ethan and Heman are mentioned in only one other place in the Bible. Ethan is the author of Psalm 89 which is a beautiful psalm of praise to the Lord that also includes references to the Lord's promises to David. Heman is the author of Psalm 88 in which he calls out to the Lord for help because he is in deep distress. The identities of Kalkol, Darda, and Mahol are not known.

Solomon is so wise that his fame spreads far and wide. Even the heathen peoples are talking about him with admiration. "And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five." (1 Kings 4:31b-32) 

Only two of the psalms in the Bible are attributed to Solomon: Psalm 72 and Psalm 127. Some scholars have interpreted this to mean that most of the songs he's credited with in 1 Kings 4 are songs other than hymns, not that it's sinful to write songs other than hymns as long as the lyrics aren't sinful. There is a volume known as "Psalms Of Solomon", not included in the Biblical canon, that contains eighteen psalms claiming to have been written by Solomon but his authorship cannot be proven, particularly because this book did not make its appearance until the first or second century AD. A great deal of other books appeared at that time, with their authorship attributed to the most famous characters of the Bible, but there is nothing to back up these claims. These books are commonly referred to as "pseudoepigrapha", which basically means "writings written under a pseudonym". They claim to have been written by various Old Testament patriarchs and prophets but such authorship cannot be proven and is almost certainly false in the case of most or all of these books. It's very suspicious that no one was aware of them or had made mention of them in any other writings until the books suddenly appeared on the scene in the first two centuries AD. This is why they are not included in the Holy Bible. If their authorship is not as it is claimed to be, nothing inside the books can be trusted.

Solomon was a brilliant man who was interested in many things. In fact, in Ecclesiastes he will mourn the fact that it's impossible for him to learn everything he wants to learn. The author of 1 Kings lists some of the subjects Solomon spent a lot of time thinking about and speaking about. "He spoke about plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also spoke about animals and birds, reptiles and fish." (1 Kings 4:33) I wouldn't be surprised if some of his songs were about the beauty of this world and everything in it. He enjoyed nature: both plant life and animal life. He had a concern for animals and said in Proverbs 12:10. "The righteous care for the needs of their animals." 

"From all nations people came to listen to Solomon's wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom. When Hiram king of Tyre heard that Solomon had been anointed king to succeed his father David, he sent his envoys to Solomon, because he had always been on friendly terms with David." (1 Kings 4:34-1 Kings 5:1) In 2 Samuel 5:11 we learned that Hiram sent envoys to David, along with cedar logs and carpenters and stonemasons to build a palace for David. He and David had a mutual respect for each other and, since the Phoenician people were not among those the Lord told the Israelites to destroy, there was nothing sinful about David making an alliance or having a friendship with a Phoenician king. We don't know whether Hiram continued worshiping the gods of his people or whether he converted to the God of Israel but it's possible to be good friends with someone whose beliefs differ from ours. I have friends who don't profess to be Christians but I respect them and they respect me. David and Hiram respected each other and Hiram wants to have a friendship with Solomon as he had with David. When he hears that Solomon has succeeded David as king of Israel, in the spirit of friendship he sends envoys to him. 

In tomorrow's passage we'll find these kings entering into a treaty with each other. Solomon will obtain cedar logs from Hiram---the same type of fine cedar logs Hiram sent to David for use in David's palace---and Solomon will offer to pay Hiram's workers whatever price the king wants to set. The two men will become allies and friends. Whether or not Hiram ever converted to the God of Israel, he obviously respected the faith of King David and King Solomon. He was happy to contribute anything he could to the building of a magnificent temple to the name of Israel's God. Many scholars believe it's highly possible that Hiram forsook the gods of his own nation in favor of Israel's God, and although there's no proof for or against this in the Bible, I like to think they are right. But even if they aren't, the friendship between Hiram and the house of David proves that we don't have to agree with someone on everything in order to love and respect them.

Monday, October 3, 2022

The Kings Of Israel And Judah. Day 15, The Prosperity Of The Nation And The Royal Household

Today's portion of Chapter 4 deals gives us an idea of just how materially prosperous was the reign of King Solomon. The citizens of Israel enjoyed plenty as did the people of the royal household. At no other time in the Scriptures do we find such prosperity in Israel as there was in Solomon's day.

"The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy. And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon's subjects all his life." (1 Kings 4:20-21) The peace of Solomon's reign was made possible because David and the army of Israel successfully repelled and subjugated many of Israel's enemies. The prosperity was also made possible by the fact that Israel made their subjects pay them tribute, which was the way things were done. But Solomon was a good steward of money and a wise investor, as evidenced by the financial advice he gives in the book of Proverbs, and he knew how to make money grow. In addition, he invested in prayer. He asked the Lord to bless the nation with prosperity and peace in Psalm 72.

Some of the words he penned in his prayer of Psalm 72 are as follows: "May the mountains bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness...May grain abound throughout the land; on the tops of the hills may it sway. May the crops flourish like Lebanon and thrive like the grass of the field." (Psalm 72:3,16) These blessings would provide the "eating and drinking" we find the people enjoying in our chapter today. He prayed for financial blessings for the nation as well (the "him" referred to in these verses is himself, the king): "May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores bring tribute to him. May the kings of Sheba and Seba present him gifts. " (Psalm 72:10) Psalm 72 has traditionally been attributed to Solomon as it is titled "of Solomon". However, I must point out that some scholars believe the title should be rendered "for Solomon" since at the end of the psalm it says, "This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse." (Psalm 72:20) If Solomon is not the author of this psalm and if David wrote this prayerful song on behalf of his son Solomon, then we find David investing in his son and in Israel by praying a prayer he expected to keep paying off long after his own time on earth was ended. 

Whether the author of Psalm 72 was David or Solomon or a combination of the two, (I personally hold to the theory that it was written mainly or entirely by Solomon as the king seems to be speaking of himself), the Lord answered the prayers of Psalm 72 in a big way. Our text today from 1 Kings 4 tells us that the people were enjoying their lives and enjoying an era of abundance. It's difficult for a person to derive a great deal of enjoyment from life when they are going without some of the most basic necessities, so we know by the words of today's text that the people had more than enough. They had so much that they rejoiced in the promised land more than they ever had before. We are about to look at how many provisions were necessary for the king's household each day, and by the amount of food necessary we can tell that the members of Solomon's family were being blessed with many children and that the royal household employed a large number of palace servants, shepherds, farmers, and other types of estate workers. In addition I am sure the royal household entertained Solomon's officials on a regular basis. In some nations we might find only the royal household enjoying plenty while the citizens go without, but that's not the case during Solomon's reign. His household is living luxuriously but not because the citizens have been driven into poverty. Everyone has more than enough to eat. 

"Solomon's daily provisions were thirty cors of the finest flour and sixty cors of meal, ten head of stall-fed cattle, twenty of pasture-fed cattle and a hundred sheep and goats, as well as deer, gazelles, roebucks and choice fowl." (1 Kings 4:22-23) A "cor" was term used for a measurement of dry volume and my Google results state that a cor was about six bushels, approximately 220-230 liters. In verses 22-23 we learn that the Israelite's main source of protein was a mix of domesticated and wild animals. The Lord multiplied their flocks and herds and He multiplied the animals of the fields, woods, and skies.

During Solomon's reign everyone enjoyed peace in addition to prosperity. "For he ruled over all the kingdoms west of the Euphrates River, from Tiphsah to Gaza, and had peace on all sides. During Solomon's lifetime Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, everyone under their own vine and under their own fig tree." (1 Kings 4:24-25) To say that everyone "lived under their own vine and under their own fig tree" was a proverbial expression. It indicated not having to spend all one's time just scratching out a meager living. It indicated not being troubled by enemies. To be able to sit in the shade of one's own vine or fig tree meant the person was not enslaved or oppressed by an enemy, that the person owned the property on which he enjoyed the shade, that the person had the time to enjoy the shade because he didn't have to toil all the day long, and that life was pleasant and fulfilling. 

"Solomon had four thousand stalls for chariot horses, and twelve thousand horses." (1 Kings 4:26) Were these for the use of the king's special guard? Were these horses and chariots maintained for use by the army should Israel be attacked by an enemy? We don't know. We know more about where they came from than what they were used for. A lot of them came from plundering the enemies Israel conquered during the days of King David. You'll recall that the army took the best of the horses and chariots for themselves whenever they won a battle. A lot of the horses likely came as tribute from the nations that were subject to Israel. A lot of them were purchased by Solomon from Egypt and Kue according to 1 Kings 10:28 and 2 Chronicles 1:16. Kue is believed to have been located within what is now Turkey. Sadly, the fact that Solomon purchases large numbers of horses from other nations and, more specifically, that he obtains them from Egypt is a violation of this very clear command from the Lord: "The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, 'You are not to go back that way again.'" (Deuteronomy 17:16) 

Something to keep in mind is that when the author of 1 Kings tells us of the glory of Solomon's reign, he's probably speaking of it as a whole, as he looks back on it. The king's procuring of the many horses (a violation of Deuteronomy 17:16) and his procuring of many wives (a violation of Deuteronomy 17:17) are things that did not happen immediately upon his ascension to the throne, in my opinion. I think he slipped into these behaviors gradually. Most people don't suddenly slide into a deep pit of sin with no warning; it tends to happen gradually, by one infraction of God's laws at a time. That's why it's so important to daily commune with the Lord and to daily read God's word so He can help us catch wrong behaviors while they are still "small", for lack of a better word. It's far better to catch and correct something in its early stages than to become enslaved by a sin, which is something that hurts us and everyone around us. I think the Lord's command for kings to study His law every day of their lives was intended as a valuable tool to prevent them from becoming enslaved to sin, for He said that the king's copy of His law was to be with the king at all times and that the king "is to read it every day of his life". (Deuteronomy 17:19)

But Solomon's gradual slide into sin is something we'll learn more and more about as we continue on through the book. Today's section concludes by telling us that the men he put in charge of collecting taxes were faithful and honest in their duties. They were not defrauding the people by taking more than they were supposed to take. They were not embezzling any of the goods either, so Solomon's household is not running short of supplies. As a result, the people still have plenty and Solomon is able to provide for his wives and children, his extended family and their spouses and children, and all his workers. Even Solomon's horses are provided for out of the quotas of barley and grain. "The district governors, each in his month, supplied provisions for King Solomon and all who came to the king's table. They also brought to the proper place their quotas of barley and straw for the chariot horses and the other horses." (1 Kings 4:27-28) 

When things are done in an orderly way and in an honest way, it is a blessing upon everyone. If you have time you might like to read all of Psalm 72 because in it Solomon prayed for the Lord to give him the wisdom to be fair and just in all his dealings with the people. He asked the Lord to help him deliver the needy and afflicted. He asked the Lord to enable him to rescue those who are weak and who are being oppressed. Because Solomon had a heart of compassion for the people and sought to do them good, the Lord made sure he achieved these goals. Solomon has his faults but he cared about his nation and wanted wonderful things to happen for the nation and its citizens.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

The Kings Of Israel And Judah. Day 14, Solomon's Officials And Governors

The first half of Chapter 4 tells us who Solomon appointed in his government.

"So King Solomon ruled over all Israel. And these were his chief officials: Azariah son of Zadok---the priest; Elihoreph and Ahijah, sons of Shisha---secretaries; Jehoshaphat son of Alihud---recorder; Benaiah son of Jehoiada---commander in chief; Zadok and Abiathar---priests." (1 Kings 2:1-4) Abiathar and Zadok were both priests during King David's administration. They were both still priests at the beginning of King Solomon's administration but, as we learned earlier in the book of 1 Kings, he banished Abiathar from his priestly duties and from Jerusalem itself. Jehoshaphat was one of David's recorders and Solomon keeps him on as well as Benaiah, who was formerly the captain of the king's guard for both David and Solomon but who has been promoted by Solomon as general over the whole army. Shisha was a secretary to David and now his sons are secretaries for Solomon, presumably because Shisha is now deceased or too infirm to continue working. He must have done his duties well since Solomon selects his sons to carry on his work. 

"Azariah son of Nathan---in charge of the district governors; Zabud son of Nathan---a priest and adviser to the king; Ahishar---palace administrator; Adoniram son of Abda---in charge of forced labor." (1 Kings 4:5-6) We find two sons of a man named Nathan mentioned here and no one knows whether this Nathan might be David's son Nathan or whether this is a reference to Nathan the prophet. The fact that Solomon employs two of Nathan's sons suggests he has some sort of close connection to the royal family, either because he is related or because he was part of David's administration. 

"Solomon had twelve district governors over all Israel, who supplied provisions for the king and the royal household. Each one had to provide supplies for one month in the year. These are their names: Ben-Hur---in the hill country of Ephraim." (1 Kings 4:7-8) The men on the list are tax collectors, though the taxes don't always take the form of money. Grain and livestock can be used for taxes and, since this taxation is for the purpose of supplying the royal household with food, grain and livestock are arguably more convenient than money because the money would have to then be taken to purchase grain and livestock. The Ben-Hur mentioned here is not the Ben-Hur of Hollywood, who was a fictional character whose story took place during the time of Christ in the first century AD. 

The list of tax collectors continues: "Ben-Deker---in Makaz, Shaalbim, Beth Shemesh and Elon Bethhanan; Ben-Hesed---in Arruboth (Sokoh and all the land of Hepher were his); Ben-Abinadab---in Naphoth Dor (he was married to Taphath daughter of Solomon)." (1 Kings 4:10-11) Scholars feel our chapter was written during the middle or latter years of Solomon's reign or even later. If Ben-Abinadab was appointed at the beginning of Solomon's reign, then he must have married Solomon's daughter at some point later on, for Solomon was quite a young man when he assumed the throne and had no grown daughter for Ben-Abindadab to marry. But since our chapter was likely composed at a time when Solomon's children were all grown, there is no contradiction here whatsoever when the author states in parenthesis that Ben-Abinadab was married to Taphath. Since this information is enclosed in parenthesis, it may not even have appeared in an earlier version of this list but was added in later.

More tax collectors were the following: "Baana son of Alihud---in Taanach and Megiddo, and in all of Beth Shan to Abel Meholah across to Jokmeam; Ben-Geber---in Ramoth Gilead (the settlements of Jair son of Manasseh in Gilead were his, as well as the region of Argob in Bashan and its sixty large walled cities with bronze gate bars); Ahinadab son of Iddo---in Mahanaim; Ahimaaz---in Naphtali (he had married Basemath daughter of Solomon); Baana son of Hushai---in Asher and in Aloth; Jehoshaphat son of Paruah---in Issachar; Shimei son of Ela---in Benjamin; Geber son of Uri---in Gilead (the country of Sihon king of the Amorites and the country of Og king of Bashan). He was the only governor over the district." (1 Kings 4:12-19) The Shimei mentioned here is not the Shimei whom Solomon put to death. That Shimei was also a Benjamite but he was the son of a man named Gera. The Shimei who was a tax collector was the son of a man named Ela.

Again we learn that a daughter of Solomon married one of his tax collectors. The information that Basemath married Ahimaaz is in parenthesis, as was the information that Ben-Abindabad married Taphath, and may have been added in at a later date. If Solomon had been middle aged or older when he became king, I'd assume that he appointed Ahimaaz and Ben-Abinadab as tax collectors because they were his sons-in-law. But instead what must have happened here is that these two men proved themselves so trustworthy and so hardworking that Solomon considered them suitable mates for the princesses. A tax collector was a very high-ranking and well-respected official in Solomon's day and although in a sense his daughters might be "marrying down" by marrying men who were not princes, there were no princes for these young ladies to marry who would not be heathen princes. It's to Solomon's credit that he did not marry his daughters to foreign princes, which most kings of his era would have done in order to form political alliances. Instead he married them to Israelite men who worshiped the one true God, men who were faithful to their God and their king and their country, men who were hard workers and good providers. Who wouldn't want their daughters to marry men who love the Lord and who will be good to their daughters and who will work hard to take care of them? 

As we conclude today's study I'd like to bring up this question: How many children did King Solomon have? Only three are named in the Scriptures. His daughters Taphath and Basemath are named in 1 Kings 4 and then his son and successor, Rehoboam, is first mentioned in 1 Kings 11. Solomon will marry seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, which has led some scholars to estimate he must have fathered hundreds of children and possibly a thousand or more children. Other scholars, however, suspect Solomon was not very fertile and that he only managed to father three children in spite of having a thousand women with whom he presumably slept with at least once. In fact, if he had difficulty fathering children, this may help explain why he took so many wives and concubines. In his day it was believed that infertility was only on the woman's side, so if a couple could not conceive children it was assumed that the woman was barren. We must take into account, though, that Solomon married some of these women as part of political alliances and not for love, for lust, or because he wanted to father children with any particular one of them. Also the Bible will tell us that Solomon loved women, especially foreign women, and he will say himself in the book of Ecclesiastes that he denied himself nothing he wanted. It is believed that he had excessive sexual appetites and that he satisfied these appetites (within marriage) by taking all these wives and concubines. So there may be a combination of reasons for why he took so many wives but I wouldn't be surprised if one reason he did so was because he had difficulty fathering children. He needed a son and heir. 

Rehoboam is the son of one of his foreign wives, Naamah the Ammonite, and if Solomon had had a son with one of his Israelite wives then it seems to me that son would have succeeded him as king and not the son of a foreign wife. Therefore, I lean more toward the theory that Solomon never fathered more than the three children named in the Bible. But another option to consider is that Solomon had more than one son and that they were all by foreign wives and that Rehoboam was the firstborn son among them. Having no son by an Israelite wife but having at least one son by a foreign wife would put the oldest of these half-foreign sons in line for the throne. There would be no need for the author to name any of these other sons since all the children of a king's minor wives and concubines were not usually listed in the Bible. This brings up the question of why two of Solomon's daughters were named. The Bible often doesn't mention daughters by name at all, so were these daughters by an Israelite wife? Did these daughters have the same mother as Rehoboam? Or were these two mentioned only because they married two of Solomon's officials? 

This mystery is interesting but we are not going to be able to solve it with the scant amount of material we are offered in the Scriptures regarding the offspring of King Solomon. All we know for sure is he had two daughters who married two of his officials and that his half-Ammonite son, Rehoboam, will inherit the throne. Rehoboam will not be able to keep Israel united, sadly, and the kingdom will split in two during his time on the throne. But that tale is for another day and what we can take away from today's passage is that Solomon ran his government in a very orderly fashion, that he appointed good and honest men to his top positions, and that he was careful to select hardworking Israelite men for the two daughters named here instead of marrying them to foreign pagan princes even though that might have been more advantageous for him politically. This tells me he cared about the future of his children and grandchildren, as any father should.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

The Kings Of Israel And Judah. Day 13, Solomon Makes A Wise Ruling With The Lord's Help

In yesterday's passage of Scripture we found Solomon asking the Lord for the wisdom to lead the nation and to judge cases fairly. Today we find him judging a case where there were no witnesses and where it's just one woman's word against another woman's word. The wisdom the Lord granted Solomon is going to come into play here because from a human standpoint it's impossible to be able to tell which woman is being truthful. The Lord puts a very effective strategy into Solomon's mind and by using this strategy he is able to judge the case rightly.

Our text today begins like this: "Now two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him." (1 Kings 3:16) These two women appear before his throne to have a child custody case heard. At first I wondered why the author felt it necessary to let us know these women are "prostitutes" because I wasn't sure what bearing their manner of life has on the dispute that's being brought to the king. But the more I thought about it, I believe this information tells us something important about Solomon's character and about his fairness in hearing and judging legal cases. He does not discriminate against women and he does not discriminate against people whose mode of living is not morally upright. His subjects are granted equal opportunity to come into his judgment hall for justice. This would not be so in many other nations of his time.

"One of them said, 'Pardon me, my lord. This woman and I live in the same house, and I had a baby while she was there with me. The third day after my child was born, this woman also had a baby. We were alone; there was no one in the house but the two of us.'" (1 Kings 3:17-18) Some scholars argue that the Hebrew word that is translated as "prostitutes" can also be translated "innkeepers". I do not feel that's the case with these two ladies. If they were innkeepers then they wouldn't be all alone in a house together. If they were innkeepers they should be making enough money to have at least one servant to help them deliver their children or to hire a midwife. But they are alone in a house with no servants and no money with which to hire a midwife. There are no husbands or live-in boyfriends on the premises either, which lends further credence to the theory that these women are prostitutes and that their babies were fathered months earlier by men who visited their house of prostitution. When the first woman had her baby, the other woman helped with her delivery. When the second woman had her baby three days later, the first woman helped her deliver it. No one but these two women has laid eyes on the infants and therefore no one can give testimony as to which baby belongs to which woman. That's why they've brought their dispute to the king because one child is now dead and they are arguing over who is the mother of the living child.

The first woman continues laying out her case before the king. "During the night this woman's son died because she lay on him. Then she got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while your servant was asleep. She put him by her breast and put her dead son by my breast. The next morning, I got up to nurse my son---and he was dead! But when I looked at him closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn't the son I had borne.'" (1 Kings 3:19-21) Why would a woman switch a dead child for a living child? I can think of several reasons, the first being that it was of the utmost importance in ancient times to have a son and it was a matter of pride and prestige to be the parent of a male child. A second possible theory is that, assuming she knows the identity of he father, she might hope to gain some financial support from him if he accepts the child as his son. A third theory is that her guilt and her grief are so great that she can't bear them. Because she can't accept the loss of her son, she intends to block out the incident altogether by convincing herself and everyone else that the living child is her son. 

As soon as the first woman finishes presenting her case, an argument ensues with each woman claiming maternity of the living child. "The other woman said, 'No! The living one is my son; the dead one is yours.' But the first one insisted, 'No! The dead one is yours; the living one is mine.' And so they argued before the king. The king said, 'This one says, 'My son is alive and your son is dead,' while that one says, 'No! Your son is dead and my son is alive.'" (1 Kings 3:22-23) Who can discern the truth of such a dispute? The babies were born only three days apart and would be similar in size and weight. If the younger baby were born bigger than the older baby, even a medical doctor or midwife of Solomon's time would likely not be able to tell which one belonged to the woman who gave birth first. No DNA tests were available then either. So all Solomon has is one woman's word against another woman's word. There is no third party to back up either of their statements. But because the Lord granted him the wisdom he asked for, he devises a strategy that's guaranteed to reveal the identity of the mother of the living child.

"Then the king said, 'Bring me a sword.' So they brought a sword for the king. He then gave an order: 'Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.'" (1 Kings 3:24-25) Of course Solomon doesn't intend to harm the child but the women don't know this. They don't know Solomon personally and cutting a child in two this way is something I can easily imagine a pagan king of ancient times doing, either for his own amusement or out of irritation that two female prostitutes dared to come into his court or because he lacks compassion and thinks this is a legitimate solution to the problem. Solomon makes his stunning pronouncement and waits for what he expects to happen to happen: the woman whose son is alive would rather give the child to the other woman than see a hair on his head harmed.

"The woman whose son was alive was deeply moved out of love for her son and said to the king, 'Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don't kill him!' But the other said, 'Neither you nor I shall have him. Cut him in two!' Then the king gave his ruling: 'Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother.' When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice." (1 Kings 3:26-28) 

The first woman was telling the truth. Her son was born three days before the other woman's son. The other woman's son died in the night and the other woman swapped the babies out. Earlier in today's study I brought up several possible reasons to explain why the second woman swapped the babies. Whatever her motivation might have been, she displays a callous disregard for the life of the other woman's son. She'd rather see the child killed than give him back to his mother. I can't say whether that's because if she can't have him she doesn't want anyone to have him or whether she's afraid to admit to the crime of swapping the babies and then lying about it under oath before the king. I don't know what her penalty would have been if she'd admitted to swapping the babies and lying about it but I doubt Solomon would have had her put to death. She has committed some crimes here but is not guilty of a capital crime. A child is dead but its death was accidental. In our times it is not recommended to co-sleep with infants this young due to the risk of accidental suffocation. But in times past, though the risk was probably understood, co-sleeping was often unavoidable due to the lack of central heating (the baby could not stay warm enough in a separate sleeping area) or due to the lack of space (poor people had only a tent or very tiny home where there was only one area available for everyone to sleep). 

Solomon solves a case that would have been unsolvable for a king who has not asked for and received wisdom from the one true God who knows all things. A king of another nation might actually have cut the child in two. Or a king of another nation might have ordered the two women tortured until one confessed to swapping the babies out, but that's not a foolproof method because if one woman were physically or psychologically unable to take the pain as long as the other, she might have confessed to a crime she didn't commit. There was really no way, medically or legally, to decide this case rightly without the Lord's help. Solomon has the Lord's help and makes the correct ruling. His fame---and the fame of the Lord who granted him such wisdom---spreads far and wide.

Friday, September 30, 2022

The Kings Of Israel And Judah. Day 12, Solomon Asks The Lord For Wisdom

In the first half of Chapter 3 the Lord invites Solomon to ask Him for big things. Solomon asks for wisdom and the Lord is pleased with this request. But before we arrive at that portion of today's text the author provides us with some additional information about the early years of Solomon's reign.

"Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter. He brought her to the City of David until he finished building his palace and the temple of the Lord, and the wall around Jerusalem." (1 Kings 3:1) It was common in ancient times as part of a political alliance for a king to marry a close family member of another king's family. Pharaoh's daughter is the first of Solomon's many foreign wives. The Bible does not prohibit a man from marrying a foreign wife if she is willing to convert to the God of Israel. We don't know whether Pharaoh's daughter forsook the false gods of Egypt and gave her heart to the one true God but most Bible scholars appear to hold that opinion. 

Many of Solomon's later wives did not convert to the God of Israel, or perhaps they mixed the worship of the Lord with the worship of pagan deities, for in Chapter 11 we'll learn that he built pagan altars to please his foreign wives and that he was even drawn into dabbling in idolatry himself. However, Chapter 11 names the gods to whom he built altars and none of them were Egyptian gods. This has led scholars to believe his Egyptian wife converted to the God of Israel, especially since Solomon married her during the time in his life when he was still maintaining a faithful relationship with the Lord. 

Before the temple was built the people were still making sacrifices and offerings on the hilltops instead of solely at the tent of the Lord. "The people, however, were still sacrificing at the high places, because a temple had not yet been built for the Name of the Lord." (1 Kings 3:2) This is in violation of Leviticus 17:8-9 where the Lord told the people that none of them, including foreign converts, was to make an offering or sacrifice anywhere other than at the doorway of the tent (the tabernacle) of the Lord. David brought the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem a long time ago and it is housed in a tent there in Solomon's day but the tabernacle is at Gibeon. Without the ark and the tabernacle in the same place, the people have not yet come to regard Jerusalem as the central location of worship for the nation. We don't find the Lord rebuking the people for still sacrificing at various altars they've set up around the nation and this could be because none of the kings of Israel have so far reunited the ark and the tabernacle to create a center of religious activity at which sacrifices are made. Some people are sacrificing at Jerusalem, some at Gibeon, and some at hilltop altars dedicated to the Lord. 

"Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places." (1 Kings 3:3) Solomon himself has utilized hilltop altars and I presume these are not pagan altars that were repurposed for use in the worship of the Lord but that they are new altars set up in the Lord's name. Again, this is in violation of the Lord's command, but we don't see the Lord reprimanding Solomon for it. 

Solomon makes a special trip to Gibeon to offer an enormous number of sacrifices to the Lord. "The king went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, for that was the most important high place, and Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar." (1 Kings 3:4) We've already been told that Solomon loves the Lord and demonstrates his love for the Lord. He may not yet be making his offerings and sacrifices at a centralized location, and he may not yet be commanding the people to do likewise, but his heart at this point in time is devoted to the Lord. The Lord knows Solomon's heart and invites him to ask great things of Him. "At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, 'Ask for whatever you want Me to give you." (1 Kings 3:5) 

Some scholars interpret the Lord's words as a blank check. They feel Solomon could have asked for literally anything (anything that wasn't sinful) and the Lord would have granted it. What I think is happening here is that the Lord knows what's troubling Solomon the most and He says to him, "Pour out your heart to Me. Tell Me what you're concerned about. Ask Me what you want to ask Me." The Lord is never surprised by anything. Solomon isn't going to ask Him for something that catches Him off guard. The Lord knows that Solomon's primary concern is that he is too young and too inexperienced to lead the nation wisely and to discern innocence from guilt in the capital cases that will come before him. The Lord is aware that these thoughts are heavy on Solomon's heart. 

Solomon is surprised and humbled by the Lord's invitation. Even though wisdom has been on his mind, has he not ever prayed for wisdom before? It appears not. It could be that he loves the Lord and desires to serve Him but has not yet developed a close personal relationship with Him. In that case, it may be that Solomon has never felt bold enough to present his request to the Lord. So the Lord comes to him instead and Solomon is filled with grateful praise for the Lord's goodness. "Solomon answered, 'You have shown great kindness to Your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to You and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.'" (1 Kings 3:6) He thanks the Lord for showing him the same kindness He showed to David in the past.

Encouraged to say what is on his heart, Solomon reveals what has been troubling him. "Now, Lord my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give Your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of Yours?" (1 Kings 3:7-9) Solomon says, "This job is too big for me! This job is too big for anyone to perform in a godly way without Your help. I want to honor You by leading Your people in the right ways. I want to be able to discern the truth when cases are brought before me. I am young and inexperienced. The weight of the responsibility of leading these people is so heavy it threatens to crush anyone who is under such a load. Without Your guidance and strength, I will fail. But with Your help I will be able to do good things for the nation."

The Lord is not surprised by Solomon's request. He knows what is uppermost in Solomon's mind. But He also knows that many kings of the earth would have asked for something different if He had extended the same invitation to them. They would have asked for blessings upon themselves instead of asking to be a blessing to their people. "The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, 'Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for---both wealth and honor---so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in obedience to Me and keep My decrees and My commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.'" (1 Kings 3:10-14) 

We don't know how old Solomon was when he became king. Modern theologians tend to place his age at his coronation at anywhere from eighteen to twenty but in times past it has been suggested that he was as young as twelve or thirteen. We will find him reigning for forty years which means he did not live as long as his father David did, for even if he were at the upper estimate of twenty at his coronation, this means he only lived to age sixty instead of age seventy like his father. The Lord promised him a long life "if you walk in obedience to Me and keep My decrees and My commands" but Solomon's heart won't be as steadfastly faithful to the Lord as David's heart was. The author of 1 Kings will tell us that his many wives "led him astray" and that "he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done". (1 Kings 11:4,6) This is likely the reason he does not live an especially long life. 

But here in 1 Kings 3 he has not yet taken all those foreign wives and his heart still belongs to the Lord alone. He is still living by a principle we'll find the Lord Jesus recommending in the New Testament: "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (Matthew 6:33) Solomon made a godly request of the Lord in asking for His help to lead the nation. He is seeking the Lord's kingdom and His righteousness. The Lord is pleased with this request and gives him many blessings in addition to granting his request. Solomon goes home to Jerusalem in a spirit of rejoicing. "Then Solomon awoke---and he realized it had been a dream. He returned to Jerusalem, stood before the ark of the Lord's covenant and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then he gave a feast for all his court." (1 Kings 3:15)