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)