Thursday, May 19, 2022

1 Kings 4

1 Kings 4: Solomon’s Officials and Governors, Solomon’s Daily Provisions, Solomon’s Wisdom


Up to this point 1 Kings has been focusing on the establishment of Solomon’s kingdom. Continuing in that theme, the first 19 verses of this chapter list out a number of the key officials and governors under him. I don’t really have much to say about this, except that:

  • Verse 2 calls out Azariah son of Zadok as “priest,” and verse 4 calls out Zadok and Abiathar as “priests,” even though Solomon removed Abiathar from the priesthood in 2:13–46. I assume the differentiation between “priest” and “priests” means that Azariah is the High Priest, but I don’t know why Abiathar is listed as any kind of priest.
  • A man named Ben-Hur is listed in verse 8 as one of the governors, but I don’t think the movie(s) of the same name (or the book upon which they were based) are named for this man1.

After these lists of officials under Solomon, we get one of the most upbeat verses in all of the Bible:

The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy. (verse 20)

Perhaps someone can find an even more upbeat verse, it’s not a competition, but regardless, the author is painting a very good picture of the state of the nation of Israel at this point! We’re further told that Solomon rules not only over Israel but over all of the kingdoms, “from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt” (verse 21), who bring him tribute. I couldn’t find a great map illustrating this, but the one at this page is pretty good.

With all of that tribute coming in, Solomon’s has a lot of food at his disposal, and we’re told how much of it he’s consuming per day:

  • 5 metric tons of flour
  • 10 metric tons of meal
  • 10 stall-fed cattle and 20 pasture-fed cattle2
  • 100 sheep and goats
  • Additional deer, gazelles, roebucks, and fowl

Now… the passage calls this “Solomon’s daily provisions” (verse 22), but I think it’s pretty clear it doesn’t mean that Solomon himself is eating 30 cattle and 100 sheep/goats, etc. every day. I don’t know whether this is Solomon’s household, his officials, or how wide the consumption is cast when it says these are “his” daily provisions. I suppose it doesn’t matter, though; the point is not one of precision—e.g. I’m sure it wasn’t exactly 30 cattle every single day, it was 40 some days, and 20 some days, and 35, some days, and…—the point is simply to illustrate that the nation is prosperous under Solomon’s rule.

Regardless, we’re also told of the thousands of horses Solomon has, including chariot horses, which is not insignificant: at this point in history, having a lot of horses, and the ability to use them, is a sign of military strength. (Though… see below.)

And finally, the passage comes back to the topic of Solomon’s wisdom:

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. And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. 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. 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. (verses 29–34)

And, again, I’m not thinking that the numbers are intended to be precise—though the number of 1,005 songs made me smile; why a thousand and five?—it’s just intended to give an overall impression of a very wise, very knowledgeable man. And, of course, I have no idea who Ethan the Ezrahite is, nor Heman, Kalkol and Darda, the sons of Mahol.


One thing that strikes me about this passage: again, for the second passage in a row, we see a mostly positive picture of Solomon, except for one area where he directly violates a commandment of God! In the last passage we had a glowing passage talking about his wisdom, but also pointing out that he’d intermarried with an Egyptian woman, which was expressly forbidden. Now, in this passage, we have a glowing recitation of all his wealth, the lands he rules over, and calling out his wisdom once again, but also pointing out that he has accumulated many horses, which is, again, expressly forbidden!

I’ll quote the ESV Study Bible notes again:

1 Kings 4:28 horses and swift steeds. The darker side of Solomon is once again hinted at (see also v. 26), even in the midst of the glories of the early part of his reign. Deuteronomy 17:16 forbids the king from acquiring “many horses for himself” and forbids him further from making the people “return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses” (Deut. 17:16; cf. 1 Kings 10:26–29).

It’s like the author of 1/2 Kings is trying to hit us over the head with it: yes, Solomon is wise, and the nation of Israel is at its zenith under his rule, and yet, for all his wisdom, he broke numerous of God’s commandments.

The passage mentioned in Deuteronomy 17 is interesting, because that passage is actually a set of rules for Israelite kings. And yes, it specifically forbids the king from accumulating a lot of horses, but it also includes a command that when the king first takes the throne he is to write out on a scroll a copy of the law; furthermore, he is to read that scroll daily. There is no mention of any king (including David) doing this, but even if Solomon did so half-heartedly, would he not occasionally have come across mention that kings weren’t supposed to intermarry, and then look around at his hundreds of foreign wives, and have second thoughts?

  1. A quick Google search indicated that the man “Judah Ben-Hur” in the movies—a fictional character—is supposed to be a contemporary of Jesus, so obviously he wasn’t supposed to be this Ben-Hur who lived thousands of years before Jesus, but who knows, maybe the author got inspiration for the name from this Ben-Hur? ↩︎

  2. I don’t know the difference between grain-fed and pasture-fed cattle, but the author felt it was important to differentiate them. ↩︎

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