1 Kings 9:10–28: Solomon’s Other Activities
At this point Solomon has now built the Temple, as well as his palace(s), including the building built specifically for his wife, the daughter of the Pharaoh of Egypt. A lot of the timber used in all of this construction came from Hiram, king of Tyre; we read about Solomon’s deal with Hiram back in Chapter 5, in what sounded like a mutually-beneficial pact between the two kings. Now that construction is complete it seems that Solomon wants to show even more appreciation to Hiram—though his gesture may not be as kind as he thinks it is:
At the end of twenty years, during which Solomon built these two buildings—the temple of the LORD and the royal palace—King Solomon gave twenty towns in Galilee to Hiram king of Tyre, because Hiram had supplied him with all the cedar and juniper and gold he wanted. But when Hiram went from Tyre to see the towns that Solomon had given him, he was not pleased with them. “What kind of towns are these you have given me, my brother?” he asked. And he called them the Land of Kabul, a name they have to this day. Now Hiram had sent to the king 120 talents of gold. (verses 10–14)
A footnote for verse 13 indicates that, "Kabul sounds like the Hebrew for good-for-nothing," so it seems like Solomon didn’t hand over his best towns to Hiram. The ESV Study Bible notes go even further; in the ESV it’s translated “Land of Cabul,” and they make the following note on verse 13:
1 Kings 9:13 land of Cabul. The name probably comes from Hebrew kabal, from which is derived the noun kebel (“fetters”) that is found in Ps. 149:8, a psalm that celebrates the supremacy of Israel over the nations. Hiram calls the land “fettered” because this word reflects the nature of his relationship with Solomon, as can be seen in his continuing willingness, even though he is displeased, to send men to sea to bring back more treasures for the Israelite king (1 Kings 9:26–28; 10:11–12, 22).
Regardless of all of that, the 120 talents of gold were also not mentioned in the original treaty between the two kings, so I’m reading this as tribute that Hiram is paying to Solomon, from the lesser king to the greater.
We are then reminded and/or told in verses 15–19 about a number of construction projects Solomon undertood:
- The aforementioned Temple and palace(s)
- The terraces
- The wall of Jerusalem
- The territories of Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer, Lower Beth Horon, Baalath, Tadmor
- His store cities
- The towns for his chariots and horses
- Maybe I don’t have to call this out again, but… Israelite kings weren’t supposed to have horses in the first place, and yet Solomon has so many that they need separate towns!
And before we go on, some of those things call out for further description.
First off, the terraces (also translated the Millo), which sound like a complex engineering project; from the ESV Study Bible notes for a verse in the companion passage in 2 Samuel:
2 Sam. 5:9 the Millo. Cf. 1 Kings 9:15, 24; 11:27; 1 Chron. 11:8; 2 Chron. 32:5. The Hebrew word means “the fill.” It was a series of terrace walls, built on a steep slope, supporting the fill behind it in order to create level areas. Houses were then built on these artificial platforms, which were connected by narrow staircases. It was apparently the king’s duty to look after this construction. During heavy rainfalls, the fill became heavy and increased the pressure on the terrace walls, thus requiring regular maintenance of these walls. When this construction was neglected, the houses would fall down the steep slope and the city would disintegrate. Remains of these supporting walls have been found on the eastern slope of the city of David.
Second, there’s the territory of Gezer, the story of which is told in verses 16–17: although it wasn’t recounted at the time—at least, not that I recall—the Pharaoh of Egypt had captured this territory on Solomon’s behalf as a wedding gift to his daughter. At the time Solomon married her Gezer still had Canaanite residents, so Pharaoh burned it down—requiring Solomon to now rebuild the area.
Regardless, as we go back into the text, we’re told in verses 20–23 that the ones who were forced to do all of the work were the former residents of the land “whom the Israelites could not exterminate,” from way back in the books of Joshua and Judges. The Israelites weren’t used for conscripted labour because they were used for Israel’s army, government, and oversight of these building projects.
At the end of the passage we’re told that Solomon “fulfilled the temple obligations” (verse 25) by sacrificing burnt and fellowship offerings three times a year, and that he also built ships which brought back gold from Ophir. We’re told that Hiram provided sailors to serve in Solomon’s fleet, since they were more experienced than the Israelites, so I guess the relationship between the two kings remained, regardless of bruised egos.
In this passage we start to see the beginnings of Solomon’s downfall. A man who has had had his wisdom called out for praise numerous times in previous passages is now starting to act unwisely.
I’ll quote the ESV Study Bible notes again:
1 Kings 9:10–10:29 Glory under a Cloud. Solomon’s rule over the surrounding kingdoms, combined with his status in the world in general (4:21–34), put him in a position to build and dedicate the temple (5:1–8:66). First Kings 9:10–10:29 now considers the glory of this Solomonic empire in the light of 8:22–53 and 9:1–9. Earlier themes are picked up again (Solomon’s dealings with Hiram; his use of forced labor; foreigners coming to listen to his great wisdom), but they are repeated in a way that hints not of wisdom but of foolishness. The glory of the Solomonic empire is glory under a cloud, destined to fade away.
I find it interesting to compare this interaction with Hiram and the previous interaction in Chapter 5. In both cases Solomon seems to be the one with the larger measure of power, yet there seems to be more mutual respect in Chapter 5 and less here in Chapter 9. In fact, I read this as Solomon growing in arrogance instead of in wisdom. (Or, if we’re charitable, in addition to wisdom.) Solomon is God’s chosen king, and his building of the Temple demonstrates that, but this passage seems to indicate that this is making Solomon think very highly of himself instead of making him humble.
What’s most striking about this, to me, is not the seeming arrogance of giving Hiram a bunch of towns that he’d find insulting, it’s that the gesture was unnecessary in the first place! They already had a deal in place—one which they were both happy with—so there was no need for this “gift.” It feels to me like the kind of unthinking thing a person does when they don’t feel they need to think about the reactions of the other people involved. Or… like leaving a tip (in a country where tips are the cultural norm), but leaving such a small tip that it’s more insulting than not having left one in the first place.
Now… one could also look at Hiram’s reaction as an over reaction. He just received twenty towns for free! But the focus of the passage isn’t on Hiram, it’s on Solomon: as wise as Solomon was, is this another instance of him acting unwisely?
The other residents of the land
All the way back in the books of Joshua and Judges we learned that the Israelites had not obeyed God fully in ridding the land of its previous inhabitants, and we knew that it was going to cause problems going forward. It seems that Solomon is more than happy to use these people as a conscripted labour force, but the ESV Study Bible notes point out that there’s more going on in the text than just free labour:
1 Kings 9:15–25 the account of the forced labor. This is another section that refers the reader back to 5:1–18. Here it is clarified that Solomon did not use his task force of 30,000 only for the temple but also for his other building operations, and that it did not include his Israelite subjects (who had other jobs to do), but only Canaanite laborers. The significance of this delayed clarification becomes clear in the authors’ associating these Canaanites with Pharaoh’s daughter (9:24). She was first introduced (waiting for her palace) in 3:1, using language reminiscent of the Deuteronomic warnings about intermarriage with foreigners (Deut. 7:1–6; precisely those Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites mentioned in 1 Kings 9:20) because of the danger of apostasy. Their appearance here along with Pharaoh’s daughter serves to prepare the reader for Solomon’s apostasy. He will be seduced by the other gods (11:2), even though he is for the moment an orthodox worshiper in the temple (9:25).
I started to make a very snarky response to verse 25:
Three times a year Solomon sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings on the altar he had built for the LORD, burning incense before the LORD along with them, and so fulfilled the temple obligations. (verse 25, emphasis added)
That wording doesn’t make it sound like Solomon is worshipping with all his heart; it makes it sound like he’s doing the bare minimum; however, this is a case where it’s worth comparing the NIV translation with other translations; for example, here’s the same verse from the ESV:
Three times a year Solomon used to offer up burnt offerings and peace offerings on the altar that he built to the LORD, making offerings with it before the LORD. So he finished the house. (verse 25, emphasis added)
A number of other translations I looked at were similar, with wording talking about finishing the house rather than fulfilling obligations.
When the text says that Solomon fulfilled his obligations it isn’t referring to the offerings, it’s referring to the overall building of the Temple, of which the offerings are simply the outcome: the Temple is now complete, to the point that it’s ready for offerings to be performed.