Home > Bible Topics > Bible Studies   > 1 Kings > Lesson 4    previous lesson < > next lesson
CRI/Home
Site Contents
Daily Readings
Bible Topics
Worship Topics
Ministry Topics
Lectionary
Church Year
Theology Topics
Non-English
PhotoTour
New Additions

1 Kings 4:1-6:22

Roger Hahn

Approximately half of 1 Kings is devoted to the reign of King Solomon. Chapters 1-2 were devoted to the transition from David to Solomon. The first fifteen verses of chapter 3 focus on the pivotal encounter between God and Solomon in which Solomon asked for wisdom to appropriately lead his people, Israel. From there through chapter 10 various illustrations of Solomon's success are described. 1 Kings 3:16-28 illustrated the way Solomon's prayer for wisdom had been answered in the arena of legal judgment, an important part of the job description of Israelite rulers. Chapter 4 deals with Solomon the Administrator while his building activities are described in 1 Kings 5:1-9:25. Solomon the trader is profiled in 9:26-10:29.

1 Kings 4:1-34 - Solomon the Administrator

The first nineteen verses of 1 Kings 4 mostly contain the names of various officials involved in Solomon's administrative structure. However, within the context of Israelite society and especially in light of the original audience of 1 Kings, the lists would have been very impressive. That Solomon would have such a complex administrative structure would have been seen as evidence that God had indeed blessed him with both wisdom and wealth. Furthermore, this administrative group would organize the resources of the government and nation in such a way as to make the building of the temple possible. Thus chapter 4 looks both back to the prayer of Solomon for wisdom and forward to the building of the temple.

Verses 1-6 present the main leaders in Solomon's administration. We might call them Solomon's Cabinet officers. We gain a clearer understanding of these verses by comparing them to David's administrative cabinet mentioned in 2 Samuel 8:15-18. David had a commander-in-chief of the volunteer army, a recording secretary, two high priests, another secretary, and the commander of his royal bodyguard - the mighty men. Second Samuel 20:24 mentions that an officer in charge of forced labor was added to the cabinet later.

Solomon reduced the high priesthood to a single office, held by Azariah. The secretary’s office was expanded to two secretaries, though some scholars believe the two may have served in succession. The royal bodyguard and the army were combined under a single officer, Benaiah. A superintendent, Azariah son of Nathan, is mentioned in verse 5. His job was to supervise tax collectors. The offices of king's friend and palace administrator were added under Solomon.

The priest, Azariah son of Zadok, served as a royal chaplain and was apparently the most influential person in the cabinet. The secretary (or secretaries) would have prepared royal correspondence and kept the archives and records of the kingdom. The recording secretary would have functioned as an official protocol officer and perhaps as a press secretary. The Hebrew title of the office suggests one who causes people to remember.

The king's friend would have been both a personal confidant of the king and a secretary of state. Some of the names of the cabinet suggest Egyptian influence and thus actually Egyptian citizens. This may be expected for two reasons. First, the increase of governmental complexity would have come to Israel at a time when an adequate number of trained and sophisticated governmental bureaucrats were not available among Israelites. Since Egypt was the nearest big government organization, it is not surprising that Solomon would have recruited cabinet members from Egypt. Second, since he had entered into a marriage alliance with the Pharaoh of Egypt it is not surprising that people with experience and/or training in governmental management would have become part of Solomon's court. This is not the only evidence of Egyptian influence in the life of Solomon.

Most of Solomon's changes were minor; two represent a significant shift. The superintendent of tax collectors was a new office; so was the director of forced labor. The tax system will be further described in the following verses. However, the mention of a superintendent of tax collectors and a director of forced labor would immediately raise the fears that Samuel brought up in 1 Samuel 8:11-18.

Verses 7-19 introduce at least one part of the growing internal revenue service of Israel. The names given here are the tax collectors that were assigned to the various districts of the country. The nation was divided into twelve administrative districts, each with a royal official in charge of the collection process. It is important to notice that Solomon's twelve administrative districts do not correspond exactly to the twelve tribes of Israel.

There were several good "administrative" reasons to discontinue the organization of the country around the tribal units. First, the tribes had a fairly wide range of populations. Thus fair distribution of administrative loads should have required some other organizational pattern. Secondly, the geographical areas associated with each tribe varied widely in terms of square miles, type of terrain, and accessibility. A number of Canaanite cities and areas that had not been part of the original allotments at the time of Joshua had been captured and now had to be included in the administrative structure. The city of Jerusalem is the most obvious case in point.

Third, if the nation was to become a "nation" rather than a confederation of tribes, structures that created national loyalty would be necessary. Likewise, institutions that continued tribal identity and loyalties would be a hindrance. Thus Solomon organized his tax collection system along lines purposefully different from the tribal divisions.

Obviously, there would be dangers in such an undertaking also. The imposition of a massive program of taxation and forced labor would not be popular. The use of tribal structures might have made it easier. (It’s harder to kill the taxman when he is your Uncle Joe.) That "foreigners" - people from other tribes were collecting taxes and drafting forced labor - made the whole process harder to swallow. By the end of Solomon's life, it was this taxation and forced labor that led to the break-up of the kingdom. In the long run, his administrative strategy failed.

This problem is heightened by the fact that the tax officer for the area of Judah is not mentioned by name in verse 19, nor is there any description of the territory. This has led some commentaries to question whether Judah was taxed at all or if it had a different tax system. Since the capital city of Jerusalem was in the land of Judah it would be possible to rationalize reasons for treating Judah differently. However, there is always a price to pay for preferential treatment. Later chapters imply that Solomon or his son Rehoboam paid that price.

The duty of the tax officers mentioned in verses 7-19 was to secure food for the king and his household. Each of the twelve administrative districts was responsible for a month of food per year. The tax officers also were responsible for collecting barley and straw for the chariot horses according to verses 27-28. 1 Kings 5:11 indicates that Solomon collected more food than required to feed the palace and that he traded the extra for foreign supplies. The administrative districts also functioned as the recruitment arm of the forced labor pools that 1 Kings 5:12-13 mentions.

Verses 20-28 provide various bits of evidence that the new tax system provided material benefits on a scale never seen before (nor after) in Israel. Verses 20-21 are a summary of the signs of success being enjoyed by Solomon. To say that Israel and Judah were as numerous as the sand by the sea is a double-barreled success story. A large population was a sign of peace and prosperity. More people survived when there was no war. Many of the casualties of war were the women, children, and older people. Ancient warfare tended to try to destroy food and water supplies to a people. Starvation and death by various illnesses resulting from loss of food and pure water caused as many fatalities as battles themselves.

One of the typical Old Testament phrases for peace and security appears in verse 25. Every man under his vine and fig tree speaks of the security of resting outside the house in the evening with one's family gathered about. It speaks of contentment and of every need having been supplied. A large population was indicative of sustained peace so such a population could increase. The specific mention that Israel and Judah were as numerous as the sand by the sea also represents the fulfillment of a promise of God. Genesis 22:17 and 32:12 had promised Abraham and Jacob descendants as numerous as the sand on the seashore. The phrase itself came to mean beyond counting; but its context in Genesis makes it a promise that 1 Kings describes as being fulfilled under the reign of King Solomon. To say that all these people has enough to eat and drink and that they were happy paints an extremely idealistic picture of the good old days.

Not only did the population represent the fulfillment of God's promises, so did the extent of Solomon's rule. Verse 21 describes his kingdom as extending from Egypt on the South to the Euphrates River on the north. This was the largest extent of influence ever enjoyed by Israel. It also fulfills almost to the word the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 15:18 that his descendants would own the land from the river in Egypt to the river Euphrates. Solomon's kingdom is being portrayed at the utopia promised to Abraham. Such success could only mean that God was blessing in a very significant way.

The provisions that the tax collectors brought for daily consumption are also designed to show extravagance. Nehemiah 5:17-18 mentions that 150 people ate from one ox and six sheep. Verses 22-23 mention that about 190 bushels of fine flour, 380 bushels of regular floor, ten fat oxen, twenty pasture-fed cattle, a hundred sheep, plus wild game were provided every day for Solomon. Using the ratios of Nehemiah one could calculate a royal household of more than 32,000 people.

Eventually Solomon would have accumulated enough wives, children, servants, royal administrative officials, military personnel, and pensioners like Barzillai's family (see 1 Kings 2:7) that he might have needed almost that much food per day. However, at the beginning of his reign it is quite clear that Solomon had an enormously extravagant supply of food. A great deal of meat was provided by poor people who would not have the privilege of eating meat very often themselves.

Verses 26-28 mention the forty thousand chariot horses (or at least that many stalls for horses). The use of chariots represented the height of military technology in the time of Solomon. Though there are occasional references to chariots prior to Solomon he was the first to make any systematic use of chariots for military purposes. Part of the reason for the delay was the mountainous terrain of Israel. Chariots were better adapted to warfare on the plains.

He appeared to have placed detachments of chariots at strategically located cities such as Megiddo, Hazor, and Lachish. These cities allowed control over the major transportation highway through Israel at points where there was a large plain on which to fight. Thus Solomon had a large military machine well placed to preserve the peace and maintain security. It was impressive and expensive. It is not clear from the Bible to what degree Solomon might have been warned against trusting in military power. However, by the time 1 Kings was written, Isaiah had clearly declared the foolishness of such trusting in chariots (see Isaiah 31:1-3). Though Solomon's military might was impressive, it may not have been as wise as it first seemed.

Verses 29-34 turn to a tribute to Solomon's great intellectual powers. Verse 29 lists three different attributes of understanding. The first was wisdom, which had already been mentioned in 1 Kings 3:12. The next two phrases speak of very great understanding and largeness or broadness of mind. Not only did Solomon possess the wisdom to make appropriate judgments in matters of dispute, he also was broadly educated and extremely insightful in observation and analysis. He was smart.

Verses 30-31 indicate that Solomon's intellectual powers surpassed anything known in his time. Both Egypt and Mesopotamia already had impressive reputations in wisdom and intellectual matters. Significant writing and collecting of proverbs had already been done in both areas. Books similar to Job, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon had been published by wisdom writers of Egypt and Mesopotamia. It is likely that Solomon received instruction in such matters from the Egyptian consultants that he had brought to help shape his government. If so, he proved an apt pupil, outstripping his teachers.

We have no record of Solomon's wisdom and abilities from the archaeological finds in these other countries. However, the author of 1 Kings could find no higher compliment to Solomon's intellectual ability than to declare that he had outdone Egypt and the east.

Verses 32 and 33 list specific achievements that would have been recognized in that culture as evidence of Solomon's superior wisdom. Three thousand proverbs, 1005 songs, discourses on trees, animals, birds, and fish marked Solomon as the greatest intellectual of his time.

Verse 33 is especially interesting to modern scientists. The wisdom literature of the ancient Near East contained lists of species and observations of the various characteristics of plants and animals. It appears to be the first stages of the development of science. Solomon participated in that process of description of the natural world. His leadership role is indicated by the observation of verse 34 that representatives of all the kings of the earth came to consult with Solomon.

There is a distressing note in all of this. In the midst of all the praise for Solomon's great intelligence there is no reference to the fear of the Lord, an important theme in Proverbs. All of chapter 4 describes the impressive achievements of Solomon. Part of the goal of the chapter is for the reader to be awed by Solomon and what he had done. Solomon's great administrative accomplishments were supposed to be understood as evidence of God's blessing upon him.

But God doesn't get much credit in this chapter. His name is only mentioned in verse 29. It is disquieting when Solomon starts out trusting in God and giving Him credit for what is accomplished, and then we find God gradually disappearing from Solomon's vocabulary. Perhaps it is most disquieting because it happens so often in our world, among the people we know, maybe even in our own life. It is easy to seek the Lord fervently and earnestly when we are just starting out and we are insecure and fearful. We find it harder keep God central when it seems we are successful and have arrived. We reject the idea that a person should call on God when in great need and ignore God when things are going well. But the fact of the matter is, we find it harder to be as God-centered in our own lives when life is going well than when we are in deep need.

The historical context of the book of 1 Kings should also give us pause. The first readers of this book were in Babylonian Captivity. All Solomon's achievements, impressive as they were (and are) in the world's eyes, had long since disappeared. Those first readers in Babylonian Captivity reaped no benefits from Solomon's wealth and administrative prowess. In fact, he had started their nation on a path that had eventually led to ruin. They would have understood Psalm 146:3-4 very well. Princes, power, wealth, status, intellect, military might - none of that was as important as obedience to God. Their captivity was living proof of that. But Solomon's experience also should have told them (and us) that the present power, be it Babylon or Germany or Russia or the USA, will not last forever either.

1 Kings 5:1-7:51 - Solomon the Builder

Solomon's fame as a builder comes from three main projects: 1) the temple in Jerusalem, 2) the palace complex, and 3) the various cities that he built for military and economic purposes. 1 Kings 5 provides background information for the building projects by describing the political alliance with Tyre and the labor system by which materials from Tyre were brought to Jerusalem. Chapter 6, parts of chapter 7, and chapter 8 focus on the building and dedication of the temple. The palace construction is described in part of chapter 7 and chapter 9 focuses on the cities Solomon built.

1 Kings 5:1-18 - Preparation for Building the Temple

Chapter 5 begins with the report of a delegation from King Hiram of Tyre to Solomon when the news of David's death reached Tyre. It was customary in the ancient Near East when one nation heard of the death of the king of a treaty partner to send a delegation with condolences and authorization to renew the treaty with the new king. This appears to be the cultural motivation behind verse 1.

Tyre was a coastal kingdom near the south end of modern Lebanon, ancient Phoenicia. Archaeological discoveries indicate that the language of Tyre was closely related to Hebrew, but the kingdom was a center of Baal worship.

Hiram had admired David and had formed an alliance with David that included sending workmen and materials to build David's palace (2 Samuel 5:11). Hiram, like David and Solomon, appeared to have been an astute ruler who was expanding his kingdom. Several islands of the Mediterranean Sea became part of Tyre's empire in the 10th century B.C. The renewal of a treaty would have been mutually beneficial for both Tyre and Israel. Tyre's economic base was primarily built on commercial and sailing connections with the Mediterranean world. Israel was primarily agricultural, but it controlled the land trades routes connecting Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Solomon responded to Hiram's initiative by indicating his desire to purchase lumber to build a temple. Verses 2-6 express both Solomon's motivations for building and his proposal to Hiram. He offers to pay the wages of Hiram's workers and to send workers along to assist in the cutting. He also acknowledged the fame of Hiram's woodcutters.

Solomon's desire to build the temple is important. The military machine described in chapter 4 could have enabled Solomon to have embarked on a program of military expansion in several directions. Instead, his first priority was the building of the temple. The first reason that he mentions is that the right time had come. David had wanted to build a temple but his kingdom had been in a constant state of inner turmoil and wars with external powers. God had given Solomon peace - the right time for building the temple. Not only was the time right, God had commanded that David's son who succeeded him on the throne should build the temple (See 2 Samuel 7:1-11; I Chronicles 22:8; 28:2-3; and 2 Samuel 7:12-13).

The coming together of the right time and God's command is an important lesson for us. Though God's will is often known to us in a general way for a long time, there are particular times at which the time is right for the accomplishment of that will. A significant part of spiritual sensitivity is the ability to recognize and to capitalize on those "right" times when God's will can be most effectively accomplished.

It is also noteworthy that although the name of God appeared only once in all of chapter 4 where Solomon's great administrative achievements were listed, chapter 5 mentions the LORD 5 times in 3 verses (verses 3-5). This may be a subtle indication that right worship is a far greater concern for the Lord than is administrative clout, military power, and symbols of material success.

Hiram's response to Solomon's proposal also refers to the Lord. He blessed the Lord who had given to David a wise son to succeed him on the throne. This provides another testimony (this one from a foreign king) that God's will had been accomplished in the selection of Solomon over Adonijah as king in chapter 1. It also stands in stark contrast to 1 Kings 3:1. Solomon made a marriage alliance with Egypt. There is no mention of the role of God in directing Solomon into that relationship. However, the pagan king, Hiram, was keenly aware of God's guidance and blessing on Solomon. Being raised with the right theology and belonging to the right group of God's people was no guarantee that Solomon would always acknowledge God in his daily decisions. The same is true for us.

Hiram agreed to provide the cedars and the timbers needed. He also offered to have his workers do all the work including transportation to Jerusalem. The price would be food (agricultural products) paid directly to Hiram, not to the workers. Solomon then agreed to provide Hiram 126,000 bushels of wheat per year and 126 bushels of fine oil.

The author of 1 Kings then adds the editorial comment in verse 12, "The LORD gave Solomon wisdom, as he had promised." The agreement between Hiram and Solomon - with all its mutual benefits - was another indication of the wisdom the Lord had provided.

Though Hiram had offered to provide all the workers, Solomon conscripted forced labor and sent 30,000 men to Lebanon to work on the timbers. They were set up in three shifts of 10,000 each, working in Lebanon a month and then home for two months. Another 150,000 workers were conscripted to work in the hill country near Jerusalem in quarrying stone for the foundation of the temple. The fact that 3,300 supervisors were used tells us that there was no lack of oversight.

Part of the purpose of chapter 5 is to emphasize that a significant foreign king became a partner in the building of the temple. In fact, thousands of workers, both from Tyre and from Israel, collaborated in building the temple. This anticipates the words of Isaiah 56:7 that God's house will be a house of prayer for all nations. God used Phoenicians to build the temple.

1 Kings 6:1-7:51 - Building the Temple

1 Kings 6 and 7 describe the construction of the temple and of Solomon's palace. These chapters contain the most detailed description of a temple found in ancient literature anywhere. When combined with the descriptions of 2 Chronicles 3:1-5:1, Ezekiel 40-42, and the archaeological remains of ancient temples in the Near East, we have a clearer picture of the temple than of any other ancient structure.

That does not mean these chapters are perfectly clear. They contain technical terms for Hebrew architecture; the meaning can be guessed, but it is only an educated guess. The description supplies some vital information; it repeats or omits other pieces of important information. Only rarely are there interpretive remarks by the author of 1 Kings that give a sense of meaning to this information.

1 Kings 6:1 notes that temple construction began in the fourth year of Solomon's reign, 480 years after the exodus of Israel from Egypt. The purpose of this comment is not completely clear. If it is taken for face value as a literal statement of information and nothing else then it simply dates the building of the temple within a few years of 960 B.C. and the Exodus at approximately 1440 B.C. (see Date of the Exodus). There is some archaeological and literary evidence that would fit with such a conclusion.

It is also possible that 480 is a symbolic number since it is can be represented as 12 x 40, both very important numbers in the Israelite mind. Forty spoke of completeness and fullness. Most significant times in the Old Testament are in multiples of 40. Forty was often used for a generation, though 25 years is much closer to a typical cycle of a generation. (It is interesting that 12 x 25 = 300, which would place the Exodus near 1260 B.C., for which there is also significant archaeological and literary evidence.

It may well be that the date of Exodus was not the purpose of the writer of 1 Kings. Simply connecting the Exodus and the building of the temple indicates that they were events on a similar level. Did the writer of 1 Kings see the building of the temple as equally important to the Exodus? Or is he pointing out how long it took for the fulfillment of what should have happened soon after the Exodus? It may be that the author is reminding his readers in the Babylonian Captivity that the will of God often takes a long time when human beings are mixed into the process. Their freedom from Babylon might be God's will, but so was the building of the temple. Patient obedience is necessary for God's will to come about, but sometimes the actions of other people delay it.

The dimensions of the temple suggest another connection with the Exodus. There is clear similarity between the floor plan of the temple and that of the tabernacle constructed for Moses and described in Exodus 25-27. But for all the expense and splendor of the tabernacle the temple is even more marvelous. Gold seems to glisten from every surface. Expensive cedar is used throughout the building. In a land where stone was plentiful and trees were scarce, verse 18b is significant, "all was cedar, no stone was seen." This is definitely the most exquisite and expensive construction that Israel knew how to provide. Two details are worthy of note.

First, verse 7 declares that all the stonework was done at the quarry; no hammer, ax or other tool was heard at the site of the temple itself. Not only does this represent a tremendous feat of planning it also follows the instructions of Deuteronomy 27:5-6 that no tools be used in the construction of an altar of worship. Thus the outward details of the construction of the temple are in perfect conformity to the Law of Moses.

Verses 11-13 then raise the question of obedience to all the requirements of the Law. Outward conformity is not the issue; walking on a daily basis within the guidelines of the Lord is the issue. In fact, daily obedience to the precepts of the Law is made the condition for God's continued blessing and presence both in Solomon's life and on the people of Israel. The question of whether the people who were taxed and drafted to build the temple were treated with the dignity and respect demanded by Deuteronomy is not answered. The readers of 1 Kings knew the answer. Their exile in Babylon was powerful testimony of a failure to keep the inward as well as the outer commands of the Law.

Jesus' comments in Matthew 23:23-26 speak of complete obedience to the external demands of the Law while the weightier matters of justice, mercy, and faith are neglected. It is so easy for us to be outwardly scrupulous while the hiding the need of inward cleansing in our lives.

Finally, 1 Kings 6:19-22 make it clear that the most important part of the temple was the inner sanctuary where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. In Israelite understanding this was the place that God's presence could most clearly be experienced. The whole purpose of the temple - with all its expense and splendor - was to create a place where Israel could meet with God. No sanctuary - regardless of how elaborate it may be - does its job if people cannot or do not meet God there. No sanctuary - regardless of how simple it may be - fails if people are meeting the Lord there.

Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion

These readings and study questions are in preparation for next week's lesson.

These are study and reflection questions to facilitate a weeklong devotional journey into the Books of Kings. As you begin each day pray that the Lord will speak to you through His Word and that the Holy Spirit will breathe spiritual life into your heart through your study and reflection.

First Day: Read the notes on 1 Kings 4:1-6:22. Look up the Scripture references.

1. Identify one or two pieces of new information that struck you as important.

2. Select some spiritual insight that you believe to be an important application of this passage of Scripture. Tell why you think it is important.

3. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to give you wisdom in all your daily work.

Second Day: Read 1 Kings 6:14-36. Focus on verses 23-36.

1. What indications do these verses give of the importance or value of the cherubim? Read Exodus 25:17-22. What promise of God is associated with the cherubim there?

2. Based on the description of these focus verses, how much artistic effort went into the construction of the temple? How do you think art should be used in the worship of our God?

3. Read Matthew 18:20; John 4:23-24; I Corinthians 3:16; and Hebrews 10:25. What are the essential elements of Christian worship that come from these verses?

Third Day: Read 1 Kings 6:1-7:12. Now focus in on 1 Kings 6:36-7:12.

1. Compare the size of the temple (6:2) with the size of Solomon's own house. What do you think about the comparison?

2. Compare the time invested in the temple and the time spent in building Solomon's house. What do you think led to the difference in time spent building the two buildings?

3. Read Luke 12:32-34. How does the description of Solomon's palace sound to you in light of Luke 12:32-34? What does it say about Solomon's heart? Write a prayer asking God to be the treasure of your heart.

Fourth Day: Read 1 Kings 7:13-50. Now focus on verses 13-26.

1. The two pillars may symbolize God's strength and support of both the temple and His people. What causes you to think about God's strength and support when you worship? How valuable are those thoughts to your worship?

2. Some scholars believe the pillars are symbolic of the stone erected in Joshua 24:26-27. Read Joshua 24:26-27. What purpose did Joshua hope that stone would accomplish?

3. Read 2 Chronicles 4:6. What was the purpose of the "sea"? What spiritual applications come to your mind when you think about water and washing? What would you like to be washed clean from? Ask the Lord to accomplish that in your life now.

Fifth Day: Read 1 Kings 7:13-50. Focus in on 1 Kings 7:27-50.

1. These verses include a description of ten water containers on wheels. Water was an important part of temple worship. Read John 7:37-39. If the water at the temple represented the Holy Spirit, how important is that for true worship?

2. Verse 48 mentions the Bread of the Presence. Read Leviticus 24:5-9. What does the Bread of the Presence symbolize? What is it that reminds you of your covenant with God?

3. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to help you to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit and to remember your relationship with God throughout each day.

Sixth Day: Read 1 Kings 7:51-8:53. Focus in on 1 Kings 7:51-8:11.

1. What do you think is the meaning of the final sentence in verse 51?

2. Why do you think the author of 1 Kings mentioned the two stone tablets in verse 9? What reminder would they be to Israel? What do they bring to your mind about your relationship with God?

3. What is the significance of verses 10-11? Write a brief prayer asking God to reveal His presence and glory to you at a time when you especially need it.

-Roger Hahn, Copyright © 2011, Roger Hahn and the Christian Resource Institute
All Rights Reserved  See Copyright and User Information Notice

Related pages