Favouritism that breaks the great command.
1 Kings 12:1-19
Solomon’s national policies manifestly benefited the tribe of Judah. His governmental policies of favouring a segment of society above another segment contributed to the division of the kingdom into these two segments. Solomon literally “…stripped the north to clothe the south, in an unabashed act of economic cannibalism.”
In this series of blogs we are looking at the reasons behind the division of Israel into a Northern and Southern kingdom. In the last blog we considered how the personal jealousies of Jacob’s household warped into the tribal jealousies that contributed to the rupture of the united monarchy. In this blog we will look at how the governmental policies of Solomon favoured the interest of the South above those of the North. This sectionalism of Solomon concentrated on the development and protection of the South to the detriment of the North. Though tribal jealously and sectionalism are interrelated, it is different[i]. Sectionalism considers how the national policies segmented the nation into sectors of benefits and influence that manifestly benefited the tribe of Judah. We will consider how these governmental policies of favouring a segment of society above another segment contributed to the division of the kingdom into these two segments. It will become clear that Solomon literally “…stripped the north to clothe the south, in an unabashed act of economic cannibalism.”[ii]
Solomon inherited an extensive kingdom built upon the military successes of his father David. David during his reign conquered Syria, Philistia, Edom, Moab and Ammon[iii]. He endangered himself on the battlefield and so ensured that his kingdom enjoyed “rest from all his enemies” (2 Sam. 7:1). The kingdom inherited by Solomon was the fulfilment of the patriarchal promises God gave to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Gen 15:5; 17:8; 22:17; 26:4; 32:12), that Israel were to be “as numerous as the sand on the seashore” (1 Ki. 4:20). The nation under Solomon’s rule lived within boundaries of the covenantal Promised Land (Gen 15:18; Ex23:31; Deut. 1:7; Josh. 1:4). Solomon became king of a nation that had a substantial population, with “peace on all sides” (1 Ki. 4:24) and a populace who lived in security (1 Ki. 4:25). His subjects had productive future hopes which the text of 1 Kings’ pictures as each man having “his own vine and fig tree” (1 Ki. 4:25). At the start of Solomon’s reign his people are described as enjoying a “satisfying lifestyle”[iv] where “they ate, they drank and they were happy” (1 Ki. 4:20). In addition to the covenantal territory, Solomon had provinces which consisted of the defeated states of Moab, Edom and Ammon. Vassal states like Hamath, Zobah and Philistia paid him tribute. Solomon also had diplomatic and trade partners in Egypt and Tyre (1 Ki. 3:1; 5:1)[v]. The new king did not have military struggles to overcome, but instead had to institute a peacetime administrative organisation that applied itself to international diplomacy, international trade and nation building[vi].
Solomon therefore became king of an empire where the territorial expansion occurred during the reign of his father. The recorded undertakings of Solomon’s empire building consisted of administrating and maintaining the conquered territories[vii]. Egypt was a spent force during the early reign of Solomon[viii]. A powerful Solomon was able through a marriage treaty (1 Ki. 3:1) with Pharaoh to take control of strategic trade routes. Solomon through numerous other marriage alliances (1 Ki. 11:1-3) strengthened his political and economic position in relation to the neighbouring states[ix]. These treaties provided security for the empire and income from trade, such as his maritime trading venture with Hiram of Tyre (1 Ki. 9:26-27). Revenue was raised through the taxing and tolling of the lucrative caravan trade in the South (between Egypt and Arabia) and in the North (between the Aramean states). Solomon also extracted tribute from the vassal states of goods and services[x]. These endeavours by Solomon secured peace through his international diplomacy and revenue through his international trade activities. In order to enable his active rulership of his subjects Solomon expanded the bureaucratic administration for both the central government and introduced regional governorships (1 Ki. 4:2-19).
1 Kings 4 contains an administrative list where the kingdom was divided into twelve districts that were to provide the palace with supplies, collected taxes, income from trade and a military levy[xi]. The division into the twelve districts affected Israel’s historical division into tribal territories[xii]; it dislocated the kinship based social structures of the tribes[xiii]. The boundaries of the new districts mostly ignored traditional tribal divisions and included new conquered territories and peoples[xiv]. Each district had newly appointed governors who were loyal (some were family) to the palace and Judah[xv]. These appointments would have weakened traditional tribal leadership structures within the newly centralised government. Each district was organised geographically as autonomous agricultural and economic units with newly founded or re-founded capital cities. The twelve districts were constituted for the material and political support of the palace controlled by the tribe of Judah. This is highlighted by the fact that Judah is excluded from these twelve districts and consequently excluded from contributing to the monthly needs of the palace[xvi]. In a certain manner Solomon governed the northern tribes as a subjugated region[xvii] with the goal of supplanting tribal loyalties with a loyalty to the imperial court. Therefore Solomon ruled in the interest of the centralised kingdom by destabilising the established tribal structure of Israel. Residual resentment regarding the new districts were suppressed during times of security and prosperity, but flamed up when the burden became too great.
The favouring of the South is reflected in the surrendering of territory in the North that destabilised their economic well-being[xviii]. The background to these events is a change of leadership in Egypt. During Solomon’s early reign Israel had beneficial relations (1 Ki. 3:1; 9:16) with Egypt whose military power and international influence were in decline since Ramesses III. This changed when the Libyan Shoshenq I (referred to in Scripture as Shishak: 1 Ki. 11:40, 14:25; 2 Chron. 12:2-9) became Pharaoh. He strengthened Egypt’s military and wanted to restore Egypt’s supremacy in Mediterranean Asia. This change in relations between Egypt and Israel can be seen in the trade rivalry between them and the fact that Egypt was willing to provide asylum to an insurgent to Solomon’s rule (1 Ki. 11:40). The relationship between Israel and Egypt moved from being an alliance partner to being an antagonistic opponent[xix]. The strengthening of the southern defences became an absolute focus of Solomon’s government, while not giving the same prominence to the defence of the North against the Arameans. A revolt in Edom under King Hadad was suppressed by Solomon (1 Ki. 11:14-22) in order to protect the profitable southern caravan routes[xx]. This stood in sharp contrast to when Solomon failed to recapture his own provincial capital, Damascus from Rezon ben Eliada (1 Ki. 11:23-25)[xxi]. This would have caused great loss of economic activity in the North through lost property and income from lost trade routes[xxii]. This inaction by Solomon on behalf of the North whose prosperity and safety was under treat, while protecting the interest of the South caused unhappiness amongst the northern tribes.
Solomon initiated massive building programs, which included the expansion of the South’s military defences and his administrative complexes. Forced labour was sourced from the northern tribes for Solomon’s extensive building projects (1 Ki. 9:20-21; 4:20-21)[xxiii]. Most of Solomon’s building projects were concentrated in the South or were for their benefit[xxiv]. Making matters worse is when Solomon gave King Hiram 20 cities in the northern Galilee as payment for his help with Jerusalem’s building projects (1 Ki. 9:10-13). The land was the tribal allotment of Asher. These tribal lands are described in Scripture as belonging to the LORD and Solomon did not have the right to sell the land permanently (Lev. 25:23)[xxv]. While Solomon were exploring prosperous new trade routes (1 Ki. 9:26-27) and extending defences for Judah, the North were weakened defensively and declining economically.
The South was developed at a great cost to the North in manpower, resources and property. Solomon showered generous royal rewards upon the tribe of Judah at the expense of the North[xxvi]. It is in light of these events that Jeroboam an Ephraimite and the official in Solomon’s court “in charge of the whole labour force” (1 Ki. 11:28) rebelled against the favouritism showed to Judah. Jeroboam became the embodiment of the North’s indignation against Solomon’s policies which impinges upon tribal entitlements and his exploitation of the northern tribes[xxvii]. Solomon’s favouritism shown to Judah sowed the seeds for the division of the kingdom.
The Lord who is the awesome, mighty and great God shows no favouritism (Deut. 10:17), but is fair. James states that when the community of God shows favouritism, they break the great command of love (Jam. 2:8-9).