The greedy bring ruin to their households
1 Kings 12:1-19
The account of Solomon’s life, records how he followed “the ways of the king” and ruled in the manner Samuel warned against. The taxation burden in Israel became greater and greater as the wasteful spending by Solomon’s palace grew greater and greater. Solomon accumulated great personal prosperity at the expense of his own people.
We have discussed how Israel was to be the model of godly rulership amongst the nations of the world. 1 Kings 12 records the failure of Israel as a united kingdom. Looking at the reasons for the division of Israel into a Northern and Southern kingdom, we saw how covenantal unfaithfulness, tribal jealousy, national favouritism and Israel’s own spiritual blindness caused their loss of God’s covenantal blessings. In this blog we will consider how Solomon’s own selfishness, lusts and aspirations caused him to secure his immense fortune through abusive and repressive endeavours[i]. His reign started well by requesting God wisdom in governing God’s people. God promised Solomon that due to his request God will also grant him wealth and prestige (1 Ki. 3:10-13). The early reign of Solomon reveals that there were visible economic growth and rising wealth for his subjects (1 Ki. 4)[ii]. The account of Solomon’s life, records how he followed “the ways of the king” (1 Sam. 8:11) and ruled in the manner Samuel warned against. In fact the account of Solomon’s life never again accredited his wealth to God[iii]. The taxation burden in Israel became greater and greater as the wasteful spending by Solomon’s palace grew greater and greater[iv]. Solomon became the epitome of a successful Near Eastern ruler with a peaceable rule, great prestige, vast affluence and a large harem[v]. Solomon accumulated great personal prosperity at the expense of his own people. He enriched himself to the detriment of the whole nation of Israel[vi]. The main grievance of the northern tribes relayed to Rehoboam was the heavy burden his father placed upon the nation (1 Ki. 12:4). Solomon’s frivolous consumption was an underlying cause of the division of the kingdom.
The preacher of Ecclesiastes voices Solomon’s debased selfishness where he takes aberrant pleasure in pursuing his own fortune. He states that he gave himself whatever his eyes desired and did not deny himself any material pleasure (Eccl. 2:10). It describes Solomon’s grandiose building projects (Eccl. 2:4-9) as reflected in the historical accounts of his life (1 Ki. 7:1-12; 9:15; 2 Chron. 8:1-6). He “made great works”, “built”, “planted” (Eccl. 2:4), “bought”, “owned”(Eccl. 2:8), “amassed” and “acquired… the delights of the heart of man” (Eccl. 2:8). It describes how Solomon constructed great structural projects, built houses, planted vineyards, established lush gardens and constructed pools to water them (Eccl. 2:4-6). There was a frenzied accumulation of possessions in the form of slaves, herds, flocks, silver, gold, musicians, all manner of luxuries and a harem (Eccl. 2:7-10)[vii]. It is very clear from the text of Ecclesiastes that these great works, pursuit of prestige and accumulation of wealth had no altruistic motives but were purely selfish[viii]. This selfishness was reflected in the fact that the pursuit of his own pleasure was the absolute focus of all his endeavours (Eccl. 2:1-10). Solomon himself wrote that unless God builds the house and guards it, the effort of the labourer is in vain (Ps. 127:1). However it is this shift of focus by Solomon himself, from God and his people to his own selfish lusts that sowed the seeds of division. This pivot towards himself and his own wants can be seen in the fact that the temple took seven years to build (1 Ki. 6:38), while he spend twice as long on building his own palace complex (1 Ki. 7:1). Ostentatiously his own palace (“a hundred cubits long, fifty wide and thirty high” 1 Ki. 7:2) in its dimensions greatly overshadowed the temple of God (“sixty cubits long, twenty wide and thirty high” 1 Ki. 6:2). The vanity the preacher of Ecclesiastes disapproves of is not hard work, but a vigorous and persistent pursuit of self-interest which is repressive and cruel in its selfishness[ix].
Moses gave a code of conduct for a future king to Israel (Deut. 17:15-20). This included the admonition that the king is not to be estranged in the lusts for power, status and wealth[x]. The prohibition on the king against acquiring great number of horses (Deut. 17:16) was a prohibition against a king trusting upon his military might instead of God (Ps. 20:7). It is God who is the source of Israel’s protection and redemption not military might (Deut. 20:1). Donkeys and cattle were used for transportation, while horses were almost exclusively used for the drawing of military chariots[xi]. Solomon inherited an empire mostly at peace and his excessive collection of horses represents a lust for power that is totally uncalled for. A large harem in the Near East was more than just there for the satisfaction of the king’s sexual passions. Marriage was a tool of diplomacy in the Near
East and the acquisition of many wives were political in nature. Treaties between nations would be sealed by marriage[xii]. While a large number of male members of a palace communicated might and strength, an equally large harem communicated international status[xiii]. The prohibition in Deuteronomy (17:17) is against the lusting after international status removed from the covenantal responsibility to the LORD. The last prohibited lust is the lust for wealth (Deut. 17:17), the king was not to in pride elevate himself above his covenantal brothers (Deut. 17:20). The Deuteronomic blessing is that God will abundantly bless his covenant people (Deut. 8:11-14), but that blessing does not extend to the unbridled accumulation of affluence. The amassing of riches without purpose would lead to pride, vanity and ultimately apostasy (Eccl. 2:8-11; Jer. 48:7). This condemned lust is because it is for the king himself (Deut. 17:17-19) and is not done in the interest of the people of God or in order to promote God’s interests[xiv]. We already saw in Ecclesiastes that the motive of Solomon lusting after power, status and wealth was in order to satisfy his own desires. (Eccl. 2:1-10).
Solomon opined that: “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.” (Eccl. 5:10). His own life reflected this gluttonous desire for more and more. His yearly income was 25 tons of gold which at the current gold price (28/10/2016) would be over a billion US dollars a year. In reading 1 Kings 10:14-20, the question needs to be asked what purpose did five hundred shields made from over 1 ton of gold and an ivory throne coated with gold have? This is alongside the fact that he had himself and all of his guests drink from golden vessels[xv]. His palace consumed 3 650 oxen, 7 300 cattle, 36 500 sheep and 214 410 bushels of ground grains[xvi] a year, “as well as deer, gazelles, roebucks and choice fowl” (1 Ki. 4:22-24). The extent of Solomon’s horse trading (1 Ki.10:14-29) alone would have placed an unreasonable burden upon the nation’s resources. Israel was still mostly a rural agricultural community and to pay for the excessive consumption of Solomon’s palace would require the nation to produce exceptional crops each and every year. The palace’s excessively large harem and Solomon’s many wives had a large drain upon the national fiscus. He initiated massive building projects, expanded the military and built huge bureaucratic facilities[xvii]. Solomon’s reign created economic problems, because his government was spending more than the revenue it generated. He was forced to sell twenty northern cities and gave up trade routes in order to fund some of his expenditure (1 Ki. 9:11-13)[xviii].
Samuel warned Israel about “the ways of the king” (1 Sam. 8:11-18), which was embodied in
the reign of Solomon. The resource draining reign of Solomon forced Israelites into public service by generating positions that were primary to the benefit of the king; that is equestrians, a cavalry, commanders of the military, farmers, producers, cooks, bakers and perfumers all for the benefit of the king (1 Sam. 8:11-13). Some of the jobs were invented only for the prestige of the king, like someone whose sole duty was to run in front of the king’s chariots (1 Sam. 8:11-12). Solomon’s enforced labour of thirty thousand (1 Ki. 5:13) would have created labour shortages within Israel’s rural communities (1 Sam. 8:11,13, 16) and deny them the enjoyment of their covenantal inheritance. He placed an unbearable tax burden upon his own people (1 Sam. 8:15, 17) and nationalised for his own benefit some of the nation’s means of production (1 Sam 8:14). Samuel warned that the administration would become totalitarian and be corrupted (1 Sam. 8:15-17). He prophetically predicted that the oppression would cause the people to cry out, as happened after Solomon’s oppressive rule (1 Sam 8:18)[xix]. Solomon built abiding monuments, but his selfishness and lustful pursuits led to the division of the kingdom. The South was both the religious and governmental capital of the united Israel, though was topographically challenged and thus limited resource wise. The South needed the resources of the North. This heavy burden a resource hungry South placed upon the resources of the North strained already widening chasms within the unity of Israel[xx]. Solomon’s personal greed produced resentment and discontent with his rule. Jesus stated that trusting in the provision of His Father far exceeds the splendour generated by Solomon’s own selfish strivings (Matt. 6:28-30)[xxi].
[i] (Brindle, 1984, p. 229)
[ii] (Wagner-Tsukamoto, 2013, p. 413)
[iii] (Carter, 1997, p. 20)
[iv] (Hill, 2005, p. 454)
[v] (Handy, 2005, p. 925)
[vi] (Brindle, 1984, p. 229)
[vii] (Enns, 2011, p. 44)
[viii] (Longman, 1997, p. 26)
[ix] (Carter, 1997, p. 22)
[x] (Block, 2005, pp. 266-268)
[xi] (Keener, 1993, p. n.a.)
[xii] (Craigie, 1976, p. n.a.)
[xiii] (Block, 2005, p. 268)
[xiv] (Keener, 1993, p. n.a.)
[xv] (Wiersbe, 2002, p. 92)
[xvi] (Handy, 2005, p. 925)
[xvii] (Van Groningen, 1996, p. n.a.)
[xviii] (Brindle, 1984, p. 230)
[xix] (McClain, 2001, p. n.a.)
[xx] (Van Groningen, 1996, p. n.a.)
[xxi] (Carter, 1997, p. 20)