Studies in the Book of Kings 1 Kings 4:1-34


1 Kings 4:1-34

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The great wisdom that the Lord had given Solomon was illustrated in the previous chapter by the famous case of the two prostitutes both claiming to be the mother of a baby boy. Now we are given a more general account of Solomon’s great wisdom and its happy consequences for Israel. It is one thing wisely to settle personal disputes; it is another altogether effectively to rule a great nation.

Text Comment

Now there is an interesting question of organization here. In the Hebrew Bible 1 Kings 4 ends at v. 20 and chapter 5 begins at our 4:21 and continues to the end of our chapter 5. It does seem pretty obvious that 4:20 is the conclusion of the first section (Solomon’s organization of the government of Israel) and that v. 21 begins a new section detailing Solomon’s exploitation of lands captured by his father David. You have “all Israel” in v. 1 and “Judah and Israel,” meaning the same thing, in v. 20, an inclusio.

v.2

The first thing a wise leader does is to surround himself with capable associates. We have in vv. 2-6 a list of Solomon’s cabinet officers. Azariah is a surprise as the high priest, since his father, Zadok, who had been high priest in David’s day and had, in fact, anointed Solomon king, as we read in chapter 2 is still living. Zadok has not died because he is mentioned in v. 4 as still serving as a senior priest. Perhaps Zadok had grown too old to fulfill all the responsibilities of the high priest.

v.4

The mention of Abiathar is another surprise, if, as seems so, this is the same Abiathar who was exiled to his home town of Anathoth in 2:26. Solomon must have had a change of heart.

v.5

Azariah and Zabud were apparently the sons of Nathan the prophet. Reading between the lines, we may assume that, capable as the men may have been in their own right, Solomon was rewarding Nathan for his important help in securing his throne.

v.6

Adoniram’s job was the least likely to bring him respect and affection. If you remember, as we will read in 12:18, he was eventually stoned to death by a mob, action no doubt made easier by the general resentment felt toward him by people who had to work at his behest.

v.7

We don’t know precisely what these officers did. They may have been tax officials making sure that the local governments paid their taxes to the central government or they may have had a broader administrative role. [Provan, 54]

v.15

Nepotism in and of itself is not evil unless it is unjust or unless its result is the advancement of incompetent men. Two of the twelve officers were Solomon’s sons-in-law.

v.19

The most interesting feature of this list is that the twelve administrative districts into which Israel had been divided did not apparently coincide with the territories of the twelve tribes. There are some tribal names in the list but it is clear that the districts overlap the tribal boundaries. This is a new national order, in other words, not based on the tribal system but on a more efficient and rational central system of control. From this point on in the OT the tribes of Israel remain more of a metaphor for the nation than an important feature of its life. That, of course, prepares us for the still more metaphorical use of Israel and the twelve tribes that we find in the New Testament.

Another interesting feature of this list of 12 officers is that Solomon, like any wise ruler, entrusted more territory to some than to others: he matched ability to responsibility.

The one governor appears to be a reference to Azariah mentioned in v. 5 as being over all the district officials.

In any case, we are to see Israel as now a sophisticated and powerful state, no longer simply a loose confederation of tribes, but a government that has imposed its will and order upon a nation.

v.20

Now “as many as the sand by the sea” is a standard biblical hyperbole, occurring in many places in the OT and in a number in which as a literal description it is obviously absurd. It occurs later in this same passage, in v. 29, in quite a different way to describe the breadth of Solomon’s mind. A case in point would be the use of the phrase in Joshua 11:4 to describe the size of the army that the northern kings of Canaan brought against Joshua and Israel. What is significant here about this particular form of words is that it was what the Lord promised Abraham about his offspring in Genesis 22:7, though there another standard hyperbole is also used: the number of the stars in the heavens. But clearly the Israelite reader would recognize that the promise God made to Abraham has been fulfilled.

And the happiness of the people indicates that while Solomon drew sufficient support from the people to support the government and military of a great nation, at least at first he did not oppress them with onerous taxation. People were prosperous. The narrator is answering an obvious question: how did the people feel about these changes introduced by Solomon and about the new layer of bureaucracy? Every layer of bureaucracy takes money and the only way a government gets money is to take it from its citizens. But they were happy, they were at peace and prosperous.

By the way, the reference to “Judah and Israel” is a function of the date of the authorship of Kings, obviously long after the division of the kingdom. At this time, of course, there was no Judah and Israel, but there soon would be.

v.21

The size of Solomon’s kingdom likewise reflects the promise the Lord made to Abraham in Genesis 15:18. The wealth of Israel under Solomon was built in large part on the flow of money and food into the nation from the surrounding countries that were subject to Solomon.

v.23

This revenue, of course, was not spent only at the palace in Jerusalem, but to fund the government throughout the land. Food was the largest part of salary in those days and, in fact, the revenue may have been in many cases not the grain or the livestock itself but the money sufficient to purchase that much grain or livestock.

v.24

In other words, the abundance of provision for the court was not provided only by Israelites themselves, perhaps not even primarily by them which may account for their sense of prosperity, but by tribute provided by neighboring states.

v.25

The general prosperity had much to do with the wealth provided by subject states in Israel’s orbit. Remember, eventually the tax burden caused a tremendous measure of resentment and that would prove Rehoboam’s undoing.

v.26

The LXX reads 4,000 not the MT’s 40,000.

v.29

The following verses demonstrate that God kept his promise to make Solomon the wisest man who ever lived.

v.32

Many of his proverbs, as you know, are collected in the biblical book of Proverbs and The Song of Songs may well be one of his songs, as is Psalm 72.

Last Wednesday Jerid came into my office and asked me if I knew what a “word and life view” was. Someone had asked him what his “word and life view” was and he was wondering what that meant. We decided that the inquirer must have meant to say “world and life view” and that led to a twenty minute investigation of the origin and the meaning of “world and life view” or “worldview.” I knew it was the English translation of a German original, Weltanschauung, and I remembered that the term had been coined by some German philosopher, but I couldn’t remember by whom. The Germans, as you know, are famous for making up new words by sticking two (or three or four) familiar ones together. It turns out that the first known use of the term Weltanschauung was by the immensely influential philosopher Immanuel Kant in a work published in 1790. The lesson to draw from all of this is that if you don’t want your pastors wasting their time in the office chasing rabbit trails, make sure you spell things correctly when sending emails!

Over the succeeding decades the new word passed into general use as a term meaning the fundamental or overall perspective with which one views the world. A worldview is a person’s general philosophy or view of life. Christian thinkers have long employed the term and it is now very popular in Christian education. Colleges advertize that they teach the various disciplines in keeping with a Christian worldview. Abraham Kuyper employed the terms “life and world system” or, more simply, “life system” as synonyms for worldview, but meant the same thing by them.

Darwinism, for example, is a world-view, or a philosophy of life. It provides a set of fundamental answers regarding the great questions posed by human existence. When once someone has embraced that worldview, his or her outlook on everything must submit to those fundamental principles. Meaning and purpose, ethics and morality, the present and the future, all must be understood in regard to the worldview. Life is an accident, it is going nowhere in particular, it ends at death, any meaning attributed to human existence must be imposed upon it and is nothing but a psychological ploy, perhaps to keep despair at bay, and so on. Human beings, in fact, are simply the atoms that make them up and sooner rather than later those atoms will decompose into something else and the human being will be no more. Someone with that worldview would say, they often do say, what Einstein said: there is, there can be, no absolute and genuinely consequential moral difference between a murderer and a law-abiding citizen – because right and wrong are simply human conventions – but we have to act as if there were a great difference. We may think such ideas preposterous, but that is only because our worldview is very different than that of a Darwinist.

There is a sense, of course, in which Christianity itself is a worldview, but, as we know, Christians can think differently about even very fundamental things and so Reformed philosophers and theologians have tended to regard Reformed theology as a worldview to itself. To be sure it is a philosophy of life that overlaps with other Christian life systems, but it is sufficiently unique to be its own Weltanschauung or worldview. Now, remember, a worldview is not the details of a system or philosophy of life, but the overarching principles that determine our understanding of the meaning of things and our morality. A worldview provides answers to such questions as where did we come from, who are we, what does life mean, how can I know what is true, and where are we going?

Well, I mention all of that because before Jerid walked into my office Wednesday morning I had already noted the features of 1 Kings chapter 4 that I wanted to draw to your attention but it hadn’t occurred to me that, taken together, they amounted to the substance of a worldview, a philosophy of life. Little as we might expect it from a chapter like 1 Kings 4, an account of  Solomon’s administrative organization, there is an entire philosophy of life disclosed here, or, at least, most of one. It is one of the marks of the genius of the Bible that in reporting such mundane things as political arrangements it, at the same time, discloses the meaning of life.

Let me show you how it does so. First we have here in a very beautiful way a picture of a human being as God made him. We get some insight into what a human being is. Solomon is a student of things, he learns, he investigates, he wants to know. He is wonderfully creative, he writes proverbs, short summaries of the lessons of life, the products of his observation. And he composes songs, poems to be sung. He is a ruler. God has made him his vice-regent in the world. And he is not the only one. Indeed, Solomon was the wisest of all men, and that is demonstrated, as we read here, by the fact that he was wiser than Ethan, Heman, Calcol, and Darda, ancient men famous for their wisdom. The same five names occur in 1 Chronicles 2:6 as descendants of Judah. They were apparently famous for their wisdom. But there were other wise men, not Israelites at all, as the point is explicitly made that Solomon’s wisdom exceeded that of the wisest men of the East and of Egypt, a nation known for its wisdom and its wisdom literature. Many of the proverbs in our Book of Proverbs can be found virtually word for word in Egyptian documents from the same period. Here we have, as so often in the Bible, the cheerful acknowledgement of the giftedness and God-likeness of all human beings, not just the people whom God has brought into covenant with himself. The people around you are extraordinary in their gifts and talents. You ought to tell them that because they don’t realize that. They take it all for granted. It is a good way to begin a conversation. “You don’t realize how extraordinary you actually are!” In my experience, people like to hear that.

In other words, man has a remarkable nature. He has been made by God to do things and, in particular, to fulfill the calling God gave him to make something wonderful of life, to find out life’s meaning, and to be a faithful steward of the world and of other human beings in the world. He has been given great dignity as God’s vice-regent, as one who works, as it were, alongside of God to do the will of God in this world. And he has been given stupendous powers with which to accomplish this calling.

We read in Ecclesiastes that God has placed eternity in the heart of a human being. This explains his curiosity, a curiosity that compels human invention and the mastery of the world. We have here the glory of human beings and their creative powers: not only of study and of art and of intellect, but of organization and administration, such as Solomon demonstrates in his government of Israel. We have here, in other words, human beings made in the image and likeness of God. Here are human beings doing the same thing God does. Remarkable! It is the great thing that must be known and accounted for: the remarkable powers of human beings. Where did they come from? Evolution? The very idea is utterly absurd. Human beings are a reflection of the nature of God himself, of his mind and of his heart and of his will. And not believers only, but all human beings. Here we have not only the doctrine, the fundamental principle of the image of God but likewise common grace, that the blessings of creation and of human nature continue to be bestowed upon even the unbelieving and the unrepentant.

Why is human life the utterly remarkable thing that it is for self-concsiousness, for the power of speech, for intellect, for emotion, for the appreciation of beauty, for creativity, and for the power of the will? Because man has been made to be like God. And why do those who live in rebellion against God nevertheless participate in the gifts of God? Because they too are made in God’s image and because it is God’s will for the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous alike. The image of God and the reality of common grace: two fabulously important pieces of our worldview; how we look out on the world and how we understand what we observe.

Second, we have here, and very obviously, an account of a wise king ruling wisely to the blessing and happiness of his people. That this is the subject of the chapter is made very clear. It is a description of Solomon’s wisdom, sandwiched between the last verse of chapter 3 where we read that the wisdom of God was in Solomon and the last verse of chapter 5 that relates how famous Solomon became because of his wisdom. In between is an account of how he ruled over Israel and how, as a result, the Israelites “ate and drank and were happy” (v. 20) and how the people lived in safety, with “every man under his vine and under fig tree,” (v. 25) a biblical image of peaceful prosperity.

But in all of this and fundamental to the biblical depiction of reality, we have the interplay between the divine and the human, between God’s plan and its outworking in and through the actions of human beings, between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsible activity. God gave Solomon great wisdom. It was his gift to the man. And Solomon then put it to work. Indeed, because he was wise, he put a number of other able men to work on plans of his devising. Even in a virtual paradise, human beings are organizing and administering and creating and producing. God did not give Solomon specific instructions about how to organize the administration of Israel. God gave Solomon wisdom and out of that wisdom Solomon devised his political strategy. We find this everywhere we look in the Bible. We find it everywhere we look in life. I wonder if you realize that the reason so many people do not believe in God, and so many intelligent people wonder if or positively doubt that God exists, is because God so thoroughly hides himself behind the actions of men. He has made man his co-worker to such a degree that many only see the man and never see the God by whose gifts and according to whose plan the man is working in the world.

But is this not fundamental to our worldview, our philosophy of life? We have been called and have been given by God the ability to undertake responsible action in the world. But in acting we are never free from but are entirely subject to the divine will and the divine plan for us and for the world. We are to act but always with a view to the fact that our actions are only possible because of God’s will and because of the gifts that God has given us. God made Solomon king and God made Solomon wise and then Solomon practiced that wisdom and here is the really interesting thing: it became the means of God’s fulfilling his promise to bless Israel through Abraham and through David. In Genesis 15:22 centuries before I Kings 4, we learned what Israel would grow to be as a nation, what her national boundaries would be, and how she would extend her rule. But all of this comes to pass through the actions of men: David and his son, Solomon. This symbiotic relationship between the divine and the human in the world is a key piece of our worldview. It wonderfully dignifies our life and work as human beings, but it also keeps it firmly in its proper place as the outworking of a divine plan, as activity made possible by divine gifts, and as a freedom that is completely subject to the divine will. That is our Weltanschauung, our worldview: God is on his throne but he accomplishes his will through the free exercise of man’s gifts and powers and will.

But there is still more of our worldview here, our philosophy of life. Third, we have, if not the entire scheme, a piece of that philosophy of history that is essential to our worldview. We have here things at their best; it is never going to be better in Israel than it is right now in I Kings 4: a wise king and a happy people. We have an ideal situation so far as human life is concerned. We have a well-ordered and well-governed kingdom that produces prosperity for its citizens and in which justice is maintained. Indeed, without question, we have here an anticipation of the consummation of the kingdom of God at the end of history. 1 Kings 4, as an account of a period of history, is very like the prophetic descriptions of the world when God establishes his kingdom in finality. For example, consider this from Micah 4 and his great prophecy of the coming of the kingdom of God in the latter days:

“For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples…and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid….”

In other words, on the great day it will be like it was in Solomon’s reign, only better still. And in Revelation 21, in its depiction of heaven, we have the famous remark that the kings of the earth will bring their glory into the kingdom of God. Well we have that here also in 1 Kings 4, the tribute of the other nations making the kingdom of God still more prosperous. And that is frequently a feature of the prophets’ description of the consummation: all the kings of the earth will make their way to Jerusalem bringing their wealth with them.

What we have in 1 Kings 4, in other words, as good as it gets in this world, is a picture of how things will be when God finally puts all things right at the end of time. Human life will be human life, but it will be happy, prosperous, and just.

But all is not perfect in this picture. There are shadows that lie over the edges of this sunny picture of Israel in prosperity. The thoughtful reader, familiar with the Bible, immediately detects some haunting uncertainty about the future of Solomon’s kingdom. I suspect that today the ordinary reader of 1 Kings 4, when he gets to v.26 and reads of Solomon’s thousands of horses, thinks simply that this is to illustrate the grandeur and power of Solomon’s kingdom. But listen to Deuteronomy 17:16 in the midst of the instructions given ahead of time for Israel’s king when finally he would appear:

“Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again. And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.”

In other words, Solomon has done, early on in his reign, precisely what the law of God orders him not to do. And this early hint of trouble to come is made the more explicit as the narrative of Solomon’s reign continues. In 10:26ff. we read again of Solomon’s many horses but also read that he imported them from Egypt, again precisely what he was commanded not to do. And, in the same place we read that the king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stone. And we know all too well of his many wives and the damage they were to do to Solomon’s kingdom by distracting him from his loyalty to the law and worship of Yahweh alone.

No sharp reader of 1 Kings 4 would fail to notice the appearance of a dark cloud on this horizon. Solomon is not going to be the one who will bring the kingdom of God to its consummation. We await another, a still much better king, a more righteous one, whose heart and head cannot be turned by temptations. Solomon, made in the image of God, is a man of great wisdom by God’s grace, but he is still a sinner and subject to temptation. Israel’s prosperity cannot finally be rested on such a foundation. There is no doubt that God’s promise of a coming king will be kept, but there will be, as we will discover reading on in Kings, a lot of heartache along the way to the establishment of God’s kingdom because of the sinful folly of human beings.

So what do we have here? We have at least pieces of that great philosophy of history that is the backbone of our worldview: creation, fall, redemption, consummation. We have the creation here as we mentioned already; but we have as well the effects of the fall and the promise of redemption here – the king of whom Solomon proves only to be an anticipation of, a king who must be wiser even than Solomon and more righteous – and we have the anticipation of the consummation in this picture of Israel’s prosperity.

Creation, fall, redemption, and consummation: just to mention the words is to realize how much they communicate about where we have come from and where we are going, about the meaning of life, about the existence of a world yet to be revealed, about this world as the theater of human salvation and judgment. Creation, fall, redemption, and consummation: we know from this worldview why human beings are at one and the same time so surpassingly wonderful and so terrible; we understand from it the seriousness of life; we see it all as a divine plan and as the history of divine grace and judgment in the world; and we find here our hope for things to come.

The creation of man in the image and likeness of God and God’s common grace to all men; the divine sovereignty and plan exercising itself through the responsible action of human beings; and the philosophy of history that proceeds from creation, through fall and redemption, to consummation in heaven and hell. The combination of those realities, those facts, and those convictions form our worldview, our Weltanschauung, our life-system.

Every detail of your life, every issue that surfaces, every question, takes its meaning and finds its importance, or lack of importance, in reference to these fundamental beliefs and convictions that form our worldview, our philosophy of life. All of my actions are subject to the will and the judgment of God, and, at the same time, invested with great dignity as my Creator has given me freedom to serve him and to fulfill my calling in the world. Everything in my life is shaped by this understanding of history that moves from creation through fall and redemption to consummation. Nothing means anything at all except what it means in relation to that history and that future. I have been made in God’s image to serve him in this world: that is my calling and the meaning of my life.

Most people you meet have little idea of their worldview. They haven’t thought about it or considered what it might consist of. Others – including many who belong to the elite of our culture – have a worldview they cannot live with. It gives life no meaning but they can’t live without meaning; it provides for no moral compass, but they cannot live without moral conviction; it gives them no hope for the future, but they cannot face the fact that their lives are short and soon to end and will mean nothing thereafter. They cannot live without hope.

But we have a worldview that is consistent with what we observe of life; it provides a profound explanation of the world as we know it, as everyone knows it; it explains why we all feel that life must have meaning and justifies that feeling. It accounts for both the wonderful goodness of life and its pervasive ugliness. What is more, it places us in the midst of a grand story that gives deep and eternal meaning even to our small and provincial lives; that deep and eternal meaning we know must be there. It is pointed to a future that will sum up all of that human longing that directs and drives our lives and provides the resolution we know must be coming. That is our worldview and it is so profound and pervasive in its relevance and implication that a biblical narrator cannot describe the administrative workings of Solomon’s government without exposing the foundations of that life system as he does so.

And, in the same way, you and I need to be self-consciously aware of our worldview as we make our way through life day by day, the great principles of it shaping our thinking about everything and directing our actions in every way. That is what it means to live biblically and that is how Christ is made pre-eminent in our lives.