Studies in the Book of Kings 1 Kings 9:1-10:29


1 Kings 9:1-10:29

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I’m going to take another substantial chunk of text tonight, two full chapters, because together these paragraphs complete the first section of the book and the positive part of the Solomon narrative. These two chapters largely repeat themes that were introduced at the beginning of the Solomon story and in that way sum it up and emphasize its lessons.

Text Comment

v.2

We read of that first appearance of the Lord to Solomon in 3:4-15.

v.3

Solomon dedicated the temple but only God could make it holy!

v.4

“Walking” is a metaphor for “living” throughout the Bible. In Ephesians Paul tells us to “walk” worthy of the grace we have received.

v.7

The pronoun “you” is plural in vv. 6-7: the king and the people together are meant.

v.9

The Lord’s presence had filled the temple at its dedication and it would continue to remain there, but only if Solomon and Israel continue to trust and obey the Lord. This is the pervasive teaching of the Bible in both the OT and the New. The continuation of the Lord’s blessing depends upon the faithfulness of his people. What you have here is what you have in a much more elaborate argument in the Letter to the Hebrews or the Letters to the Seven Churches in Revelation 2-3. But remember, this too is God’s grace. All Solomon has to do is to continue in obedience – not moral perfection but faithfulness to God’s covenant – and the living God will continue his presence with him and his blessing upon him. That is a huge reward from God for very little from man! And that Solomon should be in covenant with God at all, or Israel, was pure grace on God’s part. (To be sure, no one can persevere apart from the grace of God, but here the emphasis falls on the believer’s responsibility.)

The emphatic repetition of the conditions needing to be met by those in covenant with the Lord is important because, of course, very quickly we are going to learn that neither Solomon nor his descendants met these conditions and the threatened punishments fell upon Israel and upon the royal house just as God had said they would.

v.14

The original contract with Hiram did not specify “gold” among the promised goods that Tyre would supply to Jerusalem. But what seems to have happened is that Solomon effectively “mortgaged” [Wiseman, 126] some 20 border towns as a means of paying his debt to Hiram. Probably the border between the two countries was adjusted to move these villages into Tyrian territory. 120 talents of gold is an enormous amount, almost 4 tons. Hiram was not entirely pleased with the towns that he received in exchange, but he is very much the junior partner in this trading relationship, a point that will be made still clearer later when we read that Hiram continued to serve Solomon’s trading interests by supplying ships and sailors for his merchant navy. But here we see Solomon as something of a conniver, ready to take advantage of a brother (9:13) if he can.

v.15

The “millo” is a reference to the supporting terraces connecting the buildings to one another or the city wall to the buildings.

v.16

The fact that the Egyptian Pharaoh had dispatched the Canaanites in Gezer is a reminder that the Israelites could have done the same thing, and Solomon in particular could have done what Israel had been commanded to do when it took possession of the Promised Land. This suggests that Solomon employed the Canaanites by choice, not because he had to. He liked having them available for building projects, no matter their baneful influence in the land. A hint of things to come here, perhaps. [Provan, 88] What is more, remember, as we read in 5:13, the Israelites were also drafted as laborers but their terms were more generous. They worked only a quarter of a year. This requirement to serve as laborers came to be deeply resented especially in the north and would come back to bite Solomon’s heir and successor, Rehoboam.

By the way, there is a new school of what one might call hyper-typological interpreters in Reformed scholarship today. They read this brief piece of history in typological fashion: Solomon’s father (in-law) gives a town to his daughter whom his son (in-law) rebuilds. This then refers to the Father giving the world to his church, the bride of his Son, which the Son in turns rebuilds and renews. My sense is that if this history regarding the sack and burning of Gezer and the annihilation of its population by Pharaoh and the subsequent rebuilding of Gezer by Solomon can be turned into a lesson about God the Father, God the Son, and the church of Jesus Christ, then anything in the Bible can be made a lesson about anything. [cf. Leithart, 76]

v.25

These would be the three pilgrimage feasts: Passover, Weeks (or Pentecost), and Tabernacles. We have here a reminder that a spectacular beginning – such as we witnessed at the dedication of the temple – is no substitute for faithfulness over the long stretch. It is the regular routine that will finally tell the tale of our faithfulness or unfaithfulness to the Lord.

v.27

Solomon’s navy was manned by Phoenicians, famous for the skill in both building and sailing ocean-going ships.

v.28

No one is sure where Ophir was: in southern Arabia, in India, or in Africa. In 10:22 we read that a round trip, perhaps by this same merchant navy, took three years, if so it was a destination at some distance from the Gulf of Aqaba, which is where Ezion Geber is located.

10:1

Lest it be thought that Solomon’s wisdom and power were only impressive to the Israelites themselves, we are now given “independent” verification of Solomon’s greatness and wisdom. “Sheba” was located in southern Arabia, where Yemen is found today. This was not merely a trip to satisfy curiosity, of course. This was a trade mission, important because now Solomon controlled the Red Sea trading routes and the caravan routes to Egypt from Arabia, which also passed through Ezion Geber. The queen was interested in establishing friendly relations for the sake of establishing trade, so that Sheba’s trade would not be swallowed up by this huge new and voracious market in Palestine.

v.4

The setting here is that of a state dinner as well as a visit to the temple.

v.9

It is ironic that even the Queen of Sheba recognized that God chose Solomon so that he might execute justice and righteousness, the very things Solomon requested in his prayer to the Lord in 3:1-9. But Solomon himself would soon forget what a foreign queen could so easily see!

v.13

This large gift probably indicates the conclusion of some trading agreement or treaty.

You remember that the Lord Jesus used the Queen of Sheba as an example of the effort one should be willing to make to discover God’s truth – she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon – and there was one greater than Solomon in Galilee then (Matt. 12:42).

v.15

666 talents are approximately 21.5 tons of gold! But similar sums are recorded as annual income in Egypt at about the same time. This amount would be accumulated in trade, tribute, and taxes.

v.17

These gold shields would not last very long. They were looted by Shishak, the Egyptian Pharaoh, during the reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam. Rehoboam replaced them with bronze shields; hardly the same!

v.21

Imagine how this account of Israel’s fantastic wealth must have sounded to the first readers of Kings, poor slaves eking out a meager existence in exile and remembering that the Jerusalem of Solomon’s time was now a heap of rubble. Other kings of the earth used to seek an audience with Israel’s king; now there is no king in Israel and no one takes notice of what is left of the nation.

v.22

“Tarshish” has long been thought to be a place in the far distant west, perhaps in modern day Spain. Some recent scholarship suggests it is actually the name of a type of large ocean-going ship rather than a place name.

v.28

Remember that Deuteronomy contains an express commandment that Israel’s kings were not to accumulate horses and, in particular, to acquire them from Egypt! [17:16] Solomon seems to have exported these horses, so he was also a middleman, importing and exporting the same goods. Middlemen often make enormous sums of money. Solomon made himself and his kingdom a lynchpin of international trade. Kue is north of Palestine, in what would nowadays be southeastern Turkey. The fact that he traded horses to Hittites, however, the very people, as we read in 9:20, who were part of the Canaanite peoples, and to the Arameans or Syrians, and so increased their power, is surely some evidence of unwisdom on Solomon’s part. He is funding his enemies!

It is interesting that virtually all of this description: the nature of trade, the material traded, the amounts of money, the architectural notes regarding terraces and thrones and the like, all has been confirmed by archaeological studies. The narrative fits neatly into what is known of the ANE at Solomon’s time.

In any case, it is clear that God has lavished his blessing upon Solomon in keeping with his promise. There has been nothing wanting on God’s side. The next episode of the book will describe what Solomon did with all of this divine favor. His great wisdom did not keep him from catastrophic foolishness!

Now, how is a Christian, living in America, to apply this history to his or her own case? Well there is surely a proper typology to be found in this history. The Bible itself draws attention to Solomon as, in some respects, a forerunner of the King of Kings. For example, in Psalm 72, a psalm of Israel’s perfect king, we read:

“May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.” And

“Long may he live; may gold of Sheba be given to him…”

The gifts brought to Solomon by the queen of Sheba are taken as a picture of the tribute that the entire world will bring to the King in the day of the consummation of the kingdom of God. And, as we already said, the Lord Jesus himself compares himself to Solomon by describing himself as “the one greater than Solomon.” [Luke 11:31]

In this history it is right for us to see drawn a beautiful picture of our King and of the blessing and the prosperity of his reign. What we have with the visit of the Queen of Sheba is an anticipation of that day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the father.

But, as so often with typology in the Old Testament, there are layers of meaning and layers of application. We can see Solomon as a Christ figure and draw conclusions from this narrative concerning the glory of his reign, his infinite wisdom, and his supremacy over all the other kings and nations of the world. We can see here something of the blessing of that people whose king is Jesus Christ.

Notice the Queen of Sheba’s very interesting form of words in 10:8:

“Happy are your men! Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!”

As a ruler herself, she realizes what a tremendous privilege it is to have Solomon for one’s king. And she assumes that his people are regularly pinching themselves to make sure that it is not all a dream: such a king, such a prosperous kingdom, such a happy life.

Surely this is an invitation for us to think about our own happiness, our own sense of privilege in life, our own sense of satisfaction in the circumstances of our lives as the men or the servants of the King of Kings. We saw last week, from Romans 14 that the principal “features” of the kingdom of God are righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. The Queen of Sheba could see that if people had such a king they could not help but be happy and we have one far greater than Solomon for our king!

And when we are not happy, and do not feel ourselves prosperous or privileged or favored, it is largely because we have forgotten our king and his kingdom and the extraordinary privilege of belonging to it. We may not be as wealthy as Israel became during Solomon’s rule, but, by Christ’s grace in our lives we are storing up treasure that will make such wealth seem paltry in comparison: treasure of the physical kind to be sure, but still much more treasure of the heart and the soul, treasure of love and perfect fellowship, and, above all, the treasure of the knowledge of God and of life basking in his glory forever. How happy men and women, boys and girls must be who have that future looming before them.

It is remarkable, and again a wonderfully distinctive feature of our faith, how many references there are to joy and happiness, to bliss and exultation, to feasting and merry-making there are in the Bible and how emphatically all of this is said to be the invariable characteristic of true faith in the living God from the Psalms to Philippians to Revelation. [Barth, CD, III 4, 375]

True enough. There is a great deal of solemnity to our faith, a great deal of the terror of divine judgment, a great deal of the awful misery of life, a great deal of the looming catastrophe that man brings upon himself by his sin and his rebellion against God. But in the midst of that there remains, always, this brightness, this happiness and delight, this active rejoicing in the believer’s life and experience because he or she knows God, because his sins are forgiven, because she is going to heaven, and because God has made something so good and so right of his or her life.

Nathaniel Ward was a Puritan pastor and author. My favorite line from Ward is one I have quoted to you on a number of occasions in the past:

“I have two comforts in life: the perfections of Christ and the imperfections of everyone else!”

Ward once bought a home in Ipswich, a house whose previous owner had been a Puritan himself. When Ward moved in he found engraved on the mantel in the home’s living room the three virtues that the previous owner had thought summed up a truly virtuous Christian life: “sobriety, justice, and piety.” Nathaniel Ward hired a woodworker and had a fourth characteristic of godliness added to the other three: laughter.

It is not hard at all for us to understand that being a citizen of the kingdom of the Son of God ought to make us very happy people. Indeed, it is one of the signal honors we can pay to our king and one of the truest demonstrations of our gratitude and love that we be a happy people. It is this thought that lies behind C.S. Lewis’ famous statement that

“It is a Christian’s duty, as you know, for everyone to be as happy as he can.”

There is nothing sentimental or dishonest about that statement, nothing cavalier, nothing inhumane or callous. It was written in a letter to a man who had recently suffered the death of his beloved wife, still a young woman; to a man whose life had been devastated by the greatest conceivable loss. The Christian’s joy, because it is rooted in Christ, is the most truly human joy of all. It can co-exist with great sorrow and with the most resolutely honest assessment of this dismal world of ours. In Solomon’s day as well, of course, there was sickness and death, personal disappointment, and grief of various kinds. But there was happiness too, shot through all of life. [S. Vanauken, A Severe Mercy, 189]

But if this is true, as it certainly is. If joy, if happiness, is the lot of those whose God is the Lord and whose King is the King of Kings, then this chapter is also a summons to us. It is not only a description of our happy lot – a description so obvious that it is offered by a pagan queen – but it is a summons to be happy and, perhaps more important, to ensure that those for whom we are responsible are happy as well.

That, after all, was Solomon’s calling and his role as the king of Israel. And at this point in his reign, some half-way in, he was fulfilling that calling and his people were so happy that the Queen of Sheba couldn’t help noticing how favored they were. As everywhere in the Bible, God’s gifts become our calling. Christ makes us righteous and we are to be righteous and live righteously. Christ grants us peace and we are to live in peace and be peacemakers. Christ gives us joy and we are to be joyful and spread that joy to others. It is our proper answer to his grace and goodness in our lives; it is our Amen to his grace and goodness to us. And not only for ourselves, but for others as well.

And there is no doubt that this aspect of Christian happiness – our calling to put it on, to practice it, to cultivate it – is also front and center in this narrative, because, as we saw, this is a blessing that will continue only as God’s people remain faithful to him. It will be Israel’s misery, not her joy, when she begins consorting with other gods and neglecting God’s commandments. Her lack of happiness will be in the years and centuries to come an index of her unfaithfulness and of her broken relationship with God. What is more, we have the emphasis in 10:9 that the Lord had set Solomon on the throne of Israel. Why? Because the Lord loved Israel. And his people Israel couldn’t be happy and prosperous and come into their own unless they had a king who would see to that happiness and prosperity. In other words, Solomon’s calling as a man responsible for the people of God, was to rule and to act in such as way as to secure and preserve the happiness of God’s people, as well as their goodness and faithfulness and righteousness.

As so often in the Christian faith and life there is something wonderfully human about this. I know very well from my own experience and from the observation of yours that we are all naturally accustomed to measure our lives by our own happiness. The researches of modern psychology have reinforced this universal observation: a person’s life is in many fundamental respects as his or her happiness or lack of same.

The Lord himself trades on this fact when he encourages both faith in him, in the first place, and faithfulness to him on the part of his people in the second by promising them happiness in return. The beatitudes with which the Lord begins his Sermon on the Mount begin, you remember, with the repeated promise that people who live in the faith and obedience of Jesus Christ will be blessed or happy.

Happiness is the great question of human life, the great issue confronting mankind. The world longs for happiness but usually does not find it. It cannot help but long for it because human beings have been made in the image of an infinitely happy God. All men seek happiness without exception. Jonathan Edwards reminds us that Jesus knew that all men were looking for happiness and so he showed them the way to it. And, of course, that way is the way to him and through him to the life God made human beings to live.

As Lewis famously put it in Mere Christianity:

“God designed the human machine to run on himself. He himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” [54]

Aristotle, in the greatest secular or pagan work of ethics and the human life, The Nicomachean Ethics, argues that happiness is impossible if one’s circumstances are bad. But circumstances have never been worse for a human being than the night before his crucifixion but the Lord went willingly to his death for the joy that was set before him. Augustine, far more wisely than Aristotle, observed that a man is a slave to that by which he wishes to find happiness. [Of the True Religion, 69] And the problem with most human beings at this time in human history is that they have hoped to find happiness in places where it cannot be found. The tragedy of human life is the futile quest for happiness that is its central story. It is, of course, possible to be superficially happy and wicked at the same time, but we see every day how superficial, how temporary, and how irreal the world’s happiness is, even at its best. To have true happiness one must be in touch with the meaning of his life and have an answer, a sure and certain answer to the fact of death. The world does not have this and cannot find it where it is looking for it. Only Christ can provide those things.

But here we Christians have seen the light. As the Queen of Sheba thought to put it: “how happy are your men; how happy are your servants.” We are the servants of the King of Kings and how happy, therefore, must we be. And so it becomes our duty not only to put on that happiness that is ours in Christ, but to help others to find it as well. We are not slaves to our circumstances; we should not be at all like other human beings looking for happiness in all the wrong places. We should have it always to the glory of God and those for whom we are responsible we should work to be sure have it as well.

Husbands, are your wives happy? It is a simple way to examine yourself as to your life as a husband. Have you been your wife’s helper to joy? Have you so ordered your marriage in the Lord Jesus Christ, that joy has been your lot for yourself but, even more, for your wife? Wives whose husbands are righteous men and who love them as Christ loved the church are seldom unhappy. Is your wife happy, happy, happy to be married to you? She should be. It is her inheritance as a Christian woman married to a Christian man. Do other women see you and the way you treat your wife and speak to her and speak about her and think, like the Queen of Sheba, “how happy your wife must be to have you for her husband?” “Oh to be married to such a wise man who lives so wisely!” Gentlemen, is it so?

Wives, are your husbands happy to be married to you? It is a simple way to examine yourself as a Christian wife. Do men who observe your life in your marriage envy your husband? “Oh to be married to such a wise woman who lives so wisely and well!” Ladies, is it so?

Parents, are your children happy? Have you so ordered your family life as Christ commands that your children are growing up in that privileged state of being happy as children, growing up in a world that glows with the love of God as that love is communicated through their parents. Or are your children dull, spiritless, sullen, angry, and rebellious? Are your children bright, full of fun, at peace with their world, cheerfully obedient (at least most of the time!) because they are Christ’s children whose lives have been given to Christian parents as a stewardship? They should be. Are they? Is it their happy lot to have you for their parents because you have so ruled your family in wisdom and righteousness that they cannot help but be happy? When others, even non-Christians like the Queen of Sheba, see you parenting your children do they think: “how happy those children must be to be the children of such wise parents?”

Elders and ministers of the church, is the congregation happy? Is the church alive with the joy of the Lord? Is the congregation enjoying the world of peace and harmony, of warm fellowship, of mutual care and consideration, of high purpose, of sacred worship that godly leadership is to create for the church by word and by deed and by example?

The Queen of Sheba’s first thought when she got an eyeful and earful of Solomon’s reign was how happy his people must be, how happy his servants must be to serve such a king and to live in such a kingdom. How much more should this be true of us – servants of the king of kings as we are – and how much more should others be able to see that it is so. To be happy – by applying our faith to our circumstances and by possessing our possessions in Christ – and by making happy those for whom we have a responsibility, I say, this happiness is our great privilege and our great calling and summons.

It is time for us, for Jesus’ sake, to make others sit up and take notice and, loving happiness as men do, nothing will make them sit up and take notice sooner or more often or with greater attention than being a happy people. They will work backwards to the conclusion to which the Queen of Sheba worked forwards. She saw the king and assumed the happiness of his people. They will see a happy people and work back to the King who has made them so.