Solomon’s Other Acts

Sermon preached on 1 Kings 9:10-28 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 10/6/2019 in Novato, CA.

Sermon manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Kings 9:10-28

Solomon’s Other Acts

Here in the aftermath of God’s second appearance to Solomon, we learn about various other activities of Solomon.  We learned so much of his activities during the first twenty years of his reign while he was working on building the temple and his palace.  Those accomplishments were especially extraordinary, and so we weren’t surprised to see so much detail given in those chapters.  But now, after all that, this passage quickly summarizes what we might describe as more of the ordinary work of a king.  True, to us, any work of a king probably doesn’t seem too ordinary.  But to a king, and comparatively to building the temple, these actions recorded here seem relatively ordinary.  But that is much of life for anyone, including a king.  Life is full of the regular and typical work of our ordinary callings.  Yet, for Solomon, he is performing this ordinary work in the shadow of the exhortation we saw that God gave him last week.  He’s living out his ordinary calling in the light of last week’s passage where God exhorted him to faithfulness and perseverance.  And in that we can relate, because that becomes the call for all of us.  We are to carry out our daily callings as those called to continue to walk in the ways of the Lord and in our faith in him.

Let’s first then walk through and observe some of this ordinary work of King Solomon.  We see, for example, much international trade and diplomacy.  Verses 10-14 tell us of some trading that Solomon was doing with Hiram king of Tyre.  We recall that previously King Hiram had been supplying timber to Solomon in exchange for wheat and oil.  That was back in 1 Kings 5 and was lumber used for the temple. It is not entirely clear on the timing of the transactions listed here.  But evidently there is now not only lumber but also gold coming from Hiram.  In exchange, we are told that Solomon paid for these commodities from Tyre by turning over twenty cities in Galilee. And so we see here that part of Solomon’s work as king was engaging in such international diplomacy and trade.

We are also reminded of his international diplomacy with the references here to Egypt.  The reference in verse 16 to Pharaoh’s conquest of Gezer and giving of that to his daughter as a dowry reminds us that Solomon had taken the Pharaoh’s daughter as his wife.  Gezer, by the way, was one of the Canaanite towns that the Israelites had previously failed to capture and devote to destruction as they were supposed to, per Joshua 16:10.  At any rate, surely this marriage to the Egyptian princess was inherently a political alliance and part of Solomon’s diplomacy efforts.  Likewise, the reference down in verse 24 to Pharaoh’s daughter relocating also reminds us of this.  

By the way, the reference there to Pharaoh’s daughter moving up from the City of David to the house that Solomon built can be confusing, so let me clarify.  The City of David here refers the original inhabited area of Jerusalem under the time of King David and is distinguished from the additions that Solomon had made, specifically when he expanded the city to have both the temple and his palace built up behind the original city on the highest part of that mount.  Based on 2 Chronicles we learn that she specifically had been living in David’s old palace.  So then, verse 24 means that she moved out of David’s old palace in the old city to up into the new palace complex that Solomon built that included a special house for her.  This is the same sort of language used last chapter, in 8:1, when it said that they moved the ark of the covenant out of the City of David up into the temple.  The 2 Chronicles account also tells us that Solomon was concerned to move his wife because David’s old palace had previously held the ark of the covenant.  It said that Solomon didn’t think it was appropriate for her to remain in a place where the holy Ark had been.  This may seem to be a bit of a digression, but it does show that in his ordinary callings he had concerns to satisfy holiness on his mind and that is certainly a good thing.

We see yet further of Solomon’s international trade and diplomacy in the final verses of this passage, verses 26-28.  There we find that Solomon built a fleet of ships and partnered with King Hiram to use them on joint expeditions.  Here specifically we see reference to a successful gold expedition to Ophir.  Ophir, interestingly, is renown in the Bible as a source of gold, though its exact location is unknown today – likely somewhere in the southern Arabian peninsula.

So that is a little about the international trade and diplomacy that seems to have been prosperous for both Solomon and the nation.  Next notice the raising and use of a labor force in terms of Solomon’s ordinary work as a king.  This labor force here is especially seen in relation to the military needs of the nation.  This is a rather lengthy section from verses 15 to 23.  We had already learned about various conscripted labor Solomon had used in building the temple.  Here we see the detail that he conscripted a permanent slave labor force out of those various Canaanite peoples that had remained in the Promised Land after Israel had conquered it.  You can recall that way back in Deuteronomy 7 God gave a list of seven people groups that Israel was to totally destroy and wipeout when they conquered the Promised Land.  Those people are sometimes generally referred to as Canaanites, but the more specific list is in Deuteronomy 7.  Here, in verse 20 the 5 people groups mentioned were all in that list.  They were supposed to have been previously devoted to destruction because of their utter wickedness.  But Israel was not faithful in that task and so now, such a long time later, Solomon conscripts some of those remaining Canaanite peoples into a permanent slave labor force.  Apart from what we think of slavery today, we should note that the text highlights an important point in verse 22.  There it clarifies that Solomon did not make any Israelites into such permanent slaves.  We know earlier with the temple construction that Solomon conscripted Israelites into temporary service where some citizens had to serve the temple building projects one out of every three months.  From later complaints by Israel it sounds like that practice was not constrained to just the temple building project.  But here it makes a distinction.  Solomon’s use of Israelites was not specifically as full time, permanent slaves.  That was keeping with a specific law in the Torah that outlawed Israelites from being made permanent slaves (Exodus 21).

Now at least some of the need for such a labor force is seen here.  Much of Solomon’s labors as a king are as a builder.  He builds up so much in Israel, and here we see building work that would have supported the nation especially from a military strategy point of view.  Verse 15 mentions some other things in Jerusalem like the wall and the Millo.  The Millo likely refers to the stone terracing done around parts of Jerusalem that served as a sort of retaining wall and likely provided some military defense too in complement to the wall.  Then we see a number of cities mentioned.  These seem to be mentioned as they were strategic locations where Solomon built fortifications.  For example, Beth-horon was a strategic place for access to the highlands of Judah.  Baalath was likely a fortress guarding western access to Jerusalem.  The place of Tamar was probably in the region of Syria and probably offered protection in the north.  The military value of such cities is supported as well with the reference here to the cities for both the chariots and horsemen.  Likewise, the various store cities mentioned was surely of a strategic value too – he distributed resources throughout the country in these various store cities so that resources could be moved around as needed in an efficient manner.  Again, all this would have provided a strategic military value for Solomon and the nation.  But all of it would require a great labor force which Solomon found a solution for.

The last aspect to mention here of Solomon’s ordinary labors as a king here can be put in religious terms.  While only a brief reference, verse 25 mentions Solomon’s regular worship three times a year at the temple.  Solomon didn’t just build the temple, he also regularly made use of it.  To clarify, this surely has in mind the three main feasts for the Jewish faith, where people from all over Israel would come to Jerusalem to worship and offer such sacrifices.  I’m referring to the Passover with the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and to the Feast of Weeks aka Pentecost, and to the Feast of Tabernacles.  Solomon’s ordinary labor as king also includes his leadership and example among the people to worship God at the temple.  This addresses that issue stated all the way back in chapter 3.  There, the problem was noted that the people, including Solomon, worshipped in the high places because there was not yet a temple.  This reference shows Solomon as king leading the way in a right reforming of worship.

So then, we’ve had a chance to walk through this passage and survey some of this ordinary work of a king.  Let me know briefly turn to raise some questions for the king.  What I mean is that some have looked at this chapter and raised some questions over the propriety of some of the things Solomon does here.  Surely part of such questions is because we know the end of the story.  We know that in just two chapters from now in 1 Kings that Solomon will suffer a major moral failing and God will chasten him by removing much of the kingdom from Solomon’s successor Rehoboam because of it.  It’s natural to want to look back in Solomon’s life and begin to ask where did it all start?  People want to see if there are signs earlier of problems beginning to form.  Various scholars point to some concerns here, but of course the question is if they are valid critiques or not.  Well, since the text itself here is rather descriptive instead of giving commentary, let’s begin with some observations to note the kinds of questions that get raised.

One question that gets raised here is about his international diplomacy regarding Hiram and these cities.  Does Solomon essentially try to cheat Hiram here by trying to give him “garbage” cities?  When Hiram calls them “Cabul” he is calling them worthless.  Does this then actually go the wrong direction with an outsider?  Scripture speaks of God’s people so shining that the nations would see their prosperity and praise and seek the one true God.  Solomon even prayed along these lines in the last chapter. But does this show Solomon’s actions sullying Hiram’s perspective of God and his people?  A different but even a bigger question: should Solomon even have been selling off any cities in the Promised Land to a Gentile?

Another question that is raised here is that of excess riches.  Deuteronomy 17’s regulation for the king is that he must not acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.  Yet, clearly there is a strong emphasis at both the start and end of this passage on Solomon acquiring much gold.  Verse 11 says that Solomon obtained as much as he desired.  The question here is if he is seeking out excessive amounts of gold such that he is violating Deuteronomy 17.  Or is he just prudently looking to acquire the resources that would be needed to support such a growing kingdom and economy – not to mention having to provide for all the labor he was utilizing.

There is a similar question here people raise about the chariots and horseman.  Again, Deuteronomy 17 said that the king must not acquire many horses for himself.  Yet not only are there so many horses mentioned here, but also chariots, which tended to have a negative connotation among Israel as a sign of trusting in one’s own military strength instead of God.   Yet, there was no explicit prohibition against chariots for Israel.  And surely a nation of this size and wealth would need a strong military and defense network for the sake of prudently protecting the country.

Another question that has been raised here is about Solomon’s use of the Canaanites as a labor force.  There is the interesting point made here that this was because Israel was unable to devote them to destruction previously.  Yet, this stands in contrast to Pharaoh mentioned here who apparently has no trouble devoting a Canaanite town to destruction and giving it over to Israel.  Now, to be fair, I could imagine that if remaining pockets of Canaanite survivors happened to be among Israel’s towns and settlements that they’d probably think it was inappropriate at that point to devote them to destruction.  Enslaving them probably seemed a prudent thing to Solomon in light of the background.  But it is an interesting question and an especially as it contrasts here with Pharaoh’s actions.  

A related question comes to Solomon’s use of Israelites for labor.  We can appreciate the distinction made here that they weren’t permanent slaves.  Yet, we also can remember how the prophet Samuel had warn the people at the start of the monarchy that the king would press the people into various forms of service unto himself.  The warning doesn’t seem to only apply to slavery. That required service, paid or not, still ran the risk of becoming a great burden on the people. In the words of Deuteronomy 17, the concern was expressed as the king lifting his heart up above his brothers and exalting himself and treating others as mere servants below him.  Again, a question could be raised here about that, but is that actually what Solomon is doing here?

One thing that at this point that doesn’t raise a bunch of questions is his worship mentioned in verse 25.  In fact, what is said so sparsely here is given more treatment in the parallel account in 2 Chronicles.  There it is clear that Solomon not only faithfully participates in these three annual feasts, but that he made all the provisions necessary for the keeping of all the various priestly duties at the temple as the law required.  And yet maybe this is a good example of how to handle such questions that we’ve been raising.  If someone only saw verse 25 and didn’t read the parallel account in 2 Chronicles I could see that someone could raise the question if Solomon’s temple worship was just about those three annual feasts and not all the other things throughout the year.  But to ask such a question from silence isn’t proof of anything.  Rather, 2 Chronicles shows us that anyone who concluded ill of Solomon’s worship at this point would have been saying too much.

What’s my point?  Well, I’ll make my point and then turn it around to some application.  In a rather mundane passage of Scripture, we see many good things of Solomon’s ordinary work as a king.  Yes, we have questions that come up as we read these things.  Natural questions that in light of other passages that we want answers to.  Yet, Scripture doesn’t give us the answers that we want.  For example, on the question if he is pursuing gold to excess.  We can speculate on the answer to such a question.  But if we reflect on it, we should come to the conclusion that we don’t know enough to answer that.  So often such kinds of questions aren’t about matching something up to the letter of a law.  Often, they touch more on people’s motives and goals.  Who are we to say in this context whether Solomon was acquiring too much gold or if he was just being prudent for his nations’ needs?  While Jesus’ words about not judging are often misused, wouldn’t this be a good application to not judge Solomon’s heart when Scripture hasn’t given us enough to know?

But here’s where I would take these interesting and natural questions that come up in such a passage.  Instead of trying to answer them for Solomon which we really can’t ultimately do, I think a better approach is to redirect those questions to yourself.  It’s like how the book of Jonah ends.  God asks Jonah some tough questions.  We all want to know how Jonah responds to God’s rebuke.  But we aren’t told.  And that’s because God’s questions to Jonah are really meant then to be asked of ourselves.  The same is the case with the sorts of questions that naturally arise in today’s passage. Apply them to your own ordinary callings.  Apply them to how you conduct yourself as God’s people.  Especially since like Solomon, we have received this exhortation from God that we need to be faithfully walking in his ways and standing fast in our faith in Jesus.  How are we living Christ-like in our ordinary daily labors?  In such cases of conscience, you can’t search Solomon’s heart for Solomon’s affairs.  But you can search your own heart for your own affairs.

So, let me get specific.  In your own labors and acquisition of wealth, how much is too much?  Are you working so hard to prudently provide for your family and to wisely store up for the future?  Or do you go way beyond that because really you just love earthly treasure and have a lust for excess?  And in your own decisions of prudence in life – the protections you institute for yourself and your family.  In your heart are you being a prudent steward in obedience to God’s trust and care to you, or are you really just trusting in yourself.  It can be hard to say when accumulating chariots and horsemen go from prudence to pride in yourself, but surely it’s a question to ask of your own heart.  Or in your interactions in business and the workplace; maybe in the workplace you have people that you are in charge of.  Do you treat them with the dignity and respect that acknowledges them as a fellow human being and peers even if within the job environment you have a responsibility of authority – I think of Solomon’s labor force?  Or likewise, in the business, do you treat customers or partners the way you want to be treated, instead of just a strict satisfying of an obligation or deliverable – I think of those twenty cities.  Again, these are questions we can’t ask of Solomon’s heart – but they are questions we can and should ask of our own heart and our own labors.

And as we ask ourselves those questions, may we remember whom we serve.  King Jesus, Solomon’s greater son, is our Lord.  And with King Jesus there is no grey area in his service.  There are no questionable motives with Jesus.  We can know that Jesus’ heart is always in the right place.  And so, we joyfully enlist to be his servants, because King Jesus has so served us in love.  Jesus is the one who by nature was God, yet did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, and went to the cross to die for us and for our salvation.

As Christ is proclaimed to you again today, think of how this brings everything together.  In such questions of conscience, putting on such a Christ transforms how we think of such questions.  How much earthly treasure is enough is a different question when we think of how Jesus calls us to approach our money in stewardship for his kingdom.  How we treat others goes from simply not exalting ourselves over others when we know how much Jesus lowered himself below us to lay down his life for us.  These are just examples of the greater truth. Putting on such a Christ, radically informs and influences how we think through these real questions of conscience we wrestle through each day in our ordinary callings.  May we embrace such radical transformative thinking as we seek to have the mind of Christ.  Amen. 

Copyright © 2019 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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