Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Bible Commentary - 1 Kings 5

In this chapter, king Solomon starts gathering the building materials for the LORD's temple.

This is a short chapter, and in proper context it is relatively straightforward.  Lebanon is renowned in this historical era for its cedars, so much so that the "cedars of Lebanon" are a biblical metaphor for wealth and luxury.  In fact, even to this very day the flag of Lebanon has a cedar right in the middle of it.  Solomon goes to Tyre (which is a city in the nation now called Lebanon) to buy these cedars because he wants the temple of God to be made using the finest materials.

We see an emerging alliance between Israel and Tyre, that is primarily (if not entirely) based around trade.  Solomon buys their wood in exchange for food.  The overall exchange is quite simple; what amuses me about this chapter is that both Solomon and Hiram couch their intentions with religious language.  Solomon phrases everything in terms of the construction of the temple (which is fair, that is what he is doing), while Hiram "rejoices" at Solomon's request, and also blesses the LORD for his newfound wealth.  I do not think we should take Hiram's piety at face value, however, because amongst other things, Hiram is not a follower of the LORD.  I'm sure Hiram's rejoicing is authentic, because he was just handed an enormous windfall, but I think Hiram would be just as likely to bless Baal or Ashtoreth if some other nation were coming to him with a request for cedar.

Hiram asks for food in exchange, because during the biblical period, Tyre and Sidon were not able to grow enough food to be self-sufficient; located on the coast of the Mediterranean, Tyre was primarily dependent on trade for its livelihood, and this cedar harvesting scheme would have been supplementary to that.

In addition, Solomon conscripts laborers from his own people to harvest cedars as well as quarry stones.  This was something alluded to a couple chapters ago when we learned that Solomon had a minister over forced laborers.  Now we know what those laborers are doing.  With over 180,000 forced laborers, this is clearly an extensive project that is only possible due to Israel's growing wealth.  Still, we can imagine that most of these conscripted laborers are probably displeased with Solomon, because it is unlikely that they are compensated much for their time.  Perhaps they are fed, but otherwise I doubt they are being paid much, if anything at all.

However, this is the golden age of Israel's prosperity, so nothing is going to stop Solomon from accomplishing his goals, even if it builds a little resentment from his own people in the process.

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