Saturday, March 7, 2015

Bible Commentary - 1 Kings 9

In this chapter, the LORD speaks to Solomon a second time.

The first time the LORD spoke to Solomon, it was through a dream, towards the beginning of his reign (certainly before he built the temple or his royal palace), and it was after Solomon offered many sacrifices in Gibeon (one of the high places). Now the LORD is speaking to him again after he established the temple.

From what I can tell, most of what the LORD says is reaffirming previous promises. The LORD is saying that, as with David, if Solomon follows the covenant and the LORD’s commands, then God will bless him and pass down all of David’s promises to him, much like how Jacob and Isaac inherited the promises of Abraham.

The LORD’s speech also vaguely resembles Deuteronomy, in which the LORD promises blessings for obedience (v. 4-5) but also curses and destruction for disobedience (v. 6-9).

When I first read this chapter (and actually, many of the earlier passages about David and Solomon) I had a hard time reconciling what appeared to be the unconditional promise in v. 3 and the conditional promises in v. 4-5. I had a hard time reconciling what appeared to be the unconditional promises to Abraham and David (amongst others) with the eventual destruction of Israel. A proper treatment of this subject is beyond the scope of my commentary here (though interested readers could easily search online for discussions of God’s unconditional promises in light of Israel’s many tribulations).

But I should say something, because I don't want to leave my readers as confused as I was.  I think in the long run, God does intend to bless Israel and be in relationship with them as their God.  I think he does intend for David to forever have a descendant on his throne.  But that doesn't mean they will avoid hardship.  Over and over, in Deuteronomy, here, and many other places, God says that if Israel rejects him, he will reject them.  But I don't believe that the rejection is permanent, as Israel is just as often promised that God would restore them if they repent.  It's the Judges cycle all over again, with prosperity leading to sin leading to punishment leading to repentance leading to restoration.

I think passages like v. 3-5 are trying to express God's dual intentions towards Israel: that he wishes to bless them and will establish them, but also that he will punish sin and will correct them when they do wrong.  He will reject them, but not permanently or without reconciliation.

With that out of the way, the rest of this chapter is fairly mundane, giving us various details from Solomon’s reign. We discover that Solomon gives 20 crappy towns to Hiram for over 4 tons of pure gold (a pretty good deal for Solomon, I think). We learn that Pharaoh murdered a bunch of Canaanites, burned their town to the ground and gave that burned patch of ground to Solomon as a dowry. It’s just what Solomon always wanted for his wedding, a scarred landscape of burnt buildings and rotting corpses. This kinda reminds me of David’s dowry for Michal, 200 Philistine foreskins, which must have been equally romantic (and smelly).

More seriously, this is a reminder to us that the Egyptians and Canaanites, who were both enemies of Israel at various times, are just as often enemies of each other.  Most of the OT is paying attention to warfare between Israel and other nations, but just like the 5 kings at war with the 4 kings in Genesis 14, Israel exists in the midst of an almost continuous swirl of violence, and the destruction of Gezer is one small part of that.  Lots of that violence does not concern Israel directly, which is why it is rarely mentioned in the bible.

Interestingly, it says that Solomon built whatever he wanted in “Jerusalem, in Lebanon and throughout all the territory he ruled”. I think this shows that between Solomon and Hiram, Solomon is clearly the more dominant figure, because Lebanon (the territory of Hiram) is lumped together with the “territory [Solomon] ruled”. We also see that Solomon gave a bunch of mediocre towns to Hiram in exchange for gold, and Hiram can only complain about it. Yet later in v. 26, Hiram’s sailors are going with the Israelites on an expedition south through the Red Sea. 

My readers should note that Hiram (and Tyre and Sidon as a whole) are ethnically Phoenician. Amongst other things, the Phoenicians are famously talented sailors who dominated trade across the Mediterranean for a long time. Solomon is building the ships and providing some of the men, but undoubtedly Hiram had more talented and experienced sailors than Solomon, and that is in evidence in this verse. I’m not sure where is Ophir.  I looked it up and apparently nobody really knows where Ophir is located.  

It says that Solomon built cities for his horsemen and chariots, which probably indicates that he had the horses and chariots spread across the country.  More likely than not, these would be used as part of Solomon's administrative network, allowing messengers to ride from town to town and swapping horses at each junction.  Like refilling a tank of gas, you can go further in a day by changing horses after an appropriate distance.

We also discover that all of Solomon’s forced laborers were the survivors from the various inhabitants that used to populate Canaan. This is consistent with earlier passages like in Joshua 9 when the Gibeonites deceive Israel, and are pressed into perpetual forced labor as a result (Joshua 9:27). They get to live, but as slaves. the book of Judges also tells us that many other tribes had survivors in the promised land (Judges 1:27-36), and these are likely the peoples who are now building Solomon’s temple, palace and other various facilities.

Otherwise, things in this chapter are all pretty good. Solomon maintains his alliance with Hiram, and the golden age of Israel continues unabated.

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