David and Solomon: A Royal Ideal

For Old Testament, we students reflect weekly on “some topic, aspect or concept” from the volumes and volumes of assigned reading. I am limited to one single-spaced page each week, and in every case I’ve been forced to cut myself off from writing. So read knowing that my thoughts are manifold!

If you are interested in more selections from my School of Theology Coursework, follow the link to the category of SOT Coursework. I have also set up a new category for these Old Testament reflection papers called OT Weeklies. If all goes well, each new reflection paper will be posted automatically at 2:00 p.m. each Monday, when my Old Testament class convenes.

What follows is my reflection paper from the week of November 15. Enjoy!

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The people Israel have come a long way since Yahweh found Abram settled in Haran and promised to make his name and his nation great throughout the earth (Gn 12:1-3). These humble beginnings led to oppression in Egypt and deliverance in Canaan, but the Israelites came to find that the quandary of governance was almost as problematic as the distress of bondage. Their demand for a king produced the anointment of Saul in spite of all of Samuel’s warnings about the ills of fallible royalty (1 Sm 8:10-20). Yahweh raised up David after Saul proved to be his own worst enemy, and through David Israel began to shine among the nations of the world. In David and Solomon, has Israel reached the pinnacle, or is Yahweh giving his tempestuous people a taste of the proverbial apple to teach valuable lessons? This reflection paper will examine the issues associated with Israel’s most exalted kings and their lifestyles of untold “blessing.”

As recorded in 2 Samuel and the beginning 11 chapters of 1 Kings, David and Solomon are accustomed to hosting expansive feasts, offering lengthy prayers, amassing incredible opulence, and in Solomon’s case, building a temple to the Name of Yahweh with unfathomable excess. And while majestic bounty like silver, gold and precious stones were to be expected in Solomon’s palace, it seems that not even “apes and baboons” were outside of his desire (1 Kgs 10:22 NIV). The question becomes: Where was Yahweh in all of this? Perhaps he foretold that David’s son and successor would be the one to build a temple to his name, and obviously he must have allowed it to happen, but did he actually sanction Solomon to import countless cedar logs in exchange for basic staples like olive oil and grain when undoubtedly the poor and needy were among the tribes of Israel? It seems only natural to conclude that the details regarding both the temple and Solomon’s palace were not ordained by the one and only God but rather dreamed by a polytheistic king operating without checks and balances on his rule. As Victor P. Hamilton cleverly remarks, “[Solomon’s] is a life filled with profits but devoid of prophets.”[1]

As if his 700 wives and 300 concubines were not enough (1 Kgs 11:3), Solomon continued to laugh in the face of Yahweh by conscripting both Israelites and foreigners into selecting raw materials and building God’s temple (1 Kgs 5:13-18; 9:15-23). That the NIV text refers to both of these instances as “forced labor” and not “employment” presents a significant redactional clue that either God or later generations (or both) understood the absurdity in the situation. Surely Yahweh did not lead the Israelites from slavery in Egypt so Israel could itself take slaves in preparing to exalt the name of Yahweh! Hamilton, with a wink toward the declaration of Jesus (Mt 11:30), takes solace in that “for Solomon’s laborers, the king’s yoke is easy and his burden is light.”[2] But forced labor is still forced labor. Nobody in the history of the world has ever been pleased with compulsory, unreimbursed work. In this light, the Queen of Sheba’s remark to Solomon—“‘How happy your men must be!’” (1 Kgs 10:8 NIV)—exhibits a special sort of irony.

Certainly, no stupid human becomes as rich as Solomon. But is his wisdom the cause of his riches, as Yahweh apparently says in a dream (1 Kgs 3:11-13), or rather the redactional effect of his lifestyle? Regardless, these demonstrations of power and riches become the highest good for an Israelite people who, while in exile, expect certain characteristics of the prophesied Messiah. Jesus was hard to accept because he didn’t match expectations. The Jews wanted reclamation of what they had lost, not redefinition of a proper life with Yahweh. An unfortunate consequence of the lifestyles of David and Solomon was the unconscionable question asked of Jesus by his bewildered disciples just before he returned to God in heaven: “‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’” (Acts 1:6 NIV).


[1] Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Historical Books (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 380-381.

[2] Ibid., 394.

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