Friday, September 28, 2007

Solomon - the Ambiguous King

Much though I respect Dale Ralph Davis as a Bible expositor, and much though I love and have benefited from almost all of his series of expositions on Joshua - 2 Kings, I have to disagree with him on the first half of Solomon's reign. He takes what I tend to think of as the "classic" view, of seeing the presentation of Solomon in 1 Kings 1-10 as entirely positive, with the wheels completely coming off in 1 Kings 11. But that's much too monochrome.

In pretty much every chapter, there are strong hints that there's something seriously rotten, and in every chapter of his book, Davis sweeps them under the rug. Provan, on the other hand, in his commentary (NIBC), tends to focus on the negative elements, sometimes at the expense of the many positives.

I guess I see 1 Kings 1-11 almost as the story of the end of the great Davidic monarchy over Israel, as the rotten bits, having started with David's adultery with Bathsheba, eventually corrupt it, even as it reaches its peak of splendour.

Because I missed lots of them until re-reading 1 Kings recently, and my attention was further drawn to them by Davis trying to argue that they weren't there, then reading Provan showed me they most definitely were, here are some of the bigger signs of rottenness in Israel in 1 Kings 1-10.

  • 1 Kings 2 reminds me of the sequences in the Godfather films where everyone is killed off. Solomon uses inconsistent arguments, breaks promises and makes bad excuses to do it.
  • The assessment of Solomon in 1 Kings 3:3 is mixed. He loves God, but he worships at the high places (which is one of the key phrases for apostasy later in the book)
  • 1 Kings 4:15 - Solomon has a daughter called Basemath, which isn't an Israelite name (same name as Esau's foreign wife). Neither, for that matter, is Solomon.
  • He builds the temple, but he spends much longer building his own palace, and the palace building is mentioned right in the middle of the temple building. The temple is lavish, but the palace is even more amazing
  • In 1 Kings, the characters are very clearly conscious of the Law - Solomon himself quotes from it extensively in his prayer of dedication for the temple. Yet he breaks every single one of the rules about kings in Deuteronomy 17, most of them before 1 Kings 11, and we're told about his wives there:

16 The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the LORD has told you, "You are not to go back that way again." 17 He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.
Deuteronomy 17:16-17, TNIV

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