The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy. And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon’s subjects all his life.
1 Kings 4:20-21 (NIV)
In the list of Solomon’s officials are two secretaries and a recorder. I’m not sure if one of them functioned like the press secretaries that Presidents have today, but today’s chapter drips with the positive spin we’ve come to cynically expect from modern press briefings of national leaders. In today’s chapter, everything is rosy. Everyone is happy. Solomon is the perfect ruler whose wisdom is second only to the future Messiah.
Over a lifetime of observing positive spin from both sides of the political aisle, I have, perhaps, grown a little cynical. Many readers may take the information shared in today’s chapter on merit, but between the facts written through rose-colored glasses, I couldn’t help but notice a few things.
Solomon inherited everything from his father. The lands and peoples over which Solomon reigned were conquered by David. Solomon simply took over control. I can’t help but think that history is full of stories of children squandering what their parent(s) had earned. Governing and maintaining control over many tribal groups over a large area for any length of time was tricky business in that period of history. It took an amazing balance of diplomacy and military threat. The facts we are given simply point to a Solomon who lived rich, courted foreign diplomats who showered him with praise, and enjoyed every minute of being the richest and wisest man in his known world. Knowing from history that the entire kingdom implodes immediately after Solomon died, I’m left to wonder if Solomon gave any thought to preserving the kingdom that God had established and blessed for subsequent generations, or if he simply enjoyed the wild and luxurious ride he’d inherited.
Solomon’s administration was full of insiders. Solomon’s officials and advisors were largely sons of his father’s advisors and sons-in-law. David had built the Kingdom on a diverse group of supporters from different backgrounds that he developed from his decades as a mercenary. Solomon does not appear to be building bridges and political alliances with the conquered peoples over whom he’s ruling. He’s keeping his kingly power concentrated with what many in his kingdom might call “the same old cronies.”
Solomon’s great kingdom was built by forced labor. There are only seven or eight jobs listed in Solomon’s cabinet. One of them is the secretary of “forced labor.” Solomon’s lavish building projects are being accomplished on the backs of slaves and “forced labor” from his own people. This was not new. It was the way of the world back in those days. However, Solomon’s never-ending construction projects from palaces to the Temple would indicate that he likely required a level of forced labor that would have bred all sorts of anger and discontent among the masses.
Solomon’s twelve “districts” were a form of ancient gerrymandering that crossed tribal boundaries and redrew the map. There may have been a good reason for this. Perhaps Solomon was trying to ensure that every district had enough agricultural production to provide their annual monthly supply for his lavish lifestyle at court. Redrawing the map, however, meant that districts crossed ancient tribal boundaries, which in turn likely stirred up ancient tribal rivalries and resentments. The key to preserving a kingdom in those days was maintaining peace and stability, not stirring up trouble.
In the quiet this morning, I’m pondering two realities. The first reality is that Solomon was most certainly the intelligent, charismatic, and wise man described in today’s chapter. There is no doubt that he was wealthy and successful during his reign and in his lifetime. The second reality is the sobering fact that Solomon was also a flawed human being just like every other sinful human being. Solomon’s press secretary does a masterful job of diverting our attention away from Solomon’s flaws and focusing on Solomon’s greatness. History, however, reveals that it is Solomon’s flaws and blind spots that lead to his great kingdom dying with him. Those blind spots will plague subsequent generations with political strife, civil war, violence, and bloodshed for hundreds of years.
I’m reminded this morning of the word picture Jesus gives His followers at the end of His famous Sermon on the Mount. I’m reminded because I just gave a message a few Sundays ago about that very word picture. It is a contrasting word picture of two people who each build their own house. One of the houses blows down when the storms of life hit. The other house remains standing through those storms. For all of his wisdom, Solomon’s kingdom will fall with the first political wind that blows after his death.
As I mentioned in my message, Jesus’ word picture begs a number of questions of me:
What am I building with this life I’m given?
What am I building it on?
What am I building it with?
What will blow away with my death? What will last for eternity?
Today’s featured image, Most Wise Fool, was created with Wonder A.I.
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