Solomon, that is, was king over “all Israel” from the first; not like David, who for seven and a half years reigned over Judah only. This feature well introduces the glory of Solomon and the organisation of the court, of which the historian in this chapter intends to give us a general sketch. Solomon constitutes certain “princes” or officers of the first rank, deriving their station from him, and probably holding it during pleasure.
Azariah, the son of Zadok, the priest - “The priest” here belongs to Azariah, not to Zadok. The term used כהן kôhên means sometimes a priest, sometimes a civil officer, with perhaps a semi-priestly character. (See 2 Samuel 8:18 note.) In this place it has the definite article prefixed, and can only mean “the high priest.” Azariah, called here the “son,” but really the “grandson,” of Zadok, seems to have succeeded him in the priesthood 1 Chronicles 6:10. His position as high priest at the time when this list was made out gives Azariah the foremost place in it.
Shisha, or Shavsha 1 Chronicles 18:16, seems also to have been called Sheva 2 Samuel 20:25, and Seraiah 2 Samuel 8:17.
The “scribes” were probably royal “secretaries” (margin), who drew up the king‘s edicts, wrote his letters, and perhaps managed his finances 1 Kings 12:10. They were among his most influential councillors.
By “recorder” or “remembrancer” (margin), we must understand “court annalist” (marginal reference “a”).
It is curious to find Abiathar in this list of princes, after what has been said of his disgrace 1 Kings 2:27, 1 Kings 2:35. Some have supposed that after a while Solomon pardoned him. Perhaps the true explanation is that the historian here enumerates all those who were accounted “princes” in any part of Solomon‘s reign.
The son of Nathan - It is uncertain whether the Nathan of this verse is the prophet or the son of David 2 Samuel 5:14. While on the one hand the position of “king‘s friend” is more likely to have been held by a contemporary, which the prophet‘s son would have been, than by one so much younger as the son of a younger brother; on the other hand the title “cohen” seems to point to a member of the royal family. (See the next note.) Azariah who was “over the officers” was chief, that is, of the “officers” mentioned in 1 Kings 4:8-19, as appears from the identity of the term here used with the title by which they are designated in 1 Kings 4:7.
Principal officer - Or, “cohen.” The fact that the title כהן kôhên was borne by sons of David 2 Samuel 8:18, who could not be “priests” in the ordinary sense of the word, seems to identify the Nathan of this verse with David‘s son 2 Samuel 5:14 rather than with the prophet.
Over the household - Comptroller of the household, like the “Steward” of the Persian court. On the importance of this office, see 2 Kings 18:18, and compare Isaiah 22:15-25.
The tribute - The marginal reading, “levy,” is preferable. The reference is to the forced laborers whom Solomon employed in his great works (marginal reference).
The requirement of a portion of their produce from subjects, in addition to money payments, is a common practice of Oriental monarchs. It obtained in ancient, and it still obtains in modern, Persia.
In this arrangement of the territory into twelve portions, the divisions of the tribes seem to have been adopted as far as could be managed without unfairness. The prefecture of Ben-Hur corresponded nearly to the territory of Ephraim; that of Ben-Dekar to Dan; that of Ben-Hesed to Judah; those of Ben-Abinadab and Baana to Cis-Jordanic Manasseh; that of Ben-Geber to Manasseh beyond Jordan; of Abinadab to Gad; of Ahimaaz to Naphtali; of Baanah to Asher; of Jehoshaphat to Issachar; of Shimei to Benjamin; and of Geber to Reuben. The order in which the prefectures are mentioned is clearly not the geographical. Perhaps it is the order in which they had to supply the king‘s table.
For some of the names, see Joshua 19:41-43.
Sochoh - See Joshua 15:35.
Dor - See Joshua 11:2 note. It has always been a practice among Oriental potentates to attach to themselves the more important of their officers by giving them for wives princesses of the royal house. Hence, the union here between Ben-Abinadab (probably Solomon‘s first cousin, compare 1 Samuel 16:8) and Taphath. Compare 1 Kings 4:15.
On these cities see Joshua 12:21; Joshua 3:16; Judges 7:22; Joshua 21:22.
It will be observed that five out of the twelve prefects are designated solely by their father‘s names, Ben-Hur, etc., while one (Ahimaaz, 1 Kings 4:15) has no such designation. Probably the document, which the author of the Book of Kings consulted, had contained originally the proper name and father‘s name of each prefect; but it was mutilated or illegible in places at the time when he consulted it. If it was in the shape of a list, a single mutilation at one corner might have removed four of the six wanting names.
See the margin. Ahinadab had the territory from the places last mentioned as far as Mahanaim Genesis 32:2.
The meaning of the last clause is somewhat doubtful. On the whole, our King James Version may well stand as nearly correct. The writer has assigned to Geber a wide stretch of territory; and, anticipating surprise, assures his readers ” (there was but) one officer who (purveyed) in this land.”
There is some doubt about the proper arrangement of the remainder of this chapter. The best alteration, if we alter the Hebrew order at all, would be to place 1 Kings 4:20-21 after 1 Kings 4:25.
Many - See 1 Kings 3:8 note; and compare Psalm 127:1-5, which is traditionally ascribed to Solomon, and which celebrates the populousness and security of Israel in his day.
Solomon‘s empire, like all the great empires of Asia down to the time of the Persians, consisted of a congeries of small kingdoms, all ruled by their own kings 1 Kings 4:24, who admitted the suzerainty of the Jewish monarch, and paid him “presents,” i. e., an annual tribute (see 1 Kings 10:25).
Unto the land of the Philistines - There is no word corresponding to “unto” in the Hebrew. The construction should be, “Solomon reigned over all the kingdoms from the river (i. e., the Euphrates: see the marginal references), over the land of the Philistines,” etc. The writer draws attention to the fact that the extent of Solomon‘s kingdom was in accordance with the promises made to Abraham, Moses, and Joshua.
Thirty measures - (margin, cors) The cor, which was the same measure as the homer, is computed, on the authority of Josephus, at 86 English gallons, on the authority of the rabbinical writers at 44. Thirty cors, even at the lower estimate, would equal 1,320 gallons, or 33 of our “sacks;” and the 90 cors of fine and coarse flour would altogether equal 99 sacks. From the quantity of flour consumed, it has been conjectured that the number of those who fed at the royal board was 14,000.
Harts - The exact sorts of wild land animals here intended are very uncertain. Perhaps it would be best to translate “wild-goats, gazelles, and wild oxen,” which abounded in the wilder parts of Syria, from where Solomon would be supplied. (See 1 Kings 4:24.) (Yahmur, or the “roebuck,” gives its name to a valley in a wooded district, south of Carmel (Conder).) The use of game at the royal banquets of Assyria appears in the sculptures.
On this side the river - i. e., the region west of the Euphrates.
Tiphsah, or Tiphsach, the place on the Euphrates called Thapsacus. The word means “ford,” or “passage,” being formed from פסח pâsach “to pass over” (compare “paschal”). It is the modern Suriyeh, forty-five miles below Balls, at the point where the Euphrates changes its course from south to southeast by east. The stream is fordable here, and nowhere else in this part of its course. Solomon‘s possession of Thapsacus would have been very favorable to his schemes of land commerce 1 Kings 9:19.
To Azzah - i. e., Gaza.
All the kings - Compare 1 Samuel 6:18. Syria was divided into numerous small states, as many as thirty-two kings being mentioned on one occasion 1 Kings 20:1. The Hittites were ruled by a great number of chieftains or princes 1 Kings 10:29; 2 Kings 7:6. twelve are mentioned in the Assyrian inscriptions.
Under his vine - This phrase seems to have been common among the Jews, and even among neighboring nations 2 Kings 18:31, to express a time of quiet and security. It is used by the prophets in descriptions of the Messianic kingdom (marginal references).
In 2 Chronicles 9:25, the number of stalls for Solomon‘s chariot horses is stated at 4,000, instead of 40,000. The number in the present passage is probably a corruption. Solomon‘s chariots were but 1,400 1 Kings 10:26; 2 Chronicles 1:14, for which 40,000 horses could not possibly be required. The Assyrian chariots had at most three horses apiece, while some had only two. 4,000 horses would supply the full team of three to 1,200, and the smaller team of two to 200 chariots. The number 4,000 is in due proportion to the 12,000 horses for cavalry, and is in accordance with all that we know of the military establishments of the time and country. Compare 2 Chronicles 12:3; 2 Samuel 8:4.
Barley is to this day in the East the common food of horses.
Dromedaries - Coursers. The animal intended is neither a camel nor a mule, but a swift horse.
The place where the officers were - Rather, “places where the horses and coursers were,” i. e., to the different cities where they were lodged.
Largeness of heart - What we call “great capacity.” The expression which follows is common in reference to numerical multitude 1 Kings 4:20, but its use here to express mere amplitude or greatness is unique.
Children of the east country - Rather, “of the East” - the Beni Kedem - a distinct tribe, who occupied both sides of the Euphrates along its middle course (marginal reference). They were mostly nomads, who dwelt in tents Jeremiah 49:28-29. Job belonged to them Job 1:3, as did probably his three friends; and, perhaps, Balsam Numbers 23:7. They must have been either Arabs or Aramaeans. We may see in the Book of Job the character of their “wisdom.” Like Solomon‘s, it was chiefly gnomic but included some knowledge of natural history. The “wisdom of Egypt” was of a different kind. It included magic Genesis 41:8; Exodus 7:11, geometry, medicine, astronomy, architecture, and a dreamy mystic philosophy, of which metempsychosis was the main principle. It is not probable that Solomon was, like Moses (marginal reference), deeply versed in Egyptian science. The writer only means to say that his wisdom was truer and more real than all the much-praised wisdom of Egypt.
It is most probable that the persons with whom Solomon is compared were contemporaries, men noted for “wisdom,” though there is no other mention of them.
His fame was in all nations - See below, 1 Kings 10.
Proverbs - In the collection which forms the “Book of Proverbs,” only a small portion has been preserved, less certainly than one thousand out of the three. Ecclesiastes, if it is Solomon‘s, would add between one hundred and two hundred more proverbs. But the great bulk of Solomon‘s proverbs has perished.
Songs - Of these, Canticles is probably one (marginal reference): Psalm 127:1-5 may also be of the number. Probably the bulk of Solomon‘s songs were of a secular character, and consequently were not introduced into the canon of Scripture.
Trees - A keen appreciation of the beauties of nature, and a habit of minute observation, are apparent in the writings of Solomon that remain to us. The writer here means to say that Solomon composed special works on these subjects. The Lebanon cedars were the most magnificent of all the trees known to the Hebrews, and hence, represent in the Old Testament the grandest of vegetable productions. (Psalm 104:16; Ezekiel 31:3, etc.) For the hyssop, see Exodus 12:22 note.
Of beasts, and of fowls, and of creeping things, and of fishes - This is the usual Biblical division of the animal kingdom Genesis 1:26; Genesis 9:2; Psalm 148:10.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 1 Kings 4". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany