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Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 4

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary



The style of this and the succeeding chapter changes from the vividness and fulness of the preceding chapters to a drier and barer record, evidently drawn from the national archives.

Verse 1

(1) King over all Israel.—The emphasis laid upon “all” is characteristic of the writer, who compiled the book after the disruption of the kingdom.

Verse 2

(2) And these were.—The officers described are of two classes—those attached to Solomon’s Court, and those invested with local authority.

The princes are evidently Solomon’s high counsellors and officers, “eating at the king’s table.” The word is derived from a root which means to “set in order.” It is significant that whereas in the lists of David’s officers in 2 Samuel 8:16-18; 2 Samuel 20:23-26, the captain of the host stands first, and is followed in one list by the captain of the body-guard, both are here preceded by the peaceful offices of the priests, scribes, and the recorder.

Azariah the son of Zadok the priest.—In 1 Chronicles 6:9-10, we find Azariah described as the son of Ahimaaz, and so grandson of Zadok; and the note in 1 Kings 4:10 (which is apparently out of its right place) seems to show that he was high priest at the time when the Temple was built. The title the “priest” in this place must be given by anticipation, for it is expressly said below that “Zadok and Abiathar were now the priests.” The use of the original word, Cohen (probably signifying “one who ministers”), appears sometimes to retain traces of the old times, when the priesthood and headship of the family were united, and to be applied accordingly to princes, to whom perhaps still attached something of the ancient privilege. Thus it is given to the sons of David in 2 Samuel 8:18, where the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 18:17 has a paraphrase, “chief about the king,” evidently intended to explain the sense in which it is used in the older record. We may remember that David himself on occasions wore the priestly ephod (see 2 Samuel 6:14). Possibly in this sense it is applied in 1 Kings 4:5 to Zabud, the “king’s friend” (where the Authorised Version renders it by principal officer”). But in this verse there is every reason for taking it in the usual sense. Azariah was already a “prince” before he succeeded to the high priesthood. The mingling, of priestly and princely functions is characteristic of the time.

Verse 3

(3) Sons of Shisha.—In 1 Chronicles 18:16 “Shavsha,” and in 2 Samuel 20:25 “Sheva,” is mentioned as the scribe of David. Probably these are variations of the same name, and the office may have become virtually hereditary. The “scribe,” or (see Margin) “secretary,” is constantly referred to as a high officer, issuing the king’s edicts and letters, and acting in his name, like our “Secretaries of State.”

Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud is named in 2 Samuel 8:16; 2 Samuel 20:24, and 1 Chronicles 18:15 as having been under David also the recorder” or “remembrancer”—probably the annalist who drew up and preserved the archives of the kingdom.

Verse 4

(4) Zadok and Abiathar . . . the priests.—Abiathar, though disgraced and practically deposed, was still regarded theoretically as priest (much as Annas is called “high priest” in the Gospels), for the priesthood was properly for life.

Verse 5

(5) Son of Nathan.—Probably Nathan, son of David, and own brother of Solomon (1 Chronicles 3:5), is here intended; for the title Cohen, here given to Zabud, is expressly ascribed in 2 Samuel 8:18 to the “sons of David;” and Nathan the prophet always has his title, “the prophet,” appended to his name wherever first mentioned in this book. (See 1 Kings 1:8; 1 Kings 1:10; 1 Kings 1:22; 1 Kings 1:32, &c.)

Azariah is the “chief of the officers”—that is, chief over the twelve officers mentioned below (1 Kings 4:7-19)—living, however, at Court.

Zabud, besides the title of Cohen, has that of “the king’s friend,” previously given to Hushai (2 Samuel 15:37; 2 Samuel 16:16), and apparently indicating special intimacy and wisdom as a “privy counsellor.”

Verse 6

(6) Over the household,—like the “High Steward” of a modern Court. In 2 Kings 18:18 we have the same three officers mentioned (“Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah the son of Asaph the recorder”).

Adoniram . . . over the tribute (or “levy”),—evidently the head of Solomon’s great public works. (See 1 Kings 5:14.) The name is elsewhere given as Adoram. It is to be noticed that in the enumeration of David’s officers in the early part of the reign (2 Samuel 8:16-18) no such officer is found; but that in the latter part of his reign the list contains the name of Adoram (2 Samuel 20:24). It has been thought that the numbering of the people recorded in 2 Samuel 24:0 and 1 Chronicles 21:0, was in preparation for such forced work, and hence was odious to Joab and others. In 1 Kings 12:18 we read how the holder of this office, being naturally most unpopular with those who had felt the burden of Solomon’s splendour, was stoned to death in the insurrection against Rehoboam.

To this list the Greek Version adds: “Eliab the son of Shaphat was over the body-guard.” As the office of captain of the body-guard is found in the other lists, and is too important to be omitted, it is possible that this addition corrects some defect in the Hebrew text. Yet it is also possible that no successor to Benaiah was appointed, as experience had shown, in the crushing of the rebellion of Adonijah, how easily the captaincy of the body-guard might become a quasi-independent power.

Verse 7

(7) Provided victuals for the king and his household.—This denotes the collection of revenue—mostly, no doubt, in kind—for the maintenance of the Court and household and guards of the king; and perhaps may have included also the management of the royal domain lands, such as is described under David’s reign in 1 Chronicles 26:25-31. It is curious that in five cases only the patronymic of the officer is given, probably from some defect in the archives from which this chapter is evidently drawn. The office must have been of high importance and dignity, for in two cases (1 Kings 4:11; 1 Kings 4:15) the holders of it were married into the royal house. The provinces over which they had authority—nine on the west and three on the east of Jordan—coincide only in a few cases with the lands assigned to the several tribes. It is not unlikely that by this time much of the tribal division of territory had become obsolete although we see from 1 Chronicles 27:16-22, that for chieftainship over men, and for levy in war, it still remained in force.

Verse 8

(8) And these are their names.—The first division, mount Ephraim,” included all the higher part of the territory of Ephraim, one of the most fertile and beautiful regions in Palestine, surrounding the city of Shechem, which lies in a rich plain between Mount Ebel and Gerizim, and including the strong site of the future Samaria. See the description of the country in the blessing of Moses (Deuteronomy 33:13-17).

Verse 9

(9) The second division included the territory in the maritime plain to the north-west of Judah; assigned to Dan, but in all the earlier history held, with perhaps a few exceptions, by the Philistines. The cities Shaalbim, Elon, and Beth-shemesh, or Ir-shemesh, are noted in Joshua 19:41-43. Makaz is not mentioned elsewhere. There is here the addition to the name Elon of beth-hanan (“the house of Hanan”) In 1 Chronicles 8:23 there is a Hanan among the chief men of Benjamin; and 1 Chronicles 1:43 a Hanan among David’s mighty men. The only one of these cities known in history is Beth-shemesh, the first resting-place of the Ark (1 Samuel 6:12-21) when restored by the Philistines.

Verse 10

(10) The third division was also in the land of the Philistines, being part of the territory assigned to Judah. Sochoh is mentioned in Joshua 15:35, and is noticed in 1 Samuel 17:1-3 as close to the field of battle on which David slew Goliath. Hepher is an old Amorite city which was conquered by Joshua (Joshua 12:17), still, by a curious survival, giving its name to the whole district, to which the name Aruboth (otherwise unknown) is here also given.

Verse 11

(11) The fourth division, “all the region of Dor,” still lies along the coast, but to the north of the preceding districts, close under Mount Carmel, in the territory assigned to Manasseh. Dor is named in Joshua 11:2, as forming a part of the confederacy of the north under Jabin, and as subsequently conquered (1 Kings 12:23), and given to Manasseh (1 Kings 17:11).

Verse 12

(12) The fifth division must have been large and important, including much of the great plain of Esdraelon or Jezreel, the garden and battle-field of Northern Palestine, and extending to the Jordan valley. Taanach, Megiddo, and Beth-shean are all named as Canaanitish cities not taken by Manasseh, but made tributary (Joshua 17:11; Judges 1:27). Taanach and Megiddo are referred to in the song of Deborah (Judges 5:19). Megiddo is the place of the death of Ahaziah (2 Kings 9:27) and the fall of Josiah (2 Kings 23:29). Beth-shean is the city in which the body of Saul was exposed in triumph (1 Samuel 31:12). Abel-meholah, the birth-place of Elisha (1 Kings 19:16), lies south of Beth-shean, and is mentioned in the record of the rout of the Midianites by Gideon (Judges 7:22). Jokmeam (for such is the right reading) is a Levitical city in Ephraim (1 Chronicles 6:68), apparently called Kibzaim in Joshua 21:22, and must have been an outlying part of this division.

Verse 13

(13) The sixth division, large, but probably less fertile, crosses the Jordan, and includes a great portion of the territory of Manasseh and Gad. The region of Argob, “the rocky region” (afterwards translated into the Greek name Trachonitis), is noticed in Deuteronomy 3:4; Deuteronomy 3:13-14, as the land of Og, covered with great cities, taken by Jair, son of Manasseh, and called Havoth-Jair—“the towns of Jair.” Ramoth-gilead was a Levitical city and a city of refuge, in Gad (Deuteronomy 4:43; Joshua 20:8; Joshua 21:38), famous afterwards in the wars with the Syrians (1 Kings 22:3; 2 Kings 8:28; 2 Kings 9:1).

Verse 14

(14) The seventh division, still on the other side of Jordan, is the region of Mahanaim, in the territory of Gad. Mahanaim (“the camps”), the scene of Jacob’s angelic vision on his return to Canaan (Genesis 36:3), assigned to Dan after the Conquest (see Joshua 13:26; Joshua 13:30; Joshua 21:38), must have been afterwards an important place; for it was the seat of Ishbosheth’s government (2 Samuel 2:8; 2 Samuel 2:12; 2 Samuel 2:29), and the place where David established himself on fleeing from Absalom (2 Samuel 17:24; 2 Samuel 17:27), and where he received large supplies from Barzillai and other chiefs.

Verse 15

(15) The eighth division is the upper valley of the Jordan, south of Mount Hermon, including part of the north-west coast of the sea of Gennesareth and the water of Merom. In it lie Hazor, forming the centre of the native confederacy of the north, and the Levitical city of refuge, Kedesh-Naphtali (Joshua 12:22; Joshua 19:37; Judges 4:6).

Verse 16

(16) The ninth division, “in Asher and Aloth,” bordered on the Tyrian territory, stretching north from Mount Carmel, first along the coast, and then behind the ranges of Lebanon. In Judges 1:31-32, we read that the tribe of Asher did not occupy the territory assigned them (Joshua 19:24-30), but mingled with the native inhabitants. Aloth (or in the Greek Version Baloth) is unknown, and Josephus places this province on the coast, near Achzib.

Verse 17

(17) The tenth division, the territory of Issachar, lying north of Manasseh, included part of the great plain of Esdraelon, and must have been so closely connected with the fifth division that the frontiers could hardly be discerned.

Verse 18

(18) The eleventh division, the territory of Benjamin (properly including Jerusalem itself), though small, is singularly strong and populous, including Jericho, Bethel, Gibeon, Ramah, extending from Judah to Ephraim, and commanding the centre of the high land of what was afterwards the kingdom of Judah.

Verse 19

(19) The twelfth division was on the east of Jordan, south of the seventh, including the pastoral country of Reuben and part of Gad on the borders of Moab, probably occupied by the royal flocks and herds.
In place of the reading of the text, “and he was the only officer in the land”—which yields very little meaning, for in each of the divisions there was but one governor—the LXX. here reads, “and Naseph (or an officer), one only in the land of Judah.” The reading seems probable; for it will be noticed that in the enumeration the territory of Judah is otherwise altogether omitted. It supplies accordingly here the mention of a special governor, over and above the twelve, for the royal tribe. It has been thought that as Judah was the home province, it was under no other government than that of the king’s officers at Jerusalem; but for purposes of revenue it seems hardly likely that it should have been excepted from the general system. Possibly Azariah, who was over the officers residing at the Court, may have been its territorial governor.

In some MSS. of the Greek Version, 1 Kings 4:27-28 immediately follow 1 Kings 4:19, and (as 1 Kings 4:20-21 are omitted) they form a link between 1 Kings 4:7-19 and 1 Kings 4:22-23, in a very natural order.

Verse 20

(20) Were many.—The description of the condition of the people here and in 1 Kings 4:25, as multiplied in numbers, and living in festivity and peace, is evidently designed to specify not only their general prosperity and wealth, but also the fact noticed in 1 Kings 9:20-22, that at this time they were a dominant race, relieved from all burden of labour, and ruling over the subject races, now reduced to complete subjection and serfship. (That it was otherwise hereafter is clear from the complaints to Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12:4.) Now, for the first time, did Israel enter on full possession of the territory promised in the days of the Conquest (Joshua 1:4), and so into the complete fulfilment of the promise to Abraham, alluded to in the words, “many as the sand which is by the sea in multitude” (Genesis 22:17).

Verse 21

(21) And Solomon reigned.—His dominion is described as extending on the south to the land of the Philistines and the border of Egypt, including what we call Arabia (see Psalms 72:10, and comp. 1 Kings 10:15); on the east to “the river” Euphrates, as far north as Tiphsah (the Greek Thapsacus); on the west it would, of course, be bounded by the sea; and on the north it extended far beyond Damascus, probably up to the borders of the Assyrian Empire. It seems also clear that the Syrian Kingdoms (like the kingdom of Tyre), were allies on a footing of some dependence, though not exactly tributaries. This extension of dominion was the fruit of the warlike energy of the two preceding reigns. As in all ancient Eastern empires, it represented, not an organised monarchy, but the supremacy of a dominant kingdom’ over tributaries gathered round—“the kings on this side the river” who “brought presents”—apparently at that time numerous, and ruling over small territories. Such an empire would rise rapidly, and as rapidly fall to pieces; and in Solomon’s case it was sustained less by military power than by the peaceful forces of wealth and policy, and was largely dependent on his own personal ascendancy.

Verse 22

(22) Measures.—The “measure” (cor) is variously estimated (from 86 to 42 gallons). In any case the quantity is very large, and, like the other notices of provisions supplied, indicates a vast number, probably several thousands, belonging to the royal household, court, and body-guard. The “harts, roebucks, &c.,” whatever the exact meaning of each word may be, evidently denote the wild game, as distinct from the herds and flocks; the “fatted fowl” apparently signifies “dainty food” generally, as distinct from the staple of ordinary meat.

Verse 23

(23) On this side the river.—This translation, although it expresses the true reference, viz., to the country west of the Euphrates, is literally incorrect. The words mean, “on the further side of the river,” considered from the point of view of Babylon (see the use in the later books, or in Ezra 4:6; Ezra 6:6, &c.); and accordingly indicate composition at the time of the Exile, or, at any rate, at a period when the Babylonish empire was so established in supreme sovereignty as to determine the geographical nomenclature of the East.

Verse 24

(24) Azzah is the well-known Philistine city, Gaza.

Verse 26

(26) Forty thousand.—By comparison with the parallel passage in 2 Chronicles 9:25, and with the notice in 1 Kings 10:26 (one thousand four hundred), it seems clear that for “forty thousand” “four thousand” should be read. They were kept in various “chariot cities,” as well as at Jerusalem. This multiplication of horses and horsemen—forbidden to the future king in Deuteronomy 17:16, but foretold by Samuel at the inauguration of the kingdom (1 Samuel 8:11-12)—is significant of military conquest and an extended empire. The Israelite armies, in frequent contradistinction from their enemies, had been hitherto mainly of infantry; and in Joshua 11:9 the chariots and horses captured were not used, but destroyed, “as the Lord bade Joshua.” Such armies were powerful for defence, not for invasion. Now, as it would seem for the first time, this provision of the ancient law, like many others, was set aside, and Solomon’s empire assumed the character of other great Oriental monarchies.

Verse 28

(28) Dromedaries—properly (see Margin), swift beasts; probably the horses of the royal messengers, as distinguished from the war horses.

Verse 29

(29) Wisdom and understanding . . . and largeness of heart.—In this passage, “understanding,” which is high intellectual power, and “largeness of heart,” which is clearly capacity of knowledge, boundless as “the sand on the sea-shore,” are both distinguished from the higher gift of wisdom, to which they are but means—the one being the capacity of wisdom within, the other the education of that capacity from without, (a) Wisdom, in the true sense in which it is used in Scripture (especially in the Books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes), is properly the attribute of God, and then, by His gifts of revelation and inspiration, reflected in man. The “wisdom of God” (see, for example, Proverbs 8:0) is, in relation to man, His Divine purpose in the creation and government of the world, which all things work out. The “wisdom of man” is the knowledge of the true end and object of his own being—which if he fulfil not, it were better for him not to have been born—whether that object be called happiness or perfection. For such knowledge the Book of Ecclesiastes describes a vain search. Such knowledge, as found already, is embodied in the Proverbs; sometimes in the lowest sense of knowledge of what will conduce to our own happiness; sometimes in the higher knowledge of what will best serve man; most often in the supreme knowledge, how we may best do God’s will and show forth His glory. (b) But, since the purpose of our own being cannot be discovered, if our life be regarded as isolated from the history of the world and from its great design, this wisdom in man is regarded as possible, only when he has some glimpse of the wisdom of God, as manifested to man in His visible Providence, in His declared law, and His special revelation to the soul. Hence, “the fear of the Lord” is its “beginning;” and faith in God is the supplement of its necessary imperfection. (c)It will be obvious that, even so considered, this desire for wisdom is more self-contained and self-conscious than “the thirst for God, even the living God,” in which the soul of the Psalmist expresses absolute dependence on God. If the sense of the need of God’s revelation and of the necessity of faith beyond knowledge be lost, then this consciousness of wisdom may well become a self-idolatry, in which the mind prides itself on having pierced to the secret of being, holds that by such knowledge it becomes superior to ordinary law and duty, and delights in philosophical contemplation, rather than in active energy and religious devotion.

Verse 30

(30) The wisdom of all the children of the east.—The phrase “children of the east” is apparently used (see Genesis 29:1; Judges 6:3; Judges 6:33; Judges 7:12; Judges 8:10) for the tribes of the country lying between the country of Israel and Mesopotamia. Of these “men of the east,” Job is expressly said to be one, and among the chief (Job 1:3), What their wisdom was, the utterances of Job and his friends may testify, showing as they do large knowledge of nature and of man, speculating on the deepest moral questions, and throughout resting, though with an awe greater than was felt within the circle of the Abrahamic covenant, upon the consciousness of the one God. The Book of Job also shows that this wisdom was not unconnected with the proverbial “wisdom of Egypt,” with which it is here joined. The Egyptian wisdom (as the monuments show) was a part of a more advanced and elaborate civilisation, enriched by learning and culture, and manifesting itself in art and science, but perhaps less free and vigorous than the simpler patriarchal wisdom of the children of the east.

Verses 30-34

(30-34) The whole passage implies a general growth of wisdom, a largeness of knowledge, and an outburst of literature, of which, as usual with great men, Solomon is at once the child and the leader.

Verse 31

(31) He was wiser.—The wisdom of “Heman, Ethan, Chalcol, and Darda,” then rivals of Solomon’s fame, is now only known to us from this passage. In the genealogy of 1 Chronicles 2:6, “Ethan, Heman, Chalcol, and Dara” (or “Darda”) are found as sons of Zerah, the son of Judah; and the coincidence is remarkable enough to suggest identification. But this identification can scarcely hold. This passage evidently implies that these rivals of Solomon were contemporary with him, not belonging, therefore, to a family many generations earlier. Now it happens that we know of a Heman and an Ethan (see 1 Chronicles 6:33; 1 Chronicles 6:44) set by David over the service of song in the Tabernacle, and called “Ezrahites” in the titles of Psalms 88, 89 ascribed to them. Heman is, moreover, designated as “the king’s seer in the words of the Lord” (1 Chronicles 25:5); and his Psalm (Psalms 88:0) is singularly full of thought, moral speculation, and sense of mystery in life and death. Chalcol and Darda are described as sous of Machol. The word Machol may be a proper name. But it is curious that it signifies “dance,” or “music”; and it is at least possible that they also, like Heman and Ethan, may have been thus designated, as connected with the music of the Temple. However this may be, it can hardly be wrong, in spite of the repetition of the group of names, to refer this passage to this Heman and this Ethan, and hold Chalcol and Darda to be, like them, contemporaries with Solomon.

Verse 32

(32) Proverbs.—The word “proverb” (mashal), from a root signifying “comparison,” has the various meanings of (a) parable or allegory, (b) proverb in the modern sense, (c) riddle or enigmatical poem, (d) figurative and antithetical poetry, like the “parable” of Balaam. The Book of Proverbs belongs mainly, but not exclusively, to the second class. Its main part consists of two series of “Proverbs of Solomon” (Proverbs 10-24, Proverbs 10:25-29), composed or collected by him; falling, however, far short of the number given in this verse. The earlier portion (see especially 1 Kings 1:20-33; 1 Kings 1:2; 1 Kings 1:8) partakes more of the character of the first and fourth classes; and in Ecclesiastes 12:3-6, and perhaps Proverbs 30:15-16; Proverbs 30:24-31, we have specimens of the third. If the “three thousand” of the text be intended to be taken literally, it is obvious that only a small part of Solomon’s proverbs has been preserved. His declension into idolatry might induce care in selection. by such prophetic compilers as “the men of Hezekiah” (Proverbs 25:0).

His songs.—We have still ascribed to Solomon the “Song of Songs” and two Psalms (72 and 127); but nothing else is, even by tradition, preserved to us. This passage is singularly interesting as showing that the Old Testament Canon is not a collection of chance fragments of a scanty literature, but that out of a literature, which at this time, at any rate, was large and copious, deliberate selections by prophetic authority were made. (The “men of Hezekiah,” named in Proverbs 25:1, are by Jewish tradition Isaiah and his companions.) In the case of Solomon some special caution would be natural, and much of his poetry may have been purely secular. The “Psalter of Solomon” (including eighteen psalms) is a Greek apocryphal book, of the time of the Maccabees or later.

Verse 33

(33) He spake of trees.—Of this verse there have been many interpretations. Josephus (Ant. viii. c.2, § 5) supposes Solomon’s utterances on these natural products to have been allegorical and symbolic, although he declares that he described them and their properties “like a philosopher.” Rabbinical and Oriental legends, eagerly accepted in mediaeval times, ascribed to him mystic knowledge and magical use of their occult properties. Modern writers have seen in this utterance the first dawn of a scientific natural history and idyllic poetry. In all these suppositions there is some truth, though each in its literal meaning evidently interprets the work of Solomon by the ideas of its own time. An examination of the Song of Songs, and even of the Book of Proverbs—to say nothing of Ecclesiastes and several of the Psalms, and of the Book of Job, which has been thought to belong to the age of Solomon—shows in them repeated exemplifications of a deep sense of the wonder and the beauty of Nature, and also a keen observation of Natural history in detail But it also shows, as might have been expected, a constant contemplation of God in and over Nature (much as in Psalms 104:0), a desire to know the secret of His dispensation therein, a conception of a unity in His law over all being, and as a necessary consequence of this, a tendency to mystic interpretation and parable. If in the works here referred to, and now lost to us, there were (as Ewald supposes) “the rudiments of a complete natural history,” it would be an anachronism to doubt that they were marked by these leading characteristics.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 Kings 4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/1-kings-4.html. 1905.
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