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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
1 Kings 10

 

 

Verse 8

Happy are your men, happy are these your servants, who stand continually before you, and who hear your wisdom.”

She declared that his wisdom was such that all who served him should count themselves fortunate. How this fulsome praise must have delighted Solomon’s heart. And how dangerous it was for him. It is little wonder that he began to believe that he could do anything that he liked with impunity. He saw himself as the centre of his world, and as being beyond requiring advice or rebuke.


Verse 9

Blessed be YHWH your God, who delighted in you, to set you on the throne of Israel. Because YHWH loved Israel for ever, therefore he made you king, to do justice and righteousness.”

She also expressed her full appreciation of YHWH Who had set him on the throne of Israel. But even her reference to YHWH almost made it sound as if it was YHWH Who was privileged to have been able to establish Solomon’s throne. He had chosen Solomon because out of His love for Israel because none could be found who compared with him. No doubt she had learned all about YHWH’s covenant with David, and His promise of an everlasting throne, and how YHWH required him to rule in justice and righteousness. Solomon was proud of all these facts, and would not have hesitated to have spoken of them. And kings in those days always gave due credit to their gods, while at the same time, of course, keeping some for themselves. So even her worship of YHWH was eclipsed by her appreciation of Solomon. How careful we have to be that we do not take away the glory from God.

1 Kings 10:10

And she gave the king a hundred and twenty talents of gold, and of spices very great store, and precious stones. There came no more such abundance of spices as these which the queen of Sheba gave to king Solomon’

The Queen brought much gold, and large quantities of spices and precious stones (compare 1 Kings 10:2). As she had accompanied the caravan she would not want it to come short in any particular. It had to reveal her own worth. It was thus much larger than usual, and beyond compare. She would, of course, expect to return to her country with reciprocal gifts of equal value (1 Kings 10:13). But that went without saying.

For the one hundred and twenty talents of gold compare the 150 talents of gold was which extracted from Metten II of Tyre by Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria c. 730 BC. It is thus not an abnormal ‘present’, and may well have acknowledged treaty obligations.

1 Kings 10:11

And the navy also of Hiram, which brought gold from Ophir, brought in from Ophir great plenty of almug-trees and precious stones.’

Meanwhile Solomon’s other trading avenues continued, and his ships as supplemented by Hiram, also brought in almug-trees and precious stones, as well as gold. The word ‘almug’ is found only here, but is witnessed to at Ugarit. It would appear to have been a particularly fine wood, as its use in musical instruments suggests. At Alalakh it appears to have been used to make fine furniture.

1 Kings 10:12

And the king made of the almug-trees pillars for the house of YHWH, and for the king’s house, harps also and psalteries for the singers. There came no such almug-trees, nor were seen, to this day.’

Solomon’s importance was such that only the very best was sent to Solomon. The word for ‘pillars’ is obscure, but clearly refers to something, probably decorative, requiring particularly fine wood. The harps and psalteries (both stringed instruments) are a reminder of David’s prowess, and of the musical background to Temple worship (compare Amos 5:23), Such musical instruments were known at Ugarit, and going far back in time (Genesis 4:21).

“To this day” again probably comes from the original source, but was taken over by the author.

1 Kings 10:13

And king Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba all her desire, whatever she asked, besides what Solomon gave her of his royal bounty. So she turned, and went to her own land, she and her servants.’

Having supplied her ‘gifts’ the Queen was now asked to provide details of what gifts she ‘desired’ in exchange, that being on top of his own magnificent gifts. And once that had been satisfactorily settled, the caravan was loaded up and she returned with her array of ministers and attendants to her own land, no doubt well satisfied with the outcome of her visit. There was nothing romantic about it. It had been a hard-headed business trip.

The description of all this is, of course, double-edged. On the one hand it reveals all the wealth that YHWH piled on Solomon, and the great ‘name’ that He had given him. But on the other it is all part of what so possessed Solomon’s interests that he forsook YHWH. It is doubtful if the prophet gave it full-hearted approval.


Verses 14-22

A Description Of King Solomon’s Toys (1 Kings 10:14-22).

With the wealth that was pouring into his country Solomon made himself some ostentatious ‘toys. These included both large and small shields of covered with solid gold for display purposes, a splendid and unique gold and ivory throne, and all his golden drinking and other vessels within his palace complex. Indeed such was the quantity of gold available in his kingdom that silver was accounted of little worth, at least within the capital city.

Analysis.

a Now the weight of gold which came to Solomon in one year was six hundred threescore and six talents of gold, besides what the agents brought, and the traffic of the merchants, and of all the kings of the mingled people, and of the governors of the country (1 Kings 10:14-15).

b And king Solomon made two hundred larger shields of beaten gold, six hundred shekels of gold went to one large shield. And he made three hundred smaller shields of beaten gold, three pounds of gold went to one shield, and the king put them in the house of the forest of Lebanon (1 Kings 10:16-17).

c Moreover the king made a great throne of ivory, and overlaid it with the finest gold. There were six steps to the throne, and the top of the throne was round behind, and there were stays on either side by the place of the seat, and two lions standing beside the stays. And twelve lions stood there on the one side and on the other on the six steps. There was not the like made in any kingdom (1 Kings 10:18-20).

b And all king Solomon’s drinking vessels were of gold, and all the vessels of the house of the forest of Lebanon were of pure gold: none were of silver. It was nothing accounted of in the days of Solomon (1 Kings 10:21).

a For the king had at sea a navy of Tarshish with the navy of Hiram. Once every three years came the navy of Tarshish, bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks (1 Kings 10:22).

It will be noted that in ‘a’ we have described the gold coming in from tribute and trade, and in the parallel the gold and other items coming in from the sea trade. In ‘b’ we have described Solomon’s ornamental golden shields, and in the parallel the golden vessels in his house. Central in ‘c’ is his golden throne.

1 Kings 10:14-15

Now the weight of gold which came to Solomon in one year was six hundred threescore and six talents of gold, besides what the agents brought, and the trading of the merchants, and of all the kings of the assorted people, and of the governors of the country.’

Gold poured into Solomon’s coffers from every quarter. Some was brought by his agents, some was in respect of trading activity by the merchants, some came in tribute from the petty kings round about, including parts of Arabia, and some from the governors of the country. These may have been the officers appointed by Solomon in 1 Kings 4:1-19.

While this amount of gold (around twenty tons) might appear enormous, it is not really over-enormous in the light of what we learn elsewhere, although we need not doubt that someone possibly selected one of the best years for the obtaining of his example. As we have seen above, the Queen of Sheba brought 120 talents of gold in one particular year, while Ophir despatched 420 talents of gold over a period. We can compare how five centuries after the death of Solomon, one province alone in ‘India’ (the Indus basin) gave to the Persian emperors annually 360 talents of gold (Herodotus iii, 94), while within ten years of Solomon’s death and stretching over a period of four years Osorkon I of Egypt presented a total of two million deben weight of silver (a staggering 220 tons) and another 2,300,000 deben weight of silver and gold (some 250 tons) to the gods, largely in the form of precious objects (vessels, statuary, etc.). This grand total of 470 tons of precious metal, although admittedly some was in silver, outstrips Solomon’s reputed weight of gold by twenty times, and the Egyptian record is not only detailed but is undoubtedly firsthand.

1 Kings 10:16-17

And king Solomon made two hundred large shields of beaten gold, six hundred shekels of gold went to one large shield. And he made three hundred shields of beaten gold, three minas of gold went to one shield, and the king put them in the house of the forest of Lebanon.’

Gold was pouring into Solomon’s treasury in such abundance that Solomon made two hundred large golden shields, each containing six hundred shekels of gold, and a further three hundred smaller shields, each containing three minas of gold. These would be for ceremonial purposes (1 Kings 14:28), and were designed in order to further bring out Solomon’s glory. They were stored on the House of the Forest of Lebanon (so-named because of its multiplicity of pillars of cedar) which was part of the palace complex in Jerusalem, and were brought out whenever Solomon wanted to make an impression.

“Beaten gold.” This is literally ‘slain gold’, the verb presumably being a technical term signifying some production process.

The prophet might well have had a wry smile on his face when he wrote these words, for he would know that in the not too distant future he would be deliberately pointing out that these shields would be appropriated by the Pharaoh, and would be carried off to Egypt (1 Kings 14:26). Solomon’s glory would thus not be long lasting. It was a fading glory because of his arrogance and disobedience. What YHWH supplied, YHWH could take away.

1 Kings 10:18-20

Moreover the king made a great throne of ivory, and overlaid it with the finest gold. There were six steps to the throne, and the top of the throne was round behind, and there were stays on either side by the place of the seat, and two lions standing beside the stays. And twelve lions stood there on the one side and on the other on the six steps. There was not the like made in any kingdom.’

The king also had made for him his own unique throne. This was a throne inlaid with ivory, and overlaid with the finest gold. Six steps led up to the throne, and the rearward curving back is paralleled in Egyptian thrones. The purpose of the throne was to lift Solomon above his minions. The six steps led up to the dais on which the throne was placed which was the seventh level. Such designs elsewhere indicated the supreme power of the gods. In Babylon the seven-staged ziggurats led up to the gods. At Ugarit seven steps led up to inmost shrine of the Temple of Baal. Here it may well have been intended to indicate that Solomon was priest-king after the order of Melchizedek (Psalms 110:4), and therefore the Intercessor of the nations. It was therefore intended to indicate his supreme power over the nations. We may compare the attitude behind it with that of the King of Babylon in Isaiah 14:13-14. Solomon did not yet realise it, but he was on the way down.

On either side of the throne seat were stays, with two lions standing by the stays, providing protection (in a similar way to the Cherubim) and indicating Solomon’s power and fearsomeness. They may well also have symbolised the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:9-10) over his lion people (Numbers 23:24; Numbers 24:9) and surrounded by his pride. A lion also stood at each side of each step leading up to the throne. These may have represented the leaders of the tribes of Israel, seen as young lions. Here then was the lion king. When he roared the earth shook. No other parallel to this throne could be found anywhere. It was unique. Thus is Solomon’s glory emphasised.

1 Kings 10:21

And all king Solomon’s drinking vessels were of gold, and all the vessels of the house of the forest of Lebanon were of pure gold: none were of silver. It was nothing accounted of in the days of Solomon.’

Furthermore all the drinking and other vessels in the palace complex were made of gold. Silver vessels could not be found anywhere, because they were seen as too inferior. Silver counted for nothing in the court of Solomon. Such was his fading splendour. The writer leaves us to meditate on the fact without comment, aware that it will all soon come tumbling down.

1 Kings 10:22

For the king had at sea a navy of Tarshish with the navy of Hiram. Once every three years came the navy of Tarshish, bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes (qopim), and peacocks (tukkiyim).’

Furthermore Solomon had formed a joint fleet along with Hiram. A ‘navy of Tarshish’ was a navy of large sea-going vessels of the type used on long distance voyages bringing back ore from far distant places. These may have been constructed by Hiram’s and Solomon’s men at Ezion-geber, or it is even possible that vessels had been taken to pieces in Tyre and then carried to Ezion-geber where they would be reconstructed. This was common practise in the ancient world.

These large ships regularly set off on their voyages, and would be away ‘three years’ (one full year and two part years). This does not necessarily signify long voyages. Ships in those days did not just sail away into the sunset and return. They would visit different ports to trade and gather water and provisions, they would often hug the coast, they would be laid up at times because of unseasonal weather, they might remain in some ports for a long time until they had disposed of their produce and filled up with the goods they received in return. Thus it is difficult to know how much actual sailing time was included in the ‘calculation’.

They then returned with exotic goods such as gold, silver, ivory, and possibly apes and peacocks (the meaning of the nouns is uncertain, especially the latter, but they are presumably exotic creatures), which were a wonder to all who beheld them. These may not all, of course, have been obtained from their original home-lands. They may have been traded on by other vessels which had come from those places. Thus we have no real idea how far Solomon’s fleet was able to penetrate. But to Israelites, unused to the sea, it would all have seemed wonderful, and added greatly to Solomon’s glory.

The Tyrian large long-distance vessels were called ‘ships of Tarshish’. It has been conjectured that tarshish refers to iron smelteries. Thus they may have derived their name from the ores that they carried, or from the destinations that they reached (smelteries in different part of the ancient world, such as Spanish Tartessus and Sardinia). It may not have indicated a particular place. ‘Tarshish’ may well have described their purpose rather than their destination, and the name have gradually come to signify large, long-distance vessels, with Tarshish being a description of the mysterious places that they visited in the search for ores.


Verses 23-29

The Ultimate Greatness Of Solomon (1 Kings 10:23-29).

The author concludes his description of the magnificence of Solomon by indicating the impact that he made on the ancient world, both in reputation and in arms dealing. The build up has been intentional. He wanted it to be seen how gracious YHWH had been to Solomon, giving him a name in the world as He had given David (2 Samuel 7:9), and making him supremely wealthy and powerful. But as we have also seen he continually leaves us to recognise the cracks that there were on the surface, because unlike David, Solomon’s heart was not fully right towards God, something that he will shortly emphasise. Thus he expects us to be aware of where all this is leading, to the collapse and disintegration of the kingdom. It was not simply unstinted admiration of Solomon. In the future kings would be judged not by the standard of Solomon, but by the standard of David.

Analysis.

a So king Solomon exceeded all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom, and all the earth sought the presence of Solomon, to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart (1 Kings 10:23-24).

b And they brought every man his tribute, vessels of silver, and vessels of gold, and raiment, and armour, and spices, horses, and mules, a rate year by year (1 Kings 10:25).

c And Solomon gathered together chariots and horsemen, and he had a thousand and four hundred chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen, which he bestowed in the chariot cities, and with the king at Jerusalem (1 Kings 10:26).

b And the king made silver to be in Jerusalem as stones, and cedars made he to be as the sycamore trees that are in the lowland, for abundance (1 Kings 10:27).

a And the horses which Solomon had, were brought out of Egypt and Kue, and the king’s merchants received them from Kue at a price, and a chariot came up and went out of Egypt for six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse for a hundred and fifty, and so for all the kings of the Hittites, and for the kings of Syria, did they bring them out by their means (1 Kings 10:28-29).

Note that in ‘a’ Solomon’s great wealth and wisdom is exalted, and in the parallel this is revealed in his arms dealing whereby he cornered the market in chariots and horses. In ‘b’ the vassal nations of Israel constantly brought in to Solomon a stream of tribute, and in the parallel the result was that silver and cedar wood became so abundant that they could be compared numerically with stones and common sycamore trees. Central in ‘c’ is a description of Solomon’s own armed might in terms of chariots.

Central to this passage is the fact that Solomon trust was now firmly in chariots and horsemen (contrast Psalms 20:7). This was what his greatness and wisdom had led him to, armed might and global arms-dealing. The chariot is, in fact, rarely looked on with favour in the Biblical narratives, being usually in the hands of Israel’s enemies, and in Kings such chariots are seen as in direct contrast with the heavenly chariots of YHWH which protect His people (2 Kings 2:11-12; 2 Kings 6:17; 2 Kings 7:6; 2 Kings 13:14; compare Psalms 68:17). The prophetic attitude was that men were to trust in YHWH rather than in chariots (Deuteronomy 20:1; Psalms 20:7; Psalms 46:9; Psalms 76:6; and see especially Isaiah 2:6-7; Isaiah 31:1; Isaiah 31:3; Micah 5:10), and there are no grounds for thinking that the prophetic writer here saw it any differently (he would be familiar with Isaiah and Micah, and with the Psalms). Thus what appeared to be Solomon’s high point was really in the writer’s view also his low point. He no longer trusted in YHWH, he trusted in chariots.

1 Kings 10:23-24

So king Solomon exceeded all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. And all the earth sought the presence of Solomon, to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart.’

All that has gone before has led up to this point. The presentation of the wealth and glory of Solomon has reached its zenith, (although, as we have seen, along the way the prophet has constantly drawn out the cracks behind the facade). Clearly the comparison is in terms of the world as it was then known in Palestine, the Ancient Near East. There was no king around who could compare with Solomon for riches and for wisdom. His superiority in both areas was widely acknowledged. He truly had a great name among ‘the kings of the earth’ (i.e. of surrounding nations). And all acknowledged that he had special wisdom from God, and came to learn from him. He was a kind of father figure, almost a Messianic figure, to the nations.

1 Kings 10:25

And they brought every man his tribute, vessels of silver, and vessels of gold, and raiment, and armour, and spices, horses, and mules, a rate year by year.’

And those riches grew year by year, as vassal nations and subjects owned his overlordship and brought their tribute in silver and gold and splendid clothing, and armour, and spices, and horses, and mules (a highly valued article in those days). And they did it as their liability was assessed year by year.

1 Kings 10:26

And Solomon gathered together chariots and horsemen, and he had a thousand and four hundred chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen, which he bestowed in the chariot cities, and with the king at Jerusalem.’

Solomon had also reached the high point militarily speaking. He had one large unit and four smaller units of chariots, together with twelve units of ‘horsemen’ to man the chariots and care for the horses. These were spread around the chariot cities, with a fair proportion being with the king in Jerusalem. This was where his trust now lay.

1 Kings 10:27

And the king made silver to be in Jerusalem as stones, and cedars made he to be as the sycamore trees that are in the lowland, for abundance.’

Such was the prosperity of Israel, and especially of Jerusalem, that silver had a common value with stones (it was not much accounted of - 1 Kings 10:21), while valuable cedarwood was as common as the local ‘sycamore trees’ (large well-rooted spreading trees which produced an inferior kind of fig and grew in abundance, while having little value).

1 Kings 10:28

And the horses which Solomon had, were brought out of Egypt and Kue, and the king’s merchants received them from Kue at a price.’

Having seen the potential of the chariot with its horses, and spotting a gap in the market, Solomon, in partnership with Pharaoh as a result of his special relationship with the Pharaoh through his wife, brought to Israel horses from both Egypt and Kue, the latter bought by his merchants at an agreed price (the former would be supplied in accordance with the partnership agreement). Kue was just north of the Taurus and was famous for horse-breeding.

1 Kings 10:29

And a chariot came up and went out of Egypt for six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse for a hundred and fifty; and so for all the kings of the Hittites, and for the kings of Syria, did they bring them out by their means.’

The partnership then sold Egyptian chariots for six hundred shekels of silver, and sold on the horses at one hundred and fifty shekels each, to the kings of the Hittites (seven city states in Syria which we know perpetuated the name of the Hittites, including Carchemish and Hamath) and to the kings of Aram, the Aramaean states. (The Assyrians and Babylonians knew Syria and Palestine as a whole as ‘Hatti-land’). This had the advantage of building up buffer states against anyone who might encroach from the north. It was also very profitable.

The chariots appear very expensive, but they may have been special ceremonial chariots intended for royalty and suitably furbished, or ‘chariot’ may have signified the complete set up, a chariot with its three horses (two to draw it and one led). The prices of the horses as trained chariot horses were not excessive. A letter from Mari in 18th century BC refers to horses bought at 300 shekels apiece, while at Ugarit a horse was bought for the royal stud for 200 shekels.

Thus the mighty Solomon had become an international arms dealer, with his focus on chariots and horses. This was what his wisdom had brought him to. We must remember that the prophetic writer was aware of the inveighing of the prophets against such activities and knew what all this had come to, and as he copied down what he found in the state annals it must have been with a grieved heart. Indeed this portrayal of Solomon’s power and glory would now be followed by an indication of his follies and the reason for the total failure of his kingdom.

We might set what we have seen about Solomon in this chapter in contrast with Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 3:17-18. ‘We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are unseen, for the things which are seen are temporal, the things which are unseen are eternal.’ It was that lesson of which Elisha was aware (2 Kings 6:17).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Kings 10:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/1-kings-10.html. 2013.

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Monday, October 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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