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Bible Encyclopedias

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

Solomon's Servants

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( שׁלמה עבדי , ‛ādbhedhē shelōmōh ; δοῦλοι Σαλωμών , doúloi Salōmṓn ): "The children of Solomon's servants" constituted a company or guild of the Jewish exiles who returned with Zerubbabel from Babylonia to Jerusalem in 537 BC, pursuant to the decree of Cyrus; they are mentioned 5 times ( Ezra 2:55 , Ezra 2:58 parallel Nehemiah 7:57 , Nehemiah 7:60 ; Nehemiah 11:3 ). As the prime purpose of the returning exiles was the rebuilding of the Temple and the restoration of Yahweh's worship (Ezra 1:2 , Ezra 1:3 ), it was important that those who held the privileges of sanctuary service as a family heritage should go back to their duties. This included, besides priests and Levites, the NETHINIM (which see) and Solomon's Servants . In every reference to them, Solomon's Servants are connected with the Nethinim, who had been "given" or dedicated (nethı̄nı̄m or nethūnı̄m is pass. participle of nāthan , "to give," "to appoint") by David "for the service of the Levites (Ezra 8:20 ); so Solomon's Servants traced their official beginning back to Solomon's appointment, as their name indicates. In the joint references they always fall into the natural chronological order, i.e. following the Nethinim. It is possible, therefore, that they are referred to in Ezra 7:24 also, under the title "servants of this house of God," which immediately follows "Nethinim" in the list of those exempt from taxation and tolls.

What their duties in the house of God may have been is not stated in the records. These must have been more or less menial, the more formal and honorable duties being reserved for "the priests and Levites, the singers, (and) porters" (Ezra 7:24 ). When the ark was brought to Jerusalem by David and the ceremonial of the sacrificial system was more strictly observed, the services of priests and Levites were greatly increased, and to meet the needs of the new order David appointed the Nethinim (Ezra 8:20 ; compare 1 Chronicles 9:2 ). Likewise the much greater increase in such duties on the completion of Solomon's Temple was the occasion for the dedication of an additional number of these assistants to the Levites.

The number of those who returned with Zerubbabel was not great, together with the Nethinim being only 392. This does not appear to have been sufficient for the needs of the sanctuary, since Ezra, in preparation for his expedition in 458 BC, made special appeal for Nethinim to go with him, of whom 220 responded (Ezra 8:15-20 ). No doubt at the first their service was considered to be lowly; but by the time of the exile, certainly after it, their position had developed into one of considerable honor and constituted them a privileged class in the nation. While many of the people were required by Nehemiah to live in Jerusalem, they were allowed to dwell in their possessions "in the cities of Judah" (Nehemiah 11:3 ).

A question of some interest and of difference of opinion is whether Solomon's Servants were Levites or non-Israelites. The latter view is the more generally held, for the following reasons; (1) After the completion of the Temple and his other great buildings a large body of workmen, whom Solomon had drafted from the non-Israelite population, were without occupation, and might well have been assigned to the menial duties of the Temple (1 Kings 9 ), their name in Septuagint ( douloi ) properly indicating such a class; (2) Ezekiel excludes non-Israelites from the service of his ideal temple, as though they had been allowed in the preexilic Temple ( Ezekiel 44:9 ); (3) they are always clearly distinguished from the Levites in the lists of religious bodies.

But, on the other hand, equally strong arguments favor their Levitical descent: (1) Levites also are called douloi in 1 Esdras; (2) it is more probable that Ezekiel refers to the abuses of Athaliah, Ahaz and Manasseh than to the institutions of David and Solomon; (3) Ezra specifically classifies the Nethinim as Levites ( Ezra 8:15-20 ); (4) there is not the slightest intimation in the text of 1 Kings 9:15-22 that the Gentilebondservants were assigned to temple-service after completion of the great building operations; such an interpretation is wholly inferential, while, on the contrary, it is more probable that such an innovation would have been mentioned in the narrative; and (5) it is not probable that Ezra and Nehemiah, or Zerubbabel, with their strict views of Israelite privilege (compare Ezra 2:62 ), would have admitted non-Israelites to sacred functions, the less so in view of Ezekiel's prohibition. There is more ground, then, for holding that Solomon's Servants, like the porters and singers, were an order of Levites.


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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Solomon's Servants'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/isb/s/solomons-servants.html. 1915.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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