Here we are still trying to decide if we dare to wrap our arms around everything we encounter or is there a reason to say absolutely no to some people and things. Major excuses for behaving badly towards our contacts include we do not know what to expect from them, we do not understand them, they have different priorities and they do not deserve our attention. I am trying to understand what plurality means in the modern context when all – ALL- of the ancient wisdom has strong streams of bad blood between communities, outright warfare, pretenses about decency and evident strains of inhumanity. What was it respect for other cultures that made Solomon a polytheist?
Solomon did not buy it
It is impossible miss the canyon between an Israelite monarch and his people’s priorities. Even though the mantra for all the years since the Exodus frorm Egypt had been “One God, One People, One Destiny” the anomalies stand out. Moses became an assassination target right after he demonstrated God’s power and mercy towards the Hebrew people. A learned person in 10th century BC Israel-Judah would not be unaware of the kingdom’s failure to pass the test. Destroying people who go astray is inconsistent with a caring king or shepherd, and this was one of the ways by which God strained out the careless and thoughtless. Solomon chose to employ non-Hebrews and persons of mixed ethnicity in his main project.
- And Solomon sent word to Hiram the king of Tyre: “As you dealt with David my father and sent him cedar to build himself a house to dwell in, so deal with me. 2 Chronicles 2:3
- “Now I (King Hiram) have sent a skilled man, who has understanding, Huram-abi, 2 Chronicles 2:13
- the son of a woman of the daughters of Dan, and his father was a man of Tyre. He is trained to work in gold, silver, bronze, iron, stone, and wood, and in purple, blue, and crimson fabrics and fine linen, and to do all sorts of engraving and execute any design that may be assigned him, with your craftsmen, the craftsmen of my lord, David your father. 2 Chronicles 2:14
- Then Solomon counted all the resident aliens who were in the land of Israel, after the census of them that David his father had taken, and there were found 153,600. 2 Chronicles 2:17
- Seventy thousand of them he assigned to bear burdens, 80,000 to quarry in the hill country, and 3,600 as overseers to make the people work. 2 Chronicles 2:18
Solomon had no intentions of wiping out foreigners. This number of workers – 153,600 – belies Israel’s total population of the remnants of the seven nations resident Canaan since the 15th century BC. These persons had families, and Solomon was not going to lay a hand on the Jebusites, especially, since it was from a Jebusite that David had bought the site for the temple.
By Isaiah’s times the word was out. Something was seriously wrong with society. The prophet had instructions to steer clear of the common habits and narrative. Those instructions would naturally coincide with the king’s ideas of governance.
For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. Isaiah 8:11-13
A king wanting to imitate God would have might, rewards and recompenses as Isaiah says “Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.” Isaiah 40:10
The failure of Israel’s first king
Did God want killer kings? Does Christ want firing squad disciples? One hardly lines up behind Moses without becoming available for a stoning or a witness to a community going after the neighbours and their property. Something more had to be in the route to rest than test.
Speculation might offer that Solomon lost his way, died in his idolatrous ways and is nevertheless, like the kingdom, a role model of wisdom. That is where Christ’s followers differ. If the discussion is about eternal life and a just lifestyle it seems that someone skipped school and did not get the memo.
Solomon’s government brought major exposure to the kingdom. We cannot say it did the same for Yahweh. Solomon’s respect for the priesthood is not in question. He might have turned a blind eye to their already mercenary ventures. After all the temple was not going to be a thing without an authorized priesthood. David’s music must have transfixed the king.
Wisdom does not bring salvation
How could Solomon not recognize that Israel’s gold and silver were essential to encounters with God. Canaanite and other foreign gods were not unfamiliar to Solomon.
Psalms 115:1-8 shows that the nations (heathen in the King James translation) were asking basic questions about (a tangible and localized) Israel’s God. Might they have asked about cherubim with wings that do not fly just as Israelites ridiculed gods with eyes and ears that do not see or hear. Israel’s God has to be elsewhere. He cannot be exclusively in shrines and enclosed in gold and silver. The works of any human hands are immediately suspect.
1) Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake. 2) Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is now their God? 3) But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased. 4) Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. 5) They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: 6) They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: 7) They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat. 8) They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them.