Avraham ben Yaakov
I KINGS CHAPTER 9
"MY EYES AND MY HEART WILL BE THERE..." (v 3)
The entire face of Israel was changed with the completion of Solomon's Temple and his other magnificent building projects in Jerusalem together with the development of a network of international diplomatic and trading links that brought a flood of gold, silver, exotic woods, spices and other luxuries into the Land.
Solomon took the first twenty-four years of his reign to build the Temple and his palace, while David had previously reigned for forty years. This means that it was little more than sixty-five years since Saul had become king at a time when the Israelites were so poor and technologically dependent on the Philistines that they didn't even have blacksmiths of their own to repair their farm implements (I Samuel 13:19-22).
For almost five centuries since their entry into the Land, the Israelites had been a nation of small farmers living a very simple life. Now suddenly, through the genius of Solomon the peace-maker and bridge-builder, Israel and its glorious capital of Jerusalem were at the very center of the economic and cultural life of the entire Fertile Crescent and way beyond. The nation that once slaved to build store cities for Pharaoh (Exodus 1:11) now had helot slave nations of their own to build them "store cities, cities of chariots and cities of horse riders and whatever fancy that Solomon fancied to build in Jerusalem and Lebanon and in all the land of his rule" (I Kings 9:9). In a sense Solomon's marriage with Pharaoh's daughter can be seen as his attempt to wed and subordinate the material grandeur represented by Egypt to the Torah of Israel.
The question was whether he could succeed - or would the pull of materialism turn Israel aside from their adherence to the Torah. Therefore God's message to Solomon when He appeared to him for the second time following the completion of his building projects (v 1) was strictly conditional: "IF you will go before Me. I shall establish the throne of your kingship over Israel forever" (vv 4-5). At the very moment when the Temple had just been consecrated, God was already threatening that it would be destroyed if Israel were to go astray and that the people would then become an international byword for the terrible consequences of sin (vv 7-8, cf. Deut. 29:17-27).
In certain ways the test faced by Solomon and the Israel of his times was similar to the test faced by modern Israel since the reestablishment of the Jewish settlement in the Holy Land within the last few hundred years and particularly since the establishment of the State. At the time of the War of Independence in 1948 the Israeli army was a makeshift affair that was victorious not because of superior weaponry but through a combination of heroism and divine miracles, as in the times of Saul and Jonathan. Less than 20 years later in June 1967 the Israeli army saw stunning successes in the space of only six days, extending the tiny country by many times its original size. Since then Israel has attained a prosperity and technological sophistication unimaginable only sixty years ago, and is at the center of an international nexus of diplomatic and commercial relations. However in the eyes of many, this very material success has been accompanied by a tragic decline into decadence, corruption and loss of national vision. Can Israel reverse this decline and return to the Torah ideals that give meaning and purpose to its existence?
The way to reverse this decline is given in our text: "My eyes and My heart will be there..." (v 3). Targum Yonasan renders this verse: "My Indwelling Presence (=eyes) will dwell in it IF My will (=heart) is done". "My will" is the Torah: the moral of the Prophet is the same as the moral of the Torah in whose voice he speaks: "And it shall be if you will surely listen to My commandments." (Deut. 11:13; Second paragraph of Shema).
SOLOMON'S COVENANT WITH HIRAM
Solomon's treaty of peace, cooperation and reciprocal trading with Hiram of Tyre is emblematic of the international diplomatic policy through which Solomon laid the foundations for Israel 's prosperity.
It is therefore somewhat strange to discover that Solomon "gave" Hiram twenty cities in the Galilee which found no favor with the latter, who contemptuously dismissed the region as being "barren" or "fruitless" (vv 11-13; KAVUL literally means "chained", implying that the land was full of bogs from which it was hard to pull up one's feet when trying to walk there). How Solomon could have "given" even a small part of Israel 's God-given inheritance to a foreign king is explained by some commentators with reference to a parallel passage in I Chronicles 8:2, which says that it was Hiram who gave Solomon a number of cities that were then populated with Israelites. This would indicate either that Hiram returned the cities given by Solomon, or that each country's making some of its land available to the other was some kind of reciprocal leasing arrangement. Some say that Solomon intentionally gave Hiram inferior land so that he would not be able to make use of it. Despite the "diplomatic rumpus" caused by Solomon's unattractive gift, Hiram continued lavishing friendship upon his wise Israelite ally, sending him huge amounts of gold (v 14) and cooperating in ambitious naval ventures that brought even more gold and exotic treasures into Israel (vv 26ff; cf. ch 10 vv 11 etc.).
SEEDS OF LATER TROUBLES
The very account of Solomon's glory includes references to factors that were later to prove disastrous. Verse 20-21 describe how the remaining Canaanites "whom the Children of Israel were unable to drive out" were effectively transformed into disenfranchised serf helots who performed menial labors for their masters (somewhat reminiscent of Israel 's Palestinian workforce of today) while the Israelites were a free elite manning the king's army and government. While our present text voices no explicit criticism of this arrangement, it is clear from elsewhere that it was the Israelite failure to drive out the Canaanites that was the root cause of their later exile, because they adopted the Canaanite idolatries.
Similarly Solomon's building of the MILLO in Jerusalem for the daughter of Pharaoh (v 24) was one of the root causes of the later rebellion of the Ten Tribes under Jeraboam. The MILLO was a large area by the city which David had left vacant in order to provide space for the pilgrims who came up for the foot festivals to pitch their tents. Solomon FILLED IN (Heb. MILA) this area with earth in order to build homes for Pharaoh's daughter's servants and attendants, causing great popular resentment among the home-born Israelites over the requisitioning of land left for their benefit for the sake of a foreign princess. It was precisely over this that Jeraboam reproved Solomon (ch 11 v 27).
THE VISIT OF THE QUEEN OF SHEBA
Many beautiful legends have been woven around the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Jerusalem as described in our present chapter. Solomon's development of the ports of Etzion-Gever by EYLOTH (=present day Eilat) and his joint naval ventures with the sea-faring experts of Hiram's Tyre opened up not only the Red Sea and surrounding coastal regions of present-day Somalia, Ethiopia, Arabia and Yemen but also gave access to the Indian Ocean and many far-off, exotic sources of luxury goods.
Some commentators identify Sheba with India (cf. Gen. 10:7), but rabbinic tradition identifies it with present-day Ethiopia , which would agree with Ethiopian folklore.
The Talmud states: "Whoever says that the Queen of Sheba was a woman is simply mistaken; what is MALKHAS Sheba? It is the kingdom (MAMLEKHES) of Sheba !" (Bava Bastra 15b). Some people have taken this to mean that the Biblical account of the visit of the Queen of Sheba is nothing but an allegory about some kind of cultural exchange between King Solomon and some far-off nation. However this misconception is dispelled by the comment of Maharsha (ad loc.) that all the Talmud means here is that the Queen of Sheba was not merely the wife-consort of a King of Sheba but that she was actually a Queen in her own right.
The riddles posed to Solomon by the Queen of Sheba as elaborated in the Midrashim have exercised many minds throughout the generations. "And King Solomon gave to the Queen of Sheba all her desire that she asked" (v 13). Rashi (ad loc.) comments that what Solomon gave her was nothing but a lesson in wisdom, adding that to satisfy her desire, he had relations with her and she conceived a child whose descendant was Nebuchadnezzar, who was to destroy Solomon's Temple four hundred and ten years after it was built. Once again Solomon's ambitious ventures in trying to join the holy with the unholy sowed the seeds of later destruction.
SIX HUNDRED AND SIXTY SIX TALENTS OF GOLD
The information that the total sum of Solomon's annual income of gold was six hundred and sixty-six talents of gold (v 14) is likely to be somewhat chilling to those who have been exposed to the various occult teachings that associate 666 with great evil. Rashi (ad loc.) explains that this sum was made up of 120 talents given by Hiram, another 120 talents given by the Queen of Sheba, and a further 420 talents brought by the ships of Tarshish from Ophir. "And as for the other six, I don't know where they were from" (Rashi). Other commentators point out that it was this very wealth that proved to be Solomon's undoing, and that 666 is the sum of the numerical value of the Hebrew letters in the word TASSUR (Tav 400, Samach 60, Vav 6, Reish 200), "turn aside", as in the verse, "And you shall not TURN ASIDE (TASSUR) from all the things that I am commanding you today" (Deut. 28:14, cf. Deut. 17:11).
Another theme around which many fabulous legends have been woven is Solomon's amazing throne (vv 18ff). One of the main sources for more details about this throne is the Second Targum on Esther 1:2, which provides a complete description of the many different figures of animals that adorned this throne and their various ways of dealing with intruders, false witnesses who came to testify before Solomon, etc. Among the various kings who were said to have later unsuccessfully tried to sit on this throne were Pharaoh Necho, Nebuchadnezzar, Achashverosh and Alexander the Great. Rabbi Elazar the son of Rabbi Yosse said that he had seen the shattered remnants of this throne in Rome . (See also Rabbi Nachman's tale of the Exchanged Children, which alludes to this throne at the climax of the story.)
The six steps of the throne mentioned in our present text correspond to the Six Orders of the Mishneh - for despite his excesses, Solomon based his kingly authority only on the Torah as handed down through the oral tradition. Solomon's throne was the earthly representation of the heavenly Throne of Glory, and according to tradition was adorned with a wolf side by side with a lamb, a leopard with a kid goat and a calf with a lion (cf. Isaiah 11:6) indicating that through faithful adherence to the wisdom and judgments of the Torah, perfect Messianic peace can reign.
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
© AZAMRA INSTITUTE 5767 - 2006-7 All rights reserved