Solomon and Social Oppression – Part 5

In my previous post (Part 4), I discussed how Solomon instituted a system of taxation in order to provide for the needs of his kingdom. Judging by the number of people supported by Solomon, the political and economic expansion of the kingdom, and the extensive building program began by Solomon, it is clear that taxation eventually became a huge burden on a people who probably were already struggling to meet their own needs.

Solomon’s revenue came primarily from the agricultural surpluses produced by a rural population and from income derived from tolls received from caravans transiting through the kingdom and from commercial ventures.

For a time, the income received from taxes, tolls, and commercial ventures was able to provide for the needs of the state. However, as the kingdom’s upper class grew, a class of people who were nonproducers, Solomon had to institute new policies to bring more revenue, policies that were counterproductive and produced limited resources.

Solomon’s economic policies were successful in providing a life of luxury and prosperity for a small group of privileged people. However, life for the common people was marginal and it was this situation that created the grievances and the discontentment which led to the division of the kingdom. Walter Brueggemann, in his article “‘Vine and Fig Tree’: A Case Study in Imagination and Criticism,” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 43 (1981) p. 194 wrote: “The criticism regularly mounted in ancient Israel is against present arrangements which terrify and usurp the life-goods from one table to put them on another, more fortunate table.”

Solomon’s massive building program is described in 1 Kings chapters 6 to 9. When Solomon became king after the death of David, he chose not to expand the borders of the kingdom he inherited from his father. Thanks to the stable government Solomon received from the hands of David, he was able to embark on an ambitious building program that lasted twenty years.

Solomon’s greatest achievement was the building of the Temple on the land David had purchased from Araunah the Jebusite for an altar (2 Samuel 24:8-25). According to the Deuteronomic historian, Solomon’s temple was a magnificent structure that rivaled other great buildings in antiquity.

David had not been allowed to build a temple for God in Jerusalem. In the covenant established with David, the Lord spoke through Nathan the prophet telling David that he would have a son who would “build a house for my name.” Solomon was chosen to build the temple for God which his father had desired to build.

Solomon was determined to build a magnificent, permanent shrine for the Ark of the Lord. However, the reality was that Solomon, with all his wealth and riches, did not possess the necessary knowledge and technology or the needed materials to build such a complex structure. Since he did not have the skilled workers and the material he needed for the construction of the temple, Solomon made an alliance with Hiram, king of Tyre. The temple was a tripartite structure designed by Phoenicians and it was built following a Canaanite pattern. The introduction of Canaanite workers to design and build the temple also brought Canaanite religious themes into Israelite religion.

Solomon believed that God’s temple and his kingdom should rival all others, and in a brilliant capitalistic move, he negotiated with Hiram, who was the king of a more culturally progressive country, to help with his building projects.

In the past Hiram had helped David with material to build his own palace in Jerusalem. Now, because of his friendship with David, Hiram desired to help Solomon build the temple and his palace complex. In the process, Hiram helped Solomon extend his political influence since he also helped him establish a strong economy. Thus, through this agreement with Solomon, Hiram showed that he was very interested in maintaining good diplomatic relation between their two countries. On the other hand, Solomon was so interested in keeping good relationships with Phoenicia that he married one of Hiram’s daughters to seal the alliance between the two nations.

According to 2 Chronicles 2, Solomon approached Hiram with a proposal for working together on his building projects. Solomon desired to purchase raw material and precious metals from Hiram. Solomon proposed that the servants of the two kings work together and he would pay Hiram’s men the wages set by Hiram.

According to 1 Kings 5, Hiram modified Solomon’s proposal. Hiram was fully aware that the Israelites did not know the proper techniques for cutting the cedar and cypress timber, which was a well-established craft in Phoenicia. So, Hiram proposed that his men would cut the lumber and transport the timber to the coast of Palestine, and Solomon’s men would remove it and take it to the location of the temple.

Solomon was to pay Hiram for the work of his servants. According to 1 Kings 5:6 (Hebrew: 1 Kings 5:20), Solomon wrote to Hiram: “My servants will join your servants, and I will give you whatever wages you set for your servants; for you know that there is no one among us who knows how to cut timber like the Sidonians.” In addition to paying the wages of Hiram’s servants, Solomon agreed to send Hiram “an annual payment of 100,000 bushels of wheat for his household and 110,000 gallons of pure olive oil” (1 Kings 5:11 NLT [Hebrew: 1 Kings 5:25]).

Solomon’s annual payment to Hiram forced the peasant population to expand their agricultural surplus. Solomon’s taxation program siphoned off the wealth from small farmers to provide for a government bureaucracy, thus placing a severe strain on the social and economic structures of families and villages.

Solomon spent seven years building the Temple and thirteen years building the palace complex. The palace complex consisted of the king’s palace, several governmental buildings, and a palace for Pharaoh’s daughter.

Solomon fortified several cities outside of Jerusalem, including Gezer, Megiddo, and Hazor. These chariot cities and his army, composed of horse-drawn chariots, were designed to protect his empire and provide protection for the trade routes that brought riches from Egypt, Arabia, and Phoenicia (1 Kings 4:26, 9:10, 10:16).

In addition to the temple and his palace, Solomon also constructed a seaport at Ezion-geber where he was able to build a fleet of ships to extend his commercial enterprises to distant lands. The sailing vessels were built with the help of Hiram. The fleet of ships of Tarshish carried exotic cargoes including gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks (1 Kings 10:22). Solomon purchased chariots from Egypt and horses from Cilicia. His traders sold horses and chariots to other nations at a profit (1 Kings 10:28-29).

It is possible that the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon was designed to establish a commercial agreement with Solomon because his commercial ventures were cutting into her camel caravan trade in Arabia and other parts of the Ancient Near East.

After twenty years of building and expansion, Solomon was so deep in debt to Hiram that he was eventually forced to sell twenty cities as payment for the massive quantities of precious metals, particularly gold, which were borrowed from the rich Phoenician nation to complete his building projects. The Deuteronomic writer describes Solomon’s action as follows:

“At the end of twenty years, in which Solomon had built the two houses, the house of the LORD and the king’s house, King Hiram of Tyre having supplied Solomon with cedar and cypress timber and gold, as much as he desired, King Solomon gave to Hiram twenty cities in the land of Galilee (1 Kings 9:10-11).”

By selling twenty Galilean cities to a Canaanite king, Solomon was returning to the Canaanites part of the land that God had given to Israel. The Israelites who lived in those cities were forced to live under a foreign ruler, just as Israel lived under the control of the king of Egypt. This intolerable situation fueled the fires of rebellion because the people living under the oppressive policies of Solomon bore the brunt of their king’s grandiose ambitions.

Solomon was able to carry out his ambitious building program and his commercial ventures by means of a harsh program of taxation and the exploitation of the citizenry through labor for the government.

To pay for all these programs, Solomon divided the kingdom into twelve districts for the purpose of taxation. Each district had an officer in charge who was responsible for providing for the needs of the palace for one month (see Part 4 of this study).

Another method Solomon used to provide for the expenses of the government and for the manual labor for his building program was the establishment of a program of forced labor. Solomon’s oppressive program of forced labor will be discussed in Part 6 of this series of studies.

To be continued.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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4 Responses to Solomon and Social Oppression – Part 5

  1. Edwin Mung says:

    I am looking for part 6.

    Like

  2. Prism says:

    I sure hope you will continue the series. I found it highly interesting and informative.

    Like

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