Sermon preached on 1 Kings 4 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 7/28/2019 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Kings 4
Solomon Was King Over All Israel
Christians often have the nostalgic notion that there was once a golden age in the church. For some, they think it was the during the early days of our nation when so many Christians came here from Europe and tried to establish a purer church and society. For others they think it was the time of the Protestant Reformation. For others it was the early church, the time that we read about in the book of Acts and just afterwards. Now if you talk to any serious church historian, they will tell you that such thinking is wrong. They will tell you that there never has been a so-called golden age of the church. Each generation has had its different strengths and weaknesses. Yes, sometimes the church has been more outwardly glorious than other times. Yet, it has never reached any state of true perfection.
Well, that all being said, if there ever was a candidate for a so-called golden age of the church, we should not forget to put 1 Kings 4 on the list. Solomon’s kingdom was grand and glorious in so many ways. It was orderly and well organized. It was expansive, prosperous, and peaceful – a paradise of sorts on earth. It was led and governed in unparalleled wisdom by King Solomon. Not only the king, but the people in general, enjoyed much rest and joy. All this was the gift and blessing of God, as we see here so many of the promises and plans of God being marvelously realized. In many ways, it was a sort of golden age in the church.
Notice then first with me today that Solomon’s kingdom was a wisely ordered kingdom. I pointed you to the list of his administration in verses 1-19. Any sizable nation and people will need organization if there is to be an orderly society. Our God is a God of order, and so we are not surprised to see this. We can remember back to even Moses’ day when he realized he needed organization and structure within the government so that he didn’t wear himself out. Likewise, Solomon’s father David also had an administration to help govern the kingdom well – see 2 Samuel 8:15-18 for a similar passage. Yet, as the kingdom grew to its height here in Solomon’s day, the government administration also needed to be expanded.
This passage definitely shows such an expanded government from David’s day.
So then, we see here the top positions mentioned in Solomon’s administration. There are scribes mentioned in verse 3 – these would have been the official court secretaries – think like a County Clerk today. There is a recorder mentioned in verse 3 – though the literal meaning of word probably was something along the lines of a chief protocol person. Verse 4 mentions the army commander. This list also records the high priests. Verse 5 lists someone over the officers which is a reference to the twelve governors mentioned starting in verse 7 – these district governors would have report to him. Verse 5’s reference to a friend of the king is likely a reference to the role of the chief advisor to the king. Verse 6 mentions someone who would have been head over the household – they would have overseen the royal properties and seen to their orderly functioning. Verse 6 also mentions someone in charge of overseeing the forced labor.
Then from verses 7-19 you have this long, extended list of the 12 governors. That was a quite a novel move by Solomon. There are some tribal references here, but only some. It seems that while tribal division of the land influenced how the 12 districts in Israel were being organized, the districts weren’t exclusively divided along those lines. That surely had the effect to begin to steer the people away from their former tribalism toward a more united, national identity.
And so, the great King Solomon used his God-given wisdom to organize his kingdom. Here we get a snapshot of the host of servants who ministered before the king. By the way, notice that there are names here – these are real people serving and being honored in a real, historical kingdom. And so, all this administration reminds us that such is typical in a kingdom – that there are varying positions of authority and honor. We might consider that such even reflects what we see in heaven. The heavenly throne room of the Lord God Most High has his host of servants standing around his throne in his service, at his right hand and at his left (cf. 1 Kings 22:19). Scripture even speaks at times of God’s angels assigned to different peoples (Dan 10, Rev 1:20). So too, King Solomon, as king over God’s people on earth, images the High King of Heaven and his divine council and administration.
So then, let us notice second about Solomon’s kingdom that it was one of great prosperity and blessedness, as seen in verses 20-28. Verse 20 begins by signaling to us fulfillment in terms of the Abrahamic promises. God had promised the patriarch Abraham back in Genesis a people and a place – a great people and a great place. Genesis 22:17 said that that Abraham’s descendants would number as the sands of the sea, and verse 20 here signals fulfillment. Likewise, God had promised in Genesis 15:18 that God would give Abraham’s descendants the land from between Egypt to the Euphrates, and verse 21 here signals fulfillment. If anyone today suggests that God didn’t keep his promise to Abraham, then they are mistaken. Here the initial fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant is realized, in a literal way. And so, this prosperous and blessed kingdom involves a people and a place.
And notice what this prosperous and blessed people and place entail. In terms of the people, we could begin by saying that they had a fitting king. In verse 29 largeness of the King’s heart was liken to the sand on the seashore. In other words, the work God did in the inner man of Solomon paralleled the work God had done to increase the people. A people as large as the sand of the seashore would need a king with a heart that big too! Well, the prosperity of the people and its king is also described in terms of their provisions of food. The people were eating and drinking, verse 20. Likewise, there is a rather extended description of all the food and provisions that Solomon took in. There’s this large list starting in verse 22 – food to feed him and his house and all the servants and people working for him, not to mention all his horses. And this large list says that this was his daily food allotment. The King had no lack of supply in what the governors brought in from the people – which reflected that the people were prosperous if they had such to give and still enough for themselves too. Many ways the people are described here as prosperous and blessed.
And so, in a related way we can see how prosperous and blessed the place was that they were in. It was a place of rest, as verse 25 describes them dwelling safely. That is as God promised long before under the Mosaic covenant, Deut 3:20. Likewise, verse 21 describes the neighboring Gentile nations being in submission to King Solomon, bringing tribute. That was also a promised blessing of the Mosaic covenant – that God would make the people the head and not the tail in relationship to the nations, Deut. 28:13. Verse 25 describes the place such that each person was dwelling under his own vine and fig tree. That language reminds us of God’s promises through Moses that he would bring the people into a land of milk and honey. It also has echoes of the original paradise – the Garden of Eden. Furthermore, the language in verse 20 that the people were eating and drinking and rejoicing – that language in Scripture is most typical of the tabernacle. That’s language used of how the people would eat, drink, and rejoice at the tabernacle in the presence of God as they offered their sacrifices there – here applied to all the land of Israel. It’s like the holy presence of God located centrally in Jerusalem had expanded in some sense throughout all the land of God’s people. God’s blessed presence filled the land and made it effectively a temple of the Lord. Of course, when we tie that in with the allusions to Eden, we can remember that such is what Eden was originally too. That earthly paradise in the Garden was also a temple for God’s people – there God walked in the Garden with Adam and Eve.
And so, in our second point we’ve been seeing how prosperous and blessed this kingdom was. As we point to the temple and paradise imagery, we are seeing God’s plans and purposes for his people coming together here in so many ways. It’s like Solomon’s kingdom is beginning to realize what humanity was supposed to always be. Remember, at the very beginning God had told those first humans that they were holy and distinct. They alone were created in the image of God. Consequently, they were to reflect that image in this world as they went forth being fruitful and multiplying and subduing the earth. They were called as those who bore God’s image to exercise that image in having dominion over the world. And so, we aren’t surprised then in all this imagery in this chapter to find that word too. Verse 24 describes Solomon as exercising dominion. Several things here in this chapter shows what the first Adam failed to accomplish, Solomon – by the manifold grace and gifts of God – had begun to bring God’s people in his kingdom.
So then, let’s turn now and in our third point notice more about this king and his magnificent and renown wisdom. God had fitted this kingdom with a king well equipped. Last chapter, God had promised to make Solomon’s wisdom far exceed that of others. Indeed, this chapter now begins to describe the fulfillment of that promise. It begins to explain the renown of his wisdom with all its accomplishments. Notice how this is described here. It was internationally recognized. Verse 30 shows that even the Gentiles recognized it – from both the west and the east! That’s because verse 31 recognizes that Solomon’s wisdom was notably superior than anyone else known for such. Very little remains of what we know of the wisdom of the people in verse 31. Ethan penned Psalm 89 and Heman in Psalm 88. But the point is that Solomon’s renown was greater than the rest.
We should also recognize how his wisdom is quantified here. Though last chapter illustrated how his wisdom was used in handling judicial matters, this chapter describes many other uses of his wisdom. Here that wisdom includes the prolific writing of proverbs, verse 32. We have some of those preserved in the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. These are collections of wise sayings and teachings about wisdom that were far beyond just dealing with handling judicial matters as a judge. Rather, they taught wisdom on the whole of life and the human experience. But not only that, verse 32 mentions all the songs he wrote. We have very few of those still left. There’s of course the Song of Solomon. Psalms 72 and 127 are also attributed to him. And while songs sometimes contain and teach what we think of as wisdom, this verse shows the wider conception of the idea of wisdom among the Hebrews. It can include the skill and artistry involved in the making of various human cultural artifacts. As an example, in Exodus 28 it says the skilled workers used the spirit of wisdom to craft the intricate garments for the priests.
So then, in a similar vein we come to the next verse, and find in verse 33 a further expression of Solomon’s wisdom. There his wisdom is applied to the sciences. In his great wisdom, he amassed and organized much knowledge concern subjects we would describe as botany and zoology. Here it would be fitting to remember again Adam. Adam in the Garden gave names to all the various animals. It was part of his living out that image of God and exercising dominion. Solomon surely advances that work here. And so, what’s true here in verse 33 is something to consider for this whole section. Solomon is making progress on the very thing that Adam was called to do as an image bearer. God made Adam and all humanity for such things; for wisdom of all sorts. Wisdom in human relationships, wisdom for living, wisdom for the arts and crafts, wisdom for the sciences. Solomon shows God’s gift of wisdom in him becoming the sort of idealized Adam – what Adam should have aspired to be. What God designed Adam to be. What God intended for humanity.
And so, what a glorious kingdom God’s people had back then, and it was led by such an idealized human in so many ways. And yet, despite this being a good candidate for the golden age of the church, it was not a perfect age. Yes, this chapter focuses on the glory. This chapter doesn’t speak in any overtly negative ways about that time. But we can certainly go to other chapters of this general time to make the case that this age was not a perfect age in the church. Yet, we don’t even have to go that far. Even in this chapter, there are little hints at troubles to come. There are subtle statements that are just put descriptively, but in the context of all Scripture, we recognize some issues. Even in such glory days for the church, it was not the golden age of the church. Because of its imperfections, we shouldn’t pine to go back to a time like this. Rather, we should long for a yet greater, true and perfect day of glory for the church.
Let me give you some examples of the little hints of imperfections here. We could begin by referencing verse 6: Adoniram was over the labor force. Better translation: Adoniram was over the forced labor. I don’t know about you, but when I think of paradise, I don’t imagine ever being “forced labor”. In fact, in 1 Kings 12, when Solomon’s son Rehoboam succeeds him, the people complain about this specific thing and end up stoning Adoniram. Similarly, we see here this reference to all the food and provisions that was daily acquired for Solomon and all his house and government. In verse 27 it says that this provision came from the 12 governors. But don’t be mistaken – those governors would have largely extracted that from the people via taxation. That tax burden certainly seems involved in the complaints the people bring in 1 Kings 12. In fact, all this is exactly what God had the prophet Samuel warn the people about back in 1 Samuel 8. When Israel back then demanded a human king, instead of God directly ruling them, God granted their request but warned them of the heavy burden a king would end up putting on the people. God specifically warned of them things like this – that they would be put into forced labor and be taxed heavily.
We might also remember Deuteronomy 17’s requirements for a king and compare that to this chapter. One big item was that Deuteronomy 17:16 said the king was not to multiply horses – yet verse 26 shows that Solomon had a lot of horses! That same passage in Deuteronomy goes on to say that the king should not multiply gold and silver for himself. It’s suggestive here that he was multiplying riches for himself, which is even more evident elsewhere in the Bible’s record about Solomon.
So then, despite the glorious picture of paradise painted in 1 Kings 4, all was not perfect in Solomon’s kingdom. The king, kingdom, and the people were richly blessed, but they had not arrived in the final state of glory that awaits the people of God. Maybe that can be understood best by pointing out one prophecy that is not at all addressed here in terms of fulfillment. What I mean is that there are echoes here in this chapter of God’s promises being fulfilled from the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants. Yet, go back to that first salvation promise. Go back to Genesis 3:15 and how God promised to Adam and Eve that there would be a human that would one day rise up and conquer Satan, and by extension, sin. Yet, we don’t read of progress in that front here. Rather, we will go on to see that the work of the enemy would even take hold of righteous King Solomon and lure his heart astray in the sin of idolatry. Certainly, there is no perfect kingdom yet when its king is subject to such a mighty falling. Without dealing with Satan and sin, there cannot be a true paradise for God’s people.
For that, God’s people would yet need to wait. But, in the fulness of time, God sent the final and true Messiah King, King Jesus. He is the true, second Adam and the real, ideal, perfect human, one with a greater wisdom than Solomon’s. He would crush the serpent’s head on the cross and deal with the guilt of our sin by his atoning work on the cross. And for all who turn to him in faith, he not only grants us forgiveness for our sin, but he puts his Spirit of sanctification within us. That Spirit is renewing the image of God within us, so that we can be true humans like him – what God meant humans to be! He meant us to be like him – a reflection of his wisdom, righteousness, and peace.
Oh, how the Scriptures speak then of the glory age to come for us in Jesus Christ. So much of the imagery of paradise in today’s chapter is picked up and advanced later in prophecy to the speak of final, eternal glory age to come in Christ’s kingdom. For example, the prophets like to speak of how the future messianic glory for God’s people will again be one where everyone sits under their fig tree and vine (e.g. Zech 3), whereas they also prophesy that the wicked will not enjoy such (e.g. Isaiah 34). In similar imagery, instead of our future paradise described as one with twelve governors to tax us to provide each month for the king, we see the tree of life with fruit in season twelve months out of the year, ready for all to enjoy – Rev 22:22. There we find this imagery of the nations coming in tribute to Solomon realized in the beautiful words of Revelation 21:24 where the kings and nations of the earth are described as coming to God and the Christ in the New Jerusalem to bring their glory and honor there. We rejoice as such gentiles to know that we will be gladly coming to Christ in glory to worship him in his beauty!
Of course, we could likewise think of the order and administration that is in store for us who are in Christ’s kingdom. As Solomon’s kingdom is filled with positions of honor and administration, so we remember how Jesus acknowledged that there are positions of honor and glory in his kingdom, at his right hand and his left, reserved for those whom God ordains. Similarly, we are told that in Christ’s kingdom we will one day even judge angels (1 Cor 6:3)!
So much more could be said of the eternal rest and paradise that awaits us in our perfected place as perfected people, living out the fulness of God’s plan of communion with his recreated imaged bearers. As we look forward to such a kingdom, let us look to govern Christ’s kingdom here and now on earth with such qualities – with wise order and organization, with merciful and wise stewardship of resources, and with peace and joy pointing one another and the world to ultimate source of peace and joy.
Copyright © 2019 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.