Melakhim Alef Chapter 9
Shelomo has completed the two primary objectives he yearned to attain – the construction of the Temple and of his royal residential complex. Hashem appears to Shelomo in a dream for a second time and tells him that He has indeed sanctified and chosen the site of the Bet Hamiqdash as the place in which His presence will dwell for eternity. However, he reminds Shelomo that his career and legacy as king will only be secure if he continues to walk in the ways of his father, David, remaining true to the Torah and its statutes.
If Shelomo or his descendants turn away from Hashem, the Jewish people will be rejected by the Almighty and exiled from their homeland. The Temple, which now stands as a magnificent tribute to the closeness between the Jews and God, will be destroyed. Its ruins will then become a reminder to the nations of the world of the tragic downfall of the Children of Israel who betrayed their sacred covenant with Hashem.
The chapter proceeds to detail further “exploits” of Shelomo, including building projects he undertook that were unrelated to the Temple or his residence. Shelomo continues his relationship with Hiram, King of Tzor, and receives an abundance of fine lumber and gold from him. Shelomo gifts twenty cities to Hiram as a gesture of friendship, but Hiram is disappointed in the quality of the land that he is given.
Shelomo levies taxes on the community to fund the restoration or development of several cities in Israel, including Gezer, which was conquered by Pharaoh as a present for his daughter, the wife of Shelomo. Shelomo also constructs a wall around Jerusalem and fortifies the Millo.
(The precise definition of the Millo is unclear and widely debated; what is important, and will become critical later on in the story, is that this landfill, wall or structure stood in between the city of Jerusalem and the area in which the royal residence and Temple were located, creating some sort of separation between the king’s palace and the Temple on one side and the city on the other).
At this time, the daughter of Pharaoh finally moves to the new home her husband constructed for her. Shelomo builds store houses and cities for his vast array of chariots, horses, officers and other possessions throughout Jerusalem, Lebanon and his entire empire.
Shelomo does not employ Jews to implement his projects; instead, he enslaves the descendants of the Canaanites who still reside in Israel and presses them into hard labor. Jews were chosen to serve as the king’s officers, soldiers, advisers and overseers of the work. Shelomo is not neglectful of the Bet Hamiqdash; he still offers sacrifices there three times a year, on the appointed festivals, and supports and funds the institution as necessary. Shelomo creates a fleet of ships and hired navy men who, accompanied by the men of Hiram, go to Ophir to acquire large quantities of gold.
At first glance, the purpose of all of this detail is unclear. What prophetic message is being communicated to us through these descriptions? I would like to suggest that there is a hint in the text that reveals to us the “function” of this chapter – the use of the word “hesheq Shelomo”, the desire of Shelomo, twice. The first time, the “desire of Shelomo” refers to the building of the Temple and the royal complex. The second time, however, the “desire of Shelomo” refers to additional projects unrelated to the sacred mission of the Jewish people.
This latter “desire” was for the activities that aimed to increase the wealth and prestige of the nation and its rulers for its own sake. Shelomo is apparently struggling with conflicting “desires” – one is to glorify the God of Israel and the other to glorify his own empire. We see Shelomo dabbling in prohibited pursuits as well. For instance, the Torah explicitly forbids the king to amass horses and gold, laws that seem to have been disregarded by Shelomo. King David was quite meticulous about observing these rules and, as a result, remaining humble and grounded in his perspective and leadership.
Shelomo, of course, does not intentionally and flagrantly violate the Torah. He surely rationalizes that elevating the wealth and status of the Jewish people will gain it the respect of the nations of the world and will promote acknowledgment of the God of Israel Whom they represent. This is why, almost as an interruption in the flow of the chapter, the text mentions that Shelomo continued worshipping at the Bet Hamiqdash and supporting its upkeep. He still had a sense of his ultimate divine purpose.Nevertheless, the involvement of Shelomo in conventional politics and development projects, the engagement with Pharaoh and marriage to his daughter, and the sheer opulence and power of Shelomo’s regime will ultimately pose serious problems for him in the future.
The brief incident with Hiram is very unusual. Why must the text tell us about the gift Shelomo conferred upon Hiram, and about the recipient’s disappointment in it? This seems, at best, like an inconsequential matter. I would suggest that it indicates that Shelomo was either unable or unwilling to provide a nicer present to his good friend, and that this reflects poorly on him.
If he was unable to do so, this may hint to the fact that his “urbanization” of Israel has had a negative effect on its agricultural prospects. Undue focus on construction and trade at the expense of cultivating the land has taken a toll on the country. Perhaps Shelomo’s priorities have become confused; under the influence of other nations and their expectations, he has elevated the glory of human accomplishment and acquisition over the Divine blessing Hashem promised to Israel – a naturally fertile land of abundant fruit, flowing with milk and honey.
If, on the other hand, Shelomo was unwilling to part with finer cities, on the other hand, this implies that he had grown more possessive and stingy than he had been in the past; he was growing more self-involved and less generous as a result of his remarkable success. Either way, the episode provides us with insight into a possible flaw in Shelomo’s character that will become increasingly significant as the story progresses.