In the four hundred and eightieth year after the Exodus, Solomon began to build the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem.[1] That the author of Kings should date the start of the building of the temple from the Exodus is noteworthy. In Exodus 15:17, in Moses’ song following the Red Sea Crossing, he declares: “You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established.”

The building of the temple on the mountain in Jerusalem is, in many respects, the climax and the completion of the process begun in the Exodus. Within the early chapters of 1 Kings there are a number of references back to the Exodus, not least in 1 Kings 8:16, where God mentions the Exodus as the starting point for the great period of history that is finally reaching its climax. God’s great deliverance of Israel in the Exodus is foundational for the Lord’s continuing commitment to them as his people (8:50-53). The Exodus is also spoken of in connection with the Ark of the Covenant, which bears the two tablets of stone representing the covenant made at Sinai (8:9, 21). Finally, the Ark of Covenant, which has moved around for centuries, will have a settled resting place.

Since its construction, the tabernacle had functioned as a sort of portable Mount Sinai, an architectural extension of the theophany that occurred there. It was also a new Eden and microcosmic representation of the wider creation (note the presence of the creation pattern of Genesis 1 in the plans given for it).

Solomon’s Temple introduces a new stage of history and, once again, there are echoes of the original creation and of Eden. Solomon builds the temple as if it were a new creation. Like Noah (‘Rest’, cf. Genesis 5:29), Solomon’s name (“Peace”) has Sabbath connotations. After the wars and struggles of the years of the judges, Saul, and David his father, Solomon was to preside over a glorious Sabbath rest to the land (1 Kings 5:3-4). Indeed, the completion of the temple around the 490th year – 7×70 – after the Exodus is suggestive of a Great Jubilee.

In chapter 3 we see another Eden theme as Solomon requests the knowledge of good and evil from the Lord (3:9). While Adam and Eve grasped at wisdom prematurely, Solomon requests wisdom at the appropriate time and is given it by the Lord.

Peter Leithart draws attention to the various creation and Eden themes in the building of the temple.[2] The repeated references to the completion of acts of construction (1 Kings 6:9, 14, 38; 7:1, 40) recall Genesis 2:1-3. 1 Kings 7:51 plays on Solomon’s name and also recalls Sabbath themes when it speaks of all of Solomon’s work being completed (or “Solomoned”). There are many details suggestive of a fruitful, verdant, and well-watered garden—pomegranates, open flowers, palm trees, lilies, cedars, olive wood, and streams of waters moving out. The two guarding cherubim figures in the inner room (6:23-28), images of cherubim on the walls and at the doors (6:29-35), and also the symbolic representation of cherubim by the two bronze pillars by the vestibule of the temple (7:15-22) should all remind the reader of the cherubim set up as sentries at the entrance to the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24). Finally, the building of the temple, a building with a “face” (6:3), “ribs” (6:5, 8), and “shoulders” (7:39) all recall the “building” of Eve from Adam’s rib in Genesis 2. The temple is an architectural representation of the bride that Solomon brings to the Lord. It is also to be, like Eden, a sanctuary where God would be especially present and into which the riches of the nations would come.

Within this world, Solomon is like a glorious new Adam. He is the wise ruler of the world, who is able to name the trees and the animals (4:29-34). Indeed, when the Queen of Sheba comes to him, it is akin to Eve being brought to Adam, the moment when the story of the first creation arrived at its zenith of glory.

Unfortunately, just as in the account of the original creation, it is at this point that things all start to crumble. The rest of the story of Solomon is a tragic story of the fall of the new Adam and of being removed from the peace and rest of the new Eden. Just as it appears that Israel is experiencing a golden age, ugly cracks start to appear in the grand edifice of Solomon’s kingdom.

In Deuteronomy 17:14-17 the Lord had given instructions concerning the appropriate behaviour of the king when Israel was established in the land: “When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.”

In chapters 10-11 of 1 Kings, we see Solomon disobeying these instructions. 10:14-27 describes a mind-boggling accumulation of silver and gold by Solomon. In 10:28-29 we discover that, not only was Solomon returning to Egypt for horses and chariots, but he established Israel as Egypt’s chief trading partner and avenue to the various other nations in the region. Indeed, while he built a war machine for Israel, he was also helping to export chariots and horses to the Syrians, who would later turn against Israel.

Solomon’s political entanglement with Pharaoh and the Egyptians was far more extensive than mere horse-trading. Solomon sought to forge multiple alliances by marrying many foreign women, most notable among them the daughter of Pharaoh (1 Kings 11:1-8). Solomon’s love of his foreign wives, the realpolitik of international relations, and a policy of multiculturalism turned his heart away from the Lord. Rather than relying upon the Lord, he relied upon his shrewdness in playing the compromising game of regional politics with the idolatrous nations around him.

Solomon was so involved with Egypt that he himself became like Pharaoh. This startling transformation can be seen in the stories of Hadad the Edomite and Jeroboam the son of Nebat. The story of Hadad the Edomite is told in a manner that is powerfully reminiscent of the story of Moses. As an infant, much as Moses’ life was threatened by Pharaoh’s slaughter of the Hebrew boys, Hadad’s life was placed in peril when Joab killed every male in Edom and some of Hadad’s family’s servants fled with Hadad to Egypt. Pharaoh treated Hadad well, giving him food and land and his own sister-in-law as a wife. Like Moses, Hadad turned his back on the privileges of the Egyptian court and sought to return to his own people, asking Pharaoh, again in a manner reminiscent of Moses, to let him depart (1 Kings 11:21).

Like Pharaoh, Solomon was committed to the non-stop construction of vast building projects and established a standing labour force in order to do so. Amos Frisch observes some of the parallels: “In the description of Solomon’s works it is possible to discern echoes of the first stage of the Israelite enslavement at the hands of Pharaoh: ‘they set taskmasters . . . over them to afflict them with heavy burdens . . . ; and they built . . . for Pharaoh store-cities . . . , Pithom and Rameses’ (Exod. 1.11). In similar fashion we find vis-à-vis Solomon: ‘Solomon rebuilt [ויבן] … and all the store-cities . . . that Solomon had, and the cities for his chariots and the cities for his horsemen’ (I Kgs 9.17-19). The term sebel ‘burden’ appears within the narrative of Solomon when he ‘gave [Jeroboam son of Nebat] charge over all the forced labor . . . of the house of Joseph’ (11.28).[3]

Indeed, later in the narrative, the people talk about the ‘heavy yoke’ and ‘hard service’ that Solomon had placed upon them (12:4), all language with troubling echoes of Pharaoh’s treatment of the Hebrews in Exodus 1:11-14.

By this point the rich cluster of Eden themes in the opening chapters of the book has thoroughly curdled. In 11:9-13, God confronted Solomon concerning his sin, much as he confronted Adam in Genesis. The kingdom would be torn away from him, much as Adam was thrust out of the Garden.

It is against this background that the figure of Jeroboam first comes into the frame. Jeroboam was an officer over Solomon’s labour force. The prophet Ahijah told Jeroboam that the Lord was going to tear the kingdom from Solomon’s hands, leaving only two tribes to him. Jeroboam rebelled against Solomon, who sought to kill him. Jeroboam, like Hadad before him, fled to Egypt for refuge, where he remained until the death of Solomon. Once again, we see themes reminiscent of Moses and Exodus here, but they have been twisted, distorted, and inverted.

Following the sin of Adam in Genesis came the sin of Cain against his brother Abel. Israel came to the very brink of an ugly repetition of this sin, as Rehoboam responded to the Lord’s rejection of his rule by seeking to initiate a sanguinary war between brothers, gathering men to fight against the northern tribes. Although the people were saved from such a disaster, the brother nations were divided and Jeroboam the son of Nebat became the ruler of the northern kingdom.

In power in the north, Jeroboam proceeded to repeat the great sin of the Exodus. In order to establish a distinct cult in the north, which would prevent his people from defecting to Rehoboam, Jeroboam established two golden calves, declaring that they were the gods who brought Israel out of Egypt. He copied and doubled the sin of Aaron and the people and, like Aaron, built an altar next to the calf at Bethel and declared a feast (1 Kings 12:28-33; cf. Exodus 32:4-6). He also installed a non-Levitical priesthood. Reminders of Aaron’s sin can also be seen in the fact that Jeroboam had sons named Nadab and Abijah (14:1, 20), much as the sons of Aaron killed by the Lord for their profane fire in Leviticus 10 were called Nadab and Abihu. Once again, the Exodus themes serve to reveal just how messed up the situation had become.

At this point, the Lord speaks into the situation. The Lord sent a man of God from Judah to Bethel to confront Jeroboam, while he was burning incense by the altar. Leithart observes: “Rehoboam is the Pharaoh of the previous chapter, and Jeroboam the liberating savior of Israel, but Jeroboam is no Moses. . . . The Moses figure in 1 Kgs. 13 is the ‘man of God from Judah’ who confronts the ‘Aaronic’ Jeroboam and splits the altar as Moses broke the tablets of the covenant at the foot of Sinai (Exod. 32:19-20).”[4]

The man of God from Judah reflects Moses, the man of God, performing a wondrous sign against the wicked ruler. The altar is split like the tablets and the ashes are poured out, much as the ground dust of the first golden calf was poured out (Exodus 32:20). Perhaps there are further echoes of Moses here. The man of God, though a generally faithful servant, ended up being waylaid and disobeying the express instructions of the Lord. As a result he died before arriving at his destination. In Numbers 20:11-12, Moses was also a disobedient prophet. Moses had been instructed to speak to the rock, which would yield water, yet he struck it twice. As a result of his disobedience, Moses died before entering the land they were journeying towards. Even the messengers of the Lord are repeating the sins of the Exodus.

The rapid unravelling of the kingdom continues apace as the Lord declares to Jeroboam in chapter 14 that his house will be destroyed. Jeroboam’s firstborn son, Abijah, would be cut off (14:12-13). Israel would be uprooted from the land and scattered beyond the River Euphrates. There would be a great reversal of the Exodus as Israel once again found itself in captivity. The Red Sea Crossing would be undone, as Israel would find itself cast on the far side of the great River.

1 Kings 14 concludes with the account of the king of Egypt invading Jerusalem and plundering it, much as Israel had once plundered the Egyptians. The glorious treasures of the house of the Lord and the king’s house were all removed (14:25-26). To replace the dazzling golden shields of Solomon, Rehoboam had bronze shields constructed in their place, a sign of the sorry state of the kingdom.

In many respects, the fall of Solomon occurred as he heeded the voice and influence of the serpent Pharaoh, an influence probably exercised in large measure through his wife, Pharaoh’s daughter. Like Adam, Solomon broke the key commandments that had been given to the king. The result was grim. He was cut off from the rule of the kingdom, which was given to another. Brother was set at war against brother. And the wily serpent Pharaoh, who had been harbouring and arming the future enemies of Solomon all along, shrewdly pursuing a policy of division and conquest, ended up devouring the very riches for which Solomon had so compromised himself.

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham) is one of the participants in the Mere Fidelity podcast and is also the contributing editor of the Politics of Scripture series on the Political Theology Today blog. He blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria and tweets using @zugzwanged.

[1] This section owes a great deal to Amos Frisch stimulating treatment of 1 Kings 1-14 in ‘The Exodus Motif in 1 Kings 1-14,’ Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 87 (2000), 3-21.

[2] Peter Leithart, 1 & 2 Kings: SCM Theological Commentary on the Bible (London: SCM Press, 2006), 56-58.

[3] ‘The Exodus Motif’, 14

[4] 1 & 2 Kings, 96-97

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