I’m reading through 1 kings. I’d never read it with much of a critical mind set before. I’d always sort-of accepted the premise that because he was wise, everything he does is good. Within the last year or so, I’d heard somebody take a rather critical view of many of the things which happened within Solomon’s reign.
The beginning of this is the over-arching context that the Isrealites wanted a king to be just like other nations. In this debate, God tells them that all sorts of ugly things happen in other in nations and will happen to them. Of course, God is right.
People spend lots of time focusing on what a mixed bags of “good” and “bad” the Israelites had in David. But until this more recent critique of Solomon’s reign, I’d mostly just accepted that what he did were just “the way they did things.”
So I might have noticed that slavery was bad but kind-of glossed over the utter hypocrisy that Solomon ends up enslaving his own people in the construction of the temple. Centuries after leaving Egypt, he put his own people back in chains. (1 kings 6: 13-16 “King Solomon conscripted laborers from all Israel—thirty thousand men. 14 He sent them off to Lebanon in shifts of ten thousand a month, so that they spent one month in Lebanon and two months at home. Adoniram was in charge of the forced labor. 15 Solomon had seventy thousand carriers and eighty thousand stonecutters in the hills, 16 as well as thirty-three hundred [d] foremen who supervised the project and directed the workmen.”)
If I stopped to think about it I would have thought that chariots are really only used in war. But I wouldn’t have really noticed that Solomon effectively become an arms dealer in the ancient world. ( 1 Kings 10: 26-29: ” Solomon accumulated chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses, [h] which he kept in the chariot cities and also with him in Jerusalem. 27 The king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore-fig trees in the foothills. 28 Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt [i] and from Kue [j]—the royal merchants purchased them from Kue. 29 They imported a chariot from Egypt for six hundred shekels [k] of silver, and a horse for a hundred and fifty. [l] They also exported them to all the kings of the Hittites and of the Arameans.)
When reading before, I probably skimmed over lots of numbers. But as I was reading through this time, I noticed something. “The weight of the gold that Solomon received yearly was 666 talents, [d] 15 not including the revenues from merchants and traders and from all the Arabian kings and the governors of the land.”
666 talents. 666. Hmmm. Haven’t we heard that number before?
The excellent “Jesus for President” has this really mind-blowing read on Revelations. Clairborne says that the book isn’t prophecy in the easy sense of the word. It’s not a prediction of future events. Rather, it’s a critique of the current empire the first Christians were living under. There is a complicated and convincing argument which ties that number: 666 to the present emporer they were living under.
But how perfect is it that this is also the wieght of the gold that was sent to Solomon each year! Suppose England made 87 million pounds off Indian exploited labor last century. Suppose further that we knew this; it was enshrined in holy scripture which everybody new. If I could further connect our current leader to the number “87” (perhaps it is our 87th president or something) If I wrote “87 is the number of the beast” I would be connecting past empires with current empires and drawing a line between these Earthly empires and the way that Christians are supposed to behave. This is what’s going on, I think in revelations: a connection between Rome’s empire, Solomon’s empire, and where Christians are supposed to be: outside of both empires.
The number “666” is so perfect because it critiques the current empire that they were living under through the connectiuon to the emporer. But also reminds them that when their ancestor ran an empire, it hardly ran much better. It’s a short hand way of saying “Christians need to stay out of worldy empires. That kingdom is not our kingdom.”