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Solomon and Social Oppression

Claude Mariottini is beginning a new series of blog posts on King Solomon’s “Golden Age”—and the oppressive policies it took to get there:

Today I am beginning a series of studies that will explore the social and economic policies of Solomon. These studies will show that Solomon’s success and his desire for glory and wealth perverted the covenant traditions of Israel and placed in jeopardy the very promise which God had given to Abraham and through him to Israel.

This series of studies will deal with the problem of social oppression during the reign of Solomon. In the process, I will describe the oppressive policies Solomon put into place in order to establish his kingdom, to build the temple and the palace, and maintain his opulent lifestyle which corrupted the very stability of his empire.

I’m sure Claude will remind us that this was precisely what the prophet Samuel warned about when Israel first demanded a king. He (or his exilic interpreter) stated,

These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day. (1 Sam 8:11-18)

Like most of the central figures in the Hebrew Bible, Solomon is a mass of contradictions. He is wise, cosmopolitan, an astute merchant prince with fabulous wealth. He is also an oppressive dictator who taxes his subjects into poverty. Phoencian Baal-worshipers designed and supervised the construction of his crowning achievement, the temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem, and conscripted Israelite laborers did the work. And yet, even Jesus remembered “Solomon in all his glory,” and the postexilic Chronicler saw fit to adapt the story of Solomon to further his messianic vision of Israel’s glorious future.

In this light, consider this honest bit of reflection:

The darkness within my church is real, and it has too often gone unaddressed. The light within my church is also real, and has too often gone unappreciated. A small minority has sinned, gravely, against too many. Another minority has assisted or saved the lives of millions.

But then, my country is the most generous and compassionate nation on Earth; it is also the only country that has ever deployed nuclear weapons of mass destruction.

My government is founded upon a singular appreciation of personal liberty; some of those founders owned slaves.

My family was known for its neighborliness and its work ethic; its patriarch was a serial child molester.

The child molester was also a brilliant, generous, talented man — the only person who ever read me a bedtime story. I will love him forever for that, even when I wake up gasping and afraid.

I am a woman with very generous instincts, and I try to love everyone, but I am capable of corrosive scorn. Have I been much sinned against? Yes. So have you. Have I sinned against others? Oh, yes. So have you.

All of us have it within ourselves to be both a monster and a saint. The greater our gifts, the greater the potential in either extreme.

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