The books of Samuel and Kings (in the books of “prophecy”) cover the same periods of Jewish History as does Chronicles (in the books of “writings”). However, the first two were written in a period of contrition during exile, whereas Chronicles was written for a people needing encouragement as they established a revitalised nation returning from exile. Chronicles removes difficult bits like Solomon’s decline, and David’s Bathsheba debacle; it is a sanitised version.
The first few chapters of 1Kings deal with Solomon’s ascent to the throne. He asks God for wisdom and for the gift of listening to his subjects (the clue is in the name “subjects”). Examples of his wisdom are given. How wonderful!
However, in chapter four, we read about the needs of Solomon’s household. Three hundred wives and 700 concubines do need a bit of looking after. The purpose of accumulating such a huge breeding stock all to yourself is to make sure that your genes form the basis of the next generation, and to ensure that most other men don’t get a look-in. Solomon must have had to devote every evening to procreation, poor man!
To feed his household, he evidently took delivery of 30 cattle and 100 sheep every day, add this to the two-and-a-half tons of flour and you could make some really good meat pies. So he cornered the market in more senses than one.
If we are to learn the lessons of history, we must stop feeling superior about Solomon’s excesses. Many of our beautiful city-centres were built with the proceeds of repressive trade deals with India and then with the proceeds of the slave trade. Today is not much different, for every £1 in aid to poor countries, about £3 flows back in the form of loan repayments and interest. Much of our savings and many of our pensions derive their finance from this income, just as the tribute of the Jewish empire flowed into Solomon’s upkeep needs. It is tempting not to inquire too closely; those who exploit others have rarely shown concern for the effect of their thirst for luxury.
Keeping an open mind about all this is difficult at a time of political polarisation. The honoured saint who feeds the poor rapidly becomes the trouble-causer who questions why they are poor in the first place. However, if we are to claim any wisdom about the Christian life and how to live it, we must consider the use of resources. We have many good examples to follow; the life of Jesus Christ; the teachings and practice of our founder, John Wesley, and his followers in the 18th Century; even the present Pope presents a good example with his deliberate avoidance of the Papal privileges.
Grant us the gift of listening to the poor, and the wisdom to understand how to behave in response to what we hear.