Study Guide

1 Kings Power

Power

I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honour all your life; no other king shall compare with you. (NRSV 3:13)

And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches, and honour: so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days. (KJV 3:13)

Given what we know about power, is God blessing Solomon here, or cursing him? On the one hand, he could never have accomplished everything he did without riches and honor. On the other hand, perhaps he could have stayed faithful to God if he hadn't been able to afford all those wives.

Solomon was sovereign over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines, even to the border of Egypt; they brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life. […] For he had dominion over all the region west of the Euphrates from Tiphsah to Gaza, over all the kings west of the Euphrates; and he had peace on all sides. During Solomon's lifetime Judah and Israel lived in safety, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, all of them under their vines and fig trees. Solomon also had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen. Those officials supplied provisions for King Solomon and for all who came to King Solomon's table, each one in his month; they let nothing be lacking. (NRSV 4:21-28)

And Solomon reigned over all kingdoms from the river unto the land of the Philistines, and unto the border of Egypt: they brought presents, and served Solomon all the days of his life. […] For he had dominion over all the region on this side the river, from Tiphsah even to Azzah, over all the kings on this side the river: and he had peace on all sides round about him. And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon. And Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen. And those officers provided victual for king Solomon, and for all that came unto king Solomon's table, every man in his month: they lacked nothing. (KJV 4:21, 24-27)

These scriptures define Solomon's power by several measures. He is, of course, a colossus in terms of territory and military might. And he never lacks for food in his house. Interestingly, though, his power is also measured in terms of the safety and peace of his people. Perhaps this is because while the people are happy, the king's power is secure.

King Solomon conscripted forced labour out of all Israel; the levy numbered thirty thousand men. He sent them to the Lebanon, ten thousand a month in shifts; they would be a month in the Lebanon and two months at home; Adoniram was in charge of the forced labour. Solomon also had seventy thousand labourers and eighty thousand stonecutters in the hill country, besides Solomon's three thousand three hundred supervisors who were over the work, having charge of the people who did the work. At the king's command, they quarried out great, costly stones in order to lay the foundation of the house with dressed stones. (NRSV 5:13-17)

And king Solomon raised a levy out of all Israel; and the levy was thirty thousand men. And he sent them to Lebanon, ten thousand a month by courses: a month they were in Lebanon, and two months at home: and Adoniram was over the levy. And Solomon had threescore and ten thousand that bare burdens, and fourscore thousand hewers in the mountains; Beside the chief of Solomon's officers which were over the work, three thousand and three hundred, which ruled over the people that wrought in the work. And the king commanded, and they brought great stones, costly stones, and hewed stones, to lay the foundation of the house. (KJV 5:13-17)

It's hard to imagine a power greater than the ability to force people to work for you. Solomon's power over human lives allowed him to build the architectural marvels that characterized his rule, though it probably also sowed the seeds of rebellion that eventually decimated the power of his heirs.

When the queen of Sheba had observed all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, their clothing, his valets, and his burnt-offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more spirit in her. (NRSV 10:4-5)

And when the queen of Sheba had seen all Solomon's wisdom, and the house that he had built, And the meat of his table, and the sitting of his servants, and the attendance of his ministers, and their apparel, and his cupbearers, and his ascent by which he went up unto the house of the Lord; there was no more spirit in her. (KJV 10:4-5)

The Queen of Sheba, we have to assume, was quite the powerhouse herself. So for her to get all starry-eyed at Solomon's greatness means he must have had influence and dominion of galactic proportions.

The weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was six hundred and sixty-six talents of gold, besides that which came from the traders and from the business of the merchants, and from all the kings of Arabia and the governors of the land. (NRSV 10:14-15)

Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was six hundred threescore and six talents of gold, Beside that he had of the merchantmen, and of the traffick of the spice merchants, and of all the kings of Arabia, and of the governors of the country. (KJV 10:14-15)

Money = power, baby. You could probably contend that Solomon's wealth was his single most important source of power. It multiplied his political, social, military, and maybe even religious power—though it may ultimately have been detrimental to his spiritual power.

When the king heard what the man of God cried out against the altar at Bethel, Jeroboam stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, 'Seize him!' But the hand that he stretched out against him withered so that he could not draw it back to himself. The altar also was torn down, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign that the man of God had given by the word of the Lord. The king said to the man of God, 'Entreat now the favour of the Lord your God, and pray for me, so that my hand may be restored to me.' So the man of God entreated the Lord; and the king's hand was restored to him, and became as it was before. (NRSV 13:4-6)

And it came to pass, when king Jeroboam heard the saying of the man of God, which had cried against the altar in Bethel, that he put forth his hand from the altar, saying, Lay hold on him. And his hand, which he put forth against him, dried up, so that he could not pull it in again to him. The altar also was rent, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of the Lord. And the king answered and said unto the man of God, Intreat now the face of the Lord thy God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored me again. And the man of God besought the Lord, and the king's hand was restored him again, and became as it was before. (KJV 13:4-6)

Up until now in 1st Kings, power was either political or (in Solomon's case) cognitive. Now, suddenly, there's what looks to us like straight-up magic: magic powers to shrivel up a guy's hand when he tries to grab you. Of course, even Jeroboam realizes that this power comes from God, not the man, and he asks him to "[e]ntreat now the favour of the Lord" to get his hand back.

Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, 'As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.' (NRSV 17:1)

And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word. KJV 17:1)

We've seen some pretty powerful figures in 1st Kings, but none of them compare with this guy. Elijah comes like a lightning bolt out of nowhere and whacks Ahab upside the head with a draught. He just snatches away their water—the one thing that every living thing in Israel needs to survive. That's power.

She then said to Elijah, 'What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!' But he said to her, 'Give me your son.' He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. […] Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, 'O Lord my God, let this child's life come into him again.' The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. (NRSV 17:18-19, 21-22)

And she said unto Elijah, What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son? And he said unto her, Give me thy son. And he took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into a loft, where he abode, and laid him upon his own bed. […] And he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried unto the Lord, and said, O Lord my God, I pray thee, let this child's soul come into him again. And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived. (KJV 17:18-19, 21-22)

Okay, now Elijah's power is just getting freaky. Power over the weather is one thing. Heck, even the power to create food out of thin air isn't that insane. But power over death? With this, Elijah officially becomes a card-carrying member of a very exclusive club of people in the Bible who raise the dead back to life.

Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.' Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt-offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. (NRSV 18:37-38)

Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. (KJV 18:37-38)

Is there anything Elijah can't do? Animals feed him, rainclouds obey him, he arm-wrestles with death and wins, and now he's calling fire down from the sky? We don't care who you are—that's pretty powerful.

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