Adoniram served in King Solomon’s court (I Kings 4:6; 5:14). Near the close of the reign of Solomon’s predecessor, David (II Samuel 20:24), and at the outset of the reign of his successor, Rehoboam (I Kings 12:18), Adoniram’s office was held by Adoram. Since Adoram seems to be a contraction of Adoniram, it is generally believed that the same person held the office during all the three reigns. As such, Adoniram was a mainstay of the royal court.
Adoniram’s position is described in various translations as managing the “forced labor” (CEV, ESV, HCSB, NASB, NIV, NRSV, RSV), “labor force” (NKJV, NLT), “slave labor” (MSG), “the tribute” (KJV), and “men subject to taskwork” (ASV). Officially, Adoniram was the government’s head of the department of forced labor. Adoniram was quite literally a slave driver.
Israel had quite a pool of slaves to draw from. All people conquered by Israel in the conquest of the Promised Land were subject to forced labor (Deuteronomy 20:11). While this was originally not intended to include Canaanites, the mandate eventually was extended to encompass them as well (Joshua 16:10; 17:13; Judges 1:28-35). Both David (I Chronicles 22:2, 15) and Solomon (I Kings 5:13-16; I Kings 9:15-22; II Chronicles 8:7-10) made regular use of slave labor.
Given Adoniram’s longevity, Martin J. Mulder (b. 1923) concludes, “It can be said with some level of certainty that, in view of his long record of service, Adoniram must have been a good organizer. Though ironfisted, he was of value for the construction and glory of the new state and dynasty (Mulder, 1 Kings 1-11 (Historical Commentary on the Old Testament), 168).”
What is the longest you have held a single job? Who do you know that has longest tenure in their job? Do you think longevity is indicative of competency?
The only act of Adoniram that the Bible records is his final one (I Kings 12:18). Solomon’s son and successor, Rehoboam had foolishly taken the advice of his young peers over his elder advisors and consequently alienated the overworked inhabitants of Israel’s north (I Kings 12:3-15) In yet another tactical error, the king dispatched Adoniram, his veteran superintendent of forced labor, to the north in the midst of a labor dispute (I Kings 12:18). The taskmaster was the worst possible person for the task and not surprisingly his presence served to add fuel to the fire. Adoniram was stoned, Rehoboam fled (I Kings 12:18) and the nation would be forever divided.
Walter Brueggemann (b. 1933) explains:
What an act of obtuseness! Adoniram is clearly the image of the worst oppressive impulses of the regime, a lightning rod to attract whatever hostility and resistance are still latent in the North. Adoniram is murdered by the crowd of resisters, surely an act commensurate with the violence of Moses against the Egyptian foreman, also an agent of forced labor (I Kings 12:18, see Exodus 2:11-12). In both cases the royal official is killed in the interest of symbolic resistance against an entire regime and its practices of exploitation. (Brueggemann, Solomon: Israel’s Ironic Icon of Human Achievement (Studies on Personalities of the Old Testament), 152)Adoniram lived through the rise of the kingdom and was a loyal servant. He saw the glory of Israel’s united kingdom and one of the few personal benefits to his premature death is that he was not forced to witness the fall of the kingdom for which he had worked so diligently. Though forced labor does resurface in the Old Testament, Adoniram’s position is never again referenced.
Adoniram was killed due to his employer’s imprudence. He was put into a position in which he had no chance of success.
Have you ever been assigned a task you were incapable of completing? Did you attempt it anyway? Have you ever assigned such a task? Do you think God would ever designate an impossible chore?
“God does not call the qualified, He qualifies the called.” - popular Christian aphorism