King Solomon ushers in unprecedented opulence as he undertakes two monumental building projects, Yahweh’s temple and his palace. Conspicuously sandwiched between accounts of the building of the temple (I Kings 6:1-38) and its furnishings (I Kings 7:13-51) is a description of Solomon’s royal complex (I Kings 7:1-12).
Marvin A. Sweeney (b. 1953) connects:
The proximity of the temple and royal palace reflects the intimate association between the Davidic king and YHWH, who is consistently portrayed with royal imagery in the ideology of the Judean state. The Davidic king is authorized to rule by the creator G-d, YHWH (II Samuel 7; Psalm 89, 110, 132, cf. Psalm 2), and the worship of YHWH is authorized by the Davidic king, who erects the sanctuary for YHWH’s honor. (Sweeney, I and II Kings: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 116)The palace’s propinquity to the temple seems to be as close geographically as it is literarily. Philip J. King (b. 1925) and Lawrence E. Stager (b. 1943) note:
The palace appears to have been built alongside the Temple, to its south, on the acropolis. The juxtaposing of palace and temple was established by the Canaanites early in the second millennium B.C.E., probably by 2000 in North Syria (e.g., Alalakh, a Syrian city-state). (King and Stager, Life in Biblical Israel, 203)
The discussion of Solomon’s palace begins with a notice of the project’s duration (I Kings 7:1).
Now Solomon was building his own house thirteen years, and he finished all his house (I Kings 7:1 NASB)Solomon’s “house” (ASV, ESV, KJV, NASB, NKJV, NRSV, RSV) or “palace” (CEV, HCSB, MSG, NIV, NLT) is actually comprised of multiple buildings. Marvin A. Sweeney(b. 1953) outlines:
I Kings 7:1 discusses the time taken to build the temple complex. The complex includes five buildings: the house of the forest of Lebanon (I Kings 7:2-5), the hall of columns (I Kings 7:6), the hall of the throne or the hall of justice (I Kings 7:7), and the private quarters of Solomon and the daughter of Pharaoh (I Kings 7:8). I Kings 7:9-11 discusses construction details common to these buildings, and I Kings 7:12 discusses the surrounding courtyard. (Sweeney, I and II Kings: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 116)Burke O. Long (b. 1938) classifies I Kings 7:1-12:
The unit is a REPORT...made up of a series of brief reports dealing with specific details according to a clear schematic style. The form of the brief reports, and of the whole which is an aggregate of these parts, is clearly paralleled in priestly materials in the Old Testament. (Long, 1 Kings: With an Introduction to Historical Literature (Forms of the Old Testament Literature), 89)The palace’s architecture was typical of royals of the era. Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. (b. 1943) encapsulates:
Solomon’s “palace” was a complex of six structures just south of the Temple. Its layout followed the so-called bit-hilani plan, an architectural style typical of palace-complexes in northern Syria. Archaeologists have found two “palaces” of this type built by Solomon at biblical Megiddo. Basically, the design featured a series of buildings centered on a long, large assembly hall whose entry was in its broad side through a portico with pillars...I Kings 7:1-5 describe the main building, I Kings 7:6-9 the satellite structures. We cannot be certain whether all the buildings in Solomon’s palace structurally were joined to each other. In the ancient world, palace-complexes typically covered many acres, and this royal center was no exception. (Hubbard, First & Second Kings: Everyman’s Bible Commentary, 46)Despite its grandeur no archaeological evidence of Solomon’s palace has been unearthed. August H. Konkel (b. 1948) documents:
No remains have been linked to the palace of Solomon at Jerusalem. Remains of palaces are evident in their size, layout, elaborate decorations, and contents, such as expensive furniture and state archives. The ground plans of buildings at Megiddo from Solomon’s time are similar to the palaces at Zinjirli (the ancient Aramean city of Sam’al), suggesting that this may have been the plan of the Jerusalem palace. Walls and towers surround the three palaces and storehouses; to enter the complex it was necessary to pass through two gates. Solomon develops a similar complex at Jerusalem, where the citadel encloses a number of buildings. (Konkel, 1 and 2 Kings (The NIV Application Commentary), 119)No archaeological confirmation is needed to determine that Solomon resided in quarters fit for a king.
Why is the account of the palace inserted between details about the temple? What are the longest building projects of which you are aware? If you could build your dream house without financial restraints, what would it entail? Is the palace more a wise investment for the nation or a vanity project for its king? Is there any way in which Solomon’s palace glorifies God?
Strikingly, the note regarding the palace’s thirteen year construction (I Kings 7:1) immediately follows a formal summary statement of the building of temple which specifies that the temple took only seven years to complete (I Kings 6:38).
Alice L. Laffey (b. 1944) comments:
Whereas the final verse of chapter 6 [I Kings 6:38] functions as both a climax and a statement of completion, the narrator introduces chapter 7 with a seemingly deliberate literary contrast. Whereas it took seven years to build the house of the Lord, it takes thirteen years to build the house of a king. Although thirteen is not a number used frequently in the biblical texts, it too may be used symbolically to indicate completion (ten and three). The unusual character of the number may be a literary device that the authors use to subtly imply some inappropriateness related to the king’s palace. The fact that it takes almost twice as long to build the king’s house as it does to build the Lord’s house can imply that the king’s house was not worked on by as many builders, or with as much zeal as was the Lord’s house. Or, it could imply that the grandeur of the Lord’s house paled beside the grandeur of the king’s. If the latter is true, the text is hinting at future difficulties. (Laffey, First and Second Kings (New Collegeville Bible Commentary), 33)Gina Hens-Piazza (b. 1948) observes:
Chapter 7...turns attention away from the temple and unexpectedly fixes upon another of Solomon’s building projects, the palace complex. The introduction to this description, reporting that the palace complex took thirteen years to build, contrasts sharply with the conclusion to chapter 6 reporting that the temple was a seven-year project. Initial impressions might argue that the temple was this king’s priority. Thus it received most attention and was completed speedily and first. However, the brief sketch (I Kings 7:2-12) of the state buildings and the king’s own house challenges such easy assumptions. (Hens-Piazza, 1-2 Kings (Abingdon Old Testament Commentary), 68)The contrast between the two projects is drawn intentionally. Iain W. Provan (b. 1957) asserts:
The NIV suggests the nature of the connection between I Kings 6:38 and I Kings 7:1 and the force of the transition from one to the other, but it does not fully capture it. A translation that better brings out the relationship between them, and particularly the significance of the word order, runs as follows: “He completed (khl) the temple (bayit)...he spent seven years building it (bnh). But his own house (bêtô) Solomon spent thirteen years building (bnh) and he completed (klh) the whole of his house (kol-bêtô).” There are two “houses” in view, and an emphatic contrast is made between them. (Provan, 1 and 2 Kings (New International Biblical Commentary), 69)The Hebrew syntax further accentuates the disparity. John W. Olley (b. 1938) discerns:
The contrast is expressed intentionally by the chiastic Hebrew sentence structure of I Kings 6:38-7:1 (obscured by the much later chapter division and further in some Bibles by a heading; there is no paragraph division in the Masoretic Text). (Olley, The Message of Kings (Bible Speaks Today), 86)It is possible that the two building projects were undertaken concurrently. Martin J. Mulder (1923-1994) recognizes:
The statement in our verse [I Kings 7:1], when combined with the conclusion of the previous chapter, yields the number 20, which in I Kings 9:10 is in fact the time given for the construction of the 2 ‘houses.’ But the relation between the 2 verses is hard to determine. In our opinion, Martin Noth [1902-1968] is correct when he says that the sequence of the construction: first the temple and then the palace, is improbable and that it is better to picture the construction as simultaneous. (Mulder, 1 Kings, Volume 1:1 Kings 1-11 (Historical Commentary on the Old Testament), 286)Richard Nelson (b.1945) resolves:
There is a chronological distortion in that Kings understands the thirteen years of I Kings 7:1 to have come after the seven years of temple construction (I Kings 9:10). But by moving these buildings forward in time, sandwiching them between material on the temple and integrating them architecturally with the temple (I Kings 7:12), the narrator firmly subordinates these secular buildings to the house of the Lord. Both the house of the forest of Lebanon and the complex described in I Kings 7:6-8 are substantially larger than the temple, but have been effectively relegated to the status of interesting footnotes. They highlight Solomon’s glory without diminishing the wonder of the temple. (Nelson, First and Second Kings (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 45)Some have seen the relative lengths of the projects as an indictment against the king. Iain W. Provan (b. 1957) accuses:
Solomon spent much more time building his own house...than he did building God’s house. This is not surprising, because just the first of its several buildings was much bigger than the temple (I Kings 7:2; cf. I Kings 6:2). The temple had quite a bit of cedar of Lebanon in it (I Kings 6:9-10, 15-16, 18, 20, 36); this building, however, is packed with so many cedars (I Kings 7:2-3, 7, 11, 12) that it is called the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon—and this for a building apparently designed only as a treasury of armory (cf. I Kings 10:17, 21; Isaiah 22:8)! The suggestion is that the king was much more concerned about his palace than about the LORD’s temple. (Provan, 1 and 2 Kings (New International Biblical Commentary), 69-70)Jerome T. Wash (b. 1942) elaborates:
Since the palace complex houses the central administration of the whole empire, the issue is not a simple contrast between Yahweh’s Temple and Solomon’s private residence, as if Solomon were being accused of spending all that time on his own luxury and glory. Nonetheless, the juxtaposition of I Kings 6:38 and I Kings 7:1 invites us to infer that the governmental buildings are far more important to Solomon than the religious one. In view of the ruinous annual tariff Solomon is paying Hiram [I Kings 5:11], it is quite clear which project brings Solomon to the brink of bankruptcy. (Walsh, 1 Kings (Berit Olam: Studies In Hebrew Narrative And Poetry), 106)Backlash against Solomon has persisted for centuries. Presumably in response, Josephus (37-100) skewed his account in favor of the king. Louis H. Feldman (b. 1926) relays:
By deferring the account of the building of the palace until after the completion of his description of the dedication of the Temple, Josephus stresses the importance of the Temple and diminishes that of the palace. In I Kings 9:10 it is simply stated that it took 20 years to build the two houses, 7 years for the Temple (I Kings 6:38) and 13 years for the palace (I Kings 7:1). Josephus (Antiquities 8.30), apparently aware of the objection that Solomon devoted almost twice as much time to building his palace for his own glory as to building the Temple for the greater glory of G-d, emphasizes Solomon’s piety by adding the significant comment that the palace was not built with the same industry (ἐσπουδάζετο) with which the Temple was built. Josephus (Antiquties 8.131) adds an extra-biblical remark that the palace was much inferior in dignity (ἀξίας) to the Temple since the building materials had been prepared not so long in advance, with less expense, and was intended as a dwelling place for a king and not for G-d. (Lowell K. Handy [b. 1949], “Josephus’ View of Solomon”. The Age of Solomon: Scholarship at the Turn of the Millennium, 365)Martin J. Mulder (1923-1994) critiques:
Josephus and other Jewish commentators have attempted to explain the ‘offensiveness’ of this longer duration of palace construction. Among other things Josephus says (Antiquities VIII §§130ff.) that the palace was not built with the same zeal as the temple. The temple was even finished before the time appointed, since God so obviously cooperated with the builders. This was not the case with the construction of the palace, while also the material used was of an inferior quality, because the building was only intended for kings, not for God. This motive is further elaborated in later Jewish legends (cf. Louis Ginzberg [1873-1953], Legends of the Jews, IV, 155f.; VI, 294f.). The truth, of course, is that the complex of palaces was larger and more beautiful than the temple and therefore took more time. (Mulder, 1 Kings, Volume 1:1 Kings 1-11 (Historical Commentary on the Old Testament), 285-86)Solomon also has contemporary apologists. Russell H. Dilday (b. 1930) exemplifies:
The conjunction “but” in I Kings 7:1 is intended to contrast the thirteen years required to build Solomon’s own house with the seven years required to build the temple (I Kings 6:38). However, what this difference implies is not clear. To some commentators it seems to condemn Solomon for spending twice as much time building his own house as he spent building the temple of God. Were worldly power and luxury already going to the young king’s head? Were secular ideals beginning to overshadow spiritual ideals in his court? It is true that in later years Solomon began to minimize the high priority he had given to serving the Lord, but that was not the case in these early years...A better interpretation of I Kings 7:1 is that Solomon purposely allowed the construction of his house to drag on for thirteen years, while he had accelerated the temple construction and finished it in seven years. Also, we must remember that many years of preparation, planning, and accumulation of materials had preceded the seven-year temple project, while the work on the palace apparently had no such head start. Furthermore, while the temple was more elaborate and intricate, the palace complex was more widespread, involving a number of separate buildings, and thereby more time-consuming. Considering these factors, Solomon probably gave priority to the temple and put more attention and time on its construction than on his palace. (Dilday, 1, 2 Kings (Mastering the Old Testament), 96-97)Terence E. Fretheim (b. 1936) speculates:
Almost twice as much time is taken to build it as the temple, though that is probably not a negative judgment, given the buildings necessary for the state to function. The lack of clear detail may indicate a lack of interest (and/or knowledge) apart from highlighting Solomon as a wise builder. (Fretheim, First and Second Kings (Westminster Bible Companion), 43)Peter J. Leithart (b. 1959) theologizes:
Commentators sometimes suggest that the time Solomon spends on his own house, nearly double the time he spends on the temple, is an early sign of his later apostasy...Yet Solomon is nowhere criticized for this. Apparently the logic is similar to the logic of the tithe: once Solomon pays his firstfruits, his time is “desanctified” so that he can devote his attention to building his own house. The objection that Solomon’s glory challenges Yahweh’s assumes a false doctrine of God. God’s glory does not compete with human glory, nor does God glorify himself by siphoning glory from his people. He glorifies himself by freely and abundantly bestowing glory, just as the Father glorifies himself in the Son through the Spirit, and the Son in the Father through the same Spirit. Yahweh gives Solomon glory, but this makes the name of Yahweh glorious among the Gentiles, precisely because it makes the name of Solomon glorious. (Leithart, 1 & 2 Kings (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), 60)Regardless of what light is being cast upon Solomon, the comparative building durations of the temple and palace invite the reader to evaluate her own priorities and how those priorities are played out in her budget.
Philip Graham Ryken (b. 1966) applies:
It would be better for us to put a lower priority on a comfortable living situation and a higher priority on the kingdom of God. First Kings takes this perspective in the way it tells the story of Solomon. The major emphasis in chapters 5 through 8 is the house that Solomon built for God [I Kings 5:1-8:66]. The Bible gives us the full details of the temple’s structure and furnishings, plus a lengthy account of its dedication. Solomon’s own house took longer to build, but receives much less attention–just twelve verses for five buildings. Even for all its splendor, Solomon’s palace receives only brief mention. As far as the Holy Spirit is concerned, this is all it deserves, because Solomon’s house was not nearly as important as the house he built for God. By de-emphasizing Solomon’s palace, the Bible is keeping things in their proper priority. (Ryken, 1 Kings (Reformed Expository Commentary), 165)Why do you think it took longer to build the palace than the temple? Which building project do you think is more important to Solomon? What is meant by the intentional contrast between the time spent building God’s temple and the king’s palace? How does this incongruity reflect upon Solomon? Which building do you take more pride in maintaining, your church or your residence? Do you spend more time and energy devoted to God or yourself?
“Action expresses priorities.” - Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)