I have always felt ambivalent about the reputation of King Solomon. Successor to King David he has the reputation of asking God for wisdom and receiving both wisdom and wealth in return. He accomplished the building of a grand temple in Jerusalem but also lavishly lined his own nest. He was heir to David’s fledgling dynasty but not many people remember his son, Rehoboam, unless it is for the fact that the kingdom became split during his reign. Not every number in the Bible is symbolic but one does have to wonder about whether the 666 bars of gold mentioned in 1 Kings 10:14 is the result of careful adding up or a sign of how, in his wealth, he fell short in his devotion to God? Vanity, vanity, all is vanity (a saying attributed to Solomon as the probable author of Ecclesiastes).
Typically Solomon is referred to as a good egg when preachers are casting around for a name to conjure with, although far less frequently than his father, David. Therefore, I was quietly delighted to find Walter Brueggemann offering a strong critique of Solomon in chapter two of Mandate to Difference (Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), which I am presently reading.
Solomon is painted as an architect of urbanisation, following on and accelerating the trend started by Saul and David. What is wrong with cities? Brueggemann is a nuanced (and, to my mind, eminently readable) theologian and I still have plenty more of the book to uncover but, in this chapter, he points out that they tend towards the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a small elite, built on the unjust enslavement (economic and often literal) of the majority of the population. The oppression Samuel warned about (1 Samuel 8:11-13) came into stark reality and its price was all that might be represented by 666 bars of gold.