The 1st book of Kings begins in the most peculiar way possible. I mean I would be hard pressed to create a more bizarre situation. It begins with the old King David being cold and unable to get warm. So “Therefore his servants said to him, “Let a young woman be sought for my lord the king, and let her wait on the king and be in his service. Let her lie in your arms that my lord the king may be warm.” I swear I’m not making this up, this is what the Bible says. This sounds more like a cheap porno than the holy word of God. There’s something both comical and sleazy about an old man making up ridiculous excuses to get a young woman to sit on his lap. I don’t how this wasn’t removed from the Bible at a later date or burned as blasphemy.
There is yet another rebellion by another of David’s sons, this time named Adonijah. Is rebellion some sort of hobby, just something to pass the time? How many times have one of David’s sons tried to make themselves king? However, David quells the rebellion simply by naming Solomon king instead, which apparently is enough to make Adonijah surrender, on condition that his life is spared. Things are fine until Adonijah asks Bethsheba, Solomon’s mother, if he can marry Abishag (the woman David used to warm himself up). However, Solomon flies into a rage and declares this is like asking for the whole kingdom. As punishment for even asking Solomon has his brother murdered despite previously promising not to harm him. This is an extreme overreaction and a simple no could have done without the need to murder your brother.
Before I go any further, I need to make a general comment on Solomon and this part of the Bible. As many of you might know, the Bible was written hundreds of years after the events that it described. This is important because at the time this section of the Bible was written, people were trying to unite the Israelites under one King and one God. To do this, they created a mythical golden age when Israel was united and prosperous and ruled by wise, righteous kings. This was created to motivated contemporary people in the hope of reclaiming these glory days. However, like most creation myths, there is little truth in it. There is little evidence that Israel was ever united and Jerusalem was merely a village rather than a glorious city. All the following claims of the wealth and power of the Israelite Empire should be viewed as propaganda for which there is no actual evidence.
So with this in mind, the wild praise that the Bible has for Solomon becomes more understandable. It is said that God gave the gift of wisdom and wealth to Solomon and there was nothing he didn’t know. Solomon married the daughter of the Pharaoh, an honour I highly doubt Israel was important enough to merit. There is the famous story of the two women who argue over who a baby belongs to and how Solomon solves this by threatening to split the baby in two. What’s usually left out of the story is that both of them were prostitutes (a surprisingly common occupation in the Bible). Israel is described as a huge empire stretching from the border of Egypt to the Euphrates (a wild exaggeration). A huge amount of time is devoted to listing off all the gold and wealth Solomon acquired and he even had 40,000 horses (the Bible is spectacularly unreliable about figures).
“Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. And the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom” (10:23-4)
Solomon builds a temple and this being the Bible, ever last detail of it is described in mind numbing detail. I skimmed over those chapters wondering when the Bible was going to stop being an accountant’s ledger and start being, you know, that ethical life guide the religious keep calling it. To build this temple Solomon used 30,000 forced labourers (basically slaves). There were also 70,000 burden bearers and 80,000 stone cutters, supervised by 3,300 officers (needless to say that these numerous are completely unrealistic). No Israelites are used as slaves only people who escaped the earlier genocides such as the Amorites etc. How can people who were once slaves themselves be so indifferent to the use of slaves? Was their only complaint that they were slaves, not against slavery itself?
The temple comes with the usual promises of great reward in exchange for loyalty and terrible threats in case of disloyalty. One interesting quote is:
“When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you” (8:35)
This implies that lack of faith causes droughts which is an almost laughable theological stance. Even worse is the idea that Heaven is some kind of bucket of water that opens to let out the rain. Solomon ends with a sacrifice and feast of 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep. This is an obviously absurd number that would have caused an enormous famine which shows the disgusting waste of burning food while people go hungry.
Solomon has 700 wives and 300 concubines because, why not? However, like most women in the Bible, they are up to no good and turn Solomon towards false gods. As punishment, God splits Israel in two, but only when Solomon dies, out of respect for David. This makes no sense. Apart from the strange obsessiveness of God who flies into a rage if even 1% of people don’t worship him, wouldn’t it just be easier to convince Solomon? Where is the justice in punishing his son? How would creating a civil war make people more religious?
So God raises up enemies of Israel. This makes me wonder whether God is actually an ally or an enemy of the Israelites. He talks an awful lot about love and protection but he also brings death and destruction to many innocent people. God is basically acting like the Devil, creating misery and suffering for unclear reasons.
So when Solomon dies, his son Rehoboam takes over. Almost immediately people ask him to reduce the burden on them, which he refuses, causing them to revolt. So the land is divided between Israel and Judah, as God wanted. Rehoboam raises an army of 180,000 (as if) to crush the revolt, but God appears to the men and tells them to go home, which they do. Why couldn’t he do that with every army? Why is there the need for any wars or battles when God can just tell people to go home again?
One of the most difficult things with reading the Bible is that it rarely follows any purpose. There is no sign of any divine plan, instead, things seem to happen randomly without any reason. Christains are found of saying that everything happens for a reason and that this is all part of the plan, but reading the Bible doesn’t give that impression. Instead, things lurch from one disaster to another with God resorting to random solutions that weren’t thought through and usually make things worse.
God raised Jeroboam to be leader of Israel for no reason and is surprised when Jeroboam isn’t faithful. I mean there was no reason to think that he would be, he was chosen completely randomly. This shows what a mess God’s plan is, if he even has one. So God curses Jeroboam and declares all his people will die and then kills his son for good measure. This is God, not the Devil remember.
So there’s a lot of bad kings who don’t follow God, who die and are replaced by kings who don’t follow God etc. But most of it is covered in the book of Chronicles, so we don’t get much detail.
There is a lot of strange stories about prophets that usually end with someone being eaten by a lion, but I don’t have space for them (and don’t really understand them either). The main prophet is Elijah, who is noticeable because he creates a drought for unclear reasons (presumably killing a lot of innocent people). He also brings a widow’s son back from the dead, which makes me wonder what makes Jesus special? If one of Jesus’ most famous miracles and strongest claim to divinity comes from raising the dead, what does that make Elijah? Elijah also spent 40 days and nights in the desert without food which is either foreshadowing or later writers tried to draw a link between Jesus and Elijah.
However, the most entertaining story by far is the contest between Elijah and the followers of Baal. This is essentially a “Whose God is stronger?” contest and a practice I think we should continue today. Both sides are given a dead bull and whoever can set it on fire using only prayer, wins. Elijah is so confident that he agrees to face 450 Baal priests alone. All day the followers of Baal pray without success. Then comes a scene I absolutely love and made me laugh out loud.
“And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” (18:27)
This is a brilliant scene. This is more like something you would expect from a cynical Atheist than from a Man of God. I never expected to find a prophet mocking the lack of appearance of a God by saying that maybe he’s in the toilet. Of course this leads to obvious problem that there are many times when the God of the Bible fails to appear or answer prayers. While religious people claim that God cannot be tested, this shows that he can. In the end, Elijah’s bull catches fire, everyone praises God and the 450 Baal priests are massacred (what?).
God then makes the Syrians invade to punish the Israelites, however, God then helps the Israelites win the battle and kill 100,000 Syrians (the numbers in the Bible are absurd). A further 27,000 Syrians are killed when a wall falls on them, which is one of many inexplicable and odd Bible stories. But there is no coherence to God’s actions, he both helps and harms the Israelites at the same time. He sends punishment but also protection from the punishment. The Bible story simply doesn’t make sense.
What really happened was that the Israelites won some battles and lost others, so religion had to provide an explanation. So every battle they won was a blessing from God and every battle they lost was punishment for some sin. That’s why there is no logic or sense to the stories, they came later to explain what had already happened.
For the rest of the series, see here.