Content Essay: 1 Kings 1–11
Updated: Jul 5
Scholars differ on the number of, if any, redactions the Deuteronomist, a single exilic author, may have had on the composition of the history books Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. Regarding a pro– or anti–Solomonic narrative, Eric Seibert questions if it is possible that “traditional historical-critical research has imposed an unnecessary and possibly false dichotomy.” Whether the narrator depicts Solomon negatively or positively, Seibert claims that the narrative in 1 Kings 1-11 might be both favorable and unfavorable to the king at the same time. The purpose of this essay is to address questions about the relationships of some of the laws in Deuteronomy with regards to Solomon and answer questions about the author’s usage and purpose of the narrative in 1 Kings 1–11, concluding with some analysis of Solomon’s actions. First Kings is a book that ultimately points to Christ, the true King of kings.
The text of Deuteronomy 17:14–20 (the principles of governing kings) relates to the narratives of Saul, David, and in particular, Solomon equally but not identically. For example, each of them was chosen to be king from among the brethren and were not foreigners. Although the Lord set up Saul to be king in 1 Samuel 15:11, Saul was chosen by men but not by God as required by Deuteronomy 17:15. David was chosen as king by God in 2 Samuel 5, and Solomon was chosen by God through David in 1 Kings 1:30. Saul and David were anointed by Samuel, and Solomon was anointed by Zadok. In violation of at least the intent of Deuteronomy 17:17, each of them had riches, wives, and concubines, but Solomon took multiplying wives and riches to the extreme. Dunn writes, “It is noteworthy that Solomon is the only king said to have been addressed by God directly (cf. 6:11-13; 9:3-9; 11:11-13); this claim is not made even for David.” Their turning away from the text of Deuteronomy 17 seems to set the stage for the further narrative of rejection for Saul, David, and in particular, Solomon. Hamilton writes, “God's fourth and final address to Solomon is one in which he announces that Solomon's kingdom will be dismantled after the king's death, all because of Solomon's turning away from Yahweh. Saul hears about being rejected from Samuel (1 Sam 15:22–26); David takes the frontal blast from Nathan’s fulminating invective (2 Sam 12); but Yahweh himself anathematizes Solomon.”
The author of 1 Kings most likely had Deuteronomy 17 in mind. The author of 1 Kings develops the theological ideas expressed in the book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is known as Deuteronomion, the second law, in the Septuagint. “Ironically, the name “Deuteronomion” stems from a mistranslation of 17:18, which talks of a “copy” rather than “second law,” which it has come to be known . . . And if the copy of the law referenced in 17:18 is talking about the entire text of Deuteronomy, then the king would have not only a covenantal vision of history but also a substantive set of laws binding on him.” Since much of the “Solomonic Narrative” of 1 Kings 1–11 addresses the reign of Solomon, his wealth, wives, and his way to waywardness, the author of 1 Kings most likely did have Deuteronomy 17 in mind. Robert Polzin writes, “The Deuteronomist wants to highlight, by contrast, the present and future perspectives of the character speech in the chapter, and this reports them speaking mostly in ways that are either prophetic or prophet-like.”
The author of 1 Kings initially depicts Solomon in a positive manner with such attributes as great wisdom, wealth, and fame to the glory of the people of Israel. Hamilton writes, “The story of Solomon in First Kings is presented in two unequal halves, chs.1–8 and 9–11. The first is favorable to Solomon, and the second is critical (especially ch. 11).” However, the narrator also highlights a series of negatives in the first half leading up to Solomon’s heart completely turning from God later in chapter 11. For example, Solomon broke his word to his mother saying that he would grant his brother’s request to have the wife of his father, Abishag the Shunammite. Adonijah’s request for the wife is a threat for the crown. Solomon has his brother executed. According to Philip Graham Ryken, much of what Solomon did was to establish his kingdom; “This was necessary, in fact, for the salvation of the world, because God had promised that our Messiah would come from the line of David and Solomon.” In this regard, everyone owed their allegiance to Solomon as rightful king in obedient submission to the kingdom of God. Solomon was obeying David’s instruction to have Joab the son of Zeruiah and Shimei the son of Gera executed. Jung Ju Kang writes, “Up until the present, scholars remain divided as to whether Dtr [the Deuteronomist] or the text is fundamentally favourable to Solomon or decidedly negative.” Regardless of whether the author of 1 Kings 1–11 depicts Solomon in a positive or negative manner, Polzin writes, “Nevertheless, sin intervenes and, in spite of God’s strengthened promise to David, most of Solomon’s kingdom is torn away.” Before he dies, Solomon is more like Pharoah the King of Egypt than he is like his father David. After Solomon dies, the kingdom of Israel is divided at Shechem, Israel to the north and Judah to the south.
There are indications in the narratives prior to chapters ten and eleven that Solomon is already going astray despite his wisdom. For example, in 1 Kings 3:1 Solomon peddles his influence in building an alliance with the Pharaoh king of Egypt by marrying Pharaoh’s daughter. This sheds light on another aspect of Solomon’s wisdom in knowing how to pursue his political ends. At first glance, it may not seem wrong that Solomon married the Pharaoh’s daughter, but Nehemiah reveals guidance about forming unions with foreigners. Nehemiah warns the Israelites “You shall not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by those things?” (Neh 13:25, 26). In 1 Kings 3, the Deuteronomist highlights Solomon’s disobedience by continuing to worship at the hilltop shrines, shrines that were supposed to be destroyed earlier in accordance with Deuteronomy 12:2.
Why does Solomon, endowed with the gift of wisdom, could go astray as he does? Solomon, endowed with the gift of wisdom, goes astray because he chose kingdom over King, women over worship, and riches over righteousness.
There is a definite difference between the first ten chapters of 1 Kings and the eleventh chapter, with both the Deuteronomist and Solomon’s behavior. The section does not finish the way is started. Whether the Deuteronomist redacted portions of Solomon or wrote them with other books in mind or scribed them in retrospect, earthy possessions, principles, and pleasures are lost when one stops choosing the One and only King.
Notes  Eric Seibert, Subversive Scribes, and the Solomonic Narrative: A Rereading of 1 Kings 1-11 (New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic, 2006), 102.  James D.G. Dunn, and John W. Rogerson, Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), 250.  Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 381.  Deanna A. Thompson, Deuteronomy: A Theological Commentary on the Bible (Louisville, KY: Presbyterian Publishing Company, 2014), 103.  Robert Polzin, Samuel and the Deuteronomist: A Literary Study of the Deuteronomic History (Bloomington, IL: Indiana University Press, 1989), 96  Hamilton, Handbook on the Pentateuch, 381.  Philip Graham Ryken, King Solomon: The Temptations of Money, Sex, and Power (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), 29.  Jung Ju Kang, The Persuasive Portrayal of Solomon in 1 Kings 1-11 (Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang Publishing, 2003), 16.  Polzin, Samuel and the Deuteronomist, 48.  Unless otherwise noted, all biblical references are in the New King James Version (Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2016).
Dunn, James D.G., and John W. Rogerson. Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003.
Hamilton, Victor P. Handbook on the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2019.
Kang, Jung Ju. the Persuasive Portrayal of Solomon in 1 Kings 1-11. Bern: Peter Lang, 2003.
Polzin, Robert. Samuel and the Deuteronomist: A Literary Study of the Deuteronomic History. Bloomington, IL: Indiana University Press, 1989.
Ryken, Philip Graham. King Solomon: The Temptations of Money, Sex, and Power. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011.
Seibert, Eric. Subversive Scribes and the Solomonic Narrative: A Rereading of 1 Kings 1-11. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic, 2006.
Thompson, Deanna A. Deuteronomy: A Theological Commentary on the Bible. Louisville, KY: Presbyterian Publishing Company, 2014.