The Old Testament: 1 Kings, I—A Confusing Narrative with Wise King Solomon at its Center

My parents divorced when I was 14.  My brother and I lived with Mom in the San Fernando Valley, where we were attending high school.  Dad was in Orange County (about an hour drive, for those unfamiliar with southern California).  Mom worked her butt off (for the Department of Water and Power) and basically kept our house running.  Dad did his part (and not just with child support)—he was never more than a phone call away during the week, he’d come up on various weekends and went out of his way to make my brother’s baseball games or my track meets.

From time to time, mom went out of town and my brother and I had more than our fair share of fun.  We got away with a lot—more than our friends; however, we were also responsible enough (we were both employed) and never did anything that would get us arrested. Basically, we knew how far we could push things without getting in trouble.

In 1 Kings, the Israelites also pushed their limits with God, but they never seemed to know when to stop. And when the kingdom eventually splits—into Israel and Judah—they needed all the help they could get.

One of the challenging parts of working through 1 Kings is the structure.  The chapters shift constantly between the rulers of Israel and Judah.  The stories of these kings often overlap, so one’s reign begins at the point of events that make up a previous chapter’s middle section.  Thankfully, my edition contains a flow chart that explains everything.

Out of all the rulers in this first of two books for Kings, Solomon arrives, and he sets the standard for wise rulers. Not only does he show humility, but he also asks for wisdom from God.  Nothing impresses the boss quite like asking which direction to take, and Solomon makes the best of what he is given (3:11-14).

He conceives a Temple for the lord and spares no expense decorating it with lavish riches. His big mistakes, however, include amassing riches unrelated to the temple (10:14-15) and indulging his love of the ladies—he had 700 wives and 300 concubines (11:3). Perhaps he inspired Wilt Chamberlin?

The sex didn’t seem to be the issue, however—although one wonders how he had time for anything else.  No, these ladies exerted influence on whom he worshipped—their gods, basically (11:8).  God is so pissed at this that he plots Israel’s division (11:12). And when Solomon dies at the end of his 40 year reign, things go downhill for Israel.

Of the things that confused me in this book, I was most unclear about what exactly the people knew: presumably they were aware of their past? When the Book of Laws is discovered in 2 Kings, it seems like a revelation. So maybe they didn’t understand the price they’d pay for worshiping Baal, etc.? Hard to hold people accountable to a rule if they’ve never been told it, right?

Another interesting though undeveloped detail was the mention of male temple prostitutes (14:24).  These come up more than once, and earlier books of the Old Testament mention avoiding temple sex because other cultures condone (even encourage?) it; however, who were these guys having sex with? Other men, presumably. Though of course this practice is used as example of a bad king (Rehoboam, for example). Is the problem the gay sex or the location of the gay sex? So again, seems like homosexuality is so present it warrants no detailed discussion.

Though these two details are not as bizarre as the amount of animal sacrifices.  When Solomon—the wise one—dedicates the Temple he built for the lord, he offers up animals to the lord.  The exact amount is hazy though. One mention suggests that he had so many sheep and cattle sacrificed they could not be counted (8:5).  The second mention puts the number at 22,000 cattle and a 120,000 sheep and goats (8:63). Call me crazy but this seemed a bit excessive.

I realize that animal sacrifice was a big thing then, as were a number of behavior patterns explored in the Old Testament thus far.  But that doesn’t mean they make sense.  If the number of sacrifices is meant figuratively, how does one figure this out—because it’s too absurd to be taken literally?  And if this is a gauge, how does one know which other parts of the Bible are to be taken literally and which figuratively? Did God pass out footnotes? Seems like we would then have to choose—it’s all literally or all figurative.  This doesn’t diminish the Bible, but it would affect how the Bible is used to support laws (for society), not as guides to a better way to live (for individuals).

When my parents split, you would have expected the bad blood and fireworks that unfortunately accompany a divorce.  I’d heard stories of parents who divided the family china and then the dad smashed his half in the drive-way.  Still, less extreme examples included all the talking behind the now-ex’s back: your mother is awful; your father is a jerk. My parents did none of that.  Sure, they probably had their share of hurt feelings, but they kept those away from me and my brother.  They were a shining example of good behavior in a potentially bad situation. I don’t know how much effort they expended to maintain this behavior and attitude toward one another, but it demonstrates that it can be done, even if people think it’s strange that my mom and step-mom get together every once in a while, when they happen to be in the same city.

About virgowriter

Brad Windhauser has a Master's in English from Rutgers University (Camden campus) and an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte. He is an Assistant Professor in the English Department at Temple University. His short stories have appeared in The Baltimore Review, The Santa Fe Writer's Project Journal, Ray's Road Review, Philadelphia Review of Books and Northern Liberty Review. His first novel, Regret (a gay-themed thriller set in Philadelphia) was published in 2007. You can read more about (and buy) it here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1932993827/ref=cm_cmu_up_thanks_hdr/103-0234178-4062264 He is currently looking for an agent for his recently completed second novel, This Too Shall Pass. He is one of five regular contributors to 5Writer.com. On his solo blog, he is chronicling his experience as a gay writer reading the Bible for the first time: www.BibleProjectBlog.com VirgoWriter@gmail.com
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2 Responses to The Old Testament: 1 Kings, I—A Confusing Narrative with Wise King Solomon at its Center

  1. Dad says:

    Brad, excellent blog. So much of the Bible is the Culture of the time. First their was a belief that you got closer to God by having se and that is why they had prostitutes? It is unclear if the male prostitutes were for the men or women, but probably for the men. s far as the discipline from God and the laws, the people knew because it was part of their history and most every jew knew the history. The thinking as ” it’s different for us”? When you study the Bible, the first rule is take it literally and if it doesn’t make sense, study, study, study! If it still doesn’t then try figuratively. Generally it is literal. Dad

  2. Nancy Windhauser says:

    Very good blog and affirmations of your dad and mom. I always look forward to seeing your mom and telling her what a great job she did raising “my” sons. I read all your blogs and impressed with your writing. “Mom” Nancy :)

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