In these chapters, “the golden age” of Israel comes to an end as United Kingdom of David splits into the Divided Kingdom, and things generally start going downhill. No one remembers the names of all the kings that follow Solomon, and there are two parallel kingdoms to keep track of.
The way the lesson’s stated purpose frames these chapters, you might expect that Solomon is the ideal leader but then his son goes bad. And indeed, in many ways, Solomon is portrayed as quite good. But in other ways, the things he accomplished (following in David’s footsteps) certainly had a heavy price that was not popular with his people at the time. Let’s look at this.
Solomon, like David, was a builder. They both built cities. David built the royal palace, and Solomon built the temple. While building is often a good thing, it always comes at a cost of labor and money. Think of another major builder in our scriptures…
King Noah, who
built many elegant and spacious buildings; and he ornamented them with fine work of wood, and of all manner of precious things, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of brass, and of ziff, and of copper; And he also built him a spacious palace, and a throne in the midst thereof, all of which was of fine wood and was ornamented with gold and silver and with precious things. And he also caused that his workmen should work all manner of fine work within the walls of the temple, of fine wood, and of copper, and of brass. (Mos 11:8-10)
How do you pull off all this construction? Heavy taxes, relatively speaking (see v. 3-6 in Mosiah 11).
David and Solomon built up cities, storage cities, city walls and fortifications, etc. (See 1Kings 9:15-19) One could argue that these were wise and necessary building outlays, perfectly justifiable. But again, at what cost?
In order to do all their building (which was more city-oriented and less luxury-oriented than that of Noah, from what the records tell us), David and Solomon instituted relatively heavy taxes of time in what is known as corvée labor.
“All the people who were left of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, who were not of the people of Israel— their descendants who were still left in the land, whom the Israelites were unable to destroy completely—these Solomon conscripted for [corvée] labor, and so they are to this day.” NRSV (modified) 1 Kings 9:20ff.
Not just those of foreign descent though.
King Solomon conscripted forced labor out of all Israel; the levy numbered thirty thousand men. He sent them to the Lebanon, ten thousand a month in shifts; they would be a month in the Lebanon and two months at home; Adoniram was in charge of the forced labor. Solomon also had seventy thousand laborers and eighty thousand stonecutters in the hill country, besides Solomon’s three thousand three hundred supervisors who were over the work, having charge of the people who did the work. At the king’s command, they quarried out great, costly stones in order to lay the foundation of the [temple] with dressed stones.
NRSV, 1 Kings 5:13–17.
Moreover, once all the building was done, how was it paid for? Well, you hire the best, and you pay for it.
The materials for the temple were obtained in Lebanon, and at least some of the work was done by Phoenician craftsmen (1 Kgs 7:13–47 describes the work of one Hiram of Tyre, which was also the name of the king of Tyre). The price of Phoenician help was substantial. According to 1 Kgs 9:11 Solomon ceded twenty cities in Galilee to Tyre, in a land-for-gold swap. The fact that Solomon needed to do this raises some question about his fabulous wealth.- Collins, Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, 251.
Solomon sells 20 Israelite cities to Tyre for gold, and uses the gold to pay for all the building (or at least the Temple.) “All you Galilean Israelites? You’re, um, Tyrians now. K, thanks, bye.” Anyone willing to finance US debt by selling Maine to Canada? California to China?
So when Solomon dies, and the people ask his son and heir Rehoboam, “Your father made our yoke heavy, please lighten it” (paraphrasing 1Ki 12:4), they are not exaggerating. The wise thing to say would have been, “I think we’ve built enough.” Alas, Rehoboam does not listen to the voice of experience and age, but his friends from youth who say, in essence, “Dude, you’re the king! Live it up!”
So Rehoboam returns an answer to the people that is politically unwise, selfish, and youthful in its coarse and boastful euphemism- “My little [one] is thicker than my father’s loins.”
The saying may be a euphemism for the penis which also serves as a metaphor for strength. This finds support by the comparison with Solomon’s thighs and the absence of the shameful saying in v. 14, which recounts Rehoboam’s decision. The contrast of Rehoboam’s little finger with his father’s genitalia is meant to exaggerate his strength above his father’s.- Faithlife Study Bible
The euphemism is not repeated in public; He simply says, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.”
Thus does Rehoboam lose 10 tribes in a political split. What remains in the south is the tribe of Judah and the disputed tribe of Benjamin. The northern Kingdom, known as Israel or Ephraim, is ruled over by Jeroboam.
The name “Jeroboam” is more than likely a defiant variation of the throne name of his rival Rehoboam, and it denotes the meaning “may the people become great,” in which he is considered a contender for the people against Rehoboam’s oppressions.- Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, “Jeroboam“
Jeroboam was very “capable” and had been assigned as a manager over all the corvée labor of the tribe of Joseph, 1 Ki 11:28ff. Not only is he given prophetic warning of what will happen, but he also would have seen first hand the grumbling of those laborers and perhaps that made him politically savvy. In any case, this is how the kingdom splits, which will lead to religious competition, civil war, and other unhappy things. This split is the background for the major prophetic books (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel) and most of the minor ones as well, such as Amos.
The Israelite Temple(s)
Now, once David had achieved some stability, he wanted to build a temple. In an example of a prophetic reversal, Nathan says (assumingly?) that God approves, but after actual revelation the next day says no.
“Now when the king was settled in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you.” But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in?” (2Sa 7:1-5 NRSV)
Chronicles later adds that Solomon and not David was permitted to build the temple because of how much war and blood David had shed. (1Chr 22:8-9), but Solomon would be a man of peace (Heb. shalom, compare with shelomo, Solomon’s name in Hebrew.)
So Solomon builds and dedicates the temple in Jerusalem.
Now, the temple in many ways follows and expands on the plan and symbolism of the Tabernacle. Regarding the tabernacle, Exodus says that God showed Moses a model or blueprints of it and all its furnishings/utensils (Exodus 25:9) and Chronicles says of the temple that David received all the details by revelation, “the entirety in writing by the hand of the Yahweh upon me, he made clear all the details of the blueprints” (my translation, 1 Chr. 28:19.) (Note the similar language in D&C 124:42- “I will show unto my servant Joseph all things pertaining to this house [the Nauvoo temple], and the priesthood thereof, and the place whereon it shall be built.”)
Given the extent of those statements, you might expect that the Temple (and by extension, the tabernacle and what was done therein) were entirely unique, with no earthly parallels.
And yet, we find that the Tabernacle borrows in some ways from Egyptian precursors. Some of the utensils had Egyptian names, suggesting that they were of Egyptian origin. The Ark of the Covenant resembles the Egyptian solar boat. Moreover, “the closest parallel [to the Tabernacle is] the tent and military camp used by Ramesses II when facing the Hittites at the Battle of Kadesh, which took place on Egypt’s Syrian front in about 1275 B.C.E.,” an even stronger parallel than the later temple. (Michael Homan, “The Divine Warrior in His Tent” Bible Review 16:6 December (2000). Cf. Homan’s published dissertation To Your Tents, O Israel)
When it comes to the Jerusalem temple, it turns out to share a lot with preceding Canaanite and Phoenician temples. Just how much?
“. . . we can be sure that these Phoenician temples . . . were the inspiration for Solomon’s Temple.”
“It is generally concluded that Solomon’s temple was designed by Phoenician craftsmen in accord with Syro-Palestinian models, presumably adapted to fit the Israelite milieu.”
John Bright, a theologically conservative historian, noted that “The Temple [of Solomon] was built by a Tyrian architect (I Kings 7:13f.) after a pattern then current in Palestine and Syria.”
“Since its construction followed Phoenician models, much of its symbolism inevitably reflected a pagan background.”
What’s the takeaway here? A summary, and then my point. I suspect that the scriptural account of a vision of the entire plan down to fine details and furnishings is idealized somewhat. And while the Israelite temple/tabernacle shares significant elements with the surrounding cultures, it is not a wholesale “ripoff” of them (and no one claims that.)
What I am getting at is the idea that revelation does not necessarily require absolute uniqueness. God often takes preexisting cultural elements that we are familiar with, and adapts, recontextualizes, reuses, and gives them new meaning. That we can find parallels doesn’t undermine revelation. This applies to the LDS temple as much as ancient ones, and just revelation in general. For two other quick examples, circumcision was common in the ancient Near East before God commanded Abraham to circumcise as the sign of the covenant. Water certainly refracted light before, but God chose the rainbow as the sign of the covenant with Noah, instead of changing the laws of physics. Prophets and revelation frequently reinterpret and adapt various elements in their environment, and this poses no obstacle to believing that the result is inspired.