1 Kings 4
In all Solomon’s wisdom, among the list of provisions, possessions, and advisors, one statement stands out to me. In verse 6b, “Adoniram son of Abda—in charge of forced labor.”
Even amid all the peace that God provided, all the prosperity that He blessed Solomon with, and all the wisdom He granted, Solomon still had slaves.
That’s hard to understand.
We can say that it was a cultural norm of the time, but God breaks through those norms frequently in the Bible. He directed Moses to give an inheritance to the daughters of Zelophehad. He urged Joseph to take Mary as his wife, when the culture would demand he either have her stoned or divorce her. Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman and dined with tax collectors and sinners. God proves many times His willingness and ability to overturn our human notions of right and wrong.
So why is this use of forced labor not denounced? Does it suggest that God approves of slavery and oppression? The whole counsel of scripture screams, “NO!”
Just as God allowed Satan to tempt Job, but limited just how far he could go, so God allows His people at times to follow their own selfish, greedy, rebellious heart. God remains sovereign, and there are always consequences when our free will takes us far from God’s will.
In Solomon’s case, his use of forced labor included the tribes Israel had displaced when they conquered the Land, and Israelites, which God had expressly forbidden. This enslavement of the people of Israel would lead to the eventual revolt of the Northern tribes and the division of Israel and Judah.
This division and war didn’t occur in Solomon’s time though. Like many of our choices to sin, the next generation paid the price.