Theology of Exodus in Kings: Solomon’s Pharaonic Shadow


YORAM RAANAN “Crossing the Sea”

Ron Hendel notes, “The exodus from Egypt is a focal point of ancient Israelite religion. Virtually every kind of religious literature in the Hebrew Bible—prose narrative, liturgical poetry, didactic prose, and prophecy—celebrates the exodus as a foundational event. Israelite ritual, law, and ethics are often grounded in the precedent and memory of the Exodus. … In its existential actuality, the exodus, more than any other event of the Hebrew Bible, embodies William Faulkner’s adage: ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.’” Michael Fishbane said it this way, “The exodus tradition was used, from the first, as a paradigmatic teaching for present and future generations.” They’re right.

But how do we find the Exodus? Sometimes, it’s simple! There will be a direct quotation of something that arises from the Exodus, or else there will be explicit mention of the Exodus (for example, in a later post when we talk about 1 Kings 17, we can see the story of the Exodus explicitly referenced). But, most of the time, the Bible–like most good literature–doesn’t provide explicit citations but rather reuse of themes, vocabulary, and imagery: you don’t prove that O Brother Where Art Thou? is a retelling of Homer’s Odyssey through citation; you don’t demonstrate that The Mandalorian is a Western through quotation; you can’t show that The West Side Story is Romeo and Juliet by its explicit references to Shakespeare. In each of these cases, you must focus on the vocabulary, the typology, the story progression, and the “genre markers” to make these identifications. In other words: intertextuality.

After reading just this and seeing the focus on storage cities (the first time this term has been used in the text since Exodus!), we might say Dayenu! But wait, there’s more! Solomon also builds a fleet of ships that he anchors at the Red Sea (1 Kgs 9.26), and the goes down to Egypt in order to gain horses and chariots and gold (1 Kgs 10.14–29), the very things that God told his kings not to do (Dtr 17.14–20). Solomon, like the Israelites in the Wilderness, seeks to return to Egypt. And, like those same Israelites, he worships false gods and builds high places for idolatrous sacrifices (1 Kgs 11.1–8).

And comparisons go deeper, still, for when we read 1 Kgs 11.14–22, we read about Solomon (and, admittedly, David’s!) relationship of Hadad the Edomite whom God raised up against Solomon and who we read about as a young man from another nation who was nearly killed at birth but escaped to Egypt and joining Pharaoh’s family while most of the other males of his nation were killed by a wicked king seeking to keep them from rebelling or joining their military enemies (11.14–22). It is no surprise that, when the Israelites remember Solomon’s reign, it is that he “made their yoke heavy” and “disciplined them with whips” (1 Kgs 12.10–11)—the very things that Pharaoh did.

Solomon began to build the temple for the LORD in the four hundred eightieth year after the Israelites came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of his reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month…

1 Kings 6.1

This text, which has often been used to date the Exodus (Ralph Davis notes that “these texts are frequently used for calculating chronology rather than understanding redemption”) to the exclusion of recognizing that building the temple is what concludes the Exodus: the movable tabernacle has found a permanent home; and the wilderness wandering has come to an end. This explicit “name dropping” or use of the Exodus vocabulary is intensified when Solomon again connects the completion of the temple to the completion of the Exodus experience: “Blessed be the LORD who has given rest to his people Israel according to all that he has promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promises, which he spoke by Moses his servant” (1 Kgs 8.56).

After reading just this and seeing the focus on storage cities (the first time this term has been used in the text since Exodus!), we might say Dayenu! But wait, there’s more! Solomon also builds a fleet of ships that he anchors at the Red Sea (1 Kgs 9.26), and the goes down to Egypt in order to gain horses and chariots and gold (1 Kgs 10.14–29), the very things that God told his kings not to do (Dtr 17.14–20). Solomon, like the Israelites in the Wilderness, seeks to return to Egypt. And, like those same Israelites, he worships false gods and builds high places for idolatrous sacrifices (1 Kgs 11.1–8).

And comparisons go deeper, still, for when we read 1 Kgs 11.14–22, we read about Solomon (and, admittedly, David’s!) relationship of Hadad the Edomite whom God raised up against Solomon and who we read about as a young man from another nation who was nearly killed at birth but escaped to Egypt and joining Pharaoh’s family while most of the other males of his nation were killed by a wicked king seeking to keep them from rebelling or joining their military enemies (11.14–22). It is no surprise that, when the Israelites remember Solomon’s reign, it is that he “made their yoke heavy” and “disciplined them with whips” (1 Kgs 12.10–11)—the very things that Pharaoh did.

After reading just this and seeing the focus on storage cities (the first time this term has been used in the text since Exodus!), we might say Dayenu! But wait, there’s more! Solomon also builds a fleet of ships that he anchors at the Red Sea (1 Kgs 9.26), and the goes down to Egypt in order to gain horses and chariots and gold (1 Kgs 10.14–29), the very things that God told his kings not to do (Dtr 17.14–20). Solomon, like the Israelites in the Wilderness, seeks to return to Egypt. And, like those same Israelites, he worships false gods and builds high places for idolatrous sacrifices (1 Kgs 11.1–8).

And comparisons go deeper, still, for when we read 1 Kgs 11.14–22, we read about Solomon (and, admittedly, David’s!) relationship of Hadad the Edomite whom God raised up against Solomon and who we read about as a young man from another nation who was nearly killed at birth but escaped to Egypt and joining Pharaoh’s family while most of the other males of his nation were killed by a wicked king seeking to keep them from rebelling or joining their military enemies (11.14–22). It is no surprise that, when the Israelites remember Solomon’s reign, it is that he “made their yoke heavy” and “disciplined them with whips” (1 Kgs 12.10–11)—the very things that Pharaoh did.

Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt by marrying Pharaoh’s daughter. Solomon brought her to the city of David until he finished building his palace, the LORD’s temple, and the wall surrounding Jerusalem. However, the people were sacrificing on the high places, because until that time a temple for the LORD’s name had not been built. Solomon loved the LORD by walking in the statutes of his father David, but he also sacrificed and burned incense on the high places.

1 Kgs 3.1–3

After reading just this and seeing the focus on storage cities (the first time this term has been used in the text since Exodus!), we might say Dayenu! But wait, there’s more! Solomon also builds a fleet of ships that he anchors at the Red Sea (1 Kgs 9.26), and the goes down to Egypt in order to gain horses and chariots and gold (1 Kgs 10.14–29), the very things that God told his kings not to do (Dtr 17.14–20). Solomon, like the Israelites in the Wilderness, seeks to return to Egypt. And, like those same Israelites, he worships false gods and builds high places for idolatrous sacrifices (1 Kgs 11.1–8).

And comparisons go deeper, still, for when we read 1 Kgs 11.14–22, we read about Solomon (and, admittedly, David’s!) relationship of Hadad the Edomite whom God raised up against Solomon and who we read about as a young man from another nation who was nearly killed at birth but escaped to Egypt and joining Pharaoh’s family while most of the other males of his nation were killed by a wicked king seeking to keep them from rebelling or joining their military enemies (11.14–22). It is no surprise that, when the Israelites remember Solomon’s reign, it is that he “made their yoke heavy” and “disciplined them with whips” (1 Kgs 12.10–11)—the very things that Pharaoh did.

This is the account of the forced labor that King Solomon had imposed to build the LORD’s temple, his own palace, the supporting terraces, the wall of Jerusalem, and Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer… And all of the storage cities (עָרֵ֤י מִסְכְּנוֹת֙) that belonged to Solomon, his horse and chariot cities, and whatever Solomon desired to build in Jerusalem, Lebanon, or anywhere else in the land of his dominion.

1 Kgs 9.15–19

After reading just this and seeing the focus on storage cities (the first time this term has been used in the text since Exodus!), we might say Dayenu! But wait, there’s more! Solomon also builds a fleet of ships that he anchors at the Red Sea (1 Kgs 9.26), and the goes down to Egypt in order to gain horses and chariots and gold (1 Kgs 10.14–29), the very things that God told his kings not to do (Dtr 17.14–20). Solomon, like the Israelites in the Wilderness, seeks to return to Egypt. And, like those same Israelites, he worships false gods and builds high places for idolatrous sacrifices (1 Kgs 11.1–8).

And comparisons go deeper, still, for when we read 1 Kgs 11.14–22, we read about Solomon (and, admittedly, David’s!) relationship of Hadad the Edomite whom God raised up against Solomon and who we read about as a young man from another nation who was nearly killed at birth but escaped to Egypt and joining Pharaoh’s family while most of the other males of his nation were killed by a wicked king seeking to keep them from rebelling or joining their military enemies (11.14–22). It is no surprise that, when the Israelites remember Solomon’s reign, it is that he “made their yoke heavy” and “disciplined them with whips” (1 Kgs 12.10–11)—the very things that Pharaoh did.

As Peter Leithart notes in his extraordinary (and equally frustrating) commentary on the book of Kings, “Solomon begins acting like a Pharaoh, not only in the obvious sense that he builds stables for his horses and chariots but also in that he builds “cities of storage”, a phrase used elsewhere only in Exodus where the Hebrews built for Pharaoh cities of storage, Pithom and Raamses. Solomon returns Israel to an Egyptian-like state, setting up for the ‘Mosaic’ liberation of the Northern Tribes under Jeroboam.”

The connections then to the Exodus in 1 Kgs 1–14 in the reign of Solomon are strong. And I’m not nearly the only person who has noticed them! Numerous scholars have pointed elements of these same readings out in their commentaries and articles and that’s not surprise when we have explicit connections to the Exodus in the text linking the Temple, rare verbal connections to Pharaoh’s practices, and numerous narrative “markers.” It’s hard to get away from Amos Frisch’s conclusion that “The Book of Kings… likens Solomon to Pharaoh.” But the story does not end there, for in that same context Frisch notes what we might already suspect: that if Solomon is a New Pharaoh, then perhaps God might raise up in Jeroboam a new Moses.

But for that, we’ll have to wait until next time…

Published by Jared Saltz

Biblical Studies Faculty (Florida College). PhD candidate at HUC-JIR. Husband, father, student.

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