This is the account of the forced labor that King Solomon conscripted to build the house of the Lord and his own house, the Millo and the wall of Jerusalem, Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer (Pharaoh king of Egypt had gone up and captured Gezer and burned it down, had killed the Canaanites who lived in the city, and had given it as dowry to his daughter, Solomon’s wife; so Solomon rebuilt Gezer), Lower Beth-horon, Baalath, Tamar in the wilderness, within the land, as well as all of Solomon’s storage cities, the cities for his chariots, the cities for his cavalry, and whatever Solomon desired to build, in Jerusalem, in Lebanon, and in all the land of his dominion. 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 slave labor, and so they are to this day. But of the Israelites Solomon made no slaves; they were the soldiers, they were his officials, his commanders, his captains, and the commanders of his chariotry and cavalry.
These were the chief officers who were over Solomon’s work: five hundred and fifty, who had charge of the people who carried on the work.
But Pharaoh’s daughter went up from the city of David to her own house that Solomon had built for her; then he built the Millo.
Three times a year Solomon used to offer up burnt-offerings and sacrifices of well-being on the altar that he built for the Lord, offering incense before the Lord. So he completed the house. – I Kings 9:15-25
All of I Kings chapter 6 is about Solomon building a temple for God.
You know, the one that David wasn’t allowed to build. Solomon gets to build it because he was not, like his father, a man of war. So, David gets punished for fighting the battles that God told him to fight.
Chapter 7 is all about Solomon building his own palace. His place took nearly twice as long to build as God’s place.
Chapter 8 is about the rituals and blessings used to commemorate the building of the temple including Solomon’s invocation over the assembled people.
Great so far.
Throughout these chapters, a two word phrase is repeated often. “Solomon built”. Now, we’re not so naive as to think that Solomon actually got his own hands dirty, right? We assume that he had his people do this work for which he got credit. That’s just how corporate structure works.
Ah, but then we get to chapter nine, a subheading innocently titled “Solomon’s other deeds”.
And by “other deeds” we mean “slavery”.
Solomon took it upon himself to force anyone who was leftover from the all of the wars that his father fought into labor camps. Based solely on their ancestry, they were conscripted into service, building the temple as well as Solomon’s palace.
Imagine being forced to build a temple for a God that is not your own. Imagine being forced into building a temple for the son of the man who annihilated your people.
The Deuteronomist clearly thought that including the enslaved peoples who worked on the temple was important. The odds are, however, he believed that because he felt that showing how Solomon used those he had enslaved was a demonstration of power though maybe he too was disturbed by his people’s history of slavery.
How great an empire must be if the citizens of the empire don’t actually have to work to build the empire!
This is always the thinking of empire. Defeat a people, capture them, and as ultimate sign of their humiliation and your dominance, force them to add to your strength and wealth.
It happened in Israel.
It happened in Rome.
It happened in the United States.
We must recognize the people who have done the actual building, not just those who get the credit. Furthermore, we have to look at how things were built, who was exploited, and who stood to gain. Finally, if we’re willing to legitimize slavery here, while I hate this phrase, it is a slippery slope toward legitimizing all forms of slavery. The world we are building can never again allow for such humiliation of humans to exist.