They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Slave Camp at Timna

Timna, Israel

'The Lord took you and brought you out of the iron smelting furnace, out of Egypt.' - Deut. 4:20

On Saturday, April 5, 2008, we left present day Egypt and crossed the border into Israel at the Taba Border Crossing. The first place we went to in Israel, very close to the border, was a place called Timna. The area around Timna was always part of Egypt, even from the most ancient of times. They have evidence of Egyptian presence there as early as 2800 B.C.  The Egyptian empire controlled this area from then until the time of Solomon, which will be part of our story. Solomon’s Pillars, a prominent natural geographical formation named after the famous king of Israel, is located there, as are Solomon’s Mines. Timna is one of the hottest places on Earth, often getting to 125 degrees in the summer, and is usually over 90 degrees even in December. In Deuteronomy 4:20 it says, “The Lord took you and brought you out of the iron smelting furnace, out of Egypt.”

What is the significance of Timna in the Bible story? The Israelites would have passed very close to here on their way to the Promised Land. There would have been a significant Egyptian presence in Timna at that time because this area produced most of the ancient world’s copper. Copper was mixed with tin to make bronze, which was the dominant metal in the world until the invention of iron by the Philistines (1 Samuel 13:19-22). There was a large slave camp here, run by the Egyptians, to extract the copper from the rock. To get the copper out of the rock and to the right consistency required very hot temperatures. There were almost no trees here, yet they had to bring in huge amounts of wood for hot fires to smelt the copper from the rock.

'Slave Hill' with slag visible in the foreground

'Slave Hill' with slag visible in the foreground

While we were there, we went up on top of a hill that was called “Slave Hill”.Slag from the smelting process was all over the ground here and you could envision the hard labor that took place.  It was hard to imagine what being a slave here would have been like, in an unbelievably hot climate, with hot fires burning as you worked. It would have been a terrible working environment.

Now fast forward to the time of Solomon in Israel. The first wife that Solomon takes after inheriting the kingdom is the daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh (1 Kings 3:1-2) which God had specifically told him not to do (Deut 17:17, 1 Kings 11:1-6). Then  he makes a pact with the Egyptians and Pharaoh. Solomon bought large amounts of chariots and horses from the Egyptians (1 Kings 10:26-28) which God had  also specifically told him not to do. In turn,

Solomon was allowed to take over the region of Timna to begin mining copper for Israel. To make these mines productive again, Solomon had to conscript a slave labor force (1 Kings 9:21-22). By using slaves, Solomon had taken the nation of Israel full circle; God had taken them out of Egypt to free them from slavery and now Israel was using slaves! Solomon had taken his country back to Egypt again! They were now the oppressors!

Solomon's Pillars, Timna

Solomon's Pillars

To conclude, Egypt brought tremendous suffering on the backs of their Israelite slaves. God heard their cry and intervened  and freed them from their bondage. God blessed and prospered the Israelites until they too, began to oppress and enslave people. Considering their heritage, it is hard to imagine that the Israelites would ever have thought of having slaves. However, Solomon took the Israelite nation back to Egypt both literally and figuratively. From this point on, God took his hand off Israel and they  quickly went down hill to their eventual demise at the hand of the Assyrians and Babylonians. God did not tolerate slavery and oppression, even if it came from His chosen people.

Solomon the Wise??

At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day…So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
— 1 Kings 3:5-9

A careful re-reading of Deuteronomy chapter 17 recently, revealed some errors in my previous thinking concerning Solomon’s reign as king over Israel and made me wonder how wise he really was, according to the Scriptures. From earlier teaching, I had always been told that Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived and was left the impression that he was a very great and competent king.

My first wrong assumption was that God did not want the Israelites to even have a king (See also my earlier post, “And the King Will Take a Tenth“). Contrary to this, God anticipates that the Israelites will want a king and so he set out the parameters and qualifications of a king. In Deuteronomy 17 God says, when (not if) you get a king, here is what he must be like. Verse 15 speaks directly about a later king of the Jews, Herod, because he was not a Jew, but an Idumean. The Jews were correct to despise him because he was not one of them and according to the qualifications, he should not have been their ruler. Solomon passed this test as he definitely was a Jew.

Deuteronomy 17:16 says that the king of Israel must not acquire great number of horses for himself and must not make anyone go back to Egypt to get them. If you look at 1 Kings 4:26, it says that Solomon had four thousand stalls for chariot horses and owned twelve thousand horses. All the best horses came from Egypt and Solomon sent many expeditions to Egypt to get horses and other goods (1 Kings 10:28-29).

Deuteronomy 17:17 says that the king of Israel must not take many wives or his heart will be led astray. We read in 1 Kings 11:3 that Solomon had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines and that his wives led him astray. It goes on to say that he did evil in the eyes of the Lord by doing this.

Deuteronomy 17:17 also says that he must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. In 1 Kings 10:14-29 it describes Solomon’s affinity for wealth. The Jewish Bible portrays the rejection of his penchant for wealth by saying that he accumulated 666 talents of Gold, yearly. By using the numbers 666, they were saying, in an editorial way, that he was doing something evil.

Solomon apparently never followed God’s command in verse 18-20 either. He was supposed to completely write for himself, on a scroll, the whole Torah and then read it daily for the rest of his life. If he had done this, as God required, he would have seen his mistakes in Deuteronomy and repented. Solomon obviously considered himself better than his subjects, which it also told him specifically not to do. Because Solomon failed to heed and obey God’s explicit commands, the kingdom was torn away from his descendants and Israel plunged into chaos that from which they never recovered:

The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the LORD’s command. So the LORD said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”
–1 Kings 11:9-13

Solomon also really messed up when he hired foreigners to come in and build the Temple. It was not appropriate to Hiram and the Sidonian craftsmen to construct large parts of the Temple. The Jews had plenty of quality craftsmen. By doing this, it allowed these foreign men to bring in their foreign gods and intermarry with the Jewish people. This mistake eventually allowed Jezebel, who was a Sidonian, to play a shameful part in Jewish history.

Although Solomon was obviously a very smart man, almost everything he did ended up bringing disaster on the Jewish nation. Solomon is proof that wisdom is not enough We must read the Book or we will end up like Solomon; even though wise in a worldly sense, still failing miserably in God’s eyes.