Good and Godly Leadership

1 King Solomon was king over all Israel, and these were his high officials: Azariah the son of Zadok was the priest; Elihoreph and Ahijah the sons of Shisha were secretaries; Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was recorder; Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was in command of the army; Zadok and Abiathar were priests; Azariah the son of Nathan was over the officers; Zabud the son of Nathan was priest and king’s friend; Ahishar was in charge of the palace; and Adoniram the son of Abda was in charge of the forced labor.

Solomon had twelve officers over all Israel, who provided food for the king and his household. Each man had to make provision for one month in the year. These were their names: Ben-hur, in the hill country of Ephraim; Ben-deker, in Makaz, Shaalbim, Beth-shemesh, and Elonbeth-hanan; 10 Ben-hesed, in Arubboth (to him belonged Socoh and all the land of Hepher); 11 Ben-abinadab, in all Naphath-dor (he had Taphath the daughter of Solomon as his wife); 12 Baana the son of Ahilud, in Taanach, Megiddo, and all Beth-shean that is beside Zarethan below Jezreel, and from Beth-shean to Abel-meholah, as far as the other side of Jokmeam; 13 Ben-geber, in Ramoth-gilead (he had the villages of Jair the son of Manasseh, which are in Gilead, and he had the region of Argob, which is in Bashan, sixty great cities with walls and bronze bars); 14 Ahinadab the son of Iddo, in Mahanaim; 15 Ahimaaz, in Naphtali (he had taken Basemath the daughter of Solomon as his wife); 16 Baana the son of Hushai, in Asher and Bealoth; 17 Jehoshaphat the son of Paruah, in Issachar; 18 Shimei the son of Ela, in Benjamin; 19 Geber the son of Uri, in the land of Gilead, the country of Sihon king of the Amorites and of Og king of Bashan. And there was one governor who was over the land. 1 Kings 1:1-19 ESV

Through his record of Solomon’s deft handling of the dispute between the two prostitutes, the author has provided an example of Solomon’s Spirit-imbued wisdom. And Solomon would put that wisdom to use in a variety of ways, including in the formation of his royal administration. His father’s death had left him as the sovereign authority over a large nation with a sizeable population spread over a vast area. And to understand the nature of Solomon’s actions, as outlined in this passage, it is important to remember the historical context that precipitated the establishment of the royal position in Israel.

Until the day Saul had been anointed the first king of Israel, the nation had functioned as a loose coalition of 12 tribes, with God as their King and sovereign. The tribes, while varying in size, each maintained independent control over the land they had been allotted by God. As the priestly tribe, the Levites were not given any land, but instead, were allocated cities within the territories of the other 11 tribes.

When the tribes first entered the land of Canaan, they had to defeat the existing inhabitants before they could occupy the land awarded to them by God. To do this, the tribes formed alliances with one another, fighting side-by-side until they could settle in their respective territory. Once this task had been completed, the tribes tended to operate independently. There was no centralized governing body or system of government in place to provide guidance or regulate behavior. In time, each of the tribes began to drift away from God and take on the pagan practices of the land’s former inhabitants. They began worshiping false gods, a decision that forced Yahweh to judge them for their disobedience and unfaithfulness.

…the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. – Judges 2:14 ESV

This led to a period of time in which God governed the tribes through the administration of the judges. This was a disparate and diverse group of individuals sent by God to deliver his disobedient people from their enemies and call them back into fellowship with Him.

Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. – Judges 2:18 ESV

This arrangement persisted for hundreds of years, until the day when the people demanded that God give them a king.

“Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” – 1 Samuel 8:5 ESV

Samuel, who had been God’s official spokesman and the last of the judges, had been offended by their demand. He took it as a personal slight. But God told him, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7 ESV). During their years as a confederation of independent tribes, Yahweh had been functioning as their sovereign authority. He had been their King. But now, they were demanding a human king, which meant they would be ruled over by a fallen, sin-prone man whose actions would have devastating implications. And God had Samuel warn the Israelites of the consequences of their request.

“This is how a king will reign over you,” Samuel said. “The king will draft your sons and assign them to his chariots and his charioteers, making them run before his chariots. Some will be generals and captains in his army, some will be forced to plow in his fields and harvest his crops, and some will make his weapons and chariot equipment. The king will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him. He will take away the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his own officials. He will take a tenth of your grain and your grape harvest and distribute it among his officers and attendants. He will take your male and female slaves and demand the finest of your cattle and donkeys for his own use. He will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you will be his slaves. When that day comes, you will beg for relief from this king you are demanding, but then the Lord will not help you.” – 1 Samuel 8:11-18 NLT

They demanded a flesh-and-blood king, but God warned them that when they got their wish, they would end up regretting it. But they refused to take God seriously and reiterated their demand for a king.

“Even so, we still want a king,” they said. “We want to be like the nations around us. Our king will judge us and lead us into battle.” – 1 Samuel 8:19-20 NLT

So, God gave them Saul. He was exactly what they had been looking for – a tall, good-looking man who had all the outward characteristics of a king.

Saul was the most handsome man in Israel—head and shoulders taller than anyone else in the land. – 1 Samuel 9:2 NLT

This guy looked like a king. And after he received his anointing by Samuel, Saul would give all the indications that he would prove to be a good king. But, in time, his true nature revealed itself. He would prove to be headstrong and stubbornly disobedient, refusing to rule according to God’s will. And God was forced to remove him as king over Israel.

“I am sorry that I ever made Saul king, for he has not been loyal to me and has refused to obey my command.” – 1 Samuel 15:11 NLT

When faced with the prospect of his removal, Saul would attempt to assuage God by begging His forgiveness, but it was too little, too late. Samuel had to break the news to Saul that his refusal to obey God was unforgivable and his kingship was irredeemable.

“What is more pleasing to the Lord:
    your burnt offerings and sacrifices
    or your obedience to his voice?
Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice,
    and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.
Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft,
    and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.
So because you have rejected the command of the Lord,
    he has rejected you asking.” – 1 Samuel 15:22-23 NLT

And to make matters worse, Samuel told Saul that God had already chosen his replacement.

“The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to someone else—one who is better than you. – 1 Samuel 15:28 NLT

God had shown the people what happens when they get a king who seemed to meet their hearts’ desire. Now, they were going to see what a king looked like whose heart beat fast for God. God even warned Samuel that when looking for Saul’s replacement, he could not allow himself to be swayed by outward appearances. He had to look beneath the surface – at the heart.

“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7 NLT

This wasn’t a beauty contest. It had nothing to do with good looks, pedigree, charisma, or natural abilities. Samuel was to look for a godly man, not just a good man. And God had already decided who that man would be.

the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart. The Lord has already appointed him to be the leader of his people. – 1 Samuel 13:14 NLT

God chose David to be the next king. He wasn’t a perfect man, and he would prove to be anything but a perfect king. But he had a heart for God. He attempted to live his life in obedience to God. And God chose to make Solomon his successor. Early on in his reign, Solomon would also reveal himself to be a man after God’s own heart. He would be faithful to God. He would attempt to operate his kingdom in obedience to God. And he would use his God-given wisdom to establish a royal administration that provided structure and stability so that the nation might thrive. This entire section of chapter 4, with its list of difficult-to-pronounce names and obscure titles, is meant to reveal how Solomon used his divinely-ordained wisdom to establish a system of government that would allow him to rule righteously and justly over the people of God. He did not take his responsibilities lightly or use his kingly powers selfishly. He ruled with wisdom and discernment. And the end result was that “Judah and Israel were as many as the sand by the sea. They ate and drank and were happy” (1 Kings 4:20 ESV). 

Solomon was demonstrating the truth of one of the proverbs he would later record.

Without wise leadership, a nation falls; there is safety in having many advisers. – Proverbs 11:14 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson