Kings 1 4:7
Recent data shows that 80% of Israelis pay taxes, working hard to subsidize the rest of the country.
Part of this growing divide between those who do and don’t lift up their share of civic care for the country's security and sustainability is part of what’s causing the growing rift and protest in the streets right now.
But not much new is under the sun, as King Solomon wrote in the scroll of Ecclesiastes, attributed to him. It was under this king’s stern watch that the Kingdom of Israel transformed from a confederacy of twelve tribes to a state with twelve provinces -- with heavy taxes - but not for everyone.
Today’s chapter outlines Solomon’s bureaucratic administration - consisting of ministers and priests, a coalition with many who are related to the king, married to his daughters, or part of the inner circle. There’s also a new position not yet mentioned in prior lists of professional courtiers -- a minister in charge of taxation.
And then there are the new twelve governors - each one in charge of a district. But those twelve are no longer tied to the original tribal territories and identities. This is a radical societal shift. The king rezoned the kingdom, not based on ancient affinities that go back hundreds of years to the days of Joshua - but likely based on economic abilities and other class affinities.
Is this some sort of early gerrymandering?
What’s important to note is that each of the twelve zones was responsible to sustain the royal household during one of the twelve months of each year:
וְלִשְׁלֹמֹ֞ה שְׁנֵים־עָשָׂ֤ר נִצָּבִים֙ עַל־כׇּל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְכִלְכְּל֥וּ אֶת־הַמֶּ֖לֶךְ וְאֶת־בֵּית֑וֹ חֹ֧דֶשׁ בַּשָּׁנָ֛ה יִהְיֶ֥ה עַל־הָאֶחָ֖ד לְכַלְכֵּֽל׃
Solomon had twelve governors governing all Israel, who provided food for the king and his household; each had to provide food for one month in the year
The rezoning of the country may reflect the larger territorial gains achieved during David’s reign, but also a way to divide up the country with new allegiances that dismantle old loyalties and potential unified resistance to the Solomonic regime. It seems like a smooth operation, at first, and the taxes are coming in, but not without an eventual high price to the welfare of the people - and the kingdom itself.
In Kings: Torn in Two, biblical scholar Alex Israel ( we attended Yeshiva together 30 years ago..) does a brilliant job analyzing what’s happening between the lines of this story and focusing on a few troubling details:
“..Rezoning the country has its hazards. Notwithstanding Solomon's intent, historic identities endure; ethnic statuses remain intact. A significant and troubling detail is that the tribe of Judah is not specified in this list of tax colonies. Some suggest that this omission is evidence that Solomon's own tribe is fully absolved of its tax burden. Solomon's changes are most severe for the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, as they suffer from a more invasive subdivision, and hence a disproportionate tax burden. This uneven policy is possibly deliberate, intended to weaken the tribes of Joseph, who represent a potential source of opposition to the king, but this strategy has a devastating ripple effect in later years. The act that eventually tears Solomon's kingdom apart after his death is a demand for a reduction of the crushing tax burden, and the epicenter of the revolt is the tribes of Joseph.”
So while new governors for all twelve districts are named - including two of them who are married to two of the king’s daughters, Basmat and Tefat, one name is glaringly missing.
Why is there no mention of the governor of the province of Judah, where Jerusalem is found? Most scholars suggest that it seems that the royal family - and its extended kin and tribal relations - had extra rights, and possibly lived tax-free lives, with no need for local government to make sure they pay up. Each of the twelve districts paid taxes one month every year, but the lack of Judah’s territorial mention in this list may give us a hint about King Solomon's method of governing: Inner circle and family above all.
How long before the ferment and fury wake people up? About a generation. We’re not there yet. But the seeds of discontent have been planted, even as the final verse and bottom line of this chapter reports that “All of Judah and all of Israel were numerous, eating and drinking and content.”
Where do all the taxes go? That’s coming up tomorrow. Get ready for a frustrating royal feast.
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