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25 September. 2 Chronicles chapters 1-4
If 1 Chronicles was mostly about the reign of King David, the second part of the work is mostly about the reign of Solomon. It starts with the building of the Temple, with which David had charged him.
If there is one thing that stands out to me reading this, it is that the world of the ancient near east – known from the earliest times for its trade routes – suddenly seems to have become much more commercialised. This is summarised in 1:15 as “The king made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he made cedar [a Lebanese import] as plentiful as the sycomore of the Shephelah.” Going by the English translation, words such as “import” and “export” appear, possibly for the first time in the Bible.
To achieve such a project, which was four years in the planning before construction started (3:2), required significant international trade. Solomon negotiated with Hiram (or Huram) of Tyre for supplies of large quantities of timber, with payment in cereals, oil and wine. The chief craftsman was also recruited from Tyre, and was of mixed race – Huram-Abi, “the son of one of the Danite women, his father a Tyrian” (2:13). Gone, it seems, was any sense of God’s people needing to keep themselves pure by not mixing with foreigners. Economic progress tends to go hand-in-hand with international trade, and with migration of labour as an essential adjunct. Which is why it seems to me (if I may be permitted a political statement) crazy to think that Britain leaving the EU and restricting migration could ever be economically beneficial.
The Temple may have had a mainly religious purpose, but its benefits in terms of economic growth, international co-operation and technical expertise were enormous. Solomon’s request to God for wisdom and skill in managing the Temple project and ruling his growing nation was indeed rewarded, as God promised him, with unsought riches.
But that is not to say it benefited everyone in the land. More controversially to our eyes, the Temple was to be built with conscripted labour. A census identified 153,600 aliens (immigrants) in the land, and all of them were conscripted either as quarrymen, builders or overseers thereof. Probably not quite slaves, but ‘bonded labour’ might be a reasonable term, and the overseers were also recruited from their own communities rather than Israelites, much as the ‘gangmasters’ in charge of large numbers of immigrant labourers in the UK today – who often lack fair wages and other legal rights as a result.