Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
In contrast with the brief notes of the previous chapter, the fifth chapter begins another section of the fuller history (1Kings 5:1 to 1Kings 9:9), describing in great detail the building and consecration of the Temple, and evidently drawn from contemporary documents.
And Hiram king of Tyre sent his servants unto Solomon; for he had heard that they had anointed him king in the room of his father: for Hiram was ever a lover of David.(1) Hiram is first mentioned in 2Samuel 5:11 (and the parallel, 1Chronicles 14:1) as having sent workmen and materials to David for the building of his house. He is described as a “lover of David.” Ancient tradition makes him a tributary or dependent monarch; and his attitude, as described in Scripture, towards both David and Solomon agrees with this. Josephus (100 Apion, i. 17, § 18) cites from Dios, a Phœnician historian, and Menander of Ephesus, a description of Hiram’s parentage, of his prosperous reign and skill in building; and quotes, as from the Tyrian archives (Ant. viii. 11, §§ 6, 7), letters passing between him and Solomon. The embassy here noticed from Hiram is clearly one of congratulation, perhaps of renewal of fealty. (In 2Chronicles 2:14-15 occur the phrases, “my lord, my lord David thy father.”)
Thou knowest how that David my father could not build an house unto the name of the LORD his God for the wars which were about him on every side, until the LORD put them under the soles of his feet.(3) Thou knowest.—In the description (1Chronicles 22:4) of David’s collection of materials for the Temple, it is noted that “the Zidonians and they of Tyre brought much cedar wood to David.” Hence Hiram knew well his desire of building the Temple, and the care with which, when disappointed of it, he prepared for the happier experience of his successor.
Now therefore command thou that they hew me cedar trees out of Lebanon; and my servants shall be with thy servants: and unto thee will I give hire for thy servants according to all that thou shalt appoint: for thou knowest that there is not among us any that can skill to hew timber like unto the Sidonians.(6) Cedar trees out of Lebanon.—The central range of Lebanon is bare; but in the lower ranges there is still—probably in old times there was to a far greater extent—a rich abundance of timber, specially precious to the comparatively treeless country of Palestine. The forest of Lebanon was proverbial for its beauty and fragrance (Song of Solomon 4:11; Hosea 14:6-7), watered by the streams from the snowy heights (Jeremiah 18:14), when all Palestine was parched up. The cedars which now remain—a mere group, at a height of about six thousand feet—are but a remnant of the once magnificent forest which “the Lord had planted” (Psalm 104:16). Solomon’s request—couched almost in the language of command—is simply for cedar wood, or rather, for skilled labour in felling and working it, for which the Tyrians were proverbially famed in all ancient records. For this labour he offers to pay; while he seems to take for granted a right for his own servants to come and bring away the timber itself. Hiram’s answer (1Kings 5:8) mentions “timber of fir” also, which agrees exactly with the fuller account of Solomon’s request given in 2Chronicles 2:8. The pine still grows abundantly in the sandstone regions of Lebanon; but it is almost certain that “the fir” here named is the cypress.
And it came to pass, when Hiram heard the words of Solomon, that he rejoiced greatly, and said, Blessed be the LORD this day, which hath given unto David a wise son over this great people.(7) Blessed be the Lord.—Hiram’s answer is one of deference, still more clearly marked in 2Chronicles 2:12-16. His acknowledgment of Jehovah the God of Israel is a token rather of such deference to Israel, than of any acceptance of Him as the one true God.
My servants shall bring them down from Lebanon unto the sea: and I will convey them by sea in floats unto the place that thou shalt appoint me, and will cause them to be discharged there, and thou shalt receive them: and thou shalt accomplish my desire, in giving food for my household.(9) Shall bring them.—The timber was to be carried down, or, perhaps, let down on slides along the face of the mountain towards the sea, and brought round by rafts to Joppa (2Chronicles 2:16), to save the enormous cost and difficulty of land carriage. The grant of “food for his household” in return (instead of “hire”) brings out that which is recorded so many ages afterwards in Acts 12:20—that the country of the Tyrians was “nourished” by Palestine. The commerce and wealth of the Tyrians collected a large population; the narrow slip of land along the coast, backed by Lebanon, must have been, in any case, insufficient to maintain them; and, moreover, all their energies were turned, not to agriculture, but to seamanship. In the grand description in Ezekiel 27 of the imports of Tyre from all parts of the world, Judah and Israel are named as supplying “wheat, and honey, and oil, and balm.”
And Solomon gave Hiram twenty thousand measures of wheat for food to his household, and twenty measures of pure oil: thus gave Solomon to Hiram year by year.(11) Twenty thousand measures of wheat.—This agrees well enough with the calculation in 1Kings 4:22 of ninety measures a day—something over 32,000 a year—for Solomon’s Court, presumably greater than that of Hiram. But the “twenty measures of oil “—even of the pure refined oil—is so insignificant in comparison, that it seems best to adopt the Greek reading here (agreeing with 2Chronicles 2:10, and with Josephus) of 20,000 baths, or 2,000 cors, of oil.
And king Solomon raised a levy out of all Israel; and the levy was thirty thousand men.(13) Levy out of all Israel.—This, though far from being onerous, appears to have been at this time exceptional. For in 1Kings 9:22 we read that “of the children of Israel did Solomon make no bondmen: but they were men of war, and his servants, and his princes, and his captains.” Thus exceptionally introduced at first for the special service of God, it may have been the beginning of what was hereafter an oppressive despotism over the Israelites themselves. Probably even now the Israelite labourers were (under the chief officers) put in authority over the great mass of 150,000 bondmen, evidently drawn from the native races. (See 2Chronicles 2:17.) But the whole description suggests to us—what the history of Exodus, the monuments of Egypt, and the description by Herodotus of the building of the Pyramids confirm—the vast sacrifice of human labour and life, at which (in the absence of machinery to spare labour) the great monuments of ancient splendour were reared.
Beside the chief of Solomon's officers which were over the work, three thousand and three hundred, which ruled over the people that wrought in the work.(16) The chief of Solomon’s officers we should certainly have supposed to have been taken from the Israelites (as clearly were the 550 named in 1Kings 9:23). But the passage in Chronicles (2Chronicles 2:18)—reckoning them at 3,600—seems to imply that they were, like the overseers of Israel in the Egyptian bondage (Exodus 5:14-15), taken from the subject races.
And the king commanded, and they brought great stones, costly stones, and hewed stones, to lay the foundation of the house.(17) Great stones.—The stones, so emphatically described as “great stones, costly stones, and hewed stones,” were necessary, not so much for “the foundation” of the Temple itself, which was small, but for the substructure of the area, formed into a square on the irregular summit of Mount Moriah. In this substructure vast stones are still to be seen, and are referred by many authorities to the age of Solomon. The labour of transport must have been enormous, especially as all were worked beforehand. (See 1Kings 6:7.)
And Solomon's builders and Hiram's builders did hew them, and the stonesquarers: so they prepared timber and stones to build the house.(18) The stone-squarers.—This rendering is a curious gloss on the proper name, “Giblites” (see margin)—the inhabitants of Gebal (mentioned in Ezekiel 27:9 in connection with Tyre, and probably in Psalm 83:7), a city on the coast of Phœnicia—simply because the context shows that they were clever in stone-squaring. As they are distinguished from Hiram’s builders, it is possible that they were serfs under them, like the Canaanites under Solomon’s builders.