Having been granted the wisdom necessary to rule over God’s people well (1 Kings 3:1–15), Solomon began the task given to him by God—the construction of a permanent temple in Jerusalem where Israel could gather for worship (1 Chron. 22:6–10). Today’s passage begins the account of Solomon’s project, focusing on the assistance offered by Hiram, king of Tyre.
Tyre was a major city in Lebanon, which sits north of the promised land on the Mediterranean coast. The cedar trees of Lebanon were renowned in the ancient Near Eastern world for their majesty and strength, as seen in texts such as Psalm 92:12. So, when Solomon wanted cedar for the temple, he went to Tyre. Happily, David had always had good relations with Hiram, the king of Tyre, as we read in 1 Kings 5:1. In fact, Hiram had provided the cedar David used to build his own palace, as well as carpenters and masons (2 Sam. 5:11).
Solomon informed Hiram of his intentions, asking not only for cedar but also for builders, since no one in Israel knew “how to cut timber like the Sidonians” (1 Kings 5:1–6). The designation “Sidonians,” from the name of the other important Lebanese city Sidon, refers to the inhabitants of Lebanon over which Hiram also had authority, as it was frequently used for all the peoples of that region. In any case, Solomon made it clear to Hiram that the task of building the temple was divinely appointed. He trusted that God would be with him to complete the job, and that fueled his efforts.
Hiram agreed to help Solomon, the two kings signed a treaty, and Solomon offered payment for the cedar and for the workers (vv. 7–12). In recounting these negotiations, the author of 1 Kings again notes Solomon’s wisdom (v. 12). Solomon rightly employed his wisdom when he built a beautiful house of worship for the Lord.
The rest of 1 Kings 5 stresses the cooperation of the workers who quarried the stone and cut the timber. Tens of thousands of men contributed to this effort (vv. 13, 15), but the author notes that many of them were drafted from Israel to work four months of the year, one month on and two months off (vv. 13–14). This demonstrates that all was not perfectly well in this endeavor, for one of the warnings Samuel gave regarding the monarchy was that kings would draft men and women for service (1 Sam. 8:10–18). Solomon was treating fellow Israelites as mere servants, laying the foundation for future trouble (1 Kings 12).