Formations 04.17.2016: What a Kingdom Looks Like

1 Kings 10:1-9, 23-25

Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle, WA.

Arizona Building, Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle, WA. (Wikimedia Commons, Joe Mabel).

Jeff Bezos is a technology entrepreneur and investor. He is the reason you can get almost anything shipped to your door—dog food, a soldering gun, a flat screen TV—within two days of clicking a button. He’s more formally known as the CEO of, the most successful online retailer in America. Consumers and economic strategists alike have praised Jeff Bezos’s leadership and wisdom for years, and righty so. is a company that stands out for doing innovative and groundbreaking things. Bezos himself was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 1999, is listed as the fourth wealthiest person in the world, and is even ranked second as the best CEO in the world by the Harvard Business Review. In 2015, he was at the top of Fortune magazine’s Fifty Great Leaders of the World list. According to people who know him, Bezos is not motivated by money and success as much as he is motivated by his passion for changing the world. “It wasn’t about the money itself. It was about what he wanted to do with the money, about changing the future,” says Ursula Werner, Bezos’ high school girlfriend.

Last year, however, the New York Times published an investigative article about the working conditions at Amazon. Before that, Amazon had faced criticism about the working conditions of its warehouses. A report by a local newspaper showed that warehouse employees in Pennsylvania were working in more than 100-degree heat and being taken away by waiting ambulances if they collapsed. In its offices, Amazon forces employees to constantly seek excellence in competition with others in the office and with other markets, or risk losing their jobs. Employees interviewed by the New York Times mention “feeling how their work is never done or good enough.” Both critiques shine a spotlight on an institution that overworks employees and uses shame, fear, and manipulation to push employees to their limits. The Times article attributes Amazon’s growth and success to the company’s ability to “extract the most from its employees” in a grueling, tense work environment.

Amazon employees have since spoken out against the opinions shared by the Times article, claiming that Amazon is a challenging but wonderful place to work. At the very least, outsiders have learned that even successful business empires run by exalted leaders are not always as utopian as they may appear.

When the Queen of Sheba visits Solomon, her observations lead her to proclaim that he has indeed been blessed with wisdom. She even goes on to say that Solomon’s kingdom will never end, because it is so magnificent. This week’s Scripture text is especially interesting when we know that Solomon’s kingdom doesn’t last forever—in fact, we’ll read next week about Solomon’s downfall. So, as we study the Queen’s reaction to Solomon’s palace, we’ll begin to think about Solomon’s wisdom, his blessings, and the responsibilities that follow.

“The Inner Bezos,”, <>.

“Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace,”, <>.


• What do you look for in a leader? How do you judge good leadership?
• What are some of your own leadership skills?
• How can you determine your blessings? How do you nurture these blessings?
• The Queen of Sheba seems to only observe Solomon’s palace before making a statement praising his entire kingdom. What do you tend to observe when making a judgment about someone’s success?

Reference Shelf

Solomon’s Riches

In addition to the accounts of trading activity, the report of Solomon’s harem, including a daughter of Pharaoh (7:8; 9:16; 11:3) and the folkloristic story of the visit of the Queen of Sheba (10:1-3) increase the sense of international atmosphere of the court of Solomon. A widely held theory (that of von Rad) places the first written version of the Israelite epic tradition, the Yahwistic narrative, in the reign of Solomon, though a number of reservations about the theory have been expressed in recent years. The Temple functioned as a royal sanctuary, and it appears that the divine establishment and undergirding of the monarchy were celebrated in Temple liturgies from the time of Solomon.

Behind the celebration of the wealth and wisdom of Solomon in this narrative can be seen a sense of the public cost of this investment in architecture and military equipment. It is generally assumed that the seeds of the revolution of Jeroboam (11:26-40; 12:12-20), which divided the kingdom after his death, grew among those who bore the cost of these lavish royal expenditures.

Roy D. Wells, Jr., “Solomon,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 842.

A “Just and Righteous” Economy?

This account of Solomon is indeed a portrayal of a fabulously effective economy, one paralleling what we of late have come to call “the global economy.” A primary feature of the global economy is that it has such capital strength and leverage that it is able to dictate the terms of all other economies, so that no local economy can finally resists or stand outside its purview. Such an economy, moreover, is completely insulated from human questions, questions about the maintenance of human fabric and the sustenance and dignity of those who fail to compete and produce according to expectation. In our own time and place it is, of course, not yet known whether such an uncaring, massive force can in the end sustain itself when the quality of human community has been completely destroyed by unrestrained acquisitiveness. The situation of our global economy at the end of the twentieth century is not unlike the portrayal of chapter 10. Everything works! There is not “a discouraging word” uttered about the wonder of Solomon; and were such a word uttered, then or now, it would be thought odd and irrelevant.

We do not know how cunning the narrative is. But it remains for the queen in v. 9 to utter a signal that must have been ill received. One can imagine that in all the palaver of trade negotiations with pleasant behavior, cleverness, and many cocktails, when the queen said “justice and righteousness” there came an embarrassed silence into the room. For the phrase immediately poses all the difficult human questions that the ideology of profits means to deny. In that ancient text, the queen’s phrase is a peek over into chapters 11 and 12 where human questions, grounded in Torah requirements, bring a devastating end to the Solomonic enterprise that is said in v. 9 to be forever. So in our time and place, the surfacing of “justice and righteousness” may be an unwelcome peek into tomorrow, for the poetic-prophetic traditions know that the human questions cannot be forever silenced while the forces of greed run wild. Those questions and demands will sound in their savage way. And they will keep sounding until acknowledged. In our time, such issues are almost invisible…but not quite. In our text they are, in the same way, almost invisible…but not quite. The queen says more than she knows. She departed for home to her own land without a second thought about the matter. But the text remembers what she quickly forgot and what the king perhaps never noticed.

[…] As we move beyond chapter 10, it will be clear that attention has not been paid in Jerusalem to the human dimension of the economy. The move into chapters 11-12 is abrupt and unexpected. The “if” of Torah requirement will not go away, even if chapter 10 manages nicely without it…except for the queen’s passing comment.

Walter Brueggemann, 1 & 2 Kings, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2000), 138-40.

Michelle Meredith is a graduate of Mercer University, where she was the editor for literary and arts magazine The Dulcimer. She taught third and fourth grade in Mississippi for two years with Teach for America and became even more obsessed with live music and southern food (don’t even get her started on Delta tamales). She loves comedy, board games, roller derby, and hanging out with her dog. She is happy to be back in Macon, Georgia as the associate editor of Formations.


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