In many ways, Peter Leithart’s commentary on 1 & 2 Kings is a helpful resource. I’m glad I own it and will keep using it as I work through the Solomon narrative for a sermon series on which I’m working.
However, I’ve run across a few “red flags” that have made me question Leithart’s interpretive methods. Time and again, his interpretation of different parts of these stories struck me as fanciful and far-fetched. Here are a few examples of this over-interpretation from Leithart’s comments on the early Solomon stories.
First, concerning Solomon riding on a mule for his coronation (1 Kings 1:44):
“Mules are mixed-breed animals, and this perhaps points to Solomon’s kingdom including Jews and Gentiles. As mixed-breed animals, further, mules are cherubic, reflecting the composite character of those creatures that draw the chariot of Yahweh (cherubim have four faces: ox, lion, eagle, human; Ezek. 1). Adonijah attempted to capture the high ground by presenting himself as the “son of Yahweh,” traveling in a glory-chariot, but in the end David designates Solomon as son of Yahweh, riding on a cherubic animal just as his divine father does” (p. 32).
My response: the problem here is that the text neither states nor hints that Adonijah or David had these things in mind. Further, I’m very hesitant to jump from a mule to a cherubim without clear textual warrant. It is quite a stretch to view Solomon’s coronation parade as a son of Yahweh riding a cherubic animal.
Next, Leithart comments on David’s speech to Solomon and Solomon’s executions (1 Ki. 2):
“Solomon is a ‘New Joshua,’ who spends the early part of his reign wiping out the ‘Canaanites’ that remain in David’s kingdom, bringing ‘rest’ to the land, and building a sanctuary for Yahweh, recapitulating the sequence of events in Joshua. …Solomon’s execution of Joab is a cleansing sacrifices that saves Solomon from the consequences of Joab’s sins” (p. 36).
My response: The narrator does not commend Solomon for executing the enemies of the throne in 1 Kings 2. In fact, there are clear textual notes that make the reader seriously wonder if Solomon did the right thing in executing these men (i.e. Joab may have been holding the horns of the altar when he was executed, and Shimei was executed even though he didn’t cross the brook Kidron as he promised not to do). It’s not for nothing that some commentators say that Solomon was ruthless and callous in these executions. I simply do not see textual warrant for comparing Solomon to Joshua in this way. It sounds cool, but it’s not very accurate.
Another comment that makes me wary of Leithart’s interpretive method is the section on the court case of the two prostitutes and the living child (1 Ki. 3). This is the famous case where Solomon wisely suggests cutting the child in two in order to determine which woman is the child’s true mother. Here is one thing Leithart says about the story:
“[It] has an eerie resemblance to Passover. The exchange of sons takes place at night, as does Passover (Exod. 12:29), and as at Passover one male child dies while another is delivered. This suggests that the false mother is Egypt, a Pharaoh-like woman who smothers her own child and then seeks to toss Israelite children into the Nile. Endowed with Yahweh’s wisdom, the king comes with a sword to kill, as the angel of Yahweh frees the sons of the Israelites, under threat from Pharaoh. …Through this test, Solomon discerns which woman is the true Israelite, the true daughter of Abraham, who, like Abraham gives up her child in faith to save him.”
My response: This is far too fanciful. There are no hints in the text that the one prostitute had a Pharaoh-complex, nor is there any indication that Solomon is trying to find out which woman is the true Israelite. What is more, we have no idea what kind of faith the one woman had; we only knew that she really loved her child (1 Ki. 3:26). Again, it sounds cool, but it is speculative.
There are many more examples like this in Leithart’s commentary. I wouldn’t call this a redemptive-historical commentary as some have called it – it is sort of redemptive-historical, but not really. I hate to use the term allegorical, but that word did come to mind when I was working through these parts of this commentary. For the record, I’m not saying one should avoid this commentary, but buyer beware of fanciful over-interpretation. It is helpful in some ways, but I don’t highly recommend it. Right now, I like these two commentaries better (which I’ll discuss here some other time): 1 & 2 Kings by I. Provan and 1 Kings by J. T. Walsh.