Now King Hiram of Tyre sent his servants to Solomon, when he heard that they had anointed him king in place of his father; for Hiram had always been a friend to David. Solomon sent word to Hiram, saying, ‘You know that my father David could not build a house for the name of the Lord his God because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him, until the Lord put them under the soles of his feet. But now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side; there is neither adversary nor misfortune. So I intend to build a house for the name of the Lord my God, as the Lord said to my father David, “Your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, shall build the house for my name.” Therefore command that cedars from the Lebanon be cut for me. My servants will join your servants, and I will give you whatever wages you set for your servants; for you know that there is no one among us who knows how to cut timber like the Sidonians.’
…King Solomon conscripted forced labour out of all Israel; the levy numbered thirty thousand men. He sent them to the Lebanon, ten thousand a month in shifts; they would be a month in the Lebanon and two months at home; Adoniram was in charge of the forced labour. Solomon also had seventy thousand labourers and eighty thousand stonecutters in the hill country, besides Solomon’s three thousand three hundred supervisors who were over the work, having charge of the people who did the work. At the king’s command, they quarried out great, costly stones in order to lay the foundation of the house with dressed stones. So Solomon’s builders and Hiram’s builders and the Gebalites did the stonecutting and prepared the timber and the stone to build the house.
At long-last there was peace and Solomon set about building the temple that his father, David had been unable to think about because of the wars. Hiram, who had been a close friend of David, provided Cedar and Cypress wood. Solomon was most complimentary about the wood-cutting skills of Hiram’s people, and paid handsomely for the work.
I love the historic minutiae: another passage explains how thousands of trees were transported in a sophisticated operation involving log-rafts floating 100 miles by sea, then carried overland a further 50 miles to Jerusalem – a massive undertaking before the building work could begin.
A phenomenal number of people were involved;here’s where I start to struggle with the story.
Did you notice the phrase ‘conscripted forced labour’?
My Study-Bible tells me that the conscripted force would have been mainly ‘aliens with permanent residency in Israel’.
It looks to me, like modern-day slavery.
Even without going into the enormous issues of historic slavery that are being discussed in the denominations; as 21st Century disciples and churches we need to face what is going on here and now.
It’s easy to pretend we’re not involved, but as we prepare for Christmas and think about a baby born in exile and poverty, we should ask; “who made those Christmas jumpers and harvested the vegetables?” Ask about the people who clean our cars and do our nails for this ‘season of goodwill’.
Modern-day slavery is real. It’s on our doorsteps in urban, suburban and rural areas; it’s in our shops, it’s happening to people we know; people who make our lives comfortable.
We cannot be disciples sharing God’s love if we don’t ask questions and act. It’s terribly complicated… but if in doubt… perhaps don’t buy!
Let’s try to ensure that no slave-owners benefit from our happy Christmas.
Lord we know it’s not so simple as not buying goods or services, because slaves may suffer from our not buying, but it is one way we can protest. We have a voice- help us use it. Help us ensure that modern-day slaves are rescued and perpetrators brought to justice. Help us to ask ourselves: do we condone those perpetrators by not acting? Lord, as we pray for the slaves forgive us. Amen
Linda Rayner URC Coordinator for fresh expressions and Elder at Bramhall URC.