1 Kings 4:2–6 (ESV)

2 and these were his high officials: Azariah the son of Zadok was the priest;

1 Kings 4:2–6 provide for us the names and offices of men who held high positions in what we might call the central government. Commentators have wrestled with two aspects of this list. The first is the specific identities of the men who are named. The second regards the exact function of the office that some of them held.

Let us begin with the function of the offices that their officials held. The function of the office of priest is fairly well understood, for it is well set down in the provisions of the Mosaic Law that we find in Exodus through Deuteronomy. Three men are listed as holding this office: Azariah the son of Zadok, Zadok, and Abiathar. In the case of Azariah the Hebrew text includes a definite article before the title of the office, and this has caused a number of commentators to suggest that he held the office of high priest, since there is no article before the titles of Zadok and Abiathar.

Two men, Elihoreph and Ahijah, the sons of Shisha, are listed as scribes. The exact nature of the office is not known. Some commentators regard it as an office having a clerical nature, comparable to a private secretary, while others see the office as comparable to a minister of state.

The same ambiguity exists in regard to Jehoshaphat, whose office the ESV translates as secretary, while many other English versions call his office the recorder. Was this an office that was involved merely in setting down in written form what the king spoke? Others have suggested that this official had an office involved with protocol (proper procedure) as the keeper of the records of the kingdom that laid down how certain matters should be handled.

We are told that Benaiah was placed in command of the army. This information merely confirms what we learned in chapter 3. It is a function that most readers will be able to understand without much difficulty.

The ESV translates the office of Azariah the son of Nathan as being over the deputies. This phrase probably means that he was in charge of regional officers responsible for the provisions for the king’s household month by month, with each official responsible for the provisions for one of the twelve months of the year.

“Zabud the son of Nathan, priest, was the king’s confidant.” How are we to understand this office? Many a Bible translation has the reading the king’s friend. We meet the title of this office in 1 Chronicles 27:33 regarding Hushai the Archite as one of David’s officials, but in that place this office is placed parallel to that of the “counselor to the king.” The manner in which these offices differ is unknown.

A man named Abishar is said to be over the household. Some commentators suggest that he was a very high official comparable to a prime minister. Yet, the same language might be used to describe two other functions. It might be used of a chief servant in charge of the domestic affairs of the palace. It might also be used of a steward in charge of all the possessions that Solomon personally owned.

A final official function was being in charge of forced labour. The forced labour under Solomon consisted of both Israelites and foreigners from the territories under Israel’s control. In the case of the foreigners, we might regard these people as bondservants (slaves), but the situation was different for Israelites. True, the work was compulsory, but it was not continuous. Only a portion of the workers' year was taken up with the king’s labour, while they were allowed to devote themselves to their own affairs at other times. We shall have occasion to examine the arrangement of this labour when we come to 1 Kings 5:13–18.

The question of the specific identities has arisen among commentators regarding Zadok, Abiathar, and Nathan, who is mentioned as the father of Azariah. The casual reader of the text might assume that they are the men by those names that we have met before in the book, and they will probably be correct in that assumption. Nevertheless, these names were fairly common within Israel, and we cannot be certain that that the Zadok of 1 Kings 4:4 is the Zadok of 1 Kings 4:2. Neither can we be certain that Abiathar of 1 Kings 4:4 is the priest who was banished to his hometown, nor can we certify absolutely that Nathan is David’s prophet, who rescued Solomon from probable execution in the first chapter.

The most difficult question is that surrounding the name Abiathar. If he had been exiled and stripped of his priestly function, why (if it is the same man) does he appear in this list of Solomon’s officials?

Some suggest that Solomon restored him to office, either as a result of a change of mind or political necessity. A serious objection to this suggestion exists when we consider that 1 Kings 2:27 states that Aibathar’s expulsion from his office was the fulfilment of the prophecy spoken by Samuel the prophet concerning the house of Eli. Are we to believe that the prophecy was subsequently unfulfilled?

There are two answers to this question. The first and more likely is that this is another Abiathar who is listed. The second possible solution is that Abiathar finds his name on this list because he was, albeit for a short period, a priest during a small part of the time that Solomon ruled. We ought to remember that in 2 Samuel the name of Uriah the Hittite appears on the list of David’s mighty men a good while after the narrative records his murder in battle.

It is not overwhelmingly important to know the specific identities of these officials (or those) mentioned in 1 Kings 4:8–19. The list of their names assures us that they were real persons and that the record of 1 Kings presents us with a real historical account. It also causes us to understand that Solomon’s wisdom (the theme of the last chapter) was found not only in the adjudication of judicial cases but also in the organization of the kingdom.