1 Kings 4:26 (ESV)

26 Solomon also had 40,000 stalls of horses for his chariots, and 12,000 horsemen.

This is a verse that raises questions for those who believe in the consistency of Scripture. The questions arise because Deuteronomy 17:16 forbids the king who would eventually arise from acquiring many horses for himself, but this verse suggests that Solomon did acquire many horses and horsemen, while the favour of the Lord was still upon him. Is there a solution for this apparent contradiction?

Some commentators suggest that the simple solution is that this is simply a case of Solomon breaking the Law of God, When we study the lives of the Kings of Israel and Judah, we see that there was not one that perfectly obeyed the Law, and Solomon was by no means an exception.

Such a view, however, appears to ignore the fact that chapter 4 is built upon the foundation of the previous chapter (1 Kings 3:11–14). Chapter 4 expands upon the Lord's promise to Solomon. There is no marker in the text that tells us that verse 26 is to be seen as out of accord with the general structure of the two chapters, except if we consider the apparent contradiction between this verse and Deuteronomy 17:16 as a sufficient marker in itself. But is the contradiction real?

When we look at the Hebrew of Deuteronomy 17:16, we find that the verb translated acquire is found in a form that is causative in nature, so that the following translation would serve to bring out the true meaning: He shall not cause to acquire to himself many horses. This grammar leads us to the conclusion that the Law forbids the future king from initiating the acquisition of many horses. Is there a difference if he receives them as a gift from the Lord?

The very next verse, Deuteronomy 17:17, uses the same verbal form to speak of the acquisition of wives and silver and gold. Yet, silver and gold are riches, and the promise of God in chapter 3 contains the Lord’s intention to give Solomon riches. Does God have the right to give to the king what he is forbidden to seek to acquire for himself?

There is another piece we need to add to this puzzle. Notably absent in chapter 4 is any mention of Solomon’s many wives. We may conclude, therefore, that God had no intention of giving in regard to wives what the Law prohibited Solomon from acquiring on his own initiative. Regarding the matter of the possession of many wives and the fact that many of them were foreign women, Solomon stands convicted by God’s Law.

In contrast to this, chapter 4, which reveals the manner in which God fulfilled His promise in 1 Kings 3:13–14, does mention Solomon’s riches and the stalls for his horses.

It ought to be mentioned that the number 40,000 is uncertain, since one manuscript gives the number as 4,000, but this remains a large number of horses.