When it comes to taxes, I suppose that I'm like most Americans in that I wouldn't mind paying my fair share if I had any faith in the government to use them appropriately. At least, appropriate to my way of thinking. When I think about the appropriateness of government spending, I'm reminded of a sign we see many times alongside the highway, usually near a construction project. The sign reads: "YOUR FEDERAL TAX DOLLARS AT WORK."
I don't have a problem with either that sign or the highway project because the Lord knows that we need better highways. As to the sign, I would like to see it made mandatory that this notice be placed on everything in which tax dollars are involved. Wouldn't that be an eye-opener? We know that will never happen simply because our wonderful government leaders don't really want the public to know a lot of things their monies are used for. Just exactly what things are being paid for or supported by our taxes.
If you turn on the radio or TV the major news event seems to be the latest information regarding the national debt. I've lost track of how many "trillions" of dollars it currently consists of, just suffice it to say that my great-grandchildren, which haven't come along yet, will be paying it off.
This "cost of government" got me to thinking about what it would have been like to live in another time. Under another government. In my thinking, I settled on an era and a place that we know from our study of the Bible that is easily pictured as being the greatest kingdom on earth. Governed by the "wisest" king ever - Solomon. I mean, a country led by his wisdom must have been an ideal time and place to be a citizen of.
But, you know what? When we look at good old Solomon we almost see a paradox, don't we? It's almost puzzling to see someone whom God had blessed with great wisdom doing some things that just seem, well - dumb. You would have thought that, with all that wisdom, he'd have been a tad smarter in running the government of Israel back then.
In order to be fair though, much like the people of America today, the Israelites have to bear much of the blame for the government of their country. We elect our leaders so who are we to blame for any ineptitude on their part?
Here's where the Israelites have to share the blame for their government. They wanted to be like everyone around them and have a king govern them. They weren't satisfied with just some plain old judge. When we read in the 8th chapter of 1 Samuel, we see where Samuel warns them of what it will be like under the rule of a king. He tells them what it's going to cost them to support a royal government. He even told them that they would "cry out" over the burdens imposed on them by the king. They wouldn't listen. They moaned and bellyached so much that God gave them a king to rule over them. This unwise desire by Israel serves as a great example of the old saying: "Be careful what you ask for; you just might get it."
Of course Saul was the first king, then came David and then the wisest of all, Solomon. If we go to the book of 1 Kings we can find a lot about what it would have been like to live under his rule. When you look at the opulence of Solomon he appears to me to have been a very vain person. Perhaps that's why he later could conclude that "all is vanity." He should know. He seemed to have a passion for opulence and magnificence and I'm here to tell you that O and M don't come cheap.
Like all governments, Solomon's had to be supported. Where do you suppose the funds for the maintenance of Solomon's lifestyle,(er government) came from? If you said "from the people" again you are absolutely correct. Let's look at a few of the costs incurred by his subjects.
In 1 Kgs. 4:22-23 we read what it cost to feed just the royal family and their guests. How about 330 bushels of flour, 660 bushels of meal, 10 fat oxen and 20 regular oxen, 100 sheep, besides other animals and fowls - PER DAY! Plus he had 60 personal bodyguards drawn from the "most valiant men of Israel" that were tasked with guarding his sleeping quarters.
Here's something else about wise old Solomon - he liked to build things. He spent 7 ½ years building the Temple. If you remember, his father David had stored up most of the material for this Temple, but also remember - he was a king too. So where did his funds come from? You guessed it again.
Solomon didn't stop with the Temple though. Since he had married the daughter of Pharaoh, he had to build her a palace. Then he built himself a palace and another great edifice, sort of a governmental house, called the "House of the Cedars of Lebanon." He built a city called Millo which was some sort of fort. Here's the kicker for all of this building by Solomon. 1 Kgs. 9:15 says that all of these construction projects were built with funds "levied" (IE: taxes) on the people.
Oh, he also built many storage cities, apparently to house all of the taxed property received from his subjects. Even though his reign was almost total peace, he built one place that had 4000 stalls for horses, chariots and 12,000 horsemen. Any idea how rough his army had it? They must have lived "high off the hog" as my daddy used to say. 1 Kgs. 4:27 says that they "lacked nothing." Here again, somebody had to foot the bill for all of this.
Beyond just the funds levied, Solomon put a levy on the people themselves. In 1 Kgs. 5 we see where he taxed the citizenry 10,000 men per month to go work in the quarries of Lebanon to cut and carry the stones for the Temple project.
Now if we were living in Solomon's kingdom and had put up with all the levies and taxes he demanded, think what it would have been like if we were there when he died and his dim-witted son, Rehoboam, took over. In 1 Kgs. 12 we see a very telling thing about Solomon's government. Verse 4 says that Solomon had made "their yoke grievous." That Solomon's "yoke" had been a "heavy one." In verse 11 Rehoboam tells the people that, if they thought his father's yoke had been heavy, they hadn't seen anything yet. (Paraphrasing by me)
Well, after considering it, I guess that I'm just as happy to be living now as under Solomon. Our king, excuse me, President, may not have a Temple and several palaces, but he does have an airplane that is estimated to run us peasants about 200 billion dollars a year in costs. And I'm so thankful that he doesn't have 700 wives and 300 concubines that we'd have to house and feed.