Walter Brueggemann explains in The Prophetic Imagination some of the ways that King Solomon’s reign returned the Israelites to the oppressive culture they’d once experienced under the Egyptians.
The top three tools are the “economics of affluence,” the “politics of oppression,” and the “establishment of a controlled, static religion.” According to Brueggemann, Solomon’s regime used these three cultural elements together to consolidate’s the king’s power, marginalize outsiders, and coopt the people’s labor.
I think Brueggemann overstates his case about divine freedom (unpredictability) in the era of Moses, but his description of Solomon’s controlling and centralizing legacy seems accurate.
Never before have I linked Solomon to a society where some have plenty and others are slaves, ordinary people are conscripted and excessively taxed, and the king literally controls the nation’s temple and can, without irony, tell his deity, “Look, God, I built your house.”
In the state’s religion, which Brueggemann calls a static religion because it is both “of the state” and closed to deep change or creativity, God is effectively under house arrest.
Now God is totally and unquestionably accessible to the king and those to whom the king grants access… God is now ‘on call,’ and access to him is controlled by the royal court. Such an arrangement clearly serves two interlocking functions. On the one hand, it assures ready sanction to every notion of the king because there can be no transcendent resistance or protest. On the other hand, it gives the king a monopoly so that no marginal person may approach this God except on the king’s terms.”
Except on the king’s terms sticks in my gullet because it’s exactly that capricious when it plays out on the ground, and the people affected most by caveats like that are often the people with least social power.
An oppressive society depends on rules and structures just like Solomon’s regime did: constantly consolidating the authority to choose which voices are heard and which are ignored. These are the rules that marginalized people not only have to navigate but have to imagine their way around.
It’s almost designed to be exhausting… and so it is.