SOLOMON’S SERVANTS (Heb. ‘avedhê shelōmōh). The descendants of Solomon’s servants are named among those returning from Babylon to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel (Ezra.2.55, Ezra.2.58; Neh.7.57, Neh.7.60; Neh.11.3). In the days of Solomon some were appointed to care for certain temple duties, and the descendants of these servants presumably carried on the same kind of duties. Whether they were Levites or non-Israelites is not known.
. A class of state slaves in Israel instituted by Solomon.
All subordinates of a king might be considered his servants. The feast which Solomon gave for all his “servants” (1 Kings 3:15) certainly included his officials, if not exclusively so. These officials are named in 1 Kings 4:1-19. But the Heb. term עַבְדֵ֣י שְׁלֹמֹ֑ה, tr. “Solomon’s servants,” does not refer generally to all those who served Solomon in any capacity. Rather, it is a technical term referring to a class of state slaves in Israel.
R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel (1965), 88-90, 141, 142; M. Haran, “The Gibeonites, the Nethinim and the Servants of Solomon” in Judah and Jerusalem (1957), 37-45; I. Mendelsohn, Slavery in the Ancient Near East (1949), 92-106; A. F. Rainey, “Compulsory Labour Gangs in Ancient Israel,” IEJ (1970), 191-202.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
See Solomon’s SERVANTS.
What their duties in the house of God may have been is not stated in the records. These must have been more or less menial, the more formal and honorable duties being reserved for "the priests and Levites, the singers, (and) porters" (Ezr 7:24). When the ark was brought to Jerusalem by David and the ceremonial of the sacrificial system was more strictly observed, the services of priests and Levites were greatly increased, and to meet the needs of the new order David appointed the Nethinim (Ezr 8:20; compare 1Ch 9:2). Likewise the much greater increase in such duties on the completion of Solomon’s Temple was the occasion for the dedication of an additional number of these assistants to the Levites.
The number of those who returned with Zerubbabel was not great, together with the Nethinim being only 392. This does not appear to have been sufficient for the needs of the sanctuary, since Ezra, in preparation for his expedition in 458 BC, made special appeal for Nethinim to go with him, of whom 220 responded (Ezr 8:15-20). No doubt at the first their service was considered to be lowly; but by the time of the exile, certainly after it, their position had developed into one of considerable honor and constituted them a privileged class in the nation. While many of the people were required by Nehemiah to live in Jerusalem, they were allowed to dwell in their possessions "in the cities of Judah" (Ne 11:3).
A question of some interest and of difference of opinion is whether Solomon’s Servants were Levites or non-Israelites. The latter view is the more generally held, for the following reasons; (1) After the completion of the Temple and his other great buildings a large body of workmen, whom Solomon had drafted from the non-Israelite population, were without occupation, and might well have been assigned to the menial duties of the Temple (1Ki 9), their name in Septuagint (douloi) properly indicating such a class; (2) Ezekiel excludes non-Israelites from the service of his ideal temple, as though they had been allowed in the preexilic Temple (44:9); (3) they are always clearly distinguished from the Levites in the lists of religious bodies.
But, on the other hand, equally strong arguments favor their Levitical descent:
(1) Levites also are called douloi in 1 Esdras; (2) it is more probable that Ezekiel refers to the abuses of Athaliah, Ahaz and Manasseh than to the institutions of David and Solomon;
(3) Ezra specifically classifies the Nethinim as Levites (8:15-20);
(4) there is not the slightest intimation in the text of 1Ki 9:15-22 that the Gentilebondservants were assigned to temple-service after completion of the great building operations; such an interpretation is wholly inferential, while, on the contrary, it is more probable that such an innovation would have been mentioned in the narrative; and
(5) it is not probable that Ezra and Nehemiah, or Zerubbabel, with their strict views of Israelite privilege (compare Ezr 2:62), would have admitted non-Israelites to sacred functions, the less so in view of Ezekiel’s prohibition. There is more ground, then, for holding that Solomon’s Servants, like the porters and singers, were an order of Levites.