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All the King’s Horses

Did Solomon have forty thousand or four thousand stalls of horses? Comparing 1 Kings 4:26 to 2 Chronicles 9:25.

Although the Bible claims to be the supernatural revelation of God unbelievers claim that it is nothing more than a human production full of errors and contradictions. One example they point to is 1 Kings 4:26 which records that “Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots.” But in the parallel passage of 2 Chronicles 9:25 it says that “Solomon had [only] four thousand stalls for horses and chariots.” While skeptics would have us believe that this is a nail in the coffin of Christianity, just hold your horses, there is a solution! As a matter of fact, there are at least two possible solutions to this conundrum.

One possibility is that Chronicles is referring to the stable at large, while Kings is referring to the number of individual compartments within the stables. In other words, “Solomon had 4,000 stalls or “stables” (2 Chronicles 9:25), each of which apparently had ten partitions, such that the total number of stalls is 40,000 (1 Kings 4:26).”[1]

The other, and more likely possibility is that there is a copyist mistake in one of these passages. And most likely in 1 Kings 4:26 which records the higher figure of 40,000 stalls. There are good reasons why scholars believe that the lower figure of 4,000 as recorded in Chronicles is correct. First, notice that both passages record that Solomon had 12,000 horsemen. Assuming that 12,000 horsemen means 12,000 horses then 40,000 stalls would be far too many. And simple mathematics shows that 4,000 stalls would be room enough because the normal compliment for a chariot was three horses (two primary and one reserve). So, if Solomon had 12,000 horses and 3 horses were assigned to each stall that equals 4,000 stalls (12,000 ÷ 3 = 4,000).[2],[3] Another reason scholars believe that the 40,000 stalls in Kings is a copyist error is because while “most Hebrew manuscripts place this number at 40,000, [there is] a Greek Septuagint manuscript and one Hebrew manuscript [that] say 4,000, which is also the number indicated in 2 Chronicles 9:25.”[4]

“And Solomon had 4,000 stalls for horses and chariots, and 12,000 horsemen, whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem.”

2 Chronicles 9:25

In reality, many of the supposed errors and inconsistences in the Bible that unbelievers point to are really just minor scribal slips like these. Remember, the Bible as we have it now is a copy, of a copy, of a copy, of a copy, etc. of the original. And copying mistakes are inevitable since “It is beyond the capability of anyone to avoid any and every slip of the pen in copying page after page from any book—sacred or secular.”[5] But just as with other books, an error in the copy of it isn’t the same as an error in the original. So these copying mistakes do not undermine the perfection of the original Biblical autographs. But does this call into question the reliability of the Bibles that we hold in our hand today? Not at all. We have thousands of ancient Biblical manuscripts (including the Dead Sea Scrolls) to compare our modern copies to. And they reveal that all the scribal slips are minor (mostly involving numbers and names) and do not alter any Biblical doctrine whatsoever.

As the late Old Testament scholar Gleason Archer explained, when it comes to scribal slips, “numerals and proper names are always more liable to copyist errors than almost any other type of subject matter.”[6] This is due to the nature in which this information was transmitted. For example, in the system developed for recording numerals, “Thousands were indicated by supralinear dots appearing over the digit letter. (Thus an aleph with two dots over it indicated one thousand.) As a manuscript became worn, brittle, or moth-eaten, it would be difficult to tell whether the multiplying dots were over the letter or not.”[7] Thus, it’s very possible that this is what happened to the copyist of 2 Kings. Either that or he misread the Hebrew word for “four” (‘arbaʿ) for “forty” (‘arbāʿîm) which are very similar.[8] Either way, this scribal slip in no way undermines the divine authority of the Scriptures.

And let’s be sure not to miss the point of these passages! It wasn’t just to demonstrate how wealthy Solomon was. The main reason we’re told the number of stables and horses Solomon had is to show that he had violated God’s command in Deuteronomy 17:16 that Israelite kings were not to multiply horses. Indeed, according to Kings and Chronicles Solomon had 12,000 horses and 1,400 chariots (1 Kings 10:26).[9] “By way of comparison, an Assyrian account of the battle of Qarqar in 853 BC (about a century after Solomon) speaks of 1,200 chariots from Damascus, 700 chariots from Hamath, and 2,000 chariots from [Israel’s northern kingdom].”[10] Horses were animals of war so it seems Solomon was trusting in his own might rather than God’s. That was a mistake on Solomon’s part.

Ryan Hembree is a daily co-host, speaker, and writer of Bible Discovery. He also hosts a YouTube channel that shows the unity of the Bible and how science and Scripture fit together. Ryan also has an honorary Masters of Ministry in Creation Science from Phoenix University of Theology.

[1] Jason Lisle, Keeping Faith in an Age of Reason: Refuting Alleged Bible Contradictions, P. 42.
[2] ESV Reformation Study Bible, Note on 1 Kings 4:26.
[3] Later, in 1 Kings 10:26 we are given another figure. It tells us that Solomon had 1,400 chariots. Going with this number we get similar results. 1,400 chariots each with a team of three horses equals 4,200 stalls (1,400 x 3 = 4,200). In the Bible numbers given in thousands are very often round numbers. Thus, either way 4,000 stalls would be all that were required.
[4] ESV Global Study Bible, 1 Kings—Note on 1 Kings 4:26 40,000 stalls of horses.
[5] Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, P.206.
[6] Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, P.222.
[7] Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, P.222.
[8] NKJV New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, Note on 1 Kings 4:26 Forty thousand.
[9] Furthermore, Solomon also broke the commands in 1 Kings 10:27 (the very next verse!): “Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself.”
[10] Zondervan KJV Commentary, Note on 1 Kings 4:26.

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