Copyright © 1997, All rights reserved.
The 666 talents of gold are worth an awful lot, not just in terms of money but in terms of theological meaning–at least worth a lot more than most modern Evangelical commentators would think.
In Revelation 13:18 we are told that the number of the beast is a number “of man,” that is 666. Now, many commentators and preachers are willing to look at this number for symbolic meaning; and to figure it out, they rightly go to the rest of Scripture. Six is one short of seven, which is generally understood to stand for perfection in the Bible. From Genesis 1, the number six is especially pregnant with implications for this passage since, on the sixth day, both man and beast were created. This, in turn, ties into the book of Daniel where four empires are pictured an image of a man in the second chapter but as four beasts in the seventh. Naturally, the beasts of Daniel are especially relevant to Revelation, but there is even more of a correlation since Nebuchadnezzar was turned into a beast at the height of his pride (4:28-33).
All of this is fine but, for reasons that will hopefully become clear, it is not enough. The number in the text is 666, not just six. One can say that it is simply the number repeated thrice (though the text does not literally repeat the number), but the actual number 666 does come up elsewhere in the Old Testament. It is mentioned twice in reference to the same event in Solomon’s life as recorded in 1 Kings 10:14 and 2 Chronicles 9:13. Both authors found it worth noting that Solomon collected 666 talents of gold in revenue one year. The text does not say what year it was or whether or not this was the greatest amount of gold that he ever received in a year. Both texts “just happen” to mention the fact, without giving any explanation as to why it is worth mentioning. Most modern evangelicals would probably say that the verse means that Solomon collected a lot of gold, but the authors didn’t write that Solomon collected “a lot” of gold. Rather they wrote a specific weight.
The structure of these almost identical chapters mentioning the quantity of gold is worth noting. First, the Queen of Sheba visits Solomon and is impressed (1 Kings 10:1-13; 2 Chronicles 9:1-12). Then we are told of the 666 talents, and a description of the rest of his wealth and glory is given (1 Kings 10:14-22; 2 Chronicles 9:13-21). Then his greatness is reiterated, with emphasis on the revenues he collected (1 Kings 10:23-25; 2 Chronicles 9:22-24). Finally, we are told that Solomon collects horses and chariots (1 Kings 10:26-29; 2 Chronicles 9:25-28). In other words, he sins, by doing what a king in Israel is never supposed to do (Deuteronomy 17:16-17). At this point, 2 Chronicles 9 closes with Solomon’s death and the next chapter shows the kingdom ripped apart. In 1 King’s, however, the chapter ends with Solomon’s sins regarding horses and chariots. The next chapter shows him collecting foreign wives (also forbidden in Deuteronomy 17:17) and finally worshipping false gods.
In short, both chapters show us God’s Anointed falling into outright apostasy. It is significant that the kingdom split because Rehoboam refused to lighten the load in taxes and forced labor which his father had put on the people (1 Kings 12:1ff; 2 Chronicles 10:1ff). Solomon’s latter reign was not a happy time. He had become a beast.
And, in telling us of the height of his power and glory, both texts mentioned that Solomon brought in 666 talents of gold one year. Then he slid into sin.
There is no reason to doubt that Revelation 13:18 is building on 1 Kings 10:14 and 2 Chronicles 9:13. Simply the fact that the number is not used anywhere else in Scripture, guarantees that any Biblically literate first-century person reading or hearing John’s epistle from Patmos would immediately turn to those passages. Where else could he go?
But this has radical implications (radical as far as modern evangelical Bible scholarship is concerned anyway). It means that Old Testament readers were supposed to do the same sort of theological work with 1 Kings 10:14 and 2 Chronicles 9:13, that modern evangelical commentators do with Revelation 13:18. They were supposed to consider Genesis 1 and the meaning of the number six. After the book of Daniel was written, they were supposed to link the story of Solomon with Nebuchadnezzar and the four empire-beasts. This was not such a far stretch since the Babylonian emperor Cyrus was declared to be the Lord’s “Anointed” (Isaiah 45:1), that is the Messiah or Christ. Thus, the line of Gentile world rulers inherited the status of Solomon and became beasts when they persecuted Israel, falling from ProtoChrists to AntiChrists. Furthermore, Old Testament readers were supposed to see numerical correlations–such as the fact that Nebuchadnezzar’s graven image is sixty cubits tall and six cubits across (Daniel 3:1).
In any case, all this brief essay is actually saying is “all Scripture is exhaled by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). If God is omniscient and if the Bible is His Word then every detail in it matters a great deal. God could have told us whether or not there was life on other planets, or he could have given us a great many theological formulas so that we wouldn’t have so many theological debates among Bible believers about doctrinal statements. But instead He told us that Solomon collected 666 talents of gold.
The end of the matter is: Throughout all future history God wants every Christian to know that Solomon collected 666 talents of gold, just as he wants us to know that the sons of Shammai were Nadab and Abishur (1 Chronicles 1:28), that the church in Corinth was next to the synagogue (Acts 18:7), and that the Israelites were not to make a baldness between their eyes for the sake of the dead (Deuteronomy 14:1). I have discussed Solomon’s 666 talents of gold and not the other passages because I have little-to-no idea how they can possibly be “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” I had help from the Apostle John regarding Solomon’s gold, but it goes without saying that the other passages are just as meaningful. It would be an insult to the Holy Spirit to claim that, or to act as if He inspired His messengers to write things for us that don’t matter.
Copyright © 1997, All rights reserved.