Solomon could not have built on the scale he did with the resources ordinarily at the command of a free ruler. Accordingly we find that one of the institutions fostered by him was the corvee, or forced labor. No doubt something of the kind always had existed (Josh 9:21) and still exists in all despotic governments. Thus the people of a village will be called on to repair the neighboring roads, especially when the Pasha is making a progress in the neighborhood. But Solomon made the thing permanent and national (1 Ki 5:13-15; 9:15). The immediate purpose of the levy was to supply laborers for work in the Lebanon in connection with his building operations. Thus 30,000 men were raised and drafted, 10,000 at a time, to the Lebanon, where they remained for a month, thus having two months out of every three at home. But even when the immediate cause had ceased, the practice once introduced was kept up and it became one of the chief grievances which levi to the dismemberment of the kingdom (1 Ki 12:18, Adoram = Adoniram; compare 2 Sam 20:24), for hitherto the corvee had been confined to foreign slaves taken in war (1 Ki 9:21). It is said the higher posts were reserved for Israelites, the laborers being foreigners (1 Ki 9:22), that is, the Israelites acted as foremen. Some of the foreign slaves seem to have formed a guild in connection with the Temple which lasted down to the time of the exile (Ezr 2:55-57; Neh 7:57-59).
James Orr, M.A., D.D., The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia : 1915 Edition, ed. James Orr (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1999).
1 Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. 2 And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. 3 But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun. Ecclesiastes 4:1–3 (ESV)