In the preceding article Phil King and Larry Stager explain that the Hebrew term ‘ebed, literally “servant,” can designate anything from a slave or household servant to a high royal official, a servant of the king. The same is true in English of terms like “secretary,” which can mean anything from someone who assists with correspondence and files to a member of the President’s cabinet—such as the secretary of state.
Just as “cabinet secretary” does not designate a particular high government official, however, so it was in ancient Israel with “servant of the king,” which indicated membership in an elite group and not a specific office.1 This is shown by the use of the plural (“servants of the king”) in the Bible to designate the ranking members of the royal court. For example, after the prophet Nathan anoints David’s son Solomon as king, Solomon takes the throne and ‘abdê hammelek, “the servants of the king,” come to give David their blessing (1 Kings 1:47). While the literal translation is “servants of the king,” the New Jewish Publication Society translation renders the phrase “courtiers;” the New English Bible calls them “the officers of the household;” and the New Jerusalem Bible has “king’s officers.” All of these translations reflect the fact that the singular “servant of the king” is not a title of a particular office, but indicates membership in the king’s inner circle.