Solomon's Request for Wisdom
1 Kings 3:1-4:34
In 2 Sam. 7:12-17 God promises David that because he has been faithful to Him, He will bless him by giving him a son who one day would rule forever. Although we find this promise fulfilled ultimately in Jesus Christ, we see a limited but direct fulfillment of this promise in Solomon. Although Solomon does not reign eternally upon Davidís throne, he did reign. Although all the attributes of Jesus were perfect, you can find some of these attributes in Solomon. For example, whereas Jesus not only gives peace but is also peace Himself, Solomonís name itself means ďpeaceĒ (Slm = shalom, peace). His reign of 40 years was one marked by peace. Moreover, whereas Jesus Himself gives perfect wisdom and is wisdom incarnate (1 Cor. 1:30), Solomon himself came to be known as the wisest man in the world of his time. Although he was not the ultimate fulfillment of Godís promise to David, to a real degree he embodied the fulfillment of that promise.
INTRODUCTION TO SOLOMONíS REIGN (3:1-3)
The author of 1 Kings begins the account of Solomonís reign with a brief description of the political and religious state of the nation. When the author of 1 Kings writes that Pharaoh gave his daughter in marriage to Solomon, he is indicating that by this time Israel had become a powerful nation. The actual form of the Hebrew in this passage emphasizes this. He does not say that Pharaoh gave his daughter in marriage to Solomon; he writes that Pharaoh became the ďfather-in-lawĒ of Solomon. The 2 major characters here are Solomon and Pharaoh; the woman was nothing more than a mere pawn.
How significant is this piece of information? Previous to this episode we do not hear of Pharaohís giving their daughters in marriage to foreign rulers. Whereas this was standard practice in the ancient world in order to create stability and good will among the sovereigns, Egypt did not engage in this because she didnít need to. In Egyptís eyes Israel had been little more than a collection of 12 tribes loosely confederated. David though had transformed this confederation of tribes into a powerful nation which had to be reckoned with. Whereas previously a nominal Israel had lain right smack on the route between the great trading powers of Egypt and the Far East, now a powerful super power controlled this route. In recognition of this change, Pharaoh does what is politically expedient and forms an alliance with Solomon by giving his daughter in marriage to him.
At this point most writers on 1 Kings deal with the issue of Solomon marrying a foreigner. Some claim that since God did not expressly forbid the marriage of the Israelites to the Egyptians, Solomon did nothing wrong. Some though point to this event as the precedent for Solomon bringing foreign women into his harem. These foreign women later led Solomon into idolatry which eventually led to the destruction of the kingdom. Little can be definitely determined here; however, it is to be noted that Solomon refused to bring her into Davidís palace because the ark of the covenant was located in a tent within its perimeter. He believed that since she was an unbeliever, her presence would desecrate a holy place (2 Chron. 8:11). By this we see that Solomon is compartmentalizing his life.
The second bit of information given to us in this paragraph is that Solomon followed the Lord. The only area in his religious life which was questionable was his tendency to honor the ďhigh places,Ē that is, those spots which the Israelites used to worship and sacrifice to God other than the high place in Jerusalem, the future location of the Temple. These high places were questionable first because they took attention away from Godís chosen place of worship, the Temple. They were also questionable because many times these same places had been the sites for Canaanite worship. Any time one religion comes into contact with another religion, there is the danger of the first religion being contaminated by the second. The author comes to Solomonís defense by saying that at this point the Temple had not been constructed in Jerusalem. This would have been a serious offense if the Temple had been built by now; however, Solomon and the rest of the nation are given a pass until the Temple itself is built. After that no allowance is made for worshipping at these high places.
SOLOMONíS ENCOUNTERS GOD AT GIBEON (3:4-15)
The most important of all high places in Israel outside of Jerusalem at this time was the high place at Gibeon which was located approximately 7 miles northwest of Jerusalem. This was considered the holiest place outside of Jerusalem because it was the site of the tabernacle Moses had constructed during the wilderness wanderings. Although the ark of the covenant itself was within the perimeters of Solomonís palace (housed in a tent there), it did not reside in the original tabernacle. The 2 had been separated ever since Eliís sons had taken the ark into battle and had lost it to the Philistines. After the Israelites recovered the ark from the Philistines, they did not return it to Gibeon. David eventually brought it apart from the tabernacle to Jerusalem.
When Solomon arrives at Gibeon, he offers over a thousand sacrifices to the Lord in gratitude for exalting him to ruler over Israel. That night after the sacrifices have been conducted, the Lord appears to Solomon in a dream. In that dream the Lord informs Solomon that He will grant him whatever request he might ask of Him. In response to this offer, Solomon first speaks of Godís lovingkindness. The word translated ďlovingkindnessĒ (literally hesed) is one of the great words of the OT. It is nearly equivalent to the NT word ďagapeĒ which points the unconditional love of God which we see poured out upon us at Calvary. Solomon does not approach God on the basis of his own righteousness but upon the basis of Godís lovingkindness.
Is such an approach to God manipulative? Does it smell of mock humility? No, it does not. It is an accurate analysis of our relationship with God. The truth is that we have nothing in and of ourselves to offer God. First, because God is all-sufficient, He does not need anything from us (Acts 17:25). Second, when we take the blinders off our eyes, we see that whereas God is righteous, we are unrighteous. The only reason that a holy God has a relationship with us is that He is full of lovingkindness. He loves us in spite of ourselves.
Second, Solomon reminds God of His faithfulness to David as seen in the fact that Davidís son Solomon is sitting upon the throne. God had promised David that not only one of his sons would reign after him but that Solomon himself would be that son (1 Chron. 22:9). Solomonís point is that since God has been faithful to us in the past, God will also be faithful to you and me in the future. Moses used this principle in asking God to spare the Israelites after they had rebelled yet once again. He claimed that God had not brought His people to this point only to abandon them now. Godís past faithfulness guarantees His faithfulness in the future.
Third, Solomon expresses to God how unworthy and incompetent he is to lead Godís people: ďI am but a child.Ē Solomon does not approach God on the basis of his worthiness because when it is all said and done, he is not worthy. Boasting about how wonderful we are when we are before God would be even sillier than boasting about how wonderful we were if Billy Graham came and visited in our home. How little and petty we would seem if we sat and bragged about how wonderful we were with Billy Graham sitting right there. It is truly not about us. It is about God.
Finally, Solomon asks for wisdom from God so that he might be able to lead this people which now numbers like the sand on the seashore [an indication that God has fulfilled His promise to Abraham (Gen. 22:17), some more evidence that God is faithful]. He asks for an understanding and discerning heart from God because otherwise how will any one be able to govern Godís people? The answer to that question is ďNo one.Ē Apart from Godís gift of an understanding and discerning heart, no one would be able to govern this people responsibly.
God is thoroughly impressed with Solomonís request. Lesser men would have asked for riches, power over their enemies, and long life. Not so with Solomon. Solomonís request is unselfish in that he asks for something which will benefit Godís people and not Solomon directly. As a result God promises to benefit even Solomon directly. God now will bestow upon him not only wisdom but also riches and protection from his enemies. God will also give him one more rewardóa long life. This last promise though unlike the first 2 is conditional. Solomon will have a long life only on the condition that he always follow God. This does not mean that Solomon will not sin from time to time; it means that Solomonís heart will truly belong to God. If he does follow God, then God will give him long life. (Unfortunately as the story of Solomon unfolds, we will discover that this is the only promise which God does not fulfill, the reason being that Solomon eventually fell away from the Lord. The fault lay with Solomon and not with God.)
AN ILLUSTRATION OF SOLOMONíS WISDOM (3:16-28)
Right after God promises Solomon wisdom, God demonstrates to Israel that He has given Solomon this wisdom in the case of 2 women who approach Solomon for justice. Two harlots (prostitutes) both have children at approximately the same time. During the night after the babies are born, the first harlot rolls over on top of her baby and accidentally suffocates him. When she discovers what she has done, she swaps her dead baby for the live baby of the other prostitute. When morning dawns, the second prostitute discovers that the babies have been swapped and that the other prostitute is in possession of her baby. She has come to Solomon to ask for her baby to be restored to her. The first prostitute argues that the baby though is hers.
What makes this case so difficult is that no witnesses are involved. No one other than the 2 women witnessed the births; therefore, no one other than the 2 prostitutes could identify the 2 babies. All Solomon has to go on is the word of the 2 women. Since their testimonies conflict and since there are no other witnesses, Solomon has been presented with what is seemingly an impossible case to resolve. (DNA testing was not available at this time.)
Solomon then commands the baby to be brought before him. Then he informs the women that since they both want the baby, the only thing to be done is to split the baby in half and give a half to each woman. He orders the soldier to slice the baby in two. The first woman agrees to this situation, while the second is horrified and tells Solomon that the first woman can have the entire baby. She does not want to see her baby slaughtered. Solomon through the Lordís wisdom had correctly discerned that one woman was lying and wanted the baby only out of envy. Losing her baby was one thing; seeing another woman having a baby was more than she could bear. This had nothing to do with having a baby; it had everything to do with envy. Since envy doesnít care about the babyís welfare, Solomonís decision would reveal this to be the case. The first womanís response betrays her true cause in this matter. When Solomon gives the baby to the second woman, all Israel is amazed at the wisdom God has entrusted to him.
THE BIBLICAL VIEW OF WISDOM
Following this incident the author of 1 Kings gives some more evidence of the wisdom God had entrusted to Solomon. Before looking at this though, letís look at what else the Bible says about Godís wisdom.
First, Godís wisdom is not speculative but practical. Iíve heard some people revere other people because of how smart they are. ďOh, Carey, they are sooooooooo deeeeeeeeeep.Ē I ask them what they base that on, and they respond that these people have insight into the Bible that others simply donít have. For example, these people say that the story of Abraham sending his servant Eliezar to get a bride for his son Isaac is actually the story of the Father sending out His Spirit to get a bride for His Son Jesus. They are considered wise first because they come up with an interpretation which can neither be proved or disproved and second because their wisdom is totally speculative. In other words, I want to ask that person, ďSo what? What does that piece of wisdom have to do with anything?Ē That piece of ďwisdomĒ is not going to change anybodyís life. Godís wisdom always changes lives. When Jesus revealed God to us, He changed us so that now we become something we were not beforeóĒchildren of GodĒ (John 1:12). If ďwisdomĒ is not practical, that is, if it does not work, then it is not biblical wisdom. God is not in the business of making us smarter; He is in the business of giving us a life, an abundant life (John 10:10).
Second, Godís wisdom is available to any and everyone of His people who ask for it. James writes: ďIf any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to each man generously and without reproach, and it will be given to himĒ (James 1:5). Now this is not the same as getting knowledge, such as, calculus. Sometimes some of the most brilliant people in the world donít know how to put on their own sox and shoes. IQís and high grades in school should not be a measure of a person; the wisdom he exercises should be part of the way people should be measured and evaluated.
Third, this wisdom is already potentially within each and every Christian. Why? Because the Christ who lives within us gives us this wisdom. Christ did not come into our lives simply to exist there as a spiritual lump of coal. He came to live His life through us which also involves His thinking His thoughts through us. Paul categorically claims: ďBut we have the mind of ChristĒ (1 Cor. 2:16). It is necessary though that we be willing to apply that wisdom and let it dictate our lives; otherwise, God is not going to be serious in giving it to us (John 7:17).
Fourth, Christ is wisdom itself. Christ is the perfect revelation of God. This revelation always produces the life of God when people respond properly to it. As a result, the life which is produced by this godly wisdom should always be the kind of life that Christ Himself experiences. It is a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). If the wisdom you and I are applying to our lives does not produce this kind of life, then that wisdom is not godly wisdom.
This may seem far-fetched to many of us. Does not the life we live seem logical? Doesnít the life we see in the Bible seem a little fantastical and out of touch with reality? It does seem that way to us because whenever you reject the logic of God, the illogical becomes logical. That is the thrust of Paulís argument in Romans 1:18-26. God has designed the universe to be a type of hierarchy. In that hierarchy God is first, mankind is second, and the rest of creation is third. God has made people lords of the universe, second only to God Himself. Man though does not like being second. He wants to be first; therefore, he substitutes himself for God, allows God to take second place, and places creation on the third rung of the ladder. God though refuses to take second place. He will only take first place. What results for man though is devastating. He not only fails to take first place, he also loses second place. Now the order becomes (1) God, (2) creation, and (3) mankind.
How do we see this operating? In the ancient world whenever people worshipped idols of birds, crawling creatures, etc., they showed that they had fallen to third place in this hierarchy. ďBut we donít worship these idols.Ē No, we donít; however, whatever controls us is our master, our idol. For example, do your possessions control you? Do you absolutely lose it whenever you get a scrape on your car? Are you obsessed with having the most beautiful home? Are clothes an obsession? How about your career? Does your family suffer because of your career? Does your time control you, or do you control your time? The only way to have control over your life (and be in second place over third-place creation) is by allowing God to be in control of your entire life. Anything else results in your trying to take over first place and falling to third place beneath creation itself. God has elevated us to the position of His sons and daughters; let us enjoy all that means for us.
OTHER EVIDENCE OF GODíS WISDOM OPERATING IN SOLOMON (4:1-34)
In chapter 4 the author of 1 Kings lists numerous officials in Solomonís court. In verses 1-6 we see a list of the Whoís Who in Solomonís day and how they functioned in his court. In the second list we see the men responsible for providing for the kingís needs on a daily basis. Solomon using Godís wisdom divided the nation up into 13 administrative districts with 12 of them being responsible to provide for Solomonís needs one month out of the year. The only area not tapped for this function was Judah, Solomonís native tribe. (Apparently Solomon exempted Judah from this burden; we can see how this would lead to a split between Judah and the other tribes which eventually results in a division in the kingdom during the reign of Solomonís son and heir Rehoboam.)