The Early Years
Although the last years of David's reign were disastrous (affair with Bathsheba and Absalom's rebellion), they cannot erase the positive effects of the vast majority of David's reign. Because of David the Israelites no longer were threatened by their hostile neighbors. Israel experienced unprecedented security because of David's reign. Although Israel will prosper materially like never before during Solomon's reign, Solomon's prosperity was made possible by the security David's reign provided.
With Solomon we encounter one of the more contradictory characters in the OT. Whereas Solomon will bring unlimited prosperity to Israel (silver is so plentiful that it was practically worthless), during the later years of his reign he turns to idolatry. What starts out as a promising career ends in disaster and ultimately leads Israel down the path to idolatry and destruction.
THE ACCOUNT IN 1 KINGS
Consolidating His Power
The first few years of Solomon's reign see him consolidating his power over Israel. Even before David is dead, Adonijah (one of David's sons who was older than Solomon) rose up to declare himself king. This is a time of great jeopardy for Solomon because Joab the commander of the army and Abiathar the high priest join forces with Adonijah. David though who is at death's door rises up and has Solomon crowned king over Israel. The coalition dissolves upon hearing what David has done. Within a short span of time Solomon executes both Adonijah and Joab, and banishes Abiathar to the village of Anathoth located a short distance to the northeast of Jerusalem.
Solomon's Encounter With the Lord (1 Kings 3:3-15)
Now that Solomon has consolidated his power, he heads for Gibeon located approximately 10 miles northeast of Jerusalem. There he offers 1000 burnt offerings. That night while Solomon sleeps, the Lord appears to him in a dream. He informs Solomon: "Ask what you wish me to give you" (3:5).
In light of the situation Solomon finds himself in as king over Israel, Solomon views himself as being no more than a servant, a little child (3:7). In light of this Solomon asks the Lord to give him "an understanding heart to judge Thy people, to discern between good and evil" (3:9).
The Lord is ecstatic over Solomon's request (3:10). Because the Lord is so pleased with Solomon's request, He promises to give Solomon both riches and honor so that there will not be any king like him during all his lifetime (3:13). Moreover, God will give him such wisdom that there will be no man wiser before him or after him (3:12).
Examples of Solomon's Wisdom
In discussing the rest of the first part of Solomon's reign, First Kings lists examples of Solomon's wisdom. Notice that when the OT speaks about wisdom, it is not speaking just about head knowledge. Head knowledge to be sure is important; however, knowledge for knowledge sake is never glorified in the OT. The knowledge that is valuable is that which leads to a transformed life. Practical wisdom is what the OT [and NT] values.
One example of Solomon's practical wisdom is seen in his administrative abilities. First, Solomon engages in a massive re-organizing of the entire nation of Israel into administrative units. Second, Solomon uses his administrative abilities in not only designing and constructing his own palace but also in his designing and constructing the great Temple in Jerusalem. This latter project ranks as Solomon's greatest achievement as king over Israel. The temple in Jerusalem will survive for approximately 400 years until the Babylonians destroy it in 586 B.C.
Probably the 2 greatest stories of Solomon's wisdom though feature first his judgment over 2 prostitutes and his encounter with the Queen of Sheba.
The Fight Over the Baby Boy (3:16-28)
Two prostitutes (harlots) approach Solomon and ask him to decide their case. Both of the prostitutes had a son. During the night though one of the prostitutes rolled over on top of her son and accidentally killed her son. Then while the other prostitute was sleeping, she switched the 2 boys, substituting her dead son for the other lady's live son. When the other prostitute awakes, she is alarmed to see that the 2 boys were switched. Both the ladies approach Solomon claiming that the live son belongs to each of them. They ask Solomon to decide their case (3:16-22).
Solomon's solution to the problem is simple: since both women claim that the boy is theirs, he orders the boy to be cut in half, with one half going to the first lady and the other half going to the second lady (3:23-25). One lady is nonchalant about the whole affair and tells Solomon to do it; the other lady responds in horror, begging Solomon to spare the life of the boy even though it might mean the other lady gets the boy (3:26). Their 2 responses indicate to Solomon the truth. The woman with the nonchalant attitude is definitely NOT the mother of the boy, while the grief-stricken woman definitely IS the boy's mother (3:27). Solomon orders the baby boy to be given to the second woman.
when the people of Israel heard about Solomon's judgment, they were struck with fear. They realized that their king was no ordinary man; rather this incident showed that the Spirit and wisdom of God were definitely upon him. There would be no fooling this king; he would definitely administer justice throughout the land among all the people (3:28).
The Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10:1-10)
Now the Israelites were not the only ancient peoples interested in wisdom. As 1 Kings 4:29-34 demonstrates, wisdom was highly prized among the various cultures in the ancient world. Later wise men from the East called "magi" will actually come in search of the One born king of the Jews. In the present episode the Queen of Sheba travels from the southwest portion of the Arabian peninsula to question Solomon about his wisdom.
While the Queen of Sheba is visiting Solomon, she tests him to see if he is really as wise as his reputation promises. During her interview with Solomon, he hides nothing from the Queen of Sheba, but instead reveals everything to her that is in his heart (10:3).
In addition to his wisdom, Solomon displays for her his massive wealth: the food of his table, the seating of his servants, the attendance of his waiters and their attire, his cupbearers, and the stairway which led from his house to the House of the Lord. The Queen of Sheba is royally impressed with what she sees; she is so impressed that the author of 1 Kings says that there was no more spirit left in her (10:5). In conclusion she says: "I did not believe the reports [about your wisdom], until I came and my eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. You exceed in wisdom and prosperity the report which I heard" (10:7).
Summary (1 Kings 4:29-34)
The author of 1 Kings summararizes the account of Solomon's wisdom. During his lifetime Solomon composed 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs, further evidence of his great wisdom (4:32). Moreover, in comparison to the wisest men of his age Solomon was far wiser, wiser than the wisemen of the east and the wisest of Egypt, wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, Heman, Calcol, Darda, and the sons of Mahol (4:29-31). Although these names are meaningless to us now, at one time these men were considered the wisest men of the age; yet in comparison to them Solomon is even wiser.
THROUGH THE EYES OF THE APOSTLES
Solomon's Splendor (Matt. 6:29)
Solomon was so wealthy that his wealth has almost become proverbial. Solomon was so wealthy that the author of 1 Kings informs us that there was so much silver in the days of Solomon that it was almost worthless (1 Kings ). Yet as glorious as Solomon was, the lilies of the field are even more glorious (Matt. 6:28-29). As glorious as the lilies of the field are, they bloom today and tomorrow are thrown into the furnace (Matt. 6:30). If God clothes so splendidly these lilies which are so temporary, how much more will He clothe you and me? How much more will He care for you and me (Matt. 6:30)?
Wisdom is basically the search for truth, for ultimate meaning in life, not just in my life, but in LIFE itself. From the Christian standpoint ultimate wisdom is knowledge of God, that is, how I come to know God and how should this affect my life.
On the other hand, knowledge for knowledge sake is never appropriate. Look at what Paul says about knowledge for knowledge sake: "Knowledge makes arrogant but love edifies" (1 Cor. 8:1). True biblical wisdom is practical wisdom; this wisdom results in transformed lives.
First, we have to ask ourselves the question, "Can you really come to know God?" After all we are just mere mortal human beings with limited knowledge. Yet when I became a Christian, the Spirit of Jesus came to live in me. Because the Spirit of Jesus lives in my, I have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16).
Now how do I get my knowledge of God? First Cor. 1:30 tells us something very important about Jesus: "But by His [God's] doing, you are in Christ Jesus who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption."
In what sense is Jesus wisdom from God? If you want to know God, you must know Jesus. Colossians 1:15 informs us that that Jesus is the image of God; therefore, if we know God's image [Jesus], then we also know God. (Heb. 1:3 likewise states that Jesus is the exact representation of the Father and therefore, if we know Jesus, then we know the Father, that is, God. See also John 14:9 in which Jesus states that the person who has seen the Son has for all practical purposes seen the Father also.)
As a result, we know exactly what God is like because we have seen Him perfectly in Jesus. As Christians we claim that anything we say about God must be true about Jesus. If it is not true about Jesus, then it is not true about God. Anything we claim about God which is not true about Jesus then is not true about God; this is the essential Christian belief and claim.
Now wisdom and knowledge for knowledge sake does not please God. Knowledge alone puffs up a person, that is, makes him arrogant (1 Cor. 8:1). Wisdom, on the other hand, transforms a person. The person who properly processes knowledge of Jesus is transformed into being sons and daughters of God (John 1:12).
Jesus is the light of the world in the sense that He sheds light on who God is and what God wills for our lives. If we follow Jesus the Light, He is going to affect us: "For a little while longer the Light [Jesus] is among you. Walk while you have the Light so that darkness may not overtake you. He who walks in the darkness does not know where He is going. While you have the Light, believe in the Light, in order that you may become sons of the Light" (John 12:35-36).
Jesus as the Practical Wisdom of God sheds light on every area of my life.
If ultimate reality, God, is good, then living in harmony with Him should lead to the good life. Jesus claimed that He was the GOOD Shepherd and that He came that we might have "life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10).