“Incline your Heart to Wisdom”

After having solidified his position as king (1:38-40) in spite of Adonijah’s attempt to usurp Solomon’s ascension to the throne (1:5-10), Solomon dealt with those who had been disloyal to David during his last days. Adonijah was executed for his brazen attempt to have Abishag the Shunamite, David’s comforting presence in his last days, as his wife (2:17, 24, 25). This in itself probably was another attempt to put himself in line to be king. Abiathar the priest who had supported the attempt at the throne on the part of Adonijah was exiled to his estate and demoted from the priesthood (2:26, 27). Joab, whose actions has vexed David for years, was executed as he clung to the horns of the altar (2:32-37). Shemei, who cursed David, violated the terms under which he could live and was struck down (2:46). This final piece of retribution happened about three years into the reign of Solomon.

I. An unsteady beginning (verses 1-4).

A. Solomon married according to the wisdom of the world. Solomon married an Egyptian for an alliance with Egypt (1) establishing a practice that eventually compromised both his and his nation’s devotion to the Lord (11:1-8). Solomon violated the words of the Lord in Exodus 23:31-33 forbidding an alliance that would lead to the toleration of other gods. Also, this practice led to a multiplication of wives, a thing strictly forbidden in the law of God (Deuteronomy 17:17). God’s forbidding the people’s return to Egypt certainly included wives as well as horses (Deuteronomy 17:16). First Kings 11:1 indicates that the marriage to the Pharaoh’s daughter was not of a different nature from his marriage with the Moabites, Ammonites, etc. We learn also that Solomon had received horses from Egypt, opposed to the principle commanded in Deuteronomy 17:16).

B. Solomon sacrificed according to unwarranted tradition. Solomon, though he loved the Lord (3), sacrificed on the high place at Gibeon, the place established by David (1 Chron 16:39 but then superseded by the place of the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite [1 Chron 21:28 – 22:1. The people were sacrificing on “high places” although not warranted in the law of God, forbidden implicitly by Leviticus 17:3-9 and Deut 12:2-7. The “tabernacle of meeting” was at Gibeon (2 Chronicles 1:3), but the ark had been placed in Jerusalem. Solomon, selecting the highest of the places and offering thousands of sacrifices, established a precedent for worship by alternative means. After Solomon’s reign and the kingdom divided, the northern kingdom selected high places on which to offer sacrifices to avoid coming to Jerusalem (1 Kings 13:33).

C. Matthew Henry commented: “Abraham built his altars on mountains (Gen. 12:8; 22:2) and worshiped in a grove, Gen 21:33. Thence the custom was derived, and was proper, till the divine law confined them to one place, Deut 12:5, 6. David kept to the ark, and did not care for the high places, but Solomon, though in other things he walked in the statutes of his father, in this came short of him. He showed therefore, a great zeal for sacrificing but to obey would have been better. This was an irregularity.”

II. Solomon made a fitting request based on his knowledge of the most pressing need (5-9). Appearing to Solomon in a dream, God asked Solomon to make a request.

A. Solomon recognized the grace and goodness of God to his father, David (6; cf. 1 Chronicles 28:4-10 for David’s testimony to this).

    1. Solomon recognized that David’s greatness was the product of God’s lovingkindness. In 1 Chronicles David recalled how Judah had been selected as ruler and how he had been selected above all his brothers—“He was pleased to make me king over all Israel.”
    2. In spite of David’s faults, even the illicit manner in which David had come to be wed to Solomon’s own mother and the havoc in Israel wrought by the census (2 Samuel 24), Solomon could say, “He walked before you in truth and righteousness and uprightness of heart” (6). The present culture that seeks the destruction of the names and memories of those who have failures in their lives is not consistent with the Bible’s testimony about God’s operations of grace even in flawed people. The perverseness of this present tendency is magnified when we seek to cancel any memory of those who do not flatter our sense of superior virtue and self-righteousness. David, despite his obvious errors, was a man of God’s choice and after God’s own heart, the sweet singer of Israel.
    3. Now that same sovereign choice of God has brought Solomon to the position of king (6. 7a). “You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day.” David said, “He has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel” (1 Chronicles 28:5).

B. Solomon recognized his inadequacy, his smallness, youth, and dependence. (7). Solomon, as a son of Bathsheba, born well into the reign of David in Jerusalem could possibly be around 20 years old at this time. He had seen some of the complexities of reigning, had been aware of the judgment brought on Israel for David’s census, saw his father collect massive amounts of materiel for the construction of the temple (1 Chronicles 22:9-19), was the central focus of Adonijah’s attempt to usurp his place as king, and had seen the tensions involved in informing David of the plot (1 Kings 1:11-37). He did not think about the potential power that would be his or the access to riches but of the difficulties of ruling well. He knew that he needed help outside of his own strength and wisdom. As lovingkindness had brought him to the throne, so must lovingkindness nurture him in his responsibilities.

C. Solomon recognized the importance and difficulty of governing God’s chosen people (8). Twelve tribes constituted the nation of Israel, each tribe had its traits according to the blessing given by Jacob (Genesis 49). After Solomon’s time the nation would split from Solomon’s son, Rehoboam. Also, Solomon was deeply aware, and would himself succumb to, the pressures of lifestyle and negotiation with the surrounding pagan nations. This was a constant temptation during his decades as king. His awareness of the difficulty of ruling in this context was high; his execution initially was amazingly successful; the opulence of his court and the fervor for alliances with him eventually drew away his heart.

D. Solomon asked for understanding to govern justly. He knew that justice must prevail in Israel according to the law of Moses. That he made this request in the midst of a dream shows the grace of God in moving his heart in that direction even while in a state of subconsciousness. This request so permeated Solomon’s deep thoughts that even in a dream he looked to God’s law and God’s help in the task before him.

III.  God showed his pleasure at Solomon’s request and did “exceedingly abundantly above” his request (10-14).

A. Because the request was discerning and humble, related to truth and goodness, God answered the request with exuberance (11, 12).

    1. Neither Absalom nor Adonijah showed any hesitance to arrogate to themselves the right to govern. This trait of self-knowledge that embraces awareness of weakness, limited capacities, and need for gracious aid is a more acceptable sacrifice than that of one-thousand burnt offerings (Hebrews 13:9, 15; Romans 12:1, 2). Though actions may not be meritorious in the sense of establishing perfection of righteousness that merits eternal life, some actions and attitudes manifest a spirit consistent with God’s own grace toward us that it is well-pleasing to him (Philippians 4:18-20).
    2. Solomon had asked wisely, showing that God already was operating graciously in his mind. He did not ask for material wealth which if not used wisely will only corrupt one’s soul and invite a more covetous spirit. He did not ask for the life of his enemies in order to establish personal safety and territorial dominance, a request that could have revealed a vengeful spirit. His request was for the good of the people over whom he ruled and who were Gods’ people who should be blessed with a practical outworking of the wisdom and righteousness embedded in the law (Psalm 119:17-24).
    3. God promised him a “wise and discerning heart” and that his grasp of issues would transcend that of any mortal before him or after him. Jesus himself recognized the wisdom of Solomon (after all he was the giver of this wisdom-Matthew 12:42; Luke 11:31). He used it as an analogy for the greatest of human wisdom as inferior to the divine wisdom of the incarnation (Matthew 12:42; 1 Corinthians 1:20-25). Jesus, another son of David would alone soar above Solomon in wisdom. He also would transcend Solomon in absolute and sinless dependence on and conformity to the will of God.

B. God also added those material blessings that Solomon did not ask for (13). When God gives that which is most highly valued, he may easily give those things of less value. The riches of Solomon and the beauty of his court were beyond imagination (1 Kings 10:7-10). And yet the complex beauty of a flower involves greater skill and power that that manifest in the blessing of Solomon with worldly wealth and material glory (Matthew 6:29).

C. God promised longevity for Solomon’s faithfulness (14). This constancy of devotion did not occur so the length of days did not occur. Solomon reigned for around forty years but began his reign probably in his early to mid-twenties. He died before seventy for he did not walk as his father David had walked. The promise for wisdom to judge the people was absolute and the blessing of wealth was also, but the proposal of long life was conditional and Solomon fell short of the conditions.

IV. Solomon honored the Lord and showed kindness to his servants (15).

A. He made offerings in the right place of the right kind. He went to the ark of the covenant and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, not extravagantly but obediently. He is humbled by God’s goodness to him and makes sure that he consummates this experience of blessing with an act of pure worship

B. He honored the Lord by being generous to his servants even as God had been generous to him. When the Queen of Sheba came, she said, “How blessed are your men, how blessed are these your servants who stand before you continually and hear your wisdom” (10:8).

C. The grace of God toward us moves the heart toward generosity when we perceive the infinite cost of such grace as manifest in the gospel. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor that you through his poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9)

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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