Solomon: Unfailing Wisdom

| 1 Kings 3:3-14; 4:29-34

Week of October 22, 2017

The Point:  Christ-centered living chooses wisdom from God, not simply knowledge.

 The Prayer for Wisdom:  1 Kings 3:3-14.

[3] Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father, only he sacrificed and made offerings at the high places. [4] And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place. Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. [5] At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” [6] And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. [7] And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. [8] And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. [9] Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” [10] It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. [11] And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, [12] behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. [13] I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. [14] And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.”  [ESV]

“Solomon’s Wish [3:1-15].  If you could wish for anything in the world, what would it be? To understand Solomon’s wish, we need to know what kind of man he was. Solomon had ascended the throne of his father David – not by his own ambition, but by the sacred anointing of Almighty God [1 Kings 1]. After only a short time in power, it was evident that he had the courage to lead. Solomon had established his kingdom by eliminating his enemies [see 1 Kings 2]. He was politically savvy, a man of action. But what kind of person was he on the inside, in the spiritual life of his soul? The Bible describes him as a man after David’s own heart: Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father [3:3]. This is virtually the highest praise that any person could ever receive. His heart was full of holy affections for the living God. He adored the divine being, responding to God emotionally. He felt a deep spiritual longing in his soul, a passionate yearning for a closer relationship to God. Love is more than a feeling, however, and Solomon expressed his love for God in many tangible ways. He often worshiped God, and when he worshiped, he devoutly offered many costly sacrifices [3:4]. This was a close and personal relationship, for when Solomon made his sacrifices, God appeared to him and spoke with him [3:5]. When Solomon in turn spoke to God, he expressed his affection through prayer [3:6]. It is the heart of a lover to praise the beloved. Here Solomon solemnly honors God for what He has done. The king praises God for His dependable love – specifically, the faithful love He has shown in keeping His covenant. He gratefully rehearses what God has done in the history of his family – his tender mercies to David. Then he joyfully celebrates the promises God has kept by putting him on David’s throne [see 2 Sam. 7:12]. Solomon’s affectionate prayer is a model for our own love life with the living God. Do you love the Lord? Ask the Holy Spirit to stir your heart with holy affections, giving you a longing to be with Jesus. Then show your love in all the practical ways that Solomon showed it. Meet with God often in worship, both publicly and privately. As you worship, make costly personal sacrifices to promote the glory of the God you love. As you worship and give, praise God as much as you can for what He has done for your family. Rehearse the ways that God has blessed you by blessing people in past generations. Then celebrate His steadfast love in your own life, rejoicing in the promises He has made and kept for your salvation. When was the last time you told God how much you love Him for saving you from an eternity of misery?

Warning Signs.  As much as he loved the Lord, there are some ominous warning signs that Solomon’s love was not wholehearted. The traditional view of 1 Kings is that the king was faithful until the last years of his life. On this interpretation, chapters 1 through 10 give an almost entirely positive view of his kingship, while chapter 11 tells how Solomon turned away from the Lord at the very end. If we study his life more carefully, however, we see early signs of his eventual downfall, especially in his love for money, sex, and power. The first warning sign in chapter 3 is Solomon’s choice of a life partner [3:1]. This union was problematic in several ways. Since we have no reason to think that Pharaoh’s daughter had faith in the God of Israel, we can only conclude that Solomon was unequally yoked. This was not an issue of ethnicity, but of spirituality. The Bible fully supports the union of two people from different ethnic backgrounds, but it condemns the marriage of a believer to an unbeliever [see Ex. 34:15-16; Deut. 7:3-4; 2 Cor. 6:14]. It is hardly surprising that marrying outside the faith eventually led Solomon into idolatry [1 Kings 11:1-8], that the very king who once was said to love the Lord later is said to love many foreign women [11:1]. His poor example is a warning for Christians not to pursue a romantic relationship with anyone who is not committed to Christ. Another problem with this marriage was that it formed an unholy alliance with Egypt, of all places. In those days, a royal marriage was intended to secure a political and military alliance. By marrying Pharaoh’s daughter, Solomon was trying to help Israel become a player on the stage of international politics. He was seduced by power as well as by sex. But the Bible takes a dim view of this kind of power play, which was often a temptation for Israel. God wanted His people to trust in Him alone for their salvation, rather than trying to find their security by aligning themselves with foreign powers. By becoming Pharaoh’s son-in-law, Solomon was turning to Egypt, a nation that was the antithesis of everything Israelite. Going back to Egypt may or may not have been a good political decision, but it certainly was a bad decision spiritually; for the Egyptians had always been enemies to the people of God. This too is a warning for us – a warning not to try to advance our position by joining spiritual forces with worldly people who are working against the kingdom of God. There also seems to be a warning sign in the way Solomon worshiped. Verse 1 mentions his great life’s work of building a house for God, the temple in Jerusalem. Yet it also mentions that Solomon built a house for himself, and as we will discover, he spent more time and money on his own house than he did on the house that he built for God [1 Kings 6, 7]. Solomon’s heart was tempted away from devotion to God by the love of money.

Added Temptations.  There were other temptations as well. Verse 2 explains that until Solomon built his temple, the people were sacrificing at the high places, however, because no house had yet been built for the name of the Lord [3:2]. Like his people, Solomon sacrificed and made offerings at the high places. And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place [3:3-4]. Apparently, the king and his people were worshiping in the name of the one true God. Yet the term high place has extremely negative connotations in the Old Testament, especially throughout 1 and 2 Kings, where all its other uses are pejorative [e.g., 2 Kings 14:4; 15:35]. The high places were elevations where people worshiped foreign deities, and before long they became inextricably associated with pagan idolatry. Furthermore, verse 3 seems to present Solomon’s worship at the high places as an exception to his love for the Lord by the use of only in the middle of the verse. The word only is restrictive, indicating that what follows is some sort of exception – in this case, an idolatrous exception to Solomon’s love for the Lord. What shall we make of Solomon’s worship at the high places of Israel? Perhaps at this early stage of Israel’s history, before the temple was built, it was acceptable for people to worship at such places. After all, where else could they worship? Furthermore, as an indication of God’s blessing, when Solomon made his sacrifices at the great high place of Gibeon, he did nave a direct personal encounter there with the living God [13:5]. While it is true that Solomon was a king after David’s heart, a man who loved the Lord, it is also true that he had a wandering heart that loved money, sex, and power. In other words, Solomon was a lot like us. He loved the Lord, as every Christian does. But he also had some other loves in his life – sinful passions that had the power to destroy his spiritual leadership. He did not love the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, and strength [Deut. 6:5]. While there is some truth to the view that Solomon’s life started out more positive spiritually, before ending up more negative, the deeper truth is that like every other believer, he was always as much a sinner as he was a saint. We face the same struggle. Through faith in Jesus Christ, and on the basis of His perfect life and atoning death, we are perfectly righteous in the sight of God. Yet for as long as we live in this sinful world, we will continue to struggle with remaining sin. This means that the warning signs of our own tragic downfall are present right in our own hearts.

Solomon’s Wise Request.  To resist temptation and live by the love of God, we need the spiritual wisdom to choose what is right. Wisdom is precisely what Solomon so famously asked for. The king made his wise request in the context of a dream. He was offering a thousand sacrifices at Gibeon, and as he worshiped, the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you” [3:5]. God did not place any conditions on the king’s request, but simply invited him to ask whatever he wished. This extraordinary and unprecedented invitation was also a serious test, because the way that Solomon responded would reveal the godliness (or ungodliness) of his character. The king begins his prayer for wisdom by reverently proclaiming who God is and what God has done [7-8]. Here is a man who feared the Lord, which for him was the beginning of wisdom. In his prayer, Solomon declares that the Lord is his God, the God with whom he has a personal relationship. He acknowledges that the God of David has put him on Israel’s throne. He remembers that God has chosen his people, and when he says that they are too many to be numbered or counted for multitude [8], Solomon echoes the covenant promise God made to Abraham – that his children would be as countless as the stars in the sky, or the sand in the desert [Gen. 22:16-18]. Solomon’s wise request in verse 9 was firmly based on a proper knowledge of the greatness of God. His prayer shows us how we should always start to pray about anything: by acknowledging that God is God, that He is our God, that He is at work in our lives, and that He has kept His promises of salvation. At the same time, Solomon’s wise request was also based on a proper knowledge of his own limitations. Like Moses before him [see Ex. 4:10], and like Jeremiah afterwards [see Jer. 1:6], Solomon was somewhat doubtful of his own abilities. By calling himself a little child, he means that he is inexperienced and thus dependent on God to give him the help he needs. Solomon was saying that he did not know how to rule like a king. Apart from his youthful inexperience, there were some other reasons why Solomon was reluctant to lead. He knew that the people he was called to lead were God’s chosen people, and that because they were so precious to God, they deserved the best of royal care. He also knew how numerous they were, which meant that ruling them would be a heavy burden. The task seemed almost overwhelming. Solomon could do what God was calling him to do only if God helped him do it. So he prayed for wisdom [9]. Here Solomon was praying with proper humility. He knew how limited he was, but he also knew how unlimited God was, and so he prayed for divine wisdom. The king would use this wisdom to govern the great people of God. The kind of wisdom Solomon specifically had in mind was practical wisdom for government. He did not make this request for his own sake, but for the good of his people and the glory of God. Solomon’s situation was unique: he alone inherited David’s throne, so only he could pray exactly this prayer. But his wise request is still an excellent example for us to follow. With all due reverence, we should begin with the character of God and His saving work. In holy humility, we should acknowledge our own limitations, openly admitting how weak we are in honoring our parents, serving our spouse, raising a child, loving a neighbor, leading a ministry, sharing the gospel, or any other single thing that God calls us to do. In ourselves, we are unequal to any of the tasks God has given us to do, but we can ask Him to give us a discerning mind and an understanding heart. We should not request this for ourselves, primarily, but for the good of God’s people and the sake of His kingdom.

God’s Gracious Gift.  God was pleased to answer Solomon’s prayer and grant his wise request [10-12]. In saying how pleased He was with Solomon, God said that He was just as pleased with what the king didn’t request as with what he did request. In asking for wisdom, Solomon was refusing to ask for any of the things that most people want out of life. God was so pleased with what Solomon asked that He granted his request. This gift went beyond Solomon’s natural intellectual ability, to endow him with the kind of spiritual insight that can come only from God. After giving Solomon this wisdom, God proceeded to give him even more than he asked or imagined [13-14]. Although Solomon did not seek the blessings of wealth and fame, they were given to him all the same. After he awoke from his dream, the king went up to Jerusalem, stood before the ark of the covenant, and presented many offerings to the praise of his God [15].”  [Ryken, pp. 70-83].

Wisdom Beyond Measure:  1 Kings 4:29-34.

[29] And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, [30] so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. [31] For he was wiser than all other men, wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol, and his fame was in all the surrounding nations. [32] He also spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005. [33] He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall. He spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish. [34] And people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom.  [ESV]

“The Peaceable Kingdom [4:29-34].  Chapter four ends by reminding us of Solomon’s outstanding characteristic, the one supreme and God-given gift that distinguished him from all other kings. Consider, therefore, the reputation of the king’s wisdom. The Bible declares this wisdom in multiple ways. It begins by simply asserting that God gave Solomon wisdom [29]. Then Solomon’s wisdom is demonstrated by means of an analogy from nature: God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore [29]. The king’s wisdom was not infinite, of course, because only God is infinitely wise, but Solomon was wise beyond anything that any mere human being could measure. Next the king’s wisdom is demonstrated by comparison with other wise men: Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all other men [30-31]. Solomon’s wisdom is demonstrated as well by the things he wrote and said. The Bible tells us that the king spoke 2,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005 [32]. Many of these wise sayings and lyrical ballads are preserved in the Scriptures. We find the king’s praise songs in Psalms 72 and 127. We read his love songs in the Song of Songs. We learn his proverbs for daily life from the book of Proverbs, most of which was written by the king himself. Solomon’s literary output is impressive, in both quantity and quality. The breadth of the king’s knowledge was equally impressive. Not only was he skilled in the literary arts, but he also had a scientist’s love for the natural world. As Solomon wrote his songs and proverbs, he spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall. He spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish [33]. With a curiosity as wide as the universe, Solomon was interested in everything God made. Not surprisingly, his writings are filled with many analogies based on careful observation of the created world. When he was not making comparisons with eagles in the sky or venomous snakes [see Prov. 23:5,32], the king was inviting his readers to go to the ant [Prov. 6:6] or listen to the voice of the turtledove [Song 2:12]. If we are wise, we will follow his example by finding delight in the world that God has made and learning everything it has to teach us. Gaze at the high constellation in the evening sky,. Watch the osprey dive in the mountain lake to claim its prey. Smell the flower that booms along the path in summertime. Notice the trail of ants crawling from the picnic to the anthill. Do not miss the marvels all around us – the things that God has made, which the Holy Spirit can use to teach us how to live. The king’s wisdom is further demonstrated by the people who came to him for counsel: And people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom [34].”  [Ryken, pp. 108-120].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is Solomon’s request in 3:9? What does he say about God, David, and himself? What may a Christian leader learn from this request? How does God respond? What will God do if you ask Him for wisdom [see James 1:5]? Pray that God will enable you to live a life of dependence upon His wisdom.
  2. Solomon is both a positive and negative example for us in our spiritual lives. List the positive things we can learn from Solomon. List the negative things. How can you guard your heart so that it does not turn away from the priority of loving God above all things?
  3. Verse 3:14 is a test that confronts every believer. Solomon failed that test in several significant ways. What does it mean in your own life to walk in God’s ways and be obedient to His commands? No one does this perfectly, but what separates the sincere believer from the insincere one? Pray that God will enable you to faithfully walk in His ways.

References:

1 Kings, Dale Ralph Davis, Christian Focus.

1, 2 Kings, Paul House, NAC, Broadman & Holman Publishers.

1 Kings, Philip Ryken REC, P & R Publishing.