Solomon the Wise

Icebreaker question: If you could ask God for anything—anything!—and know he would grant it, what would it be?

When we last left off, David had died and Solomon, his son with Bathsheba was made King of Israel. When David became king it was a kingdom in turmoil, one that was coming fresh off a civil war. But David spent his entire time as king making a united Israel, and he succeeded! So when Solomon became king it was the king of an already united and prosperous Israel.

Today we’re going to study Solomon and the success and failure of his time as king. So go get your Bibles and open them up to 1 Kings.

Someone please read 1 Kings 3:1-2.

3 Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt; he took Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her into the city of David, until he had finished building his own house and the house of the Lord and the wall around Jerusalem. 2 The people were sacrificing at the high places, however, because no house had yet been built for the name of the Lord.

This seems like really random two verses to start off the story of Solomon as king, but these verses show how amazing Israel has become, Egypt was the superpower of the ancient world. What does that mean: superpower? Well that word was developed during the Cold War to explain the amount of power that the United States and the Soviet Union had. Basically, the United States and the Soviet Union were the two most influential countries in the world, and their influence stretched into almost every country in the world. That was Egypt back in this time period. A huge united nation whose influence extended to every nation or people group on the Mediterranean.

For the Pharaoh of Egypt to make a marriage alliance with Israel, basically means that Egypt was recognizing Israel—not as an equal but as a somebody. Whereas before Israel was a nobody, not worthy of recognition on the international scale. Now Israel was worthy of making alliances with. So this was basically a sign that Israel was a player—not a powerful player, but a moderate player in this ancient world.

For now someone please read 1 Kings 3:3-9.

3 Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. 4 The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal 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 should give you.” 6 And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, 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 today. 7 And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”

At this point, Solomon is definitely not falling prey to idolatry—that is the worship of other gods—and he loves God and worships him and wants to be a good and godly man like his father David. Solomon goes to a holy place to worship and sacrifice and while he’s there, God appears to him! And then God says that Solomon can ask for whatever he wants, anything, and God will give it to him.

Imagine that! I asked you guys this at the beginning of the class, if you could ask God anything what would you ask for. When faced with a question like this, some people ask for stuff—like money or a house or some item they’ve wanted their whole lives. Some people ask for status, like fame or power. Some people ask for things like happiness and contentment and even faithfulness.

Solomon could ask for anything: the security of Israel, his own personal happiness, health, wealth, anything. And what does he ask for?

An understanding mind that is able to discern between good and evil. In simpler terms, he asks for wisdom.

It can be confusing to understanding what exactly wisdom is. Solomon calls it an understanding mind with the ability to discern between good and evil. From that we can see that wisdom is more than just knowing stuff. It’s the ability to discern.

There’s a saying that you may have heard: “Knowledge is knotting that a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”

That’s what Solomon wants. He wants to make good choices, so he can be a better leader for his people. Frankly, the request for wisdom is an incredibly wise choice.

Someone please read 1 Kings 3:10-14.

10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. 13 I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. 14 If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.”

Solomon’s request for wisdom pleases God, because Solomon could have asked for any selfish thing he wanted—health, wealth, the death of his enemies, and instead he asks for something more esoteric—wisdom—but something that will help him both be a better king and a better follower of God. So God grants it to him.

Solomon’s wisdom is then almost immediately put to the test. Someone please read 1 Kings 3:16-22.

16 Later, two women who were prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. 17 The one woman said, “Please, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house; and I gave birth while she was in the house. 18 Then on the third day after I gave birth, this woman also gave birth. We were together; there was no one else with us in the house, only the two of us were in the house. 19 Then this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him. 20 She got up in the middle of the night and took my son from beside me while your servant slept. She laid him at her breast, and laid her dead son at my breast. 21 When I rose in the morning to nurse my son, I saw that he was dead; but when I looked at him closely in the morning, clearly it was not the son I had borne.” 22 But the other woman said, “No, the living son is mine, and the dead son is yours.” The first said, “No, the dead son is yours, and the living son is mine.” So they argued before the king.

Two women come to the king for judgement. The Bible says they are prostitutes which is important to the situation for two reasons. (1) Their fight is over who should have custody of this baby. Since they are prostitutes, they have no husbands. So the baby is illegitimate and has no father to fight for the custody of the baby. But we’ve also talked about how women were not considered reliable witnesses during this time. So if one of them was a married woman with a husband making a claim against an unmarried woman? The married woman would probably just automatically win because her husband’s testimony would hold greater wait than the testimony of either woman. Which is terrible but the way it was back then. The second reason why this is important is because they were prostitutes working in the same house and gave birth at the same time. There were no hospitals back then. So if these women were part of standard families, they would have just given birth at home. This minimizes your switched at birth scenario, because you would probably be the only one giving birth in your home. Instead they gave birth in their home which also happens to be their place of work, where they both live and work.

So they both give birth on the same night. One woman’s child dies and the other lived. One woman claims her baby lived and the others died, but the other woman got up in the middle of the night and switched the living baby with the dead baby, essentially stealing the living baby.

The other woman says that didn’t happen, and the first woman is just suffering a delusion from her trauma of losing a baby.

This is a hard situation to figure it out. It’s not like they had genetic tests back then. And no one saw what happened. So how does this wise king decide which woman should get to keep this baby? Well let’s see, someone read 1 Kings 3:23-28.

23 Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son that is alive, and your son is dead’; while the other says, ‘Not so! Your son is dead, and my son is the living one.’” 24 So the king said, “Bring me a sword,” and they brought a sword before the king. 25 The king said, “Divide the living boy in two; then give half to the one, and half to the other.” 26 But the woman whose son was alive said to the king—because compassion for her son burned within her—“Please, my lord, give her the living boy; certainly do not kill him!” The other said, “It shall be neither mine nor yours; divide it.” 27 Then the king responded: “Give the first woman the living boy; do not kill him. She is his mother.” 28 All Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered; and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to execute justice.

Basically Solomon is like “This is a she-said she-said situation!” With no extra witnesses there is no way to validate which woman is right. So he goes for a drastic method. He says he will cut the baby in two and give each woman half—basically killing the baby.

But the woman whose son it actually is doesn’t want her baby to die! So she says “No, give the other woman the baby, as long as he lives!” And the other woman is like “meh.” And Solomon says that it is obviously the woman who is willing to give up her son that he may live who is the mother, because she loved him so dearly she would give him up rather than he die. Whereas the other woman was like “whatever, just kill him.” Which seems really awful, but you have to remember this other woman already lost her baby. And she sees the first woman with a baby, a baby she wants, and she’s probably really upset and in a dark place and thinking awful thoughts like “Rather none of us have him than the other woman rub her happiness in my face.”

So Solomon wisely decides that the woman who offered to give up her baby is the true mother, and gives the baby to that woman.

And word of this decision spreads everywhere and people are amazed at the King’s ability to make these sort of really hard decisions.

Someone please read 1 Kings 4:20-28.

20 Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand by the sea; they ate and drank and were happy. 21 Solomon was sovereign over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines, even to the border of Egypt; they brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life.

22 Solomon’s provision for one day was thirty cors of choice flour, and sixty cors of meal, 23 ten fat oxen, and twenty pasture-fed cattle, one hundred sheep, besides deer, gazelles, roebucks, and fatted fowl. 24 For he had dominion over all the region west of the Euphrates from Tiphsah to Gaza, over all the kings west of the Euphrates; and he had peace on all sides. 25 During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel lived in safety, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, all of them under their vines and fig trees. 26 Solomon also had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen. 27 Those officials supplied provisions for King Solomon and for all who came to King Solomon’s table, each one in his month; they let nothing be lacking. 28 They also brought to the required place barley and straw for the horses and swift steeds, each according to his charge.

The whole point of this section is that Israel is doing extremely well under Solomon. Their population is increasing because they have food and are happy and for once aren’t worrying about being attacked by the Philistines or the Egyptians or anyone. This is a first for Israel, it really is. To be this prosperous and to live without fear and to flourish! It’s remarkable.

Someone please read 1 Kings 4:29-34.

29 God gave Solomon very great wisdom, discernment, and breadth of understanding as vast as 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 He was wiser than anyone else, wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, children of Mahol; his fame spread throughout all the surrounding nations. 32 He composed three thousand proverbs, and his songs numbered a thousand and five. 33 He would speak of trees, from the cedar that is in the Lebanon to the hyssop that grows in the wall; he would speak of animals, and birds, and reptiles, and fish. 34 People came from all the nations to hear the wisdom of Solomon; they came from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom.

Solomon’s wisdom surpasses the wisdom of everyone else in the ancient world, and people come from far and wide to hear Solomon’s wisdom. In fact Solomon is so wise that tradition holds that Solomon either wrote or compiled the book of Proverbs, and the book of Ecclesiastes, and the book Song of Solomon. That’s at least three books of the Bible, which is really impressive.

Things are on the up and up for Solomon and Israel.

Now a little bit of a tangent, I’m about to need you guys to flip ahead away from Kings to 2 Chronicles. I want to have a little aside here about Samuel and Kings versus Chronicles.

1 and 2 Chronicles tells the same story as 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. Instead of covering it in four books of the Bible, it’s a little denser and covers it in two. But why? Do we really need a second set of books that describes Saul becoming King and then David and then Solomon and then all the chaos that follows? Why do we have these two different sequences that describe the same sequence of events?

Well, these books of the Bible were not written at the same time. Samuel and Kings were written a lot closer to the actual events that they’re describing. Chronicles was written much later. In fact, while in the Christian ordering of the Bible Chronicles comes right after Kings, the Jewish Bible actually places 1 and 2 Chronicles as the last two books. And I actually prefer the Jewish order. When Christians read the Bible they’re like “ugh, I have to read everything that just happened all over again? Lame.” But that’s not what’s happening here.

We’ve talked about how God promised David that his line would sit on Israel’s throne forever. We’ve talked about how that didn’t happen, at least it didn’t manifest in the way they thought it would. When Samuel and Kings were written, the idea of a son of David getting on the throne of Israel was still a reasonable thing. Israel could still come back and be a nation again with a Davidic King.

When Chronicles was written it was after the exile, a people who had no king anymore. A people who had been exiled and felt like God had left them.

Samuel/Kings and Chronicles are written from vastly different perspectives. And because they have different perspectives they emphasize different things.

It’s amazing how you can change a story’s meaning by emphasizing different things, by leaving some things out and stressing a particular section. You guys may have heard of “bad descriptions of movies.” This is a perfect example.

What movie am I describing? “A girl travels to a strange land, kills the first person she encounters and then gangs up with three strangers to kill her first victim’s sister.”

[Let them answer.]

The Wizard of Oz.

Nothing I said was untrue. Dorothy travels to a strange land, her house lands on the Wicked Witch of the East, killing her, and then she makes friends with the cowardly lion, the scarecrow, and the tin man. And then in the end she kills the Wicked Witch of the West. I described the same sequence of events, but with my word choice I made it more sinister.

For a more historical example, you can take the example of the American Revolution and the Founding fathers. There are a ridiculous amount of books and documentaries about the Founding Fathers, all based on the same facts. But depending on which one you read, you get a very different perspective. In the HBO documentary about John Adams, Alexander Hamilton is viewed as so unimportant he’s only ever shown as writing in the background at Washington’s secretary desk. Other than that he’s never addressed, because from John Adams perspective Hamilton was a pretender and didn’t deserve a single ounce of credit.

From the perspective of the musical Hamilton—and the biography it’s based on—Alexander Hamilton might as well have singlehandedly founded America.

These are the same sequence events. These are the same story. But told from different perspectives and emphasizing different aspects of it.

Chronicles was written for a different audience and a different purpose than Samuel and Kings. Samuel and Kings is talking about recent history to people who remember or know this recent history. Samuel and Kings are trying to explain why God’s people—after generations of ruling themselves and having kings, went into exile. Chronicles is trying to explain that there is still hope, that God hasn’t abandoned them, even though it seems like they will never go back to a Davidic kingdom ever again.

That’s actually why I think ending on Chronicles would be so powerful for Christians, instead of reading them right in order. Because then we are reminded right before we might Jesus of the promise God made David, and then we see immediately how God fulfills that promise through Jesus!

But for whatever reason the people who decided how to order the Bible decided they wanted all the histories right in a row, and putting Chronicles last didn’t fit with that.

But back to Solomon and his super duper impressive wisdom. Someone flip to 2 Chronicles 9:1-9.

9 When the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon, she came to Jerusalem to test him with hard questions, having a very great retinue and camels bearing spices and very much gold and precious stones. When she came to Solomon, she discussed with him all that was on her mind. 2 Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from Solomon that he could not explain to her. 3 When the queen of Sheba had observed the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, 4 the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, and their clothing, his valets, and their clothing, and his burnt offerings[a] that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more spirit left in her.

 So she said to the king, “The report was true that I heard in my own land of your accomplishments and of your wisdom, 6 but I did not believe the[b] reports until I came and my own eyes saw it. Not even half of the greatness of your wisdom had been told to me; you far surpass the report that I had heard. 7 Happy are your people! Happy are these your servants, who continually attend you and hear your wisdom! 8 Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and set you on his throne as king for the Lord your God. Because your God loved Israel and would establish them forever, he has made you king over them, that you may execute justice and righteousness.” 9 Then she gave the king one hundred twenty talents of gold, a very great quantity of spices, and precious stones: there were no spices such as those that the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.

Solomon is so famous for his wisdom that a foreign Queen comes to see him and test him with really hard questions. When she comes, Solomon is able to answer every question she has. And she is crazy impressed. She is so impressed that she gives him expensive gifts of gold, spices, and jewels.

But more than that she credits his wisdom to his God, and is basically like “your God must be amazing for you to be so amazing.”

So Solomon’s amazing wisdom is not just about magnifying himself and Israel, it’s about magnifying God.

Next week we’re going to continue discussing Solomon. We’re going to see how he further magnifies God by building him a temple, but also how Solomon lets his weaknesses get the best of him.