1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14 – The Wisdom of Solomon

Updated: Feb 6

David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David. The time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established.


Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. 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. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” 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. 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. 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. 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?”


It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 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, 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. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.”


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This is an optional Old Testament selection from the Episcopal Lectionary for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B 2018. In the numbering system that lists each Sunday in an ordinal fashion, this Sunday is referred to as Proper 15. If chosen, it will next be read aloud in an Episcopal church by a reader on Sunday August 19, 2018. It is important because it tells of Solomon’s choice of wisdom as the best asset a child can have.


When David slew Goliath, he was not yet twelve years old. He was still a young boy when he led the troops out of Gilbeah and back in, after battle. He might have only been sixteen when Saul put David in command of a thousand soldiers. This youthful age of David did not make his son Solomon his equal in courage, when also just a young boy.


The story of David and Bathsheba took place when David was in the twilight of his life, probably occurring when he was around fifty-eight years of age, or twelve years before the end of his life. That means Solomon was conceived when David was around fifty-nine and born when David was close to sixty. When “David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David,” Solomon was then around ten years old. This means that when “Solomon sat on the throne of his father David,” at a time when David’s “kingdom was firmly established,” Solomon had done nothing to establish Israel. As a child king, Solomon became a “turn-key” ruler, with no threats to the Israelites because of the inexperience of their new king.


In the verses skipped over, one has to be aware that Solomon oversaw the executions of those who took advantage of David in his last years. David’s fourth son, Adoijah, tried to claim the throne, with the aid of Joab (a military general of David’s) and Shimei (who cursed David as disposed by Absalom). Solomon was advised by the priest Zadok and the prophet Nathan in these acts of retribution. Solomon did not shy away from those he would order killed at his young age.


Assuming those executions took a couple of years to administer; Solomon was still “only a little child” when “the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night.” He was probably twelve years of age, before his bar matzah of thirteen. This young age can be overlooked when one reads how Solomon “sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. 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.”


It becomes important to see these sacrifices and burnt offerings to God were because Solomon was following the “statutes of his father David.” This means Solomon did what was required of him, led by wise men of God; but as a young boy he was still learning what was required of a king.


It makes sense to me that Solomon’s youth and his having experienced so much of the adult world so fast, led him to pray for God’s help.  In response, this would have been when God appeared to him in sleep and said, “Ask what I should give you,”


Solomon wanted the wisdom he had come to know in the adult servants to God, Zadok and Nathan. By telling God, “I do not know how to go out or come in,” young Solomon was saying that he was being told where to stand, what to say, and how to act kingly. Because Solomon knew so many people depended on an intelligent leader, he asked God, “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.”

The Hebrew word translated as “mind” is “lêḇ,” which also means “heart.” It can likewise mean the “inner man” or “will.” This word shows the link between the heart and the mind, where emotions of the heart stimulate the thought processes. By asking for an “understanding heart to judge” Israel, Solomon was asking for control of his emotions, so his judgments would not be rashly done.  One can imagine that ordering the executions of his father’s enemies was a learning experience, one which he might have been advised by a priest or prophet not to let fears cloud his judgment.


This element of “heart” is also relative to the statement that says, “Solomon loved the Lord.” The first step towards being filled with the Holy Spirit is to fall in love with God. One needs to sacrifice oneself to be the bride of God, where one’s heart opened for the LORD to enter and sit upon His throne, commanding over the kingdom that is His earthly servant.


David had loved the Lord in this manner and never once questioned if God would lead him astray. David gave up his mind so God could rule his actions from David’s heart. David made all his greatest decisions by saying, “As surely as God lives,” because God lived within David and David’s decisions were made by God. Solomon, however, did not love the Lord in that same way as his father had.


When we read how Solomon was “walking in the statutes of his father David,” David was not said to have been walking in the statutes of Jesse, his father. David was walking in the statutes of the Lord, because David loved the Lord. Solomon loved God because he had been told to love God, not because Solomon knew God as his husband. By following the rituals of David, Solomon was “showing his love of God,” a viable translation of “aheb.”  Solomon acted logically as how he understood “love” to be shown, by following the steps of the leader before him (his father). Therefore, Solomon loved God as an external presence worthy of praise as the God of Israel, but not as the God of Solomon.


When Solomon asked God for understanding of mind, rather than ask God to be his understanding of heart, we read, “It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this.” This  leads one to recall how God told David, “Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you.” (2 Samuel 12:11) Solomon was of David’s household, and was therefore not immune from playing a role in the distress that will befall the House of Israel. Solomon would cause a split in that house, based on how he would run his kingdom. Therefore, the pleasure God took from Solomon’s request is misleading, as the Hebrew word “way·yî·ṭaḇ” (from yatab“) can easily mean God “pleased” Solomon by granting him his request.


God then told Solomon, “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, 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.”

Pay a coin, ask one question, receive the truth … but it might not be what you want to hear.


This might sound good at first, but this falls under the old Chinese proverb that says, “Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.” Because Solomon asked for (in essence) a Big Brain to judge the world with, God (in essences) said, “Since I cannot give you my Christ Mind [because you didn’t ask to marry me], I’ll give you more natural insight than anyone in the world has ever had and will ever have. There will never be a Bigger Brain that the one I will let you have.”


Then, with the wisdom of Solomon as the gift God gave, God added, “If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.” Here the reading ends, but it is worthwhile to note that Solomon would die around age fifty-three, of natural causes, the wealthiest king Israel would ever know, failing to follow in the holy footsteps of his father. For all the wisdom Solomon had, it brought him only material rewards. When Solomon died, so too did Israel as one nation under God.


As an optional Old Testament reading selection for the thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, when one’s personal ministry should be underway – asking not what God can do for one, but what one can do for God – the message here is to put more value in the heart center than the head. The head is where the ego lives. The heart is where one’s love of God resides.


Some people will read this set of verses in 1 Kings and think how wonderful God was to Solomon. The brand of Christianity that has spread across the Western World, in particular in the United States, sees how God blesses his people with riches and honor. It seems that the more bling one has, the more one can proclaim loudly, “Thank you Jesus! Thank you God!”

But, is that really the case?

When one sees the immaturity of young Solomon wanting to be as smart as an adult, rather than learn life’s lessons the hard way – the way the masses are forced to learn – he was asking for an easy way out. Solomon wanted to be his own man, rather than have to rely on advisors to tell him what to do.


Solomon did not once pause to think that God was his wisdom, as all he had to do was ask God, “What do I do, Lord?” God went to Solomon and prompted him to ask for help, saying, “Ask what I should give you.” When Solomon did not ask for God to give him His love, Solomon rejected God as his King, just as the elders of Israel had, when they first asked Samuel for a king, to be like other nations. Solomon, only a little child, wanted to be a king like those of other nations.


Because Solomon rejected God as his lover and husband, God gave Solomon what he did not ask for: wealth and honor. That reputation lasts till this day; but what good did wealth and honor do for Solomon? Wasn’t Israel worse off when Solomon died, than it was when David died?

The same mirage is all around us today. We see wealth as a blessing. We are given honor by credit agencies, banks, and fraternal orders of secrecy. The richer and more powerful one gets, the more praises to God are little more than lip service.


All the wisdom of Solomon would have rejected Jesus, had Solomon asked Jesus to tell how he was assured of eternal life in heaven. Jesus would have told Solomon the same sacrifices that needed to be made he told the young rich Pharisee, and Solomon would have rejected Jesus as did the young rich Pharisee. The only difference might be Solomon offering some smart retort for Jesus (words of wisdom?), but he still would have walked away from any form of self-sacrifice.


A minister to the LORD knows the lures of money and power and has walked away from them. God provides in mysterious ways, as long as one is committed to serving the LORD. One does not need more than enough to feed oneself and one’s family – the same principle of the manna that fell from heaven and God’s orders given through Moses. Being given exceeding wealth and honor means having the problem to figure out how to sell everything and give the profits to the poor … doesn’t it?


That problem is best solved by being poor in material things, but rich in spiritual things. Then giving from the heart and teaching from the Christ Mind is more valuable than all the precious metals and gemstones the world has to offer.


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