Chapter 5

The Story of Solomon's Wisdom

From a distance, it would be easy to idealize Solomon. The Bible tells us about his enormous wealth and influence. His building projects are a tribute to his vision. His down-to-earth proverbs reflect his wisdom. But Solomon had a difficult and troubled life that can tell us a lot about God and ourselves.

His compromised beginning. Solomon’s kingship was in an atmosphere of cultural and religious compromise. In an effort to encourage good relations with Israel’s southern neighbor, he married the daughter of the Pharaoh (1 kings 3:1). In addition, Israel was worshiping at high places used by the people of the land (3:2-3). Yet Solomon had a place in his heart for the Lord, and God was patient with him. In our broken world, God can work with our desire to honor Him—even when we don’t understand how messed up we are.

His sleep to success. One of Solomon’s most famous decisions happened while he slept. He was given an opportunity the rest of us dream of. When the Lord appeared to him and offered to give him the desires of his heart, Solomon asked for understanding and discernment. God promised to give him not only that but wealth and honor as well. Some have overlooked the fact that Solomon made his request in his sleep (3:15). God can work with us in ways that say far more about His goodness than our own.

His unimpressive showcase. God could have showcased Solomon’s wisdom by leading him to match wits with world-class minds. Instead, Solomon’s first act of recorded wisdom was to settle a conflict between two prostitutes. Both had recently given birth. But one of them had lost her baby through an accident and was now claiming to be the mother of the living newborn. The women appealed to Solomon to settle their dispute. With God-given insight, Solomon was able to give the rightful mother her baby (3:16-28). God has a heart for the kind of people many would dismiss as unworthy.

His double-vision. Solomon showed us how to look for the two sides of human nature. By the alarming but effective method of threatening to “divide the baby” between the two women, Solomon found two responses. One woman was willing to see the baby dead rather than in the arms of the other. The second showed she would rather give the child away than to see it die. By surfacing the best and worst sides of human nature, Solomon brought justice and mercy to a messy conflict. Wisdom looks for the difference between lingering evidence of our creation in the likeness of God and emerging expressions of our rebellion against Him.

His sad ending. Unfortunately, Solomon’s wisdom did not keep him from foolish choices. Solomon broke the laws set down for kings of Israel. (deuteronomy 17:14-20). He used his position to serve himself at the expense of the citizens. In outrageously self-indulgent ways, he multiplied personal wealth, wives, and sexual partners. But it didn’t end there. Solomon even built altars to the pagan gods of his wives (1 kings 11:1-8). Wisdom can help only if we obey God and use the insight He gives us.

His lessons about failure. The reality of Solomon’s life may be his most important contribution to us. Through Solomon’s foolishness we see that all the wisdom in the world does not change human nature. We all live below God’s standards, and if we’re honest, even below our own expectations. Who among us does not wish to be more loving, more self-controlled, and more focused on what is really important? As followers of Christ, we long to show more of Him in us.

That’s why it’s so important to think about what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote that Jesus became the wisdom of God for us (1 corinthians 1:30).

Jesus did what Solomon could not. Although Solomon could recognize and collect wisdom, Jesus personified wisdom in everything He did.

Solomon suffered for his own wrongs, but Jesus suffered, and died, for our sins—and then offered us His own relationship with God.

In the process, Jesus became the means by which we can use knowledge to come to Him, and—in Him—to find safety, significance, and satisfaction.