Solomon’s Wisdom


Solomon’s Wisdom

1 Kings 3:1–5:18

Main Idea: The new king, Solomon, attained and used God-given wisdom.

I. Understanding Wisdom

II. The Wisdom of Solomon

A. Early warning signs (3:1-4)

B. Seek wisdom (3:5-15).

C. Use wisdom (3:16–4:20).

D. Spread wisdom (4:21–5:18).

III. Someone Greater than Solomon Is Here.

In the opening chapters of Kings, Solomon’s reign is established. The right king was appointed to the throne, even though some questionable actions were taken. In chapter 3 we see more of Solomon’s leadership, witness positive and negative acts, and we are told the reason for Solomon’s greatness: God gave him wisdom.

Understanding Wisdom

To help us think about the importance of wisdom, let us consider a few questions. What type of person is worth admiring? How do you evaluate someone’s significance? According to the world, for many young ladies (and some older ladies), outer appearance is the determining factor of value and worth. It’s evidenced in films, magazines, songs, and many other contexts. Problems like eating disorders and addictions to plastic surgery arise with this quest for a perfect appearance. I read this week of a young model who was “leaving her career for God,” citing that she didn’t want to use her body to promote sex any longer. She described the sad scene of her modeling world: teenage girls getting into black SUVs late at night, getting home early in the morning, and standing in front of the mirror sobbing because they thought they were “fat.” One girl was so bulimic that she involuntarily threw up everything she ate. For these young ladies everything sadly revolves around one’s figure. I also heard of a pop star who said that her greatest fear when she turns 70 is that she would no longer be “hot.” Being “hot” is the central desire not only for her but also for the many girls who seek to emulate her.

The book of Proverbs, however, gives a different vision of what ladies should desire: “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord will be praised” (Prov 31:30). That lady is worth emulating. A woman should be concerned with fearing the Lord, not being “hot.” Fearing the Lord is the wise life. Proverbs also shows us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov 9:10). The lady worth admiring and emulating pursues wisdom, which means she submits to God, reveres God, and worships God. Proverbs says, “A beautiful woman who rejects good sense is like a gold ring in a pig’s snout” (Prov 11:22). The attractiveness of a beautiful ring is likened to the attractiveness of a lady, but that beauty is nullified if it’s in an undesirable situation—in this case, in obstinate stupidity. Ladies, pursue wisdom.

What about men? The same applies. Adonijah and Absalom illustrate how men may be suitable for magazine covers but aren’t worth following because they lack godly wisdom. Don’t determine your significance and worth by external appearance but by internal submission to God.

Let me ask an additional question: How should a Christian measure spiritual growth? Don’t be deceived by certain Christian subcultures. Being able to name a bunch of preachers doesn’t equal spiritual maturity. Reading numerous articles at The Gospel Coalition (or any other Christian website) doesn’t equal spiritual growth either. Spiritual growth is also more than being emotionally moved in a worship gathering, more than attending lectures, and more than hearing sermons. One can do all of these things and still live in total rebellion. You can have a head full of theology but have a train wreck of a life or marriage. One can cry during a set of songs but be addicted to porn.

One of the concerns for the apostle Paul was for Christ’s church to grow in wisdom (Eph 1:17; Col 1:9). If a person isn’t growing in wisdom, he isn’t growing in maturity.

What then is wisdom? The topic is complex. An entire chapter could be written on it. Let me try to mention six interrelated dimensions of biblical wisdom (though I’m sure more could be listed). First, wisdom has a worship dimension. As mentioned, the fear of the Lord is the starting place for wisdom. If you don’t worship the real God, then you aren’t wise according to Scripture. You can be intelligent, win at Trivial Pursuit, and have more degrees than Fahrenheit, but if you aren’t a worshiper of God, then you aren’t wise.

Second, wisdom has an insight dimension. Wise people have insight into spiritual truth (Prov 4:6-7). They possess an ever-increasing thirst for wisdom (Prov 9:8-9), unlike the fool, the mocker, or the simple one who rejects it and is wise “in his own eyes” (Prov 13:1; 26:16). In the New Testament we read that the Holy Spirit opens up our eyes to give us wisdom and insight so that we may know God better (Eph 1:17-21; 1 Cor 2:14-16).

Third, wisdom has a discernment dimension. The wise person can read a situation and make the right decision, as we will see Solomon do in 1 Kings 3:16-28. Proverbs echoes, “Anyone with a wise heart is called discerning” (Prov 16:21; cf. 17:24). Paul prays that the Philippians would grow in knowledge and all discernment (Phil 1:9).

Fourth, wisdom has a moral dimension (Prov 14:16). Throughout Proverbs, wisdom and purity go together. A wise person has discretion. Proverbs addresses youth because they need discretion (“young man” in 1:4; also “My son”)—for example, they should avoid prostitutes (Prov 5–7). The wise prefer good over evil (1 Kgs 3:9; Prov 3:7-8). In James wisdom involves virtues such as “pure” and “peace-loving” (3:17-18). The wise person is open to correction as well.

Fifth, wisdom has a justice dimension. Proverbs opens by speaking of this: “For receiving wise instruction in righteousness, justice, and integrity” (1:3). After speaking of the God who gives wisdom, Solomon says, “Then you will understand righteousness, justice, and integrity—every good path” (Prov 2:9). Leaders are particularly praised for using wisdom to do justice. In Proverbs 8 wisdom is personified as a lady, and she says, “It is by me that kings reign and rulers enact just law; by me, princes lead, as do nobles and all righteous judges” (Prov 8:15-16; cf. 29:4). At the end of Proverbs, the king’s mother taught him this: “Speak up, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy” (Prov 31:9). We will see an example of this in Solomon’s life in chapter 3.

Finally, wisdom has a skill dimension. The book of Proverbs describes the wise person as the one who is skillful in building. God in wisdom “founded the earth” (Prov 3:19). Lady Wisdom was “a skilled craftsman” (Prov 8:30). Leithart says,

In Scripture, wisdom is more closely associated with the skill of the woodcutter than the ecstasies of the mystic. The Hebrew word for wisdom means “artistic skill” (Ex 28:3; 31:3; 35:31; 1 Kgs 7:14). . . . Proverbs is a book of instruction concerning skillful living, teaching how to construct a life that is attractive, fitting, and beautiful. (Leithart, 1 and 2 Kings, 43)

Solomon’s skill was displayed in a variety of ways, such as in his political actions and in the building of the temple.

How does one acquire wisdom? The “humble” find wisdom (Prov 11:2) by practicing humble acts. As this passage teaches (and others teach, e.g., Jas 1:5), we should earnestly ask our gracious God for wisdom. We should also study Scripture to grow in wisdom (Prov 7:1-5). Paul says the Scriptures are “able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). People go everywhere looking for wisdom—John Tesh, Oprah, Dear Abby, and Dr. Phil to name a few popular sources. Go to Scripture, for God makes “the inexperienced wise” (Ps 19:7). We should also seek biblical community to grow in wisdom. We read in Proverbs, “The one who walks with the wise will become wise, but a companion of fools will suffer harm” (13:20).

We must also point out that wisdom is found ultimately in and through Christ. Wisdom isn’t just a set of ideas. Wisdom is in a person. In Christ are “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3). How can you experience the six dimensions of wisdom just listed? In Christ. In Christ we come into a relationship with God enabling us to worship God with a healthy fear. In Christ we can have insight and discernment as we put on “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). In Christ we see what a wise, godly life looks like; and in Christ we have power to live it out. In Christ we can judge righteously. In Christ we see what a skilled craftsman looks like, as He created the world we live in and is now building the kingdom of God. To walk away from Christ is to walk away from wisdom.

The Wisdom of Solomon

Early Warning Signs (3:1-4)

Solomon’s life contains both positive and negative examples. Some people paint Solomon in a positive light until chapter 11; however, the early chapters of Kings also reveal some negatives. These four early warning signs become greater and greater sins for Solomon later. While he “loved the Lord” in 1 Kings 3:3, Solomon was a man with a divided heart. What were these early warning signs?

Solomon chose the wrong woman. This was not wise! He “made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt by marrying Pharaoh’s daughter” and he “brought her to live in the city of David” (v. 1). This verse emphasizes marital relationship (Olley, Message of Kings, 59). She probably wasn’t a believer. Therefore, Solomon was unequally yoked with an unbeliever.

The Bible supports the marriage between couples of different races but not of different faiths (2 Cor 6:14). God explicitly forbade the marrying of a foreigner in Deuteronomy 7:3-4 because of the danger of apostasy. Thus, Solomon is already breaking David’s charge in 1 Kings 2:1-4 to keep the law of Moses. His love for foreign women eventually led him down an awful path of idolatry (1 Kgs 11:1-2). Let him stand as a warning to those who are in a relationship with someone who isn’t a Christ follower. Solomon lacked wisdom because he didn’t have a proper reverence for God and His word.

Solomon formed an alliance with Egypt—of all places! Egypt has negative connotations throughout the Old Testament (though a future hope for the Egyptians’ salvation was promised in Isa 19:19-25 and Ezek 29:13-16). He probably intended to secure peace between the nations with this royal marriage. In those days this type of union was common. The problem is that God wanted His people to trust in Him alone, and the Egyptians had been enemies of God. In Deuteronomy God predicted that Israel would have a king, and He gave them specific instructions, like following His law, not taking too many wives, and not returning to Egypt to form close relations with them (Deut 17:14-20).

Here’s an important application: don’t conform to the patterns of the world, even though some actions make sense to the world. Solomon was living out the values of his culture, but he was violating God’s word. A prevalent example of this today is cohabitation. When people talk about cohabitation, they have many reasons couples should live together. They say things like, “You should test drive the car before you buy it.” “It’s economical.” “You need to see if you’re compatible.” The problem is it’s not God’s plan for marriage. Repeatedly we come back to this fundamental issue: Under whose authority are you living? What are you allowing to shape you? Culture? Feelings? Or Scripture? The writer of Proverbs says, “The one who trusts in himself is a fool, but one who walks in wisdom will be safe” (Prov 28:26). Don’t trust in your own mind or the minds of others, but look to God’s Word for wisdom, and you will experience freedom and fulfillment.

Solomon worshiped at the high places. High places have a negative connotation, as the rest of Kings demonstrates. They were elevated places where people worshiped false gods. Why is Solomon worshiping there? At least three views exist. One view claims that since the temple had not been built, it was acceptable to worship at the high places (2 Chr 1:3 doesn’t mention “high places” and says that “the Tent of Meeting was at Gibeon,” viewing this in a positive light). Perhaps Solomon was just expressing that David’s God was his God. Another option is that Solomon was being disobedient in worshiping there (Deut 12:2-4). If so, that God appeared to him is a result of divine grace not Solomon’s obedience (Ryken, 1 Kings, 75). The third view is that Solomon was delayed in building the temple because his heart was distracted with other things, such as his foreign wife (Provan, 1 and 2 Kings, 45). Verse 15 says after Solomon meets with God at the high places, then he goes to Jerusalem to worship. This was either because he was wrong to go to Gibeon and in wisdom changed places or because it was previously permissible to be at Gibeon, but now he will be building the temple in Jerusalem. Regardless of your position, Provan says the “potential for disaster is clear enough, and 11:33 will tell us of a people who eventually follow Solomon into sin” (ibid., 45).

Solomon’s love was fragile. We must admit that he was a lot like us. He loved the Lord, but he also had false loves. We face the same struggle. In the words of Luther, Christians are at the same time righteous and sinners (simul iustus et peccator).

Solomon’s conflicted heart highlights God’s grace in his life and in our lives. It also highlights the need for us to kill sin before it kills us. Paul said, “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its desires” (Rom 6:12). Don’t allow these false loves to remain, but put them to death so that your devotion to Yahweh may be wholehearted.

Turning to some positive examples, let us apply three principles related to wisdom: seek wisdom, use wisdom, and spread wisdom.

Seek Wisdom (3:5-15)

Despite Solomon’s foolish decisions, the following verses show a positive example. In 1 Kings 3:5-15 five times the word “ask” is used, and five times the word “give” is used. God invites us to ask for wisdom, and God loves to give it. First Kings 2 mentioned Solomon’s wisdom (2:6,9). Some argue that he was behaving like every other ancient Near Eastern king; he needed God’s gift of wisdom to lead differently.

Solomon’s request (vv. 5-9). In his request for wisdom, we can learn at least three important lessons. To start, Solomon roots his request in the gospel. He says,

You have shown great and faithful love to your servant, my father David. . . . You have continued this great and faithful love for him by giving him a son to sit on his throne, as it is today. (v. 6)

At first glance you may just think that Solomon is talking about his dad—and he is. But this mention of David is rooted in God’s covenant promise to have a son of David sit on the throne. While Kings shows us the nation in decline, it also shows us the faithfulness of God.

If Solomon can marvel at God’s faithfulness to appoint him as king, how much more should we marvel at God’s faithfulness to set forth Christ as King? The New Testament mentions Jesus’ identity as the Son of David mentioned several times. The opening of Matthew reads, “The historical record of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt 1:1). When Mary is told about the upcoming birth of Christ, Gabriel said to her,

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end. (Luke 1:32-33)

When Paul writes to the Romans, he says that Jesus was “a descendant of David according to the flesh” (Rom 1:3). “The lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has been victorious,” the elder in Revelation 5:5 says.

One reason for a lack of prayer is a feeling of unworthiness. But our prayers, like Solomon’s, are founded on the gospel. We can approach God because God is kind and merciful, and He keeps His promises. He is the God who saves sinners through Jesus Christ, our King. If you think, “I can’t pray and ask for anything. I’m not good enough.” You are right! But Christ is! Meditate on the grace and faithfulness of God as you pray.

Next, Solomon demonstrates humble dependence. He says, “I am just a youth with no experience in leadership” (v. 7). This doesn’t refer to his age (for he was old enough to father a child) or to complete ignorance (he acted competently in the previous chapter), but to his childlike dependence. Here, Solomon shows us what childlike, dependent prayer looks like. He confesses that the job is over his head because he is king over “a people too numerous to be numbered or counted” (v. 8). I can imagine my eight-year-old child’s response if I said, “Go play in the NFL.” He would feel a bit inadequate! Solomon is admitting the same kind of inadequacy.

Here we find another reason for prayerlessness. We arrogantly believe in our own self-sufficiency. A self-righteous person doesn’t ask God for help. The desperate child goes to God and asks. Perhaps you say, “Yeah, if God came to me and said, ‘Ask Me,’ then I would.” He has said this to you! Jesus said, “Keep asking and it will be given” (Matt 7:7). He illustrated this by saying that if a son asked his father for bread, he would not give him a stone (Matt 7:9). He continued, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matt 7:11). My son just last week asked me to go eat pizza. I didn’t say, “Hey let’s just eat some candles and a Nerf football.” I care for my children, and I want to feed them. How much more with our perfect Father! Go to God with a humble, childlike dependence.

James says that you do not have because you do not ask, and when you do ask, you desire to feed your flesh (Jas 4:2-3). Solomon, however, asks for the right gift: wisdom. He prays, “So give Your servant an obedient heart to judge Your people and to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” (3:9). His understanding of wisdom includes a fear of the Lord (he acknowledges who God is and what He has done), just governance, discernment of good and evil, and by implication the skill to lead well.

You might think, “Yeah, that’s Solomon. He needs wisdom. He’s a king. But not me.” You are right in that he needed wisdom, but you are wrong in thinking you don’t need it. Whatever you do in this life in the name of Jesus is important. Greater responsibility and honor will come for those in the next life who have been faithful with the small things in this life (Luke 16:10). The janitor who uses God’s gifts of skill and wisdom to scrub toilets orderly, on time, and to the glory of Christ may find himself honored by Christ with a greater and more glorious realm of responsibility than the famous megachurch pastor who did his work for the praise of people (Russell Moore, “Personal and Cosmic Eschatology,” 915). Don’t underestimate small things. Jesus said those who welcome the marginalized will be rewarded at the resurrection of the just (Luke 14:14). Hosting others requires skill and wisdom.

Seek wisdom. It is more valuable than jewels (Prov 8:11). God grants it because He is abundantly generous and gracious.

God’s response (vv. 10-15). The writer says, “Now it pleased the Lord that Solomon had requested this” (v. 10). God wasn’t bothered by Solomon’s request. God delights in the prayers of His people, especially prayers that aren’t self-centered but instead are about serving God’s people. Don’t expect God to answer prayers like, “Please help me break into this house” or “Please help me escape from the police” or “Please help me get into this strip club.” God is pleased to answer prayers that serve His mission.

We also see God’s prerogative to give Solomon more than he requested. God promises also to give him riches and honor that surpass other kings, and if Solomon is faithful, He promises to lengthen his days. We shouldn’t read this like a trick—“If I ask for wisdom, will God give me a new Escalade?” We should read it as a simple example of Matthew 6:33—“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you” (an interesting feature of this passage is the mention in 6:28-32 of Solomon’s attire and how God clothes the flowers more magnificently). The best gift Solomon received was wisdom.

Solomon awakes from the dream. He goes to worship in Jerusalem, the future place of the temple. He offers sacrifices. Why? He has learned the right place to worship, but there is more. It seems that with this gift of wisdom comes an understanding of the need for mercy.

This sacrifice foreshadowed the ultimate sacrifice offered by Jesus. The easiest way to turn away from wisdom is to turn away from seeing your need for Christ. When you arrogantly fail to recognize your sinfulness and need for forgiveness, then you are turning away from wisdom. The person who goes through the day not realizing the need for the Savior isn’t wise.

Use Wisdom (3:16–4:20)

After teaching us to seek wisdom, Solomon demonstrates two ways we should use wisdom. He uses wisdom to bless the powerless, and he uses wisdom to lead faithfully and skillfully.

Use wisdom for the powerless (vv. 16-28). Many became prostitutes in those days out of economic desperation or by voluntary slavery. They could have been desperate widows who were trying to stay alive, or they could have chosen this lifestyle over other alternatives (though this option seems unlikely). We don’t know.

The story is pretty straightforward, but we’re left without a lot of details. Did they intend to get pregnant? What was their plan for the babies? Did they plan to help each other with the children while the other was “working”? We don’t know. In our day would they have preferred an abortion? We can only speculate. One thing is for certain: they weren’t the most respected members of their society. Yet the king uses his wisdom and cares for them, even though some probably would not give them the time of day.

In the first half of the story, the king listens; in the second part the king speaks. What he says is shocking, and it’s genius.

One woman presents her case (vv. 17-21); then the other simply denies the claim (v. 22; cf. Prov 18:17). There are no independent witnesses so this is a difficult case—she said, she said. Solomon responds by calling for the “sword” (v. 24). He will use it to administer justice. His unexpected words are these: “Cut the living boy in two and give half to one and half to the other” (v. 25). Since there is no proof, one might reject the plaintiff’s case. But Solomon understands the relationship between a mother and a child, so he appeals to that motherly instinct to find the truth. He uses discernment to administer justice. The rightful mother says, “Give her the living baby, but please don’t have him killed.” The lying woman says viciously, “Cut him in two” (v. 26). Solomon relies on God’s wisdom to give the baby to the right mother, the one who helped to save her child by her compassion. As a result, Israel was “in awe of the king because they saw that God’s wisdom was in him to carry out justice” (v. 28). The king is living out the values of his God who is “executing justice for the exploited” (Ps 146:7). The psalmist said, “The mighty King loves justice. You have established fairness; You have administered justice and righteousness in Jacob” (Ps 99:4).

We have much to learn here about caring for the powerless. Solomon sees beyond her being a prostitute to her being a mother (Olley, Message of Kings, 28). He values her as we should value everyone created in God’s image. Don’t dismiss individuals who are in dark situations, for we were in a dark situation as well. Perhaps you are caring for individuals who are marginalized. That is wonderful! Value those who aren’t valued, giving evidence that you are a kingdom citizen.

We also should remember that we need wisdom to care for the various groups of the powerless. We need discernment to care for rescued victims of trafficking on an organizational level, governmental level, church level, and personal level. We need wisdom on how to do transitional assistance for those who come out of foster care and orphanages. Couples adopting need wisdom to pursue the fatherless carefully and justly, as a lot of recent concern has developed related to the integrity of international adoptions. We need benevolent wisdom on how to bless the single mom and the lonely widow, the homeless and the prostitute.

Further, we need to pray for leaders who work on behalf of those in need. Paul tells us to pray for “kings and all those who are in authority” (1 Tim 2:2). Currently, many political leaders defend the need to protect kids in schools, tightening up security, but allow for the unborn (the most powerless in society) to go unprotected. We are called to be a voice for the voiceless and to pray for God to change leaders’ hearts (Prov 21:1).

After Solomon dies, many kings fail to administer justice and defend the needy. However, the Old Testament has a sustained word of hope that the Messiah will ultimately come. Jeremiah spoke God’s word: “I will raise up a Righteous Branch of David. He will reign wisely as king and administer justice and righteousness in the land” (Jer 23:5). Jesus Christ is the ultimate wise King that was promised. His wisdom was displayed in His ability to discern a person’s heart (like the woman at the well). His mercy, justice, and wisdom were put on full display at the cross (1 Cor 1:24). He will eventually return to this broken world and establish His everlasting rule, in which there will be no more evil. We stand in awe of that King today, and we long for His appearing.

One way to see the connection of Solomon’s reign and Jesus’ superior reign is by considering Solomon’s prayer in Psalm 72:1-17:

God, give Your justice to the king

and Your righteousness to the king’s son.

He will judge Your people with righteousness

and Your afflicted ones with justice.

May the mountains bring prosperity to the people

and the hills, righteousness.

May he vindicate the afflicted among the people,

help the poor, and crush the oppressor.

May he continue while the sun endures

and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.

May he be like rain that falls on the cut grass,

like spring showers that water the earth.

May the righteous flourish in his days

and prosperity abound until the moon is no more.

May he rule from sea to sea

and from the Euphrates to the ends of the earth.

May desert tribes kneel before him

and his enemies lick the dust.

May the kings of Tarshish

and the coasts and islands bring tribute,

the kings of Sheba and Seba offer gifts.

Let all kings bow down to him,

all nations serve him.

For he will rescue the poor who cry out

and the afflicted who have no helper.

He will have pity on the poor and helpless

and save the lives of the poor.

He will redeem them from oppression and violence,

for their lives are precious in his sight.

May he live long!

May gold from Sheba be given to him.

May prayer be offered for him continually,

and may he be blessed all day long.

May there be plenty of grain in the land;

may it wave on the tops of the mountains.

May its crops be like Lebanon.

May people flourish in the cities

like the grass of the field.

May his name endure forever;

as long as the sun shines, may his fame increase.

May all nations be blessed by him

and call him blessed.

Here, Solomon is praying for himself, as the royal son in need of wisdom. He prayed for help to rule justly and defend those in need (vv. 1-4), as demonstrated in the case of this compassionate mother. (Mercy and justice go together—mercy for the victim and justice for the perpetrator.) The prayer also involves a cry for justice in the future kingdom (vv. 5ff) and the messianic rule. Jesus came announcing his arrival, saying that part of His purpose was to “set free the oppressed” (Luke 4:18). In His ministry Jesus demonstrated mercy and justice by ministering to those in need. At the cross Jesus’ mercy and justice were put on full display. There, Jesus died for those who had broken God’s law—satisfying the justice of God by taking their penalty and demonstrating the love of God by saving sinners. We are part of His kingdom. We await with anticipation the “not yet” part of the kingdom. Then we will know everlasting peace.

Use wisdom to lead others faithfully and skillfully (4:1-20). The writer says that Solomon “was king over all Israel” (v. 1 ESV). At the end of the unit, he says, “Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand by the sea; they were eating, drinking, and rejoicing” (v. 20). Moses longed for this land, Joshua conquered enemies for it, David subdued it, and now Solomon and the people are enjoying it. God kept His promises. You too should enjoy the promises of God in celebration and thankfulness.

In between verses 1 and 20, we see evidence of Solomon’s structure, organization, and diplomacy that led to such happiness. Religious, political, and economic leaders are mentioned here. The first four are possibly the inner cabinet (vv. 1-3; Olley, Message of Kings, 69). Next we read of a second level of leaders (vv. 4-6). The term “forced labor” in verse 6 doesn’t refer to men with whips barking threats to slaves. It probably refers to putting one’s self into the service of another family due to economic pressures. Then we read that Israel was divided into 12 administrative districts for taxation purposes (vv. 7-19; Olley, Message of Kings, 70). In verse 20 we read of the great growth of Israel (cf. Gen 22:17). The growth demanded wisdom in organization (for more, see Provan, 1 and 2 Kings, 54–56).

Business leaders need wisdom to organize a growing business to go from “good to great, to built to last,” in the words of Jim Collins (Good to Great, 188). Families need wisdom to organize their lives for effecting childhood development. Children need wisdom to prioritize their lives and complete their tasks. College students and graduate students need wisdom to give proper attention to family, work, studies, and the church.

Church leaders need wisdom as the church grows. In Acts 6 a need arises to care for widows. At that point the church had grown tremendously, and the apostles could not manage this legitimate need. So they appoint some leaders and allocate responsibilities for effective shepherding.

The goal of organization in a church is for disciple making, community building, and mission. Organization alone will not change anyone’s life. The purpose is to facilitate growth in the best possible way. It’s possible to spend all of one’s time in structure and forget that ministry is about people (this point is made well in Marshall and Payne’s excellent book The Trellis and the Vine). This need for sufficient structure to provide effective contexts for personal and discipling relationships demands wisdom. Thankfully, we aren’t left on our own, for God gives wisdom to those who ask, and God gives the spiritual gift of administration to some in the church (1 Cor 12:28).

The happiness in the kingdom at this point in the Kings narrative points ahead to another kingdom. We await the King’s arrival when we will sit down with our Messiah-King at the end-times banquet.

Spread Wisdom (4:21–5:18)

Next we read of the wisdom and glory of the king spreading among the nations. Solomon’s rule extended “over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines and as far as the border of Egypt” (4:21). This large area, which is further explained in verse 24, corresponds to the promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:18. Verse 21 also says these nations “offered tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life.” As a result of the massive amount of food and resources coming into Israel, all of Israel was blessed (“in safety . . . under his own vine and his own fig tree,” 4:25). Solomon’s reign initially brought prosperity and peace. This scene reminds us of Micah’s description of the kingdom in the “last days” (Mic 4:1-5), in which the nations come into Zion and everyone sits without fear under their own vines and fig trees. It also sends our minds forward to a messianic feast described by Jesus (Matt 8:11). The nations are invited into the kingdom of God. It’s our job as ambassadors of the kingdom to extend that invitation.

In verses 26-28 we detect some problems, however. Solomon is violating another command. In Deuteronomy 17:16 the king is forbidden to go to Egypt or to make the people return to Egypt to “acquire many horses.” In 1 Kings 10:26-29 we see him breaking this command again, right before we read of his apostasy in 11:1. Provan says, “It is a bomb that will tick away quietly, along with all the others in 1 Kings 1–11, until the combined explosion occurs in 11–12” (1 and 2 Kings, 59).

Despite this negative note Solomon’s wisdom continues to attract attention. He surpasses everyone in wisdom, even those known for wisdom (vv. 29-32; cf. Matt 2:1-12). He was famous in all the surrounding nations (4:31). Solomon’s gift of wisdom was displayed by his speaking of proverbs and his singing of songs (v. 32; e.g., Song 1:1).

In 1 Kings 5 Solomon takes advantage of his friendly relationship with the next-door king, Hiram of Tyre, to obtain help in building the temple. This is made possible by a time of peace (God put all David’s enemies “under his feet”; v. 3; cf. Ps 110:1; 1 Chr 22:7-10; 28:2-3). Hiram was previously involved in David’s building project by supplying wood, carpenters, and stonemasons (2 Sam 5:11; Hiram also built impressive worship centers; House, 1, 2 Kings, 122). The Sidonians were experts in building techniques (v. 6).

Solomon asks Hiram for skilled men and materials, especially the cedars, and promises to pay Hiram’s servants. Hiram negotiates, saying that his men should deal with cutting and transporting the wood (in contrast to Solomon’s desire for cooperation; v. 6). Then Hiram tells him that he should pay his royal household. Solomon receives trees; Hiram receives food. Goods are leaving Israel for another king. This seems like a peaceful arrangement.

In verses 13-18, however, it seems that Solomon ignores Hiram’s counterproposal in verse 9. Instead of Hiram’s men cutting and transporting the wood, Solomon sends a task force of 30,000 men to Lebanon to serve for three-month periods, making an annual total of 120,000 men! The rotation includes working one month in Lebanon and two months in Jerusalem. Another massive group (150,000 men) works in the hills cutting the stone for the foundation. Some rightly question Solomon’s use of “forced labor” here. Many details are omitted (for a more positive take on “forced labor,” see Provan, 1 and 2 Kings, 65, and Davis, 1 Kings, 56–57). The men of Gebal (north of Tyre) also assisted them.

Solomon negotiates with Hiram but also ignores him. Solomon’s rule over the nations mentioned in 4:21 applies here, for Solomon is dominant over the king of Tyre. While his integrity is questioned at various points, Solomon’s wisdom to build such a place is truly impressive.

Solomon’s wisdom and glory are spreading in numerous ways. His proverbs, songs, building project, diplomacy, economic success, organizational skills, and leading national prosperity all attract worldwide attention.

Someone Greater than Solomon Is Here

We have the sacred calling to make the wisdom and glory of our King known among the nations. Our King and His kingdom deserve all that we can give.

In Matthew 12 Jesus, referring to Himself, says that “something greater than the temple is here” (12:6); “something greater than [the prophet] Jonah is here” (12:41); and, regarding the wisdom of Solomon, “something greater than Solomon is here” (12:42). Jesus elevated Himself above the three greatest institutions of Israel—prophet, priest, and king.

Jesus is superior to Solomon. He never drifted into idolatry or made foolish decisions that led Him into sin. He was the sinless King. He always did that which pleased the Father, being the ultimate example of the proverb, “A wise son brings joy to his father” (Prov 10:1).

Jesus also had superior wisdom. In Isaiah the Messiah has the “spirit of wisdom” resting on Him. In Nazareth they marveled at Jesus’ wisdom (Mark 6:2). The same word for “parables” is the word for “proverbs.” Jesus spoke with infinite wisdom in these parables. Not only did He astonish people with His teaching, but His work on the cross has also “become our wisdom”; it is “folly to some,” but to us who believe, it is “the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18-25,30).

Jesus’ temple is greater than Solomon’s since He is our temple! He is the place we go to for worship (Mark 14:58).

Jesus’ kingdom is more glorious. It’s better organized, as the Spirit of God works to create order, not chaos (demonstrated at Pentecost, a reversal of Babel). He creates in us the fruit of the Spirit that leads to harmonious relationships. Jesus’ kingdom is bigger than Solomon’s kingdom, with people from all nations coming into it all the time. This was the promise given to Abraham. It was partially seen in Solomon’s reign, but in Christ it is coming entirely true. Jesus’ kingdom consists of greater happiness and peace, for we know His kingdom cannot be shaken (Heb 12:28).

As the King’s people, we spread the wisdom and glory of our King by proclaiming the gospel and doing deeds of mercy and justice. We are called to spread His glory among the nations (Ps 96:3).

The biblical vision of Christ’s kingdom is awe inspiring. It will extend from shore to shore until it finally covers the earth with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea (Hab 2:14). We want to see the nations swept up in this glory. Phil Ryken says it well: “Our desire is for the Lord Jesus Christ to receive as much honor as possible, from as many people as possible, in as many places as possible, for he alone deserves all the glory” (1 Kings, 107).

The wisest act one can do is repent of sin and put faith in King Jesus. Pay true homage to Him. Say, “You are my King. I am Your servant. I will submit to Your will. I will listen to Your wisdom in Your Word.”

If you have received Christ as your Savior-King, then seek our gracious God for wisdom. Seek wisdom to help you lead your family, make wise decisions in your vocation, serve others in the church, and spread the King’s wisdom and glory among the nations.

Reflect and Discuss

  1. Why might Solomon have made a marriage alliance with Egypt?
  2. What are some ways believers today compromise their faith with worldliness?
  3. Is it significant that God continues to bless Solomon even though he is an imperfect king? Why?
  4. Why is wisdom so valuable?
  5. Describe how you have personally seen the benefits of godly wisdom.
  6. People of all nations came to Solomon for wisdom. How might believers today be a beacon of wisdom to the world?
  7. Why did Israel enjoy such prosperity during this time?
  8. For what purposes does God bless His people?
  9. How can we see wisdom in the life of Jesus?
  10. Was Solomon ever foolish? How so?