Introduction: This chapter is famous for Solomon’s God-given wisdom in resolving a dispute between two women who claimed to be the mother of a child. Through this incident and the events that precede it, God reveals seven lessons about how His wisdom differs from the world's.
First, Solomon followed the world’s wisdom by marrying foreign princesses to build alliances. Although his actions might have seemed wise by the world’s standards, his actions would later lead to his idolatry. Through his mistake, God reveals that His wisdom does not come through human traditions. Second, Solomon initially tried to worship God using pagan altars. His actions were sincere but misguided. And they did not please God. From Solomon’s mistake, God reveals that His wisdom comes through obedience to His Word and His will. Third, after later worshiping God in a proper manner and leading the nation to repentance, God offered Solomon anything he wanted. In humility, Solomon only asked for the wisdom to be king. God would grant this request. From Solomon’s example, God’s wisdom is freely given when you pray in humility for His guidance. Fourth, God gave Solomon wealth and power, things he did not ask for, because he did not pray with the wrong motives. From this incident, God reveals that His wisdom brings everything else you need when you seek Him with the right motives. Fifth, God tested Solomon with a dispute between two women that no one else could resolve. From this incident, God reveals that He will test you through trials to perfect His wisdom in your life. Sixth, Solomon used a woman’s love for her child to determine the true mother. From this, God reveals that His wisdom is based upon His love. Finally, because of his obedience in using God’s wisdom for good, God blessed Solomon with honor and respect. From Solomon’s example, God reveals that His wisdom brings respect and honor when you use it for His glory.
Solomon marries a pagan Egyptian princess to consolidate his power. After eliminating his potential rivals within Israel, Solomon married pagan princesses from other countries, including Egypt: “1 Then Solomon formed a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt, and took Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her to the city of David until he had finished building his own house and the house of the Lord and the wall around Jerusalem.” (1 Kgs. 3:1). Many believe that Solomon formed an alliance with Pharaoh Siamun in Egypt. Solomon’s marriage to his daughter cemented an alliance and allowed Solomon to protect the southern border from Egyptian attacks. Both countries would also benefit from increased trade. Although Solomon would ultimately take 700 wives (1 Kgs. 7:8; 9:16; 11:1), this wife is mentioned first because she was the most politically significant. By marrying the daughter of a foreign king to build an alliance, Solomon followed the traditions of the world. Because the Bible does not record the name of the princess, the marriage was meant to be viewed as a marriage between God’s chosen people and their former oppressors in Egypt. This also was neither the first nor the last of Solomon’s foreign wives. “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women,” (1 Kgs. 11:1). Many believe that Solomon’s first wife came from a different foreign alliance. Solomon reigned for 40 years (1 Kgs. 11:42). His son Rehoboam came to the throne at age 41. Rehoboam’s mother was Naamah. She was an Ammonite by birth. Thus, Solomon used marriages with foreign pagan nations to bolster his power.
Solomon violated God’s laws against pagan spouses and multiple spouses. God wanted His people to remain holy and separate from the nations around them (Lev. 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7). To keep His people holy and to keep them from turning their hearts away from Him, God prohibited His people from marrying a pagan spouse: “Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you.” (Dt. 7:3-4). Solomon violated this law multiple times. Even if the Egyptian were not a pagan, Solomon violated God’s separate law against a king having more than one wife: “17 He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; . . ..” (Dt. 17:17(a)). Any person who marries becomes one flesh with the other person (Matt. 19:5-6). That law he violated 999 times. He further violated God’s purpose of marriage by joining himself together with 1,000 people (Matt. 19:4-6; 1 Tim. 3:2). To become king, he would have also made a public vow to uphold the Torah. By breaking his vow before God, Solomon also profaned His holy name (Lev. 19:12). Thus, his actions also violated the Third Commandment (Ex. 20:7; Dt. 5:11). Furthermore, the penalty for profaning God’s holy name was death (Lev. 24:16). For these reasons, even if Solomon felt wise to follow worldly traditions by marrying foreign wives, his actions were utter foolishness and deplorable in God’s eyes. “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Prov. 14:12).
Solomon’s foreign wives later turned his heart away from God. Solomon paid the price after failing to follow God’s law. Out of lust and coveting, he eventually took 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kgs. 11:3). Moreover, the pagan-worshiping foreign wives turned his heart away from God: “For when Solomon was old, his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been.” (1 Kgs. 11:4). This lesson applies to believers today. If you marry a non-believer, your heart may also slowly pull away from God.
Christ’s future bride. These verses also apply to your relationship with Christ. Jesus will one day marry His Church to form a bond of spiritual intimacy with His believers (Rev. 19:7-8; 21:1-9). His marriage to His church, however, is complicated by the fact that He is also our High Priest (Heb. 8:1). As High Priest, He can only marry a virgin (Lev. 21:13-14). As High Priest, if He fails to marry a virgin, He will “profane” His offspring (Lev. 21:14). You are part of God’s offspring because your faith in Christ has made you God’s adopted child (Rom. 8:15, 23). Thus, you must be a spiritual virgin to marry Christ (2 Cor. 11:2; Rev. 14:4). Because this is impossible without Christ, you must repent of any acts of unfaithfulness to be pure (1 Jo. 1:9). You must also keep yourself pure by keeping yourself separate from non-believers in marriage and business: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnerships have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘and do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ Says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Cor. 15-18). Are you guarding your heart by protecting yourself from deep bonds with non-believers?
Solomon’s bad example stumbled many others. The prophet Nehemiah later lamented that God’s people had followed after Solomon’s example by marrying foreign women: “25 So I contended with them and cursed them and struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, ‘You shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor take of their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. 26 Did not Solomon king of Israel sin regarding these things? Yet among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless the foreign women caused even him to sin. 27 Do we then hear about you that you have committed all this great evil by acting unfaithfully against our God by marrying foreign women?”’ (Neh. 13:25-27). What kind of example are you setting for other people?
Solomon modeled his life after the behavior of his father David. As the new ruler of Israel, there was no more important role model for Solomon than David. David also disregarded God’s law in this area. Before arriving in Hebron, David had two wives (1 Sam. 25:43). During his seven-year reign in Hebron, he took four additional wives (2 Sam. 3:2-5). David then forced Abner to kidnap his former wife Michal and make her his seventh wife (2 Sam. 3:12-16). After becoming king, David took more wives and concubines (2 Sam. 5:13-14). He then again showed his disregard for the laws of sexual purity when he committed adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11:2-4). Thus, Solomon modeled what he saw growing up and expanded upon David’s conduct. Your kids are also looking to you as their role model. What kind of example are you setting for them?
Solomon’s sincere but misguided worship using pagan altars. Solomon loved God and obeyed God in most of his ways. Yet, in addition to his multiple wives (both foreign and domestic), he also improperly used pagan altars for sacrifices: “ 2 The people were still sacrificing on the high places, because there was no house built for the name of the Lord until those days. 3 Now Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David, except he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places.” (1 Kgs. 3:2-3). At this time, the Temple did not yet exist for sacrifices. Yet, the Jews still had the Tabernacle for proper sacrifices. Before his death, Saul placed the Tabernacle in Gibeon (1 Chr. 16:39-40). David later left the Tabernacle in Gibeon and took the Ark to Jerusalem and placed it in a temporary tent until the Tabernacle could be built (2 Sam. 6:17; 2 Chr. 1:4). Instead of worshiping God in a proscribed place in either Gibeon or Jerusalem, King Solomon worshiped God using pagan altars built on high places.
Solomon disobeyed God’s command not to use Canaanite pagan altars to worship God. Prior to the building of the Temple, Moses warned the Jews not to transform Canaanite pagan altars, which were typically built on “high places” (1 Kgs. 13:32; Jer. 7:31), and use them to worship God: “Be careful that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every cultic place you see, but in the place which the LORD chooses in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you.” (Dt. 12:12-13). Whenever the Jews came across pagan altars, they were ordered to destroy them, not use them: “then you shall . . . destroy all their figured stones . . . and demolish all their high places;” (Nu. 33:52). “You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess serve their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. You shall tear down their altars . . .” (Dt. 12:2-3). Failing to observe this rule would eventually cause the Jews to blend their worship of God with Canaanite pagan practices: “ . . . For on every high hill and under every green tree you have lain down as a harlot.” (Jer. 2:20). Solomon later built special altars on “high places” for his foreign wives to worship their pagan gods: “Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable idol of Moab, on the mountain which is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the detestable idol of the sons of Ammon. Thus also he did for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods.” (1 Kgs. 11:7-8). King Jeroboam later followed Solomon's example and built altars for idol worship with unauthorized priests: “And he made houses on high places, and made priests from among all the people who were not of the sons of Levi.” (1 Kgs. 12:31). King Manasseh later followed after Solomon’s example and rebuilt pagan altars on high places after King Hezekiah destroyed them: “For he rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them.” (2 Kgs. 21:3). Thus, King Solomon failed to set a proper example for others to follow.
Solomon’s success would depend upon his obedience. Before his death, David warned Solomon that his success as king would depend upon his obedience: “Keep the charge of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances, and His testimonies, according to what is written in the Law of Moses, that you may succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn,” (1 Kgs. 2:3). Solomon was further required to write a personal copy of the law to make sure that he followed it as king: “Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests.” (Dt. 17:18). Solomon had not started off his reign with obedience. Yet, God would soon show that His mercy and grace were greater than Solomon’s many sins.
Solomon later learned that wisdom comes from fearing God. Through his many mistakes, Solomon learned that God’s wisdom required fearing Him: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov. 1:7). “Then you will discern the fear of the LORD and discover the knowledge of God.” (Prov. 2:5). Solomon later defined the fear of the Lord as hating evil (Prov. 8:13).
Despite his many sins, Solomon followed the greatest commandment. Although he was a sinner, “Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David,” (1 Kgs. 3:3). In so doing, he followed the Shema, the Jewish call to worship: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Dt. 6:5). In Hebrew, the reference to a person’s “heart” also includes their “mind.” (e.g., Zech. 8:17; Dt. 9:4; 2 Sam. 13:33; 2 Kgs. 23:25; Esth. 4:13; Is. 10:7). Centuries later, a Pharisee lawyer sought to test Jesus. He asked Jesus to name the greatest of the Ten Commandment (Matt. 22:34). Jesus responded by quoting the second verse of the Shema. Yet, because the word “heart” in Greek does not include the word “mind,” He added the word “mind” when He stated the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord God with all your heart, and all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matt. 22:35-38; Mk. 12:29-30; Lk. 10:27; Ex. 20:1-8). If you love God, you will want to keep His commandments out of love and not obligation: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.” (1 Jo. 5:3). Does your love for Jesus make you want to obey out of devotion, not obligation?
Satan’s goal is rebellion against God’s law. Solomon later learned that rebellion was the sign of an “evil man.” (Prov. 17:11). According to Paul, rebellion is part of the spirit of “the prince of the power of the air.” (Eph. 2:2). Samuel also said: “. . . rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft . . .” (1 Sam. 15:23). Satan also becomes the father of those who rebel (Jo. 8:44). When a society refuses to follow rules, order will break down. It is no different with God’s Law. Is there any rebellion in your heart?
Solomon sacrifices at the proper place and prays in humility for God’s wisdom as king. After his mistaken efforts of worship on pagan high places, Solomon then sacrificed 1,000 animals at the Tabernacle in Gibeon (1 Chr. 16:39-40; 2 Chr.1:3), seven miles northwest of Jerusalem. When then given the choice of anything as king, Solomon only asked God for wisdom: “4 The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place; Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. 5 In Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night; and God said, ‘Ask what you wish Me to give you.’ 6 Then Solomon said, ‘You have shown great lovingkindness to Your servant David my father, according as he walked before You in truth and righteousness and uprightness of heart toward You; and You have reserved for him this great lovingkindness, that You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. 7 Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 Your servant is in the midst of Your people which You have chosen, a great people who are too many to be numbered or counted. 9 So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?’” (1 Kgs. 3:4-9). Elsewhere, the Bible records that the leadership from all of the 12 tribes joined King Solomon for this massive set of sacrifices to God (2 Chr. 1:2-3). Presumably, the massive scale of the sacrifices suggest that this was a unified act of atonement that Solomon led on behalf of the entire nation. Each of the 12 tribes and Solomon from his royal resources would have selected their best animals as part of the 1,000 sacrifices. It would have likely taken a week for all of these animals to be sacrificed in what would have been a somber week. God was later pleased with Solomon not because of the number of animals that he sacrificed. Instead, He was likely pleased for leading the nation in an act of repentance and spiritual renewal. Within that context, He asked Solomon in a dream to ask for anything he wanted. While God had spoken to others in the time of the patriarchs in dreams (Gen. 26:24; 28:12; 46:2), this was unique because Solomon had a dialogue with His Creator. At the time, Solomon was only 20 years old. Solomon showed his spiritual maturity by only asking for God’s wisdom in making decisions as king. Most importantly, Solomon asked God for wisdom in humility.
Govert Flinck (1615-1660) “Solomon asks for wisdom” (oil painting 1658)1
God gave Solomon incredible wisdom as a free gift after he asked for it in humility. Before asking for wisdom from God, Solomon showed reverence to God by recognizing the “mercy” that God showed to his father, King David (1 Kgs. 3:6). In modern churches, most sermons focus on God’s grace, which involves His underserved gifts. Solomon instead focused on God’s mercy, which involves God’s decision to withhold punishment. While most people like to think of God as the God who gives free things, Solomon had just led the nation in repentance because he recognized their sins before their Creator. He also recognized God’s faithfulness in upholding His Covenant with David to allow Solomon to be king (1 Kgs. 3:6). Solomon did not ask to be king. Even though he was the youngest of David’s children and the son of an adulterous marriage, it was God’s will that Solomon would be the next king. God then made that happen. In humility, Solomon recognized his lack of qualifications and training to be king: “I am but a little child” (1 Kgs. 3:7; 1 Chr. 22:5; 29:1). Because Solomon was already married and a father at age 20 (1 Kgs. 14:21), this was a reference to his lack of experience, not his age. He conceded that he could not lead the 12 rebellious tribes without God’s help.
God’s wisdom is also free when you ask for it. Like Solomon, God is ready to pour out His wisdom freely when you ask for it for the right reasons: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (Ja. 1:5). “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.” (Ps. 51:6). Are you seeking His wisdom?
God exalted Solomon because of his humility. In addition to recognizing his sins and his inadequacy to act on his own, Solomon did not seek greatness or power. Instead, he asked for “an understanding heart” to judge the people and to know right from wrong: “9 So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” (1 Kgs. 3:9). God exalted Solomon in wisdom because of his humility: “O LORD, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will strengthen their heart, You will incline Your ear.” (Ps. 10:17). “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Matt. 23:12; Lk. 14:11; 18:14). “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble.” (Lk. 1:52). “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” (Ja. 4:10). “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time,” (1 Pet. 5:6). “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt. 5:5; KJV). Are you walking in humility before God so that He can bless you with His wisdom?
God blessed Solomon with all that he asked for and more. Because Solomon was not greedy, arrogant, or demanding, God granted Solomon the wisdom that he asked for and the power, wealth, and prestige that he did not ask for: “10 It was pleasing in the sight of the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing. 11 God said to him, ‘Because you have asked this thing and have not asked for yourself long life, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have you asked for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself discernment to understand justice, 12 behold, I have done according to your words. Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you. 13 I have also given you what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that there will not be any among the kings like you all your days. 14 If you walk in My ways, keeping My statutes and commandments, as your father David walked, then I will prolong your days.’ 15 Then Solomon awoke, and behold, it was a dream. And he came to Jerusalem and stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and made peace offerings, and made a feast for all his servants.” (1 Kgs. 3:10-15). In addition to asking in humility, Solomon pleased God because his request was meant to help him better serve others as king. Thus, because he sought God first, God added everything else Solomon would need to be a great king. But God’s blessings were conditional upon Solomon’s obedience to His Word. After making sacrifices in humility at the Tabernacle in Gibeon, he went to Jerusalem to sacrifice in gratitude where David had placed the Ark of the covenant (2 Sam. 6:17).
Walk with God, and He can extend the duration of your life2
Jesus will pour out His righteousness to leaders who seek His wisdom. In one of Solomon’s psalms, he prayed for God to give His righteousness and wisdom to allow him and his descendants to rule in holy righteousness: “Give the king Your judgments, O God, and Your righteousness to the king’s son. 2 May he judge Your people with righteousness and Your afflicted with justice. 3 Let the mountains bring peace to the people, and the hills, in righteousness. 4 May he vindicate the afflicted of the people, save the children of the needy and crush the oppressor. 5 Let them fear You while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations. 6 May he come down like rain upon the mown grass, like showers that water the earth. 7 In his days may the righteous flourish, and abundance of peace till the moon is no more.” (Ps. 72:1-7). Like Solomon, every leader should depend upon Jesus for wisdom.
Seek God’s wisdom first and He will add everything else you need. If you seek God’s kingdom, His righteousness, and His wisdom, He also promises to provide for your needs: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33). “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (Jo. 15:7). “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matt. 5:6). “Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Ps. 37:4). Thus, you don’t need to worry about His provision of food or clothes (Matt. 6:25-34). If you diligently seek Him, you will also find Him: “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Jer. 29:13). “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Matt. 7:7-8). If you feel that you are lacking in any area, are you diligently seeking after Jesus?
God also granted Solomon wisdom because he did not ask with the wrong motives. Solomon received God’s blessings because he sought gifts that would benefit God’s Kingdom, not his own: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (Ja. 4:3). “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” (1 Jo. 5:14). “What the wicked fears will come upon him, but the desire of the righteous will be granted.” (Prov. 10:24). “He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He will also hear their cry and will save them.” (Ps. 145:19). “The LORD is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous.” (Prov. 15:29). “We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him.” (Jo. 9:31). If you have asked and not received, examine the motives behind your requests. Are you seeking gifts from God for your glory or for the glory of His Kingdom?
Solomon’s wisdom came from Jesus, the true source of any ruler’s wisdom. Solomon later praised God as the source of true wisdom: “For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Prov. 2:6). Before his death, David also paid tribute to: “He who rules over men righteously” (2 Sam. 23:3). For a time in his life, David followed the King of Kings and ruled righteously: “So David reigned over all Israel; and David administered justice and righteousness for all his people.” (2 Sam. 8:15). Like David and Solomon, rulers must turn to the King of Kings, the true source of righteousness, for wisdom in ruling: “Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land.”’ (Jer. 23:5). “3And He will delight in the fear of the Lord, and He will not judge by what His eyes see, nor make a decision by what His ears hear; 4 but with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; and He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.5 Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, and faithfulness the belt about His waist.” (Is. 11:3-5). Jesus is our righteous judge (2 Tim. 4:8). “I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (Jo. 5:30). “But even if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone in it, but I and the Father who sent Me.” (Jo. 8:16). While David, Solomon, and Israel’s other kings sinned, Jesus never will. His reign will be perfect, just, and righteous. As your King, Jesus also wants you to depend upon Him. And He wants you to pray for your rulers to seek out His wisdom as well.
Obedience brings the blessings of a “prolonged” life. God promised to “prolong” Solomon’s “days” if he walked in God’s ways and kept His statutes and commandments (1 Kgs. 3:14). Solomon later failed to obey God. Thus, he died before turning 70 years of age (Ps. 90:10). If you obey God, He also promises to prolong your days: “So be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left. Walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.” (Dt. 5:32-33). In heaven, you will learn by how much God prolonged your life because of your faith and obedience. It might be for a week, a month, a year, a decade, or longer.
God immediately tested Solomon to show His faithfulness to keep His promises. Not long after God promised Solomon wisdom, He tested Solomon with a crime of theft that might have seemed impossible at the time to resolve: “16 Then two women who were harlots came to the king and stood before him. 17 The one woman said, ‘Oh, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house; and I gave birth to a child while she was in the house. 18 It happened on the third day after I gave birth, that this woman also gave birth to a child, and we were together. There was no stranger with us in the house, only the two of us in the house. 19 This woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on it. 20 So she arose in the middle of the night and took my son from beside me while your maidservant slept, and laid him in her bosom, and laid her dead son in my bosom. 21 When I rose in the morning to nurse my son, behold, he was dead; but when I looked at him carefully in the morning, behold, he was not my son, whom I had borne.’ 22 Then the other woman said, ‘No! For the living one is my son, and the dead one is your son.’ But the first woman said, ‘No! For the dead one is your son, and the living one is my son.’ Thus they spoke before the king. 23 Then the king said, ‘the one says, ‘This is my son who is living, and your son is the dead one’; and the other says, ‘No! For your son is the dead one, and my son is the living one.’” (1 Kgs. 3:16-23). Here, one mother inadvertently smothered her male child in her sleep. She then stole the other mother’s male child and placed the dead baby next to the victim, hoping that the victim would not notice that her baby had been switched with the dead one. Normally, a king would only hear disputes if a lower tribunal could not resolve them. There were no witnesses to this crime. Both babies were born within three days of each other. Their sizes would have been similar. Presumably, there were also no birthmarks, distinctive characteristics, or other evidence that would have objectively revealed who the real mother was. Thus, God tested Solomon to show that He had blessed him with wisdom beyond any other.
God also tested Solomon’s impartiality. God’s wisdom is impartial: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” (Ja. 3:17). Moses warned that a leader must pursue God’s impartial justice (Dt. 16:20). God appointed the kings to “do justice and righteousness.” (1 Kgs. 10:9). A king is supposed to sit “on the throne of justice.” (Prov. 20:8). As the King of Israel and the highest judge in the land, Solomon was also required to judge according to God’s law (Ezek. 44:24). Any poor person could petition him if a lower court could not resolve the dispute (2 Sam. 14:2-21; 15:1-4; 2 Kings 8:1-6). He was further prohibited from showing favoritism. He needed to treat the petitions of two poor harlots with the same level of attention and fairness as two powerful leaders: “You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.” (Lev. 19:15; Ex. 23:8; Dt. 16:19; 10:17; 1 Pet. 1:17-19). Solomon passed this test. He treated the needs of two distressed harlots with the same attention as two quarreling tribal leaders.
God will also test you to perfect His wisdom in your life. Like Solomon, God will also present you with many tests in your life: “for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” (Ex. 20:20(b); Dt. 8:2). Even the righteous are not beyond God’s testing: “The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked . . .” (Ps. 11:5). “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, . . .” (Jer. 17:10). God’s testing and discipline are done out of love (Heb. 12:6). David was a man after God’s heart because he invited God’s testing to show him where he needed to change (Ps. 139:23). Your trials produce perseverance and endurance: “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;” (Ro. 5:3). “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (Jam. 1:2-3). God will test you so that His wisdom can grow in you as you learn to discern right and wrong.
Solomon demonstrates his God-given wisdom through his wise verdict. In the absence of physical evidence or witnesses to discern the truth, Solomon tested the women to find the mother by seeing who loved the baby the most: “24 The king said, ‘Get me a sword.’ So they brought a sword before the king. 25 The king said, ‘Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other.’ 26 Then the woman whose child was the living one spoke to the king, for she was deeply stirred over her son and said, ‘Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means kill him.’ But the other said, ‘He shall be neither mine nor yours; divide him!’ 27 Then the king said, ‘Give the first woman the living child, and by no means kill him. She is his mother.’” (1 Kgs. 3:24-27). Solomon proposed to divide the child into two. This was the way in which a judge would have resolved a dispute when one person’s livestock killed another person’s livestock: “If one man’s ox hurts another’s so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and divide its price equally; and also they shall divide the dead ox.” (Ex. 21:35). This, however, would result in the death of the child. Solomon had no plan to actually kill the child. Instead, he knew that the real mother would rather give up the child than see him die.
Raphael (1483-1520) “Judgment of Solomon” (1509-11)3
God’s wisdom revealed the truth through love. At the direction of the Holy Spirit, God used the love of a mother for her child to reveal the truth. God’s wisdom revealed the truth because God is the source of all love: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 Jo. 4:7-8). “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 Jo. 4:16). The true mother in turn revealed God’s love through her willingness out of love to give up any claim to her child so that he might live: “For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another;” (1 Jo. 3:11). “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” (Jo. 15:12). God the Father also showed His love for us through His willingness to give up His only son Jesus (Jo. 3:15). If you are motivated by love and not selfish gain, God will also reveal His wisdom in your life.
God’s wisdom will appear as foolishness to the world. Solomon’s suggestion that the baby be divided would have at first seemed foolish. Yet, it revealed the truth. God’s wisdom will also appear foolish to the world. “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18; 2:14). Yet, His wisdom is the truth that will set you free (Jo. 8:32). “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5). God’s wisdom is revealed when you read His Word and pray for guidance (Ps. 119:105; Jo. 14:16, 26). Are you reading the Word and praying for His wisdom?
God’s wisdom allowed Solomon to become respected by all who met him. Because Solomon wanted God’s wisdom to rule for God’s Kingdom, God blessed him with wisdom that also brought him the respect he needed to govern: “28 When all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had handed down, they feared the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice.” (1 Kgs. 3:28). The people feared Solomon because he made decisions that seemed beyond normal human reasoning. Many feared that they could not hide their sins from God’s wise judge. His wisdom would continue to set him apart until his lusts for women led him to idolatry. Only Jesus, the King of Kings, would surpass Solomon’s God-given wisdom and righteousness.
God’s wisdom brings respect4
When you follow God’s wisdom, God also promises to bless you with honor and respect. Like Solomon, God will also bless you with honor and respect when you follow His wisdom. “Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country.” (Dt. 28:3). Joseph is another example regarding how following God-given wisdom can lead to honor and respect. As a slave, Joseph was obedient to administer God’s wisdom for the benefit of others. As a result, God blessed Joseph and the entire Egyptian household that he managed: “It came about that from the time he made him overseer in his house and over all that he owned, the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house on account of Joseph; thus the LORD’S blessing was upon all that he owned, in the house and in the field.” (Gen. 39:5). Joseph showed that he was faithful and obedient in the face of the temptations of Potiphar’s wife. He was again faithful and obedient to God, even when he was thrown in jail on false charges and then forgotten. Because he showed that he was obedient and faithful in small things, God blessed him by elevating him to have power second only to Pharaoh (Gen. 41:40-41). God’s many blessings throughout the Bible show that He wants to bless you. When you sin (not if you sin), He is faithful to forgive you when you repent of your sins (1 Jo. 1:9). The devil is your accuser and will try to make you feel unworthy of serving God after you sin (Rev. 12:10). Yet, when you repent, you are no longer subject to any condemnation (Ro. 8:1). Nevertheless, if you ignore God’s Ten Commandments that were meant for your protection, you make it more unlikely that He will bless you. Like Solomon and Joseph, if you prove yourself obedient in small things, He will bless you with great things. Are you showing yourself faithful and obedient with the small things so that God can grant you His wisdom?
God’s wisdom is worth more than any earthly honor or treasure. Even though God’s wisdom may bring honor, respect, or money, Solomon learned that His wisdom is worth more than any of these things. “How much better it is to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen above silver.” (Prov. 16:16). “How blessed is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gains understanding. For her profit is better than the profit of silver and her gain better than fine gold. She is more precious than jewels; and nothing you desire compares with her.” (Prov. 3:13-15). “My fruit is better than gold, even pure gold, and my yield better than choicest silver.” (Prov. 8:19). Do you seek out riches, power, and respect or God’s wisdom?
Pray for God’s wisdom for both yourself and your leaders. Like Solomon, God wants you to ask for His spirit of understanding to act wisely and to resolve conflicts: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,” (Eph. 1:18). “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6). Are you praying for the Holy Spirit to give you understanding and wisdom? If so, are you also praying for His understanding for your leaders?
Image credits: Govert Flinck: Solomon asks for wisdom (artbible.info)↩︎