From a distance, it would be easy to idealize Solomon. The Bible tells us about his wealth and accomplishments. His national building projects are a tribute to his vision. His collections of proverbs and reflections on the meaning of life show his lifelong pursuit of knowledge.
On closer look, though, we see that Solomon had a difficult and troubled life that tells us a lot about the realism we all find in and around ourselves.
Solomon was the child of his father’s marriage to Bathsheba. He had roots in his father’s dark side. Solomon’s mother was married to another man when King David had an adulterous relationship with her and then had her husband killed to cover up the scandal.
The fact that the Lord loved Solomon (2 Samuel 12:24) and made him into one of the wisest men the world has ever known illustrates a principle established throughout Scripture. God does not hold us accountable for the sins of our fathers.
He came to the throne in the middle of family conflict. When David was about to die, his oldest son, by another wife, tried to steal the throne that had been promised to Solomon. At a critical moment, Bathsheba intervened and reminded the king that he had promised the throne to her son (1 Kings 1:15-21). Since God had told David earlier that Solomon would be king (1 Chronicles 22:9-10), the dramatic turn of events that followed is a reminder that our enemies cannot keep us from doing what God wants to do through us.
Solomon’s first acts as king took place in an atmosphere of cultural and religious compromise. In an apparent effort to encourage good relations with Israel’s southern neighbor, Solomon married the pagan daughter of the Pharaoh of Egypt (1 Kings 3:1). In addition, Solomon and his people worshiped on high places used by the people of the land in an attempt to get close to their gods (vv.2-3). Such worship had been forbidden since the days of Moses (Deuteronomy 12:2). Yet, in spite of these spiritual errors, Solomon had a place in his heart for the Lord, and God was patient with him. His experience is a reminder that in our broken world, God can work with our desire to honor Him—even when we don’t understand how messed-up we are.
One of Solomon’s best-known decisions happened while he was asleep. To this day, Solomon is remembered for the way he responded when the Lord appeared to him and gave him the opportunity to ask for the desire of his heart (1 Kings 3:5). Amazingly, Solomon did not ask for wealth or a long life. Instead, he asked for understanding and discernment to lead the nation entrusted to him. As a result, God said that He was pleased and promised to give Solomon not only an understanding heart, but wealth and honor as well. What some have overlooked, however, is that Solomon made his request while asleep. The whole conversation occurred in a dream (v.15). His experience reminds us that God works with us in ways that say far more about His goodness than our own.
Solomon’s first recorded act of wisdom was to settle a tragic conflict between two women of the street. God could have showcased His gift of wisdom by leading Solomon to match wits with high society and world-class minds. Instead, his first act of recorded wisdom was to settle a conflict between two prostitutes. Both had recently given birth to babies of absent fathers. But one of the women had lost her baby through an accidental death and was now claiming to be the real mother of the surviving newborn. The two women appealed to Solomon to settle their dispute. By the unthinkable act of asking for a sword and threatening to “divide the baby,” Solomon was able to find the heart of the real mother (1 Kings 3:16-28).
Solomon’s first recorded act of wisdom reminds us that God’s sense of justice and mercy reaches out to people others would dismiss as unworthy.
Solomon showed us how to look for the two sides of human nature. By threatening to “divide the baby,” Solomon showed us that one woman was willing to see the baby dead rather than in the arms of the other woman. The second showed she would rather give the child away than to see it die. By bringing to the surface some of the best and worst sides of human nature, Solomon gave us an important window into our own hearts. Wisdom looks for the lingering evidence of our creation in the likeness of God and the opposing affections of our declared independence from Him.
Solomon’s wisdom did not keep him from playing the fool. In spite of all the insight God gave Solomon, he ended up doing precisely what the kings of Israel were forbidden to do (Deuteronomy 17:14-20). In outrageously self-indulgent ways, he multiplied personal wealth, wives, and sexual partners. Then, just about the time we might think he could do no worse, Solomon built altars to the pagan gods of his wives on the hills surrounding Jerusalem (1 Kings 11:1-8). Solomon’s life shows us something very important. Wisdom helps us only if we use it.
The realism of Solomon’s troubles and failures may be one of his most important contributions to us. Through Solomon’s foolishness we see that all of the wisdom in the world does not change our human nature. Who among us does not want to be more honest, more loving, and more self-controlled than we are naturally inclined to be? That’s why our real need is not for a wisdom of self-reformation for which we can take the credit. Our real need is for the wisdom that comes as a gift of God’s grace, in Christ, through Christ, and for Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30).
Father in heaven, please help us never to forget that we need a wisdom that points to and flows from Your Son. Please enable us to live in unending gratefulness to Him for His sacrifice, and with complete reliance upon Your Spirit to show a wisdom that gives You glory forever and ever. —Mart De Haan