Long ago, a young king of Israel wrote, “Blessed are those who find wisdom, . . . she is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her” (Proverbs 3:13-15 NIV).
The Wisdom of Solomon: To this day, we still tell the story of how God appeared to him in a dream and offered him the desires of his heart (1 Kings 3:5-15).
Instead of asking for personal wealth, a long life, or the death of his enemies, Solomon admitted that he felt like a little child who was not up to the challenge of leading the nation entrusted to him. So he asked for an understanding heart to be a good ruler and judge. God responded by assuring the king that he would get his request and far more. Then Solomon woke up and realized that he had been dreaming (1 Kings 3:15).
Wisdom for justice’s sake: The dream came true. As evidence, the Bible introduces us to two troubled persons who asked Solomon to settle a dispute (1 Kings 3:16-28). The Bible tells us they were harlots with a maternity issue. Both had recently given birth. In the middle of the night, one of their babies died. The distraught mother switched infants as the other mother slept. Now both were claiming the living baby. Neither could provide a witness to support their story or credibility.
So what would a wise king do? After listening to both sides, Solomon called for a sword. His decision was to divide the baby.
One of the women responded with a plea for the child’s life. She offered to give up her claim for the sake of the baby. The other woman agreed with the king saying it would be better to give the baby to neither rather than either.
At this point, Solomon said, “Give the first woman the living child, and by no means kill him; she is his mother” (1 Kings 3:27 NKJV).
So we are told, “All Israel heard of the judgment which the king had rendered; and they feared the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice” (1 Kings 3:28 NKJV).
But what begins well does not always end well. As great as Solomon’s wisdom was (1 Kings 3:12; 4:29-34), what started with a dream ended like a nightmare. Late in life, he went so far as to build altars to the gods of his pagan wives on the hills overlooking Jerusalem (1 Kings 11:1-13). Although he had been given wisdom to offer justice to others, he ended up needing mercy for himself.
The Wisdom of Jesus: One of the first things the Bible tells us about Jesus is that, as a young man, He grew “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52 NKJV).
Later, however, the Teacher from Nazareth was sharply criticized by religious leaders who didn’t buy His brand of wisdom. In response, Jesus likened His critics to children sitting in the marketplace playing a game that sounds similar to one children still play (Luke 7:31-32).
In the modern game of Simon Says, whatever “Simon says,” you’re supposed to do. If you get caught doing something that Simon doesn’t say to do, you’re out of the game.
Jesus, however, was not playing a game. He wouldn’t do what the Pharisees wanted Him to do. Instead, He suggested that His wisdom would be seen in its results. In a thought-provoking proverb, He said, “Wisdom is justified by all her children” (Luke 7:35 NKJV).
What kind of wisdom was Jesus talking about? Who were her children? The gospel writer doesn’t leave us wondering for long.
Wisdom for mercy’s sake: According to Luke, a religious Pharisee by the name of Simon invited Jesus home for a meal. Later, as they sat at the man’s table, an unnamed woman who had heard that Jesus was there, invited herself in. All Luke tells us about her identity is that she was “a sinner.”
Overwhelmed with emotion, this woman went to her knees at Jesus’ feet, washed His feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and then poured expensive perfume on them.
Meanwhile, according to Luke, the Pharisee was thinking to himself that if Jesus were a prophet, He wouldn’t allow Himself to be touched by such a woman. Knowing the man’s heart, Jesus told His host a story about a creditor who mercifully forgave two debtors. One of them had owed far more than the other.
With this much of the story told, Jesus asked Simon which of the two debtors would have a greater love for the one who showed mercy to both of them. The Pharisee saw where Jesus was going. Those who are forgiven much, love much; while those have been forgiven little, love little (Luke 7:47).
In these few words, Jesus foreshadowed the scope of His wisdom. He would go on to win our hearts not merely by His justice but with His mercy. On the very hills that Solomon built altars to false gods, Jesus would offer Himself as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Father in heaven, we will be eternally grateful that You did not leave us with merely a wisdom of justice. Like Solomon, we desperately needed the merciful wisdom of Your Son. —Mart DeHaan