3 Myths Exposed about Solomon’s Wisdom

Peter KrolThis is a guest post by Peter Krol. Peter has been teaching the Bible to college students since 1999 through his work with DiscipleMakers.  He blogs at Knowable Word, a site dedicated to helping ordinary people learn to study the Bible.  You can find him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, or circle him on Google+.

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We equate King Solomon with wisdom, and rightly so.  He authored several “Wisdom Books” of the Old Testament and was the premier sage of his day (1 Kings 4:29-34).  But we often assume we can’t replicate his wisdom today.  In this post I’ll debunk three myths about Solomon’s wisdom and give some practical implications.

Myth #1: Solomon got lucky when God gave the offer of a lifetime.

Solomons WisdomEarly in Solomon’s reign, God appeared to him and said, “Ask what I shall give you” (1 Kings 3:5, ESV).  Solomon asked for wisdom instead of longevity or wealth or military supremacy, so it pleased God to give him the whole pile.

But notice what was on Solomon’s mind that night: “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father… And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father…” (I Kings 3:6-7).  Solomon had been thinking about his dad.

And what was the primary lesson David had drilled into Solomon from infancy?  In Solomon’s own words, “When I was a son with my father… he taught me: …‘Get wisdom; get insight… The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight’” (Prov 4:4-7).

David taught Solomon one thing: Always get wisdom.  So he did.

Implication: There’s nothing magical about gaining wisdom.  God gives it (Prov 2:6), and he wants you to ask for it (James 1:5).  So by all means, ask!  But don’t wait for a mystical transfusion of brain cells.  Seek it, and teach others to do the same.

Myth #2: God supernaturally zapped wisdom into Solomon’s brain.

This myth surfaces particularly when we read or teach the story about the two prostitutes with one baby (1 Kings 3:16-28).  We, like all Israel, stand in awe of the king, perceiving that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice (28).  But this wisdom is more mundane than it is miraculous.

Solomon could not read minds.  He had no crystal ball.  He couldn’t discern a person’s guilt or innocence by any sort of divination or wizardry.  What he could do, however, was act on what he knew.

Solomon already knew a few basic principles of human existence from God’s Word.

  1. Everybody desires something (that’s how the serpent tempted Eve in Gen 3:5-6).
  2. All actions flow out of what we desire (that’s why the Greatest Commandment in Deut 6:5 is to desire the Lord more than anything else).
  3. When forced to choose, everybody will give up what they desire less to gain what they desire most (that’s why Abram gave up a good land for peace with Lot in Gen 13:8-9, Joseph gave up vengeance for world rescue in Gen 45:4-8, and Lot’s wife gave up her life for Sodom’s community in Gen 19:26).

Solomons WisdomSolomon just has to expose these issues.  Notice how he does it.

  1. He starts with what’s visible.  In 1 Kings 3:23, he simply repeats what they’ve already said.
  2. He surfaces what’s invisible.  He knows what they’re saying; he just needs to learn why they’re saying it.  What does each woman want the most?
  3. He concocts a plan to expose their deepest desires (24-26).  Chopping the baby in half wasn’t guaranteed to reveal who the true mother was.  But it was guaranteed to reveal which, if either, cared more about the child than herself.
  4. He acts accordingly.  Rather than allowing fear, indecision, or even righteous anger to paralyze him, he does something.  He gives the baby to the woman who showed a mother’s concern (27).

The wise reflect what they see, try to understand people’s motivations, and act.

Implications: Do you want to be wise?  Just put into practice what you already know from God’s Word.

Don’t look for a wise “zinger” to impress someone in conversation.  Just ask more questions and repeat in different words what you hear them say.  You’ll learn a lot about people, and they may even accuse you of being wise.  Such “mundane” wisdom enables us to engage opponents and our culture winsomely.

Myth #3: Solomon’s decline was fast and unpredictable.

You may be familiar with Solomon’s love for the ladies and his subsequent departure from the true faith (1 Kings 11:1-8).  You might not realize, however, that Solomon already knew of his (and our) tendency: “Cease to hear instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge” (Prov 19:27).  Solomon stopped learning, and it killed him.

Implication: You can replicate Solomon’s wisdom, and you can replicate his folly.  Stop seeking wisdom from God through Christ, and you’ll drift away just as easily (Heb 2:1-4).  But anchor to Jesus, and you’ll surpass Solomon’s rise to wisdom (1 Cor 1:30).

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