If you were told that you could have dinner with three people out of anyone you could name – the chance to bounce questions; to float ideas; to gain some understanding – whom would you choose?
One of my choices would be Solomon. What a character he must have been! What stories he could tell, and what wisdom he could share. Not the unsullied, crystal-clear, perfect wisdom that we cherish from his final descendant, Jesus. More like the hard-won, gritty kind of Churchillian wisdom you would expect from your great-granddad. Solomon forged his wisdom in the furnace of human experience – pounded it out on the anvil of life on earth. And real life isn’t perfect, and it’s not crystal-clear, and it’s far from unsullied.
Solomon’s career as king began in a less-than-textbook way. In 1 Kings chapter one we read that when King David was close to death, David’s fourth son – Adonijah – attempted a palace coup and had himself declared king. This was behind David’s back, and against his intentions. David had already promised the throne to Solomon, and David made sure that Solomon was publicly and prominently installed as king in Jerusalem. The repercussions were messy and violent; Solomon’s first few days as king were a baptism of fire. If ever a man needed wisdom, it was Solomon. And more importantly, he was smart enough to know it. So when God invited him to requisition the supplies he would need to reign, abundant wisdom was his one request:
And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father… …Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?
It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. (1 Kings 3:7-10)
As if to prove the point, the next official duty on Solomon’s docket turned out to be a very tricky case of judgment: two women squabbling over a baby. Both were prostitutes; neither one’s word could be trusted. There was no obvious way to cut through to the truth of this dispute. Only a judge with incisive insight could render such a decision with confidence. Solomon dispensed justice with calm authority. As a consequence his reputation quickly grew:
And all Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice. (3:28)
So; Solomon prayed for wisdom to govern well, and he established little Israel as a major player among the world powers of his day. His judgment wasn’t always flawless – he was not the perfect king by any means – but his reputation for wisdom is well-founded. Solomon became the genius of Hebrew Wisdom Literature. He contributed in large part to the Book of Proverbs; he wrote candidly and disarmingly on courtship and marriage in the Song of Songs; and he left us with one of the most intriguing (and nettlesome) books in the entire Bible; Ecclesiastes.
If you had the chance, wouldn’t you want to ask Solomon about a few things? Money matters? Or marriage and intimacy, or the use of our time, or even issues of faith. Wisdom has to do with being able to make sound decisions; to understand the best way forward; to hold to a course that pleases God and brings contentment. Solomon still has a lot to say to us. Our problems aren’t new; our priorities aren’t new; our temptations aren’t new…in fact there’s nothing new under the sun!