Questioning Solomon’s Wisdom (Lane)
Questioning Solomon’s Wisdom
by Lonnie Lane
I’ve been perplexed for years about why Solomon is called the “wisest man who ever lived.” Was suggesting a baby be cut in half really what awarded him that title in the first place? True, he had lots of things to say that were wise. And granted that each pearl of wisdom in the book of Proverbs gives evidence of being inspired by the Holy Spirit. But somewhere along the way Solomon forgot to follow his own advice and dire consequences resulted. Which makes me think that wisdom in itself just won’t get us through to the end. Let me give you some background on why I think so. Then you can decide for yourself what you think. Perhaps we can gain some wisdom of our own from Solomon’s mistakes in the process.
Now I imagine that having David as your father could be hard on a fellow, even if you were destined to be king later on. Lord knows, it’s sometimes hard for a son to follow in his very famous, very successful father’s footsteps. David was very loved and adored, not only by the entire nation, but by the Almighty Himself. “A man after My own heart,” God called him. David was in love with God and God evidently loved him back. That could all have proven to be quite a challenge to Solomon.
But there is evidence in Solomon’s own writings that David may have been very conscientious about all this and spent much time in preparing his son for the job of being king after him. David obviously wanted to impart as much as he could of what God had taught him to Solomon. And for that matter to his own people. In fact, a great deal of what we know today about God we’ve learned from David. I’ve often wondered how David knew the things about God that no one else in Scripture, including Moses, seems to have known.
David spent much time in the Tabernacle with God, which was for quite a while, basically a tent in David’s back yard. (See 2 Chron 1:4) But he loved being there with God. He’d even come first thing in the morning. We hear the longing for more of God in the words: “O God, You are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You…So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory.” (Ps. 63:1,2) In our terminology today, we’d say that David was in the glory in God’s presence. All by himself, he’s under the anointing and God granted him great prophetic revelation and the fullness of joy of His presence and “pleasure at His right hand.” (Ps 16:11) Was he translated to be at His right hand? How did he come to know this? Just what was his experience?
David thinks like a king. He has a kingdom mindset. He knows what authority is. No doubt his own court was quite impressive. He reigns over a very prosperous and powerful Israel. Yet he says “The Lord reigns.” It’s the Lord who is his King. He goes on to to say, “You are clothed with honor and majesty, (You) cover Yourself with light as with a garment.” (Ps 93:1;104:2) Elsewhere he tells us, “He rode upon a cherub and flew; He was seen upon the wings of the wind.” ( 2 Sam 22:11) Did he really see the Lord Himself riding on a cherub? Was it in a vision or did Yeshua come to him? HOW DOES HE KNOW ALL THAT?
Another time David saw an angel, a powerful angel which caused him to go to God for a radical course correction for the nation. (2 Sam 24:17) David was no doubt in touch with the spirit realm and it was very real to him. He defers to God on every decision; he always has. It didn’t change as he got older and more experienced at “kinging.” He is entirely dependent upon Him. Though he may ask for input from his advisers, he does nothing independent of God. Reading through David’s life story is not just a story about David, but a story about God as well. It’s a joint story, about their relationship and interaction – together.
But David has one desire that wasn’t granted. David wanted to build God a house. With all his heart he wants to honor and bless God. After all, he lives in a great house; why should he have such luxury and God be still in the Tabernacle. Even if it is a grand Tabernacle, it’s still a tent. But God tells him no, he can’t build Him a house, because he has blood on his hands. God does, however, enable David to present Solomon with a complete set of plans for the construction of the building down to smallest detail needed for the sacrifices and the duties of the priests. David works it all out with master precision. All Solomon has to do is follow the directions. (See 1 Chron. 28:11ff) This was also true, spiritually. However, there is a big IF in God’s promises to David. The promise is contingent upon his sons after him following the Lord with all their heart as David did.
Therefore, as the end of David’s life drew near, “he charged Solomon his son, saying:…Keep the charge of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways…as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn.” (1 Kings 2:1-3). In other words, follow Torah! David could have told him how to handle things financially, or how to deal with enemies, how to collect taxes, keep order, or maintain the kingdom in various ways, but His only words were, “Keep His commandments.” David did what he could to put into his son Solomon’s hands all that he would need to follow God so that God would be honored and the throne would be established forever.
David goes to his rest and as Solomon assumes the throne he remains David’s son: “Then Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established.” He is secure in what his father left to him, and he follows his advice. Well, mostly. It seems that rather early on in his career as king he took Pharaoh’s daughter as his wife and built her a magnificent house. She is not a Hebrew. Egyptians are descendents of Ham, not Shem. This was mistake #1 which eventually led to his downfall. Sol had a weakness for the ladies. The Queen of Sheba was able to extract from him “all she desired, whatever she asked.” Does that sound like a wise political move devoid of emotional involvement? I don’t think so.
Nevertheless, Solomon is reigning with seeming wisdom and the nation is prospering, more than it had even under David. What David set into place hums along without a hitch. Solomon doesn’t even have any enemies. I don’t want to be too harsh on good old Sol, because truth is, what does he know of being under a threat of death or destruction like David had been? He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, as they say. OK, some sibling rivalry about who would be king, but it worked out alright. He’s never been forced to decide the issues of righteousness that his father did, nor to this point, has he ever faced his own propensity to sin and come to abject repentance before God as his father had. Life is pretty awesome for Solomon, a greatly blessed life.
And while life goes on, Solomon continues to enter into his Proverbs journal from time to time. I believe this took years to write as I have recently noticed a pattern in Solomon’s Proverbs that, when read along with 2 Samuel gives insight into that probability. For one thing, while 2 Samuel, which is all about David’s kingly reign is full of God and David’s on-going interaction with Him, the account of Solomon’s reign is almost silent with regard to Solomon’s own personal relationship with God. He’s riding on David’s coattails spiritually, it would appear, and like the afterglow of the glory on Moses’ face till it faded, so Solomon’s “anointing” seems to wane as time goes on. I believe it shows as the book of Proverbs unfolds.
I’m pretty much convinced that (at least the first seven chapters of) Proverbs are not so much Solomon’s own wisdom but a recount of what David taught him. Listen to how Solomon himself describes it: “When I was my father’s son, tender and the only one in the sight of my mother, he also taught me and said to me: ‘Let your heart retain my words; keep my commands and life. Get wisdom! Get understanding! Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth….'” (Prov 4:3.) Reading through Proverbs chapters 1-7, you will find the words, “my son” over and over. One has the sense that Solomon is quoting his father time and again.
As we’ve said before, sometimes God gives a prophetic word to the prophet first to consider for their own lives. I wonder if much of this wasn’t God warning Solomon himself. Chapter 7 talks about treasuring the commandments so as to live (:2) and being sure to stay away from “immoral women.” (:5) One does wonder how a nice Jewish boy such as Solomon was supposed to be, would know so much about the ways of an adulterous woman as he describes in chapter 7:5-27. Hmmmm. Then chapter 8 begins, “Does not wisdom cry out, and understanding lift up her voice?” (8:1f) A definite warning follows against perversion and wickedness and that which is an abomination. Serious warning indeed.
But then an interesting description suddenly appears rather uncharacteristic of the way wisdom has been presented before. Many, including myself, have seen a prophetic picture of Yeshua as Creator with the Father in these verses in Proverbs 8:22-31. Since He is the wisdom of God, it seems as if the Spirit is saying, wisdom is not impersonal, it’s not a way of seeing things or of knowledge, but Wisdom is the Person of God Himself. Then it goes on to say, “listen to me, children; blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise and do not disdain it. Blessed is the man who listens to me…. For whoever finds me finds life…. but he who sins against me wrongs his own soul….” (32-36 my emphasis.) Pretty serious stuff.
While the Proverbs do continue to impart wisdom, from then on, as if the Personal appeal from God was unheeded, Proverbs becomes rather impersonal. No more do we see the words, “my son” as if his father’s words had faded from his memory along with his sense of wanting to be righteous as his father was righteous. While wisdom is a goal, wisdom is not higher than desiring to be righteous and while righteousness is addressed in Proverbs, it is always horizontal – in relation to other people, and generally not vertical – in relationship with God.
After reading through David’s life, when I got to Solomon’s reign, chapter after chapter describes the building of the Temple. He seems totally involved with the building project. But no mention of the Lord. I see no dependence on the Lord. Solomon seems to have no longing for God; at least it’s not mentioned. He’s into real estate, not God. The Temple does get built, according to all of David’s plans. It took 7 years to complete. (Never mind that it took 13 years to build the house Solomon built for himself. I wonder what that looked like?)
Finally it’s fully completed and time to dedicate the Temple to the Lord, just as David always wanted. Finally it’s time to bring the ark to the Temple: “Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the chief fathers of the children of Israel….that they might bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord from the City of David, which is Zion.” (1 Kings 8:1) All the priests and the Levites came and brought the ark to it’s place in the Temple. They “were sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that could not be counted or numbered for the multitude.” (:5)
Did you notice that only the leaders were there, not the general populace? David always invited all of Israel to such occasions, the am ha eretz, the people of the land. Solomon limited it to those with some clout, some influence, some title. That made me sad. Then as I read on and pictured what was taking place, I missed David’s spirit. I missed his joy in the Lord, his heart for God. With all the activity going on it seemed so spiritually void of the sweet presence of David’s unabashed passion for God that I began to cry. In the margin of my Bible next to verse :5 I wrote, “But nobody’s dancing!”
All the extraordinary splendor and the majestic edifice, but Solomon doesn’t have the heart for God that David his father did. True, “it came to pass that when the priests came out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.” (:10,11) That’s pretty significant. And it’s true that Solomon prayed an awesome prayer of dedication. True too that he started out standing and by the end he was kneeling before the Lord (:22, 54). Surely the Lord was in that place. Perhaps it was in part because of David that God’s presence was so real. In his dedication speech and his prayer Solomon cited his father David eight times. This was, after all, the crowning achievement of the desire of David’s heart and of all his plans. David’s dream had come true. Even so, no one was dancing.
It is also true that God came to Solomon and offered Solomon whatever he wanted and he chose wisdom. True that God did give him wisdom. But wisdom isn’t necessarily godliness. Wisdom is the prudent use of resources and knowledge, it’s about what to do with what you have. Wisdom is about how to act and live and decide in the best interest of yourself and of others. David told Solomon the same words that God had told Joshua, “Do according to all the law [instructions, e.g., Torah] which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper [margin: have success or act wisely] wherever you go.” (Josh 1:7) True wisdom is heeding the words of God, and following His commandments which are given for our good. There is no true wisdom without God’s Word.
I’ve written this before but it seems to fit here so I’ll say it again, I once asked God if he hates sin because it hurts Him or because it makes Him angry and the answer came immediately: “Sin makes Me angry because it hurts you.” Solomon’s sin hurt not only himself, but the entire nation. Only God can count what suffering has come upon the children of Israel, even to today, because their king turned from the ways of God into sin: “King Solomon loved many foreign women, as well as the daughter of Pharaoh…from the nations of whom the Lord had said to the children of Israel, ‘You shall not intermarry with them nor they with you. Surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods.’ Solomon clung to these in love….And so, when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David….Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord and did not fully follow the Lord, as did his father David.” (See 1 Kings 11:1-8 for all he did).
Now do you see why I think Solomon forfeited his title as the wisest man who ever lived? Despite the security in his reign that he began with, here were the consequences: “Therefore the Lord said to Solomon, “Because you have done this, and have not kept My covenant and My statutes which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you.” (:11) The Temple, the Land, the Kingdom – all to be ripped from his grasp. And so it begins: “Now the Lord raised up an adversary against Solomon” (:14) and there was no peace from that time on for Solomon or the nation – even to this day! The kingdom was divided and ten tribes were separated away from Solomon and his son and their sons. The rest, as they say, is history.
So what have we to learn from all this? You may well come up with things I hadn’t thought of. As I see it, wisdom for it’s own sake has no lasting power. If it’s not founded on righteousness based on God’s Word, it will fail you. Wisdom is ultimately only found in the Person of Yeshua, and it is in Him we find our righteousness. As He is the embodiment of all that God commanded, we would do well to know what is in the Torah so that the Holy Spirit can bring it to our minds as we need to be reminded.
The challenges David faced which caused him to choose God’s way or his own, were in fact the very tools God used to make David into the image of His own Son. Perhaps that is why the Spirit says through James, “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials,” (Js 1:2) Further, we do a disservice to our young ones, be they natural or spiritual “children” to present them with an easy life or an easy Gospel with few challenges so that they do not get to find out how valuable and trustworthy the Lord is. And if we overprotect them, they never get to find out that they are sinners. We can give them the blueprints and instructions for how to “do church,” but without having had their own moment of knowing they desperately need His Forgiveness and His mercy to overcome their sin nature, their relationship with God may be just riding on someone else’s glory and it will wane.
As I pondered all this, asking the Lord to show me what He wanted me to see, it occurred to me that this story could possibly be a prophetic picture of some of the church. There are those who love the Lord with all their hearts, who just love to sit in His presence, letting God reveal Himself to them, like David in his tabernacle. There are some who will joyfully dance with all their might before the Lord, unconcerned with what people think of them, knowing they are always in need for God and confident that He’s there for them in an on-going relationship. And there will be those who want to build a great House for God, those who are involved with the building the church, even to create it to be as glorious an edifice as possible. They may follow plans for “How to build a great church” though not necessarily consult God Himself as to what He wants. They may even invite “important people” to come to their gala dedications. The Lord may even show up for a season. But even so, if nobody’s dancing…well, I just wonder.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright ©1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.