Nobody’s perfect. Not even the great King Solomon, whose story unfolds in the book of 1 Kings and under whom the nation of Israel reached the zenith of its power and splendour.

He had many good features but also some notable weaknesses. We’ll take a look at both, and see what we can learn from them. Let’s begin with the positives, and number one must be his proverbially great wisdom.

When Solomon was about twenty, early in his reign, the Lord appeared to him and gave him a blank cheque: ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you.’[1] To his credit he asked for wisdom and discernment for governing the people of Israel. Pleased with this choice, God granted his request and, for good measure, threw in riches and honour, too.

Wisdom is multi-faceted, so let’s consider some facets of Solomon’s wisdom. For starters, he was aware of his own need. ‘I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties,’ he admitted to the Lord. ‘Who is able to govern this great people of yours?’[2]

Learn from that. True, God wants you to be properly confident in yourself but at the same time to be aware of your limitations. Do what you can with the gifts he has given you. There will be times, however, when you come to the end of your resources and leaning on the Lord is your only option. He loves to use you at such times, and when things work out you can affirm like the apostle Paul, ‘When I am weak, then I am strong.’[3] Jesus himself set the precedent: it was at his point of greatest weakness, on the cross, that he accomplished his greatest work.

Solomon the wise had a sense of responsibility for other people. In fact he was daunted by the task of governing them successfully.[4] That’s good. Responsibility for others is a burden, and we all carry it to some extent, but divine help is available to save you from the tendency to be selfish and opt out. I know a young married woman who a few years ago walked out on her husband and two children, both under twelve, to pursue an affair with another man. She hasn’t seen her kids since. That’s more than unwise; it’s immature, self-centred and wicked. How self-focused are you? Who do your mostly talk about? Yourself? Then learn from Solomon.

Another facet of his wisdom was his desire ‘to distinguish between right and wrong’.[5] He wisely acknowledged that moral absolutes exist. Yes, there may be exceptions in certain circumstances, but exceptions to what? For exceptions to be meaningful there have to be standards to start with.

Some say, of course, that while a black and white view of morality is fine for the young and immature, growing older and wiser opens our eyes to more shades of grey. God’s Word suggests the opposite, affirming that ‘the mature’ are in fact those ‘who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.’[6] In other words, their personal moral spectrum lengthens. Many of the greys in the middle mutate to either black or white. At one time you might have drunk that third glass of wine without any qualms, but now you know it will make you tipsy, so you draw the line after the second one, or the first. That’s wisdom.

Solomon knew the importance of discernment. ‘Give your servant a discerning heart’, he pleaded.[7] A ‘discerning heart’ here is literally a ‘listening heart’. That means one tuned in to the voice of God, and also to other people. It means picking up the unspoken messages sent out by people’s eyes, tone of voice and body language. Some people are naturally better at this than others, but we would all benefit from developing such discernment. Solomon used it to good effect when asked to judge between the two prostitutes who claimed the same baby as their own.[8] He had come to understand the maternal instinct and used it to resolve the issue. He had learnt, in general, to judge people by more than their up-front words and actions, and this equipped  him to show ‘discernment in administering justice’ in his kingdom. Learn from him.

Solomon’s wisdom also found expression in knowing the value of organisation. Chapter four of 1 Kings describes his wise administrative leadership of Israel—the system he set up for running the country. He chose able people to be responsible for different aspects of the nation’s life: priests, secretaries, military commanders, labour organisers, household managers, district governors, and many more. Wise delegation is a skill of immense value, and Solomon did it well. By contrast, on many visits to post-colonial Africa I have seen the chaos caused by giving jobs to people ill-equipped to do them. Happily, there are signs that things are improving in this respect. What kind of organiser and delegator are you? Do you, for instance, delegate responsibilities to your children: jobs in the house, taking turns washing the dishes, maintaining part of the garden, feeding the pets?

Wise Solomon also kept his mind stretched. No vegetating for him. He developed his creative side in poetry and music, and he took a great interest in natural history, describing the life-cycles of plants, animals, birds, reptiles and fish.[9] What about you? Like most people you probably have a busy life with your work, your family life and your church responsibilities. But try to keep your brain active. Being alive in the Spirit doesn’t mean committing intellectual suicide. If it is true of you that the most unexplored territory is between your ears, do something about it. And if you are advanced in years it is even more vital to keep your mind active. Do sudoku or crossword puzzles. Enrol on a course: maths, poetry, cross-stitch, mediaeval history, computing, entomology, Italian or whatever. Be wise; do a Solomon.

Such, then, was his wisdom. But King Solomon had his weaknesses, too. We’ll be gracious and highlight only two of them. Let both serve as warnings to you.

First, he let the world squeeze him into its mould. In his case it was to do with his multiple wives. Not your own problem, I imagine, but the basic principle of moulds and squeezing holds good on a broad front.

God expected his people, Israel, to maintain good relations with the surrounding pagan nations but, at the same time, to live by the higher standard he had provided for them in his law. It’s always tempting to compromise with the ungodly folk around us and Solomon felt the pull. As king he naturally kept an eye on the kings of neighbouring states, all of whom, in line with convention, had huge numbers of wives, many of them foreign. It was a status symbol—just being able to afford them declared your wealth! It was also a common way of cementing political alliances. But God had taken a firm line here: ‘The king…must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray.’[10] Foreign wives worshipped foreign gods and brought their idolatry into the royal household. And if Solomon followed the Lord he wouldn’t need to put his trust in political marriages anyway.

But he gave in to the pressure and married many wives—literally hundreds of them.[11] Predictably, he got involved with the worship of their gods. The king who started so well and received such immense blessings from Jehovah was now bowing his head before gods like Molech, ‘the detestable god of the Ammonites’ who demanded that living children be burnt alive in sacrifice to him. No wonder God promised to take away most of the kingdom from Solomon’s descendants.[12] Doing what ungodly society did led him into big trouble and the loss of his fellowship with God.

Learn from this. Ensure that God’s declared will, not society around you, dictates how you live and the standards you maintain. Think about the way you spend your money, the way you dress, your approach to alcohol. ‘Do not let the world squeeze you into its mould,’ warned the apostle Paul.[13] If you let it, you’ll end up shaped by the world instead of by God and his Word.

Solomon had a second blind-spot: he relied too much on material things. In his case it was to do with the nation’s defences: he relied too much on the might of horses and chariots—the equivalent of today’s tanks and artillery. And they cost a lot of money.

Now there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with material things, including money. Indeed, God had promised Solomon wealth, and he delivered it.[14] But it’s all too easy to come to trust in material things, and that’s where things go wrong, because trust in the Lord tends to go out of the window.

Solomon developed an advanced army of 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horses.[15] This  mobile strike force enabled him to negotiate with neighbouring military powers from a position of strength. But there was a fly in the ointment: God had said, ‘The king...must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself.’[16] Why? Because God wanted the king to lean on him. God had, after all, shown at the Red Sea, during the exodus, that he was well able to give his people victory over a large chariot army, and they could trust him to do it again as they obeyed him and kept his covenant.

But Solomon flouted God’s command. It led directly to major problems, especially after his death. Even during his lifetime the vast wealth he had accumulated never filtered down to benefit the ordinary Israelites, prompting resentment and internal strife. As a result, when he died the nation split, with ten of the twelve tribes forsaking Solomon’s son Rehoboam and setting up a separate nation under a different king. Then Israel’s enemies, seeing the weakness, took advantage and attacked the divided nation. What a price to pay for relying on horses!

What can you learn from this? Primarily that, while God wants you to be provided for in material terms, you should never put your full trust in material things, only in God. So be grateful for your salary, but don’t see it as your ultimate source of supply. Only God is that, and he just happens to be using the company you work for to provide for you at the present time. By all means make sensible provision for your pension, but don’t let your final trust rest with the stock markets, which are notoriously volatile. Have a nice home, yes, but don’t compete to have the very latest and best of everything. Keep the Lord in first place.

And, I might add, beware of church leaders with a mega-luxurious lifestyle. Paul warned Timothy against them.[17] But while you keep an eye out for them, take no less care about the doctrine and lifestyle that you yourself embrace; an extreme ‘prosperity gospel’ approach will pander to your materialistic instincts and lead you into trouble. Remember, it was God himself who promised wealth to Solomon, and provided it, yet that very wealth, when Solomon abused and relied on it, led to major problems. Don’t fall into the same trap.

You are a king. God has called you to ‘reign in life’, so the lessons of King Solomon’s wisdom and weakness are appropriate for you. You, however, have one distinct advantage: in this day of grace the Holy Spirit’s help and empowering are available to you in a more direct way than they were to him. Make the most of that, and aim to outdo Solomon in making a good job of your rule.

Copyright © David Matthew 2009

 

1. 1 Kings 3:5

2. 1 Kings 3:7-9

1 KINGS

Wisdom And Weakness

 

This is one essay in the Windows On The Word series. Click the Next and Previous buttons to move through the series, and Up to go to the list. Footnotes appear in the right-hand column. Hover over Bible references to see the text.

 

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3. 2 Corinthians 12:10

1 Kings

4. 1 Kings 3:8-9

5. 1 Kings 3:9

6. Hebrews 5:14

7. 1 Kings 3:9, 11-12

8. See 1 Kings 3:16-28

9. See 1 Kings 4:29-34

10. Deuteronomy 17:16-17

11. See 1 Kings 11:1-8

12. See 1 Kings 11:9-13

13. Romans 12:2 J.B. Phillips

14. 1 Kings 3:12-13

15. 1 Kings 10:26

16. Deuteronomy 17:16

17. See 1 Timothy 6:5-10

The gist of this article

King Solomon combined huge strengths—notably his proverbial wisdom—with lamentable weaknesses. You’re a mixture of strong and weak yourself, so learn from him how to strengthen your strengths and weaken your weaknesses.