The Wisdom of Solomon

Blair Smith, Speaker

1 Kings 3 | September 24 - Sunday Evening,

Sunday Evening,
September 24
The Wisdom of Solomon | 1 Kings 3
Blair Smith, Speaker

Please turn with me to the book of 1 Kings, chapter 3. We in the evening here have been in a series in 1 Kings and we come tonight to chapter 3. We will read the whole of the chapter, the whole of the chapter in this famous passage of Solomon’s wisdom and the source of that wisdom.

Hear the word of our Lord.

“Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt. He took Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her into the city of David until he had finished building his own house and the house of the Lord and the wall around Jerusalem. The people were sacrificing at the high places, however, because no house had yet been built for the name of the Lord.”

“Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father, only he sacrificed and made offerings at the high places. And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place. Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to Your servant David my father, because he walked before You in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. And now, O Lord my God, You have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. 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. And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. And if you will walk in My ways, keeping My statutes and My commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.””

“And Solomon awoke, and behold, it was a dream. Then he came to Jerusalem and stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and offered up burnt offerings and peace offerings, and made a feast for all his servants.”

“Then two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. The one woman said, “Oh, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house, and I gave birth to a child while she was in the house. Then on the third day after I gave birth, this woman also gave birth. And we were alone. There was no one else with us in the house; only we two were in the house. And this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him. And she arose at midnight and took my son from beside me, while your servant slept, and laid him at her breast, and laid her dead son at my breast. When I rose in the morning to nurse my child, behold, he was dead. But when I looked at him closely in the morning, behold, he was not the child that I had borne.” But the other woman said, “No, the living child is mine, and the dead child is yours.” The first said, “No, the dead child is yours, and the living child is mine.” Thus they spoke before the king.”

“Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son that is alive, and your son is dead’; and the other says, ‘No; but your son is dead, and my son is the living one.’” And the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So a sword was brought before the king. And the king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other.” Then the woman whose son was alive said to the king, because her heart yearned for her son, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means put him to death.” But the other said, “He shall be neither mine nor yours; divide him.” Then the king answered and said, “Give the living child to the first woman, and by no means put him to death; she is his mother.” 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.”

This is the Word of the Lord.

Let’s pray together.

Our heavenly Father, what a wonderful passage You have given us this evening. We thank You for Your hand in bringing Your Word to us. We thank You for Your hand in bringing wisdom to leaders of Your people, and we thank you that You give us an invitation just as You gave to Solomon to ask for wisdom. I pray, Father, that You would be with me tonight as I seek to preach this passage. May Your Spirit guide my words, that they might be faithful to Your Word and may You cause forgetfulness of all those words that are not faithful. We pray these things through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Who’s the wisest person that you know? Who’s the wisest person you know? What characterizes that person? Is he smart? Is she wealthy? We sometimes associate, don’t we, smarts with wisdom, maybe even wealth with wisdom, but most of us, we’ve been around some pretty clever people who are also pretty unwise, and we’ve been around wealthy people who obtain wealth through unwise means.

Wisdom is not divorced from knowledge, and wisdom can produce wealth, but it can’t be reduced to these. Wisdom is deeper. Wisdom is deeper.

Now I must say wisdom is inseparable from knowledge. You can have a wise mechanic, for example, who has no knowledge of the operations of a motor, nor can you have a wise judge who is entirely ignorant of the law.

As you think of who the wisest person you know is, what characterizes him or her, it is likely their ability to use or apply knowledge and insight in the face of enigmas, adversities, subtleties, questions. A wise person is someone you seek out when you have a dilemma, they have a view of the big picture, yes, but are also able to narrow the lens to your situation and know how it should be understood and what should be done.

We sometimes associate wisdom with the detached sage, the Yoda in the forest who is apart from the world. Well, wisdom does entail a sense or a measure of removal or transcending the world, that is, the ability to see the whole, which can only be done when we step outside the hurly-burly of life and have that space for reflection. But the wise person also knows the particulars of life, that is, there’s insight into the texture of living with all its relationships and complications and nuances.

So who’s the wisest person you know? Whatever you answered in your mind, that person pales in comparison to the subject, or at least the main subject, of the sermon this evening, that is, Solomon. The wisdom of Solomon is renowned throughout the Bible, throughout history.

The next chapter speaks of his wisdom as having very great insight, a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. His wisdom surpassed the wisdom of the great men of the east, of the wise sages of Egypt. People, kings, the Queen of Sheba, famous throughout the Bible, they would come from their nations because they had heard of his wisdom and they sought out his profound wisdom.

Whenever we hear of a wise person or have the pleasure of being around one, we wonder where does that wisdom come from. What’s the source of that person’s wisdom? We wonder where did it begin? What are it’s materials?

Well, with Solomon we don’t have to wonder. We don’t have to wonder, for this chapter makes it abundantly clear to us the source of the renowned wisdom of King Solomon.

We have three points this evening. We’re going to spend most of our time on the first one, the prayer of wisdom, number one. Number two, the practice of wisdom. Then number three, the person of wisdom. The prayer of wisdom, the practice of wisdom, the person of wisdom.

We’re going to look at those suggestive lines of verses 1 through 2 a little bit later. For now I want to begin looking at this text with you at verse 3, where it reads: “Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David, his father.” These lines immediately put this passage within a larger covenantal story that God is telling throughout the whole of Scripture. Out of love, God chose Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Moses and David and their descendants in order to bless them, in order to walk with them in covenantal communion.

We read in Deuteronomy 4:37, “and because God loved your fathers and chose their offspring after them and brought you out of Egypt with His own presence by His great power.” And then we read the great command of Deuteronomy 6:5, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

The covenantal story of Scripture is one of God electing and calling a people in the bonds of love and then that love eliciting, drawing out a loving response.

So Solomon. He could look to his own father David and see a man that even with all his faults was a man, as Scripture tells us, after God’s own heart. He was a royal man with whom God established covenant in 2 Samuel 7 and said, “I will be to him a father and he shall be to Me a son.”

Solomon echoes God’s covenantal love for his father in verse 6. He says, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David, my father, because he walked before You in faithfulness and righteousness and in uprightness of heart towards You, and You have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on this throne today.”

So Solomon is this son, right? Solomon is a picture of God’s covenantal faithfulness to David, and Solomon recognizes that. Solomon loves the Lord, walking in His statutes. This is his appropriate covenantal response for Solomon and for you and for me. We love God because He first loved us, and we show that love through walking in His ways, keeping His commandments. Indeed, Jesus Himself said if you love Me, keep my commandments.

So as we consider the prayer of wisdom, it comes from one here who’s a lover of God. Solomon, the lover of God.

In previous weeks we saw the chapter before this one setting up the transition in the kingdom from King David to King Solomon. He considers himself utterly equipped, I should say, utterly ill-equipped naturally for this task. He calls himself here “but a little child who does not know how to go out or come in.” He looks out and he sees this great people that God has given, of course this great people according to the wonderful promises that God gave all the way back to Abraham, and these promises He gave to Abraham are now coming to fruition and a great people is swelling. It’s God’s chosen people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude, and Solomon sees this and he senses a great sense of need.

How is he going to rule them well? How he is going to govern them in justice? This here is humility. Solomon didn’t think he’d arrived. He didn’t think just because he’s the great royal son of the great David that he had it all figured out and it was now his time in the spotlight, it was Solomon’s time to shine. No, he started where all true petitionary prayer starts, out of a sense of need, a sense of need. This is his humility. Here is the royal son come king and his first step as king is not to surround himself with sages of his day who can give him good advice. He doesn’t seek out the most popular books or scrolls of his day and certainly they didn’t have podcasts, but if he did he wasn’t on there looking, searching, what are the 10 steps in how to rule an ancient near-Eastern nation well. No, he gets on his knees, as it were. He adopts a posture of humility, which along with love shape our posture in prayer.

How foreign this is to the spirit of our age, even too often within the Church. We’re tempted to think we have it figured out, we have all the resources that we need at our fingertips. We seek first not the kingdom but podcasts, self-help books. We hold our heads high and nod knowingly rather than to bow, to cry out. This posture is so foreign to our age that recent example, Coco Gauff, I think that’s how you say her name, I’m not a big tennis fan, but I know she just won the US Women’s Single US Open Championship, and there was this great picture during her match. I’m actually not sure if it was before or after, that’s how ignorant I am of the situation, but I do know this, she kneeled down and was praying apparently at the side of the tennis court. But there was a headline that captured this from one of our major media outlets, the main sports media outlet of our country, and it read, “Coco Gauff takes a moment to soak it all in.” They turned this humble moment of prayer to God on her knees and turned it into a self-centered moment.

While that’s easy to see, we live in a culture that increasingly doesn’t understand even the most basic posture of prayer, how easily we are tempted to turn prayer into a first and foremost laundry list of items that will serve our own glory and our own comfort.

Solomon here shows us a different way, doesn’t he? You see in verse 5. God gives him the ultimate green light in prayer, the ultimate green light: “Ask what I shall give you.” Incidentally, this is the same strong invitation to prayer that you and I have as disciples of Jesus Christ: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

But while we have a liberal invitation to prayer, we also have encouragements. Right? In places like James, not to ask wrongly, that we would spend things on our passions.

This is precisely what Solomon doesn’t do, and it so pleased the Lord. Rather than pray in order to accumulate wealth and honors and power for himself, he prays for wisdom. But there’s a specific reason for this prayer for wisdom. He desires to serve others with it, he desires to serve others with it. A heart to serve the people of God, the people that God has given him, that heart to serve is the animating spirit of his prayer.

So in Solomon we have a man who loves God and who’s postured in humility as he enters into this great prayer in the first half of our chapter. He seeks first the kingdom of God, we could say, in his prayer life. But like the promise of Matthew 6:33 of seeking first the kingdom of God, he also has all these things added to him. God is very pleased in his prayer, pleased that his prayer is not self-centered. He’s pleased to give him what he asks for, yes, wisdom, indeed in measure far beyond what he ever could hope or imagine, and yes, He also gives him riches and honor.

Before leaving this first point, I want to highlight three sort of further priorities from this prayer that perhaps we can give attention to and that will aid our own prayer lives.

The first is notice how Solomon’s prayer is not overly generic. It’s not overly generic. He doesn’t just pray for wisdom in general. Right? No, he, and I’m suggesting here we, too, feels the need in the particulars of his circumstance and then he prays accordingly. He’s going to be king so he needs wisdom specifically for that call, that call to govern well so that justice, which God loves, is established in the kingdom.

So I would suggest to you, to me, this text challenges us to be specific with our prayers. Do you ever need money to meet some real-life need? Pray for it. Where else are you going to get it but from the hand of God? Yes, He might use means to bring it to us, but certainly from His love and grace towards us. Is your child sick? Pray for her that the Great Physician would touch her and heal her, yes, maybe through the causation of using medical professionals. But again, who’s ultimately going to be healing our loved ones? Are you late for an appointment and really need a parking place? Pray for it.

Sometimes we’re tempted to think the only things we should pray for are the really high and spiritual things, the fruits of the Spirit, or maybe humility, which indeed is a spiritual virtue. By all means, let’s pray for these things, but let’s remember God loves that He made us, souls and bodies, and Jesus Himself commanded us to pray for our daily needs when He told us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

So let’s be specific in our prayers. It’s wise for Solomon to do so, it’s wise for us.

Another important lesson Solomon’s prayer holds for us is to pray the promises of God, to pray the promises of God. The whole context of his petition in verse 9 is God’s promises in His covenantal faithfulness. In this Solomon learned to pray from his father. We see this pattern in his father, David. When you have time this week, maybe even this evening, I would really encourage you to go and read the whole chapter 7 of 2 Samuel, 2 Samuel 7. This is the famous chapter where God makes covenant with David. You see how the first half of that chapter is God making these amazing promises to David, promises that will benefit David but then will benefit his house, that is his dynasty, his legacy, all throughout the history of the world and even into eternity. So read that first half, but then see how the second half of the chapter mirrors the first half, where essentially what David does is he prays back to God the very promises that God just delivered to him in the first half of that chapter.

Essentially, it is, “God, You said it, please do it. God, You promised, please do it.” And we see that same sequence here in our chapter. After recounting God’s faithfulness to His covenantal promises and providing a great and many people, Solomon prays, “Give your servant, therefore, the ability to govern them wisely.”

I would suggest to you petitionary prayer is discovering the promises of God in His Word and praying them back to Him. This is so important because it honors first and foremost our promise making, promise keeping God, but it also shifts our focus in our prayers from our temporal needs, those things that feel so pressing all of the day, to an eternal perspective. It’s easy to fixate on our problems, and God promises places in this larger story of His grace and His faithfulness and His character and it gives us that larger perspective to focus on. That alone may meet our need, right? Knowing God more and knowing His covenantal love and faithfulness such that our problems really aren’t problems anymore.

But knowing God’s Word will also reveal to us, and this is a great encouragement to study His Word more thoroughly, because knowing God’s Word will reveal to us promises, indeed promises that are very specific to the situations that we face in the Christian life.

Perhaps you’re struggling, just for an example, perhaps you’re struggling with God’s forgiveness. How can it be that you are forgiven? And you need a word such as 1 John 1:9 that if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to cleanse us from our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. He’s faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us.

There are a myriad of promises in God’s Word, and those promises are invitations to pray – You said it, Lord, You said it, please do it.

A further brief lesson provided by Solomon here is simply his response. After God grants him his prayer and more beyond his prayer, Solomon we see in verse 15 is worshiping, he worships. So when God gives, we give thanks and we worship Him. Gratitude is always an appropriate response to God’s goodness and faithfulness to us.

Our second main point this evening, and more briefly, is the practice of wisdom. The story in the second half of our chapter is interesting and famous. In it we see Solomon practice or apply wisdom to a very unique and indeed colorful circumstance. I think the first thing we must be struck by here in this scene is these are two prostitutes, and then the king, two prostitutes and then the royal son. What this means is Solomon is not insulated. Right? He’s not insulated in some elite bubble, but in his rule as king he’s dealing with all rungs of society. It wasn’t like in that society prostitutes were considered any higher than they are in our current one. Indeed, probably lower. That’s remarkable.

But what’s even more remarkable is we learn through this story how wisdom benefits all in a society. Right? When you have a wise ruler and we pray for a wise ruler, rulers, it benefits all. It’s not just the powerful, the wealthy, the influential. Here we see it reaching throughout society, even affecting those involved in the greatest profession of ill-repute.

The circumstances here, as we read them, they’re mundane, they’re sad. Each of the prostitutes has a baby and at night one accidently smothers her child, and once she sees what she’s done, she switches out the babies. When the other prostitute awakes, she recognizes something is amiss. This isn’t her baby that’s now with her. So this is brought to the king and the two prostitutes stand before him. You can see, sort of on the surface of things, this is a classic he said/she said. I guess more properly, she said/she said here. There’s no witnesses to corroborate the claim. I mean, there’s the baby, but the baby’s not able to witness. No witnesses to corroborate the claim that one woman switched out her dead baby for the living one. That would have made it a simple open and shut case. No, this case needs something deeper. This case needs wisdom to figure it out.

It’s Solomon’s God-gifted wisdom that will bring resolution to the tension that we find in this passage, and it’s brought in a most remarkable courageous way by Solomon. Before he does bring resolution, I think we can see here the dilemma. It’s one word against another with only the baby as a witness. Solomon does apply the wisdom to the situation, we can from the other side of his applying of that wisdom say of course, of course, this is precisely the way you would draw out who’s the true mother, who’s the true mother of the living baby.

At first blush, his resolution seems kind of brutal, simplistic, cut the baby in half with the sword. But of course, that’s where there’s a deeper wisdom operating beyond appearances here. That wisdom was Solomon knew human nature, his perception of human nature is so remarkable here.

Remember I said at the beginning that wisdom is not divorced from our knowledge, not divorced from our attention, our observation. Indeed, those are ingredient to somebody who is wise. Solomon had given attention throughout his life to the ways of motherhood and he knew that a true mother would never wish death upon her child. This was the key reality that led to his wise judgment of knowing motherly nature.

As Solomon practices wisdom here, we see again that wisdom has a particularity to it. He prays for wisdom, but again not in general, not generic wisdom, but for wisdom specific to his calling as a king who governs and years to establish justice through his governing.

Here then we see wisdom applies to a very particular circumstance as he governs His people. There’s general wisdom about human nature, certainly, that we can have, but then there’s that dynamic application of it to the circumstances before him, and that’s what we see in Solomon here. The courage to dynamically use that wisdom in the nitty gritty of this very unique circumstance.

This is what true wisdom is, this kind of wisdom that we should pray for.

Perhaps you’re a lawyer here tonight, some attorney. It’s one thing again to know the law, it’s another thing to know how to wisely apply it within a case. If that’s your calling, I would encourage you to pray for that.

Perhaps you’re a teacher. It’s one thing to know your subject, it’s another to know how to teach it effectively, to your grade level that you’re called to teach with all the personalities in your class. Pray for wisdom for that unique application, that dynamic application within the course of your calling.

Perhaps you’re a stay-at-home mother. It’s one thing to know about motherhood and caring generally for a home, it’s another to do so in the midst of all the personalities and uniqueness of your family. Pray for wisdom for that.

Perhaps you’re a student. It’s one thing to have good study habits in those subjects like chemistry, it’s another to be prepared for that next test with all the particularities of chemistry that I cannot pronounce upon at this time as I don’t know a lot about chemistry. But if you’re a student and you’re seeking to know chemistry, how might you apply that knowledge you’re learning to the particularities of a test? Pray for wisdom for that.

Perhaps you’re involved in something like small engine repair. It’s one thing to know about engines in general, it’s another thing to know about lawnmower engines more specifically, it’s another to entangle the enigmas of a Briggs & Stratton that’s in your workshop right now.

As I came in for worship this evening, I learned we had a problem today with our organ. Every time it was getting plugged in the fuse was blowing out, and someone, I won’t embarrass him, in our congregation evidently had electrical knowledge that maybe comes from his profession, but then he was able to enter into the particularities of this stage and its circuitry and its plugs and bring resolution so that we now have an organ that’s not blowing out our circuits. That’s applied dynamic wisdom and that’s what we’re called to pray for in the midst of our lives, just like Solomon, who was called yes, to a high and lofty position as king, but he knew he needed wisdom not generically, but in order to govern well so that justice, God’s justice, might be established among His people.

If anyone lacks wisdom, James says, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach and it will be given him. Let’s pray for wisdom in the particulars of our lives.

But here’s the remarkable thing. When we ask for wisdom, what are we ultimately asking for as Christians? We are asking for the person of wisdom, and that’s our third and final point this evening.

Paul says in Colossians 2:3 that in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

While it’s true that we need that dynamic wisdom that applies and brings resolution and flourishing into the nitty gritty of our lives, we must, we must never forget that wisdom source. We know for certain that source is not merely the example of Solomon, for while he displays some remarkable virtues worthy of our emulation such as his prayer for wisdom here in 1 Kings 3, we know his life also serves as a great warning.

It’s not the main point of our passage, so I don’t want to spend too much time on this, but we see small signs of something amiss here with Solomon. In the first two verses we see him enter into a marriage alliance with the foreign woman from Egypt, which the law warns will lead through the drawing away of a heart that is to be devoted entirely to God. What’s more, Solomon seems to be tolerating worship here at high places, which again is prohibited in God’s law. It’s no accident that these small signs of a divided heart here in 1 Kings 3 show up later as ingredient to his downfall. For all his brilliant wisdom, Solomon is no savior. He may provide partial guidance in his example, he blessed his people in justice for a time, but in his very failures he draws our eyes, does he not, to look for David’s greater Son, for David’s greater Son, a greater King to come.

Indeed, when our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, came to earth, it was announced, “Behold, something greater than Solomon is here. Behold, something greater than Solomon is here.” The One who Proverbs says is wisdom itself came to earth to save us from our foolishness. In all facets of His life, He dynamically applied wisdom from confounding the Pharisees’ petulant questions, His wonderful preaching on the Mount, His endurance in the face of temptation, then He subverted the wisdom of the world when He submitted Himself to the will of the Father, undertook death by Roman crucifixion, a gruesome, bloody, public ordeal, that in its shame and weakness became the very atonement of us, His people.

There is a wisdom of this world, which James calls demonic, and Paul calls foolish. When Christians live according to the wisdom of Christ, it may appear foolish to the eyes of our neighbors because they have different standards of what true wisdom is, but it is the foolishness of the cross, which is our very way to the profound wisdom of our salvation, and if we have any wisdom in our lives, it comes out of our vital union with Christ, who Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:30, that Derek read earlier, became to us wisdom from God.

So let us pray, let us pray with love and humility. Let us seek to practice dynamic wisdom in the particulars of our lives. Let us know that any shred of wisdom we have is sourced in the person of wisdom, the One who is greater than Solomon.

Let’s pray together. O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God, how unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways. Our Father, we thank You for the wisdom You have given us in Your Son, Jesus Christ. We thank You that You have accessed, that You have given us access to You through Him and by the spirit, and we thank You that in Christ we have wisdom, but we also pray with Solomon that You would give us a wisdom to live our lives in a way that is wise and that brings glory to You. May we know that that sometimes will bring reproach from our neighbor, who has a different wisdom from the world. May we have the courage, indeed, the courage that can come only by Your Spirit to live out Your wisdom in all the very particulars of our lives, and certainly a sanctuary of this size, there are so many sensed needs in the particulars of our lives. May we not forsake prayer as that first step, expressing our need, asking that we would have wisdom in the course of our lives, and we may then return thanks when You provide it, knowing that it is sourced in Your beloved Son, our Savior, in whose name we pray. Amen.