Let's begin by stating the obvious: Solomon was very wise. Yet for today, we need to go through the exercise of showing just how wise he was so that we can draw some necessary conclusions from this later on.
In 1 Kings 3:5-14 God appears to Solomon and asks what he would like from God. Solomon declared that he was just a young boy who didn’t know how to be king to this large nation he had inherited and asks for wisdom, discerning, and understanding so he could be a good king. God was very pleased at this and promised to make Solomon wiser and more discerning than anyone before or after him. The last half of this chapter is an example of Solomon’s discernment. A familiar story to most of us. Two prostitutes who lived together had sons within days of each other. One rolled atop her child during the night and accidentally suffocated him. She then switched out the babies and claimed the living one as hers. Unsurprisingly, the mother of the living child knew which was hers and knew the dead child wasn’t hers. Also unsurprisingly, no one else could tell the children apart. Newborns tend to all look alike, and in a tribal society in which all are related if you go back far enough, and all had Semitic features, it wasn’t easy to tell one dark haired, dark eyed child from the others. This was a classic she said/she said scenario. None of the lower judges of the country could figure out how to handle this issue, so the matter came before Solomon. After Solomon heard the case, he almost mocks the ladies in vs 23. ‘One says this, the other says that!’ One can almost hear his exasperation. He then calls for a sword and orders the baby cut in half. I’ve recently heard a lot of nonsense about this, people accusing Solomon of being cruel and bloodthirsty. Solomon had no intention of killing the baby. He wanted to watch the two women as he gave the order. Sure enough, the true mother – who like all mothers would do anything to keep her child alive – began begging for the child to be turned over to the other woman as long as it was alive. The mother of the dead child had no such strong reaction and so Solomon solved the unsolvable case, figuring out which woman was the real mother. This display of discernment was so great that the last verse of this chapter tells us that all Israel feared the king because it was so obvious that the wisdom of God was upon him.
This is far from the only indications we get of Solomon’s wisdom and learning. 1 Kings 4:29-34 gives us some of the stats of his career. Solomon spoke over 3,000 proverbs, meaning we only have some of them recorded in the Bible. He wrote 1,005 songs, again meaning we only have a small portion of his work preserved. In addition to this, he gave discourses on what we would call botany and zoology. And just to beat a dead horse a little deader, the first ten verses of 1 Kings 10 record the visit of the Queen of Sheba. She had heard of Solomon’s wisdom and his works and decided that she wanted to see for herself. She came to visit and to test Solomon’s wisdom with hard questions, the kind of things that one mulls over in the dead of the night. Hard questions of the heart. In verse three we see that all her questions were answered. “. . .there was nothing hidden from the king that he could not explain to her.” She exclaimed in verse 7 that the unbelievable stories she had heard about him hadn’t even told the half of what he truly was. Think about that. How often does anything live up to the hype? Solomon far surpassed the hype.
I think it is fair to say that Solomon was incredibly wise and full of understanding.
So how do we explain 1 Kings 11:1-8? This tells us that Solomon loved many foreign women. Egyptian, Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian and Hittite women are listed in verse one. We are told he had 700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines (vs. 3). These women turned Solomon’s heart away from God. He began to follow the Ashtoreth and Milcolm, gods of Sidon and Ammon. He built temples and high places for other gods so his wives could worship their various idols (vs 4-8). Vs. 6 sums it up well: “So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done.”
Do you think Solomon knew he shouldn’t have married those women? Aside from the fact that the Law specifically forbade intermarrying with foreigners (Deut. 7:1-4), do you think Solomon was wise enough to recognize the dangers? Of course he was. Do you think he knew that building temples for other gods, even if he didn’t worship them, would anger God? Of course he did. Do you think he knew it was foolish to worship those idols he did follow? Of course he did! He was Solomon, the wisest man to ever live! He knew these things, but he sinned anyway. Sometimes knowledge of God’s word isn’t enough. Sometimes wisdom to know the right course to follow isn’t enough. Regardless of knowing the right thing to do, at some point I have to decide to do that right thing. I have to utilize the self-control to follow the wisest course. Knowledge and wisdom won’t help at all unless I decide to make use of my knowledge and wisdom.
Let me pause for a second to say that I am in no way denigrating knowledge and wisdom. These are needful things. After all, in 1 Kings 3:10 it says that God was pleased that Solomon had asked for wisdom and discernment. Hosea 4:6 tells us that knowledge of God is essential to salvation. Throughout the New Testament we are told to pursue knowledge and wisdom. For instance James 1:5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” Also Paul tells Timothy that in order to be approved, he had to be able to handle the word of truth. That takes both knowledge and wisdom, right? 2 Tim. 2:15 “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” In 2 Peter 1 we find knowledge right in the middle of the list of “Christian virtues”. It is clear that knowledge of the truth and the wisdom to utilize it are pursuits that all Christians should participate in, yet the clear example of Solomon is that knowledge and wisdom alone aren’t enough. We all know of very capable Bible students who have left the Lord. Without racking my memory, I could tell you of an Elder who left his wife and the Lord. Also, one of the best adult Bible Class teachers I know left his wife and the Lord, though praise God he later repented and returned to each. I’m sure everyone reading this could add to these stories. So following God takes more than just knowledge.
First we need to know where true knowledge and wisdom originate: Prov. 1:7 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” and Prov. 9:10 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” If our knowledge and wisdom isn’t based in a fear of God, it isn’t going to help us much. For instance, there are professors of Biblical Studies throughout the Ivy Leagues who have dedicated their lives to studying the Bible and probably know more about it than 99% of Gospel preachers and yet they don’t believe in God. (This is totally mystifying to me.) Do you think their immense Biblical knowledge is going to help them much? Probably not as Heb. 11:6 says that in order to please God one must believe that He is. Unbelieving knowledge often leads to sinful pride. If we aren’t careful, this can even befall believers, as they come to rely on their knowledge rather than on God. This happened to Solomon, as seen in 1 Kings 11:9-13, 40. When he was rebuked by God and told another would rip most of the kingdom from him, Solomon had the temerity to try to kill Jeroboam and thus undo God’s plan. In his pride, he thought he could thwart God. So, as our knowledge of God increases, so must our humility before Him. James 4:7a, 10 “Submit yourselves therefore to God. . . Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”
At base all knowledge, however pious, won’t help if we don’t have self-control. We sometimes pray for forgiveness for any sins we might be unaware of, and that’s fine, but let’s be honest for a moment. Most of the time we sin we know we are being tempted, we know that to give in would be a sin, and we decide to do it anyway. Our knowledge didn’t help us then, did it? Except to make us feel that much more guilty later. We need knowledge and wisdom, but we also need to decide to follow that wisdom and knowledge. We need the self-control to follow through on what we know. Unsurprisingly, this is discussed in the scriptures:
Isa. 1:16-17 “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.”
God here tells His people to stop sinning. He doesn’t tell them to study more. He doesn’t give them strategies for better success at overcoming temptation. He just tells them to stop. “Cease to do evil.” It is a matter of deciding. To steal from Nike, “Just do it.” Paul also calls for determination:
1 Cor. 15:58 “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
We are to be “steadfast, immovable.” Nothing should shake us from following God. Being immovable doesn’t take gigabytes of knowledge or even the wisdom of the sages. Being immovable just takes a decision and then some stubbornness. (So what’s my excuse?) We need to know God, decide to follow Him, and then be too stubborn to quit. If we follow that formula, we will win. Notice what Peter and James say about the Devil:
1 Peter 5:8-9 “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”
James 4:7 “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
Yes, he is dangerous. Yes, he is trying to devour us. Yes, we can resist him. If we do, he will flee. Others are going through it too. Others are winning. So can we. We just have to decide.
I’m proud to be a part of a congregation that makes an effort to have in-depth Bible studies. That is important. However, paying attention in these classes twice a week and listening to two good sermons each week isn’t enough to keep me in the Way. At some point, I have to decide to follow God and to stand fast, immovable.