Solomon (in Hebrew, שְׁלמֹה, shlo-mo) was a young man when he became the king of Israel, taking over for his father David. In a dream, God offered the young king anything he wanted. Rather than riches, fame, or success, Solomon asked for wisdom because he wanted to take his responsibility as a king seriously. He wanted to rule well and know how to make right decisions.
The Bible tells us that God was so pleased with this choice that he granted Solomon not only this wish, but also all of the things he could have asked for but didn’t - riches, and honor - but with a solemn reminder to always use what he had been given to do the right thing.
While Solomon did become a very wise king, he also struggled to live in harmony with his own wisdom. He was a mixed bag, and the story of the book of 1 Kings shows us the high and low points. On the good side, the Bible says a lot about the extent of Solomon's wisdom:
29 God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore.30 Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt.31 He was wiser than anyone else, including Ethan the Ezrahite—wiser than Heman, Kalkol and Darda, the sons of Mahol. And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations.32 He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five.33 He spoke about plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also spoke about animals and birds, reptiles and fish.34 From all nations people came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom. (1 Kings 4:29-34 NIV)
Beyond this, we have some of Solomon's own written work preserved for us in the Bible. Many parts of Proverbs, as well as the books of Ecclesiastes and the aptly named Song of Solomon are all traditionally ascribed to Israel's wisest philosopher-King. Foreign leaders travelled to Israel to discuss things with Solomon and to hear him lecture. The Bible especially highlights the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10) coming to visit Solomon, test his wisdom,
But Solomon also had deep flaws. He had over 700 wives, and 300 concubines, many of them from political alliances with foreign kingdoms. (1 Kings 11) Not only was this immoral in its own right, but he also allowed these connections to other nations to lead him into worshipping foreign gods, turning his back on his covenant with Israel’s God.
One of Solomon’s biggest investments and accomplishments in his early years as king was to build a temple for God in Jerusalem. But 1 Kings 5:13–16 tells us that in doing this, Solomon also used upwards to 180,000 slaves. This abusive choice was a contradiction to the holy purpose that the Temple would serve, and ultimately God allowed this temple to be destroyed generations later. The Bible boldly shows us both the best and worst of this wise fool of a King.
Solomon started out with a lot of promise, but ended up making a mess of his life, harming lots of people, and provoked a chain of events that would eventually split the nation of Israel in two. While he held more power and influence than most of us do today, we may still see mirror reflections of our own selves in this man - who at times was his best self, and at other times his worst.
Like Solomon, we sometimes fail to live up to the calling that God has chosen us for. While there is grace for our failures, it is always important to remember that God chooses people for a purpose. God chose Israel and the line of David to bring about his blessings for the whole world. Ultimately, while this son of David failed to fulfill all of God’s purposes, another descendant of David would succeed in being the true wise king in every way. Jesus is the true leader whose wisdom never gave way to foolishness.
- Read Deuteronomy 4:5-8 and compare it to 2 Chronicles 9:1-8. What does this passage about the Queen of Sheba reveal about what Solomon did for Israel? How does this interaction fit into God's plan?
- What does this tell us about the value of obedience to God's will?
- Read Deuteronomy 17:16 and compare it to 1 Kings 10:23-29. What was Solomon's error here? Were his actions in line with the Torah?
- Do you think this was intentional on his part? Why or why not?
- Why do you think getting horses and chariots was forbidden in the first place?
- Does this section make it seem like Solomon was going in the right direction? Why or why not?
- Read 1 Kings 11:1-13 and answer the following questions:
- What made worshipping a god like Molek "detestable?" For clues, look at Leviticus 18:21, Leviticus 20:2-5, 2 Kings 23:10, Jeremiah 32:35.
- Solomon is a good example of the concept of having two natures - a sinful one and a righteous one.
- Read Romans 7:5-13. What does this tell us about the way that a sinful nature can twist even God's law?
- Have you ever been told not to do something and secretly wanted to do it even more?
- Read Romans 7:14-25. Can you relate to this passage? Have you ever felt like you couldn't do the right thing you wanted to do, or stop doing the bad things you don't want to do?
- What hope does Paul offer in this passage for people who are torn between right and wrong decisions?
- Read 2 Chronicles 5:2-14. Does this seem like a celebration God approved of?
- Read 1 Kings 9:15-23. What glaring problem is there with how Solomon went about building the temple?
- Read also 1 Kings 5:13-16.
- Read 1 Kings 5:2-6 and compare it with 1 Chronicles 22:6-10. Why was David forbidden from building the temple for God? Do you think Solomon really measured up to the requirements? Why or why not?
- Compare these verses again with 1 Kings 11:4-6. Was David good or bad? Was Solomon good or bad? Why is God able to bless and work with people who sometimes seem to be so flawed and twisted? What does this tell us about God's grace? God's standards? God's blessings?