God gave King Solomon “wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore” (1 Kings 4:29). Solomon followed the reign of his beloved father, David, with a reign of wisdom so famous that news spread to distant shores.
Even the Queen of Sheba, “ruler of the kingdom of Sabaʾ (or Sheba) in southwestern Arabia,” sought out the man behind the rumor. “The Wisdom of Solomon” is another name for the Book of Proverbs in which readers find advice and direction about how to live wisely before God.
The Proverbs are known, even by many unbelievers, as evidence of the wisdom of Solomon. This book of the Bible goes by both names because of the sage advice found there. In secular culture and literature, “A proverb is a brief, simple, and popular saying, or a phrase that gives advice and effectively embodies a commonplace truth based on practical experience or common sense.” In common usage, one might refer to vernacular wisdom or the sayings of Confucius as “proverbs.”
Some of Solomon’s many wise and simple messages of truth slipped into wider culture such as, “Pride comes before a fall” (Proverbs 16:8) and “A soft answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1). Tim Keller wrote, however, that their meaning is far deeper. The Proverbs are “a mini-guide to life.” “Submit your whole mind to the Scripture. Don't think you know better than God’s word. Bring it to bear on every area of life. Become a person under authority.” The Proverbs describe how to worship and obey God. They show what someone who loves God looks like. “Proverb” literally means “to be like” in Hebrew.
Wise to Reign
God approved of Solomon in favor of older brother Adonijah who believed he would inherit the throne. He “prepared for himself chariots and horsemen,” celebrating with arrogant prematurity (1 Kings, 1:5). But “the throne of Israel was not left only to the rules of hereditary succession; God determined the next king. Adonijah violated a basic principle in the Scriptures — that we should let God exalt us and not exalt ourselves.”
Nathan and Bathsheba simply reminded King David of his promise to place Solomon on the throne. “We know from 1 Chronicles 22:5-9 that David did in fact intend for Solomon to succeed him as king.” The result was a bloodless coup. “Loyalty and truth preserve the king, and he upholds his throne by righteousness” (Proverbs 20:28).
Wisdom and Mercy
How did Solomon become wise? He started with guidance from the prophet Nathan who spoke in Solomon’s favor. “A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel” (Proverbs 1:5). Next, “God appeared to Solomon and said to him, ‘ask for whatever you want me to give you.’” Solomon responded “‘Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?’ God said to Solomon that since he did not ask for wealth, honor, and power, but “for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you.’” God also gave Solomon the wealth he had not asked for (2 Chronicles 1:7-12).
Perhaps Solomon began his rule by modeling himself after Nathan, who sought wisdom from God. King Solomon seemed the ideal ruler for a time. “He had peace on all sides” of his enormous kingdom, “and Judah and Israel lived in safety” (1 Kings 4:24, 25).
“God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore” (1 Kings 4:29). He even spared Adonijah initially. “The merciful man does himself good, But the cruel man does himself harm” (Proverbs 11:17).
Examples to Follow
Solomon’s wisdom was exemplified in several ways:
1. Solomon took his responsibility as a ruler seriously. As God’s people were as numerous as the grains of sand, so did he require great wisdom to rule them, so he knew this was the best gift he could ask for. “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6).
2. He also wisely reviewed his choices and made changes as required. “Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track” (Proverbs 3:6, The Message). Matthew Poole wrote that Adonijah’s choice of wife was probably a political power play “for he was an aspiring and designing man, and highly discontented with Solomon’s government, and desirous of a change”
In spite of granting his older brother mercy early on in his reign, Solomon had Adonijah killed in response to what appeared to be new schemes of insurrection. Solomon changed his mind when the evidence urged him to.
3. He handled pressure intelligently. Consider two women, one whose baby had died, the other claiming the grieving mother had stolen her baby. The King’s plan — pretending he would have the baby cut in two — drew out the truth. “When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice” (1 Kings 3:28). “It is not good to be partial to the wicked and so deprive the innocent of justice” (Proverbs 18:5).
4. Solomon worshiped God, for a time. “He said, ‘The Lord God of Israel is worthy of praise because he has fulfilled what he promised my father David’” (1 Kings 8:15). Proverbs attests to the fact that, originally, Solomon understood that “fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Even though he was lauded for his wisdom, observers recognized that his wisdom was too much to be an earthly inheritance; “he had wisdom from God.”
The Wisdom of Solomon and Christ
Some might argue that “The Wisdom of Solomon” or “Proverbs” is an Old Testament equivalent of Christ’s parables. Solomon is not a Christ-like figure, even though “proverb” can also be defined as “parable.” We see some parallels: Solomon was obedient to God, building the temple as instructed. Christ, of course, was “obedient even to the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8).
We see in Proverbs a promising understanding of God’s character and God’s expectations of everyone, the King included. Yet, Solomon’s wisdom eventually gave way to temptation: for power, fame, and wealth. “It was gradual. No man becomes wholly abandoned or altogether depraved at once; formation of character is, both in its construction and destruction, a gradual process.” Christ was sinless from the beginning of His life until the end.
Charles Spurgeon used Solomon’s famed wisdom as context for a sermon in which he relates the Queen of Sheba to the Christian: the one seeking out a wise king; the other seeking out the one true Savior and Lord. Spurgeon wrote that the Christian should act like the Queen of Sheba did. Her response to rumors about King Solomon embodied wisdom. She pursued the truth. The Queen of Sheba came “from a far off and remote country — to hear the wisdom of Solomon.”
She heard an appealing rumor which sounded unbelievable, but “she was not prejudiced” and “proceeded to make personal investigation.” Her pursuit of the truth “rebukes persons who live in the age of Christ” who do not look for the truth of Christ because it’s too much hassle or they have already heard what their parents or culture have to say.
Spurgeon says, “I wish you would even come and try Christ with your hard questions, as this queen of Sheba did Solomon. [...] It will be a new thing if He shall have to say ‘You are beyond My power. You have sinned beyond the reach of My love.’” The wise ask questions and are not satisfied with second-hand accounts of Christ.
Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.