God Grants Wisdom to Solomon
1 Kings 3
1 Kings 3:3–14
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Retell the account of Solomon’s prayer for wisdom and God’s response.
2. Cite other examples, biblical and modern, of God’s answering prayer.
3. Suggest one specific improvement he or she will implement in his or her personal prayer life.
How to Say It
Pharaoh. FAIR-o or FAY-roe.
shalom (Hebrew). shah-LOME.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Oct. 23—The Value of Wisdom (Proverbs 1:1–7)
Tuesday, Oct. 24—Where Is Wisdom Found? (Job 28:12–28)
Wednesday, Oct. 25—Add to Wisdom Understanding (Psalm 119:97–104)
Thursday, Oct. 26—Solomon Chosen to Be King (1 Kings 1:28–40)
Friday, Oct. 27—Solomon Requests Wisdom (1 Kings 3:3–9)
Saturday, Oct. 28—God Answers Solomon’s Request (1 Kings 3:10–15)
Sunday, Oct. 29—Solomon Was Wise (1 Kings 4:29–34)
I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. —1 Kings 3:12
Why Teach this Lesson?
A remote control car, three new DVDs, a motorized skateboard—have you ever listened to a child’s Christmas list? Even a thoughtful child who understands his parent’s limitations in procuring many gifts may succumb to the myth of Santa’s endless resources.
In today’s lesson we will see God make Solomon an offer that transcended his wildest imaginings: the God of all creation told him to ask for whatever he wanted. Whatever! This word is not used in the flippant sense that we hear so often today; rather, God used it in the sense of open permission. Solomon, in response, acknowledged God’s past generosity to himself and his father, David. Then he asked for the wisdom to do well at the task God had set before him.
We should take note of the prayer that God rewarded so richly. Too often our prayers sound like letters to Santa. Before we sit down with our list of wishes and blessings, let’s pray that God will help us know what we ought to pray. God promises his assistance (through the Holy Spirit) to guide us into God-pleasing requests.
A. The Explosion of Knowledge
Near the end of his life, King Solomon wrote, “of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). The modern world has realized both parts of this observation, perhaps far beyond Solomon’s wildest expectations. It is estimated that as many as 2,000 new books are published every week worldwide. Add to this the enormous output of newspapers, journals, magazines, Web pages, and other media. The total is far beyond the capacity of any one individual to keep track of, let alone to read and digest.
This ever-increasing rate of publication has been labeled the information explosion. Its close cousin is called the knowledge explosion: the constantly growing store of facts and theories. These twin phenomena have many implications. One of these is the short shelf life of any education or training. For example, someone who earned a college degree in computer science 20 years ago would be woefully lacking in expertise about today’s computers unless he or she had been updating constantly. Every field of study requires constant study to stay current. At times this may feel like it “wearies the body”!
Yet it is important to ask whether or not this avalanche of knowledge has made us any wiser. Has society’s increased stock of information solved the basic problems of wars, poverty, or disease? Has more knowledge eliminated the age-old vices of greed, pride, anger, or lust? If anything, we seem to be in a world that is greedier, prouder, angrier, and more sexually oriented than ever before. Remember: the most destructive wars of the twentieth century were fought between the most “educated” countries on earth!
There is a lot of overlap in meaning among the concepts of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. But one key idea that sets wisdom apart is that wisdom is a godly use of knowledge and understanding. This week’s lesson is about a man who requested wisdom from God and was rewarded with godly wisdom and much, much more.
B. Lesson Background
The third king of Israel was David’s son Solomon. Solomon reigned as king in Jerusalem from about 970 to 930 b.c. His name is derived from the Hebrew word shalom (“peace”), thus Solomon means “peaceful one.” Nathan the prophet also gave him the name Jedidiah, meaning “beloved of Yahweh” (2 Samuel 12:25). Solomon’s mother was Bathsheba, David’s partner in adultery. Bathsheba’s first child, the product of their sin, died in his first week. David and Bathsheba’s second child was Solomon.
Solomon was the first king of Israel to inherit the throne from his father. After David’s death, Solomon acted quickly to remove any threats to his throne by executing Adonijah, his scheming half-brother (1 Kings 2:24) and Joab, a traitorous army general (2:33, 34). He also exiled the high priest, Abiathar, and replaced him with the loyal Zadok (2:35).
During the reign of Solomon, the kingdom of Israel expanded its boundaries to its greatest extent, from the Euphrates River to the border of Egypt (1 Kings 4:21). The kings in some of these territories paid annual tribute to Solomon, providing him with vast wealth.
The riches of Solomon have been the subject of theories and speculation, but the Bible itself has a great deal of information on this subject. His yearly tribute income was 666 talents of gold (1 Kings 10:14). The modern equivalent of this amount is difficult to estimate, but this may have been eight to ten tons of gold every year—and this was only part of his income. His hoard was so plentiful that Solomon made hundreds of ceremonial shields out of gold to adorn his palace (1 Kings 10:17).
Solomon is also famous for his building projects. His greatest accomplishment in this area was the construction of a house for the Lord, the Jerusalem temple. The primary purpose of the temple was to provide suitable and permanent housing for the holy ark of the covenant (see 1 Chronicles 28:2). The detailed description of this structure is found in 1 Kings 5–7 and 2 Chronicles 2–4. When finished, this edifice was undoubtedly one of the most splendid buildings of the ancient world.
The Bible also tells us that King Solomon “loved many foreign women” (1 Kings 11:1). It is recorded that he had 700 official wives and 300 concubines (secondary wives). Unfortunately, we are also told that these wives led him away from the Lord in his old age (1 Kings 11:3, 4). We do believe, however, that the elderly Solomon sorted through all these things and returned to God before his death. This seems to be the lesson of the book of Ecclesiastes—a book thought to have been written by Solomon near the end of his life. He finishes this book by admonishing his readers that our primary duties are to love God and to keep his commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Today’s lesson presents a young Solomon who finds himself in a powerful position that exceeds his capabilities. When the weight of his responsibilities is combined with his inadequacy, he does not despair. He trusts God.
I. God’s Appearing (1 Kings 3:3–5)
A. Abundance of Sacrifices (vv. 3, 4)
3, 4. Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the statutes of his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.
The king went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, for that was the most important high place, and Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar.
To sacrifice in high places is not necessarily an act of paganism or idolatry (compare 2 Chronicles 33:17). The high place at Gibeon is the semi-permanent site of “the tabernacle of the Lord” (see 1 Chronicles 16:39). Gibeon is located in the Judean hill country, about seven miles northwest of Jerusalem.
The text does not tell us exactly what the burnt offerings are, but likely they are animals, probably young bulls. In this type of offering the entire animal is burned to ashes, giving it all to God. For Solomon to do this with a thousand bulls is a large, impressive display of his wealth, his devotion, and the seriousness of the occasion.
B. Offer to Solomon (v. 5)
5. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
The offerings likely take more than one day. Because of the length of time involved, Solomon stays in Gibeon overnight. During one of these nights, he is visited by God in a dream. This type of communication from God is not unknown, but it is rare. There are fewer than 20 people in the Bible who are said to have received dreams from God, and not all of these are believers (examples: Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Pilate’s wife). Nevertheless, dreams have long been recognized as a powerful way by which God has spoken to humans on rare occasions.
God does not confront Solomon with a call for action or obedience. Instead, God presents Solomon with a blank check: Ask for whatever you want me to give you. There are no limits or guidelines given by God. Already, the wisdom of Solomon is being tested. Will he choose wisely or selfishly?
The Meaning of Dreams
An old story tells of a woman who awoke in the morning and told her husband of her dream. “Last night I dreamed that you gave me a diamond necklace and earrings for our anniversary,” she said. “Do you have any idea what my dream means?” His cryptic answer was, “Tonight you will know.”
After work that evening, he presented her with a small package. Eagerly opening it, she found a book titled, The Meaning of Dreams. We can imagine what happened next! Seriously, though, you could spend a small fortune on all the books written about how to interpret your dreams.
Solomon’s dream was not about diamond jewelry, although we should consider a vision of God in a dream to be of inestimable value! Just as the fictional woman’s dream came in the context of her relationship with her husband, it is likewise significant that Solomon’s dream came in the context of his relationship with God.
The day before his dream, Solomon had made an exceedingly large number of offerings to God. That night God came to him in the dream. We shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that we can “buy” God’s presence with devotion or sacrifice. However, Solomon’s sacrifices were a tangible indication of his love for God. At the very least, we can see that God responds positively to those who seek to please him. —C. R. B.
II. Solomon’s Request (1 Kings 3:6–9)
A. Solomon as David’s Successor (vv. 6–8)
6. Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.
Visual for Lesson 9
Use this picture to open a discussion about prayer requests that do and do not please the Lord. Reference 1Kings 3:10
Solomon does not blurt out a request, like “Gimme a new Cadillac!” Instead, he evaluates his needs by talking them through with God. (Isn’t this what prayer should be?) In this process he rehearses the marvelous relationship his father, David, had had with the Lord. Being king gives Solomon occasion to remember how God had kept his promise to David by allowing his son to become king.
7. “Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties.
Solomon has come to a strong conviction that he is inadequate for the task he has been given. Who could possibly fill the shoes of the great and famous David?
8. “Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number.
Solomon is aware that Israel is the chosen nation of God and that it has grown to be a very populous people. These factors combine to make him feel like a little child, unequal to his responsibilities. We may experience something similar when we observe the children of capable and powerful leaders. Sometimes a child is expected to live up to the legacy left by the father but cannot possibly fulfill these expectations. Following a famous father is not an easy path.
B. Solomon Seeks Wisdom (v. 9)
9. “So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
David had left Solomon with the instruction that “When one rules over men in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of morning at sunrise” (2 Samuel 23:3, 4). Solomon understands that a major component of being a successful king is related to his judgment. Therefore he asks for divine understanding in dealing with his people. He cannot do it by himself. Solomon asks, rhetorically, Who is able to govern this great people of yours? The answer is that only the Lord himself can do this. Solomon desperately needs God’s help.
In this request Solomon submits his heart to God. Any cry to God for help is a cry of faith. He is following the advice of his father, to rule “in the fear of God.” He understands that even the greatest leaders are answerable to a higher authority and need God’s assistance to rule justly. We don’t have many kings left in our world, but any nation with a leader who depends on God will receive blessings because of this relationship.
III. God’s Promises (1 Kings 3:10–14)
A. Solomon’s Request Pleases God (v. 10)
10. The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this.
Oh, to please the Lord! All too often we find ourselves in need of humility and repentance because we have displeased God. That Solomon is able to set aside petty, personal, selfish desires and pinpoint what he will need to serve God effectively is a display of wisdom at a young age. He has already learned the lesson he later teaches to others: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10).
B. Solomon’s Request Granted (vv. 11, 12)
11, 12. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.
God well knows that Solomon could have asked for personal favors: longevity, wealth, or victories. God promises to make Solomon a unique individual in history: the wisest man who ever lived.
There are related yet distinct qualities that are promised here. When we see that Solomon is granted a wise … heart, we should realize that wisdom goes beyond the ability to discern good from evil. The wise person recognizes the difference and chooses to do the good. The one who understands but chooses evil is a fool (see Proverbs 14:16; Romans 16:19). Solomon’s gift is more than just the ability to know righteousness. He is enabled to choose righteousness.
Solomon’s heart is also to be one of discernment. This has the sense of clear perception of a situation and insight into its implications. This means that Solomon will be able in administering justice. The word administering is based on the Hebrew word for “to hear.” It has the implication of one who listens judiciously, evaluating all factors carefully.
The three Hebrew words that are behind these qualities are repeated in Proverbs 1:5: “Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance” (see also 1 Kings 4:29). Wisdom builds on wisdom. Wise choices lead to more wise choices. Deeper understanding results from listening to wise teachers.
C. Solomon’s Request Exceeded (vv. 13, 14)
13. “Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both riches and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.
There are those who attain great wealth but are despised. There are others who gain great honor and dignity yet die penniless. And, of course, there are many who perish being neither rich nor honorable. But few are recognized as persons with both riches and honor. Such ones are doubly blessed by God. Here God makes a promise to Solomon: he will be a person of vast wealth and someone respected very highly.
As mentioned above, Solomon’s wealth becomes legendary. God’s gift of wisdom, however, causes Solomon’s reputation to spread far and wide. His wisdom is unlimited (1 Kings 4:29–31). He is the author of 3,000 wise sayings (proverbs) and over 1,000 songs (1 Kings 4:32). Some of these are preserved in our Bible books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs (see also Psalm 72).
Sudden Wealth Syndrome
“In a lot of ways, I was happier living a simpler life.” Those are the words of a multimillionaire who had made an amazing amount of money in the high-tech stock market boom of the 1990s. His household was one of some 275,000 in America with assets of over $10 million at the end of that decade—a group that was five times larger than it had been just 15 years earlier.
Psychologists say people who become very rich very quickly complain about becoming isolated from their former friends; they even feel alienated from their sense of who they are (www.webmd.com). One man who sold his company for tens of millions of dollars said he felt a “gnawing anxiety that his money could disappear as quickly as it had come.” He found it hard to talk to his old friends about things they had easily conversed about before he was struck with sudden wealth. Many poorer people would be willing to change places with the rich, but they obviously aren’t aware of the psychological and relationship costs of having lots of money!
God’s promised gift to Solomon could have been an unparalleled blessing. But it turned out to be a responsibility that Solomon was not fully prepared to exercise. He did not always “walk in my ways,” as God had said he must if he were to enjoy the blessings fully. Solomon’s experience proves once again that who you are—your character, etc.—is far more important than how much you have. —C. R. B.
14. “And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.”
While the promises of wisdom and honor are unconditional, God does place conditions on the gift of a long life. This promise is contingent upon Solomon’s obedience to God’s laws, an obedience that God had seen in Solomon’s father, David. God had not seen in David a perfect record of obedience, of course. But God had indeed seen a general life pattern of obedience, described as to walk in my ways.
Unfortunately, Solomon will not match his father David. Solomon’s disobedience causes God to be very angry. God then modifies his earlier promise to David of a continuing king in Jerusalem from David’s family: much of Solomon’s kingdom will be taken away from his son Rehoboam (1 Kings 11:9–13). This promise is made good after the death of Solomon, and the kingdom is split.
Solomon apparently was not content with God’s gift of wisdom. Ecclesiastes is a record of his wretched search for the meaning of life in many different areas. He confessed that he denied himself nothing (Ecclesiastes 2:10) and concluded that he hated life (2:17). “Everything is meaningless” he said (1:2). How can wise people sometimes be so stupid?
Fortunately Solomon overcame the cynicism of his foolish quest and regained some of the wisdom he displayed at a younger age. Solomon was able to reaffirm that our purpose is to be found in our fear of God and in our obedience to him (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
In modern society we find people seeking wisdom from curious sources. The media bombards us with the opinions of celebrities, as if being famous automatically brings wisdom. Why do we think the ability to hit home runs or make music videos gives a person understanding and discernment? Conversely, people who live wisely, fearing God and striving to keep his commandments, are rarely seen as those who should be honored and followed. Solomon knew that sinners were fools and fools were sinners.
So how do we seek and find wisdom? An obvious treasure, yet one we often ignore, is to study God’s Word. We are promised that Scripture is able to make us “wise for salvation” (2 Timothy 3:15). The people of God should be people of his Word.
We should also seek to be taught by those whose lives display God’s wisdom. Solomon’s story teaches us that great wisdom will attract disciples. Great understanding and discernment is not often found in the very young, so we should listen to those whose faith has been tested, “refined by fire” (1 Peter 1:7). Not all old people are wise. But we are more likely to strike the rich vein of wisdom among our elders than among the young.
New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007 . Standard Publishing: Cincinnati