He ruled over united Israel at its zenith. Having inherited from his father peace, prosperity, and piety, the stage was set for him to experience success. And succeed he did.
Solomon started right. Sometime near the beginning of his reign he summoned his leadership team and trekked to the tabernacle of meeting in Gibeon to seek the Lord. While he was there God appeared to him in a dream, offering him anything he should desire. “Ask! What shall I give you?” was the open invitation from the Lord (2 Chron. 1:7; 1 Kings 3:5). Solomon’s answer revealed a humility and self-awareness that is instructive for us all.
“Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am 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 numerous to be numbered or counted. Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” (1 Kings 3:7-9)
Solomon regarded his reign as a sacred trust. The weight of the responsibility was so humbling that he sensed his need of divine aid. He saw clearly that the task far outweighed his capabilities, and he appealed to the Omnipotent to supply his lack. Rather than shrinking from a calling that surpassed his capacity, Solomon saw in this calling a call to prayer. This is why he had come to Gibeon to sacrifice a thousand burnt offerings (verse 4).
Incidentally, the burnt offering was a sacrifice that was offered in its totality (Lev. 1:9, 13), signifying a complete offering of oneself to the Lord. It was a substitutionary offering (verse 4) pointing to Jesus, who took our place and gave Himself for our salvation. By accepting His sacrifice on our behalf, we are enabled to live wholly consecrated to Him (cf. Gal. 2:20).
As Solomon brought his burnt offerings before the Lord, he acknowledged that his own efforts were insufficient to meet God’s high standard. He exercised faith in the merits of the then-future sacrifice of Christ, who would meet all his needs according to His riches in glory. Moreover, Solomon consecrated himself wholly to serve God with all his being in an attitude of humility. Solomon sought the Lord, and the Lord was found by him. His request for an understanding heart in response to God’s invitation was but a verbal expression of what had motivated him to come to Gibeon in the first place. By recognizing his deficiency and God’s sufficiency, Solomon laid the foundation to become the wisest man alive.
God granted Solomon’s request for wisdom and added to the blessing “riches and wealth and honor, such as none of the kings have had who were before you, nor shall any after you have the like” (2 Chron. 1:12).
Wisdom at Work
In the fourth year of his reign Solomon embarks on the grand task of building the temple (2 Chron. 3:2), a privilege withheld from his father, David, and one Solomon does not take lightly. It takes seven years to complete the project (1 Kings 6:38). He spares no pains to ensure that it is executed with punctilious excellence, hiring the best craftsmen and ordering the highest quality materials (2 Chron. 2:7-9). From beginning to end, the building project is carried out with distinction (2 Chron. 8:16).
Tidings of Solomon’s wealth and wisdom spread far and wide. From the East comes the queen of Sheba to investigate the validity of the claims she has heard. After visiting with Solomon and seeing his kingdom, she is compelled to confess that not only were the reports true, but they paled in comparison to the reality. “You exceed the fame of which I heard,” she avers (2 Chron. 9:6). The manner in which Solomon presents himself and the wealth that he has amassed leads the queen of Sheba to bless his God (verses 7, 8). Apparently Solomon was careful to give God the glory for all his accomplishments. We can deduce that as “all the kings of the earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart,” he used these opportunities to glorify God (verse 23). In this way Solomon’s wisdom and prosperity was an avenue to expand the knowledge of the God of heaven.
Foundations of Foolishness
Unfortunately, Solomon was not perfect in his adherence to God’s instructions, and these oversights led to his downfall (cf. Prov. 1:7). In three areas of note, he failed to adhere to divine injunction.
First, he married outside of the faith (1 Kings 3:1). From the world’s perspective it was advantageous to strengthen the relationship with a powerful foreign nation. However, God had forbidden His people from intermarrying with unbelievers (Deut. 7:3, 4). Second, God foretold that the Israelites would demand an earthly king in imitation of their surrounding nations, but He had established safeguards to preserve the Israelite monarchy as distinctive. The king of Israel was not to amass wealth or wives to himself, “lest his heart turn away” (Deut. 17:17). But over time Solomon did exactly this (2 Chron. 1:14-17; 1 Kings 11:1-3). Last, in that most sacred business of building the temple, he failed to consult God about who should spearhead the project. Whereas God had supernaturally endowed Bezalel and Aholiab with the skill to build the wilderness tabernacle, Solomon now sought their descendants, who, incidentally, were of mixed lineage, to lead the building project (2 Chron. 2:7, 13, 14). Had it been necessary, God could have equipped a faithful worker in Israel to lead the project.
With respect to his personal life, his possessions, and his projects, Solomon compromised. The deficiency was not a lack of knowledge, because Solomon was well aware of what he ought to do. He had the time, resources, and capacity to follow the instructions of the Lord, yet for some reason his obedience to God was not entire. These compromises in his life laid the foundation for the wisest man’s decline into folly.
A Parable Lived Out
In this one man’s life, we hear echoes of Christ’s parable at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. As Ann Omley puts it in that classic children’s song: “The wise man built his house upon the Rock, . . . and the rains came tumbling down. The rains came down and the floods came up, . . . but the house on the Rock stood firm.” By contrast: “The foolish man built his house upon the sand, . . . and the rains came tumbling down. The rains came down and the floods came up, . . . and the house on the sand fell flat.“
Both the wise and the foolish man in Jesus’ parable built houses. Jesus makes no commentary on the materials used in building the houses. It may very well be that they use the exact same materials. Both individuals face challenges as the rains come down and the floods come up. The only difference is where they have chosen to build their houses, and that difference impacts their ability to withstand the difficulties that inevitably come upon them.
Explaining the passage, Jesus tells us that both the wise and the foolish man hear His words, but they differ in that one follows His instructions while the other does not. When troublesome times come, the one who not only hears but does the sayings of Christ stands firm, like the house built on a rock. Meanwhile, the one who hears but does not do Christ’s sayings falls, like the house built on the sand. Evidently, hearing the words of Christ, in the parable, corresponds to building a house.
Hearers and Doers
Without hearing Christ’s words, there is no building that can ensue, so this is an important step. It matters what you hear. In a world in which many voices are vying for our attention, it is important to tune in to what Jesus is saying. There is the additional danger that we sit in an echo chamber and merely listen to the voices that mirror ours. The Christian’s goal is not to achieve a balanced listening diet during which we hear different voices from various quarters. Rather, our goal is to hear the voice of Jesus. Our ears need to be trained through study of God’s Word, where His voice is most clear, that we may be able to discern His voice speaking in all our interactions.
Hearing God’s Word is not enough, though. Solomon had access to God’s Word, the time to reflect on it, and the resources to implement it, yet he fell. Christ’s parable teaches that wisdom is not hearing what God says, but doing what He says. Thus it is that one man can be wise one moment, when he is doing God’s Word, and foolish the next, when he abandons obedience. At the beginning of his reign, Solomon exemplified a heart that is yielded to God for obedience. Not only did he know that he had a high calling as ruler of God’s special people—he wanted to fulfill his calling faithfully. His heart was in the right place, as God attested, “because this was in your heart” (2 Chron. 1:11). Evidently, when it is in our hearts to obey, God meets us, as He did Solomon, and provides everything we need to fulfill His calling. All that remains for us is to set our hearts to be doers of God’s Word and not hearers only. Then when the storms come, we will stand by God’s grace.