These words were penned by none other than King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived (1 Ki. 10:23). Where and when did he get such wisdom? Solomon was the second son of King David and Bathsheba. Their firstborn died because of David’s sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12:15-24). David was called by the Lord, “a man after His own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14). However, due to the way some of his other sons turned out (Amnon and Absalom), it would seem that Solomon grew up under the good training and influence of his mother, Bathsheba.
The first account of Solomon’s reign, after purging his kingdom of the “undesirables” left over from his father’s kingdom, was his unique request of God for wisdom. First Kings 3:3 begins this story with the statement that “Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David.” What a solid start! Here was a young ruler pointed in the right direction, with his heart right toward the Lord.
His prayer for wisdom (1 Ki. 3:6-9) began with thanksgiving, acknowledged God’s sovereignty and his own inadequacies, and ended with a request for “an understanding heart” to rule God’s people well. It was a humble plea for help, which God answered. He told Solomon that since he had asked for wisdom – rather than long life, riches, or domination over his enemies – He would certainly grant it. And He would also give him riches, honor and long life (1 Ki. 3:11-14).
Solomon began his reign with an exhibition of divine wisdom (1 Ki. 3:16-28). Two mothers came to him each claiming that a living baby was hers, while a dead baby belonged to the other. Solomon appealed to their motherly instinct, and commanded that the living baby be cut in two with each woman getting half. The real mother was easily identified as she desired to spare the baby – even let the other woman have it.
Scripture tells us that “God gave Solomon wisdom … like the sand that is on the seashore. And Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the sons of the East and all the wisdom of Egypt” (1 Ki. 4:29-34). He was notably wiser than anyone else, and the whole world knew it. Men came from all over to hear him. Even the wealthy Queen of Sheba came with many gifts to hear his wisdom (1 Ki. 10:1-9, 23).
What a godly request, and what an answer from God! Because he loved the Lord, his request was in line with the will of the Lord. That holds true today as well. If we really love the Lord, our desires will be in accordance with His will. “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him” (1 Jn. 5:14-15). David wrote, “Delight yourself also in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4). When we ask for something we know is according to the Lord’s will, we know He will grant it.
From God’s side, there is little risk in giving us what we ask for if it is in His will and for His glory. Solomon was off to a great start; his desire was to rule God’s people as God’s representative.
Besides wisdom, under Solomon the kingdom of Israel reached its peak of wealth. Solomon accumulated 666 talents of gold each year (25-33 tons). From it he made 500 shields and overlaid his throne, among other things. Silver was not even considered valuable, but as common as stones (1 Ki. 10:18-27)! “Solomon became greater than all the kings of the earth in riches and wisdom” (1 Ki. 10:23).
One would expect Israel to bloom with such a king. Under his leadership, they could really have a testimony and influence for God on earth. He had given Solomon more than he asked for, and all Solomon had to do was continue his love for the Lord and lead His people properly. He had it made! What more could anyone on earth want? People’s cravings today are for the same things: riches, wisdom and fame.
In the midst of all the riches and honor, apparently Solomon either forgot or was too busy to notice some simple precepts given by the Lord concerning future kings of Israel. Moses, in his closing speeches to the people before their entry into Canaan, gave three specific warnings about the king that will govern Israel: “He shall not multiply horses to himself, nor shall he cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses … Neither shall he multiply wives for himself … nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself” (Dt. 17:16-17).
Had not God made him rich and famous? Then what’s the problem? Whenever God gives restrictions, they are for a reason. If anyone knows man’s heart, it is God. He didn’t want Israel’s kings getting horses from Egypt because He didn’t want His people returning to Egypt after delivering them from it. He didn’t want kings to amass wives because He knew they could “turn away” even faithful hearts (Dt. 17:17). He probably didn’t want the king to get too rich either, because riches diminish a person’s dependence upon God (Prov. 30:8-9).
We have already read about the wealth of Israel during Solomon’s reign – silver and gold everywhere, almost without measure. Even after the Temple had been built, there was still an abundance of gold, with more pouring in every year. And “kings of … all the earth” were contributing gifts of honor to Solomon (1 Ki. 10:23-25).
Realizing that his wealth was allowed by the Lord, according to His promise, maybe we can give Solomon a little slack on this point. Riches in themselves are not evil, if properly used. But Solomon showed some weakness in a couple of other areas that were not endorsed by God. “Solomon’s import of horses was from Egypt” (1 Ki. 10:28-29). He not only had multitudes of horses, but he became somewhat of a merchant of horses and chariots from Egypt to other countries.
Even that may not have corrupted him. But this certainly did: “King Solomon loved many foreign women … He had 700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines” (1 Ki. 11:1-3). Men naturally love women, but there is such a thing as too many! All three points of restriction given in Deuteronomy 17 were violated by Solomon. He had abused his privileges as king. Yet his sin was not in having these things. What was it?
Not only was Solomon the wisest person who ever lived, but he was also the richest person in the world at that time (1 Ki. 10:23). We could say that both of these were gifts from God.
While more than one wife was not yet specifically prohibited by God, there are two observances to be made here: First, God created one wife for Adam. He could have created several, especially in view of His command to “multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). But because God wanted the marriage relationship to be the strongest and most intimate of all earthly relationships, He wanted it to be one-to-one. Second, God’s primary purpose for marriage is to illustrate the relationship between Christ and His Church (Eph. 5:22-27). This purpose is severely impaired when multiple partners are involved.
What went wrong? Apparently Solomon began to enjoy his wealth and honor so much that he lost his perspective. The God who made him wise and rich was forgotten in his pursuit of pleasure. The spiritual, idealistic young man became a sensual, materialistic old man. Read Proverbs to see love for God and His principles. Read Ecclesiastes to see the hopeless, defeatist attitude that develops from a life of self-indulgence. Were God’s gifts to Solomon wrong? Of course not; nothing He gives us is ever wrong. What we do with them is where the problem lies. If we use them for the Lord’s honor and glory, much can be accomplished for Him. If we use them for ourselves, they will only bring misery, emptiness, and a ruined testimony for the Lord.
Of his wisdom, Solomon writes that – having magnified and increased wisdom along with knowing madness and folly – all was vanity, a “striving after wind … Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain” (Eccl. 1:14-18). What a sour outlook from the wisest man who ever lived! That’s what happens when intellect leads away from God; when faith gives way to reason.
What about his wealth? We have already seen the violation of the principles of Deuteronomy 17. Was that wrong? What harm can riches do? Solomon basically said that he experienced every thrill known to man: “All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure” (Eccl. 2:10). After consideration, he decided that this too was vanity – there was no profit in it. His money afforded him a luxury none of us will ever have – anything he wanted! He concluded that money does not satisfy: “This too is vanity” (Eccl. 5:10). He further stated that the rich man doesn’t sleep as well as the working man (Eccl. 5:12), and that the “full” man disregards God (Prov. 30:9).
About wives, 1 Kings 11 tells us explicitly that “his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the Lord his God … Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not follow the Lord fully” (1 Ki. 11:4-7). His idolatry included Molech of Ammon, the god to whom infant sacrifices were offered by pagan nations. He not only worshiped pagan idols, but also built places of worship for them (1 Ki. 11:7).
Can we trust God’s gifts? The danger is never in what God gives us; it is in our misuse or perversion of it. Everything God gives us is ultimately for His pleasure, and to enhance His testimony on earth. Whenever the gifts become the focus, and not the Giver, we waste them on ourselves, and disaster follows. Whenever we use all we have for Him, He is honored, and He endows us with “spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ” (Eph. 1:3) – those things which the world can never provide, at any cost!
By Tim Van Ryn
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA.