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The Story of Solomon’s Wisdom

The story of Solomon’s wisdom doesn’t start with 1 Kings 3 and his request for wisdom.

We tend to see Solomon as a young king in his early teens, seeking wisdom because he doesn’t know the first thing about ruling (see 1 Kgs 3:7). But Solomon was at least in his twenties when he began to reign, and he does not ask for wisdom because he has none. He asks for wisdom because he is already wise.

I was reminded recently that Solomon’s wisdom appears earlier in 1 Kings. As David fades off the scene, he tells Solomon to deal with his enemies. David wants him to deal with Joab “according to your wisdom, but don’t let his gray head go down to Sheol in peace.” And as for Shimei, “do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man; you’ll know what you ought to do to him.”

So Solomon acts according to his wisdom. He has Joab killed and places Shimei under house arrest, and later kills him when he skips town. Adonijah likewise gets a reprieve, until hormonal stupidity makes him a danger. The text doesn’t critique Solomon’s actions, but it does show us just how difficult it was to be king.

When Solomon asks for wisdom, it is not purely out of ignorance but out of insight into his limitations and the difficulties of the job. He asks for wisdom out of humility and out of concern for the people he is to rule, because he already knows full well the difficulty of ruling the people of God.

Assuming David’s assessment of his son is correct, the God of all wisdom takes Solomon’s natural abilities and, to quote a fool, “turns them up to eleven.” And he does the same for those struggling with limitations and difficulties today (James 1:2-8).