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The Problem with Solomon: A Study of 1 Kings 3:6-9


Introduction

This paper will discuss Solomon’s unforgettable dream and his prayer at Gibeon as illustrated in 1 Kings 3:6-9.[1] The context, including both the precursory context and the aftermath; the meaning of what was asked for verses what was granted; and, the blended significance for Solomon, his kingdom and readers today will all be addressed. The emphasis of this paper will be placed upon a pivotal error in the interpretation of God’s answer to the prayer which occurred on Solomon’s part. The communication mishap during the prayer/answer translation was a foreshadowing of the kingdom fall, as it was coupled with an “if/then” warning from God, repeated twenty years later, as well as a parable displayed in the context of reality (1 Kgs 3:5, 14; 1 Kgs 9:2, 4-5).[2]

In 1 Kings 3, God lays out a two-fold method in the art of granting multiplicative, or fruitful, answers to prayer (Eph 3:20-21; Isa 61:7; Gen 1:28; Mark 10:30). Prayer is a two-way communication. If the recipient does not carefully interpret God’s full answer, or will, problems result. It is important that present study regarding these verses does not continue to overlook God’s part of the conversation—His answer, His warnings, and His will.

Modern translations title the 1 Kings 3 section of scripture, “Solomon Asks for Wisdom”[3], however he technically did not. Solomon did not pray for wisdom, but rather for discernment in judging other people—there is a significant difference. Solomon’s initial request pleased God, however, he did not fully realize the gravity of the additional components entailed in God’s answer. This paper will discuss the specific linguistic discrepancies between what Solomon asked and what God granted, and why this communicative contrast has significant implications for people who pray for God’s will to be done today.

Context of 1 Kings 3:6-9

Precursory Context

The precursory context of 1 Kings 3:6-9 is an intersecting prayer meeting between God and a leader of His people. Solomon chose to sleep in a high place of sacrifice and God chose to meet Solomon in the quietness of his innermost heart. The actual location was in a place called Gibeon and the time was upon commencement of building the Lord’s temple (1 Kgs 3:3-4). This timing would suggest that God was interested in infiltrating the nation (1 Kgs 3:1); so He chose to initiate a conversation with Solomon (1 Kgs 3:5).

The “Valley of Gibeon” is a phrase of contraction as set forth in Isaiah 28:21. The word Gibeon means “the great high place”[4] (I Kgs 3:4) where the Lord does His strange work and brings to pass His strange acts (Isa 28:21), and where, “in the very paradox of prophesy…He would now rise up and overthrow His own people.”[5] God is seen in Gibeon as being “against His own people; judgment is not what God delights in; it is, though necessary, yet strange to Him (La 3:33); [the work] is punishing the guilty (Isa 10:12)”.[6] Solomon sacrificed a thousand burnt offerings to the Lord (1 Kgs 3:3-4), yet there was no house, or temple, built to the Lord (1 Kgs 3:2). It was at this juncture, when Solomon was asleep in the sanctuary, that the Lord appeared to him in a dream by night and suggested, in the context of the dream, that Solomon petition Him (1 Kgs 3:5).[7]

As Hugh Black states, “Tell me your dreams, and I will read the riddle of your life. Tell me your prayers, and I will write the history of a soul. …Tell me what you seek, and I will tell you what you are.”[8] The Lord was inviting Solomon into a deep, internal dialogue, via grace. It was a conversation that would write Solomon’s history. Matthew Henry states, “…God owned him more… It was in a dream, when…his senses locked up, that God’s access to his mind might be the more free and immediate. In this way God used to speak to the prophets (Num 12:6). Solomon prayed in his sleep, God’s grace assisting him…”[9] Richard Nelson addresses this meeting place by stating, “The original audience may have understood Solomon’s action in the light of the practice of “incubation,” intentionally sleeping in the sanctuary in hopes of receiving divine revelation.”[10] Nelson continues, “[B]oth Solomon…and God…unite in using Deuteronomistic language, a further sign of Solomon’s harmony with God’s purpose.”[11] Perhaps, in light that the event transpired at Gibeon—which signified God’s high places of sacrifice and judgment; Solomon slept in the sanctuary, thus offering himself a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1); and God approached Solomon to initiate prayer illustrates God’s intent to save the people judgment, as well as save the soul and final outcome of their king.

Contextual Aftermath

Prayer is a dialogue (1 Kgs 3:5-14). God invites Solomon to speak and to listen; “Ask what I shall give you” (1 Kgs 3:5). The overall context is a two-way conversation; God knows Solomon. Iain Provan writes of Solomon’s conduct prior, “Solomon’s love for God…was not entirely wholehearted… Certainly not…love…that involves all of Solomon’s heart and soul and strength (Deut 6:4). …Is [1 Kgs 3:7] to be seen as a confession..?”[12] Jerome Walsh adds, “In view of [Solomon’s] Machiavellian methods of ridding himself of Adonijah, Joab, and Shimei, his protests that he is only ‘a little child’…are disingenuous…”[13] However one interprets Solomon’s words, the request pleases the Lord (1 Kgs 3:10), yet it comes with a warning statement (1 Kgs 3:14).

God issues two “if/then” promises with His blessed answer. The first regards Solomon’s sacred identity: “And if you will go My way, keep My statutes and My commandments as your father David did, then I will lengthen your days” (1 Kgs 3:14). The second regards Solomon’s throne and the entire nation of Israel (1 Kgs 9:1-9). The warnings God issues replicate and reinforce the difference between the prayer request and God’s multiplicative answer.

The initial warning (1 Kgs 3:14) is immediately followed within the context of a live parable, acted out before Solomon’s own eyes (1 Kgs 3:16-28). The parable was taken, in the natural context, as a national advertisement of Solomon’s wisdom to do justice (1 Kgs 3:28). Solomon asked to be a judge in a human courtroom (1 Kgs 3:9). According to Walsh, judge, as used in 1 Kings 3:9, includes, “…making just decrees…and the making of judicial decisions…that enforce those decrees.”[14] There is a distinct possibility that Solomon sought the Lord to be a kingly lawyer, and God sought Solomon to be a king in His own image (1 Kgs 3:10-14).

The parable takes place in the context of a courtroom over which Solomon presides (1 Kgs 3:16). The argument is over a child with two women claiming to be the mother (1 Kgs 3:16-23). Solomon orders the child to be cut in half (1 Kgs 3:25). The true mother hands over the child (1 Kgs 3:26). The false mother absurdly agrees to killing the child even after she has been granted custody (1 Kgs 3:26). Parables teach the principles of God on many levels. The true mother (king) of a child (nation, gift from God) would give that “child” back over to the rule of the true God rather than keep it for oneself and bring it to ruin. Solomon missed the notion that Israel was God’s, and Solomon himself proved to be the false mother who divides her child over time (1 Kgs 12:1 through 2 Kgs 10:36). Howell describes, “[Solomon] died in his early sixties and failed to realize the promise of a long life…due to his disobedience of the covenant. Solomon’s great wealth and fame failed to translate into the essential requirement of successful kingship: faithfulness to the covenant… The kingdom [was] torn from Solomon’s hands and given to…[Jeroboam]…the archetypal evil king…”[15] The dissection of the answered prayer leads to a fallen house (Matt 12:25).

Meaning of 1 Kings 3:6-9

Prayer for Discernment

In 1 Kings 3:9, Solomon replies, “So give Your servant an understanding mind and a hearing heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and bad. For who is able to judge and rule this Your great people?” Discern (bin) is a word which means to “understand, separate mentally, or deal wisely or skillfully”[16] with others; to discover by the intellect;[17] or to have an intelligent mind.[18] Solomon wanted discernment in order to judge and rule others (1 Kgs 3:9). Modern Bible translations caption 1 Kings 3, “Solomon Asks for Wisdom”[19], however, the word “wise” was not present in Solomon’s request. In other passages of scripture, the terms “wise” and “discerning” are separate rather than synonymous (Gen 41:33, 39; Deut 1:13, 4:6), as in the case of the Lord’s answer to Solomon (1 Kgs 3:12).

Wisdom and Discernment, Came the Answer

The Lord granted Solomon discernment to judge and rule, but added His blessings—riches and honor, and His will—wisdom. “Behold, I have done as you asked. I have given you a wise, discerning mind…” (1 Kgs 3:12). The terms “discerning” and “wise” are distinctly separate, with God Himself adding the term wise (chakam) (1 Kgs 3:12). Wise (chakam) means “to be wise in mind, word or act; to be and show [one]self wise.”[20] Wisdom entails the application of discernment to oneself. It regards the ability and will to monitor one’s own heart and behavior.

The Lord’s will, as spoken over Solomon, is reinforced in His warning: “If you will go My way, keep My statutes and My commandments as your father David did, then I will lengthen your days” (1 Kgs 3:14). God is asking Solomon to primarily be wise concerning his own heart. Solomon was concerned with judging others’ behavior and ruling people. Donald Wiseman states:

At the beginning of his reign Solomon had been promised and given wisdom, which he successfully employed in the accumulation of wealth and displayed in a massive building programme, rearmament and government. However, the continuance of his ruling house was dependent not on the outward show but on his inner spiritual state. Thus the account of his reign ends with his decline and with the seeds of evident unrest which were to lead to the break-up of the united kingdom. The theological evaluation of this is found here in the description of his personal failure to keep the law…”[21]

Solomon left out the wisdom of minding his own relationship with God.

A climactic study of the meanings of discern (bin), wise (chakam), and wisdom (chokmah) reveals the problem with Solomon. If there were no difference in translation from what was prayed and what was granted, there would have been little need for God to insert a warning regarding Solomon’s personal state of reverential obedience (1 Kgs 3:14). It is established that discernment involved intellect, and it was employed in this case in order to judge the affairs of others (1 Kgs 3:9). An immediate court case followed with which to practice this form of judgmental intelligence (1 Kgs 3:16-28). It is further established that the difference between discernment and being wise (chakam) is the ability to monitor one’s own heart and behavior, to show oneself wise and obedient in conduct. Chakam is an adjective that is externally descriptive and is primarily the form of the word used by Solomon in the writings of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs. There is an earthly wisdom which God assists (chakam) and a Godly Wisdom which man miraculously yields to (chokmah). Chokmah is a feminine noun, capitalized as a name (Job 28:12). Chokmah is the type of ethical Wisdom of the Messiah. It consists of three parts: God, as a divine attribute or energy; the divine wisdom…personified; and that of man.[22] Being first named in the central chapters of the Book of Job, it would warrant consideration if it comes with a significant trial in which one seeks God above all else.

God willed Solomon to be wise, to be granted chakam, possibly even a measure of chokmah, by keeping his relationship to God first. God’s answer opened the pathway not only for intelligent discernment and human pursuits, but for the Divine Wisdom to permeate the kingdom through rightness in Solomon and God’s personal relationship. Solomon did not heed the Lord’s answer to his prayer and ruled himself and his kingdom as if 1 Kings 3:6-9 were the entire conversation. Thusly, he divided the prayer in his own heart and mind; his kingdom followed.

Significance of 1 Kings 3:6-9

It is imperative to take a closer look at Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 3:6-9 as the outcome of Solomon’s reign derails significantly off course. This passage has been coined Solomon’s “prayer for wisdom”, but the aftermath of Solomon’s life and fallen kingdom leave Bible readers perplexed as to how he could have fallen after being granted wisdom from God. The horrific and vague notion is that “wisdom”, or worse, prayer, doesn’t work. Surely, the truth is worth digging for (Prov 2:4). This paper has addressed the difference between what Solomon actually prayed for—discernment to rule and judge other people, and what was granted—wisdom and discernment, with a warning to heed the Lord in personal conduct and heart obedience (1 Kgs 3:10-14). The reason for Solomon’s derailment was that he did not listen to, nor fully receive God’s will. He did not go God’s way (1 Kgs 3:14) and go deeper toward Wisdom.

Conclusion

Solomon did not pray for wisdom, but rather for discernment in judging the Lord’s people—therefore, communication between Solomon and God remained divided. The child of Solomon’s first court case (1 Kgs 3:25) could have symbolized the very prayer he just prayed (1 Kgs 3:6-9). This division in prayer resulted in Solomon himself being torn and the kingdom divided, like the child. The core of the 1 Kings 3:6-9 prayer was one of unity, from God’s standpoint, but one of division from Solomon’s. This exemplifies petitioning God, but not listening to what God wants in prayer (Luke 18:11). God’s answers are multiplicative, in order that listeners would bear much fruit (Isa 61:7; Matt 6:10, 7:11, 20:32; Mark 10:30; Eph 3:20; John 15:7). When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, He included listening to the Father: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10).

In Ecclesiastes 1:13, traditionally attributed to Solomon, the “wisdom” referred to therein is a human type of intelligence and worldly involvement rather than the soul-centered wisdom of God. Externalism lends itself to human activity—a “miserable business”.[23] The Book of Job seems to answer Ecclesiastes by describing God’s Wisdom: “Gold and glass cannot equal [Wisdom], nor can it be exchanged for jewels or vessels of fine gold…the possession of Wisdom is even above rubies or pearls. Behold, the reverential and worshipful fear of the Lord—that is Wisdom” (Job 28:17-28). In Ecclesiastes 12:13, Solomon agrees in what may be his final court case regarding himself: “All has been heard; the end of the matter is: Fear God [revere and worship Him, knowing that He is] and keep His commandments, for this is the whole of man…” And he concludes with, “For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it is good or evil” (Eccl 12:14). This is a lesson for all who pray, to listen and not divide oneself from God’s will (Song 8:13; Matt 6:10; John 17).

Bibliography

A Commentary, Critical, Practical, and Explanatory on the Old and New Testaments by Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown [1882]. “Isaiah 28:21.” Biblehub.com. Accessed October 18, 2017. http://biblehub.com/isaiah/28-21.htm.

Black, Hugh. “Dreams Indicate Character.” The Biblical Illustrator, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2002, 2003, 2006, 2011 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission. BibleSoft.com. Accessed October 2, 2017. http://biblehub.com/sermons/auth/ black/dreams_indicate_character.htm.

Brown, Driver, Briggs. “995 Bin/2451 Chokmah.” Biblehub.com. Accessed October 18, 2017. http://biblehub.com/hebrew/995.htm.; http://biblehub.com/hebrew/2451.htm

Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers. “Isaiah 28/1 Kings 3.” Biblehub.com. Accessed October 18, 2017. http://biblehub.com/commentaries/ellicott/isaiah/28.htm; http://biblehub.com/commentaries/ellicott/1_kings/3.htm.

Ewing, W. “Gibeon.” Bibleatlas.org. Accessed October 18, 2017. http://bibleatlas.org/gibeon.htm.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008.

Howell, Don N. Servants of the Servant: A Biblical Theology of Leadership. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2003.

Nelson, Richard D. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching First and Second Kings. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1987.

Provan, Iain. 1 & 2 Kings. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1995.

Slater, Rosalie J. Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language. Chesapeake, VA: Foundation for American Christian Education, 1967, 1995.

Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. “995 Bin/2449 Chakam.” Biblehub.com. Accessed October 18, 2017. http://biblehub.com/hebrew/995.htm.;http://biblehub.com/strongs/hebrew/2449.htm

Walsh, Jerome T. Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1996.

Wiseman, Donald J. 1 & 2 Kings: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (La Habra, CA: The Zondervan Corporation and the Lockman Foundation, 1987). Scripture quotations taken from the Amplified Bible (AMPC), Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. www.Lockman.org.

[2] Don N. Howell, Jr., Servants of the Servant: A Biblical Theology of Leadership (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2003), 109.

[3] The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

[4] Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, “1 Kings 3,” Biblehub.com, accessed October 18, 2017, http://biblehub.com/commentaries/ellicott/1_kings/3.htm.

[5] Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, “Isaiah 28,” Biblehub.com, accessed October 18, 2017, http://biblehub.com/commentaries/ellicott/isaiah/28.htm.

[6] A Commentary, Critical, Practical, and Explanatory on the Old and New Testaments by Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown [1882], “Isaiah 28:21,” Biblehub.com, accessed October 18, 2017, http://biblehub.com/isaiah/28-21.htm.

[7] W. Ewing, “Gibeon,” Bibleatlas.org, accessed October 18, 2017, http://bibleatlas.org/gibeon.htm.

[8] Hugh, Black. “Dreams Indicate Character.” The Biblical Illustrator, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2002, 2003, 2006, 2011 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission. BibleSoft.com. Accessed October 2, 2017. http://biblehub.com/sermons/auth/black/dreams_indicate_character.htm.

[9] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 385.

[10] Richard D. Nelson, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching First and Second Kings (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1987), 33.

[11] Ibid., 34.

[12] Iain Provan, 1 & 2 Kings (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1995), 46, 47.

[13] Jerome T. Walsh, Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1996), 77.

[14] Walsh, Berit Olam, 75.

[15] Howell, Servants of the Servant, 110-111.

[16] Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, “995 Bin,” Biblehub.com, accessed October 18, 2017, http://biblehub.com/hebrew/995.htm.

[17] Rosalie J. Slater, Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language (Chesapeake, VA: Foundation for American Christian Education, 1967, 1995).

[18] Brown, Driver, Briggs, “995 Bin,” Biblehub.com, accessed October 18, 2017, http://biblehub.com/hebrew/995.htm.

[19] The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

20] Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, “2449 Chakam,” Biblehub.com, accessed October 18, 2017, http://biblehub.com/strongs/hebrew/2449.htm

[21] Donald J. Wiseman, 1 & 2 Kings: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 134.

[22] Brown, Driver, Briggs, “2451 Chokmah,” Biblehub.com, accessed October 18, 2017, http://biblehub.com/hebrew/2451.htm. Ecclesiastes and Proverbs also employ the third part of this word, primarily that aspect “of man”.

[23] Amplified Bible, Classic Edition, Ecc 1:13 footnote, accessed October 18, 2017, https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ecclesiastes+1&version=AMPC


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