One Greater than Solomon
Reading: 1 Kings 3
Solomon’s wisdom was famous in his own day and it is well known now. But what was so great about Solomon’s wisdom? Why does it receive such prominence in the Biblical story? And, what did Jesus mean when he said, “and now something greater than Solomon is here” (Luke 11:31)? Let’s begin by examining what was great about Solomon and his wisdom.
In 1 Kings 3:4-14, the Lord appeared to Solomon in dream saying, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Solomon’s answer reveals the key to the wisdom he received.
6 And Solomon replied, “…Yet I am just a youth with no experience in leadership. 8 Your servant is among Your people You have chosen, a people too numerous to be numbered or counted. 9 So give Your servant an obedient heart to judge Your people and to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” (1 Kings 3:6-9 HCSB)
The Greatness of Solomon’s Wisdom
First, Solomon recognized that wisdom did not reside within himself. “I am just a youth with no experience….” The first step in the path to wisdom is to recognize our need for it; to recognize that we do not have it in ourselves.
Second, Solomon understood that wisdom begins by listening to God’s law and desiring to obey it. The requested solution to his lack of wisdom begins, “So give Your servant an obedient heart to judge Your people…”. The word translated in the Christian Standard Bible as “obedient” might also be translated, “listening.” But it is like the parent who might say to his child, “You aren’t listening to me!” He means, “You are not doing what I said.” Listening meant obeying. They were one and the same. Solomon recognizes that not only does he need wisdom, he needs the heart to obey it when he does hear it; he needs God to give him a heart with a disposition to obey that wisdom. You might call this disposition, “The fear of the Lord.”
The third thing we can see in Solomon’s request is that he asks for this obedient heart, “…to discern between good and evil.” Does that phrase sound familiar? It goes all the way back to the beginning of the Bible. In the garden was a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. By obeying God’s command not to eat from it, Adam and Eve were saying that God alone has the right to determine good and evil; it is not ours to decide. The tempter offered Adam and Eve a way out of God’s rule.
4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5)
Adam and Eve set out to make themselves the source of moral authority. Solomon, on the other hand, didn’t ask to know good and evil within himself, but to discern – to understand, to perceive, to pay attention to – good and evil. Solomon’s request makes clear that he discerning good and evil, determining right and wrong, is something that comes only from God. What Solomon desired was not moral authority he could take for himself, but an ability to discern it from the Lord. Deitrich Bonhoeffer astutely observed,
“The knowledge of good and evil seems to be the aim of all ethical reflection. The first task of Christian ethics is to invalidate this knowledge.” (Bonhoeffer, Ethics p. 21).
Only God has authority to determine morality. Solomon seems to understand that point.
Finally, Solomon understood that wisdom was not a means to the end of great wealth and success for himself. Too often people study the Proverbs of Solomon, because they think that by it they can gain success and wealth. But the motivation waylays the aim of obtaining wisdom. Solomon’s goal was not wealth or success, but in order that he would be able to judge God’s people. Judgment is good for this meant that the people would receive justice (1 Kings 3:28). As I write this blog, the streets of Baltimore are filled with rioters while many citizens are crying out for justice in Baltimore. I think we would all agree that what leaders need is the ability to discern God’s wisdom for that city in order to judge rightly, bringing true justice and peace.
Something Greater than Solomon is Here
We’ve seen what was great about Solomon’s wisdom and why it receives such prominence in the Biblical story. What did Jesus mean when he said, “and now something greater than Solomon is here.” (Luke 11:31) Although I’m sure there is much more that could be said (e.g. Jesus, unlike Solomon, fully obeyed the Father’s will fulfilling all Wisdom), I think something central to this answer is found in the fact that Jesus is source of the knowledge of good and evil.
Solomon had the law of God, from which he was enabled by God to discern good and evil. The law was a shadow pointing to the reality. Jesus is the one to whom the law was pointing. He is the one who could say, “You have heard that it was said (then quoting the law), but I say…”. He taught with an authority that no other had. Moses went up on a mountain to receive words from God and deliver them to the people. Jesus went up on a Mountain to give words to the disciples who would deliver them to the nations (Matthew 5–7). Not only is Jesus the lawgiver; Jesus is the law itself. Obey the law is transformed in the New Testament into, “Follow Me,” and “do what I say” (Luke 6:46).
When we go to Jesus and listen to His words, when we go to the cross and observe what He did for us, we behold the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. At the cross, God’s love and justice are fully on display. At the cross, we are given mercy by God and we are called to give mercy to others. For the Christian, all ethics, all right and wrong, proceeds from the cross. Something greater than Solomon is here!
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