Learning from the Wisdom and Sin of Solomon
By Chea Oei Kiang
We recently concluded the study of 1 Kings 1-11 which covered the rise and fall of King Solomon. Two key lessons stood out for me from this series, namely, the wisdom from God and the danger of lingering sin.
Lesson 1: We should seek wisdom from God to serve His purposes
The rise of Solomon began with his humble request to God for wisdom to rule justly. Indeed, it was a noble request that pleased God, and God added riches and honour to Solomon besides a wise and understanding heart. I have always wondered how this wisdom is different from the wisdom displayed by many men and women we read about in the world, especially those whose advice is (or was) well sought after, and those whose foresight had changed the course of history one way or another. Think of our former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, a man who was admired by many around the world for his wisdom and foresight. Another is the former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger.
The Hebrew root for “wise” or “wisdom” has the essential idea of “skill or ability”, so the wisdom we see in the modern wise men and women bears some similarities to what Solomon possessed. But what distinguishes Solomon’s wisdom from that of other “wise” men and women of our time is not just the purpose to which the wisdom is applied, but also the attitude that Solomon displayed when asking for the wisdom. He was cognisant of his lack of experience, the gravity of the responsibility he had to carry as King, and recognised God's hands in all that David his father had achieved. The basis of Solomon’s request for wisdom was very clear—it was to rule with justice and discernment for the purposes of God’s kingdom.
I have often prayed for wisdom to deal with life’s circumstances, such as facing major examinations, choosing a job, purchasing a house, handling work schedule (with its associated stress) etc. I believe these are valid requests, so long as the motive is to please God and not ourselves. But therein lies the difficulty. I need to ask myself the hard question, which is, for what purpose is the wisdom I request for meant to serve? Is success in what I do an end in itself? Solomon’s request tells me that when I ask God for wisdom (James 1: 5), I must be mindful that it is not to serve my purpose, my promotion, my ego, my pleasure or even my earthly needs. Otherwise, as mentioned in James 4:3, I’m asking amiss or wrongly, “to consume it upon my lusts”. As in Solomon’s example, I should ask with humility and in acknowledgement of my helplessness.
Lesson 2: We should not gloss over or allow our sins to linger, but repent of them.
The fall of Solomon was marked by his idolatrous leanings. He took foreign women as wives and concubines which clearly violated God’s law. God was so angry his sins that He “tore” (rend in KJV) the kingdom from him by raising adversaries against his successor, which ultimately led to the split of the kingdom.
Solomon had everything going for him—wealth, status, wisdom, and God’s favour. Why would the wise king then be so foolish as to risk losing all of these by incurring God’s anger? Well, church history is filled with examples of those who started well but ruined their lives by some sins after serving God for many years. There are also many well-known figures in modern days brought to disrepute because of moral failings. We note that Solomon’s sin existed right from the beginning of his reign when he took pharaoh’s daughter for his wife. Even as God continued to fulfill His promise to Solomon by granting him wisdom, wealth and honour during his reign, there appeared to be no sign of Solomon dealing with his sin, which turned worse as he reached the pinnacle of his reign.
Isn’t it in our nature to not like to deal with our sins? I generally avoid thinking much about them, much less talk to someone else about my struggles with them. Why? Because it is rather embarrassing, and I do not like the feeling of guilt. When my sins need to be placed under a microscope, I often choose to put a “blanket covering” over them. It is easy to pray that God would forgive all my sins without naming specific ones. Instead of reflecting where I have fallen short of God’s commandments, it is easier to go straight into asking for forgiveness in general.
Solomon’s failure to deal with his sins serves as a warning to us. Repentance must necessarily be a starting point if we were to turn to God to seek forgiveness. But because our hearts are deceitful, we can easily disguise our repentance with a cursory mention of our weaknesses. We can be quick to claim the promise of God in John1:9b, which says, “. . . He is faithful and Just to forgive us our sins”, but pay scant attention to the qualifier “If we confess our sins”. On the contrary, when we read of Solomon’s father, David’s confession for his adultery and murder in Psalm 51, we can almost feel his intense internal struggle with guilt and sorrow. We may not be guilty of such “grave sins”, but what about the thoughts and deeds in our lives that are offensive and not pleasing to God? We need to repent of those too.
May God help us to be contrite in spirit like David, as we examine ourselves for sins which we must repent of, seek His forgiveness and grace to resist temptation.