In the night did God appear unto Solomon, and said unto him, Ask what I shall give thee.
And Solomon said unto God. . . Give me now wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in before this people: for who can judge this my people, that is so great?
And God said to Solomon . . . Wisdom and knowledge is granted unto thee; and I will give thee riches, and wealth, and honour, such as none of the kings have had that have been before thee, neither shall there any after thee have the like.
Solomon was a young man when he became king, as he said himself, “But a mere child,” I Kings 3:7. It is probable that he was somewhere in his teens. But he was by every measure a son of his father, in his strength and also in his weakness.
It was the former that became evident almost immediately after Solomon ascended to the throne. One of his first acts was to go to Gibeon to worship there before Jehovah. It was an event of tremendous importance.
Actually for many, many years the practice of worship in Israel had been in shambles. It was a result of the gradual degeneracy which had set in during the time of the judges. More and more the people had come to neglect the worship of Jehovah within the tabernacle, until at last in the days of Eli the tabernacle was almost a forsaken place. Only a small handful of faithful any more visited along with certain groups of vile people, who under the leadership of Eli’s sons used it for revellous purposes. It was more than God could bear, so that finally He slew Eli and his sons in one day, the Ark of the Covenant was taken into captivity, and God forsook the tabernacle at Shiloh. We don’t know exactly what happened to the tabernacle building after that; but apparently it was at some time moved to Nob and during the early reign of Saul some effort was made to maintain the worship of Jehovah there. The effort was brought to a sudden halt, however, when Saul murdered the priests of Nob for helping David, even though ignorantly, in his escape from the king. For years it was the end of formal worship.
Eventually, of course, David came to the throne of Israel, and the religious atmosphere in Israel took a definite change. And yet, it would appear that regular, formal worship was not actually restored.
To be sure, David was himself a man of worship. All through his life he poured out his heart in songs of petition and praise which have continued to be used by the church of God in worship ever since. After David became king, one of his first public acts was to get the Ark of the Covenant up from its seclusion in Kirjathjearim to a tabernacle which he had prepared for it in Jerusalem. But apparently public worship in which the people could participate was not restored. Humanly speaking, it may well have been that David, although a great man of God and well liked by the people generally, lacked the temperament and organizational ability needed to restore a whole order of worship after so many years of neglect. Behind it also, however, was the fact that since the days of Eli a curse lay upon the priesthood which had not yet been lifted.
When, therefore, Solomon soon after his coronation opened up the tabernacle which was at Gibeon, restored the brazen altar before it, and called the people to public worship there, it was a tremendous event for the nation. Few, if any, remembered any more what it was to participate in such public worship, so that it was for all a wonderfully new experience. And, being carried on by Solomon, it was on a large and impressive scale such as few could match. No fewer than one thousand burnt offerings were offered there for the king and the nation in the presence of God.
The true wonder of the day was, however, that God received the worship of the people. It meant that the curse of Eli’s house had been lifted. How did they know it? Surely there was not a believing heart there that day which did not know intuitively God’s presence was there testifying of His acceptance. But an even more tangible evidence came to Solomon that night after the great ceremony of worship.
It happened while Solomon was sleeping. God appeared to him in a dream. We are not given any indication of what the appearance was like. All we have is the final, critical command which was given to him. It was this, “Ask what I shall give thee.” It was an open offer by the God of heaven and earth to anything that the young Solomon might have upon his heart. But by the same measure it was an offer which through the response which he gave to it would expose the true nature of his heart.
It is difficult to imagine the impact which this offer must have had upon Solomon in the position where he then stood. His life ever since he had been suddenly thrust into the throne had been one of repeated crises. The coronation itself had been an emergency move because of the plotting of his brother Adonijah. Soon thereafter there had been the emotional impact of his father’s final instructions and the sorrow of his death. Then there had been the matter of having to deal with Joab and Adonijah, something which required the utmost of mature discretion and courage while observing proper regard for righteousness and justice. But he had come through these well; and now there had been this wonderful day at Gibeon with all of the people gathered there in joy before the altar of Jehovah in a way that His chosen people ought. It might well have seemed at that time that he, in spite of his youth, had proved himself and could now look forward to a successful reign as a great and capable king. At that point, an offer such as God now presented him with could well have struck him as an open invitation to choose the reward which his early efforts deserved. It was an offer designed to expose the true nature of his heart, whether it was spiritual or carnal.
Solomon, however, was a spiritual heir of his father David also. He was not about to be misled by these early, outward successes to presume that such were his to produce at any time at will. After all, what man is there able to meet even the ordinary problems of life with such assured confidence? And here he was, a very young man in a position where the greatest problems of a whole kingdom would be brought and laid at his feet. And even more, this was God’s chosen people, and in a real way he represented God to them and to all of the world. How could he ever be capable of doing it?
The sincerity of his concern came out clearly in the answer which he gave to God’s commandment, “Thou hast showed great mercy unto David my father, and hast made me to reign in his stead. Now, O LORD God, let thy promise unto David my father be established: for thou hast made me king over a people like the dust of the earth in multitude. Give me now wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in before this people: for who can judge this thy people, that is so great?”
To really appreciate this prayer of Solomon, we have to understand what he meant with the term “wisdom.” Certainly he meant something quite different from what we are apt to make of it.
In our day wisdom is looked upon merely as the ability of the human mind to go out and master any problem that may be presented to it. Almost unconsciously we suppose the humanistic supposition that human logic is the ultimate power in this world that properly used will surely solve any difficulty and control every situation. Of this Solomon would have had nothing.
What Solomon considered wisdom to be he has told us himself very clearly in the book of Proverbs, especially the 8th chapter. There we read: “Does not wisdom cry? and understanding put forth her voice? . . . Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of man. . . . The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with waters. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth: while as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was there. . . . When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth: then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him. . . . Now therefore hearken unto me, O ye children: for blessed are they that keep my ways.”
Certainly we should be able to understand this—in a way, even better than Solomon did himself. For the similarity to John 1:1-3, 14 is too striking to be ignored. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God, all things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. . . . And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”
The point is, of course, that men in our day look upon this world and its events as nothing more than an endless series of cause and effect relationships which follow one upon the other according’ to certain innate and unchanging laws or principles. To deal with them, therefore, one only has to be able to analyze these relationships and learn how to interject new causes that will give one control over this world’s development. To be able to do this is the world’s idea of “wisdom.”
Solomon, however, saw the world as being under the immediate and complete control of the Sovereign God, Jehovah. To be able to deal with it effectively, therefore, one must live in a personal communion with this God. And to do this is a real possibility too; for this God speaks to them whom he loves, He takes them into a personal communion of love and reveals to them how life must be lived if it is to go well. To Solomon this personal communion in truth was what he called “wisdom.” To John it was “the Word.” And we know Him more fully as “the Son of God, Jesus Christ.” It was this personal communion of friendship through the promised one for which Solomon pleaded with God.
Just how acceptable to God was this prayer of Solomon is completely evident from the answer which He gave him. To Solomon God replied, “Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life; neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies; but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern judgment; Behold, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee. And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches, and honour: so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days. And if thou wilt walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as thy father did walk, then I will lengthen thy days.”