Focal Teaching Passages: 1 Kings 3:1-28
Solomon Begins His Reign: A Prayer for Wisdom (3:1-15)
The lesson passage commences with the record of King Solomon’s marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter for the purpose of forming a political “alliance” with Egypt. The “Pharoah” referred to here was probably Siamun (978-959 BC) who maintained peaceful relations with Israel for some twenty years. While such political marriages were quite common in the ancient world, marriage agreements with foreigners outside the covenant community had been strictly forbidden by God (Deut. 17:17; I Kings 11:2). As the story of Solomon’s reign continues this sin will come to play in a deeply troubling way.
The reference to the sacrifices on the “high places” (v. 2) indicates the need for a central temple where such worship practice could be properly observed. Since at the time there was no such central location for the worship of “the Name of the Lord,” the people of Israel sacrificed at altars previously dedicated to the Canaanite gods. These worship places existed because Israel had not yet obeyed God’s command to destroy them (Num. 33:52). Wiseman describes these structures as typically consisting of “flat rock-hewn platforms[s] with an altar” where animals could be sacrificed .
Verse 3 recounts Solomon’s initial “love for the Lord” which was demonstrated by means of his commitment to walk “according to the statutes of his father David.” That is, he demonstrated obedience to those obligations directly expressed by his father prior to his death (2:2-4).
In verse 4 we learn that Solomon journeyed to “Gibeon,” the “most important high place,” located about seven miles from Jerusalem, in order to present to the Lord “a thousand burnt offerings on the altar.” While he was sleeping, the Lord Himself appeared to Solomon by way of a “dream.” In the nighttime theophany, or vision, Solomon heard the voice of Yahweh saying, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
Demonstrating an awareness of God’s mercy and covenant faithfulness—“you have shown great kindness to your servant”—and displaying great humility—“I am only a little child”— Solomon asked only that he might have a “discerning heart” in order to effectively lead the people of Israel (v. 9). The Hebrew concept of a discerning or listening “heart”—which was the location of the mind and will for the Hebrews—communicated the idea that genuine hearing is properly reflected in the act of obedience. That is, one was thought to have “heard” a command when he had actually obeyed that command. Thus, Solomon is fervently praying for the ability to both clearly hear and receive the divine command and to faithfully obey it to the letter. Notice that Solomon was particularly interested in governing his people (“too numerous to count or number”) with integrity and fairness—“to distinguish between right and wrong” (vv. 8-9).
In response to his humble request, which “pleased” the Lord greatly, God granted Solomon not only a “discerning heart,” but also “riches and honor” to the degree that no one on earth had in the past or would in the future manifest (vv. 11-13). Furthermore, the Lord promised Solomon the blessing of long life so far as he kept God’s commands and walked in His ways as his father David had done before him (vv. 14-15). Note that there is an explicit reference to the fifth commandment in the Decalogue in verse 14. This feature “underscores the continuity of God’s covenant with Israel, with David, and with Solomon, the new generation,” but also serves to emphasize the “conditional nature of Solomon’s kingship” [House, 111].
The significance of this agreement between Israel’s king and the God of Israel is found in the fact that Solomon chose the proper pathway of leadership. Richard Nelson [First and Second Kings, Interpretation, 31] explains that in this encounter, “two competing patterns of kingship are set before the reader; a kingship of glory and a kingship in the spirit of Deuteronomy.” He continues:
What Solomon does not ask for are the trappings of glory and worldly success that made up much of the royal ideology . . . . It was just this pattern for kingship that Deuteronomy had warned against (Deut. 17:16-17), as had Samuel (I Sam. 8:11-18).
At least initially, then, Solomon wisely chooses the path of humble, Spirit-empowered leadership that will bring glory and honor to God on the one hand, and will effectively serve the people of Israel one the other.
Solomon’s Wisdom in Action: A Wise Judge (3:16-28)
Solomon’s newfound wisdom was soon tested in the strange case of the “two prostitutes,” each claiming to be the mother of the same child (vv. 16-22). Displaying God-given wisdom, Solomon quickly solved the problem by proposing to have the baby “cut in two” (v. 24). This strategic ploy and subsequent resolution to the dilemma resulted in great respect from his people—“they held the king in awe because he had wisdom from God to administer justice” (v. 28).
One: Note the two tragic errors which appear early in Solomon’s reign:
What made these actions so potentially destructive and dangerous? How could these actions ultimately led to his downfall? Is it possible for Christians to repeat the same mistakes? If so, give examples.
Two: Early in his life, Solomon possessed many admirable and God-honoring qualities. These are revealed in his response to God’s offer to grant his prayer in 3:5-15
Identify these exemplary attributes in the following verses:
How can these qualities serve as patterns for leadership and be practically implemented today?
Three: What does it mean to have a “discerning heart”? Note that this Hebrew idiom literally means a “learning heart.” How would you define “wisdom”? What are the characteristics of biblical wisdom?
Hint: Donald Wiseman [1 & 2 Kings, TOTC, 85] identifies several distinguishing characteristics of biblical wisdom:
Four: Look carefully at 3:14 and see if you can define how David’s kingship prepares us for the work and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ—the king of kings. Check out these passages for additional help: