"Divide the baby with a sword, and let the matter be settled." As the king's shocking words echoed throughout his chambers, those who heard his decision were stunned.
It was a heartrending scene: Two women stood before King Solomon, each claiming to be the mother of the same baby boy. The first mother told of how she and the second woman had each given birth to a son, three days apart. Her son was born first. The second mother accidentally laid on her son while they slept, and he died. Discovering that her son was dead, the second mother switched the babies, placing her dead son beside the first mother—asleep at the time—and taking the first mother's living son to her bed.
The story of how Solomon became so wise and the lessons from his life deserve our undivided attention.
When the first mother arose in the morning to nurse her son, she found the boy dead—but on closer examination discovered it was the other mother's child. She knew her son was in the arms of the second mother. Now, standing anxiously before the king, she hoped that he would somehow perceive she was the one telling the truth so she could be reunited with her baby.
Solomon issued his verdict: "Bring me a sword. Divide the living child in two, and give half to one, and half to the other" (1 Kings 3:24-25). The two mothers' reactions were worlds apart. The first mother pleaded with the king: "O my lord, give her the living child, and by no means kill him!" But the second mother's words were chilling: "Let him be neither mine nor yours, but divide him" (verse 26).
Their reactions told the king all he needed to know. "Give the first woman the living child," he ordered, "and by no means kill him; she is his mother" (1 Kings 3:27).
The source of Solomon's wisdom
All Israel heard of Solomon's discernment in this case, a judgment that amply demonstrated his great wisdom. ". . . And they feared the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice" (1 Kings 3:28).
The story of how Solomon became so wise and the lessons from his life deserve our undivided attention.
Shortly after he ascended to the throne, Solomon married the daughter of the ruler of Egypt (1 Kings 3:1). Although a politically astute move, this was not a wise decision according to God's standards since He knew full well that foreigners, steeped as they were in their idolatrous ways, could drive a wedge between His chosen nation and Him by causing them to depart from the true religion. This act foreshadowed the greatest singular weakness of the otherwise wise king.
The history of the kings tells the whole story—both good and bad. Remember, much that was said is good. "And Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David . . ." (1 Kings 3:3). God was pleased with the new king's attitude, and appeared to him in a dream: "Ask! What shall I give you?" (1 Kings 3:5).
Solomon's answer said much about the man: "Now, O LORD my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted. Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?" (1 Kings 3:7-9).
Blessings for a new king
God was pleased with Solomon's response—that he had asked for the ability to govern wisely and so to properly serve His people. Just as we would do well to remember Solomon's reply to God, we should also remember God's reply to Solomon:
"Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked long life for yourself, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice, behold, I have done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you. And I have also given you what you have not asked: both riches and honor, so that there shall not be anyone like you among the kings all your days" (1 Kings 3:11-13, emphasis added throughout).
These gifts from God required something: Solomon's resolute obedience to Him. "So if you walk in My ways, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen [prolong] your days" (1 Kings 3:14). God's offer was conditional: Solomon must not turn from His laws.
God kept His part of the covenant. "And God gave Solomon wisdom and exceedingly great understanding, and largeness of heart like the sand on the seashore. Thus Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the men of the East and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men . . .; and his fame was in all the surrounding nations . . . And men of all nations, from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom, came to hear the wisdom of Solomon" (1 Kings 4:29-34).
Even the queen of Sheba investigated Solomon's wisdom. She came to Jerusalem to test him with difficult questions. "So Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing so difficult for the king that he could not explain it to her" (1 Kings 10:3).
She ended her scrutiny of him with these remarkable words: "It was a true report which I heard in my own land about your words and your wisdom. However I did not believe the words until I came and saw with my own eyes; ... Your wisdom and prosperity exceed the fame of which I heard" (1 Kings 3:6-7). Other leaders discovered what the queen of Sheba witnessed firsthand: "And all the earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart" (1 Kings 3:24).
Solomon's good acts
For many years, Solomon fulfilled his part of the covenant. He walked in God's ways, and God blessed him greatly.
During Solomon's prosperous days of wisdom and wealth, he determined to build the temple for God which his father David had hoped to build earlier. This was an expansive and expensive undertaking. God gave Solomon peace with King Hiram of Lebanon, and Hiram supplied Solomon with a seemingly endless supply of cedar and cypress logs (1 Kings 5:10).
Further, Solomon sent "seventy thousand [men to Lebanon] who carried burdens, and eighty thousand who quarried stone in the mountains, besides three thousand three hundred from the chiefs of Solomon's deputies, who supervised the people who labored in the work . . . So Solomon's builders, Hiram's builders, and the Gebalites quarried them; and they prepared timber and stones to build the temple" (1 Kings 5:15-18).
The furnishings for the temple were exquisite and very costly (1 Kings 7:1-51). Solomon had the priests bring up the ark of God, and "the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD" (1 Kings 8:1-11). On the day of dedication, Solomon offered 22,000 bulls and 120,000 sheep as peace offerings to God (1 Kings 8:63). God then reiterated the Davidic covenant before King Solomon (1 Kings 9:1-28). It was a reminder for Solomon to remain loyal and faithful to God and His laws.
Solomon's wealth was greatly increased (1 Kings 10:1-29). As some Bible resources point out, the 666 talents of gold Solomon received each year (1 Kings 10:14) was worth well over $700 million by today's standards. "Solomon gathered chariots and horsemen; he had one thousand four hundred chariots and twelve thousand horsemen, whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king at Jerusalem. The king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones" (1 Kings 10:26-27).
Additionally Solomon took 13 years to build his own palace (1 Kings 7:1). It was a time of unprecedented wealth and unparalleled prosperity for the kingdom of Israel. True to His word, God had blessed Solomon with great abundance because he had honored Him.
But the king eventually showed a weakness that caused him to turn from the great God who blessed him. His wealth became so great, his fame so widespread, that he lost his focus. He became more and more attached to his physical surroundings, more dependent on his wealth, and more attentive to his many wives than he was to God.
Solomon's heart turned away
King Solomon loved many foreign women, taking them as his wives. He had 700 wives and 300 concubines, "and his wives turned away his heart" (1 Kings 11:3). Sadly, Solomon knew better. God had warned Israel not to intermarry with foreigners, for "surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods" (1 Kings 11:2). Solomon's weakness for women would be his downfall. God is no respecter of persons—even kings (Acts 10:34).
Earlier Solomon had disregarded God's instruction when he had married the Egyptian Pharaoh's daughter. His small problems were to grow into very large problems that would lead to his downfall.
"For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the LORD his God, as was the heart of his father David. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not fully follow the LORD, as did his father David. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, on the hill that is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the abomination of the people of Ammon. And he did likewise for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods" (1 Kings 11:4-8).
God became angry with Solomon for disobeying His commands and "because his heart had turned from the LORD God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not keep what the LORD had commanded" (1 Kings 11:9-10).
God declared that He would surely tear the kingdom away from Solomon and give it to one of his servants (1 Kings 11:11). Solomon's sins would lead to his kingdom being divided into the two separate kingdoms of Israel and Judah (1 Kings 11:26-40).
A ruler's downfall
God's Word is honest with its heroes. Solomon left quite a legacy for a man who—in his old age—departed from God. But God didn't blot out his writings or example, both good and bad. The man who had so much lacked one crucial ingredient: the will and character to do what he knew was right. As Jesus Christ said, "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41).
God warned that when human beings are blessed, they should not forget who provides such blessings (Deuteronomy 8:11-20). Solomon did. He forgot God's laws, especially those that dealt with marriage. His many wives turned his heart away from God. Both Solomon and his nation eventually suffered for his backsliding attitude.
However, we may take some solace from the fact that the last book of the Jewish version of the Old Testament, 2 Chronicles, does not repeat the account of Solomon's serious mistakes toward the end of his life. The two books of Chronicles were written after Samuel and Kings, and they were used by the chronicler both as inspired sources and historical references.
In the nine chapters of 2 Chronicles that cover Solomon's 40—year rule, hardly a negative word is written about him. The chronicler highlighted the positive aspects of both David's (1 Chronicles) and Solomon's governmental administrations as prototypes of the biblical ideal. Nothing was ever done with regard to the writing of the Bible without good reason. We also do well to remember that God is the ultimate Judge of Solomon, not we human beings.