In chapter 1 we saw that David was old and well advanced in years and drawing near the end of his life. Adonijah, his oldest surviving son, exalted himself and made a move to take the throne and become the next king of Israel. Nathan the prophet was alarmed when he found out about this; and he and Bathsheba went to David to remind him that Solomon was to be the next king of Israel. When David heard what Adonijah had done, he had a sudden burst of energy and made arrangements for Solomon to be made king immediately. And the first chapter ended with Adonijah bowing before King Solomon.
That was chapter 1. Chapter 2 contained David’s last words to Solomon. He told Solomon to be strong and to walk in the ways of the Lord. And he told Solomon to show kindness to the sons of Barzillai, who had helped David in the past. However, David also made clear to Solomon that he must deal with Joab and Shimei. Joab had been commander of David’s army, but he was a loose cannon who did as he pleased. Shimei had once cursed David and perhaps he had continued to be a troublemaker. Whereas David had been patient with them during his lifetime, he wanted Solomon to punish them. And in the rest of chapter 2, we read about some of the things Solomon did to establish his rule and to make it firm. Some people — who showed themselves to be enemies of the king — were either killed or banished. So, Adonijah was killed, because it became clear he was not willing to submit to his brother. Joab and Shimei were also killed. Abiathar the priest was banished. And Zadok was made priest in his place and Benaiah replaced Joab as commander. And in this way Solomon established the kingdom and made it firm.
And the whole of the chapter speaks to us of the judgment to come when Christ the King will come in glory and with power to establish his everlasting kingdom by punishing his enemies who are all those who refused to believe in him and who, in their unbelief, sided with the Devil. Christ the King will come to punish his enemies. And his people — all who believed in him and who received forgiveness from him — will be able to live peacefully and securely in his everlasting kingdom forever and forever.
Verses 1 to 3
And so, we come to the third chapter of this book, which contains the well-known story of how Solomon asked the Lord for a discerning heart to help him rule God’s people. And the Lord answered his prayer, as is made clear by the wise ruling at the end of the chapter.
However, the chapter begins by telling us that Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter. And some of the Bible commentators read about that alliance with Egypt and his marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter and they criticise Solomon. They say that he shouldn’t have made an alliance with Egypt, their old enemy from the days of Moses. And he shouldn’t have married a foreign woman. And if you’re familiar with the story of Solomon, you’ll know that later in his life he married lots of foreign women and they turned his heart away from the Lord. And what we read in verse 1 of chapter 3 is the start of it. That’s what some commentators say.
And they go on to complain about the way verse 1 mentions Solomon’s building projects and how he built a palace for himself and a temple for the Lord. But why is his own palace mentioned first? Was building a palace for himself more important to him than building a temple for the Lord? And they go on to complain about what it says in verses 2 and 3 about the way people worshipped God at these high places. And Solomon also worshipped at the high places. The high places were mountains and hills where people built altars to worship the Lord. But weren’t the people meant to worship God in the tabernacle?
And so, some of the commentators criticise Solomon. They complain that he was doing everything wrong. However, other commentators take a more positive view of what these verses tell us about Solomon. They point out that, while the Lord forbade his people in those days from marrying Canaanite woman, he did not forbid them from marrying Egyptian woman. And while Solomon’s later wives led him astray, there’s no indication that this one did. And isn’t it a remarkable thing that the king of Egypt should let his daughter marry the king of Israel, when the Egyptians once despised the Israelites and treated them as slaves? Is it not a sign of how Israel had been exalted by the Lord in the years since the exodus? Israel was no longer a despised nation, but it was an honoured nation; and it is the Lord who has done it for David and for Solomon and for all his people. And the honour which the king of Egypt paid to Solomon is a kind of foretaste of how people from every nation will come to Christ the King to honour him as Lord.
Furthermore, it’s not at all clear from what we read in verse 1 that building his own palace was of greater importance to Solomon than building a temple for the Lord. And worshipping the Lord at the high places was not really a problem at this time. It became a problem when people continued to worship at the high places after the temple was built. Once the temple was built, the people were required to worship God there and nowhere else. But that time had not yet come.
And the last thing to say here is to note the comment at the beginning of verse 3, where it tells us about Solomon’s love for the Lord and how he showed his love for the Lord by walking in the statutes of his father David. This is not a king who did whatever he liked. This is a king who loved the Lord and who sought to honour him.
Verses 4 to 15
And, of course, this is a king who worshipped the Lord and who was humble, as we see from the next section of the chapter. According to verse 4, Solomon went to Gideon to offer sacrifices to the Lord. The reason he went to Gibeon to worship the Lord is that, according to 2 Chronicles 1, the tabernacle and bronze altar were there. And it was there that Solomon offered up a thousand burnt offerings to the Lord. The number of offerings demonstrates to us Solomon’s devotion to the Lord. And it was there that the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream. But this is not an ordinary dream. It’s not that Solomon dreamed that God appeared to him, but it wasn’t real. No, this was real. God really appeared to him through the dream. And the Lord said to him, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you.’
There was an author (Tozer) whose books I used to read a long time ago and he often said that ‘choices reveal character’. The choices we make reveal something about us. Whatever a person chooses to do tells us something about that person’s character. And the choices you make reveal something about you and your character. And in this dream, Solomon had a choice to make. The choice was: what to ask for. God was, in a sense, giving him a blank cheque. He was giving him an Aladdin’s lamp wish. You can have whatever you ask for. So what is your wish? What is your heart’s desire? What do you want more than anything else in all the world? And Solomon’s answer and the choice he made revealed something of his character. It revealed his gratitude and it revealed his humility and it revealed his desire to serve God well.
We see his gratitude in what he says in verse 6 where he says that God has shown great kindness to David and he has continued to show kindness to David by giving him a son to sit on his throne. He’s referring to himself, of course. He is David’s son who now sits as king on David’s throne. And Solomon realises that the only reason he’s on the throne is because of God’s kindness to his father. And here he is, expressing his gratitude to God for his kindness. And, of course, many of us — if not all of us — could say something similar, because it’s normally the case that the people in one generation benefit from God’s kindness to the previous generation. What we are today and what we have today is very often an outcome of God’s kindness to our parents and to those who came before us.
And then we see Solomon’s humility in verses 7 and 8. First, he refers to himself as God’s servant. Even though he’s a king, he regards himself as God’s servant. And he refers to himself as a little child. Now, Solomon was by this time an adult. He was old enough to have a wife. Some of the scholars reckon he was around 20 years old. So, he was a fully-grown man. But he refers to himself as a little child, because he feels small and inadequate for the task ahead of him. He’s not one of those people who is brimming with confidence. He’s feels as small and helpless as a little child. And just as little children are dependent on their parents, so he feels dependent on God to help him serve as king. And he says that he does not know how to carry out his duties. A more literal translation of the Hebrew is that he does not know how to go out or come in, which is an expression with a military connotation. He does not know how to go out or come in with an army. He’s not a warrior like his father was. He’s never had to fight lions and bears as David did when David was a shepherd. He’s never had to fight a giant like Goliath. He’s not prepared for that kind of thing. And he’s aware that the people under him are God’s chosen people. And they are a great people who are too numerous to count or number. He’s daunted by the task which God has given him, because he’s aware of his inexperience and there are so many people for him to rule over and they are God’s chosen people. And so, his words make clear his humility.
And then we see his desire to serve God well in verse 9. The Lord had said, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you.’ And Solomon asked the Lord for a discerning heart to govern God’s people and to distinguish between right and wrong. He knows the people will come to him with their problems and their disputes and they’ll want him to judge each case with justice and to make good and wise decisions for them. And he wants to do that work well. So, he’s not thinking about how to make himself rich. He’s not thinking about how the people will serve him. He’s thinking about how he will serve them by governing them justly. And he’s thinking about how he will serve the Lord.
The NIV says he asked for a discerning heart. The Hebrew can be translated ‘a listening heart’. He’s to listen to the needs and concerns of the people. But more importantly, he’s to listen to the word of the Lord. The problem with Saul, the first king of Israel, was that he disregarded the word of the Lord. And David was at his best when he listened to God’s word and did what the Lord required. And Solomon knows he needs to listen to God’s word and pays attention to God’s will. And when he judges the people and makes decisions on their behalf, he needs to do so according to God’s word. And that’s why he asked the Lord for a listening heart.
Choices reveal character. And what Solomon chose to ask for from God revealed his gratitude and his humility and his deserve to serve God well. And in verse 10 we read that God was pleased that Solomon asked for this. More literally, it says that this was good in the eyes of the Lord. It means he had asked for the right thing. And as the Lord goes on to say, he could have asked for selfish things like a long life or wealth for himself or for the death of his enemies. But instead of asking for these selfish things, he asked for discernment to judge justly. And so, the Lord promised to give him what he asked for and to give him a wise and discerning heart. In fact, he will give Solomon such a wise and discerning heart that there has never been anyone like him before and there never will be anyone like him in the future. He will be unique in his wisdom. He will be exalted over everyone else in terms of his ability to make good and wise decisions. And ‘Moreover….’ Do you see that in verse 13? The Lord has more to give him. The Lord’s generosity is boundless. ‘Moreover, I will give you what you have not ask for.’ I will give you riches and honour so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. You will be the greatest king, the best king. You will be the kings of kings.
And then the Lord adds in verse 14 that if he walks in God’s ways and obeys his statutes and commands as David did, then God will also give him long life.
And so, we read in verse 15 that Solomon awoke and realised it was a dream. But this was not an ordinary dream which is not real and does not come true. This dream was real. God had appeared to him and had really spoken to him.
And Solomon returned to Jerusalem and stood before the ark of the covenant, which signified God’s presence with his people. And he sacrificed offerings and fellowship offerings to the Lord. And it was the custom in those days that the people feasted together after making a fellowship offering to the Lord. And so, Solomon gave a feast for all the people in his court.
Verses 16 to 28
And so, the Lord appeared to Solomon and promised to give him a wise and discerning heart. And verses 16 to 28 demonstrate that God did indeed give him a wise and discerning heart.
Two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. In those days, almost anyone could come before the king of Israel and ask him to settle a dispute. It was very different in the other nations. Think of the story of Esther and how she took her life in her hand when she appeared before the king of the Persian Empire. But anyone could appear before Israel’s king. Even prostitutes could come to him and seek his help.
And these two women came because of a tragedy which had occurred in the night. One of them explained to Solomon that they both lived in the same house; and they both had babies, two sons, within days of each other. And no one else lived them with to act as witnesses to what happened next. What happened next? According to the woman narrating the story, the other woman’s son died in the night. And she got up in the middle of the night and swapped babies. When the woman narrating the story woke up, she discovered that the baby with her was dead. But when she looked more closely at the dead baby, she realised it was not her son. Her housemate had taken her living baby and had given her the dead baby in its place.
Of course, if her story is true — and we only have her word for it — then we have to assume that she’s guessing that this is what happened, because she was asleep at the time. She was asleep and is only guessing that this is what her housemate did. And, of course, we only have her word to go on, because there are no witnesses to what really happened. And the other woman responded and said that what the first woman said was untrue. She said: the living baby is mine and the dead one is yours. And the first woman replied: no, the dead baby is yours and the living baby is mine.
And we have no way of telling who is telling the truth. Is it the first woman? Or is it the second? We don’t know. But Solomon has been listening carefully and he summarised their dispute in verse 23. And then, in verse 24, he asked for a sword. And no doubt everyone was wondering why the king wanted a sword. What’s he going to do with a sword?
And once someone had brought the sword, Solomon gave orders for the living child to be cut into two halves for the woman to share. And his order was shocking, wasn’t it? At least it was shocking if he intended for it to be carried out. But he did not intend for it to be carried out. This was his wise way to find out which of the women was the child’s mother. We’re told in verse 26 that the woman whose son was alive was filled with compassion for her son. She did not want to see her son harmed in any way; and so, she would rather give him up than let him die. And she begged the king not to harm him. Meanwhile, the other woman did not care whether this boy lived or died, because he was not her son. And by the way they responded, Solomon was able to discern who the real mother was. And so, he gave his verdict.
And we read in verse 28 that when all Israel heard the verdict he had given they held the king in awe, because they saw he had wisdom from God to administer justice. God has given him what he had asked for.
There are plenty of lessons we can learn from this story. Like Solomon, we should be grateful to God for the way we have benefitted from God’s kindness to those who came before us. Like Solomon, we should be humble and not proud so that we will always depend on the Lord for what we need. And like Solomon, we should make it our heart’s desire to serve the Lord well in our daily lives. God has not made us kings, but wherever he has placed us, we should aim to serve him and to do his will. And so, we should also ask the Lord for a listening heart to listen to his word and for wisdom to make good and wise decisions. We need wisdom from above to know how to live our lives. And the good news is that God has promised that if anyone lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously without finding fault. And it will be given to us. God is the giving God who gives wisdom to those who ask him for it. And wisdom from above is pure and peace-loving and considerate and submissive and full of mercy and good fruit and its impartial and sincere. I’m quoting from the book of James. But there is another kind of wisdom which is from the devil. People with this kind of wisdom think they know what needs to be done. But wisdom from the devil produces bitter envy and selfish ambition and it leads to disorder and every evil practice. We don’t want that kind of wisdom, but we want wisdom from above which God gives to those who ask for it.
And so, there are plenty of lessons for us to learn from this passage. But the most important lesson is how Solomon foreshadows the Saviour. In Isaiah 11, God said about the coming Saviour that the Spirit of God will rest on him: the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. And he will not judge by what he sees with his eyes — because appearances can always be deceiving — but with righteousness he will judge the needy and with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
And so, when the Lord Jesus came, he was filled with the Spirit and with wisdom so that he was able to silence his enemies when they tried to argue with him; and he was able to teach his people wise things about living as God’s people in the world.
And even though he was the King, he was very humble and he said that he came, not to be served, but to serve. He came to serve his people by giving up his life for them on the cross to pay for our sins. And he came to serve his Father in heaven by always doing his will.
And just as Solomon was king of kings in his lifetime, so the Lord Jesus is the King of kings forever, because after his death and resurrection, he was exalted to heaven above and given the name that is over all. He is exalted over all and there has never been anyone like him and there never will be anyone like him. He is unique and he is over all and he is the King of kings and Lord of lords and he calls on all of us to yield our lives to him.
And to all who yield their lives to him, he promises eternal life in his everlasting kingdom, where we will be with God and will enjoy him forever. But to all who refuse, and who do not believe in him and who continue to rebel against him, he warns of the judgment to come and everlasting punishment away from the presence of God.
And finally note how even prostitutes were able to come before King Solomon. And the Lord Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, calls everyone to come to him. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have done or what sins you may have committed or how far you have gone astray. He invites all to come to him; and he welcomes all who come. No one should stay away from him, but all should come and bow to him to receive eternal life.