Hearing the name Solomon, we almost immediately think of wisdom, for Solomon is widely renowned as one of the wisest men who ever lived. This reputation is due in no small part to what we read in today’s passage.
Before we consider the origin of Solomon’s wisdom and one of the king’s wisest decisions, we must note that the actual biblical evaluation of Solomon’s wisdom is mixed. As we will see, Solomon did some very foolish things, especially later in his reign (1 Kings 11:1–8). Today’s passage hints that Solomon would not always act wisely. We see in 1 Kings 3:1 that Solomon made an alliance with Egypt by marrying the pharaoh’s daughter. The Old Testament had a general rule that Israelites were not to marry non-Israelites, not because of racial or ethnic factors but because foreigners usually worshiped false gods and might lead Israel astray (Deut. 7:1–4). Solomon’s marriage to an Egyptian woman, who is not identified as a worshiper of Yahweh like other foreigners such as Ruth, makes us wonder what will come of Solomon’s wisdom.
Nevertheless, Solomon made many wise choices, and today’s passage reveals the source of his wisdom. Before the temple was built in Jerusalem, the altar of God was at Gibeon (1 Chron. 21:29). Early in his reign, Solomon worshiped at Gibeon, and while he was there, God spoke to him in a dream, telling him to ask for anything. Solomon asked for wisdom to “discern between good and evil” for the sake of the people (1 Kings 3:2–9). In other words, as the famous early church preacher Ambrose of Milan writes, Solomon “asked for wisdom, so that a prudent heart might be given him to hear and to judge with justice.”
This request pleased God greatly, for Solomon asked not for riches, military victories, or anything else to advance himself. Instead, he asked for what would serve God’s people. So, the Lord pledged to give him not only that wisdom but also the other good things—wealth, victory, renown—Solomon had not requested. We cannot help but think of Jesus’ promise that if we seek first the kingdom of God, everything else will be added to us (Matt. 6:25–33).
The author of 1 Kings reveals Solomon’s wisdom by giving the account of a particularly thorny problem that Solomon solved. His manner of revealing the true mother of the living child caused his wisdom to be celebrated in Israel (1 Kings 3:16–28).