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Book Smarts and Street Smarts

Solomon and the gift of wisdom

I Kings 3:4-10


Now the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place: Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask! What shall I give you?”

And Solomon said: “You have shown great mercy to Your servant David my father, because he walked before You in truth, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with You; You have continued this great kindness for him, and You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. 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?”

10 The speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing.


If God appeared to you and told you that you could ask Him for anything–anything at all–what would you seek?

Perhaps you would seek healing for a loved one suffering from cancer or another deadly disease. Or maybe you would seek some kind of verbal assurance of your own salvation–or the conversion of someone you love to faith in Jesus Christ.

It would be tempting, however, to ask for success in life, good health, wonderful abilities that you do not possess, or wealth that will see you and your family into future security. While none of these are wrong to seek or desire in life, remember that God is before you and will grant you anything you desire–and the music to Jeopardy! is playing in the background…

The book of Proverbs cannot be studied without truly considering its author.  Solomon, the son of David, king of Israel (Proverbs 1:1), is asked this very question by God in a dream. The young king’s response was not only astoundingly brilliant, it pleased the Lord–who granted him his deepest desires as a result.

You find this account in I Kings 3:

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask! What shall I give you?”–I Kings 3:5 

Solomon has gone to Gibeon to worship God and to make sacrifices. He is the new heir to the throne after David’s death, and his entire reign lies before him. Solomon has already begun to use his power and could have gone wild with it–but instead he seeks the Lord. He responds in thankfulness by glorifying God, but then reveals his need:

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.–I Kings 3:7

Solomon is maybe 20 years old, just out of his teens, and the burden of responsibility weighs heavily on him. His accession has not been easy, for not only has his father died, Solomon has had to immediately consolidate power by executing schemers and pretenders to the throne–including his own brother Adonijah.

Solomon is feeling very small, as a little child, and knows he needs God’s help. 

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?”–I Kings 3:9

What does he want? As a king, he can ask for more power, a great military to protect God’s people, wealth in the treasury, or even the assurance that his dynasty will go on forever. Instead, Solomon, does the unexpected and simply asks God for wisdom. Not just knowledge– anyone can have a head full of figures and facts–but he asks to be able to discern between good and evil. 

That’s it? You may think that this is a no-brainer. In fact, is it not easy to tell the difference between good and evil? Helping people is good. Murder is evil. Puppies are good. Green beans are evil.

(Trust me about that last one, for I have known this all of my life.)

No, Solomon is seeking wisdom. This is more than simply seeking knowledge; he is seeking to know how to use the knowledge he has been given or may learn.

There is a scene in the 1995 buddy-comedy movie Tommy Boy that reminds me of Solomon:

Tommy: My dad was smart. I'm not. 

Richard: Very true, but there's two types of smarts: “book smarts,” which waved bye-bye to you long ago, and there's “street smarts;” the ability to read people. And you know how to do that, just like your dad.

[Clip HERE-warning: funny, but PG-13 Rated]

Back to Solomon-God is so pleased with the new king’s response that He grants Solomon his desire: 

10 The speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing.–I Kings 3:10

God grants Solomon wisdom–a shade of His own wisdom–and furthermore blesses the king with the earthly wealth and honor that he did not seek.

Solomon does not need to wait long to use his new gift. He is holding court when two women are brought in, and he is asked to render judgement. Both women are likely prostitutes, and each has had a child. One woman’s child has died and she has taken the other woman’s baby for her own. Both are accusing each other of lying, and Solomon must untie this delicate knot. He asks that a sword be brought in, for he has found a solution:

He will have the baby cut in two, and each mother can have a share.

Instantly, one woman is horrified at the prospect and gives the child to the other–who cynically insists that half a baby is better than no baby at all.

The first woman is thus revealed to be the true mother of the baby.

This shrewd ruling both establishes Solomon in the hearts of the people of Israel and it shows that he truly grasps the ability to discern between good and evil. He has become truly wise.

What does this wisdom of Solomon entail? You see it in verse 12:

12 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.–I Kings 3:12

With the two mothers, Solomon shows an understanding of the human heart that comes from a knowledge of God and His word. He knew that justice would be found only in the pursuit of truth.

Sadly, we know that Solomon, though gifted with wisdom, was not perfect. Like his father David, he was a deeply flawed man whose reign actually ran afoul of the teachings of the law in many ways. The kings of old were warned:

16 But he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, for the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall not return that way again.’ 17 Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself.–Deuteronomy 17:16-17 

Contrary to God’s directions, Solomon chose many wives, and though he loved them (I Kings 11:1), he also adopted their worship of false gods. In fact, one reason Solomon was up at Gibeon when he met God was to worship Him in “a high place”–and continued to do so after the practice was forbidden following the building of the temple. Despite his faith, throughout Solomon's life he was often cavalier in his worship of God.

After all he has been given, why does Solomon do this? Perhaps he struggles with his own self-importance–especially tempting for any royal politician–or that he simply fears the loss of the affection of the women he loves. In these things he fulfills one of his own proverbs:

The fear of man brings a snare,
But whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.–Proverbs 29:25

Pastor William Still laments that this tragic legacy of Solomon’s sins, like that of his father David, meant that:

...the seeds of Israel’s own eventual destruction were sown by her two most illustrious kings.

Like David, Solomon’s weakness of idolatry does not serve to cancel out the wisdom that God had given him, but shows the need to maintain its pursuit throughout your life–and grow in faith as a result.  This is what Jesus calls you to in the Gospel of Luke:

33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.–Matthew 6:33

[Set wonderfully to music HERE]


Proverbs was not written in its entirety by Solomon, but contains the works of several ancient authors. Solomon writes the book as a compilation of his own and other wisdom literature and all for the glory of God. In the book, God gives you a landscape across which you can journey as you absorb yourself in the knowledge of God and His will for you in life.

God is asking you now, what do you seek? It must be more than knowledge of the world or even knowledge of the Bible. Seek to go beyond “book smarts” and even “street smarts.” Instead seek the wisdom of God found in Christ–the One and future king–who will not fail.



The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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