The Wisdom of Solomon
July 16th, 1961 @ 7:30 PM
1 Kings 3:3-29
THE WISDOM OF SOLOMON
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Kings 3:3-29
7-16-61 7:30 p.m.
In our Bible we turn to 1 Kings chapter 4; 1 Kings, chapter 4. And reading together, starting at verses 29 and 30, then I shall read 31. Then we shall read the other three verses of the chapter, 1 Kings chapter 4, 1 Kings 4:29 and 30. This is going to be a summation of the great gift that God gave to Solomon. We are preaching tonight on God’s favor upon Solomon, The Wisdom of Solomon,1 Kings 4:29 and 30; now let us read it together:
And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the seashore.
And Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all of the children of the E East country, and all the wisdom of Egypt.
[1 Kings 4:29-30]
Then I will read the next verse,
For he was wiser than all men; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol; and his fame was in all nations round about.
[1 Kings 4:31]
Now, let us read the rest of the chapter,
And he spake three thousand proverbs; and his songs were a thousand and five.
And he spake of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes.
And there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom.
[1 Kings 4:32-34]
Now the story begins in the previous chapter, in the third chapter of the Book of 1 Kings: after Solomon was established in his throne, he made a trek to Gibeon [1 Kings 3:4]. The ark of the covenant was on Mount Zion in Jerusalem [2 Samuel 6:1-19]. But the tabernacle of the wilderness was in the high place of Gibeon, about seven miles northwest of Jerusalem. And it was a wonderfully smart thing that Solomon is doing here in making that impressive and magnificent procession up to the old tabernacle where Israel worshiped for years and years and then after his worship there returning to Jerusalem and doing the same thing before the ark and the altar in Mount Zion in the City of David [1 Kings 3:15].
So the king goes up to Gibeon. And he sacrifices there on the altar, made about five hundred years before by Bezaleel [1 Kings 3:4]. And he is wonderfully blessed there, as he sacrifices there unto the Lord. And after the burnt offerings were offered, and after the sacrifices were made, and after Solomon had prayed, that night, the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream. And in the dream, God asks Solomon for the gift, for the token, for the remembrance from heaven of anything in his heart: “Ask what I shall give thee” [1 Kings 3:5].
Oh, that’s overwhelming, for God owns the world and everything that’s in it [Psalm 50:12]. And, He asks Solomon, “What is in thine heart, anything, anything? Ask what I shall give thee.” And Solomon said, “Thou hast made me king in the place of my father David. Thou hast showed him this great kindness that his son sits upon his throne. And now, O Lord my God, I am but a little child. I do not have all the understanding and intuitive wisdom and marvelous penetrating sagacity to judge this great people. And this is the thing that I ask of Thee: that Thou wouldst give to Thy servant an understanding heart to judge this Thy great people” [1 Kings 3:6-9].
And the speech pleased the Lord. The Lord liked it. And God said unto him, “Because thou hast not asked long life, or riches, or the life of thine enemies; but hast asked for thyself judgment to discern between good and evil and to judge righteously in behalf of this great people, therefore, behold, I have done according to thy words. I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart, so that there shall be none like thee after thou art gone, as there has never been one like thee in the centuries or days before. And because thou hast asked this thing, I will also give thee riches and honor, so that there shall never be a king in the earth like unto thee” [1 Kings 3:10-13].
And God adds one other thing. And with this one, He puts a condition. He puts a proviso. He makes an “if”: “And if thou wilt walk in My ways, to keep My statutes and My commandments, then I will lengthen thy days” [1 Kings 3:14]. Isn’t it a shame that he didn’t do it? I don’t know how long God would have let Solomon live, but he apostatized in his later life, and he died when he was about sixty, after a reign of forty years [1 Kings 11:42]. But had he kept the statutes of the Lord and had he walked in the commandments of God, God would have lengthened his life, and it is easily possible that Solomon could have been a king in Jerusalem for seventy-five or eighty years. Think of the stupendous ministry and glory of a reign like that, beyond anything any king ever had in the history of the world. But as it was, he let his heart fall into iniquity, and he let his life drift into indifference, and he finally fell into the uxorious ways of an Oriental king. And God cut off his life when he was sixty. And Solomon awoke, and behold, it was a dream. And he came to Jerusalem, and he stood before the ark, and before the altar there, he offered up offerings and made a great feast for his people [1 Kings 3:15].
So the Lord is with Solomon, and He loves Solomon, and God is with Solomon, and He gives him a gift beyond any gift any man has ever had in the world: the great gift of wisdom and understanding [1 Kings 3:9-12]. Like the sands in the seashore, did God enlarge the heart of Solomon in seeking after knowledge and in the ability to attain unto heavenly wisdom. Now immediately you have an instance of the wisdom of Solomon in the sixteenth verse of this third chapter, immediately there follows one instance of the wonderful sagacity and penetrating judgment that God gave into the hands of this son of David. Now it happened like this, the story says [1 Kings 3:16-27]. There were two harlots, and that’s especially important because their lives were so low that their testimony could not be received, no matter what they said. There were two harlots, and they stood before the king. And one of those prostitutes said to King Solomon, “Thy handmaid was delivered of a baby boy, and this harlot here, who lives with me”—they were outcasts living in some hovel somewhere—“This woman here also was delivered of a child. And the third day, while we were asleep, this woman here overlaid her child, and he died, and when she awoke in the middle of the night, the baby was dead, and she took her dead baby, and while I was asleep in the midnight, she put her dead baby by my side. And then she took my living son in her bosom. And when I awoke the next morning, I looked and there the baby was dead by my side. But when I considered it, it was not my baby at all. And I looked and there my baby was in her bosom. And now, O king, I am asking you to make her give me back my little baby boy.” That’s what one of the harlots said [1 Kings 3:16-21].
Then the other prostitute spoke up and said, “O king, that woman is lying to you. That dead baby is her baby, and this live baby is mine!” [1 Kings 3:22-23].
Now just how would you resolve a thing like that? There are no witnesses, and the two women that stand there before Solomon are of the worst character, of the lowest trash. And with a flash of intuitive wisdom, which is an instance of the gift of God to Solomon, Solomon said to his henchman there, “Bring me a sword.” And the henchman brought to Solomon a sword and Solomon unsheathed it. And the sharp naked blade is flashed there before him. And Solomon said, “Take the child, and with this livid and naked sword, cut it in two, and give half of the child to one of these harlots and half of it to the other harlot” [1 Kings 3:24-25].
And when Solomon, by commandment, raised that blade to cut the child in half, the real mother cried out in the anguish of her heart, “Oh, oh, oh, destroy not the child! Give it to this other woman!” for, the Book says, her heart yearned over her living child. But the other woman said, “Thou hast judged righteously. Cut it in two and give half of it to her and half of it to me” [1 Kings 3:26].
Solomon said, “Stay thy hand. Give the child to the woman whose heart yearned over the babe lest it die, for she is the mother!” [1 Kings 3:27]. That’s smart. That’s shrewd. That’s wisdom. That was the gift of God. And that’s just one out of the great multitude that the chronicler could have chosen to describe the unusual, divine penetration of the wisdom of Solomon.
And then you have the conclusion of the fourth chapter, the one that you read. God gave him wisdom, and God gave him understanding, largeness of heart, like the sand that is on the seashore [1 Kings 4:29]. The wisdom of Solomon was greater than all the wisdom of the children of the East. Remember, Job was the greatest man in the East [Job 1:3], greater than all the wisdom of the East and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt [1 Kings 4:30].
Do you remember Acts 7:22 where it says that Moses was learned and taught in all of the wisdom and science of the Egyptians? If you ever have opportunity, you go to Cairo or any other of those great ancient cities of the Egyptian Ptolemaic and Pharaonic dynasties. It’s an astonishing, unbelievable thing: the knowledge and the attainment of those people back there in that ancient day. For example, there are displays after displays—miles of it seems to me—in the museum at Cairo. And you will see paintings there in those hieroglyphic sarcophagi; you will see paintings there that were painted three thousand years before Christ! And the colors in them are as vivid, and as livid, and as brilliant, and as bright this minute as they were five thousand years ago! Where did they find such pigments? And how could they draw such pictures, after these thousands of years, still as bright and as fresh as when they were created from the hand and mind and genius of the artist?
And the greatest building the world has ever seen is the pyramids. There is nothing like them in the earth. The greatest structure that man has ever raised is the pyramids. And how did they get those gigantic and colossal stones hundreds of feet up into that air? Just a little example of the wisdom of the ancient Egyptians besides their embalming and a thousand other things. And Solomon was wiser than all of the men of the ancient Egyptians [1 Kings 4:30]. And he was wiser than these named; Ethan, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol [1 Kings 4:31]. They were poets and musicians. Some of the psalms were written by them.
“And he spake three thousand proverbs” [1 Kings 4:32]. We have just a few of them in the collection of the Proverbs, very few out of the three thousand that he spoke. “And his psalms were a thousand and five” [1 Kings 4:32]. We have three of them. We have Canticles, the Song of Solomon. We have Psalm 72 and [Psalm] 127. And outside of that, all of these others have been lost.
And he spoke of botany, and he spoke of zoology, and he spoke of biology, trees, and “the lonely hyssop that grows out of the wall, and creeping things, and beasts, and the fish of the sea.” He probed God’s world, and God gave him an understanding of the world. And from the ends of the earth did they come to listen to the wisdom of Solomon [1 Kings 4:33-34]. And this is an instance, just one, that the author uses to speak of those who came from afar to see this man of God. In chapter 10 and verse 24, it says: “And all the earth sought to Solomon, to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart” [1 Kings 10:24]. Then you have the instance,“ And the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon, and she came to prove him with hard questions” [1 Kings 10:1].
Well, the queen of Sheba! There has never been a character who ever crossed the stage of history, who ever caught the imagination of mankind like the queen of Sheba. Whether it was in medieval times, in ancient days, or back there before the centuries began, legends began to multiply about the queen of Sheba. “There came to see Solomon,” the Book says, “the kings and the smart and the wise and the brilliant from the ends of the earth” [1 Kings 4:34]. Every one of them has been forgotten. But Jerusalem and the world has never ever forgotten the visit of the queen of Sheba. When she came to Jerusalem with that long camel caravan of gold, and of precious stones, and of jewels, and of perfume, and of all of the spices of Arabia, Jerusalem never forgot it, and the world remembers it brilliantly to this present day.
Now, may I say one or two things about those legends? They are interesting. Part of them are untrue, absolutely. Any identification of Sheba with Abyssinia or Ethiopia is beside the point, and yet, the country is filled with legends that the queen of Sheba was the queen of Abyssinia and Ethiopia. For example, the reigning line of kings in Abyssinia goes back and back and back, they say, to Solomon and to Sheba, for Solomon became the father of a son by the queen of Sheba when she went to see him, according to the Ethiopian kings. And from that birth, all of their kings have descended to this present day. And Haile Selassie, the present king of Ethiopia, prides himself as being a descendant of this match between the queen of Sheba and Solomon. And he refers to himself as “The lion of the tribe of Judah,” little shriveled up fellow, “the lion of the tribe of Judah.”
Oh my, even Josephus falls into that error! He identifies the queen of Sheba with the Makeda, who is delineated and described in Herodotus, the first historian. All of that is beside the point. And those legends, every one, are false. There is no such a thing as any truth at all in the identification of Sheba with Ethiopia, with Abyssinia.
Well, where was Sheba? If she was the queen from the land and the nation of the country Sheba, where did she live? She lived in southern Arabia. If you will get a map and look at that great, enormous expanse of land and vast stretch of empty space down there at the southern part of the Arabic peninsula, there was the south, there was Sheba. And she was the queen from the southern part of Arabia. In that day, in Solomon’s day, there was a great culture and a marvelous commerce from that kingdom in southern Arabia called “Sheba.” They had gold export, and spice, and jewels, and precious stones, and perfumes, and all kinds of things that made for wonderful commerce and affluent traffic.
Now it says, as we will find out later on, that Solomon had ships that plied the sea. And he had caravans that scoured the face of the earth. And they brought into Jerusalem the marvelous produce and wonderful gifts of the entire world [1 Kings 10:22]. And in that commerce, those traders told of the marvelous wisdom of Solomon. And naturally, in the country of Sheba, where gold was exchanged and where jewels and perfume and spices—all of those things entered into the trade—marvelous stories were told down in southern Arabia of the wisdom and the glory that belonged to Solomon. So the queen down there resolved in her heart that she would go to see this marvelous king and to try him, if he were as brilliant, and as able, and as understanding, and filled with wisdom as these traders said that he was.
Now I learned a whole lot about Sheba studying for this sermon. Down there in Sheba, the women had equal rights with the men, which was an unheard of thing in that day. And another thing, they had no polygamy down in Sheba. And the women were on equal footing with the men in government, in mercantile life, even in the military. And this queen, who must have been greatly loved and marvelously exalted, this queen resolved to make that long, arduous and perilous journey, bringing that camel train, laden with gold and riches and spices and precious jewels. She resolved to cross the vast expanse of the desert and to come and to see Solomon.
Now, we fall into those legends again. Some of those legends are very, very plausible. Some of them just, they seem to me they are as acceptable as if you could find them in the Bible. Now I am going to take two of them, two instances—now this is legend; this isn’t in the Bible—two instances of how the queen of Sheba plied Solomon with questions to see if he was as wise as the traders said that he was. So she comes before him, and all Jerusalem is agog! And by the way, his throne was on a sea of glass: the throne, the lion throne, made out of ivory. And when the queen of Sheba came into the beautiful court, she thought that his throne was in the midst of waters. She had never seen a thing so beautiful and so magnificent, as when she entered in and stood in the presence of the son of David.
So here are some legends now. One of the questions she asked; she brought in a whole group of boys and girls that were dressed exactly alike. Now, I repeat, this isn’t in the Bible; this is legend, these two instances that I have chosen. This is legend, how she plied him with questions to see if he was as wise as he was supposed to be. She brought into the court before the king a whole group of boys and girls, dressed exactly alike. And then she asked the king to separate the boys from the girls.
Well, he did a very simple thing. Have you heard the legend? I am sure you have. He did a very simple thing. He called for basins of water. And he sat a basin of water before each one of those children. And then, he said to the children, “For me now, wash your hands.” And he watched the children as they washed their hands.
Now, when he said, “Wash your hands,” the boys immediately put in there and washed their hands, but every girl carefully rolled back her sleeves and washed her hands. And every child who carefully rolled back her sleeves and washed her hands, he set apart as a girl. And every child that just daubed his hands in there, he set apart as a boy. And he had it exactly right: these are the boys, and these are the girls. That’s one of them.
Now another one of them is this: she stood before the throne at a small distance. And she had in her hand two bouquets. One was made out of artificial flowers, wonderfully and ingeniously wrought. And the other was a bouquet of real flowers. So she held them in her hands before the king and asked King Solomon, “Which are the real flowers and which are the artificial flowers?” And the king did this: he ordered the lattice window of his palace to be opened. And he watched the insects as they came in through the windows. And the bees and the insects immediately went to the real flowers, and the artificial flowers were left to themselves. And he pointed out and said, “These are the real flowers.”
On and on those legends go, of the marvelous wisdom of King Solomon as the queen of Sheba came to visit him. And, when he had done speaking to her and answering her hard and difficult questions, she said to the king, “It was a true report that I heard in mine land of thine acts and thy wisdom. Howbeit I believed not the words, until I came, and mine eyes, my very eyes, have seen it: and, behold, the half hath not been told me: thy wisdom and thy prosperity exceedeth the fame which I heard. Happy are thy men, and happy thy servants, which stand before thee . . . And blessed be the Lord thy God, which delighteth in thee, to set thee on a throne over Israel” [1 Kings 10:6-9].
And she gave to the king beautiful gifts. And by the way, Josephus says that, in the natural and beautiful gardens of Jericho, there was naturalized the balsam plant which was brought in that camel train by the queen of Sheba. And that in the days of the Herodian princes, it brought in great revenue to the king. And she gave these beautiful gifts to Solomon. And Solomon made like gifts unto her. And she went away to her own country, she and her servants [1 Kings 10:13].
Ah, these are unusual and beautiful and interesting stories! It’s time for me to close. I do with this word from the Book of God: “The queen of Sheba, the queen of the South shall rise up in the day of judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, and behold, a greater than Solomon is here” [Matthew 12:42]: here tonight, for the Lord Jesus is with His people.
Do you ever think of some of these things in the Word of God? Ah, could we have visited the king in his court, could we have listened to him as he pronounced judgment among the people, as he answered questions, as he spake of the deep and marvelous things of God, ah, that we could have been there!
But, but, the Lord says, as great as he was, and as magnificent as he was, and as blessed of heaven as he was, he was nothing compared to the Son of Man who stood even then in the midst of the people and preached the gospel of the kingdom of God [Matthew 4:23]. And that same Lord is here tonight [1 Corinthians 3:16]. The Holy Spirit of Jesus is in your heart tonight [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]. And all of the glory, and the wonder, and the wisdom, and the favor of heaven is with Him tonight, speaking, knocking at your heart: “Does any man lack wisdom? Let him ask of God” [James 1:5]. Speak to Him in your heart, and there will be a certain answer from above. “And if a man willeth to do His will, he shall know the way and the teaching and the doctrine thereof” [John 7:17].
There is not anything that we would ask of God that God will not give us a certain answer if we will wait upon Him [Psalm 27:14], for the wiser than Solomon and the greater than Solomon is here, our own living, personal Savior [Matthew 12:42]. And when we open our hearts to Him and when we speak to Him, He answers by name [John 10:3]. He bows down His ear to hear, and He grants the requests of our souls.
If you have never made Him your personal Savior, would you do it tonight? Or, having already given your heart to Jesus, would you come with us and share with us in the blessed life and ministry of this wonderful and glorious church? This is one of the lampstands, gold and burning, of our Lord [Revelation 1:9-13]. And He walks in our midst. And the Savior is here, the greater than Solomon [Matthew 12:42].
While we sing this hymn of appeal, somebody you, give your heart to Jesus, somebody you, put your life with us in the church, would you make it tonight? Would you make it now? If you’re in the balcony, there’s time and to spare to come. There’s a stairway at the back, there is a stairway at the front on either side, if you are in that utmost top balcony, come. If the Lord bids you here, come.
And on this lower floor, a family you, “Pastor, this is my wife. These are our children. All of us are coming tonight.” Or just one you; a youth, or a child, or a family, as God in His Spirit shall lay the appeal upon your heart, shall make the invitation, come, come. Make it now, on the first note of the first stanza, come, give the pastor your hand and your heart to God. While we stand and while we sing.
THE WISDOM OF SOLOMON
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Kings 3:3-29
I. Solomon asks God for wisdom
1. God grants Solomon’s wish
2. Conditions on Solomon’s reign
1. Left southern Arabia to see Solomon’s wealth
2. Solomon’s glory was more impressive than what she had heard
3. She came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, not the revelations of God