Today’s reading: 1 Kings 3-5.
Fortunate people often have very favorable beginnings and very tragic endings. What matters isn’t being applauded when you arrive – for that is common – but being missed when you leave. Baltasar Gracian
Solomon had a very favorable beginning. His father left him a kingdom at peace. His youth and the tremendous task of ruling Israel prompted him to call on God for help, and God was willing and able to provide what he needed. Solomon would fail to live up to his blessed beginning in the years to come, but we can learn much from the successes of his starting days.
“Now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.” 1 Kings 3:7-12
God honored Solomon’s request for wisdom, and his wisdom became legendary. But what is wisdom? It’s much more than intelligence, or knowledge. It’s not the expertise of someone working in a very specialized field. Wisdom is the skill of using knowledge to make the best decision in complex situations. It’s the creativity to craft unique solutions for difficult problems. It benefits from, but doesn’t depend on, experience. Wisdom says “learn and live” rather than “live and learn” (Ken Boa). Solomon’s successful use of wisdom in the early days of his reign demonstrates some of its key qualities.
Character and wisdom. Wisdom doesn’t exist in a vacuum but depends on the character of the person who possesses it. Hitler may have been very shrewd in his manipulation of people, but lack of character caused him to use his knowledge to hurt rather than help others. Young Solomon demonstrated his character by humbling himself, seeking God, and desiring to help his people.
Complexity and wisdom. Wisdom exists in a spectrum between doubt and certainty, meaning it is most useful when things are partly but not completely known or understood. It shows itself most brilliantly, however, when the problems are most complex. It doesn’t take much wisdom to handle a traffic violation, but Solomon was presented with the case of two witnesses who contradicted each other without any other evidence to reveal the truth. His wisdom cut through the fog and made the truth clear.
Compassion and wisdom. Wisdom is most powerful and productive when it is guided by compassion. Solomon’s stratagem in revealing which of the two women was the real mother depended on his understanding the nature of motherly love, but it was motivated by his compassionate desire to see the mother reunited with her baby.
Curiosity and wisdom. Solomon searched out everything, but especially the natural world around him. Wise persons continue to read and learn throughout life. Their curiosity keeps them motivated to explore facts and experiences, to absorb like a sponge, and then to use that knowledge and experience skillfully to solve problems.
James challenges us to ask God if we are in need of wisdom (and who isn’t?). God is faithful to honor our requests for wisdom, just as he did with Solomon. But wisdom needs a soil of good character in which to take root. It needs to be watered with compassion, and fed continually with the fertilizer of continual learning. Then it will grow up into a strong plant that can rise above the most difficult problems.
The wise does at once what the fool does at last. Baltasar Gracian
Image by Jesslee Cuizon on Flickr, CC by 2.0