The concept of wisdom is variously understood. For many it is associated with such matters as intellectual ability, knowledge, or understanding. Quite commonly it takes a more practical turn, being equated with mature insight coupled 1 with sound judgment based upon experience. Thus it is often said that based upon experience a certain approach (e.g., patience) is “The better part of wisdom.” The necessity for an adequate approach is expressed in the words of the well known Serenity Prayer: “God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.” 2
In this study we shall examine the presence and employment of wisdom in the life of King Solomon who was declared to be, “wealthier and wiser than any of the kings of the earth” (1 Kings 10:27). In so doing we shall note some of the benefits of great wisdom as well as some of its limitations and dangers. A brief study of the scriptural teaching concerning wisdom drawn from the Hebrew and Greek words associated with wisdom as used in the Old Testament and the New Testament will follow. 3 Base on all of this we shall suggest practical applications for today’s faithful believers.
One night early in the days of his reign Solomon had a dream in which the Lord appeared to him and said, “Tell me what I should give you” (1 Kings 3:5). In Solomon’s reply he emphasized both the Lord’s faithfulness and his own inexperience, and so requested of the Lord, “Give your servant a discerning mind so he can make judicial decisions for your people and distinguish right from wrong” (1 Kings 3:9). The phrase, “a discerning mind” is literally, “a hearing heart.” Because the word hearing is also often associated with obeying, the clear implication is that Solomon understood that his ability to distinguish right from wrong depended on his own faithfulness to keep God’s commandments. By “hearing” God’s words and will in God’s precepts he would be enabled to listen to the problems and challenges, which would confront him as king and make wise, godly decisions.
It is interesting to note that as the time drew near for Solomon’s father, King David, to die, he had instructed his son: “Do the job the Lord your God has assigned you by following his instructions and obeying his rules, commandments, regulations, and laws as written in the Law of Moses. Then you will succeed in all you do and seek to accomplish” (1 Kings 2:3; cf. 1 Chron. 22:11-13; 28:20).4 Solomon’s request, then, was in keeping with his father’s good advice and admonition. It was advice that Solomon would need to follow in his role as king not only in initiating his rule but throughout his reign. This instruction to Solomon had been preceded by David’s charge to his son to display true strength of character and genuine manhood: “I am about to die. Be strong and become a man” (1 Kings 2:3).
David’s challenge also echoes a familiar phrase that reverberates throughout the Scriptures. David himself knew well by experience that this was the proper course of life, for only by doing so had he been blessed with God’s protection and deliverance (Pss. 27:11-13; 31: 23-24). Much earlier Moses had admonished Joshua with such a challenge as he was about to become his God appointed successor (Deut 31: 6-7). This was a challenge that the Lord himself would repeat on that day (v. 23) and subsequently remind him of after Moses died (Josh. 1:6-7, 9). In the latter instance God emphasized that it was imperative for Joshua to keep the law of the Lord: This law scroll must not leave your lips! You must memorize it day and night so you can carefully obey all that is written in it. Then you will prosper and be successful” (Josh. 1:8). Much later Paul similarly encouraged the Corinthian Christians saying, “Be alert, stand firm in the faith, show courage, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13). Indeed, whether in Old Testament or New Testament times the believer was urged to so conduct himself in his walk with God that God’s will and God’s work became his all-consuming passion and resolve. This is truly genuine “manhood.”
Because Solomon did not ask the Lord for anything connected with personal gain or for revenge, God assured him that not only was his request granted with the result that he would have a “wise and discerning and discerning mind,” but his wisdom would exceed that of anyone—past or present (I Kings 3:12; cf. 10:1-7). Moreover, God would graciously provide Solomon with greater riches and honor than any other contemporary king (I Kings 3:13). And even beyond all of this, if Solomon would adhere to the high standard of God’s will and word as his father David had done, “I will grant you long life” (v. 14). “God’s blessing is not automatic. It would depend on Solomon’s walk before God. … God’s faithfulness to the Davidic covenant remained fixed; but if Solomon wished to enjoy God’s fullest blessings, he would have to walk in accordance with God’s will.”5
The material recorded in 1 Kings 3-11 clearly demonstrates Solomon’s wisdom in many various ways (cf. 2 Chron. 2-5). After Solomon’s visionary dream, his wisdom is quickly tested in the case of two immoral women who lived together (1 Kings 3:16-28). One of them had smothered her child while the other one’s child still lived. The crucial issue at hand was had the other who smothered her child switched babies with the other mother? By a daring and totally unexpected decision that such indeed had been the case, the result was that, “when all Israel heard about the judicial decision which the king had rendered, they respected the king, for they realized that he possessed supernatural wisdom to make judicial decisions” (v.28).
Solomon’s wisdom can be seen also in his breadth of knowledge (1 Kings 4: 20-34), in his administrative organization (1 Kings 4:1-19), his supervision of the building of the temple and palace complex (chs. 5-7; cf. 15-24; 10:11-12), his wise handling of foreign affairs (1 Kings 10:1-11, 13; cf. 9:11; 2 Chron. 2:3-16), and in his commercial enterprises by which he accumulated vast wealth (1 Kings 9:16-28; 10:14-29; cf. 2 Chron. 1:14-17; 9:13-28). Because the Lord had given Solomon such great wisdom, it would seem only natural that he would make these kinds of good decisions and that he would follow the Lord’s will and adhere to the Lord’s high and holy standards. To be sure, on occasions Solomon could display his wise faithfulness in religious matters. This can be seen most noticeably in his leadership and prayers for his people at the completion of the temple (1 Kings 8:1-66; cf. 2 Chron. 6:1-7:10; 8:12-15). In addition, “Three times a year Solomon offered burnt offerings peace offerings on the altar he had built for the Lord, burning incense along with them before the Lord. He made the temple his official worship place” (I Kings 9: 25). But would his progressively accumulating wealth, success, and prestige interfere with his God-given discernment? Worldly success all too often leads to a lessening of one’s faithfulness and relationship with God (cf. Mark 4:19; Luke 12:13-24). Would that prove to be the case with Solomon?
When God appeared to Solomon a second time (1 Kings 9:1-9; 2 Chron. 7:11-22), a negative note concerning Solomon’s wisdom is sounded. The Lord warned Solomon that if he was to continue to enjoy divine blessings, he would need to be faithful to the Lord and his standards. Should he fail to do so, not only he and his family but all Israel will suffer (1 Kings 9:6-7). Although the language is similar to that in his first appearance to Solomon (1 Kings 3:14), the Lord’s words have a much harsher tone. Furthermore, God specifically warns Solomon against serving and worshiping other gods. To do so will bring ruinous disaster on both the Lord’s temple and the existence of the nation. Despite its severity, God’s warning was an act of grace because subsequent events show that Solomon desperately needed this urgent caution. Moreover, it is only by the consistent exercise of God-given wisdom that true, not seeming, success is achieved and maintained, even as at some point Solomon himself recognized:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
Acknowledge him in all your ways,
and he will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own estimation;
fear the Lord and turn away from evil.
This will bring healing to your body,
and refreshment to your inner self (Prov. 3:5-8).
Where there is genuine trust in the Lord and it is exercised in total commitment to the Lord, “The Lord will guide the believer along life’s paths in spite of difficulties and hindrances.” 6
It can be seen further that in the Lord’s second appearance to Solomon there are distinct advances in conditions from that in his first appearance. Whereas in the first appearance God assured Solomon of the granting of his unselfish requests together with the added benefits of wealth and great honor, in the second appearance God reminds Solomon that he has not only answered the king’s earlier request for help in the building of the temple, but the Lord has made it his earthly residence. In the first appearance the Lord added that if Solomon would exercise obedient faith like that of his father David, God would grant him long life. In the second, however, God warned that Solomon must continue to demonstrate his obedient faith if the full provisions of the Davidic covenant were to be realized. As we noted above, there is also the further warning to Solomon against apostasy. Should he do so, God would abandon both the temple and the people among whom he had chosen to dwell .
In all of this the reader can detect an advance in negative thought—even perhaps a foreboding of disaster. At this point the reader wonders whether Solomon will fully utilize the God-given wisdom that had given him that had produced such great success or will that success prove to be his undoing? Will Solomon exercise a God-given wisdom that trusts in the Lord and follows him and his standards completely or will he become wise in his own estimation? The answer becomes apparent in the Lord’s third appearance to Solomon.
As time went by, largely based on his commercial success Solomon became exceedingly wealthy and powerful (1 Kings 10:24-29). He also grew in international prestige and as he did so he acquired many wives in addition to the daughter of Pharaoh whom he had married earlier (1 Kings 3:1). Like that earlier marriage doubtless his subsequent acquiring of many wives was made on the basis of political alliances and relationships. As House explains, “Such linking of nations was intended to foster peaceful relations between normally combative countries.”7
In addition to the 700 wives, which Solomon accumulated he gathered some 300 concubines (I Kings 11:3) thus establishing a very sizable harem. As Devries points out,” Marrying the wives was part of Solomon’s political strategy; taking the concubines demonstrated his wealth along with his lusty manhood.”8
The Lord had admonished his people long ago not to intermarry with foreign women (Deut. 7: 3-4; 17:17; cf. 1 Kings 11:2), but a reputably wise Solomon foolishly lusted after many such women. The predictable result followed: “When Solomon became old, his wives shifted his allegiance to other gods; he was not wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord, his God, as his father David had been” (1 Kings 11:4). Rather, Solomon indulged in many foreign religious practices (1Kings 11:5-8) and “did not remain loyal to the Lord like his father David had” (v.6). Thus Solomon failed to heed his father’s admonition, which David had delivered to him shortly before his death that, if he wished to succeed in his kingship, he should serve the Lord faithfully by “following his instructions and obeying his rules, commandments, regulations, and laws as written in the law of Moses” ( Kings 2:3). Similarly, when God granted him his requested wisdom, the Lord brought up his father David’s faithfulness to that standard as an example that he should follow: “If you will follow my instructions by obeying my rules and regulations, just as your father David did, then I will grant you long life” (1Kings 3:14). Still further, God again used similar language in his second appearance to Solomon: “You must serve me with sincerity and integrity, just as your father David did. Do everything I commanded and obey my rules and regulations. Then I will allow your dynasty to rule over Israel permanently” (1Kings 9:4-5).
It is interesting to note that in the early days of his reign Solomon began well, for he “demonstrated his loyalty to the Lord by following the practices of his father David” (1 Kings 3:3a). Yet even at this stage of his life there was an exception to this standard, for “he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places” (v. 3b). Admittedly, the temple was not yet built at that time, but the ark of the Lord was in Jerusalem.” Payne rightly observes that:
“The principle of centralized worship, of service of sacrifice only where God revealed himself had been established by Moses almost five hundred years earlier (Exod 20:24; Lev 17:3-9; Deut 12:5). Other ‘high places,’ even if used in the name of Yahweh, God of Israel, were necessarily excluded. This was because their contamination through association with Canaanitish Baal worship, they stood under God’s ban (Num 33:52; Deut 12:2). Indeed Solomon’s first drift toward sin became apparent by his recognition and use of such unauthorized high places (plural, 1 Kings 3:3)” 9
Solomon’s accommodation to the use of such unauthorized high places could well have laid a foundation for other exceptions that would contribute to a lack of full compliance to the Lord’s standards.
It is not all together surprising, then, that in his later years, “on the hill east of Jerusalem Solomon built a high place for the detestable Moabite god Chemosh and for the detestable Ammonite god Milcom. He built high places for all his foreign wives so they could burn incense and make sacrifices for their gods” (1 Kings 11:7-8). Therefore, when God appeared on a third occasion to Solomon, he rebuked him for his apostasy and declared to him that after his death the Solomonic kingdom would become a divided one. It was simply a matter of God’s grace that some of the kingdom would remain under the rule of Solomon’s son and heir. Yet even that would not be for Solomon’s sake, but for “my servant David’s sake and for the sake of my chosen city Jerusalem” (v. 13; cf. vv. 31-39). Although Solomon had shown himself to be unfaithful despite his vaunted wisdom, 10 the omniscient Lord of the universe (cf. Isa. 40:28) remains ever faithful (cf. Ps. 89:1-4; Lam. 3:22-23). As Paul would declare to Timothy in New Testament times, “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, since he cannot deny himself’ 2 Tim. 2:13). This is a truth that the long ailing poet Thomas Chisholm found to be true despite his infirmities. Accordingly, he wrote a poem, which when once set to music, became one of Christendom’s most familiar and best loved hymns.
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father!
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not—Thy compassions, they fail not:
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.11
Believers can learn many things concerning proper commitment from studying the overwhelming waves of worldly success that eventually led to Solomon’s shipwreck of faith. We shall suggest several of these in our closing thoughts. First, however, we shall turn to a brief consideration of some of the more common Hebrew and Greek words associated with wisdom.
In the Old Testament there are several Hebrew words that often appear in contexts dealing with wisdom. The most basic word expressing wisdom is located in the Hebrew verbal root ḥākam meaning to “be/become wise” or “act wisely.” Together with its derived adjectives and nouns this Hebrew word family covers a broad spectrum of ideas. These include intellectual wisdom and practical applications as well as such matters as technical and physical skills. These words are often paired with words indicating knowledge, insight, or understanding (e.g., 2 Chron. 1:10; Prov. 2:10; Eccl. 1:17; 8:16-17). In turn, the words associated with insight or understanding at times are coupled with the thought of knowledge. Thus Job declared to his three friends, “Indeed, my eyes have seen all this, my ears have heard and understood it. What you know, I know also; I am not inferior to you!” (Job 13:1-2).
Not surprisingly, then, words indicating wisdom, knowledge, insight or understanding can occur in one context, especially when emphasizing that true wisdom ultimately is the gift of God: “For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding. He stores up effective counsel for the upright” (Prov. 2:6-7; cf. vv. 1-5). Of the well-trained and educated Daniel and his three fiends it was reported, “As for these four young men, God endowed them with knowledge and skill in all sorts of literature and wisdom—and Daniel had insight into all kinds of wisdom and dreams” (Dan. 1:17; cf. v. 20). Thus although wisdom can come with advancing years (cf. Job 12:12), as Elihu points out to Job and his three friends, true wisdom can occur and provide spiritual maturity even before then (Job 32-37). 12 Indeed, pure wisdom resides in the heart where it begins with a reverential fear of the Lord: “Fearing the LORD is the beginning of moral knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7; cf. 2:1-10; 3:5-10; 9:10; 28:5). David also testified of the deep-seated working of wisdom, pointing out that,
The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom;
his tongue speaks what is just.
The instruction of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not falter. (Ps. 37:30-31; HCSB; see NET text note)
The New Testament writers basically used three Greek words, which cover three areas connected with wisdom: (1) primary or absolute wisdom as well as the skill to use it, (2) practical wisdom (or prudence), and critical wisdom (understanding or insight).13 Primary or absolute wisdom is found only in God, the omniscient One (e.g., Isa. 40:28). Accordingly, Paul; exclaimed, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how fathomless his ways!” (Rom 11:33; cf. Ps 147:5). Such wisdom is far above any ability of man to even to conceive and thus is superior to man’s wisdom—especially the natural man. Paul remarks that, “The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:25; cf. 1 Cor. 2:6-9; 3:19-20; James 3:13-18).14 For natural human wisdom is such that even man’s highest, natural intellect and reasoning capabilities cannot attain to God’s wisdom, for it is finite and is not based on faith or in harmony with the wisdom of God (cf. 1 Cor. 2:15).
True spiritual wisdom for mankind comes and is nurtured through “the holy writings, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). It is interesting that already as a lad Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor God was upon him” (Luke 2:40; cf. 2:52). Eventually it would be clearly understood by “those who are called, both Jews and Greeks,” that, “Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). Indeed, God’s son, Jesus Christ “became for believers wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1: 30). As the recipients of godly wisdom, believers possess a wisdom that can grow and mature, nurtured by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the word of God, and prayer ( Acts 6:3; Eph. 1:17; 3:16-18; James 1:5; 2 Pet. 3:18).
As was the case in Old Testament contexts, wisdom in the New Testament becomes a leading word with which other related concepts associated with it can appear. Thus Paul brings together wisdom and insight in speaking of the riches of Christ Jesus in whom believers “have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us in all wisdom and insight” (Eph. 1: 8). Elsewhere, in praying for the Colossian believers’ growth in spiritual matters, Paul reports that he had not “ceased praying and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col. 1:9). 15
In surveying the biblical vocabulary concerning wisdom it can be concluded that man’s wisdom does not even approach that of God. Although as created in the image of God man possesses wise faculties that foster the acquisition of knowledge as well as intellectual abilities, such as understanding and insight, and practical skills, these do not guarantee that he has or will have true spiritual wisdom.. Such godly wisdom is born of faith and resides in the depths of his inner being (often expressed as “heart”). Indeed, the heart is the actual center of life, for it represents the very identity of a person: his mind (Eccles. 3:11),16 his emotions (Ps. 28:7), and will (Prov. 23:19). Therefore, Solomon admonished his readers: “Guard your heart with all vigilance for from it are the sources of life” (Prov. 4:23). It was advice that he himself needed to follow. Despite his great wisdom, Solomon became enamored by power, success. and wealth so that in time he was all too easily led astray by his many wives. They of whom he was so fond and who were also symbolic of his international prestige led him into the unfaithfulness of worshiping many different so-called gods. Despite his great intellectual abilities and wide-ranging knowledge, it is possible that he became “too wise for his own good” and failed to be as good a representative of the Lord as his potential promised. Accordingly, the Lord’s rebuke of Solomon in his third appearance to him confirmed the warning he had delivered earlier (1 Kings 9: 6-9)
It is of further disappointment to realize that this king’s spiritual failure and worldly perspective produced a loss of concern for the needs of his subjects, especially the common people. It is not surprising, then, that after Solomon’s death, a delegation from the northern tribes complained to his son and successor, Rehoboam, about Solomon’s heavy handed tactics: “Your father made us work too hard. Now if you will lighten the demands he made and don’t make us work as hard, we will serve you” (1 Kings 12:4). Unfortunately, Rehoboam lacked the wisdom of Solomon or even his older advisors, and so followed such disturbing policy advice from his younger contemporaries that the Solomonic kingdom passed away into a permanent separation of northern and southern kingdoms.
Thus Solomon’s spiritual failure not only caused spiritual shipwreck in his own life, but the scuttling of the ship of state. Moreover, Rehoboam went on not only to repeat the sins of his father, but to exceed them (1 Kings 14:22-24). Therefore, God allowed King Shishak of Egypt to attack Jerusalem (v.25). At that time Shishak, “took away the treasures of the Lord’s temple and of the royal palace; he took everything, including the golden shields that Solomon had made” (v. 26). Wealth and splendor can be fleeting!
All of this should serve as a warning for today’s believers. The state of our relationship with The Lord is of crucial importance. Worldly success and pleasures as well as a lack of compliance with the Lord’s standards can all too easily cause spiritual compromise in one’s life. Spiritual failure is not only damaging to our lives, but it can and often does have a detrimental effect on others, especially our family and friends. It also can affect our testimony and witness for Christ. An all too common source of spiritual failure is the desire for and acquisition of riches. As Jesus warned, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matt. 6:24). Likewise Paul advised Timothy, “Command those who are rich in this world’s goods not to be haughty or set their hope on riches, which are uncertain, but on God who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, to be generous givers, sharing with others. In this way they will save up a treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the future and so lay hold of what is truly life’ (1 Tim 6:17-19).
The Scriptures frequently point out that such a craving for wealth is unnecessary for true believers. In the New Testament the Greek word ploutos (“riches,” “wealth,” cf. English plutocrat), and the corresponding verbal, adjectival, and adverbial forms, occur over five dozen times, doubtless because matters of money and goods touch all of us. Yet the New Testament reminds us forcefully that, whereas earthly riches can be fleeting (I Tim. 6:7; James 5:2) and a worrisome snare (Matt. 13:22; Mark 4:19; Luke 8:14), or a source of ultimate defeat (Luke 12:21), spiritual riches come in unending (Phil. 4:19) and unlimited supply (Eph 3:8).
Certainly the believer, spiritually speaking, has been brought into a wealthy condition. Three particular phrases remind us of our rich relationship with God. The first tells of “the riches of his goodness,” by which man is lead to repentance (Rom. 2:3-4; Ps. 145:7-12). The second speaks of “the riches of his grace.” By which man (by grace through faith) is given full salvation (Eph. 2:7-10), so that in Christ “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7). The third, “the riches of his glory” reveals to the believer not only the wondrous standing he has in Christ (Rom. 9:23), but the wealthy source of spiritual guidance that is his daily as he is “strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man” (Eph. 3:16). No wonder Paul declares that God “would make known” to us the glorious riches of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).
Jesus has promised abundant life to the believer (John 10:10), and such he truly has in Christ Jesus (I Cor. 1:5-9), so that in truth he has no lack (Ps. 23:1). Therefore, he can out of the riches he has been given share with those in material (2 Cor. 8:2) or spiritual (Col. 1:23-29) need. May we, regardless of how much we have of “this world’s goods” recognize that our whole life is a treasure given of God (Matt. 13:11-16), and is to be stewarded (I Peter 4:10) with fruitful productivity (Matt. 13:22-23; Luke 8:14-15), so that all may learn of “the riches of his goodness,” “the riches of his grace,” and “the riches of his glory.”
Oh, the unsearchable riches of Christ,
Wealth that can never be told!
Riches exhaustless of mercy and grace,
Precious, more precious than gold.
Oh, the unsearchable riches of Christ!
Who shall their greatness declare?
Jewels whose luster our lives may adorn,
Pearls that the poorest may wear!17
Nor can man’s innate intelligence, formal education, or accumulated experiences guarantee true wisdom. As we noted above in, viewing a biblical vocabulary for wisdom, real wisdom begins in a reverential fear of God (Prov. 1:7) and is available to all believers through Christ (1 Cor. 1:30). Genuine spiritual wisdom is a continuing, growing, and maturing process (Prov. 9:9-10; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:9), which is nurtured through faith and adherence to the Word of God (2 Tim. 3:15) as well as prayer (James 1:5-6). Based on these scriptural truths and building upon the threefold use of the words for wisdom in the Scriptures Barclay wisely points out: “The Christian… has not only the vision to know God; he has the practical knowledge to turn that vision into action, and the sound judgment to see what course of action will best achieve his aim.”18
This is ultimately true because as united to Christ each believer is bonded to a greater source of wisdom than Solomon. As Jesus declared to the scribes and Pharisees, “The queen of the South… came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon—and now something greater than Solomon is here” Matt. 12:42). That “something” was centered in One who himself is wisdom personified (1 Cor. 1:24; Col. 2:2-3) and who came to provide man with not just worldly knowledge or philosophy, but with the wisdom to become wise unto salvation (1 Cor. 1:30; cf. Luke 1:77; Acts 4:12). Moreover, Jesus gave assurance that he would provide a continuing source of wise guidance by sending the Holy Spirit to indwell the believer (John 14:16-17). It is he that not only indwells believers (1 Cor. 3:16), but is available to guide them into all truth (John 16:13-15). He is also available to assure the believer of his faith and Christian life (Rom 8: 2, 14-17), and to assist the believer in his prayer life (Rom 8:26-27).
Far better than Solomon, then, the believer has the privilege and potential to know and understand all that is essential for godly living in order to conduct himself wisely. Such a desire must reside in the depths of his being—his “heart.” The wise believer will fill his mind with the Word of God (Rom. 12:1-2, stabilize his emotions with the principles of Scripture (Eph. 4:14), and commit his will to serve, honor, and glorify the Lord in all that he says and does (1 Cor. 10:31). Further, as united to and committed to Christ and to the Word of God, and as led by the Holy Spirit, the believer can progressively gain such deepening wisdom, understanding, and insight that he shares wise sayings (Ps 49:3) and makes wise decisions in the everyday course of life. Moreover, his whole life can take on a growing wisdom that allows him often to perceive matters from God’s perspective (e.g., Ps. 51:6).19
The believer will then become a better representative of and witness for the Lord. Accordingly, Paul admonished the Colossian Christians: “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunities. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer everyone” Col. 4:5-6). As Bruce observes, Paul was telling the Colossian Christians that each one had “a special opportunity and should make the most of it.” Bruce goes on to apply this principle more generally remarking, “If Christians practice grace of speech, it will not desert them when they find themselves suddenly confronted by the necessity of defending their belief.”20 Even more to the point, since Christians are the “salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13), Christian speech should reflect Christ, the source of wisdom, graciously expressed. In all things, then, may each believer echo the words of Kate Wilkinson:
May the mind of Christ my Savior
Live in me from day to day,
By his love and pow’r controlling
All I do and say21.
And in so doing we shall be enabled to live out the pledge of Sivanus Phelps:
All that I am and have—Thy gifts so free—
In joy, in grief, thru life, dear Lord for Thee!
And when Thy face I see, my ransomed soul shall be,
Thru all eternity, something for Thee.22
1 William Cowper (“Wisdom,” in Masterpieces of Religious Verse [New York: Harper & Brothers, 1948] , 397 ) observed that, “Knowledge and wisdom, far from being one, have oft times no connection….Knowledge is proud that he has learn’d so much; wisdom is humble that he knows no more.” Francis B. Thornton remarked that, “Scholars are a dime a dozen, but a man of wisdom is a rare bird”; cited in Lloyd Cory, Quotable Quotations (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 428.
2 Reinhold Niebuhr, “The Serenity Prayer.”
3 For the relevant Hebrew and Greek words dealing with wisdom, see the standard Hebrew and Greek lexicons and word studies as well as Bible dictionaries. See also Robert Baker Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), 74-75; and Richard Chenevix Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), 281-86.
4 Unless otherwise noted, all biblical citations are cited from the NET.
5 Richard D. Patterson and H. J. Austel, “1 and 2 Kings,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, eds. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, Revised edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 3:663. The Lord’s commitment to the Davidic covenant is exemplified in connection with Solomon’s building of the Temple complex. At that time the word of the Lord came to Solomon (probably through prophetic means since the author of Kings only mentions two other appearances of the Lord to Solomon, 1 Kings 9:1-9; 11:1-13) saying, “If you follow my rules, observe my regulations, and obey all my commandments, I will fulfill through you the promise I made to your father David. I will live among the Israelites and will not abandon my people Israel” (1Kings 6: 12-13; see NET text note).
6 Allen P. Ross, “Proverbs,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, eds. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland , Revised edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 6:65.
7 Paul R. House, 1, 2 Kings, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995), 8:167.
8 Simon J. DeVries, 1 Kings, Word Biblical Commentary, eds. David A. Hubbard, John. D. W. Watts and Ralph P. Martin (Waco: Word Books, 1985), 12:143.
9 J. Barton Payne, “1&2 Chronicles, “ in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein; 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 4:440-41.
10 Interestingly, C. F. Keil (The Books of the Kings, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, trans. James Martin [(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.], 166, 167) points out that not only did Solomon’s love for women, his fame, his riches, and great commercial success become treacherous rocks that led to the shipwreck of his consistent faith, but “his heart his heart was no longer thoroughly devoted to the Lord” so that his worship, “which should be paid solely and exclusively to the true God was not only injured, but was even turned into idolatry itself.” It may be added that while Solomon became increasingly wealthy, he increasingly ignored the basic needs of the common people. Their lot became a burdensome one. It is small wonder, then, that after his death, his son Rehoboam was told, “Your father made us work too hard. Now if you lighten the demands he made and don’t make us work as hard, we will serve you’ 1Kings 12:4). It seems also that the very justice that Solomon had requested (I Kings 3:9) and once displayed (1 Kings 3:16-28) no longer consumed him.
11 Thomas O. Chisholm, “Great is Thy faithfulness.
12 Although most contemporary commentators regard Elihu in a negative way, it is perhaps better to see his speeches (Job 32-37) as providing an appropriate bridge between those of Job and his three friends, which occur before, and the speeches of God that follow. Elihu should be seen in a more positive light. From them we learn that spiritual wisdom and maturity can come long before old age, especially when it is centered in the fear of God. Solomon is proof that an advance of years does not guarantee mature spiritual wisdom. For a more balanced perspective on Elihu, see the discussion in David J. A. Clines, Job 21-37, Word Biblical Commentary eds. Bruce M. Metzger and John D. W. Watts (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 708-19.
13 These distinctions are found in the basic Greek lexicons or word studies. See, for example, Hermann Cremer, Biblio-Theological Lexicon of New Testament Greek, trans. William Urwick (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 4th. Ed., 1954), 870-74. Cremer (p. 871) understands wisdom (Greek sophia) to be more primary than words indicating prudence or understanding, “for it never without these; it produces them all, but it is never produced by them.”
14 For 1 Corinthians 2: 6-9, see the incisive remarks of William Baker, “1 Corinthians,” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2009), 47-49.
15 It should be noted in passing that understanding and insight can and do appear in the New Testament without a word for wisdom being present.
16 The word translated “ignorance in the NLT is perhaps better understood as “eternity”; cf. ESV, HCSB, NIV and see NET text note.
17 Fanny J. Crosby, “Unsearchable Riches.”
18 William Barclay, More New Testament Words (New York: Harper, 1938), 155.
19 See further the discussion in Richard D. Patterson and Michael E. Travers, Face to Face With God; Human Images of God in the Bible (Richardson, TX: Biblical Studies Press, 2008), 148-56.
20 F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesian , The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids : Eerdmans, 1988), 174, 175.As for the image of salt, Peter H. Davids (“Colossians, Philemon,” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, ed. Philip W. Comfort [Carol Stream, Il: Tyndale, 2998], 302) remarks, “Every speaker would have understood this idiom. It meant speech that was attractive, not insipid, probably implying that it included wit as well as sober declarations.
21 Kate B. Wilkinson, “May the Mind of Christ my Savior.”
22 Sylvanus D. Phelps, “ Something for Thee.”