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Solomon’s wish for discernment

The means of reading the entire Bible I have chosen is to read from beginning to end. I have found this helpful in maintaining an understanding of the text, specifically the historical narrative. This journey has me currently in 1 Kings.

Solomon has just become king. He has consolidated his power in a counter coup d’etat, in which adversaries were executed. There seems to be a notion that God appeared to Solomon and Solomon asked for wisdom. But I find this to be a oversimplification of the text.

Then Solomon said, “You have shown great lovingkindness to Your servant David my father, according as he walked before You in truth and righteousness and uprightness of heart toward You; and You have reserved for him this great lovingkindness, that 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 in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. Your servant is in the midst of Your people which You have chosen, a great people who are too many to be numbered or counted. So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”

10 It was pleasing in the sight of the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing. 11 God said to him, “Because you have asked this thing and have not asked for yourself long life, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have you asked for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself discernment to understand justice, 12 behold, I have done according to your words. Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you. 13 I have also given you what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that there will not be any among the kings like you all your days. 14 If you walk in My ways, keeping My statutes and commandments, as your father David walked, then I will prolong your days.”

1 Kings 3:6-14 NASB1995

Solomon is a boy king. Historically, boy kings were seen as weak and pliable. People would seek rule their council, and the people would seek to manipulate the boy king for judgements in their favor. Already Solomon had demonstrated that he had the political cunning to deal with David’s enemies within, yet he recognizes in verse 7 that he is in over his head. The notion that God does not give you more than you can bare is incorrect. God does not give you more than He can bare. Solomon recognizes this. So Solomon asked God for “an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil.” Discernment is the one word summary here. Being able to decipher good from evil is Solomon’s request.

This request was pleasing to God (verse 10). Verse 12 would indicate that wisdom and discernment go hand in hand. I think by the grace of God, Solomon did not ask for riches or glory, because who among us would not succumb to the temptation of doing so, apart from God?

To some degree, Solomon already had considerable wisdom beyond his years. Moreover, to some degree he already had discernment. So I wonder if this passage is more about Solomon recognizing the gifts God has given him as opposed to God appearing as a genie to Solomon and granting one wish. Verse 12 is in past tense, so the execution of the events God has promised may have been complete before Solomon’s request.

In conclusion, there is an oversimplification of this text, and I believe in part because it’s widely taught to children and in part because the church is not very fond of discernment.


One Response

  1. Excellent little commentary here. I always found it neat that Solomon (who wrote most of the Proverbs) asked for wisdom here and then writes extensively about getting wisdom in the Proverbs. Wisdom was the vehicle through which he could discern between good and evil. Know wisdom, know life. No wisdom, no life.

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