Question: Was Solomon smart, or was he wise? Or maybe he was both?
There’s a difference. Sometimes wise people aren’t smart. And sometimes smart people aren’t wise. Solomon knows the difference, and that’s why he asks for what he does.
This is what I mean. This reading skips over some of the story of Solomon’s succession and his first steps on the throne. First of all, there’s the problem of Adonijah, Solomon’s brother, who tries to take the throne before David dies. Bathsheba, Solomon’s mom, has to intervene because David was pretty clear that he wanted Solomon to follow him.
Then Solomon takes care of some business as he begins his rule. He eliminates some enemies and pays off some old debts – this is were Joab meets his end, for example. Nothing unusual in that. Kings in these days often started ruling by making sure the competition was otherwise occupied, usually by running for their lives or being buried.
Now comes Solomon’s dream, in which God asks him what he wants. Solomon’s answer will tell God what kind of king he wants to be.
He could ask for power and glory, for a long life and victory over his enemies. If he did, he would also be following the usual kingly pattern. Wealth, power, glory, victory, a long reign – these were the signs of a successful king.
If Solomon asks for these things, then God will know he wants to be a king like the other kings in that day and time. What he won’t want is to be a king suitable to ruling the people of God. Remember, Israel is a nation founded on God’s promise and his law. Those things set the people apart from other nations. They’re the chosen people, so they’re supposed to act like it.
Again, God’s promise to David about establishing his throne for eternity suggest that Israel’s king is supposed to be a different kind of king.
We don’t see it written out, but my guess is that when Solomon realizes the choice he has been given, he evaluates what kind of king he has been so far. He sees that his rule has started with bloodshed, with family struggles, with political infighting. He’s had his enemies killed, on the advice of hs father David.
I think that if he did look at what kind of king he’s been so far, Solomon may have realized that he hasn’t been the kind of king who’s ruling God’s chosen people. Nothing sets him apart from other royalty and how they act. And he might decided he doesn’t want to be that kind of king. Which is pretty smart, if you ask me.
So Solomon doesn’t ask for riches and glory and all the other stuff. He says he’s young, inexperienced and he doesn’t know how to be the king of God’s chosen people. If God is going to give him something, could he give him the wisdom needed to be that kind of king? Could he be shown how to use the gifts he has in order to be a king suitable for God’s people? A king who is worthy to be a part of the eternal line that God promised David?
Which is also pretty smart.
The more I look at this story, the less I see God giving Solomon something he doesn’t have and the more I see God releasing qualities he already does have.
Releasing them, guiding them, refining them. God taking something that he had put in Solomon and making it into the tool Solomon needed to be what God wanted him to be.
Language like that echoes the idea that each of us is created in the image of God, designed in some way to reflect something of God to those who see us. If sin has tarnished or marred that image, then Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection cleans it and repairs it, making it what it should be.
Some combination of divine action, genetic inheritance and upbringing gave Solomon enough wisdom to know he needed God to magnify that gift in order for it to be used right. Everyone has some gift or another that is a part of the image God designed for them before they were born. But we don’t have nearly enough of it, or the knowledge of how to use it, anything like the way God wants us to.
Solomon knew this, and so he asked to be shown how to use what he had to fulfill the role God wanted for him.
Smart. And wise too.