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Sunday, July 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 4

Carroll's Interpretation of the English BibleCarroll's Biblical Interpretation

Verses 29-34



1 Kings 8:4-27; 1 Kings 4:29-34; 1 Kings 10:1-10.

The scriptures that embody for us the account of the wisdom of Solomon are as follows: 1 Kings 3:4-27; 1 Kings 4:29-34; 1 Kings 10:1-10; the book of Proverbs; the book of Ecclesiastes; Solomon’s Song; Matthew 12:42; and Psalm 127. Other psalms are attributed to Solomon, but I think not rightly. Psalm 127 is unquestionably his.

The first passages cited give the narrative account, while Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Psalm 127 constitute Solomon’s contribution to the Bible as embodiments of his wisdom, while Matthew 12:42 institutes a comparison with One wiser than Solomon.

Before discussing the wisdom of Solomon I call your attention to Old Testament approaches to it. The first approach to it is found in Exodus 31:3-6 and repeated again in Exodus 35-36. These plainly declare that the artificers who made the different parts – the artistic parts – of the tabernacle and its vessels derived the wisdom with which they wrought them from God. They received the inspiration of God to do those things exactly right. The next approach we find in the life of David, an account of three wise women, 2 Samuel 14:2; 2 Samuel 20:16. The first one was Abigail; the second was a wise woman from Tekoah, employed by Joab to convince David that he ought to recall Absalom; the third was a wise woman in a city in the northern part of Palestine who, through her wisdom, saved the city from destruction by having the head of the rebel that had fled to them thrown over the wall to Joab. A fourth approach is found in the book of Chronicles (1 Chronicles 12:32) where reference is made to the men of Issachar that were wise and had understanding to the signs of the times and knew what Israel ought to do.

I now analyze for you the wisdom of Solomon. Our first inquiry is concerning its origin. On the divine side it is expressly stated that it is the gift of God (1 Kings 3, commencing with 1 Kings 3:5), but preliminary to the divine origin certain human factors explain how Solomon was prepared to make the extraordinary request for wisdom. He was only a boy. How did it ever occur to him to ask for such a gift as that instead of some other things?

That leads us to consider the human element in the origin. If you read in the book of Proverbs commencing at Proverbs 7:3 you see David’s instruction to him to get wisdom, to get understanding, as more precious than rubies and gold or anything else in the world. All those chapters cited, from the fourth to the seventh inclusive, give us David’s instructions and exhortations to his son. They tell us who put it into his mind to prize wisdom above all earthly things. What a glorious thing it is to have the right kind of a father! By reading Psalm 72 you get at another factor of the human origin. There his father is praying that his son may have the kind of wisdom to rule the people, and rule righteously. A little child whose father is continually speaking about the right kind of wisdom, and continually praying that his child may have it, will likely himself pray for it. David’s prayer and instructions are very touching. They account for the son’s wise response to God’s saying, "Ask what I shall give thee."

Another human factor appears in the book of Proverbs, the influence of his mother, Bathsheba, not only a beautiful woman but a really good woman, and a very wise woman. Solomon himself tells how his mother intervenes: "The words of King Lemuel, the oracle that his mother taught him." Lemuel is another name for Solomon.

What, my son? and what, O son of my womb? And what, O son of my vows? Give not thy strength unto women, Nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings, It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink: wine; Nor for princes to say, Where is strong drink? Lest they drink, and forget the law, And pervert the justice due to any that is afflicted. Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, And wine unto the bitter in soul, But rulers should not drink.

Then follows her matchless ideal of a true wife – one of the brightest gems of literature. Early parental training from father and mother prepares the boy to ask for the best things. The book of Proverbs shows how well he understood the counsels of both parents, but his later life shows particularly his disastrous departure from his mother’s oracle. In other words, Solomon knew more wisdom than he practiced. His were not sins of ignorance. But when we inquire what prepared the parents to prepare the child, we go back again, as we always must, to God himself verifying the saying of James, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." This is manifest when we note that God’s promise to give David such a son (2 Samuel 7:12-16) occasions David’s prayer and instructions (2 Samuel 7:18-29; Psalm 72) and also quickened his mother’s interest (1 Chronicles 29:9; 1 Kings 1:28-29).

The origin of the wisdom of Solomon, therefore, stands thus: (1) God’s promise and oath; (2) parental instruction, counsel, and prayer preparing the child to appreciate and ask for the best things; (3) God’s calling out Solomon’s choice; (4) Solomon’s choice and request; (5) God’s gift of the thing asked for.

Second question: What that wisdom? Only foolish people think that wisdom and knowledge mean the same thing. You may know a great deal and be the biggest fool going. I have known people whose minds were like great lumber rooms full of odds and ends of all kinds of things, and yet they were not wise enough to make practical use of the miscellaneous material. Wisdom is the application of knowledge. "Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers." The elements of Solomon’s wisdom were as follows:

First, an understanding heart to discern justice and to judge righteously and rule righteously. His wisdom was given to him to fill his position as king of a great people. That is how he defined it: "Give me an understanding heart to discern judgment and to rule rightly over this so great people."

The second element was the regulation of passions and life. The book of Proverbs continually discriminates between the wise one and the simple one. A wise man, clearly discerning right things and applying right things, will not allow himself to be entrapped by seduction and temptation, but the simple one is led astray and a dart is thrust through his liver.

The next element of the wisdom was the right way of doing things. You may yourselves discriminate between wise and foolish pastors by comparing their methods of handling an affair. The most of the trouble that comes upon the churches comes by the unwise handling of delicate affairs. He may injudiciously gossip with his members about a delicate matter and so hopelessly stir up his church into hostile parties, or he may preach about it censoriously, or be hasty to commit himself on ex parte evidence until he will no longer be able to moderate with impartiality. The other, by wise handling, will heal the breach. When a difficult case is presented to a wise man his first words are, "Let us see how we can get at the heart of this matter and deal with it wisely so as not to harm but to do good." Up in New England it is a proverb that the wise housekeeper is a woman of tact. She may not see the right any better than some other woman, but she does the right better; she gets at it more skilfully.

The fourth element was his power to interpret things. Like these men of Issachar, who could not only discern the signs of the times, but could put a proper construction upon the march of events and hence could tell what Israel ought to do. Our Saviour rebuked the men of his day that while they could read the signs of the heavens, and tell when it was likely to be a fair or a cloudy day, they did not read the signs of the spiritual times, and allowed great calamities to come on them unprepared. This power to interpret applies to natural as well as to spiritual things. It has been said that no man can interpret nature who does not love nature. But Solomon loved nature, and he could get at the secret of the plant on the wall, and the cedar of Lebanon, and the birds that fly and the flowers that bloom. Tradition says that the birds loved him so that the doves would form a canopy with outspread wings under which he could march from his house to the Temple. You need not believe the legend, but it exhibits the people’s idea of Solomon’s power of interpreting the secrets of nature. It is said of Byron by Pollok that he laid his hand with the familiarity of a brother upon the ocean’s mane, and made the mountains his brothers, and the thunders talked to him as a friend. He himself exhibits his power in the famous poem, "An Apostrophe to the Ocean" – a matchless poem of its kind which all of you would do well to memorize. It commences thus: There is a pleasure in the pathless woods.

The fifth element in his wisdom was largeness of heart, or broad-mindedness. The scripture statement is that he had largeness of heart as the sands of the seashore. Sam Jones used to say, "No man can be broad-minded who has ’possum eyes’ – so close together that you can punch out both of them at once with an old-fashioned two-tined table fork." Some men are so narrow that they cannot even conceive of a big, broad subject. But Solomon had largeness of heart. The next element of his wisdom was philosophy. The book of Ecclesiastes embodies it. He there seeks to ascertain the chief good and the chief end of man. What is that good thing that a man should do all the days of his life? Philosophy inquires into the reason of things, for the philosophy of a thing is the reason of a thing. You have already found out that I have little respect for uninspired philosophy. We might profitably omit the course from college curiculums. It is all sheer speculation from Thales to Epicurus and Zeno; from Aristotle to Kant; from Kant to the pragmatism of -Professor James of Harvard.

As William Ashmore in his review of Professor James, well says, "Lewes acted as a sexton in burying all the philosophies up to his time, and his successors have buried him." Their speculations after all are but "airy nothings," as varied as the shifting scenes in a kaleidoscope, and all as transitory as rainbows vanishing in the storm. Each successor does only one good thing – he brushes out the trail of his predecessor. Even Solomon goes a long and costly way in Ecclesiastes, to get at a conclusion obvious to a child’s faith. Carefully observe that wisdom should be invoked in order to do the right things in the right way in dealing with our fellow men and our God; to lead us in the paths of judgment, mercy, and truth.

The next point in the analysis is to locate the very beginning of real wisdom in the human heart, and here you find Solomon’s conclusion in Ecclesiastes in direct harmony with Job 28. That whole chapter is devoted to this question: "Where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding?" and concludes by saying, "The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil, understanding." When we come to the New Testament we find that James says, "If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God, who giveth liberally and upbraideth not, but let him ask in faith, nothing doubting. An unstable man wavering in all his ways, his prayers will not be answered."

The next element in the analysis is the antecedent characteristics of a seeker of wisdom. First, humility. Solomon says, "I am a little child"; a knowledge of his need, "I don’t know how to go out or to come in"; and next, prayer for it.

Our next item in the analysis of Solomon’s wisdom answers this question: How was that wisdom of his expressed? And the answer is, It is expressed, first, in deed, as when he made the decision about the baby and the two women claiming it; the second when he answered all the hard questions that the Queen of Sheba put to him and, by the way, he is the only man known to history who answered fairly all the questions put to him by a woman. It is also expressed in the books he wrote, treating upon the subject: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and one psalm. In these books he embodies it in proverbs, pithy sayings, and parables, contrasting one thing with another, a comparison obtained by putting two things parallel, which is the meaning of "parable" originally.

The next point in the analysis is the fame of his wisdom, or the impression that it made upon his own time and succeeding generations. According to a statement made in 1 Kings 4:34, Solomon’s fame went to all the kings of the earth. They all heard about him. The Queen of Sheba heard a rumor of him. It was carried on every ship, carried over every desert on every camel, carried by every traveler, "Over yonder in Jerusalem in the Holy Land is the wisest man the world ever knew. He can solve any perplexity; he can answer the hardest questions. He can deliver the most righteous judgments. He can discern the very heart of a thing and lay it open." The fame of his wisdom is evidenced by imitations in later days and by the increment of extravagant legends. The apocryphal books of "Wisdom" and "Ecclesiasticus" are imitations, centuries later; the first is an imitation of Proverbs, the second of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Solomon’s Songs. The so-called "Psalter of Solomon," consisting of eighteen psalms and found in the Septuagint, is another example of imitation. Indeed, a school of wisdom literature followed. The extravagant legends of his exorcism of demons and genii, his magical powers vested in incantations, seals, amulets, charms, and inscriptions, may be gathered from Josephus, the Koran, The Arabian Nights, and a world of Oriental literature. The Jews have a legend that when Alexander came to Jerusalem and learned about the wisdom of Solomon, he took back with him a copy of Solomon’s books and furnished them to Aristotle, and that he derived a large part of his philosophy from Solomons’ philosophy.

In this connection may be asked the date of the book of Job. Stanley, after a comparison of its style, thought, and turns of expression, with Solomon’s book, makes it a product of Solomon’s times. His argument is very inconclusive. On the other hand, Dr. Thirtle, in his Old Testament Problems takes the position that it was composed to pacify and instruct Hezekiah in his afflictions. His argument is much more plausible than Stanley’s, but the argument for the Mosaic authorship and time is much stronger than either. The book of Job is older, profounder, and more archaic than Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, or than Psalm 73 attributed to Asaph. Its correspondences with the Pentateuch are more numerous and more striking than can be traced in any literature of the days of David, Solomon, or Hezekiah. Moses, exiled for forty years in Midian, touching Job’s country, finds the opportunity arising from association with the characters in Job. The unmerited suffering of his people in the Egyptian furnace, of which suffering lie himself is an example, gives the clue to the book. The burning bush solves the problem, and after the lesson appropriately come Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, increasing the light. The book of Job shows how men without the revelations of the Pentateuch attempt to solve the problem of the unmerited sufferings of the righteous. Its key passages cry out for a revelation. It is on this theory that the first book of the Bible was to be written, therefore I count Job the first book of the Bible. The last thought in connection with Solomon’s wisdom is

The glorious antitype. – I must speak a little about him. In Matthew 12:42, Jesus says, "The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation and shall condemn it, for she came from the end of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold a greater than Solomon is here." In other words, in the New Testament is Wisdom. Paul says so, using the feminine form, Sophia, that is, the wisdom and power of God. John says so in using the masculine form Logos, or Reason.

The Pharisees asked this question: "Whence hath this man wisdom?" They wanted to get at the origin of Christ’s wisdom, seeing that he hath never learned. Whence his power to silence every gainsayer and to give answers to perplexities that startle the world today? Whence his wisdom? In Isaiah 11 is the prophecy concerning the origin of the wisdom of the great antitype of Solomon, the Prince of peace:

And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of Jehovah shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Jehovah. And his delight shall be in the fear of Jehovah; and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither decide after the hearing of his ears; but with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth; and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins" (Isaiah 11:1-5).

There is the sevenfold wisdom, meaning the perfection of wisdom. That wisdom was conferred upon Christ without mea-sure, and he, too, prayed for it as he came up out of baptism, for the Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove, and ever afterwards every thought of his life, every step of his life, was in exact accord with the promptings of the Spirit of God that came upon him without measure. He spoke in parables, putting things alongside of each other, and he spoke in proverbs and epigrams, and the sayings of Jesus rule the world today. He rules in exact righteousness rich and poor alike.

The Jewish idea of wisdom far surpassed the Greek idea of it. Theirs was unaided human philosophy, and purely speculative. For example, Lucretius, in The Nature of Things, or the Epicurean philosophy at its fountain head, enunciates the essential features of modern evolution. See how the Stoics accounted for the origin of things and the government of the world! Their fate, and the chance of the Epicureans, are against God’s Providence. See how their wisdom had no practical effect on morals. Their wise men oftentimes were the vilest men, and in the highest attainments of their philosophies their cities rotted and became putrid in the sight of God. Not so with the wisdom that God gives. In the same way Gnosticism, a subjective infallible knowledge for the few, bred & varied progeny of asceticism, license, and antinomianism. Christ, then, is the great antitype of Solomon.


1. What scriptures give an account of the wisdom of Solomon?

2. As to its origin: (1) What the human element? (2) What the divine element? (3) What the summary of the origin?

3. As to its meaning and content: (1) Define wisdom as compared with knowledge, and tell who wrote "Knowledge comes but wisdom lingers." (2) Give the elements of his wisdom. (3) Show wherein is the superiority of the Hebrew wisdom over "the Sophia" of the Greeks.

4. How does Solomon go a long way to find his simple conclusion concerning the very beginning of wisdom?

5. What chapter of Job is devoted to the same inquiry and reaches a similar conclusion?

6. How does James, our Lord’s brother, tell us to get wisdom?

7. What was the antecedent characteristics of a seeker of wisdom?

8. How was Solomon’s wisdom expressed?

9. What was the fame of his wisdom: (1) As stated in this chapter? (2) As expressed in imitations? (3) As expressed in legends?

10. Cite an illustrious example of one brought to Solomon by the fame of his wisdom.

11. What was the effect on her of witnessing his wisdom?

12. What modern song perpetuates her saying?

13. Outline a sermon on our Lord’s reference to her in Matthew 12:42,

14. Who was the glorious antitype of Solomon?

15. What Greek word does Paul use in describing him?

16. What Greek word does John employ to the same end?

17. What was the puzzle to the Pharisees concerning him?

18. Quote the words of Isaiah answering their question.

19. What was the great contrast on practical lines between Christ’s Wisdom and the wisdom of Solomon?

20. Define Gnosticism and Agnosticism and contrast Christ’s wisdom with both.

21. Explain Solomon’s sacrifices at Gibeon instead of Jerusalem.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Kings 4". "Carroll's Interpretation of the English Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bhc/1-kings-4.html.
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