Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

1 Kings 3:9

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?"
New American Standard Version

Bible Study Resources

Concordances:
Nave's Topical Bible - Children;   Communion;   Dream;   Heart;   Judge;   Knowledge;   Prayer;   Solomon;   Wisdom;   Scofield Reference Index - Bible Prayers;   Thompson Chain Reference - Choice;   Discernment-Dullness;   Earnest Suppliants;   Earnestness-Indifference;   Insight;   Prayer;   Seven;   Solomon;   Spiritual;   Wise;   Torrey's Topical Textbook - Dreams;   Justice;   Magistrates;   Prayer, Answers to;  
Dictionaries:
American Tract Society Bible Dictionary - Gibeon;   Bridgeway Bible Dictionary - Dream;   Heart;   Judgment;   King;   Solomon;   Wisdom;   Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - Good, Goodness;   Kings, First and Second, Theology of;   Prayer;   Wisdom;   Easton Bible Dictionary - Gibeon;   Fausset Bible Dictionary - Adam (1);   Ecclesiastes, the Book of;   Judges;   Solomon;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Gibeon;   Gift, Giving;   Intercession;   Kings, 1 and 2;   Prayer;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Israel;   Judges;   Justice;   Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament - Hardening of Heart;   Worldliness (2);   People's Dictionary of the Bible - Dream;   Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary - Government of the Hebrews;   Wisdom (1);  
Encyclopedias:
Condensed Biblical Cyclopedia - Hebrew Monarchy, the;   International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - Divide;   Good;   Great;   Intercession;   Wisdom of Solomon, the;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

Give - an understanding heart to judge thy people - He did not ask wisdom in general, but the true science of government. This wisdom he sought, and this wisdom he obtained.

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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on 1 Kings 3:9". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/1-kings-3.html. 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

One of the chief functions of the Oriental monarch is always to hear and decide causes. Hence, supreme magistrates were naturally called “judges.” (See the introduction to the Book of Judges.) In the minds of the Jews the “judge” and the “prince” were always closely associated, the direct cognisance of causes being constantly taken by their chief civil governors. (See Exodus 2:14; Exodus 18:16, Exodus 18:22; 1 Samuel 8:20; 2 Samuel 15:2-6.)

Good and bad - i. e. “right and wrong,” “justice and injustice.”

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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 1 Kings 3:9". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/1-kings-3.html. 1870.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart, to judge thy people,.... Not an understanding of things spiritual, nor of things natural, though both were given him, but of things political, what related to the civil government, that he might be able to judge or rule the people of Israel in the best manner:

that I may discern between good and bad; not merely between moral good and evil, of which he had a discernment; but between right and wrong in any case or controversy that came before him between man and man, that so he might be able to pass a right sentence, and do justice to every one:

for who is able to judge this thy so great a people? who are so very numerous, and have so many causes to be heard and and those many of them very intricate and difficult; so that no man is equal to such arduous work, unless he has more than an ordinary capacity given him by the Lord.

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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Bibliographical Information
Gill, John. "Commentary on 1 Kings 3:9". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/1-kings-3.html. 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so g great a people?

(g) Which are so many in number.
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Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on 1 Kings 3:9". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gsb/1-kings-3.html. 1599-1645.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?

An understanding heart — Whereby I may both clearly discern, and faithfully perform all the parts of my duty: for both these are spoken of in scripture, as the effects of a good understanding; and he that lives in the neglect of his duties, or the practice of wickedness, is called a fool, and one void of understanding.

Discern — Namely in causes and controversies among my people; that I may not through mistake, or prejudice, or passion, give wrong sentences, and call evil good, or good evil. Absalom, that was a fool, wished himself a judge: Solomon, that was a wise man, trembles at the undertaking. The more knowing and considerate men are, the more jealous they are of themselves.

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These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Bibliographical Information
Wesley, John. "Commentary on 1 Kings 3:9". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wen/1-kings-3.html. 1765.

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

A NOBLE REQUEST

‘Give thy servant an understanding heart.’

1 Kings 3:9

I. Not wealth, not pleasure, not fame, not victory, not length of days, but an understanding heart, was the choice of Solomon’s boyhood.—The prayer for wisdom is always pleasing to God. (1) Even intellectual wisdom—how far higher is it, how far worthier of man as God made him, than any alternative of fashion or vanity, of wit or vice! Fear not to ask of God an understanding heart, even in studies which name not His name. (2) But the speech which pleased the Lord was a prayer rather for practical wisdom. The gift which Solomon’s prayer drew down was the gift of justice. When he seated himself in the gate to hear the causes which Israel brought to him, intellect was nothing; judgment, the power to discriminate between good and bad—this was his work. This therefore was his prayer.

II. The bitter and painful thing to remember in the history before us is the wreck and ruin of that prayer, which in itself was so beautiful and so acceptable.—(1) It may have been that Solomon’s largeness of heart slipped into latitudinarianism. (2) That which cankered Solomon’s wisdom was the entrance of sinful lust.

III. We may hope that even out of this wreck the lost life found a way to arise.—We read the Book of Ecclesiastes as the record of that hope. Let us hope that the night’s prayer at Gibeon was being answered, though in dim and broken reflection, in the latest utterances of the Preacher, son of David, king of Jerusalem.

—Dean Vaughan.

Illustrations

(1) ‘The heart—the understanding—and the right use of both together—make character. There cannot be a right character without the three. If there is no love, or if there is no intellect, or if either of them be not properly regulated, the character suffers; the character cannot be complete. And the design of all education—of our education of our children, of God’s education of us all—is, and ought to be, to make character. Character includes heart, head, conduct; and the character determines the man.’

(2) ‘I leave the mystery—that Solomon afterwards abused that vast gift; that that very “heart” went wrong! It is a very solemn thing, but there is a great deal of most grave teaching here. No one prayer can secure continuance; one period of life is no guarantee for another period of life; a very bad chapter may succeed a very good one. “A wise and an understanding heart” may fall; the intellect may become darkened, and the heart may go wrong, and the wisest man become the worst!’

(3) ‘To ask anything from God in the right way is not an easy thing. It implies that we have yielded ourselves to God and gained His entrance into our lives. There is, therefore, no true asking that does not enlarge the asker so that God can give him even more than he asked for. And God is always eager to give Him more; He is only waiting for us to hold out a bigger basket.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

‘Give therefore Thy servant an understanding heart to judge Thy people, that I may discern between good and bad,’ etc.

1 Kings 3:9

I. God comes to every one of us saying, ‘Ask what I shall give thee.’—Goethe said he admired the man who knew precisely what he aimed at in life. God wishes you at the commencement of your career to come up to the height of a great choice. You must choose; your refusal to choose is itself a choice, and it is the liberty to choose your own aim in life, and at last your own destiny, that makes life so serious. Life comes to every man with its riddle; and if he answers it aright, it is well with him; but if he tries to go on neglecting the commandments of the Giver of life, if he tries to go on living in his own way, and not in God’s way, life to him will be a thing of loss, and he will become an object to be wept over. We are placed here, naked as the giant of fable, to wrestle with the rude elements of the world, to conquer in the midst of its varied probation; but remember this: no devil nor devil’s child can cast you down without your own consent.

II. Notice that ‘the speech pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing.’—It was this thing in contrast to three other things that he rejected: long life, riches, and revenge on his enemies.

III. The reasons are here assigned why it pleased the Lord that Solomon rejected the false and chose the true aim in life.—(1) Because he chose what enabled him to be serviceable to others. Our great poet has told us that ‘Heaven does with us as we do with torches; do not light them for themselves.’ We are lit in order to be the light of the world. (2) It pleased the Lord because he chose to walk in the statutes of a good father, and so to encourage him in his last days in his faith in God’s covenant. (3) It pleased the Lord because he chose God Himself as his portion rather than all His gifts.

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Kings 3:9". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/1-kings-3.html. 1876.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

1 Kings 3:9 Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?

Ver. 9. Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart.] Heb., A hearing heart; for wisdom is gotten by prayer and hearing the word, by begging and digging, as Proverbs 2:3-4; we also must run the like method, [James 1:5] ran through all the exercises of Christ’s school, if we would be wise to salvation.

That I may discern between good and bad.] Rupertus blameth Solomon for this, that he asked of God wisdom, and not holiness rather, bonum illud quod verum et summum est, which is the principal good thing. But it was doubtless a saving and sanctifying knowledge that Solomon prayed for, and obtained; not an apprehensive knowledge only, and notional, but effective and practical also, and directive of the life. Socrates, the wisest of all the Greeks, made no distinction between σοφια, wisdom, and σωπροσυνη, good conversation. Ignorat sane improbus omnis, saith Aristotle, He is not wise that is ill-conditioned.

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on 1 Kings 3:9". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/1-kings-3.html. 1865-1868.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

An understanding heart; whereby I may both clearly discern, and faithfully perform, all the parts of my duty; for both these are spoken of in Scripture as the effects of a good understanding; and he that lives in the neglect of his duties, or the practice of wickedness, is called a fool, and one void of understanding.

Judge, or, govern, as that word is used, Jude 3:10 4:4 Psalms 7:8 67:4 Isaiah 2:4 16:5.

That I may discern between good and bad, to wit, in causes and controversies among my people; that I may not through mistakes, or prejudices, or passions, give wrong sentences, and call evil good, or good evil.

Who is able of himself, or without thy gracious assistance.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on 1 Kings 3:9". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/1-kings-3.html. 1685.

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Give your servant therefore an understanding heart to judge your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to judge this your great people?”

So he prayed to YHWH from the bottom of his heart that He would give him an understanding heart so that he could rightly judge and rule over His people. The ‘heart’ was regularly seen in the ancient world as the source of thought and mind, as well as of emotion. With the heart man thought, and willed, and experienced. Solomon wanted to be able to judge ‘between good and evil’, both between right and wrong, and between what was wise and unwise. For how else could anyone judge this great people of YHWH?

“Good and evil” can refer to moral good and evil, or to the good and bad things that can come on mankind, e.g. sun, rain, storms and earthquakes. Thus it often indicates ‘everything’. We should note for example that when Isaiah said that ‘God creates evil’ he meant that God was overall responsible for bad things that happened to the world as well as good things, not that He was responsible for creating sin. (Compare ‘shall evil come on a city and YHWH has not done it?’ - Amos 3:6).

1 Kings 3:10

And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing.’

Solomon’s reply ‘pleased the Lord’ (adonay). It gave Him great joy that Solomon’s first concern was to serve Him satisfactorily, by ruling His people righteously. Note the rare use of ‘Lord’ (adonay) in 1 Kings (not apparent in most English translations where YHWH is regularly translated as LORD). It occurs twice in the phrase ‘Lord YHWH’ (1 Kings 2:26; 1 Kings 8:53), once of ‘the Ark of the covenant of the Lord’ (1 Kings 3:15), and once on the mouths of false prophets (1 Kings 22:6) and only here, when used by itself, of YHWH. In 2 Kings it occurs twice, once where it refers to ‘the Lord’ causing a noise to be heard by means of a ‘miracle’ (2 Kings 7:6) and once where YHWH rebukes the king of Assyria through Isaiah on the grounds that he has ‘reproached the Lord’ by what he had said (2 Kings 19:23). Thus it is used in order to indicate God as the Sovereign Lord over creation and all men, and its use here must be seen as significant. It is emphasising that it was the Great One, Who was over all things and from Whom he could have asked anything, to whom he had made his request. Well is it for us to remember also, that when we pray for things we are praying to our Sovereign Lord and Creator as those who are His servants as well as His sons. Then, like Solomon, we might be more thoughtful about what we ask.

1 Kings 3:11-13

And God said to him, “Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked for yourself long life, nor have you asked riches for yourself, nor have you asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice, behold, I have done according to your word. Lo, I have given you a wise and an understanding heart, so that there has been none like you before you, nor after you shall any arise like you. And I have also given you what you did not ask, both riches and honour, so that there will not be any among the kings like you, all your days.”

The use of the divine names in the passage is interesting. In 1 Kings 3:4 his dream comes from ‘YHWH’, his covenant God, but it is ‘God’ (Elohim) the Lord of all the world Who speaks to him and desires Solomon to tell Him what He should give him, thus not binding him in his reply to keep in mind the covenant. In 1 Kings 3:7 Solomon replies to ‘YHWH my God’, recognising Him from both viewpoints and acknowledging that he has covenant responsibilities. In 1 Kings 3:10 it is ‘the Sovereign Lord’ (adonay) who was pleased at what Solomon had asked for. Here now it is ‘God’ Who addresses him and confirms that He will give him much more than what he has asked for, because his request had only had in mind being able to serve God fully and rightly.

And God informed him that because he had asked for wisdom to rule rightly, rather than for long life, wealth or glory in warfare, He would not only give him understanding in order that he might discern what was just and right, but would also give him such a wise and understanding heart that none before or after him would stand comparison with him, and would furthermore also give him the wealth and glory that he had not asked for, so that none in his day would be able to compare with him.

The wisdom that Solomon was given will be expanded on in the narrative, it would include:

The wisdom to make right judgments on behalf of the people (1 Kings 3:16-28).

Wisdom in respect of speaking proverbs which give wisdom; instruction; discernment; ability to deal rightly in righteousness, judgment and equity; prudence to the simple; and deeper understanding (see Proverbs 1:2-6), and wisdom concerning nature and natural things, both of which were universally respected (1 Kings 4:29-34).

Wisdom as regards the decision to build the Temple (1 Kings 5:7).

Wisdom to seek peace rather than conflict (1 Kings 5:12).

Wisdom concerning YHWH as revealed in his prayer in 1 Kings 8:22-53.

Wisdom to answer all the Queen of Sheba’s hard questions with which she came to test him (1 Kings 10:1-8).

His wisdom thus covered all aspects of existence.

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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Kings 3:9". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/1-kings-3.html. 2013.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

9.An understanding heart — Noble choice! “It was the choice offered to the youthful king on the threshold of life, the choice so often imagined in fiction, and here actually presented in real life. The answer is the ideal answer of such a prince, burdened with the responsibility of his position.

He made the demand for the gift which he, of all the heroes of the ancient Church, was the first to claim. He showed his wisdom by asking for wisdom. He became wise because he had set his heart upon it. This was to him the special aspect through which the Divine Spirit was to be approached, and grasped, and made to bear on the wants of men; not the highest, not the choice of David, not the choice of Isaiah; but still the choice of Solomon.” — Stanley.

To judge thy people — The Oriental mind always associates the functions of the judge with the monarch, as he is expected to hear and decide important cases. See note on 1 Kings 3:16.

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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Kings 3:9". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/1-kings-3.html. 1874-1909.

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

1 Kings 3:9. Give to thy servant an understanding heart — Whereby I may both clearly discern, and faithfully perform all the parts of my duty: for both these are spoken of in Scripture as the effects of a good understanding; and he that lives in the neglect of his duties, or the practice of wickedness, is called a fool, and one void of understanding. To judge thy people — Or govern, as that word is often used. That I may discern between good and bad — Namely, in causes and controversies among thy people; that I may not, through mistake, or prejudice, or passion, give wrong sentences, and call evil good, or good evil. Absalom, that was a fool, wished himself a judge: Solomon, that was a wise man, trembles at the undertaking. The more knowing and considerate men are, the more jealous they are of themselves.

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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Kings 3:9". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/1-kings-3.html. 1857.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Understanding. Literally, "docile." (Haydock) --- Hebrew, "willing to hear," and to obey God. (Menochius)

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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on 1 Kings 3:9". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hcc/1-kings-3.html. 1859.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

Give. Compare 2 Chronicles 1:10.

understanding = hearing. Solomon began by asking wisdom from God. Rehoboam (his son) began by asking counsel from man (1 Kings 12:6, 1 Kings 12:8).

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on 1 Kings 3:9". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bul/1-kings-3.html. 1909-1922.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?
Give therefore
1 Chronicles 22:12; 29:19; 2 Chronicles 1:10; Psalms 119:34,73,144; Proverbs 2:3-9; 3:13-18; Proverbs 16:16; James 1:5; 3:17
understanding
Heb. hearing.
Proverbs 20:12
to judge
28; Psalms 72:1,2; Proverbs 14:8; Ecclesiastes 7:11,19; 9:15-18; John 5:30
discern
2 Samuel 14:17; Isaiah 11:2-4; 1 Corinthians 2:14,15; Ephesians 5:17; Philippians 1:10; *Gr:; Hebrews 5:14
who is able
Exodus 3:11,12; 4:10-13; Jeremiah 1:6; Matthew 3:11,14; 2 Corinthians 2:16; 3:5
Reciprocal: Genesis 12:2 - GeneralExodus 18:17 - not good;  Exodus 18:21 - able men;  Exodus 31:3 - filled;  Deuteronomy 34:9 - full of the spirit;  1 Kings 3:11 - discern;  1 Kings 5:7 - a wise son;  1 Kings 7:7 - of judgment;  1 Kings 10:24 - which God;  2 Kings 2:9 - Elisha said;  2 Kings 15:5 - judging;  1 Chronicles 11:2 - ruler;  2 Chronicles 32:4 - find;  Job 28:12 - GeneralPsalm 119:66 - Teach me;  Proverbs 1:2 - GeneralProverbs 2:6 - the Lord;  Proverbs 8:15 - decree;  Proverbs 18:15 - GeneralProverbs 25:2 - the honour;  Ecclesiastes 10:10 - wisdom;  Isaiah 11:3 - and he shall not;  Daniel 9:12 - our judges;  Matthew 12:42 - hear;  Romans 16:19 - yet;  1 Corinthians 3:10 - as a;  Colossians 3:16 - all

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on 1 Kings 3:9". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tsk/1-kings-3.html.