When Solomon’s father, King David, died and Solomon became the King of Israel, the transition wasn’t without bloodshed. First, just before David died he instructed Solomon to kill two of David’s enemies — Joab (1 Kings 2:1-6) and Shimei (1 Kings 2:8-9) — once he became king. Not only had both of those men committed ungodly deeds (2 Samuel 3:1-39; 2 Samuel 16:5-14), David also knew that both would transfer their disloyalty toward him to Solomon and in so doing become enemies of Solomon. (Ultimately, Solomon did have both men executed: 1 Kings 2:28-46.) Second, it didn’t take Solomon long to feel compelled to order the execution of his older half-brother, Adonijah, who had tried to claim the throne even before David had appointed Solomon heir (1 Kings chapters 1 and 2).
As evidenced by these events, Solomon felt the enormity of the role of King very early in his reign. The welfare of an entire nation rested upon his shoulders, and decisions had to be made. What should be done with David’s old adversaries? Which ones should be put to death and which ones should be left alone? Which men should be installed to positions of authority in the new government? What buildings should be erected to expand the capital city of Jerusalem? What enemies should be engaged in war? What alliances should be struck? It was all pretty overwhelming stuff to a guy who had spent his entire life under the kingship of his great father.
In those days, Israel did not have a centralized location of worship. Even though David had brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem years earlier, the Ark remained housed in a lesser tabernacle (tent) that David had built for it there (2 Samuel 6:1-17; 1 Chronicles 16:1). Even David himself hadn’t considered the site a truly proper setting for the Ark (2 Samuel 7:1-2). The “official” Tabernacle, the one the Israelites had built under Moses’ leadership, the one that had stood at Shiloh for so long, had fallen into disuse decades earlier when the Philistines had temporarily captured the Ark and taken it to Philistia (1 Samuel 4:1-22). As for the Jewish Temple which would serve as the permanent place of dwelling for the Ark, well, Solomon hadn’t had that built yet.
All this explains what Solomon was doing in Gibeon, which was located about seven miles northwest of Jerusalem, offering 1,000 burnt offerings on an altar at the “high place” there (1 KIngs 3:1-4). These “high places” were open-air, hilltop sites where the Canaanites had worshiped their false gods before Israel’s conquest of Canaan. By the time of David and Solomon these sites had been converted for use in the worship of the true and living God.
And how did God respond to Solomon’s extravagant act of worship? He came to Solomon in a dream that night and said to him, “Ask! What shall I give you?” (1 Kings 3:5). And how did Solomon respond to that? To his eternal credit, he asked for wisdom and understanding to lead his nation (1 Kings 3:5-9).
God was so pleased with Solomon’s request that He promised that because Solomon hadn’t asked for long life, riches, or the lives of his enemies, He would grant him riches and honor in addition to granting him the requested wisdom and understanding (1 Kings 3:10-13). Furthermore, if Solomon would walk in God’s ways, God would grant him a long life (1 Kings 3:14). Solomon then awoke from his dream, returned to Jerusalem, went and stood before the Ark of the Covenant, offered offerings there, and threw a feast for all his servants.
The 1 Kings account of these events is immediately followed by a prime example of Solomon’s God-given wisdom. Two harlots come to him, each one claiming to be the mother of a certain baby. Solomon decides the case by offering to cut the child in half and give each woman a half. When the true mother objects and tells Solomon to give the baby to the other woman because the child mustn’t be killed, Solomon gives the child to the true mother (1 Kings 3:16-28). That’s the kind of wisdom that God gave Solomon, and such wisdom helped him build the Temple and make Israel the greatest nation on earth at the time.
Today, as you and I stand upon the precipice of a new year, we would do well to revisit Solomon’s simple request and ask God to impart to us an appropriate measure of it. Let’s stop asking for more health, more money, more opportunity, more blessing, or more revenge upon our enemies, and let’s start asking for more wisdom, more discernment, and more understanding. The fact is that we all have our “cases” to decide, our “temples” to build, and our “empires” to govern, and if we don’t exercise a God-given wisdom in doing these things, we will no doubt fail at them miserably. In James 1:5, we read the New Testament’s promise: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (N.K.J.V.). That is a promise worth claiming, a New Year’s resolution that Solomon could appreciate, and dare I say that we are the only people who can stop us from claiming it.