I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s the second in a series introducing themes explored more fully in the book, The Whole of Life for Christ: Enriching Everyday Discipleship, written with Mark Greene.
God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else... He spoke about plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also spoke about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. From all nations people came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom.
1 Kings 4:29-34
Something greater than Solomon is here.
There are many things a king might ask of God given the opportunity to do so: good health and long life, numerous descendants, prosperity for himself and his people, the subjugation of enemies. Yet, Solomon asks for ‘a discerning heart’ (1 Kings 3:9) in order to govern the nation.
Although God gave Solomon wisdom, it didn’t arrive as a ready-made package from heaven. 1 Kings 4:29-34 describes how Solomon became a student of both the ‘natural’ creation and neighbouring cultures. The comparison of his wisdom to that of renowned wise figures beyond Israel’s borders implicitly pays tribute to the value of the wisdom of surrounding nations, even while claiming that Solomon surpassed it.
But such insight and understanding was not for Solomon alone. Biblical wisdom is grounded in the ongoing regulation of the world by the creator God, and its first principle is the ‘fear of the Lord’ (Proverbs 1:7), flowing out of reverent relationship with the covenant God – and it’s available for all those who seek to live wisely in God’s world.
Far from removing us from the rhythms of our everyday existence, such wisdom embraces a range of skills and practices, worked out in different spheres of life – at the city gates and in the market squares, in our homes and in our workplaces, with our children and with our colleagues, in our bedrooms and in our boardrooms – wherever God has called us.
If all this seems too challenging, from James comes the encouragement that if any of us ‘lacks wisdom’, we may ‘ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given’ to us (James 1:5) – a reminder that wisdom still comes as a gift from God, even as we seek to cultivate it in our lives.
In the light of how he starts, Solomon’s ultimate failure is all the more tragic, reminding us that wisdom can be misplaced, and encouraging us to look for one ‘greater than Solomon’ (Matthew 12:42). So it is that wisdom remains a key feature of the Christian life, as it did for the ancient Israelite, but is now focused on the person and work of Jesus. The ‘fear of the Lord’ and the way of life that flows from it find their fullest expression in relationship with Christ, ‘who has become for us wisdom from God’ (1 Corinthians 1:30).