“King Solomon; Man of Wisdom, Man of Foolishness.” 1 Kings 3; 5-11

“The Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Psalm 111:10

Introduction

Solomon, the king of peace,1 ascended the throne during Israel’s golden age taking the place of his father, David the beloved.2  Before David died however, he left a charge upon Solomon much like other righteous fathers have done for their children throughout the ages.3  David counseled his regal son

I go the way of all the earth: be thou strong therefore, and shew thyself a man; And keep the charge of the Lord they God, to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, and his judgments, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, that thou mayest prosper in all that thou doest, and whithersoever thou turnest thyself. 1 Kings 2:2-3

This counsel echoes that of Lehi who said to his sons:

And now that my soul might have joy in you, and that my heart might leave this world with gladness because of you, that I might not be brought down with grief and sorrow to the grave, arise from the dust, my sons, and be men, and be determined in one mind and in one heart, united in all things, that ye may not come down into captivity. 2 Nephi 1:21

Lehi’s own experience with the redeeming power of Christ’s atonement was the basis for such loving counsel:

But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love. 2 Nephi 1:15

And thus desiring that his family partake of the same beautiful blessing from the Lord, Lehi counseled them to stand firm in righteousness:

I desire that ye should remember to observe the statutes and the judgments of the Lord; behold, this hath been the anxiety of my soul from the beginning. 2 Nephi 1:16

The blessing of living worthy and committed to the statues of the Lord was the same in the Old Testament as well as the Book of Mormon:

Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence. 2 Nephi 1:20

Herein is the foundation of wisdom and folly.  Those who keep God’s commandments are wise while those who do not are foolish.  Solomon, lamentably, is representative of both extremes.

Solomon the Wise

Soon after he ascended the throne Solomon journeyed to Gibeon, some five miles to the northwest of Jerusalem, to offer sacrifices unto the Lord at the sacred high place established for that purpose.  At that time in Israelite history the permanent temple had not yet been built.  The Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God’s presence with Israel and the nucleus of what was later to be the Jerusalem temple, had traveled from place to place throughout the Holy Land without finding a worthy abode.  During the night at Gibeon the Lord appeared unto Solomon and extended a marvelous invitation, an invitation that is likewise extended to each of us as his children, “Ask what I shall give thee” (1 Kings 3:5).  In deep humility Solomon expressed his gratitude to the Lord for all that he received.  He acknowledged his dependence upon the Lord.  Then in perfect simplicity like an innocent child, he requested of the Lord:

Give therefore, thy servant an understanding heart…that I may discern between good and bad. 1 Kings 3:9

Meekness and humility are essential components of true wisdom for they lead us to trust in God, to keep his commandments, and to seek his will and not our own.  Since God Himself is the fullest expression of wisdom, when we live as he lives we are living lives of wisdom.  Trusting the promise of the Lord, “ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (D&C 4:7) Solomon sought wisdom and God granted it unto him, and much more:

Because thou has asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life; neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies; but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern judgment; Behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee.  And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches, and honour: so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days.  And if thou wilt walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as thy father David did walk, then I will lengthen thy days. 1 Kings 3:11-14

In the life of Nephi the son of Nephi we find another fitting example of how humility and faithfulness open the windows of heaven’s blessings unto us:

Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people.  And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments.  And now because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever…for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will. Helaman 10:4-5

For many years Solomon’s sagacity blessed the lives of his people.  Through this gift he successfully arbitrated difficult issues (1 Kings 3), built up peaceful relations with surrounding nations (1 Kings 5), attended to the thronging guests from every quarter of the earth who sought out his wisdom (1 Kings 4; 10), and oversaw the establishment of Israel’s first permanent temple (1 Kings 5-8).  Israel was blessed both materially and spiritually for many years of Solomon’s reign.

Solomon the Foolish

Soon after the Jerusalem temple was completed the Lord again appeared unto Solomon reiterating the blessings contingent upon faithfulness but this time adding curses if Solomon should turn to away:

If thou wilt walk before me, as David thy father walked, in integrity of heart, and in uprightness, to do according to all that I have commanded thee, and wilt keep my statutes and my judgments: Then I will established the throne of thy kingdom upon Israel for ever, as I promised to David thy father, saying, There shall not fail thee a man upon the throne of Israel.  But if ye shall at all turn from following me, ye or your children, and will not keep my commandments and my statutes which I have set before you, but go and serve other gods, and worship them: Then will I cut off Israel out of the land which I have given them; and this house, which I have hallowed for my name, will I cast out of my sight; and Israel shall be a proverb and a byword among all people: And at this house, which is high, every one that passeth by it shall be astonished, and shall hiss; and they shall say, Why hath the Lord done thus unto this land, and to this house? And they shall answer, Because they forsook the Lord their God, who brought forth their forefathers out of the land of Egypt, and have taken hold upon other gods, and have worshipped them, and served them. 1 Kings 9:4-9

It is well known that as the years increased and Solomon continued to enjoy immense prosperity he fell into the same destructive cycle that overtook the Nephites, aptly summarized by Mormon in the following words:

And thus we can behold how false, and also the unsteadiness of the hearts of the children of men; yea, we can see that the Lord in his great infinite goodness doth bless and prosper those who put their trust in him.

Yea, and we may see at the very time when he doth prosper his people, yea, in the increase of their fields, their flocks and their herds, and in gold, and in silver, and in all manner of precious things of every kind and art; sparing their lives, and delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; softening the hearts of their enemies that they should not declare wars against them; yea, and in fine, doing all things for the welfare and happiness of his people; yea, then is the time that they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God, and do trample under their feet the Holy One — yea, and this because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity.

And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea, except he doth visit them with death and with terror, and with famine and with all manner of pestilence, they will not remember him.

O how foolish, and how vain, and how evil, and devilish, and how quick to do iniquity, and how slow to do good, are the children of men; yea, how quick to hearken unto the words of the evil one, and to set their hearts upon the vain things of the world!

Yea, how quick to be lifted up in pride; yea, how quick to boast, and do all manner of that which is iniquity; and how slow are they to remember the Lord their God, and to give ear unto his counsels, yea, how slow to walk in wisdom’s paths!

Behold, they do not desire that the Lord their God, who hath created them, should rule and reign over them; notwithstanding his great goodness and his mercy towards them, they do set at naught his counsels, and they will not that he should be their guide. Helaman 12:1-6

Sadly, in his later years Solomon “turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God” (1 Kings 11:4):

And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the Lord God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice, and had commanded him…that he should not go after other gods: but he kept not that which the Lord commanded. 1 Kings 11:9-10

Due to his unfaithfulness, the Lord took Solomon’s kingdom away from him and rent it in half.  At his death contentions over the throne ensued and the united Kingdom of Israel and its Golden Age were broken and we yet wait for a full-restoration of that union (Articles of Faith 1:10).

Conclusion

The Lord’s promises are extended unto us in these latter-days.  But like it was for the Lord’s covenant people who have gone on before us, these promises are contingent upon our faithfulness (wisdom).  If we are unfaithful we are indeed foolish for we have then squandered the most valuable gifts of eternity for a mess of pottage today.  Humility, meekness, righteousness, faithfulness, an eye single to the glory of God—each of these contribute to a life of wisdom, a life after the manner of God, the source of all wisdom.


  1. The name Solomon comes from the Hebrew shlomo which derives from the Hebrew word shalom meaning peace. 

  2. David means “beloved” in Hebrew.  This name was also passed onto Solomon at the time of his birth.  According to 2 Samuel 12:25 when David presented the newborn Solomon to the prophet Nathan, the prophet called him “Jedidiah,” which in Hebrew means “beloved of Jehovah.” 

  3. Before his death, Lehi left blessings upon each of his children (see 2 Nephi 1-4).  This follows the patriarchal pattern first established by Adam and later practiced by such notables as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. 

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About Taylor Halverson

Taylor Halverson is a BYU Teaching and Learning Consultant, a member of the Book of Mormon Central executive committee, founder and co-director of the BYU Virtual Scriptures Group, a columnist for the Deseret News, founder and co-director of the BYU Creativity, Innovation, and Design group, a travel leader to Mesoamerica and the Holy Land, and the Chief Innovation Officer at Vereo Training. At BYU Taylor has taught Book of Mormon, Old Testament, History of Creativity, Innovation Boot Camp, Basic Entrepreneurship Skills, and an interdisciplinary design course called “Illuminating the Scriptures: Designing Innovative Study Tools.” His education includes: BA in Ancient Near Eastern Studies (BYU), MA in Biblical Studies (Yale University), MS in Instructional Systems Technology (Indiana University), PhD in Instructional Systems Technology (Indiana University), PhD in Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity (Indiana University). Taylor has published and presented widely on scripture, innovation, entrepreneurship, technology, teaching, and learning (more at taylorhalverson.com).

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