1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
THE CONTEXT: DAVID’S DYING COUNSEL TO SOLOMON
Chapter 1 opens with the words, “Now king David was old and stricken in years” (1:1)—and then tells of the efforts of Adonijah, the son of Haggith (and David) to inherit the throne (1:5-14). Bathsheba (Solomon’s mother) complained to David, reminding him of his promise that Solomon would inherit the throne (1:15-21) and Adonijah the prophet came to tell David that Adonijah was celebrating his accession to the throne (1:22-27). David called Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah and had them proclaim Solomon king (1:28-40). Adonijah received word that David had made Solomon king and was afraid, but Solomon spared his life, albeit temporarily (1:41-53).
David instructed Solomon, “I am going the way of all the earth. You be strong therefore, and show yourself a man; and keep the instruction of Yahweh your God, to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies, according to that which is written in the law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do, and wherever you turn yourself” (2:2-3). He also instructed Solomon to consolidate his reign by dealing harshly with Joab and Shimei and to deal generously with the sons of Barzillai (2:5-9).
1 KINGS 2:10-12. SOLOMON SAT ON THE THRONE OF DAVID HIS FATHER
10David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David. 11The days that David reigned over Israel were forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and he reigned thirty-three years in Jerusalem. 12Solomon sat on the throne of David his father; and his kingdom was firmly established.
“David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David” (v. 10). “Slept with his fathers” is a standard formula for announcing the death of a king in 1-2 Kings (11:43; 14:20, 31; 15:8, 24; 16:6, 28; 22:40, etc.).
In his Pentecost sermon, Peter mentions that David’s “tomb is with us to this day” (Acts 2:29). Josephus says that David’s tomb was looted by Hyrcanus and later by Herod the Great (Dilday, 46).
“The days that David reigned over Israel were forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and he reigned thirty-three years in Jerusalem” (v. 11). These periods of time are also reported in 1 Chronicles 3:4; 29:27.
“Solomon sat on the throne of David his father; and his kingdom was firmly established” (v. 12). The narrator goes to some lengths here to reaffirm the rightness of Solomon’s accession to the throne. The implication is that the Lord is behind the establishment of Solomon’s kingdom.
1 KINGS 2:13 – 3:2. NOT INCLUDED IN THE LECTIONARY READING
These verses tell of Solomon consolidating his power by having Adonijah killed (2:13-25)—and banishing Abiathar (2:26-27)—and having Joab killed (2:28-35)—and having Shimei killed (2:36-46). This account presents these actions in positive terms.
But then we hear an ominous beating of the drums in the background as the text reports the marriage of Solomon to the daughter of Pharaoh in spite of a law forbidding such marriages (Deuteronomy 7:3-4). Royal alliances of this sort are also a way of consolidating power and insuring peace. Pharaoh is unlikely to attack the kingdom where his daughter is queen. However, Yahweh expects Solomon to trust him rather than royal alliances. It is Yahweh, not Pharaoh, who has the power to guarantee the future of Solomon’s kingdom.
Also, we hear of people sacrificing at the “high places” (3:1-2)—a phrase most often associated with pagan worship.
1 KINGS 3:3-4. SOLOMON LOVED YAHWEH—SACRIFICED IN HIGH PLACES
3Solomon loved Yahweh, walking in the statutes of David his father: only he sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places. 4The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there; for that was the great high place. Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar.
“Solomon loved Yahweh, walking in the statutes of David his father” (v. 3a). Love in this context has to do with obedience and loyalty (Brueggemann, 46; Devries). We are assured of Solomon’s love for Yahweh and his obedience to the statutes of his father, but this short verse is embedded in a passage that speaks of his love of foreign women and his sacrifices at the high places. Solomon no doubt does love Yahweh, but he has competing loves as well.
Later, we will read, “Now king Solomon loved many foreign women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites; of the nations concerning which Yahweh said to the children of Israel, ‘You shall not go among them, neither shall they come among you; for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.’ Solomon joined to these in love. He had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. For it happened, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not perfect with Yahweh his God, as was the heart of David his father” (11:1-4).
“only he sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places” (v. 3b). Once again, we hear an ominous note. For now, these sacrifices at the high places can be justified, because “there was no house built for the name of Yahweh” (3:2). Israel did offer sacrifices to Yahweh at the high places (2 Chronicles 33:17). However, in his old age Solomon also built high places for the gods of Sidon, Ammon, and Moab—the gods of his wives from countries other than Israel (11:4-8). The phrase, “high place,” soon became associated with pagan worship and unfaithfulness to Yahweh (Leviticus 26:30; Numbers 33:52; Deuteronomy 7:5; 12:3).
“The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there; for that was the great high place. Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar” (v. 4). Gibeon is located 6 miles (10 km) northwest of Jerusalem. It was one of four Canaanite cities that arranged a truce with the invading Israelites and were therefore spared destruction (Joshua 9). While the ark is in Jerusalem, the tabernacle is located at Gibeon (2 Chronicles 1:5-6). Solomon has “offered a thousand burnt offerings” at Gibeon, because it is “the great high place.”
Once again, we hear an ominous note in the background. For now, these sacrifices at the high places can be justified, because “there was no house built for the name of Yahweh” (3:2). Israel did offer sacrifices to Yahweh at the high places (2 Chronicles 33:17). However, the phrase, “high place,” has been associated with pagan worship and unfaithfulness to Yahweh in the past (Leviticus 26:30; Numbers 33:52; Deuteronomy 7:5; 12:3). Worship at the high places will soon lead “to syncretistic worship and apostasy…, so the ‘high place’ (will become) synonymous with ‘an abomination'” (Wiseman, 83—see also 11:7; 12:31; 13:3, 32-33; 14:23; 15:14; 22:43, etc.).
1 KINGS 3:5-9. GIVE YOUR SERVANT AN UNDERSTANDING HEART
5 In Gibeon Yahweh appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” 6Solomon said, “You have shown to your servant David my father great loving kindness, according as he walked before you in truth, and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with you. You have kept for him this great loving kindness, that you have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. 7Now, Yahweh my God, you have made your servant king instead of David my father. I am but a little child. I don’t know how to go out or come in. 8Your servant is in the midst of your people which you have chosen, a great people, that can’t be numbered nor counted for multitude. 9Give your servant therefore an understanding heart (Hebrew: leb·so·me·a—a listening heart) to judge your people, that I may discern between good and evil; for who is able to judge this your great people?”
“In Gibeon Yahweh appeared to Solomon in a dream by night” (v. 5a). Accounts of people receiving revelation by dreams and visions are common in both testaments (Genesis 20:3, 6; 31:10, 24; 37:5, 9; Judges 7:13; 1 Samuel 3; Daniel 2:4; 7:1; Matthew 1:20; 2:12, 19, 22; 27:19).
“Ask what I shall give you” (v. 5b). This is the kind of offer that people dream about—an open-ended offer of assistance by an almighty being. It is the kind of offer that unveils the heart of the recipient. We might ask for money—or health—or long life—or a bevy of beautiful virgins—or a plague on our enemies. It is rather like hearing that we have won the lottery. Our choices will reveal our true character.
We should note that Jesus makes a similar invitation to his disciples, saying, “Ask, and it will be given you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened for you” (Matthew 7:7; see also Luke 11:9; John 16:24).
Yahweh implies that he will give Solomon whatever Solomon wants, but that is not explicit. It seems possible that Yahweh will deny Solomon his wish if Solomon fails to ask well—or that Yahweh could even punish Solomon for a truly foolish request.
Yahweh will appear again to Solomon in chapters 9 and 11. Those will be the last times that Yahweh “will appear or speak directly” to an Israelite king (Fretheim, 31).
“You have shown to your servant David my father great loving kindness, according as he walked before you in truth, and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with you. You have kept for him this great loving kindness, that you have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day” (v. 6). In his response to Yahweh’s generous offer, Solomon begins well by recounting Yahweh’s love for David and Yahweh’s generosity in allowing Solomon to sit on the throne.
“Now, Yahweh my God, you have made your servant king instead of David my father” (v. 7a). Solomon continues well by taking a humble stance before Yahweh—by acknowledging that he is a servant king—a servant of the true king, Yahweh. His humility is fitting.
“I am but a little child” (v. 7b). “The reference to tender youth is certainly a convention and an exaggeration because, after forty years of rule, Solomon is said to have had a forty-one-year-old son (11:42, 14:21), and hence had to have been a married adult at the time of his accession” (Devries). However, Solomon is young—probably about 20 years old—and has inherited the mantle from his father, a truly great king. He is assuming the leadership role formerly occupied by Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and David (House, 110). He has big shoes to fill.
“I don’t know how to go out or come in” (v. 7c). People elevated to high positions often feel this kind of “lostness.” Where should they start? Whom can they trust? While Solomon had ample time to contemplate this moment, assuming the throne of his father has to bring him pause.
“Your servant is in the midst of your people which you have chosen, a great people, that can’t be numbered nor counted for multitude” (v. 8). Solomon further notes the tremendous scope of the job—providing leadership for a people so numerous that they cannot even be counted.
“Give your servant therefore an understanding heart (lēḇˊ šō∙mēˊ∙˓ǎ—a listening heart) to judge your people, that I may discern between good and evil; for who is able to judge this your great people?” (v. 9). When Solomon requests Yahweh to give him a listening heart, he doesn’t specify whether he expects to listen to Yahweh or to the people—but a good ruler needs to do both—and in that order.
Wisdom in the Bible is more practical than philosophical. “A musician displays wisdom in making music, a parent in training and guiding children…. Carried out with wisdom, politics is a craft, the product of which is social harmony and beauty” (Leithart, 43, 45; see also Longman, 223).
In this context, Solomon’s request for “an understanding heart” is a request to understand God’s will as well as the practical matters of political leadership. Solomon wants to do well as king, and understands that he needs God’s help to do that.
1 KINGS 3:10-14. IT PLEASED THE LORD THAT SOLOMON HAD ASKED THIS
10The speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing. 11God said to him, “Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked for yourself long life, neither have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice (Hebrew: ha·bin·lis·moa mis·pat– to hear understanding judgment); 12behold, I have done according to your word. Behold, I have given you a wise and an understanding heart (Hebrew: leb – heart); so that there has been none like you before you, neither after you shall any arise like you. 13I have also given you that which you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that there shall not be any among the kings like you, all your days. 14If you will walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.”
“The speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing” (v. 10). Solomon could have disappointed Yahweh by making selfish requests, but instead manifests a concern for the task to which Yahweh has appointed him and the people whom Yahweh has entrusted to his care. This pleases Yahweh.
“Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked for yourself long life, neither have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice” (hā∙ḇîn liš∙mōa˓ˊ miš∙pāṭˊ– to hear understanding judgment) (v. 11). Yahweh lists some of the selfish requests that Solomon could have made and commends him for asking instead “to discern justice”. Note that Yahweh revises Solomon’s request. Instead of “a listening heart,” Yahweh interprets Solomon to be requesting “understanding to discern justice.”
“behold, I have done according to your word. Behold, I have given you a wise and an understanding heart; so that there has been none like you before you, neither after you shall any arise like you” (v. 12). Yahweh further revises Solomon’s request by granting wisdom—”a wise and understanding heart” (or heart). Solomon’s wisdom will be a gift from Yahweh rather than something acquired through innate ability and/or experience.
“I have also given you that which you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that there shall not be any among the kings like you, all your days” (v. 13). Because Solomon did not ask selfishly, Yahweh promises to grant him the riches and honors that Solomon had not requested. Yahweh also promises to grant him paramount status among the kings.
“If you will walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days” (v. 14). When Yahweh established his covenant with David, he promised, “When your days are fulfilled, and you shall sleep with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who shall proceed out of your bowels, and I will establish his kingdom…and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever…If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men; but my loving kindness shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before you. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:12-16).
Now Yahweh gives that unconditional promise a conditional element. If Solomon is to enjoy a long life, he must obey Yahweh’s statutes and commandments. As we shall see later in 1 Kings, Solomon will too often fail to use the wisdom that he has been given. He will succumb to his love for foreign wives and will too often sin and worship false gods. As a result, he will reign over Israel only forty years (11:42), which suggests that he died when he was about 60 years old. Following his death, a rebellion will take place that will split the kingdom in two.
1 KINGS 3:16-28. POSTSCRIPT
These verses confirm Solomon’s wisdom. They tell the story of two women who gave birth at about the same time. One baby died and the other lived. Both women claim the live baby as their own and ask Solomon to resolve their dispute. In this situation there is no way for Solomon to determine with certainty which woman is the true mother of the living child, so he proposes using a sword to split the child in two so that both mothers can have half. One woman accepts that solution, but the other one agrees to surrender possession of the child so that the child might live. Solomon identifies the woman who is willing to surrender possession as the real mother and gives the child to her.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Brueggemann, Walter, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: 1 & 2 Kings (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Incorporated, 2000)
Devries, Simon J., Word Biblical Commentary: 1 Kings, Vol. 12 (Dallas, Word Books, 2003)
Dilday, Russell H., The Preacher’s Commentary: 1 & 2 Kings (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1987)
Fretheim, Terence E., Westminster Bible Companion: 1-2 Kings (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999)
Hens-Piazza, Gina, Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries: 1-2 Kings (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006)
Hinton, Linda B., Basic Bible Commentary: First and Second Kings (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1988)
House, Paul R., New American Commentary: 1, 2 Kings, Vol. 8 (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995)
Inrig, Gary, Holman Old Testament Commentary: I & II Kings (Nashville: Holman Reference, 2003)
Leithart, Peter, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible: 1 & 2 Kings (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006)
Longman, Tremper III, in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text. The First Readings: The Old Testament and Acts (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)
Nelson, Richard D., Interpretation Commentary: I and II Kings (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1987)
Newsome, James, in Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV — Year B (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993)
Provan, Iain W., New International Biblical Commentary: 1 and 2 Kings (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1995)
Seow, Choon-Leong, The New Interpreters Bible: 1-2 Kings, Vol. III (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999)
Smith, Norman H. (Exegesis) and Sockman, Ralph W. (Exposition), The Interpreter’s Bible: Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Job (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1954)
Tucker, Gene M. in Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993)
Wiseman, Donald J., Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, 1 & 2 Kings (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993)
Copyright 2007, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan