The theme of Solomon's wisdom is common in Kings (3:28; 4:29-34; 5:7, 12; 10:4, 7, 8, 23-24). In a dream, God says to Solomon, "Ask what I should give you" (v. 5), and Solomon, modestly, requests "an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil" (v. 9). Obviously this is meant to portray Solomon as a wise and just ruler, attuned to the will of God. While this is undoubtedly true, the tragic end of Solomon's story has raised questions even about his early reign:
• Is Solomon's modest claim of innocence (not youth, he was at least twenty by this time), "I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in" (v. 7), entirely apt considering the cold-blooded elimination of his political rivals (2:13-46)?
• Is God's approval of Solomon's refusal to ask for the life of his enemies (3:11) somewhat ironic? Solomon certainly didn't ask permission to kill them on his way up; besides, who remains?
The closing verse in which Solomon responds in religiously appropriate ways conveys the impression that the book of Kings sees Solomon as a wise and just ruler, blessed by God. The careful reader will remember that the seeds of the king's destruction have already been sown in God's gift of what Solomon did not ask for: his wealth and honor which attracted the foreign marriages that ultimately led him astray (v. 13).
4The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt-offerings on that altar. 5At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, Ask what I should give you. 6And Solomon said, You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart towards you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. 7And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?
10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11God said to him, Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. 13I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honour all your life; no other king shall compare with you. 14If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.
15 Then Solomon awoke; it had been a dream. He came to Jerusalem, where he stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. He offered up burnt-offerings and offerings of well-being, and provided a feast for all his servants.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org