The wisest man who ever lived was a failure. Solomon, who built the great temple of the Lord and ruled during Israel’s Golden Age, was renowned for his God-given wisdom (1 Kings 10:1). He was king to a nation, father to his own sons, and a father figure to the sons of Israel.1 He even wrote three books of the Old Testament.2 How could one so blessed be a failure? Solomon’s proverbs give the answer and point us to a Christian’s greatest blessing.
The book of Proverbs is not isolated from the rest of Scripture, as if it contained a separate wisdom. Neither is it isolated from God’s other promises to His people. On the contrary, in Proverbs, King Solomon constantly alludes to the wisdom and promises revealed throughout God’s Word, referring to his own knowledge of already-existing Scripture.
Knowing God’s Word
Let’s consider a few comparisons. Solomon begins by reminding us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, echoing Moses’s proclamation to Israel that the fear of God would keep them from sin (Proverbs 1:7; Exodus 20:20). He reminds us that the upright inhabit the land and those with integrity remain in it, just as Moses had proclaimed when Israel was preparing to enter the Promised Land (Proverbs 2:22; Deuteronomy 6:1–3). Solomon also reminds Israel that success and blessing are not given to those who selfishly pursue them, but to those who obey God’s Word (Proverbs 3:1–4; Deuteronomy 6:1–3; Joshua 1:7).
Clearly Solomon takes his roles as both king and father very seriously. He understands the importance of obeying the Lord and His Word and is passionate about passing that message along to his own sons and the children of Israel. Repeatedly, he implores his sons to listen that they may obey God’s wisdom (e.g., Proverbs 3:1; 4:1; 4:20; and 5:1). He emphasizes the blessing of obedience (e.g., Proverbs 3:13–26) and warns against the dangers of disobedience.
God instructs kings not to put their faith in the size of their armies or in their wealth, but to keep a copy of God’s Word and read it all of their lives.
In all this, Solomon reiterates instruction God had given to both parents and kings before Israel entered the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 6:4–9 tells parents that loving the Lord with all of our heart, soul, and mind will reveal itself in our passion to teach God’s Word to our children. God’s Word is to be in our heart, repeated to our children, and talked about when we sit, walk, lie down, and get up. It is to be bound on our hands to remind us of the purpose of our works and upon our foreheads to remind us of the filter through which we should see the world. God’s Word is to be on our doorposts defining our homes, and on our gates, both guarding our homes and providing the message we should take into our community.
In Deuteronomy 17:14–20 God instructs kings not to put their faith in the size of their armies or in their wealth, but to keep a copy of God’s Word and read it all of their lives. They are to learn to fear God, to stay true to His commands, and not to exalt themselves so that they might rule well. It is clear that Solomon understood and taught these instructions thoroughly and creatively to Israel. It is also evident that he became a hypocrite. He disobeyed these truths and failed his own words.
Living God’s Word
According to 1 Kings, Solomon accumulated wealth for his own purposes (1 Kings 10:14–23); he imported a great army of the best horses (1 Kings 10:26–29); and he built a great harem of women and became idolatrous (1 Kings 11:1–6). The contrast between Solomon’s teachings and his life clearly shows that even with the greatest wisdom, humanity fails. We can know absolute truth and yet deny it in practice. In this respect, we are all hypocrites.
There is only one person who has lived perfectly, Jesus Christ. Paul writes, “But it is from Him [God] that you are in Christ Jesus, who became God-given wisdom for us—our righteousness, sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30, HCSB). Only in Jesus, who is both the lawgiver and law keeper and who suffered our penalty for sin on the Cross, can we be saved from our Solomon-like hypocrisy.
How can parents and Christian leaders avoid Solomon’s failure?
- We must be committed to infusing God’s Word into our hearts and minds every day.
- We must find every way possible to teach God’s Word to our children and those we lead, and look for every opportunity to help them understand the biblical worldview.
- When we teach God’s law, we must not reduce it to a legalistic set of standards but show how God’s standards reveal our sin and point us to our Savior, Jesus.
- When we do fail, we should first repent and then humbly use our disobedience to teach our children that all fall short and must rely on the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. If we are more concerned for the gospel than for our own reputation, our children will see Christ above our hypocrisy.
- Read 1 Kings 3:5–14. Do you think these verses indicate that Solomon saw real repentance in his father David? Why?
- Why did God grant Solomon his request?
- Expand upon the comparison of Proverbs 1:7 and Exodus 20:20.
- What are some practical ways you can live out Deuteronomy 6:4–9 in your home?
- Describe Solomon’s failings according to Deuteronomy 17:14–20 and 1 Kings 10:14–11:6.
- How does human failure point us to Christ? Give an example of a way you might use a personal failure as a means to point your kids to Christ.
- How does knowing Christ give us true hope despite our hopeless condition? See 1 Corinthians 1:30–31.
- When Solomon focused on his wealth and position (including amassing a large harem), he turned away from God and by his hypocrisy and idolatry undermined his godly teaching. How do we recognize when our own concern for respect or reputation gets in the way of the gospel?
- In the future, how might you study Proverbs in a way that points people to their need for Christ rather than simply moral principles to live by?