Portrait of Solomon, the Wise King
Solomon is known to be the wisest and the wealthiest king of Israel according to the Old Testament and Hebrew Bible. He established “the golden age” for the people of Israel after he took the throne in 970 B.C. His journey of leadership began when God granted him anything that he asked for in his dream. He wished to be the wisest of all to preserve fairness and truthfulness in him as a leader.
Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for — both wealth and honor — so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings (I Kings 3:10-13, NIV).
The Judgement of Solomon
Scripture illustrates the wisdom and justice of Solomon with the story of two women as it is also depicted in the painting by Floris above. One of the two women gave birth to a dead infant while the other had a healthy one. The woman who had the dead infant switched the babies. Yet, when both of the women claimed that they gave birth to a living infant, Solomon used his wisdom to figure the real mother out. He demanded his sword to cut the living infant into two to satisfy both of the mothers. While the real mother was trying to stop Solomon and screaming that “please, my Lord, give her the living child, and do not put it to death, for she is his mother!” (I Kings 3:26, NIV), the other woman was happy to have at least the half of the infant. Then, Solomon proved who the real mother was. However, it is said that Solomon knew who the real mother was as soon as he saw them since he was blessed with wisdom.
With the blessings of God, the reign of Solomon began so thrivingly that his wisdom, wealth, judgement and appellation went beyond Israel. Until 930 B.C. when he died and his kingdom failed and divided. During his time he accomplished being one of the greatest kings of all time: he was the builder of the First Temple that he dedicated all of his wealth, he was teaching his people medical cures for planting and their health, and the country was prosperous and in peace with his wisdom as the key for his judgement. However, his wisdom was questioned by God when the Queen of Sheba paid him a visit. The name of Sheba is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible for the first time and she is considered to be a legendary queen of Yemen by historians. After her visit to Solomon to test his wisdom, she was so impressed that she gifted Solomon with 120 talents of gold. This gift sparked the failure of Solomon right after.
The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon
Solomon’s greed got ahead of his wisdom thanks to the gifts of Sheba; he invested more time and money in the palace he built for himself than he did in the Temple. “By investing more time on his own home than the Temple, he made clear which one was more valued to him” (Friedman, 2019, p. 6). He failed to comprehend his sins in spite of his wisdom and his greed was being nourished day by day. He desired to build himself a throne that no king had had before, he became obsessed with horses and imported the best ones from all over the world; in brief, he invested more in worldly pleasures rather than following God. However, the failure of Solomon as the wisest leader was not based on solely his desire for personal wealth. He also acquired 1000 wives for himself from different nations with different religions. In the end, they turned Solomon’s heart after their own gods.
Consequently, even though Solomon was blessed as the wisest to rule his kingdom when God appeared to him, he could not use his blessing wisely. He failed as a leader by investing too much in worldly pleasures rather than following the tenets of the Lord of God: he could not preserve fairness as a leader; instead, he burdened people with taxes, he could not control his greed and spent all of his wealth on his palace, his throne and his horses, and he acquired many wives by breaking his promise to God. When he kept his eyes off of God and his people and got lost in his worldly pleasures, he broke the Sinai covenant aiming to free the Jewish people and have them follow the laws of God. After his death, his reign was taken by his son Rehoboam and King Solomon became a biblical figure that several lessons might be taken.
Cohen, B. C. (1998). The Brilliant Wisdom of King Solomon. JLaw.com. Retrieved from http://www.jlaw.com/Commentary/solomon.html
Friedman, H & Friedman, L. (2019) "What Went Wrong? Lessons in Leadership from Solomon, the Bible’s Wisest and Worst Ruler" The Journal of Values-Based Leadership: Vol. 12: Iss. 1, Article 5. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.22543/0733.121.1237
Holy Bible-New International Version (NIV). Bible Gateway. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Kings%203%3A10-13&version=NIV (Original Work Published 1973).
Kass, L. R. (2003). The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis. New York: Free Press.
Miriam Ma’at-Ka-Re Monges. (2002). The Queen of Sheba and Solomon: Exploring the Shebanization of Knowledge. Journal of Black Studies, 33(2), 235–246. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3180936
Wells, B. W. (1921). How Solomon Was Wise. The Sewanee Review, 29(4), 449–466. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27533472
Floris, Frans I. (1547). The Judgement of Solomon. [Painting]. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frans_Floris_(I)_-_Het_oordeel_van_Salomo,_de_twee_moeders_komen_voor_Salomo_en_ruzi%C3%ABn_met_elkaar_(1_Koningen_3-16-22)_-_663_-_Royal_Museum_of_Fine_Arts_Antwerp.jpg#/media/File:Frans_Floris_(I)_-_Het_oordeel_van_Salomo,_de_twee_moeders_komen_voor_Salomo_en_ruzi%C3%ABn_met_elkaar_(1_Koningen_3-16-22)_-_663_-_Royal_Museum_of_Fine_Arts_Antwerp.jpg
Fontana, L. (1599). The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon. [Oil on canvas]. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgallery.ie/art-and-artists/highlights-collection/visit-queen-sheba-king-solomon-lavinia-fontana-1552-1614
Pesaro, G. (1670). Portrait of Solomon, the Wise King. [Oil on canvas]. Retrieved from https://www.antichitacastelbarco.it/en/product/ritratto-del-re-salomone-venanzi