Every time I read through the Bible I notice something I had not seen before. Last year I read again the historical books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles. This time something struck me that I had not noticed in previous readings. At the beginning of I Kings 3 we read that “Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father” (I Kings 3:3). Shortly thereafter we read of God appearing to Solomon in a dream, asking him what he wants from God. Solomon asks him for “an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil” (I Kings 3:9). God is pleased at this request, promising Solomon that “if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days” (I Kings 3:14).
Then we read the familiar story of Solomon’s judgement between two prostitutes, each of whom claimed the same baby as son (I Kings 3:16-28). One had rolled over her own baby in her sleep, inadvertently suffocating him. Seeing this, she had taken the other woman’s child and replaced him with the lifeless body of her own. When the other woman awoke, she knew at once what had happened, but the other woman denied it. The case came before the king, who had to decide between the two.
Possessing a deep understanding of maternal psychology, Solomon posed a test, proposing that the living child be cut in two with each half being given to each claimant. The real mother objected out of compassion for her son, and Solomon knew at once that the child was hers. The text tells us that “all Israel heard of the judgement which the king had rendered; and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to render justice” (I Kings 3:28).
What stood out for me at this most recent reading is that Solomon failed to consult the law, the Torah, before making his decision. This is not an inconsequential omission. True, by God’s grace his judgement turned out to be just. But could it be that, as a result of this obviously right decision, Solomon came to take his own wisdom for granted? Might he have come to assume that he could rule wisely without God’s law?
The text does not explicitly say this, but there are clues to this effect to come. Indeed, thereafter we read very few references at all to the law, except when the author notes that (1) David had “observed my commands and statutes” (I Kings 11:34), (2) God had warned the people to keep his law (II Kings 17:13), and (3) the people had failed to do so (II Kings 17:34).
Not until II Kings 22 do we find an indication that a king of Judah or Israel paid any attention to the law or even knew what it was. By the time godly Josiah came on the scene it had been long forgotten. What had begun centuries earlier with a supremely wise king making a just decision without reference to the law had developed into a pattern of self-reliance that had become habitual. The end result was rampant evil and injustice, which had led to the destruction of the northern kingdom, a fate the southern kingdom of Judah would soon come to share.
What if Solomon had kept close to the law? What if he, like the author(s) of Psalm 119, had become steeped in the law and had learnt to love it? His example might have been passed down to his successors, who would have ruled justly. Nevertheless, despite their wickedness, God in his grace saw fit to provide through their line a Messiah, whose resurrection we celebrate during the Easter season.