Solomon was the wisest man
In the Bible, and in much of the secular world, Solomon is recognized as having possessed wisdom beyond that of any other man who ever lived. In 1 Chronicles 1:7 (NIV) God spoke to Solomon in a dream and said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” When Solomon asked for wisdom and knowledge (v.10) God was pleased and granted his request.
So, instantly, Solomon became the wisest and most knowledgeable man on the earth – NOT! In verse 12 God said, “therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you.” Notice the FUTURE TENSE “will be given.”
Someone once said, “As long as there are tests, there will be prayer in schools.” How many kids (including me) have wasted their time and then prayed that God would give them instantaneous knowledge to pass a test? But knowledge is almost always acquired through experience and education (study).
Likewise, there is NO INSTANT WISDOM. God promised Solomon that he would acquire great knowledge and have the wisdom to use it. However, God did not specify the means by which Solomon would become wise. God also assured Solomon that He would give him “wealth, riches and honor” but these were not apparent when Solomon awoke from his dream either. Verse 14 says that “Solomon accumulated chariots and horses.” It is only reasonable that Solomon received all of the things God promised (including wisdom and knowledge) – over time and with some effort on Solomon’s part.
In the original Hebrew, the word which our modern Bibles translate as “wisdom” (“chokmah” – Strong’s #02451) is generally defined as “skill.” It is used to describe how craftsmen built the objects of the temple, etc. This same word is also used to describe shrewdness. That is NOT what Godly wisdom is all about. In his own right, Solomon became shrewd and skilled at getting what he wanted. However, earthly wisdom and Godly wisdom are not the same (James 3:13-18).
Solomon wrote the Book of Ecclesiastes to explain how he acquired wisdom. In Chapter 1, verses 12-18, he said,
Ecc 1:12-1813 I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 15 What is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted. 16 I thought to myself, “Look, I have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. 18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.
Notice the particular phrases “under heaven” and “under the sun.” These phrases describe how Solomon (and mankind in general) saw things. (Compare how God must see things, from beyond the sun.) Everything “under the sun” – even wisdom & knowledge – was “meaningless, a chasing after the wind” and ended in sorrow and grief.
In the first eleven chapters of Ecclesiastes, Solomon recounted his many years of trying to understand the world and acquire wisdom (cf. 1:17). He tried pleasure (2:1), alcohol (2:3), community service (2:4), possessions (2:7,8) and a wide array of sexual “delights” (2:8). Solomon said that he did whatever he desired (2:10) and the book describes these escapades in some detail.
Solomon actively studied wisdom – how it is acquired and the resulting value (2:12-16). He even dedicated chapter 7 of the book to the praise of wisdom. However, he realized that both the fool and the wise man die. Therefore, Solomon decided (from his human perspective of things seen “under the sun”)…
Ecc 2:15 Then I thought in my heart, “The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?” I said in my heart, “This too is meaningless.”
If Solomon was so wise, why did he make so many bad decisions? Interestingly, in Ecc 2:9, Solomon said that while he was making all of his ungodly and unwise decisions, “In all this my wisdom stayed with me.” Notice, it was HIS wisdom – not God’s – that guided his decisions.
In Ecclesiastes 11:5 Solomon started seeing things from God’s perspective. He realized that man (if unaided by Godly wisdom) “cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.” And in 12:9-14 he concluded that, rather than to “follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see” (11:9), real wisdom is to “Fear God and keep his commandments” (12:13) while we are young (12:1).
Although that serves well as an overall religious definition, we still need a good WORKING definition of wisdom.
Like the old “serial” programs on the radio & early TV, “Tune in next week to find out if Lucy is killed by the train – or if by some miracle, she survives!” Well, you get the idea.. we will have the definition soon…