Saul Weeps, David Dances, And Solomon Judges

How is wisdom understood biblically?

In Chapter Two of 1st Kings, the newly crowned King Solomon, son of David, asks the Lord for wisdom. He wants to be able to “discern between good and bad” with foresight and moral knowledge. The Lord responds by giving Solomon a wise and understanding heart unlike any other before or after him, that is, so long as he keeps the commandments of the Lord.

In order to justify his wisdom, Solomon must commit acts of demonstration to the people. He is not in pursuit of wisdom for its own sake, as a philosopher, but rather he possesses wisdom, and like a possession he can display it to the people. He is still a political man. In addition, it should be noted that wisdom comes as a gift from God, rather than emerging from the efforts of humans. Perhaps this is contradictory to the words of Socrates in Plato’s Meno.

Solomon uses the Lord’s gift to compose proverbs and songs for the public to demonstrate his wisdom. Unlike Saul, who had failed as a king and wept as a man while losing his power and favor with the Lord, and David who was a great leader and dancer among the people despite his personal moral shortcomings, Solomon yearns to be a philosopher-king, though he cannot escape the bind of theology on his kingship. Following Solomon’s rule, Israel is troubled by Rehoboam and Jeroboam as they battle for power, not unlike the disaster that befalls King Lear’s kingdom in Shakespeare. Unlike David, Solomon fails in his ultimate act of transferring power to future generations by failing to appropriately name a successor, in the manner of David.

For this reading I used Robert Alter’s masterful translation as well as the King James Version.

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