He was only a boy. The historian Josephus says Solomon was 14; another tradition says he was only 12. Whatever age it was, he was young to become king, just an adolescent. He knew he was in a precarious position. His own parentage was tainted, in that his father had started an adulterous affair with his mother, and the older brother who had been born from that liaison had died. His father did marry his mother, once he had had her first husband killed. And now his father had chosen him, the boy, to be his successor above all his older brothers. Talk about a dysfunctional family! It wasn’t going to make for an easy reign.
When he was dying, David had summoned Solomon to his bedside for a final talking to. There was no warmth or affection in the farewell, merely a list of scores that needed settling, enemies that needed seeing to. His father intended to rule from the grave. However, there were two throwaway lines in David’s address to Solomon that are interesting. He said, “Act therefore according to your wisdom …” and “you are a wise man”. So there must have been something about him. Maybe the boy had studied hard, learned everything he could. Certainly later on, he would have a reputation for knowing everything about everything.
After he becomes king, Solomon has a dream. In those days, they believed that God could talk to you directly in dreams. In the dream, God invites Solomon to ask for whatever he needs. And Solomon famously asks for wisdom to govern the people and discern between good and evil.
Solomon has a yearning. He wants to be a good king. He wants wisdom to manage the tricky politics of his situation. He wants to know everything there is to know. It is more than just ambition, more than having to prove himself because of his slightly dodgy background. He has a hunger. We see this hunger later in the book ascribed to him: the Song of Solomon.
He wants to discern good and evil. We’ve heard that phrase before in the Bible, and it takes us back to the story of Adam and Eve. Eve had that yearning too. She wanted to know about good and evil and she ate the apple from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And then she was ashamed. Solomon starts off in the innocence of Eden, but where is life going to take him?
The Song of Songs, or Song of Solomon, is a beautiful love poem. You can read it as a song about loving God and wanting to know God better, or you can hear it as a love song about a man and a woman. It is about intimacy, intimacy with the Lord or intimacy between a couple. Solomon yearned for intimacy, for loving closeness and companionship. And there’s nothing wrong with that yearning – it’s what you do with it that matters.
Solomon’s yearning is reflected in his relationships – he had a lot of wives and concubines. Not all of them were political contracts! He just couldn’t help himself. He was driven. Maybe he was addicted to the joy of falling in love. Maybe it boosted his ego to have so many beautiful and adoring women around him. He was so taken up with the wives and girlfriends that God took a back seat in his attention.
Was that wise, really? The king who had built up such a reputation on his wisdom, was not wise as far his relationships were concerned. And that undermined his reign.
Almost a thousand years later, another son of David arrives on the scene, just when everyone is yearning for someone to come and save them from the oppression of foreign nations and bring them back to the golden days when David and Solomon ruled over them. This son of David is not a king on a throne, but he talks of a kingdom.
The kingdom of heaven is not like the kingdoms of David and Solomon. It’s about living God’s way, living with God in charge, living faithfully.
And when Jesus tells stories about the kingdom, he is talking about a yearning. His stories are about people who catch a glimpse of something they really really want, and they go for it, making the treasure or the pearl the priority. He is saying to us: go for it, put the kingdom of heaven first in your lives. Not like Solomon who supposedly had wisdom, but got distracted by other hungers.
And in Jesus’ stories, the kingdom starts small, insignificant, unnoticeable, but it spreads and grows and becomes something amazing. The kingdom starts when we do small things for God and the small things grow and thrive.
The kingdom of heaven is where we find true wisdom, where our longing for God and our longing for intimacy are put into action and become something tangible. The pearl of wisdom is the pearl of great price – we give up everything we have just to possess it.
The kingdom of heaven is not about a dead king wanting his son to make sure that his enemies are smashed. The kingdom of heaven is where our enemies are forgiven, where our enemies are given a chance to flourish themselves. At the end, good and bad will all be sorted out, but that’s God’s responsibility, not ours. In the meantime, we must dream the kingdom into every corner of our lives, into every part of our communities, into every corner of our world. And when we have hungered for it, when we have imagined it, then we work with God to make it happen. That is God’s wisdom, the kingdom of heaven.