Summary: Solomon’s mistakes were that he started out well, but did not end well, he was a minimalist and he allowed his strength to become his weakness.
Have you see the bumper sticker that says, “I took an IQ test and the results were negative”? Sometimes very intelligent people can get very negative results on their IQ tests. For instance, people are paid a lot of money to write the things that appear on the packages and products we buy. But a bag of Fritos recently said, “You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside.” This warning appeared on a clothes iron: “Do not iron clothes on body.” A bottle of children’s cough medicine said, “Do not drive car or operate machinery after use.” And a bottle of Nytol said, “Warning: may cause drowsiness.” They actually pay people to come up with this stuff.
There is a name for this: sophomore. It comes from two Greek words: sophos, from which we get the word “sophist,” meaning wise, and moros from which we get the word “moron,” meaning fool. In other words, a sophomore is a “a wise fool” (present company of second year high school students excluded). A sophomore is a person who has just enough knowledge to be dangerous. They don’t have enough education to realize how much they don’t know. Solomon was a wise fool. He was the wisest man on earth, but failed to realize he did not know it all. Last week I talked about king David and asked, “How can a good person be so bad?” This week I thought about asking the question, “How can a smart person be so dumb?”
In thinking about Solomon, we might wonder if he was too smart for his own good because, as wise as Solomon was, he made several serious mistakes. The first mistake we will talk about was: He started well, but he did not finish well. We have all seen the runners who burst into the lead in a race and then did not have the stamina to finish the race. The world is filled with people who were voted “most likely to succeed” who crashed and burned shortly after takeoff from school. Many people are good at starting things, but not so good at finishing things. The Bible talks often about the importance of finishing well. One I like says, “One who puts on his armor should not boast like one who takes it off” (1 Kings 20:11). Jesus said, “He who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13). Toward the end of his life the apostle Paul was able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
Think of what Solomon was like in the beginning. God visited him in a dream and told him to ask for anything his heart desired and it would be his. He could have asked for riches or fame, but instead he asked the Lord for wisdom to rule his people. He wanted to be a good king. And because Solomon’s request pleased the Lord, he not only gave him great wisdom, but he gave him riches and fame as well. Solomon wrote the bulk of the book of Proverbs, the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. He wrote Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon and part of the book of Psalms. He had a lot to say about how to live wisely, but he failed to follow his own advise. When he wrote the book of Proverbs, he said: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline” (Proverbs 1:7). But he stopped fearing the Lord and he despised discipline. He became a wise fool.
His wisdom is best illustrated in the famous story of the two prostitutes. These two women lived together and both had newborn infants. They slept with their babies at their side, but during the night one of them rolled on top of her baby and smothered it. When she awoke she saw that her baby was dead so she switched her dead child with the living child of the other woman. Both came to Solomon claiming that the living child was hers. Today we could solve it with a simple DNA test. But in that day it took the wisdom of Solomon. He paused just before calling for a sword. Then he said, “Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other” (1 Kings 3:2). The Bible says that the real mother immediately cried out and said, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!” But the other said, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!” (1 Kings 3:26). Solomon then handed the child to the real mother who would have given him to the other woman rather than have him killed. This story has not been lost in the recent case of Elian Gonzalez, as people are saying that the authorities are going to have to have the wisdom of Solomon to figure out who should be the real parent of the boy. Solomon was very wise. He started out very well, but he did not finish well.