Dive into the books of Israel’s wisest king, King Solomon. There is so much to discover about how to live wisely and honor God.
Jon: In the story of the Bible, King Solomon was the wisest ruler that Israel ever had.
Tim: And there are three books in the Hebrew Scriptures connected to him: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. They pass down the legacy of Solomon’s wisdom but in a surprising way.
Jon: So let’s talk about how to read the books of Solomon.
Tim: Okay. To really appreciate the story of Solomon’s wisdom, we have to go back to the garden of Eden.
Jon: Where God created humanity, male and female.1
Tim: Right. Adam and Eve. And God commissions them to rule the world together in intimacy and love.
Jon: Kings and queens of creation. Now in order to rule, you need to be wise, and the humans have a choice about how to gain wisdom.
Tim: Yeah. They could live by God’s wisdom, which will lead to life, or they could become wise in their own eyes.
Jon: And that’s what they choose—to take the knowledge of good and bad into their own hands. 2
Tim: And immediately the intimacy between man and woman is broken. They hide their bodies from each other and then from God. Jon: Their choice leads to division and death.
Tim: But the story holds out hope for a future human who will make the right choice and rely on God’s wisdom.
Jon: Like King Solomon! He prayed that God would give him the knowledge to know good from bad, so he could rule with true wisdom.3
Tim: Exactly. He reverses the failure of Adam and Eve, and it leads to abundance. In Solomon’s day, every Israelite sat in peace under their own fruit tree.
Jon: Oh, it’s like he’s creating Eden!
Tim: Well for a while, but then Solomon fails. He marries hundreds of women from other nations, and he’s deceived to follow their gods.4
Jon: And this begins Israel’s long descent into self-destruction.
Tim: And so when we turn to the books of Solomon, we’re invited to learn wisdom from his successes and his failures.
Jon: Got it. So let’s start with Proverbs.
Tim: Okay, so the book of Proverbs is most well-known for the hundreds of short, memorable sayings that teach us how to live by God’s wisdom.
Jon: Like, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and don’t be wise in your own eyes.”5
Tim: In Proverbs, living by God’s wisdom instead of your own is called “the fear of the Lord,” like in the book’s opening paragraph. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”6
Jon: Now Proverbs isn’t just memorable sayings. It actually begins with a lot of poetry.
Tim: Yes. Nine chapters of speeches from Solomon to his royal sons. He tells them to pursue God’s wisdom, which is symbolized as an elegant woman.
Jon: Wisdom is a woman?
Tim: Yes! So remember in the garden of Eden, the man and the woman’s intimacy was violated by their failed search for wisdom. But now in Proverbs, humans who reunite with God’s wisdom become what Adam and Eve failed to be, wise human rulers. Proverbs 3 even says that when we embrace Lady Wisdom, we are taking hold of the tree of life.7
Jon: Now we’re the ones in the garden.
Tim: Exactly. Proverbs is saying that every day we all stand before the tree with our own choice to make. And Solomon urges us, choose wisdom and life.
Jon: Got it. So how does Ecclesiastes fit into Solomon’s story?
Tim: Well in this book, it’s like we are meeting Solomon near the end of his life, and he offers some sober reflections.
Jon: Life is hevel.
Tim: That’s the Hebrew word for “vapor,” or “smoke,” which is unpredictable and uncontrollable. And he’s constantly talking about life “under the sun,” that is, life outside of the garden––how it’s confusing and difficult.
Jon: Right. Even when I live by God’s wisdom, life can be full of disappointments.
Tim: Leading up to the ultimate disappointment: your own death.
Jon: That’s depressing.
Tim: But at the end of the book, he says we should strive to live by wisdom and the fear of the Lord just with more realistic expectations.
Jon: Got it. Well maybe the next book will cheer us up: the Song of Songs, a love poem between a man and woman. And it’ll make you blush.
Tim: Yeah. On its basic level of meaning this book is racy Hebrew love poetry. But remember in Proverbs, humanity’s pursuit of wisdom was portrayed with the symbolism of a man pursuing a woman in a garden.
Jon: But in this song it’s the woman who’s searching and longing for her lover.
Tim: Yes! It’s a poetic image of Lady Wisdom pursuing us so that we can have life. In fact, the song ends with a poem about how this lady’s love is more powerful than death itself.
Jon: So the song works on two levels. It’s celebrating human’s desire for intimacy.
Tim: And saying that that desire points to humanity’s ultimate purpose: to be united with God and his wisdom.
Jon: So we can rule united with each other.
Tim: Exactly. This is why the song ends with the man and the woman united in love under a fruit tree.
Jon: So the story of Solomon and these three books invite us to see ourselves within the whole biblical story.
Tim: Yes. They’re about how God designed all of us to rule the world by his wisdom so that we can all find true life.