Leaving A Good Legacy (The “wisdom of Solomon” … Really?)

I think a lot about finishing well and legacy-leaving these days. I really want to live here in such away that when I leave here it’s a little bit better place than it was before I left. When I die I don’t want people whispering, “Good riddance! Blessed extraction! Don’t let the door hit you in the back!” I was thinking that the best way to have a “good legacy” is to avoid having a bad one! Many years ago I read an article by a young pastor whose dad (also a pastor) gave him, at his request, some simple sage advice. Its title, the same as the advice, was “Don’t do anything stupid!” In other words, in order to leave a good legacy you don’t have to do anything heroic; just don’t do anything horrific! Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will be remembered more for their doping than for their playing, and Pete Rose for his gambling addiction than for his batting average.

I got to thinking that it’s character that separates the good from the bad legacy. Someone defined character as, “… the ability to follow up on a decision long after the emotion of making that decision has worn off.” As I mused more, I realized that the word often used in the Bible for good moral character is “wisdom.” I don’t remember if I devised this definition of wisdom or stole it from someone else, but anyway, I think wisdom is “The discernment to know how to live and the discipline to live that way.”

It’s ironic that the most vivid example and vocal proponent of wisdom in the Bible is David’s son, Solomon. The irony is that this celebrated king of Israel was injected with wisdom at the beginning of his rule, went on to live as unwisely as any of the Jewish rulers, and then wound up writing most of the books we call the “Wisdom Literature” in the Bible (Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes).  Let’s do a tiny sample size of Solomon’s life and writing and see if we can’t sort this out…

Wisdom inserted into Solomon…

God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, possessions or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king. 2 Chronicles 1:11

God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else… And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. 1 Kings 4:29-31

Wisdom ignored by Solomon…

King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love.  He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray.  As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.  He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites.  So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done. 1 Kings 11:1-6

Wisdom endorsed by Solomon…

Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse, who have left the straight paths to walk in dark ways, who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil, whose paths are crooked and who are devious in their ways. Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman, from the wayward woman with her seductive words, 
who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God. Surely her house leads down to death and her paths to the spirits of the dead. None who go to her return or attain the paths of life.

Thus you will walk in the ways of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous. For the upright will live in the land, and the blameless will remain in it; but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the unfaithful will be torn from it.Proverbs 2:12-22

Two kinds of wisdom…

It’s bothered me for some time that if Solomon was such a wise man, how he could be such an idiot on a moral level! As I understand it, truly wise people, as I said above, are by definition, morally sound. He was anything but morally sound. Plus, how could he have written such astute counsel on wise living when he himself lived so foolishly? Unless I’m mistaken, the answer has something to do with two different kinds of wisdom, which Solomon received and displayed– one that God gave him at the beginning of his kingship and the other that he gradually acquired following years of hedonistic experimentation.

  • There’s the kind of wisdom that we can ask for, which may arrive in an instant, and which helps us know how to discern a particular course, do a certain task, or meet a specific challenge. This wisdom has mostly to do with prudent decision-making but might have little to nothing to do with moral excellence.
  • Then there’s the kind of wisdom that we develop over time (not as an instant infusion) through trial and error, through enduring difficulty, through wrestling with God and our sinful nature, and through deciding to follow God’s ways. This wisdom is primarily a moral and spiritual quality, which helps us live in a sensible and godly way, and as such, will affect our ability to make good decisions based on our gradually acquired good moral values.

Solomon received the first kind of wisdom as an immediate infusion at the beginning of his kingship. He asked for it and God gave him the kind of wisdom enabled him to run the country judiciously and become famous. During those early years he was wise as a king but a fool as a man. He had the wisdom to rule well, but lacked the wisdom to live well. Solomon’s greed and lust ran rampant, he slept with about 999 women too many, worshipped their pagan gods, and lived in gross luxury. He knew how to govern the nation but had no concept of how to govern himself. He was a good king, but not a good person! Does this sound at all familiar? I mean this is all too common, especially for highly gifted leaders and persons in public service of whatever sort. We’ve known presidents and preachers who possess this kind of wisdom, whose administrations or companies or ministries are successful while their lives are a wreck. They’re famous in the public eye and yet foolish before God!

It’s the “good person” sort of wisdom to which James refers…

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you… Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom…
 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  James 1:2-5; 3:13, 17

Though the Bible is silent on how and when he acquired the integrity kind of wisdom, it’s clear from his remarkable counsel in the “Wisdom Literature” that Solomon eventually did a spiritual and moral 180º. After experimenting with everything “under the sun” (one of his favorite phrases in Ecclesiastes) and failing to achieve the “good life” he was looking for, apparently he ultimately came to his senses and got back to living a wise and obedient life before God. He developed the wisdom not only to rule well, but to live well. He started out as a good king (in the political sense) and later became a good man (in the moral and spiritual sense). Make sense?

A good legacy and the wise, well-lived life…

It’s good person that leaves a good legacy, the kind I’m hoping to leave. Pray for me, for your friends, for yourself – to leave such a legacy.

 

 

 

 

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