In 1 Kings 3, when God asked Solomon what he wanted Him to give him, he asked for wisdom and discernment. God was well pleased with Solomon's answer and replied, "Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you. I have also given you what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that there will not be any among the kings like you all your days. If you walk in My ways, keeping My statutes and commandments, as your father David walked, then I will prolong your days." Therefore, most Christians will rightfully tell you that King Solomon was among the wisest people ever to live.
The remainder of book of 1st Kings and much of 2nd Chronicles is an account of King Solomon's reign after God made this promise. In fact, 2nd Chronicles begins with the statement that "God was with him and exalted him greatly." Those two books indeed record a Kingdom that under his leadership grew into one the likes of which the world had never seen before. It was a time of incredible prosperity. This can plant in our mind the idea that God's intended final outcome of the expression of Solomon's wisdom was a kingdom characterized by "riches and honor." As such, many people read the book of Proverbs with the expectation of applying its wisdom to build such a "kingdom" for themselves.
But what if that is not what God intended?
All Is Vanity
Unfortunately, many if not most Christians stop reading about King Solomon's life and wisdom at the end of the book of Proverbs.
Jesus did not live or teach that a kingdom characterized by Solomon's riches and honor was what He came to give. On the contrary, His teachings about the trappings of striving for riches and honor are clear. That alone should cause us to re-examine how we interpret the final outcome of God's promise to Solomon. What if instead of granting Solomon supernatural wisdom in all matters, He instead granted him a life full of experiences that would lead him to the ultimate discovery of what is produced by properly applied wisdom? This is the conclusion that you will reach if you keep turning the pages after reaching Proverbs Chapter 31 and read the very next words in the Bible:
"The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. 'Vanity of vanities,' says the Preacher, 'Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.'" Ecclesiastes 1:1-2
Beginning in Chapter 1 and continuing throughout the entire book of Ecclesiastes is a record of King Solomon working through a massive case of cognitive dissonance. He lived nearly his entire life believing that the kingdom he built, filled with riches and honor, was the pinnacle of the expression of the wisdom God granted him. Yet as he came to the end of his life, he realized that it was all… vanity, which in the Hebrew means, "emptiness, something transitory and unsatisfactory; a vapor, breath."
You can see Solomon's utter confusion in statements like those found in verses 16-18 of Chapter 1:
"I said to myself, 'Behold, I have magnified and increased wisdom more than all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has observed a wealth of wisdom and knowledge.' And I set my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly; I realized that this also is striving after wind. Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain."
He continues with struggling to sort this out in Chapter 2, verses 12-17:
"So I turned to consider wisdom, madness and folly; for what will the man do who will come after the king except what has already been done? And I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness. The wise man's eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I know that one fate befalls them both. Then I said to myself, 'As is the fate of the fool, it will also befall me. Why then have I been extremely wise?' So I said to myself, 'This too is vanity.' For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool, inasmuch as in the coming days all will be forgotten. And how the wise man and the fool alike die! So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind."
So, are we to conclude from these passages that all wisdom is vanity? No. As you read the book (and I encourage you to do so as soon as you can), you see Solomon working through the reality of the degree to which he misapplied wisdom in his life and the consequences it bore. He begins to separate what is truly important from what is not.
- In Chapter 5, he concludes that abundance, as measured by money, is vanity (v10).
- Basic needs bring peace when you are satisfied by them (v12).
- So does being productive and happy when laboring according to the portion of God's image that he placed in you (v18-20).
- His final conclusion is that all of this is available when you simply love God and obey His commandments (chapter 12).
Solomon's life, studied and understood in the full context of his writings, serves as an indictment on the West's misapplication of the wisdom contained in the book of Proverbs. Over the last one hundred years in particular, the West has taught the rest of the world that the goal is to build a kingdom/nation upon the foundation of an economic system characterized by creating material "riches" and the "honor" associated with its success. In reality, such a kingdom is no different than that built by Solomon – one that he himself concluded was vain and meaningless in the eyes of God.
At Project Thrive 21 we seek to learn from Solomon as we join God in the unfolding Great Reset. Our responsibility is to create value exchange systems that our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren can use to build a Kingdom that truly represents the pinnacle of Solomon's wisdom. We intend to do just that.