One of the many stories told about King Solomon, the wisest and most gifted king to ever reign, relates to three married brothers, who left their homes and families to serve in the king’s court. They went in search of wisdom, but after a year, feeling they were none the wiser, they asked King Solomon if they could return to their families. Being generous as well as wise, he wished to gift them something for their loyal service. He gave them a choice; they could leave with a bag of gold each, or get three pieces of wisdom from him. They thought of their families at home, and all three chose the bag of gold. As they started out on their journey one of the three had second thoughts. He said to his brothers: “What are we thinking? King Solomon has offered us three pieces of wisdom, but we settled for gold. I’m going back to ask if I can change my mind.” The others laughed at him, happy with their gold, but agreed to wait for him. He found King Solomon, who agreed he could return the gold in exchange for the three pieces of wisdom, which were:
1. When travelling, always leave at dawn, but make camp a few hours before sunset. This gives you time to find a sheltered and safe spot, with water and grass for your horse.
2. Don’t try to cross a swollen river. Have patience and wait until it subsides.
3. Never reveal a secret to a woman, even your wife.
He left the court and met his brothers, who pushed him to share the wisdom he got, but he refused to tell them. As sunset approached he suggested they set up camp, but the other two insisted they would continue for at least three or four more hours. They let him to his solitary camp. The following morning he set off again, and a few hours later came upon his brothers, both dead. A severe sandstorm had come during the night, and they had no shelter. He was full of grief, and having done prayer and burying them, he set off again- not before he added their bags of gold to his own. After a while he came to a river he needed to cross but it was swollen, so heeding King Solomon’s words he waited for it to subside. As he waited two merchants came along on their horses, carrying many bags of gold. They laughed at his caution and headed into the river, and drowned. Again, he was able to retrieve their gold, and headed home a rich man. When he arrived home he didn’t have the heart to tell his brothers wives they had died, so said, instead, that they had stayed with the King. His wife was naturally curious as to where all the gold came from, but he insisted it was a secret. As he bought land and cattle she pushed him to tell her, and finally he did.
One day they were having a big argument, and he went to hit his wife, who shouted: “You murdered your two brothers, and now you will murder me.” His brothers widows heard this and had him arrested. He was sent to prison and sentenced to death, but appealed to King Solomon, who pardoned him on condition he took care of the widows, and reminded him to be wise in future, and follow all three pieces of advice.
Whether this a true story or not, no one knows, but it has a message for King Solomon himself, which I will mention later. Solomon, — known as Suleiman in Arabic- was the son of King David, and the third and last king to reign over a united Kingdom of Israel. During the forty years of his reign, 971–931BCE, Israel had its most powerful and prosperous period in history, ruling as he did, with wisdom, fairness, knowledge. What was the source of Solomon’s wisdom? It was one of three gifts granted by God. When he acceded to the throne on the death of his father David, God appeared to him in a dream, and asked him what he could give him. Solomon asked for wisdom and knowledge “that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people.” God granted him wisdom beyond that of any man anywhere, as well as riches and honour so he would be respected by all nations. The third gift he was granted was a long life, but this was on condition that he followed God’s laws. He was famous for the wisdom he brought to adjudicating civil disputes, the best known story being that of two women each claiming a baby as their own. He ordered the child be cut in half, at which point one of the women cried, no, let the other woman have the child. He immediately knew she was the mother. He wrote over 3000 proverbs and 1,000 songs, which are part of the Talmud and Bible.
The other incredible gift King Solomon was blessed with is spoken about in the Jewish and Islamic traditions — the ability to communicate with plants, birds, animals and insects. Through conversing with plants, he came to know their characteristics and medicinal properties. There is a lovely story in the Islamic Quran, where Solomon is marching with his army when he comes across a valley of ants and can hear one of the ants saying: “O ye ants, get into your habitations, lest Solomon and his hosts crush you without knowing.” He also had, as part of his army, a hoopoe bird, whose job was to find water for his troops when they were on the march. One day he noticed the bird appeared to be missing on duty and was ready to punish it, when it returned with an amazing story of having met an African Queen, the Queen of Sheba, who worshipped the sun. Solomon sent the bird back with a letter, inviting the Queen to worship the true God. Such was Solomon’s fame for his wisdom that she paid him a visit. Her intention was to test him, but she soon realised all that been said of him was true. This meeting marked the beginning of a major international trade network for Israel.
As the years went by, he lost sight of the condition God had placed on the third gift He granted him. He took many wives and concubines and worshipped their gods. He made less time for his own devotion. God came to him on a number of occasions reminding him of the conditions. When he failed to take heed, God told him his family would no longer rule Israel once he died. This is what happened. Solomon failed to listen to his own wisdom, as the man in the story had failed to heed the third part of the wisdom he was offered. He had written in the Book of Proverbs: “Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.”