Sunday Magazine

The Wisdom of Solomon
by The Editor

WISER than him who said," Experience teaches fools - a lying proverb, that has got, like bad money i, into circulation - Solomon says, "Though thou shouldst bray a fool in a mortar among wheat with a pestle yet will not his foolishness depart from him". To their own loss, and that also of others who have the misfortune to be connected with them, such persons go blundering, stumbling, floundering on through life, being, to use a common expression no sooner out of one scrape than they fall into another. Yet there is a case more hopeless than theirs. "Seest thou a man," says Solomon,"Wise in his own conceit? There is more hope for a fool than for him"
The converse of this is equally true; all experience proving what youth especially should give heed to, that modesty is the sure pathway to merit, and humility the foundation of all true greatness. Access to other kingdoms besides heaven is not to be obtained but according to the beautiful lesson our Lord taught wrathful and wrangling disciples.. To abash their self- conceit and rebuke their vanity; He called a little child, and setting the gentle, modest, blushing boy in the midst of them, he pointed to him, saying, "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall, not enter into the kingdom of heaven: whosoever, therefore, shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven." The tallest trees spring from the deepeet roots: the lark rises from her lowly nest among the dewy grass to sing and soar the highest of the feathered choristers and like these in many instances the humblest have attained to the highest greatness. Of. this Solomon presents one of the most illustrious examples. Endowed with the wisdom that has made his name famous, he presented a living commentary on the words - " God exalteth the humble."
Happy the country where the sovereign sets example of piety, and. throws that weight of the crown into the scale of virtue and religion. Nor in this respect, though the day sadly belied the bright promises of the morning, did Solomon fail to set example to kings. He preferred God's honour to own - building the Temple first, and his own palace afterwards. Again, we find him, very soon after accession to the kingdom, leaving Jerusalem with its attractions, to repair to the house of God in Gibeon and stand - an impressive spectacle - before the majesty of heaven as a worshipper and a sinner, on a level with the meanest of his subjects. There, teaching the needful, but oft-neglected, lesson, that as our mountain lakes discharge at their outlet as much water as receive from their parent streams, we also should give as we get, Solomon presented offerings corresponing to his position and his wealth - and also, perhaps the feeling. Alexander, the Czar of all the Russias, expressed on his death-bed, when, being at the point of death, he was heard to say, "Kings have much need of mercy." A thousand animals, Solomon's gift, bled in sacrifice at Gibeon - a thousand victims a burnt-offering for his sins, were consumed to as its altar.
There is no money some give so grudingly, yet none which he which he who offers with a willing mind lays out, at such interest, as what is bestowed on God's cause and spent in his service. What security, bond, or bill like the word of God? "Honour the Lord with thy substance," like the fifth,. is a commandmeat. with a promise.: "Them that honour me," He has said "‘I will honour ;" though the bread we cast on the waters usually takes much longer time to return, did four and twenty hours till god redeem that pledge to Solomon.
Tho king has gone to rest. Wearied and worn out, ‘probably, with the duties of a day memorable for the costliest sacrifice ever offered on an alter, he slept; and, sleeping, dreamed. God, who in former and also in future ages, made himself known, now to in one and now in another fashion, appeared to him, saying, ." Ask, what shall I give thee?" Never was there such a munificent offer; nor, we may say, such an answer. The reply pleased God, we are told; and if we take into account Solomon's inexperienced youth, in the temptations to which his rank exposed him, the kind of pleasures kings have commonly pursued, and the usual objects of. their ambition, it may well astonish us. Wisdom is preferred to riches, to long life, and to victory over enemies - the common ambition of kings. Honourable to any man, but especially to one so young as Solomon; the dictate of a early piety and of the purest patriotism; expressing the most profound humility in circumstances favouable to the growth of pride; so moderate and so modest; breathing sentiments of the deepest gratitude to God, and .of entire devotion to the public welfare; in this choice, more like what might .be expected of hoary age, the maturity of wisdom and the decay of passion, than of impetuous, and inexperienced youth, may in part be attributed to Solomon's judicious and godly upbringing. He had what youth cannot too a highly value. He had a prudent, pious, and God fearing father.
Still, many have had Solomon's advantages whose lives have afforded but painful illustrations of the proverb, "A foolish son is a grief to his father, and bitterness to her that bare him." Besides, Solomon, at the time he made this remarkable choice, had not received those extraordinary gifts with which God afterwards endowed him. It is plain therefore that he was no ordinary man - to be lost in the common crowd; but that, like Moses, and David, and the Apostle Paul, and almost all whom God has called to do great things, he was endowed by nature, if I may a say so, with great abilities. The choice, let it be observed, which reflected such honour on his understanding, was made not after, but before God bestowed on him the gifts of a rnarvellous, or rather miraculous wisdom.
The extraordinary wisdom of Solomon appeared in his character -
1. As a ruler.
There is an essential difference between learning and wislom. An ounce of motherwit is better, it is said, than a pound of learning; and verifying that proverb, some of the most erudite men have shown themselves in the practical affairs of life, the management of their own or other people's business, not much better than born fools. There is a wide gulf also between wisdom in speech and wisdom in action, as is expressed in the confession, "I saw and approved the better, and yet did the worse," put in the mouth of one by a heathen Moralist. Of this distinction Charles II., whom one of our greatest historians justly calls "a moral monster," presented a remarkable example in justifying, by the madness of his folly, his shameless indulgence of the lowest passions, the reckless and ruinous course he pursued against his better judgment, this description, "He never said a foolish thing, nor ever did a wise one." There was a moment, but only a moment, when his subjects were ready to form no more favourable judgment of Solomon.
The night with its remarkable dream is passed. Ncxt day the king, whose presence, according to Eastern customs, was open to his meanest subjects, sits on the judgment seat. Two women of disreputate character, bearing a dead and a living child, approach. Each, according to her own tale, wronged, and clamouring loud for justice, lays claim to the living infant, and refuses to own the dead. There being no evidence in the case other than their own unsupported assertions, the spectators are at a loss which to believe - the infamous life of both making the one as little worthy of credit as the other. The dilemma is well calculated to put the king's sagacity to the test; and we wait with eager curiosity to see how he will decide. But with what horror are they struck, how do they stand aghast and what unhappi.ness do they anticipate to themselves and their country, when Solomon opens his lips to pronounce a judgment apparently as foolish as cruel! The knot he is unable to untie he will cut. He calls for a sword; ordering the living child to be divided, and a half given to each. But how is the horror of the people turned to surprise and joy, and how do they hurry from the court to publish Solomon's fame, and pronounce him the paragon of judges, when, as one of the women springs forward with a scream, and seizing the up-lifted arm of the executioner; turns her face to the king to cry, "0 my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it," he, testing the matter by this appeal to nature, points to the trembling, weeping, pallid, horror-stricken suppliant and says, "Give her the living child, she is the mother thereof!"

Thus Solomon held the scales of justice, and with. a hand equally skilful and firm he held the reins of government. On his accession to the throne, he did not find himself on a bed of roses; nor in circumstances that belied the saying, "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown." The kingdom was suffering from the depression and disorder which long years of war are apt to produce under the most vigorous government; and this evil was greatly aggravated at that time in the land of Israel by certain peculiar circumstances. The royal house was divided against itself. The rent extended from the palace to the. people; and produced rival factions, each supporting its own candidate for the throne. The army was commanded by military chiefs. These, having distinguished themselves in David's wars, had obtained an influence which the crown could not afford to despise, and yet had not the power to control. Old, less indeed in years than in the decay of faculties which battles, and a life of troubles and public broils had prematurely weakened, David in the closing years of his life held reins of government with a feeble hand.
Such were the circumstances of the country on Solomon's accession; and nothing could be more admirable than the order his sagacity evoked out of his chaos and confusion. Without any breach of the laws of justice, or encroachment on the rights of the subject, he dexterously rid himself of every person dangerous to the government. What his head planned with wisdom, his band executed with vigour; till his government, admirably organized in every department resembled a vast machine, complete in its details, beautiful in its construction, with its numerous wheels all revolving in silent and perfect harmony.

2. As a man of learning and science.
Aristotle, the Stagyrite, and tutor of Alexander the Great, is usually called the Father of Natural History. Without pronouncing him superior either to Plato or Socrates, he was certainly one of the greatest men any age, ancient or modern, has produced. Cuvier - and there is no more competent uthori,ty - says, that "he deserves as a naturalist to be taken as a model;" that, so far as the animal kingdom is concerned, "he has treated this branch of natural history with the greatest genius;" and that the principal divisions which naturalists still follow are due to him " - to a man who lived nearly four hundred years before the Christian era.. This is high praise, nor do I mean to detract from it. Yet, if any comparison were to be made between Aristotle and Solomon, it should be remembered that the Greek persued his studies under peculiar advantages. Eight hundred talents of the royal revenue were spent on his researches; and not only was he encouraged by a sovereign who was smitten with a desire to know the nature of animals, but several thousand persons, according to Pliny, were engaged throughout Greece and the whole of Asia in providing him with materials, and while he had his whole time to devote without interruption or distraction to his studies, there is reason to believe that his great work on the animal kingdom is less the the result of his own obserevations than a.collection of all that had been observed by others.
But whatever the the merits of the Stagyrite, he was not the first who earned laurels in this departement of science. Five hundred years before his birth, Solomon had entered and explored the same field; thus he, more than Aristotle or any other man, may claim the honour of being regarded as the father of natural science. Embracing a vast range of subjects, "he spake," says the inspired historian, "of trees, from the cedar-tree that is in Lebanon, even to the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes." That brief and simple record, that glimpse of the vast range of Solomon's studies, ay well excite our wonder and admiration; especially if we take into account, that this remarkable man voted himself to these pursuits amid the temptations of an Eastern court, the cares of commerce, and the distractions and vast enterprises o.f a kingdom. His t is a rare chapter in the history of kings. Where shall we find its parallel?
It is only a few fragments that remain to us either of his history or of his writings. We read in the Bible, "The rest of the acts of Solomon, and all that he did, and his wisdom, are they not written in the Book of the Acts of Solomon ?" and again, "The rest of the acts of Solomon, first and last, are they not written in the Book of Nathan the Prophet, and. in the prophecy of Abijah the Shilonite, and in. the vision of Iddo the Seer ?" But where-are these records? With the exception, perhaps, of some passages extracted from their pages, and engrossed in the Books of Kings and Chroniclesthey have all perished. undistinguished in their fate from the thousands of books that have neither genious or any other property to keep them afloatm, these, which the church and world would not willingly have consented to lose, have sunk in the. stream of time. They are lost. It is vain to regret that, only we may venture to say that had they been extant, Solomon's name would have occupied a foremost place in the roll of science. His discoveries and researches would have supplied abundant reasons for his unexampled fame, and for the pilgrimages which men,and women also, made from all parts of the world to hear his wisdom, and see his glory. Possessed of these writings, we should have read, not with more faith, but with a higher appreciation of its meaning,the eulogium of the inspired historian -" And god gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as sand that is on the seashore. And Solomon's wisdom excelled all the wisdom of the children of the east country, and all the wisdom Egypt. For he was wiser than all men; than Ethan the Esrahite, and Heman, and Chalcol and Darda, the Sons of Mahol; and his fame was in all the nations round about."
3. As a Poet and Moralist
Two at least of the Psalms are ascribed to Solomon. These are the 72nd which, beginning with the prayer-"Give the king thy judgments 0 God!" proceeds to descibe,in glowing language, and with prophetal reference to the blessings of the gospel, the peace and plenty, and glory of his reign; and the 127th, where with reference probably to the temple, to the wall and watchmen that protected Jerusalem, and to the permanence of his royal house, the king acknowledged his dependence on God. "Except the Lord build the house," he says, "they labour in vain that build it; except the Lord keep the city, the watchmen wake in vain. Children are the heritage of the Lord. Happy is he that hath his quiver full of them." Besides these, we have, first, the Book of Proverbs; that unparalleled repository of practical wisdom; secondly, the Book of Ecclesiastes, a treatise on the vanity of this world written under the solemn shadow of another, with the tears and trembling hand of late but true repentance; and, thirdly, his Song, that wonderful ode which, with its double and hidden meanings, the fervour of its language, and its high Oriental imagery, it requires no common measure both of genius and piety to properly appreciat.
Yet these are but fragments of his works. Whether the Songs that are lost were written under no truer inspiration than what is loosely attributed to poets, and of what character they were - amatory, pious, or patriotic, we know not. But his muse was prolific; his songs, the Bible tells us, being a thousand and five, and his proverbs not fewer than three thousand in number. Neither do we know whether these three thousand wise saws were over and above those preserved in the Book of Proverbs. It is more importent to observe that in that book, of the greater part of which Solomon was undoubtedly the author, there is an amount of wisdom, knowledge of men and manners, sound sense and practical sagacity, such as no other work presents. It fulfils in a unique and .pre-eminent degree, the requirements of effective oratory - not only every chapter, but every verse, and almost every clause of every verse expressing something which both "strikes and sticks."
I cannot fancy the temptations, the difficulties, the dangers of life, through which this Book, were youth or age to take it as their chart and. compass, would not guide them with safety and honour. Its pages, opened at random, shine with gems, rarest specimens of shrewd observation and practical wisdonm. The day was in Scotland, I may observe, when all her children were initiated into the art of reading through the Book, of Proverbs. It would be difficult, and indeed impossible, to find any book so suitable for such a purpose as that, with its simple, Saxon, and monosyllabic words. 1 have no doubt whatever, neither had the late Pnincipal Lee, as appears by the evidence he gave before a committee of parliament - that the high character which Scotsmen earned in bygone years was mainly due to their early acquaintance with the Proverbs, the practical sagacity and wisdom of Solomon. To their familiarity with these was due their caution, prudence, economy, and foresight, their reverence for the persons and submission to the authority of parents, those properties by which, often rising from the humblest condition, they pursued their fortunes with success in every quarter of the globe. The book has unfortunately disappeared from our schools; and with its disappearance my countrymen more and more losing their national virtues in self-denial and self- reliance, in foresight and economy, in reverence of parents and abhorrence of public charity, some of the best characteristics of old manners and old times.
Such is a sketch of Solomon's natural and. supernatural endowments. Insects are attracted to a candle; sea-birds to the lighthouse that stands on lonely rock on stormy steep; and shining in the dawn of science, through the gloom of these early ages, like a light in a dark place, Solomon attracted to the court and country which his wisdom illuminated visitors from all the regions roundabout. He was the wonder of his day; and yet, there is no history from the perusal of which we are more ready to rise, ex.laiming, "Lord, what is man ?" The deepest soundings in a lake commonly lie under its highest crags and as the depth there corresponds to the elevation, so Solomon appears in some respects to have sunk as far below as in others he rose above the level of ordinary men.
Let us look at some of the spots in this sun - the errors and faults of Solomon.
In the first place, not content, as be might well have been, with surpassing all the kings of the earth in wisdom, he is smitten with the vulgar ambition of eclipsing them also in the amount of his revenues. the luxuries, pomp, and splendour of his court. became a voracious whirlpool, swallowing up the wealth of the country. He oppressed his subjects with taxes;alienating their affections from House of David, and sowing the seeds of the revolt that burst out in the days of his son, and rent the kingdom asunder.Ere the close of his reign, his boundless extravagence and insatiable ambition had brought Israel to verge of ruin. The flight of Jeruboam into Egypt, where, as a vulture sits watching the dying throes of its prey, he waited the death of Solomon, and these outbursts of rebellion by Hada in Edom, and by Rezin in Syria which ocurred in his lifetime, were but the trembling of the mountain that preceeds the discharge of the volcano, the distant thunder that heralds the storm.
In the second place, Solomon gave himself up to a life of sensul indulgences. Out-Heroding Herod - going as far beyond other kings in these as in wealth and wisdom, he had seven hundred wives (all of them princesses), and three hundred concubines. A most shocking example for a king to set yet, in justice to Solomon, it is fair to observe that this vast and crowded harem was probably, to some extent, maintained for display; part of the state of the great in those days lying in the number of their wives, as it lies now - a less, but still a grievous burden - in the number of their seryants.
In the third place, Solomon became an idolater; addicting himself, shame to say, not only to idolatrous, but to cruel and obscene rites. What a fall was there! He who built the sacred Temple, and offered up with devout lips the sublime prayer with which it was dedicated to the service of Jehovah - the only and true God, lived to "go after Ashtoroth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom, the abomination of the Amorites." As if in open contompt of Jehoveh, he raised within sight of the holy temple "an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, and for Moloch, the abomination of the children of Ammon, in the hill that is before Jerusalem." The wife of Elimelech had gone forth from Bethlehem well and wealthy, with a husband at her side and two gallant sons at her back. She returns a lone, broken-down, impoverished widow - bereaved of her children, stripped of all her wealth, sunk into the lowest poverty, With no friend on earth but a widowed alien, poor as herself; and such was the contrast between her present and her past condition that the people stood at their doors and saw her go up the street, could hardly believe their own eyes. Their pity swallowed up in surprise at at this striking and strange vicissitude, they lifted up their hands to say "Is this Naomi?" But there is much in the degradation into which Solomon fell, in the scenes in which this wisest of men appears playing such an unworthy and wicked part, to call from our lips still stronger expressions of grief and wonder. "How art thou fallen, son of the morning ?"
We have not room to trace all the causes of this strange and melancholy downfall, but. may specify two or three that should be lessons and warnings to us. We find one in his too eager pursuit of wealth. The love of money went far to eat the love of God out of his heart. Besides, acquired as his wealth chiefly was through commercial intercourse with heathen nations, it exposed him, and his countrymen also, to influences dangerous to their morals and religion. Let our own nation be warned. She holds a foremost place in the race of commerce. Our wealth is year by year increasing at an unparalleled ratio. But let us rejoice with trembling; and be warned in time by the fall of Solomon, and the ruin of his house and kingdom. There are merchants and manufactures in our country who have need to remember that in wealth which is obtained at the expense of the morals of the people costs much too high a price; and it were well for all, to remember that no man is justified in exposing himself to circumstances or associates dangerous to his soul, for the sake of pay or place, of escaping poverty, or of earning a fortune.
Another cause of Solomon's fall may perhaps be found in his introduction of sensuous forms and a splendid ritual into the worship of God. A taste for these strongly marks our own age; and may not God have set him up as a beacon. of warning to the church? With no bad, but probably good, intentions he turned the simple services of the ancient Jewish worship into a gorgeous ritual. Perhaps he hoped to draw people to the house of God by services designed to attract the eye and gratify the senses. I am the more free to say so, as I see no evidence in the Bible that he had any authority whatever for many of the forms he introduced into the worship of God. The consequence of this policy was, as it always has been, that outward forms came to usurp the place of religion. Their observance was substituted for practical piety; and religion at length suffered the fate of a tree that is choked to death by the creepers that, though perhaps bearing beautiful flowers, have wrapped themselves around it; or, to vary the figure, ‘The fate of warriors in those days, when, sheathed in iron from head to heel, they sank on the field of battle, not so much under the blows of their enemies as the weight of their arms."
Another, and indeed the chief, cause of Solomon's fall lay in his marriages. His wives, who were heathen women, turned away his heart in his old age after other gods. So Scripture tells us; and not to our surprise. He may have flattered himself that he would. persuade them to embrace the faith; and that though he failed, he himself should suffer no injury by tolerating their idolatry and giving them liberty of worship. The result was otherwise; and the issues of his experiments warn us against tolerating vices and lending any countenance to error, or allowing liberty to run into license.
Solomon's case presents the strongest protest against unhallowed marriage: a remarkable example of •the danger to which they expose their souls who,fascinated by beauty or blinded by affection or under the influence of other and less creditable motives, become, as the case may the the husbands or wives of the ungodly. For a pious person to marry one, however otherwise attractive, who is a stranger to the grace of God, and feels no sympathy with them in their love for Christ, who though not hostile, is indifferent to religion, is to tempt the fate of the poor moth, that, attracted by its glare, flutters around the candle, to plunge at length into the flame, to lose its wings - and perhaps its life. Does not almost all experience prove that, in the ease of such incongruous and unhallowed marriages, the good are more likely to be perverted than the bad converted? When, springing from the bank into the pool where one is perishing, the brave swimmer approaches the object of his pity, and circles round and round him to catch his hair or hand, what care he takes to keep clear of the drowning grasp ! - - knowing how much easier it would be, should he come within his clutches, for the drowning man to pull him down than for him to pull the drowning one out.
And that such a fate is most likely to be the result of unhallowed marriages is proved as well by the earliest records of mankind as by all later experince. I read their condemnation in words which represent them as one of the chief sources of that monstrous pollution from which God washed the world by the waters of Noah's flood. "The sons of God," the sacred record.says "came in.unto the daughters of men; and they bare children unto them and God saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that the imaginations of the heart was only evil continually, and it repented him that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at his heart and the Lord said I will destroy man, whom I have created, from the earth; both man, and beast, and creeping things, and foul;s of the air. for it grrieved the Lord that He had made them.".
In regard to such marriages we may ask, "How can two walk together except they be agreed? Can a man touch pitch, and not be defiled ortake fire into his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?" Not only so, but. unions between the God-fearing and the godless, the devout and devout, are expressly condemned. God forbids the banns. Inequality in point of colour, or wealth, or accomplishments, or rank; or Christian sect and denomination, is no sin. Marriage under such circumstances may not be wise, in certain cases, but is never wicked. The one inequality from which God's people should allow neither interest nor affection to blind their eyes, is that from which Solomon suffered, and God, by the mouth of Paul, forbids, "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers."
We cannot enter on the much and long disputed question whether, notwithstanding his great failings and sad backslidings, Solomon does not present an example of one saved at the uttermost - a brand plucked from the burning. We hope, and indeed think, that there is good reason to believe he does. Regarded in that, let his case encourage the greatest sinner to return, cast himself at Jesus feet, crying, Save me,I perish! the greatest backslider to retrace his steps and repair to the throne of mercy, saying "heal my backslidings, and love me freely!" Still, taking the most charitable view of Solomon, and to the hope that this wise and famous man, who was on earth a type of Christ's person, found mercy and is now in heaven - a trophy of Christ's cross, of the love that welcomes the returning penitent, and of the blood that cleanseth the chief of sinners; his case is confessedly one surrounded with great difficulties. The day will reveal the truth. Till then a dark cloud hangs over his fate; and, had I to seek a motto for his tomb, and had I to engraft a lesson on his history, it were this; THUS SAITH THE LORD, LET NOT THE WISE MAN GLORY IN HIS WISDOM, NEITHER LET THE MIGHTY MAN GLORY HIS MIGHT; LET NOT THE RICH MAN GLORY IN HIS RICHES; BUT LET HIM GLORY IN THIS, THAT HE UNDERSTANDETH AND KNOWETH ME.

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