The Book of Proverbs begins by naming its author: “The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel” (1:1; cf. 10:1, 25:1). Other men edited Solomon’s proverbs (25:1) or added theirs to his (22:17, 24:23, 30:1, 31:1), but Solomon’s voice is the dominant one. And that fact entails this irony: Solomon is the man who didn’t follow his own advice.
Solomon was the son of David and Bathsheba. David was the king who united the fractious tribes of Israel into a united kingdom (2 Sam. 5:1-5). Bathsheba was David’s paramour (11:1-5) who later became his wife and the mother of his two boys. The first boy died in infancy, but Solomon survived, and “the Lord loved him” (12:24-25). In David’s last years, another of his sons by another of his wives tried to usurp his throne (1 Kgs. 1:5-8), but David appointed Solomon as his rightful heir (1:29-30). And so, after his parents’ adultery and brother’s treachery, Solomon became Israel’s king.
Given Solomon’s family background, it’s not surprising that he asked God for wisdom. According 1 Kings 3:9, he prayed: “give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.” According to 3:12-13, God answered Solomon’s prayer, and then some: “I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both riches and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.” And according to 4:29-34 and 10:14-29, God kept his promise and blessed Solomon with a superabundance of wisdom and wealth.
With Solomon’s background and blessings in mind, four themes in Proverbs begin to make sense. First, the priority of God: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline” (Prov. 1:7). Second, the necessity of wisdom: “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding” (4:7). Third, the sanctity of marriage: “May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth…. Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man’s wife?” (5:15-20). And fourth, the consequence of success: “With [wisdom] are riches and honor, enduring wealth and prosperity” (8:18).
Unfortunately, although Solomon began well, he ended poorly. Instead of worshiping God alone, he worshiped the gods of his 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:1-8). In doing this, he prioritized the gods instead of God, followed his glands instead of his brain, and committed adultery at least 999 times. As a result of this foolishness, God undid Solomon’s success in a generation (11:9-13).
Solomon’s story is thus a tragedy, but his proverbs are true. In fact, his tragic life proves their truth. So, if you want to be wise, don’t act like Solomon! But by all means, follow his advice!