I T is a wonderful thing to be a king. Solomon, David's son, knew this well. To be a real king, a great ruler and guide, a man must be just and wise and strong. And here was he, Solomon, but newly come to man's estate, called to sit upon the throne and carry on the work of his father David. To him was to be given the great task of building God's house and ruling His people. The hands of David had been stained with blood, for he had been a great fighter; and so God had not allowed him the honour of building that temple. Solomon, the young king, whose very name meant "peace," could at least bring clean, unstained hands to the work.
But how was he to learn to be wise enough and strong enough to rule and govern God's chosen people—to be a real king? The great responsibility weighed heavily, and the question troubled him, even in his dreams, until at last one night the answer came. He had laid down to rest as usual, and had fallen asleep, when in the midst of his dreams he heard a voice speaking to him. He listened, and knew at once that it was the voice of God.
"Ask what I shall give thee," said the Voice. Solomon was not startled or afraid. David, his father, had taught him to love and trust God, and he answered at once.
"O Lord my God," he said, "Thou hast made Thy servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in. And Thy servant is in the midst of Thy people which Thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude. Give therefore Thy servant an understanding heart to judge Thy people, that I may discern between good and bad."
It was wisdom that Solomon wanted more than anything else, and his answer pleased God. He might so easily have asked instead for a long life or for great riches, or triumphant victory over all his enemies; but because he had chosen well, God granted his request.
"Lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart," said the Voice: "so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee. And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches and honour: so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days."
While that Voice still sounded in his ears Solomon awoke. Had it indeed been only a dream? It had been something more than that, he knew. Everything was changed. All his doubts and difficulties had vanished. He was sure of himself, and was no longer afraid of fulfilling the duties of a king. And ere long the change was noticed by others too as the young king began to rule.
"The king turned his face about, and blessed all the congregation of Israel."
The first case he was called upon to judge was a difficult one.
Two women stood before him: one, with angry, flashing eyes, held in her arms a little dead baby; the other, whose face was full of sorrowful pleading, clasped to her breast a living child.
The angry woman pushed forward and spoke first. They both lived in the same house, she said, and in the night that other woman's child had died, and she had crept out and changed the babies, carrying away the living child, and leaving the dead baby in its place.
"No, no," said the other woman, holding the living baby closer in her arms, "the child is mine, the dead one is thine."
The angry woman would not listen; the living child belonged to her, she declared again.
All eyes were turned on the young king. How would he decide? There was no possible way of finding out the truth.
"Bring me a sword," rang out the order.
In great astonishment they brought a sword and placed it in the king's hand.
"Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other," he said calmly.
The woman with the sorrowful eyes sprang forward, and a great cry burst from her lips: "O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it."
But the angry woman was more than content, and her voice drowned the other's as she cried: "Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it."
The king looked down on the little helpless baby and on the sword in his hand. Of course, he did not mean to hurt the child. It was only a wise test, and it had answered well. With a kindly glance at the poor, weeping woman, he gave his judgment.
"Give her the living child, and in no wise slay it," he said: "she is the mother."
He knew that a real mother would rather give up her child than have it killed; and it was only a pretended mother who could ask to have it cut in half.
So Solomon's wisdom began early to be proved, and the people grew very proud of their wise young king. Never before had the country been as rich and prosperous as under his rule, and very soon the work of building that great temple of God's house was begun.
It would take a whole book to tell of the building of that wonderful place, of the gold and silver and precious stones, of the beautiful wood and marbles and ivory that went to make it the wonder of the world. But at last it was finished, and when it was dedicated to God King Solomon stood forth in all his kingly robes, and amidst the splendour of the great festival spoke words of great wisdom to the people.
Far and wide the fame of Solomon spread. People talked of his riches and the splendour of his court, but, above all, of his great wisdom. From far away Sheba the dark queen came with her great train of camels laden with gold and precious stones, to see for herself if this king was as great and wise and rich as people said. She meant to test him with difficult questions, and she also wished to show him that she too possessed great riches.
But the wealth and splendour of Solomon's court went far beyond her dreams. She saw him arrayed in his royal purple robes, sitting upon his ivory throne overlaid with gold, each ivory step guarded by a golden lion. She listened to his quick, wise answers to all her puzzling questions, and she could only hold out her hands to him in deep humility, and confess that there were no words to describe his glory.
Queen of Sheba's Visit
But all these riches and all this splendour and honour could not make Solomon a contented or happy man. His great navies swept the seas, and brought him cargoes of rich silks, of gold and silver and ivory, apes and peacocks, horses and mules, and everything that heart could desire, but they could not bring him happiness. At the end of his life, weary of pleasures and of learning, he called all these things "vanity of vanities." Looking back to the time when he was an eager boy, when God's voice had spoken to him in that long-ago dream, he knew now that there was something even better than the wisdom he had asked for.
"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter," wrote the weary old king, he who had enjoyed every pleasure of life, with all its honour and glory, all its wisdom and learning. "Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man."