The sad circumstances of his birth notwithstanding, Solomon grows up, humble, with phenomenal intellect and intuition.
Wouldn’t you be glad if told, “You’re as wise as Solomon?” King Solomon is the epitome of wisdom in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Narratives of his wisdom and wealth appear in the scriptures of these world religions, placing him at par with his famous father, David, whom he succeeded as king. Solomon’s reign spans approximately from 970 to 931 BC.
The Bible records the joys and sorrows, punya and paap of people — who deify themselves into demigods, causing self-destruction and death. Solomon’s father, David, exemplifies this. Though dearly loved by God and richly blessed, yet, he lusted after a soldier’s wife, Bathsheba, and impregnated her. To mask his misdeeds, David engineers the slaying of her husband, Uriah, in battle. Solomon was born of this relationship.
The sad circumstances of his birth notwithstanding, Solomon grows up, humble, with phenomenal intellect and intuition. At prayer, when given a carte blanche from God: “Ask for whatever you wish me to give you,” he doesn’t ask for riches or power, but prays: “God, give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, to discern between good and evil.”
Pleased, God replies: “I’ll give you a wise heart; and also, what you’ve not asked, both riches and honour.” The famous “judgement of Solomon” story describes two women who claim to be the mother of the same child. To resolve the dispute, Solomon commands the child to be cut in two, and a half given to each mother. One of the women promptly renounces her claim to the child rather than see it being slain. This prompts Solomon to hand over the child to her, the real mother.
Solomon’s stories — of unfathomable wealth and mines, Solomon’s Temple, the Queen of Sheba and many wives — make one imagine that he was the happiest man on earth. Not so. Like many who forget what’s eternal and imperishable, and what’s not, he gets embroiled in earthy enticements, choosing temporal indulgence over eternal inheritance. He dies a sad death.
Religious traditions privilege wisdom over bookish knowledge with evocative imagery. Advaita Vedanta links wisdom with the swan, hamsa, who cleverly separates milk from water: ksheer-neer viveka. The swan drinks the milk; leaves the water. Moreover, it swims in water with feathers staying dry — like the advaitin who lives in the world but remains undefiled by the poison of worldly mirages.
The name “Solomon” means “peaceful”. There’s a Solomon in you and me — with potentiality for peace and prosperity, but also with inclinations to indulge in ego-inflation and earthy-indulgences. If God were to tell you: “I’ll give you anything you ask for,” what would you ask for? And, what would you do with God’s gift? We’d do well to be wiser than Solomon.