Solomon was the son of King David, the musical monarch of Israel. When his father died, he succeeded him as king. At the beginning of his reign, Solomon was a man of great faith. Naturally, therefore, he turned to God for guidance as to how he should rule.
As Pope Benedict XVI observed: “Solomon inherited a very demanding task and the responsibility that lay heavily on his shoulders was great for a young king. He first of all offered God a solemn sacrifice, “a thousand burnt offerings”, as the Bible says. Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night and promised to grant him what he asked in prayer.”
The pope added: “And here we see the greatness of Solomon’s soul. He did not ask for a long life, nor wealth, nor the elimination of his enemies; instead he said to the Lord: “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong” (1 Kings 3:9). And the Lord heard him, so that Solomon became famous throughout the world for his wisdom and his right judgements.”
God was pleased with King Solomon’s request for an “understanding heart”. But what does that mean? The pope explained: “We know that the “heart” in the Bible does not only indicate a part of the body, but also the centre of the person, the seat of his intentions and opinions. We might say: the conscience. Thus an “understanding heart” means a conscience that knows how to listen, that is sensitive to the voice of truth and for this reason can discern right from wrong.”
The pope concluded: “In Solomon’s case, the request was motivated by the responsibility of leading a nation, Israel, the people whom God chose to show the world his plan of salvation. The King of Israel, therefore, had to try always to be in tune with God, listening to his word, in order to guide the people on the paths of the Lord, the path of justice and of peace.”
King Solomon went on to build the Temple of Jerusalem and also recorded his great wisdom in the book of Proverbs. Later in life, however, the king lost God’s favour. He broke God’s law, which forbade kings from setting their hearts on riches and worshipping other gods (Deuteronomy 17:14-20; 1 Kings 11:1-13).
This Gothic Revival image of King Solomon dates to 1910 and is by the painter-glazier Arthur Wybo. By that time, Wybo – along with his brother Camille – had taken over the Jules Capronnier studio in Brussels, Belgium. His painting is found within one of the West windows of Our Lady and St Joseph, Alcester.
Solomon is pictured holding a royal orb and sceptre, as symbols of his divine authority to rule. The image belongs to a larger window that pictures the Coronation of Our Lady, alongside two royal ancestors of hers, King David and King Solomon.
The inclusion of Solomon in the window relates to the enthronement of his mother Bathsheba, as dowager queen of Israel. This was traditionally considered a prophetic sign of the Crowning of Our Lady as Queen of heaven and earth. Solomon is featured here, therefore, as a symbol of Christ.
See the full image:
And the larger window it is part of:
Where to find this work of art
Our Lady and St Joseph, Alcester
Read the relevant passage
1 Kings 3:1-15
On a similar theme
- From the Old Testament: King’s Solomon’s great wisdom is displayed in The Book of Proverbs.
- From the Old Testament: The Childhood of Christ was also marked by his increase in wisdom.