The Richest Man on Earth
What was the secret to Solomon’s success? It wasn’t the self-absorbed claptrap so often touted today.
“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” These words of wisdom, falsely attributed to Winston Churchill,1 have likely encouraged scores of people over the years never to give up their pursuit of success in life. Many people have looked to Churchill and others to inspire them.
Today, motivational speakers and so-called social media influencers make millions of dollars by telling people how to succeed. Tony Robbins, one of the most widely known motivational speakers, defines success this way: “Success is doing what you want, when you want, where you want, with whom you want as much as you want.”2
And there’s the crux of the matter. However they define it, most people think success is all about self-fulfillment, self-enrichment, and self-empowerment. It’s all about self.
But the most successful man who ever lived saw things differently: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Prov. 3:5–6). That man, of course, was Solomon, the son of David and king of Israel.
Solomon reigned over a united Israel for 40 years (2 Chr. 9:30; ca. 971–931 BC). No kingdom before or after his matched Solomon’s for productivity, prosperity, and peace. His reign was the pinnacle, the golden years, for national Israel. Solomon’s glory was so grand that Jesus Himself used it as a point of comparison in one of His teachings (Lk. 12:27).
What was the secret to Solomon’s success? It certainly wasn’t the self-absorbed claptrap so often touted today. It was, in fact, the opposite. Shortly after ascending the throne, Solomon confessed his inadequacy in a prayer to God: “I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in” (1 Ki. 3:7).
The secret to Solomon’s success was God. Solomon asked God for “understanding to discern justice” (v. 11), and God responded by giving grace and exaltation to the humble (Jas. 4:6, 10). So the Lord “exalted Solomon exceedingly in the sight of all Israel, and bestowed on him such royal majesty as had not been on any king before him in Israel” (1 Chr. 29:25).
God not only granted Solomon’s request for wisdom, but He also gave what Solomon didn’t request: riches and honor (distinction) “such as none of the kings have had who were before you, nor shall any after you have the like” (2 Chr. 1:12).
Apart from Jesus Christ, there has never been anyone with more wisdom, knowledge, or understanding than King Solomon (Mt. 12:42; 1 Cor. 1:30).
A famous example of his wisdom in action was when he discerned the true mother of a baby claimed by two women (1 Ki. 3:16–27). This impressive judgment inspired all Israel to recognize that “the wisdom of God was in [Solomon]” (v. 28).
Solomon’s wisdom was so great it “excelled the wisdom of all the men of the East [east of the Jordan River] and all the wisdom of Egypt” (4:30) and surpassed that of certain sages in Israel (v. 31). Not since Adam in the Garden of Eden was someone so knowledgeable and skilled about so many topics. Solomon was a sage; prolific songwriter; and an expert botanist, zoologist, ornithologist, entomologist, and ichthyologist (vv. 32–33).
Because of his wisdom, Solomon’s fame spread to all of the surrounding nations and beyond, reaching even the queen of Sheba, who came to him to learn in what we might call the “University of Solomon” (vv. 31, 34). Scripture says, “Now all the earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart” (10:24).
Not all of Solomon’s wisdom has been preserved, but what God wanted us to have for eternity He retained in the Bible. God used Solomon to write Psalms 72 (a Messianic psalm) and 127. Solomon also penned most of the book of Proverbs. And, though sometimes debated, he is most likely the author of Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs (Song of Solomon).
Others might argue over who was the greatest thinker of all time. But God’s choice would be Solomon, who wrote, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Prov. 9:10).
God not only gave Solomon wisdom, He also showered him with riches. All the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to Philistia brought tribute to the Israelite king all the days of his life (1 Ki. 4:21).
Traders and merchants also brought their wealth (10:15), and wisdom seekers around the region annually brought monetary gifts and valuables to Israel (v. 25).
In an economic alliance with the king of Tyre (today a city in Lebanon), Solomon launched ships that sailed the Mediterranean Sea. They went to Arabia and possibly as far as modern-day Malaysia3 in search of gold (9:27–28; 10:22). In one particular year, Israel imported more than 25 tons of gold (10:14),4 which Solomon used to make 500 gold shields (vv. 16–17). He overlaid his ivory throne with gold, and every cup that touched his lips was gold (vv. 18, 21).
Aside from gold, so much silver flowed into Jerusalem it became as common as stones and completely lost its value (vv. 21, 27).
Solomon placed 12 governors over Israel who ensured an abundance of food each month for him, his family, and his entourage. In fact, “Solomon’s provision for one day was thirty kors [187 bushels] of fine flour, sixty kors [374 bushels] of meal, ten fatted oxen, twenty oxen from the pastures, and one hundred sheep, besides deer, gazelles, roebucks, and fatted fowl” (4:22–23, 27, emphasis added). That’s a lot of food!
“So King Solomon surpassed all the kings of the earth in riches and wisdom” (2 Chr. 9:22). Even in today’s economy, Solomon’s financial empire would outmatch any Fortune 500 company’s revenues and eclipse the richest person’s net worth.
In human terms, Solomon was the richest, most successful person who ever lived. And there is nothing wrong with success, if you’re careful. But if you’re not, it can be corrosive. Jesus said, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Disaster awaits him “who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Lk. 12:15, 21).
Solomon was rich toward God at first. He “loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David” (1 Ki. 3:3). But despite all of God’s blessings, Solomon strayed (chap. 11). He lost sight of what truly mattered and forsook the great God who loved Him; and after his death, God dismantled his kingdom.
The world has a shallow definition of success. Perhaps that is why Solomon eventually declared in Ecclesiastes, “Vanity [futility] of vanities, all is vanity” (1:2). Fortunately, God has a better definition:
Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth” (Jer. 9:23–24).
Knowing and understanding God makes us rich indeed.
- “Media Matters: Finest Hour 136, Autumn 2007,” International Churchill Society, winstonchurchill.org, July 4, 2013 (tinyurl.com/msm25vf9).
- Tony Robbins, “How to be Successful in Life” (tonyrobbins.com/how-to-be-successful).
- Josephus, Antiquities 8.6.4. See also Wikipedia, s. v. “Chersonesus.”
- One talent weighed at least 75 pounds or 34 kilograms.