The Quest for Wisdom
July 2002

“The Quest for Wisdom,” Ensign, July 2002, 40

Old Testament

The Quest for Wisdom

The story of King Solomon can help us understand and obtain for ourselves wisdom from God.

The Lord has counseled: “Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich” (D&C 6:7). We are often confronted with choices, the rightness or wrongness of which is not always immediately apparent. We live in a dark and perilous world (see D&C 112:23; 2 Tim. 3:1) where the adversary seeks to blur distinctions between good and evil. Like the young King Solomon we need wisdom in bearing our responsibilities well and making good choices. His story provides insight into how to gain a wise and understanding heart.

“Ask What I Shall Give Thee”

Having been made king of Israel by his father, David, Solomon became the leader of a great nation. It was about 1015 B.C., and the kingdom was large, unified, and prosperous. Solomon was but a young adult, probably in his 20s, when he ascended to the throne (see Bible Dictionary, “Chronology,” 636).

Solomon appears to have been deeply humbled by the burden of leading Israel, and “because the Lord blessed Solomon as he was walking in the statutes of David, his father, he began to love the Lord” (JST, 1 Kgs. 3:3). In Gibeon (see Bible Map 19), Solomon earnestly sought the Lord. In response to Solomon’s deep yearning for and imploring help from the God of Israel, the Lord appeared to him and said, “Ask what I shall give thee” (1 Kgs. 3:5).

With great reverence, Solomon responded by citing the Lord’s blessings upon his father, David. Solomon then identified his own perceived weakness, his profound need: “O Lord my God, thou hast made thy servant king … and I am but a child” (1 Kgs. 3:7).

Solomon was concerned that he lacked the capacity to govern the affairs of men. His faith in the Lord’s mercy and his recognition of his own weakness allowed him to respond to the Lord with this request: “Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad” (1 Kgs. 3:9).

Solomon’s selfless request pleased the Lord: “Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself … behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart” (1 Kgs. 3:11–12). The Lord then gave him other great blessings and strictly charged Solomon to walk in His ways and keep His commandments.

Wisdom Was in Him

During Solomon’s 40-year reign, God gave him “wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore” (1 Kgs. 4:29). As king, Solomon judged the cases that could not be satisfactorily resolved by lower judges. Thus he heard only the most difficult cases. His wisdom was demonstrated in his judgment of a case involving two women called harlots1 and a dead child.

Two women who lived together in a house had each borne a son within three days of each other. While sleeping in the night, one of the women overlaid her newborn, smothering the child to death. Discovering her loss in the night, she exchanged her deceased child for the living child of the other mother. Becoming aware the next morning of the fraud perpetrated upon her, the mother of the living child appealed to public justice for a righting of the wrong (see 1 Kgs. 3:16–22).

The difficulty of the case lay in the absence of witnesses. No one else had been in the house the night of the tragedy (see 1 Kgs. 3:18). Further, the living newborn could not identify his mother, nor could he be clearly distinguished by his physical features. Both women were equally adamant in their statements about their motherhood of the newborn (see 1 Kgs. 3:23).

Having patiently heard the case, Solomon called for a sword and ordered, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one [woman], and half to the other” (1 Kgs. 3:25). “O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it,” was one woman’s response. The other said, “Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it” (1 Kgs. 3:26). Solomon’s pronouncement proved to be an effective method of discovering the truth. He ordered that the child not be slain but given to the woman who had been willing to give the infant up to the other.

Gaining Wisdom in Our Lives

Wisdom is the capacity to exercise sound judgment in applying general knowledge and principles to particular circumstances. Thus it consists of both a broad knowledge and understanding of things and the judgment to apply that knowledge properly. Without broad knowledge there cannot be wisdom.

This broad knowledge grows from schooling in the ways of the Lord. Solomon’s ascendancy to the throne and the work that he was to perform for Israel was foreseen by his father, David (see 1 Chron. 17:11–14, 22:1–19). Thus David no doubt ensured that Solomon was prepared for his days as king, seeing that he was properly schooled in the ways of the Lord.

Notwithstanding his preparatory schooling, Solomon recognized that something more was required for him to properly perform his duties. He knew he needed the capacity to judge, to discern between good and evil. While such a capacity may be partially acquired through experience, it is essentially a gift of the Spirit (see D&C 46:17–18). Thus if we wish to obtain wisdom, we must qualify ourselves for the administration of the Holy Ghost. In striving to do so, I have found the following principles to be helpful.

Ask. In spiritual matters, asking is a prerequisite to receiving. When the Lord appeared to Solomon, He told him to “ask what I shall give thee” (1 Kgs. 3:5). In all scripture, there is no more frequent injunction than to ask. Thus the gift of wisdom must be earnestly sought (see D&C 46:8–9, 28–30). Unfortunately, many do not ask the Lord for His understanding, choosing instead to rely on their own in an effort to manage their lives. Such arrogance may arise from extensive study or experience. In the end, however, the breadth or depth of one’s expertise is immaterial, for “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1 Cor. 3:19) and “it profiteth [us] not” (2 Ne. 9:28). Study and experience are good, but only if we “hearken unto the counsels of God” (2 Ne. 9:29).

Sustain effort and exercise patience. The gift of wisdom does not come merely by asking. Solomon did more than just ask; he sacrificed a thousand burnt offerings to the Lord at Gibeon (see 1 Kgs. 3:4). And our efforts must be sustained over time since spiritual knowledge does not come all at once but “line upon line, precept upon precept” (2 Ne. 28:30). Furthermore, spiritual knowledge comes not on our terms or timetable but on the Lord’s. President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has said: “You cannot force spiritual things … You can create a climate to foster growth, nourish, and protect; but you cannot force or compel: you must await the growth. Do not be impatient to gain great spiritual knowledge.”2

Foster personal reverence. Because the Holy Spirit is a “still small voice, which whispereth” (D&C 85:6) and “a still voice of perfect mildness” (Hel. 5:30), we too must be still to hear or feel His voice (see also Ps. 46:10). “Cast away your idle thoughts and your excess of laughter,” the Lord has told us. “Cease from all your light speeches, … from all your pride and light-mindedness” (D&C 88:69, 121). Our failure to follow this counsel offends the Spirit and diminishes our access to His wisdom.

The Lord’s Promise

As Solomon’s father, David, said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments” (Ps. 111:10). It is therefore little wonder that David charged his young son to be obedient. The Lord’s promise to the righteous is that “their wisdom shall be great, and their understanding reach to heaven” (D&C 76:9). The reason for this is that spiritual understanding accrues to the obedient; it “distil[s] upon [the] soul as the dews from heaven” (D&C 121:45). As we earnestly study and learn the ways of the Lord and then qualify ourselves for the companionship of the Holy Ghost, I testify that He will guide us in wisdom’s path (see Mosiah 2:36).

More on this topic: See Spencer J. Condie, “Some Scriptural Lessons on Leadership,”Ensign, May 1990, 27–28; Derek A. Cuthbert, “The Meaning of Maturity,”Ensign, Nov. 1982, 54–56; Franklin D. Richards, “Seek Not for Riches but for Wisdom,”Ensign, May 1976, 35–36.


  1. The Hebrew word denotes both “harlot” and “victualler,” or innkeeper. In 1 Kings 3:20, one of the women refers to herself as “thy handmaid.” Yet they were probably unmarried because there is no mention of any husbands, whose office it was to contest for their wives, and because they lived in one house.

  2. “The Candle of the Lord,” Ensign, Jan. 1983, 53.

Judgment of Solomon, by Gustave Doré

Painting by Robert Barrett