I’ve been continuing to read my way through 1 Kings, and the story of Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, keeps teaching me so much. This morning I read the following:
“God gave Solomon wisdom — the deepest of understanding and the largest of hearts.”
— 1 Kings 4:29
The word understanding shows up quite a bit in the Bible, and it is especially present in the book of Proverbs — which, unsurprisingly, was written in large measure by Solomon. Littered all over the pages of the Proverbs, for example, we read exhortations like the following:
Get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding.
— Proverbs 4:7
Wisdom and understanding are somehow linked, and very closely so.
But how are largeness of heart and understanding linked? That largeness of heart was included in the description of Solomon’s wisdom gave me pause. I’d not considered such a connection before. What does it mean, really, to have the deepest of understanding or the largest of hearts, and how are those things related to wisdom?
I thought then of the story in 1 Kings 3 where two prostitutes show up in Solomon’s court and argue over their two infant sons. One of the sons has died, and the other one still living is the object of both of their desire. Solomon is asked to sort out which woman is the true mother.
I’ve always loved this story because Solomon solves it a bit like a riddle. Since the women can’t agree, he orders the baby boy be cut in half and both of them to receive half. It’s a crazy dictum, but Solomon knows what he is doing. He knows that the real mother of that baby would not bear his being cut in half. She would rather save his life than see him brought to harm, and she would rather the other woman have him if that meant she could keep him from that harm. So when the woman who couldn’t bear to see that happen spoke up, Solomon knew she was the boy’s true mother, and he gave the boy to her.
This tells me about Solomon’s “deepest of understanding” in the sense that he could see deeper into the matter than his own life experience would normally teach him to know. He understood the heart of a woman — and of a mother, really — even though he was not a woman or a mother himself.
In this way, Solomon evinced largeness of heart.
Upon reflection, I think largeness of heart has to do with the ability to hold another person’s experience inside yourself. It’s an ability to contain more than yourself inside yourself. It’s about having room for more than just you. Your heart, instead, is large. It expands. It can hold more.
And in holding more, the capacity for deeper understanding follows. And in that deeper quality of understanding, wisdom is found.