1 Kings 3:9 (ESV)

9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”

In verse 9 we come to the crucial part of Solomon’s response to the Lord’s offer. Having shown both humility and a measure of wisdom in laying his needs before the Lord, Solomon asks for an understanding mind, as our translation renders it. The Hebrew original literally means a heart that hears with discernment or understanding.

It is interesting that these words point to a comprehension based on hearing. This may have two ways in which it will operate. The first and more obvious will be the ability of the king to judge matters that are brought before him. Yet, there may be another operation involved, and that is the ability to hear and correctly understand the Word of God as it applies to those judgments.

If this second operation applies, then we can see that Solomon was not requesting a self-generated wisdom but a wisdom that sought to hear and understand what the Lord would speak to him through his revelation. In his request, Solomon was asking first that he might understand correctly the outward circumstances with which he would be confronted and the manner in which God’s Word applied to them.

Solomon in this verse also set before the Lord the focus of the understanding mind he requested. He wanted it so he could judge between what was good and what was evil. The contrast in which he was interested was stark. Good and evil are completely opposite to one another. This comparison is true whether we understand these terms in a moral sense or a more general manner, such as what is pleasant and what is unpleasant.

Solomon was going to need this kind of discernment in both categories of good and evil. This need is true because the task of governing his people, he implies, would be impossible without it, for who is able to govern this your great people?

In Solomon’s reply to the Lord, he demonstrated that, in his concern to possess wisdom, the desire for power was not Solomon’s chief concern. Rulers do by definition exercise power. Nevertheless, for the godly ruler the power is a means and not an end.

The next question to consider is unfolded in what comes in the next verses. How would God react to the request that Solomon made?