Subtilty for the Simple
“To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion” (Proverbs 1:4).
by Nathan Kaleta
The four qualities magnified in the Book of Proverbs are wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity (Proverbs 1:3). These are the four unassailable categories of truth that King Solomon learned from God and which he details for us. They are important ingredients for living a godly life. But these qualities must be practiced in order to produce results in one’s life and in the life of loved ones. Discretion is the activating ingredient in this recipe. Discretion is knowledge and wisdom in motion.
Discretion is the developed ability to understand right from wrong, to know the relative importance of things, and then to act appropriately. For the first approximately twenty years of his reign, godly discretion ruled the heart of the wise King Solomon. In Proverbs 1:4, Solomon uses the Hebrew word mezimmah, which can also be translated “thoughtfulness.” It means to judge wisely and objectively. We have the opportunity to compare King Solomon’s life’s testimony with his words, and to use our own discretion to see if they align.
Wisdom with Discretion
Solomon received his gift of wisdom from God. Solomon’s wisdom, understanding, and breadth of mind were like the sand on the seashore (1 Kings 4:29). As a result of that gift, he was inspired to give burnt offerings and peace offerings (1 Kings 3:15). We can see the immediate influence of the wise and discerning mind that he received from God. His first act was to show his thankfulness. We notice Solomon’s love for the Lord in the sincerity of his prayer.
King Solomon’s record of wisdom in the Book of Proverbs and in the Song of Solomon are a continual memorial to God’s gift. The sheer number of Proverbs and Songs that Solomon wrote is astounding: “And he spake three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five” (1 Kings 4:32). Through his writings, he served God’s people who would live for thousands of years after him. We are blessed to have King Solomon’s wisdom recorded for us, as a guide for our daily decisions.
Throughout the Book of Proverbs we notice King Solomon’s wisdom in his faith. On one occasion in particular, when the Ark of the Covenant was brought into the Temple, his faith and trust in God to help him finish the temple enabled the dream of his father David to be fulfilled. King Solomon spread his hands toward heaven and delivered a beautiful, inspirational prayer (1 Kings 8:22-53). Afterward, he proclaimed to the people of Israel that God keeps his promises and gives rest to His people (1 Kings 8:54-61). He urged Israel to “know” the Lord and to keep His commandments. It must have been an inspiring event to witness in person.
Even though King Solomon had wisdom with discretion, he did not always apply them or upright purposes. Later in life, his many wives seemed to easily turn his heart away from God. Perhaps it was King Solomon’s fleshly lust that made him neglect his obedience to God. Perhaps he wanted to find favor in the eyes of his wives, even though they worshipped other gods (1 Kings 11:1-14). (Perhaps, as his wives fought each other and nagged him, Solomon just wanted peace!). King Solomon would not have sinned so egregiously if this wisdom had been properly activated by discretion. He would have made better choices.
Justice with Discretion
Word of God’s gift of wisdom to King Solomon spread even outside of Israel. It spread throughout the known world. It reached the ears of the Queen of Sheba who recognized Solomon’s abilities and his uncanny ability to execute justice.
She came to Israel to see with her own eyes and to test him with hard questions (1 Kings 10:1). She soon realized that all she had heard about King Solomon was true. She witnessed the happiness of King Solomon’s servants because they were treated fairly and justly (1 Kings 10:8). The Lord had indeed made Solomon King in order for him to properly execute justice and righteousness among God’s people (1 Kings 10:9).
A beautiful Proverb about justice says, “It is joy to the just to do judgment: but destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity” (Proverbs 21:15). Iniquity can be prevented with keen judgment, which helps us make the right decisions.
Early learning is an important factor. Solomon directs his wish for discretion to the young. A young person is usually very energetic and zealous. Perhaps King Solomon knew that the human brain is not fully developed until well into the 20’s. Today, science tells us that an undeveloped human brain, (especially in teenagers and 20 somethings) can lead to hasty decisions, which may cause harm and have longterm consequences.
Judgment with Discretion
Solomon wanted to use his gift of wisdom to judge God’s people wisely. Through prayer he asked God for the right tools to more appropriately perform his responsibilities. One of the tools he received was the ability to discern between good and bad (1 Kings 3:9). He was adept at good judgment, especially for about the first 20 years of his reign.
A key example of Solomon’s application of discretion can be found in the story of the two harlots who argued over the maternity of a baby. After analyzing the situation, Solomon was able to correctly judge the identity of the child’s mother. His judgment and discretion became famous: “And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgment” (1 Kings 3:28).
However, Solomon’s judgment was not always guided by godly discretion and this led to his disastrous sin. The Apostle Paul suggests a way that both King Solomon and King David could have guarded themselves against the deceitfulness of sin. “But exhort one another daily, while it is called To-day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
Pastor Russell comments on this scripture, saying that it is our duty to notice our wrongdoings and solve them by prayer and communion with God and His powerful Word (Manna March 10).
Equity with Discretion
The last of the four stationary pillars of the Book of Proverbs is equity, the quality of being fair and impartial. Solomon knew he was not equal to the task of finding suitable workers to build a house for God which would rise to the level of His wonderful majesty. “But who is able to build him an house, seeing the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain him? who am I then, that I should build him an house, save only to burn sacrifice before him?” (2 Chronicles 2:6).
King Solomon’s words are lovely. “Then shalt thou understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, every good path. When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul; Discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee” (Proverbs 2:9-11).
King Solomon’s primary example of “every good path” was his father David, a man after God’s own heart. David advised his son to be strong, courageous and fearless, for the Lord would never leave him nor forsake him (1 Chronicles 28:20). Perhaps David also spoke to us out of his own experience with sin.
In order to distinguish right from wrong, a young, inexperienced person often needs the advice of someone older and wiser; a mentor. It is often difficult for someone to admit they need advice, and asking for advice can be very difficult. It is a step further to understand how to apply one’s advice. This is precisely the moment when discretion is necessary; the ability to ask for, understand, and to analyze advice.
A Recipe for Disaster
A lack of discretion creates a recipe for disaster. Without the proper activation, wisdom and knowledge will either be applied improperly or will lay dormant and quickly decay. As seen in Solomon’s precept, wisdom and knowledge used improperly may feed the flesh rather than increase worship. “As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion” (Proverbs 11:22). A woman that is only beautiful on the outside is as incongruous as a precious ring in the snout of a pig. Without discretion, all of our God-given surface beauty is of no value.
Beauty in women led Solomon into temptation. Why did he fail? The Book of Ecclesiastes gives us some insight into his complex mind. He kept his “heart from no pleasure,” getting “many concubines, the delight of the sons of man.” However, he eventually found that acting on his fleshly lust was “vanity and striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:8-11).
The same affliction plagued his father King David. Even though David testified that a good man “will guide his affairs with discretion” (Psalm 112:5), he did not heed his own advice, as seen in his affair with Bathsheba. David’s lack of discretion caused him to commit adultery and plot the murder of Uriah. The consequences of these actions were dreadful and life-changing.
Discretion is one of the key ingredients in living a life that is pleasing to our Heavenly Father. Solomon says discretion is like a “regulator” that we must use to rule our heart; “My son, let not them depart from thine eyes: keep sound wisdom and discretion” (Proverbs 3:21). Pastor Russell wrote: “Sound wisdom and discretion are not only the course to eternal life, but even in the present time they bring grace, the favor of God, and preserve us from fear and from stumbling” (R1520).
Discretion is also a key to a happy life. How many times have we said “yes” too often and “no” not enough? The world likes to say “yes” to sin because it brings pleasure. Solo mon often said “yes.” Consequently, his actions tell us “what not to do” while his words provide the wisdom in knowing “what to do.”
Nonetheless, initially, King Solomon was a great leader and a glorious king. God honoured his efforts to serve and please Him. God brought His holiness to the house which Solomon built and confirmed both King Solomon and his father King David, as magnificent leaders (1 Chronicles 29:25, 2 Chronicles 5:13-14). For King Solomon and all the people of Israel, sound discretion activated knowledge and wisdom. King Solomon inspired his people by reflecting the righteous principles of God’s Wisdom, Justice, Judgment, and Equity. Let us likewise be diligent in this work!