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Lessons from a king

Let me tell you a story. Mind you, it’s a story with absolutely no application at all. We are all adults, and need no moral lectures. It is a story of two kings, but I’m only going to tell you about the first one. He was a famous king, the son of a former famous king. Perhaps we can talk about his successor, the not-so-famous king, in another episode.

Painting of Solomon and Queen Sheba
Solomon with the Queen of Sheba (detail from painting
by Piero della Francesca; public domain/Wiki Commons)

The famous king who stars in this story of mine is none other than King Solomon, son of King David. He was reputedly the wisest king on earth. He made his mark early on in his royal career when two prostitutes — we say “sex workers” now — approached him. It must have been within his first 100 days in office. Both claimed to be the mother of a baby. The wise king directed for the baby to be cut in two, each half to be given to one woman. The real mother, of course, protested. The fake mother, on the other hand, agreed. That was the give-away which helped the king determine who the real mother was.

You can just imagine how this story would have spread like wildfire amongst the king’s subjects. The king’s popularity soared. If Merdeka Center for Opinion Research had existed back then and conducted an opinion poll, this king would have been given the absolute thumbs-up. But please remember, this is a story with absolutely no application whatsoever. Please do not equate the surging popularity of King Solomon within his first 100 days with anyone else in or out of office. It is merely a story.

With this exceptional start, many stories started to spread about the king’s wisdom and wealth. Clearly, the king was elegant and brilliant, full of sugar and spice and all things nice. The problem with exceptionally brilliant people is that their brilliance can sometimes overshadow other facets of their life which may be less than exemplary. Hence, whilst Solomon was wise and rich and many wonderful things, he was also at the same time capable of much perversion and ruthlessness.

According to my sources, which I vouch to be absolutely credible, Solomon was obsessed with women. He apparently had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Imagine that! If he had conjugal relations with one wife or concubine every night, each wife or concubine would have had to wait nearly three years for a second shot. What pressure it must have been for these women. They virtually had only one opportunity to have an explosive encounter with the king, and that was about it.

But again, let me remind you that this is a story with absolutely no application at all. Yes, I’m relating to you a tale based on a true story, but despite being based on a true story, it makes absolutely no reference and bears no resemblance to any person, whether living or dead, except to the real Solomon.

Grace and generosity

Two king chess pieces
Rulers don’t always make the best
choices (© Steve Woods /

And whilst Solomon was rich and elegant, he may not have been gracious and generous all the time. You see, Solomon had a good friend, a fellow king from the region of Tyre. For 20 years, Solomon was engrossed in the twin projects of building a temple for God, and his personal palace. For these 20 years, his friend, Hiram the king of Tyre, supplied him with all the cedar and cypress and gold that Solomon wanted. At the end of the projects, guess what Solomon rewarded the king of Tyre with? Twenty back-of-the-woods villages in the district of Galilee. That was Solomon’s payment to his good friend in return for nearly four-and-a-half tonnes of gold.

Can you believe that guy? If we were to translate this into a modern context, it would be as if a good friend helped the king procure multi-billion dollars’ worth of contracts, only to be rewarded with a stint in some kampung somewhere. Well, perhaps not a Felda kampung, but who knows? How about a quaint little university town in the UK, or something like that? Pleasant enough, but back-of-the-woods nevertheless.

Was Solomon a wise and brilliant king? Sure. In so many ways, he definitely was. Was he the most exemplary ruler of all time? Perhaps not. That was why after the reign of Solomon, when his son Rehoboam wanted to take over, the subjects of the kingdom pleaded with Rehoboam. They said, “Your father made life difficult for us. He worked our fingers to the bone. Please give us a break and we will willingly serve you.”

Modern town crier
So, no free press, towns criers or
journalists in Solomon’s reign?
(© Marcia Allass /

Yes, Solomon was a wise king, but he was a harsh king nevertheless. I guess in such ancient times, there may not have been the concept of innocent until proven guilty. Perhaps detention without trial would have been a common affair. I’m fairly certain Solomon did not allow a free press.

Despite all these shortcomings, Solomon was a good and wise man in so many other ways. His goodness and wisdom may have caused his subjects to be lulled into accepting the harsh realities he imposed upon them. People are forgetful. They tend to forget about detention without trial. They tend to forget about the lack of freedom of the press. They tend to get carried away, impressed by wise pronouncements and displays of wealth. The composite index can shore up continued support for a harsh political reality.

Yes, people are forgetful. But let me remind you one more time lest you forget. This is a story with absolutely no application at all. We’ll talk about Solomon’s successor, Rehoboam, in another installment.

Chan Kheng Hoe is an advocate and solicitor cum mediator. He would love to tell you much more about himself, but alas, that is as much as is allowed by the Legal Profession (Publicity) Rules.

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6 Responses to “Lessons from a king”

  1. Alan Tan says:

    Rarely have I read a piece that had no practicle applications with such mirth.

  2. Pratamad says:

    It’s a great read! The last 100 days only brought us confusion, frustration and anger, and devoid of substance. Looking forward to the next instalment.

  3. poor folk says:

    “Long live the King.”

    What am I doing?

  4. tin god says:

    Solomon is also legendary for his sins and ruthlessness. His kingdom disintegrated after his death though spared of the ignominy of thrashing by God when he was alive. Is this an omen?

  5. Obie says:

    For a story with (admittedly) no application at all, Kheng Hoe’s piece is illuminating and serves as a warning to not get carried away by good – though certainly not free – press.

  6. OrangRojak says:

    “absolutely no application”

    Wait … King Solomon was approached by two political coalitions who each claimed Malaysia as their beloved homeland. “I know,” said the wise king. “You can form a unity government and have half each.” The real …

    No, you’re right. No application.

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