Wisdom for Solomon audio (4MB)
It could almost be an episode of CSI or Law and Order or Bones or some other TV crime drama, couldn’t it? Today's reading has drama; it has suspense; it has a "goodie" and a "baddie" and a cop, or in this case a king, who needs to find out which is which; and of course it has a cute baby and a gruesome plot that includes possibility that cute baby might get cut in half! It is such a dramatic scene it is easy to focus on the maternity dispute between the two women and Solomon's "wise" judgment between them. But that incident is really only an illustration of what God is really saying here. It is easy to overlook the fact that something even more extraordinary happens in the first few verses of the passage. Of course, I'm talking about v. 5: "… the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, 'Ask what I should give you'." "What I (God) should give you (Solomon)"? All Solomon's birthdays and Christmas had come at once hadn't they! This wasn't just some genie who had popped out of a bottle to give Solomon a never-ending packet of Tim-Tams. This was God, the creator of the universe, asking Solomon what he wanted to be given. I have to think: What would I have asked for? What would you have asked for? Be honest! Who wants to be a millionaire?
Our society has been called an "aspirational society". We all aspire to something. But what is it we aspire to? Look at almost any advertisement in almost any magazine or on any TV or on any computer screen and we see what the world wants us our aspirations to be: wealth, fame, beauty, power, sex. Hands up if you have seen any ads lately encouraging you to aspire to become wise?
Many of us will be old enough to remember one of the movie versions of the book King Solomon’s mines. It has been made into a movie at least six times. The 1980s version which I saw as a teenager was a not-very-successful attempt at copying the Indiana Jones movies. The title says it all doesn’t it! King Solomon’s mines. The plot of the movie was based on the search for King Solomon’s treasure. And course that meant gold and silver, not wisdom! I don’t remember anyone in the movie asking Solomon what he considered his treasure to be. No one went on an expedition through the Bible to search for Solomon’s treasure!
Of course, we know that Solomon didn't ask God for gold or silver? He asked for "wisdom". In fact his answers shows that he already had a bit of wisdom – wisdom that he seems to have learned from his father, king David. Solomon said, "You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness..." (v. 6). And now, Solomon says, I've got my father's job,
although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?" (v. 7-9)
And God gave Solomon what he asked for. But most importantly for us, the Lord gives the reasons for his response. In fact, he gives five reasons for giving Solomon what he asked for. The first and the last reasons are positive: "Because you have asked this..." The three reasons in between are the opposite: "(you) have not asked for..."
Because you have asked this [an understanding mind],
and have not asked for yourself long life
and have not asked for yourself riches,
and have not asked for the life of your enemies,
but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right (v. 11)
What did kings in the ancient world usually want from their gods? You don’t have to be Einstein to figure that out. The things written by them or about them say that they often asked their gods for long life, riches, and death to their enemies. Notice how God explicitly says that Solomon did not ask for those things.
People often talk about the wisdom of Solomon, but this sermon is called "Wisdom for Solomon". The wisdom of Solomon is really the wisdom of God, given to Solomon as a gift. In verse 12, God says: "I give you…" what you have asked for. Then in verse 13, God says: "I give you also… what you have not asked for." In the end Solomon received the things other kings prayed for – both wealth and honour all his life.
And God gives generously, abundantly, beyond all expectations: "I [God] now do according your word [Solomon]. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you will arise after you" (v. 12). Solomon gets wisdom plus wealth and honour, but it all comes as a gift from God. As the final verse says: "All Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered; and they stood in awe of the king..." Why? "Because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to execute justice" (v. 28).
There is a difference, isn't there, between wisdom and intelligence? Intelligence is an innate, inherited ability and we get what we are given. But wisdom is something else. I'm sure that all of us know people who seem to be very intelligent but also seem to often make foolish decisions. And all of us also know people who the world might not consider so intelligent but the choices they make usually seem to make wise choices. One great Bible teachers has said that "the Christian will rightly contend that there is also a wisdom not of this world which comes down from above whose deepest insight is the value of self-giving love" (Howard Marshall). He goes on to say that this wisdom was demonstrated by Solomon and that the self-giving love was demonstrated by the mother who would rather have given up her child than see the child die! Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, we know that the greatest example of such self-giving love is God who would rather give up his Son than see his children die! And in 1 Corinthians 1 Paul reminds us that the Jesus' death on the cross is "the wisdom of God" even though many in this world consider it foolishness.
Not all of us can be super intelligent. Not all of us can be great athletes. Not all of us can be skilled business people. But all of us can pray often for the wisdom that comes only from God. We can pray that God will give us the sort of wisdom which shows itself in self-giving love like the woman who gave up her child. We don't know how intelligent people would have considered that woman. We do know that whether by choice or by circumstances she was living as a prostitute. And so we can be sure that she wasn't on the Jerusalem celebrity A-List. All of us can pray that God will give us wisdom. And judging by the experience of Solomon we can pray with the confidence that God will answer our prayer. As we pray to God and read God's word we can be confident while God may not increase our IQ he will give us "wisdom from above. In his letter in the New Testament James writes:
"Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace." (James 3:13-18)
2. Wisdom is not enough!
Solomon’s story is a bit like the global economy over the past few years. As things get better and better, and some people get richer and richer, and more and more powerful, they become tempted to believe that nothing could possibly go wrong, could it? This is the question that hangs over the entire history of Solomon which we read in 1 Kings. In today’s reading from chapter 2 it is just lurking in the shadows. In verse 12 God promises Solomon that "none like you has been before and after you none like you will arise" ... What could possibly go wrong?
A key verse of this whole passage is right at the beginning in verse 3: It tells us two things about Solomon. The first half of the verse tells us that: "Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David". But did you notice the second half of the verse? It too is easily overlooked. In the first half the sky is bright blue for Solomon. But in the second half there is a hint, just a hint, of clouds forming on the horizon: "Solomon loved the LORD, ... only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places".
How did something so right go so wrong? It seems that as time went by Solomon forgot the very first of his own words to God: "You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness..." (v. 6). And in his final promise to Solomon God said almost the same thing when he reminded him that his gift of wisdom wasn't a blank cheque: "If", "If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life" (v. 14). Wisdom is NOT enough! Do you remember the James Bond movie The world is not enough? Over the next few weeks we will see in the book of Kings that Solomon had the world and he had wisdom and it wasn't enough. Again the letter of James has wise words for us:
"Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom" (James 3:13).
3. Priorities for prayer
How is God shaping your life at the moment? One of the things that has been happening for me recently is that I think God is re-shaping my prayer life (trying to re-shape my prayer life anyway). It all started last year. You might remember I a sermon in which I quoted from Don Carson's book on Priorities from Paul and his Prayers [subtitle of A Call to Spiritual Reformation]. But God's voice got louder when Garrett preached a couple of months ago. He included a quotation – I've forgotten who it was by and the exact words – but I remember the gist of it. How often do Christians pray that God will change their circumstances and rather than changing their character? But this week I have been reminded to pray for the wisdom that is the generous gift of God and to pray with confidence. There's no need to wait for God to appear in a dream and ask what gift he should give us. God's word tells us he wants us to aspire to "an understanding mind ... able to discern between good and evil" so that we might "show by our good life that our works are done with gentleness born of wisdom."