Preacher: Barb Schweitzer
Scripture: 1 Kings 3:1-15
Previously, on Judges and Kings:
We have met Israel’s first two kings. Saul, who was from a wealthy and influential family within the tribe of Benjamin was Israel’s first King. Saul started off as a good king, as he gave the people what they wanted in a king, “someone to fight their military battles.” David, was Israel’s second king, chosen by God, not because of his wealth or outward appearance, but because he was “a man after God’s own heart.” David became a “symbol of hope for all of Israel” because he was willing to align his vision of the kingdom with God’s vision, which meant looking out for the welfare of all people, including neighboring nations who were willing to be friendly. Both kings started off wanting to be good kings, but were increasingly influenced by their growing political and military power. This would also be true of Solomon, Israel’s third King.
Solomon was David and Bathsheba’s son. Like David, Solomon’s reign begins with conflict because Solomon’s older half-brother proclaimed himself king before David was able to crown Solomon as king. After his coronation, Solomon found it necessary to execute three people involved in the near coup, in order to secure his claim to the throne. After securing his throne, one of Solomon’s first decisions was to marry an Egyptian princess, which to him, seemed politically useful, but was unwise, because it violated Mosaic Law. Please listen as Kelvin reads today’s scripture.
What is wisdom? Is wisdom what we learn from our parents growing up, the sort that says, work hard, get plenty of exercise and rest, and eat healthy? Or is wisdom, knowledge—the stuff we learn in school? Or is wisdom what we find in the Bible, knowledge of God and his history with his people, as well as knowledge of how to live a good life?
The New Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary says that “in the Ancient Near Eastern context, where our story was inspired, wisdom was an umbrella term that encompassed humanity’s quest to understand and organize reality, to find answers to basic existential questions, and to pass the information along from one generation to another. Wisdom’s roots were located in the family unit, where each generation shared insights about how to live well with the next generation. As societies became more established and institutionalized, wisdom moved up through families to the administrative and religious systems of city-states and empires. Thus, the accumulation of transmission of wisdom transferred from the family to the national setting.” Let’s keep this in mind as we think about Solomon’s story. ( adapted from The New Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary S-Z: Vol. 5. p. 862-863).
So what did you notice about Solomon in this passage?
I noticed that Solomon was mindful of how God had shown steadfast love to his father David and mindful that it was God’s gift to be named King.
I noticed that Solomon also thought of himself as a child, lacking experience and direction, and acutely aware of his need for wisdom, and the ability to discern between good and evil.
I can imagine Solomon feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of the job of King, especially if he really was between ages 13 – 23. I don’t know about you, but I know I wasn’t ready to run a country at age 23. Heck, I’m not sure that I’m ready to run a church at age 55!
I can imagine that Solomon was sorely aware of the mistakes made by his predecessors and their devastating consequences, despite both kings having desired to be good kings when they started out. Saul’s mistakes cost him his mental health, his throne, and his and his son’s life. And David’s mistakes brought calamity and violence into the royal household, which was, of course, Solomon’s family of origin, with whom he currently lived.
And, when I think of Solomon’s mixed family and their history— where one half-brother raped his sister, yet David did not punish him, so another half-brother took revenge by murdering the brother guilty of rape. To top this, David, his own father, was also guilty of rape and murder. And then, God forgave his father because David repented, but not without devastating consequences for the family. (Pause) If I were a kid growing up in Solomon’s family, I would have a serious need for God’s wisdom to help me sift through the family drama to gain some type of perspective.
But there’s more, directly impacting the claim to the throne itself. Adonijah, Solomon’s older half-brother had the nerve and ambition to proclaim himself king, forcing David to crown Solomon as king while still a youth, in order to stop the palace coup which was in progress. This family history and drama gives new meaning to Solomon’s statement, “O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.” Yep, I can certainly imagine how Solomon must have been acutely aware of his need for a discerning mind and the ability to discern between good and evil. Can’t you?
In James, chapter 1 verse 5, James, the brother of Jesus writes that, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
This truth from James seems to have been true with Solomon, because God grants Solomon wisdom, without rebuking Solomon for his initial missteps as king—like killing his half-brother and contender for his throne and slaughtering a priest and military advisor for their disloyalty to both his father and himself. Nor did God rebuke Solomon for marrying an Egyptian princess or worshipping at the high places–all of which were forbidden in the Mosaic Torah. Despite these missteps, God comes to Solomon in a dream, and asks Solomon to decide what gift he wants from God, and then grants Solomon his request for wisdom and much more.
Immediately after God grants Solomon wisdom, we see Solomon, making his most famous and amazingly wise ruling by discerning which one of two women was the real mother of a baby, when both were claiming to be its mother. We also see Solomon wisely negotiating business deals with his neighboring countries of Tyre and Sidon, by appealing to their loyalty to King David and by offering to continue peaceful and cooperative relationships in exchange for Tyre’s cedar and Sidon’s lumberjacks needed for Solomon’s building projects. Solomon wisely offers to pay fair wages to the lumberjacks. At the same time, Solomon makes the bad decision of forcing his own people to labor on those same building projects without being paid, probably following the council of his new Egyptian father-in-law and his new wife, the Egyptian princess.
So, we see, that even though God’s wisdom is readily available to Solomon, Solomon was inconsistent in applying that wisdom to his life and work as King. Surely his family of origin and the larger cultures within which he lived had some subconscious influence at times.
This begs the question, both for Solomon in his day, and for us today:
- How do we know when we’ve truly heard from God?
- How do we discern when our family of origin and other cultures our clouding our judgment?
- And how do we avoid making mistakes that will have a negative impact not only on our lives, but on the lives of those around us, and on God’s kingdom?
Have you ever sensed God talking to you?
John Wesley spoke of his first real encounter with God as experiencing his heart being “strangely warmed.” And two disciples talk of how their “hearts burned within them” when Jesus “opened the Scriptures to them” on the road to Emmaus, in Luke chapter 24. So, we have people who attested to Jesus speaking to their hearts after Jesus was resurrected.
This concept of God talking to us is hard for us modern people to fully wrap our heads around, making people hesitate to say that they have heard from God. John Wesley, however, encouraged the practice of sharing with one another what God was doing in their lives along with studying scripture, praying, and fasting as an important way of learning how to discern God’s voice and mature as Christians. John Wesley called this process, Christian Conferencing.
You might find the story I’m about to tell you a bit strange, I know I certainly do, but it illustrates something of how we discern God’s voice through Christian conferencing and by using the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. When I was 24 years old, I woke up after a dream, believing that God told me I would be a missionary in Bangladesh. Before that dream, I had no idea that Bangladesh existed. 9 years later, Glenn and I ended up being sent to Bangladesh by the State Department, even though we had not personally requested to go there. So, I must testify that God does still occasionally speak to people in dreams, but more often, God speaks by strangely warming our hearts when we read scripture, pray, or listen to others.
I must also testify to how we can misinterpret what God is saying, when we do think he’s spoken. Hindsight has taught me, that I added to God’s message in the dream, without being conscious that I had; because of my preconceived notion — at that time, that dictated that all missionaries stayed in their assigned fields for life. So, I automatically assumed God had called me to spend my whole life in Bangladesh—which was never actually stated in the dream. This assumption caused me a whole lot of grief when I turned down the opportunity to stay in Bangladesh, after our 3 month summer assignment was completed. Hindsight has taught me that if I had discussed my sense of call openly, with other discerning Christians, they might have been able to help me sift through what was God, and what was me much earlier in my life. Something else has also helped me sift through what was from God and what was from me. It is a tool that United Methodists use as a way of discerning what is God and what isn’t God. It’s called the Wesley quadrilateral, and involves consulting scripture, Christian tradition, reason, and experience when discerning God’s voice. In my case, scripture agreed with the idea of being a missionary. Christian tradition also spoke of many people being missionaries throughout the world. Then we come to reason. Was it reasonable that God could have called me to Bangladesh? Sure. And it helps that I ended up there eventually. But, was it reasonable to think that God wanted me to be there for my whole life? Here’s a question I needed to answer. When I had the dream, I was young and unmarried. But when I ended up in Bangladesh, I had both a husband and a 1 year old baby. And as I encountered the environment filled with cholera and dysentery and many skin diseases and worm infestations, I realized that Bangladesh was not the optimum place to bring up my one year old child. So, that was something God would have to help me think through. Then, I needed to consider my husband, who at the time was working on his doctoral degree. Was God calling him to drop that and stay in Bangladesh? 2 catholic priests asked me to consider staying and teaching English at Dhaka University, so I had been offered a job, but I didn’t know if I could support our family on what they might pay me, and I didn’t know if it was right to ask Glenn to forfeit his career to support our family in Bangladesh. There were so many questions. Finally, I needed to consult my experience. My upbringing had told me that the man was to be the head of the family and income earner and the woman was supposed to care for the kids. These were assumptions and teachings that I really needed to think about and work through—before I could make a commitment to stay. If I had known about the Wesleyan quadrilateral back in 1996, and practiced Christian Conferencing, I would have been able to discern what God wanted much easier. As it is, it took me a few more years before I worked through everything by myself—which I don’t recommend.
It is important to understand that for these processes of discernment to function, it is expected that we routinely and in an ongoing fashion, seek to know God intimately, seek to walk in God’s ways, and seek God’s guidance in all things through prayer, studying scripture, taking communion, fasting, and conferencing with other Christians.
God had similar instructions to Solomon, in our text, saying, “4 If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.”
Now, we post-modern people don’t like to hear these conditional statements made by God which come off as threats and seem to convey that we should follow God out of fear. If we are going to understand God’s wisdom, we have to understand what the Bible means when it says, “the fear of the lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
In Hebrew the word fear means to show a reverence for God and God’s law. It does not mean that God wants us to live terrorized by fear of what God can do to us if he don’t obey God’s law. But like any relationship, we will be less likely to trust God and less able to discern God’s voice and meaning if we do not routinely spend time reading the Bible and seeking to understand and know God and God’s wisdom for all aspects of our life.
So, the question God is asking us today, is the same he asked Solomon so long ago: “Ask what I should give you.”
Will you answer with Solomon’s answer, “Give your servant . . . an understanding mind . . . able to discern between good and evil?”
The choice is yours. Amen.