Summary: Seeking knowledge from God pleases Him and helps us to discern and apply it correctly.
We are given some background to this passage. David was King of Israel for forty years. He ruled seven years in Hebron and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. Solomon succeeded his father after a bit of a struggle for succession and you can read about it in First Kings, Chapter 1. We know a few things about Solomon. He is the second son of Bathsheba – the first one died. Solomon succeeded David at his mother’s request and with his father’s approval. Preceding David’s final breath, he issued some last words to Solomon. Then David confirms the necessity of Solomon’s obedience to the Torah. At the beginning of this chapter in Kings, we read these words, “Solomon loved the Lord and followed the instructions of his father David.” We discover from our reading that Solomon has a dream. Normally a prophet served as an intermediary between Yahweh and the king but Solomon appears to be the only king of either kingdom (north and south) to be honoured by a divine visitation.
In Solomon’s dream or night visitation, the Lord asks him a question. “What do you want? Ask and I will give it to you” (3:5). God is not like a kind of divine genie that offers three wishes to three men stranded on a desert island. When they uncork the bottle that is washed ashore, a genie appears and offers three wishes. The first man wishes to be taken to Paris. The genie snaps his fingers, and the man suddenly finds himself standing in front of the Eiffel Tower. The second man wishes that he were in Hollywood, and with a snap of the genie's fingers, he finds himself on a Tinsel Town movie set. The third man, now alone on the island, looks around and says, "I wish my friends were back." Of course, the moral is ‘be careful for what you wish.’
Solomon carefully considers his response to the Lord. He first recounts to his benefactor some of God’s great qualities, such as the Lord’s lavish love and unbounding faithfulness that was shown to his father David. Solomon then describes himself as a child. What he meant was that unlike David, his father he lacked experience in military leadership. Solomon answers the Lord in humility, and makes a genuine, well thought out request for wisdom to rule the people of God. Solomon desires practical wisdom. Imagine yourself in Solomon’s place where you could ask for anything. What would be your request?
When organisations want to improve their performance, management typically chooses one of two tools. One is to introduce new procedures and processes that tell employees what to do and monitor their performance to make sure they are doing it.
The other is to introduce incentives that encourage good performance by rewarding people: 1) rules and 2) incentives. Aristotle said this two-pronged approach was lacking a missing ingredient called phronesis, or practical wisdom. Without this missing ingredient, neither rules (no matter how detailed and well monitored) nor incentives (no matter how clever) will be enough to solve the problems we face. Almost 600 years before Aristotle coined the phrase, phronesis, Solomon asked the Lord for practical wisdom. The reader is told that the Lord is pleased with Solomon’s request for wisdom. Two weeks ago, the reading focused on David’s adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and his attempt to cover up the situation by putting her husband Uriah on the front lines of battle. There is a phrase at the end of 2 Samuel 11, which says, “But the Lord was not pleased with what David had done.” In contrast, the Lord was pleased with Solomon’s request. The Lord is pleased with Solomon and gives him discernment to govern the people but also throws in fame, and a chance for a long life as well. Here are several words credited to Solomon.
The discerning heart seeks knowledge but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.
Folly brings joy to one who has no sense but whoever has understanding keeps a straight course.
The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge for the ears of the wise seek it out.
How much better is it to get wisdom than gold and to get understanding rather to be chosen than silver?
Solomon’s sentiments regarding the preference for wisdom over wealth stem from the dream that changed his life. An occasion soon arose to test this divine gift of practical wisdom. Two prostitutes came before the king bearing two children, one dead, one alive. Although their stories were conflicting, they did agree both lived in the same house and recently, within days of one another, each gave birth to a child. One woman claimed that the dead child was the result of the other mother's carelessness in accidentally laying on the child during the night and suffocating it.