Summary: True wisdom is a gift from God. It’s worth more than riches or power. But by itself it’s not enough. We also need to remain faithful to God.
By Rev Bill Stewart
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.