The Way of Wisdom

1 Kings 2:10-12 and 3:2-14
August 19, 2012

Rev. Tricia Dillon Thomas
 

Since we have been primarily steeped in the New Testament this summer, let’s spend a little bit of time locating today’s lesson from 1 Kings in the larger biblical story.


In the beginning, The Old Testament begins, we read about God’s creation of the world, the land and seas, creatures great and small, and humankind. We are introduced to Adam and Eve, the first people. There is the story of Noah and the great flood and the covenant God makes with which we are reminded of everytime we see a rainbow. …skip some to Abraham and Sarah who God promises a great nation (later called Israel) numbered more than the stars and sand and a great land filled with milk and honey. We’ll fast forward to God’s people exiled in Egypt. The Israelites oppressed under Pharoah, whose heart is hardened against them. Moses we remember called by God, leads the Israelites thru the desert for 40 years where God’s law is taught to the people, and these Israelites are eventually delivered to that Promised Land of milk and honey called Israel. 


In the Promised Land Israel is fruitful and guided by God through prophets and judges. But at some point the people demand that a king rule them. And so in First Samuel, the prophet Samuel delivers a warning to the people. “He cautions that a king will take their resources and their labor for his own benefit, and they will end up as his slaves (1 Samuel 8:11-18). And that warning looms over the whole account of the rise and fall of the monarchy in the books of Samuel and Kings.”[1]


The first king appointed by the prophet Samuel was Saul, who started out well enough, but after being disobedient to instructions given by God thru Samuel, begins to fail in his kingship and health; eventually falling to evil spirits. After Saul dies, his son-in-law David (who killed Goliath with the sling shot and played the harp so beautifully it would soothe Saul’s evil spirit) becomes the successor to the throne.


David, a faithful servant, had a brilliant military mind. After he conquers Jerusalem, David brings the Ark of the Covenant there, establishes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and promises to build a temple there for God. God is pleased with David’s faithfulness and thus delivers a promise called the Davidic Covenant. In this covenant God promises David: "Your throne shall be established forever.” If we jump ahead, this is why there are lines of succession written in the New Testament—to prove that Jesus came from the house of David as God promised. David was also smart and poetic, as attested to by the psalms attributed to his name in the book of Psalms. Strong, good looking, bright, poetic, a musician...King David was dreamy. And like the saying goes, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is…King David had a weakness for the ladies. Remember Bathsheba? David was the one who had Bathsheba’s husband killed so that he could be with her.  


Before David dies, there is a fight over who will take over the throne. By some sketchy means, Solomon, son of David and Bathsheba is declared heir to the throne. And this brings us to today’s readings. So let us listen now for the spirit is speaking to us.

Read 1 Kings 2: 10-12 and 3: 3-14.

 10Then David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David. 11The time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. 12So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established.

3Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. 4The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. 5At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” 6And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. 7And now, 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. 8And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9Give 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?” 10It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. 13I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. 14If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.”

This is the Word of our Lord. Thanks be to God.
 

I really, really don’t like to pick out sermon titles. They force me to sum up in a few short words or a phrase what this is all supposed to be about, and it just seems trite. Sometimes I can get away with telling Gia or Elizabeth to just not put a title in, or make it generic enough to not really matter. But this week Elizabeth was on to me. I turned on my computer after session Thursday night and after trying to ignore two emails for a title, I had no less than 5 emails asking the same question. Some with beautiful pictures, some with just titles, and one finally said, because she was trying to leave town, “Okay, lady, give me a title.”

So I picked the last one she sent me. A beautiful picture of a journey. A path. A choice we have to make to live…either in wisdom or…not. “The Way of Wisdom.”

The truth is, though, I just don’t get this wisdom stuff. My context for wisdom resides primarily in these two parts of the Bible: the one where Adam and Eve are tempted by the serpent who says if they eat from the Forbidden Fruit they will become wise like God knowing good and evil. And well, that makes God really unhappy and now among other things the whole childbearing thing became a heck of a lot harder.  

And then there’s the whole book of Proverbs and the personified “Lady Wisdom.”  This is apparently the place to go to understand wisdom. How many of you have to read through the book of Proverbs? That Lady Wisdom is something else, but the one thing for certain she lets us know is that once you think you understand what wisdom is, you are a fool. 


So there you have it. Wisdom. I’m a screaming child birthing FOOL.


Most scholars agree that wisdom isn’t about intellect or someone’s IQ. Here’s a sampling of some things they did say:


Wisdom is…

A listening of the heart, not an understanding of the mind.

        A verb. A way of being in the world where one lives and rules 

       according to God’s justice.

            To do away with the materials and idols of this world and to be in

           covenant relationship with God. 



I have a friend Fred who is an artist and a preacher. And when he finally brought those two gifts together, his sermons painted our imaginations with riches words could never find. I think if Fred painted wisdom, it would be with oils, so that the canvas would be bumpy from the globs of paint smacked down on top of one another… where the ending of one image leapt to the side for the beginning of another. And it would be abstract and full of colors. There would be moments of harmony in the colors, except every once in a while you’d see a bright yellow or red streak that looked out of place, but when you started to really pay attention you noticed it actually helped tie the whole piece together. When Fred paints these gorgeous pictures accidents happen, but he’s “not afraid to let them happen because the accidental and the dissonant always point to new possibilities.”[2]


Are you with me still? If you’re not, that’s perfect because you probably understanding wisdom more than the rest of us.


And so now you can see why this slide has a different sermon title than the first: Solomon’s Dream, a very vanilla, just generic enough title that can cover about anything else I might say without any real high expectations.


So let us return to the text:

10Then David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David.


It might help some of you to hear that “David slept with his ancestors,” might be better translated, “Then David died and was buried with his ancestors in the city of David.” There wasn’t some kind of weird party before he died.


But the point is to remind us that Solomon comes from the line of David pointing to the Davidic Covenant promised not too long ago to David by God.


Chapter 3 continues:3Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. 4The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. 5


I think it helps to understand that the theology expressed in this story about Solomon is called Deuteronomic Theology. Say it with me: Deuteronomic Theology. What that means is that in this passage with Solomon, there are some understood requirements God has from Solomon and Israel that were spelled out in the Book of Deuteronomy. I’m sure you remember all those, so in summary I’ll say the underlying principal is that the “Lord is Israel’s only God.


 “So worship of other gods is forbidden and all of the Lord’s covenant laws must be obeyed, including the requirement that the Lord may legitimately be worshiped in only one place.”[3]


So, when we read that Solomon loved the Lord and was faithful like his father David, BUT that Solomon sacrificed at high places, it tells us a couple of things. 1) Solomon has already messed up. Yes, the temple hasn’t been built so there’s not a proper place to offer the burnt offerings (which foreshadows the major achievement of Solomon—the building of the Temple; but 2) Solomon is already showing tendencies to not be so perfect in his righteousness. It says Solomon is worshipping God or “gods” in other places.


Let’s continue:

5At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” 6And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today.


I just have to stop and say, really? Really, Solomon?  We’re just going to forget all about David’s wondering eye, his lady troubles with Bathsheba, and the killing of her husband so David can have her for himself? And we’re gonna forget that dear old dad’s life went downhill after all that drama, and just proclaim to God (who knows everything) that David was faithful and steadfast, and righteousness? Okay. I digress.


7And now, 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. 8And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9Give 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?”


So Solomon says he’s a little child. He’s not really a little child, we know he’s at least old enough to marry Pharaoh’s daughter. But saying you’re a little child is a way to say, “God, I don’t know what I’m doing and I need your guidance.” And this is evidenced by the rest of what Solomon says.


I’ve never had to be in charge of God’s chosen people…so I can’t begin to imagine the pressure Solomon’s under. He’s not a little child, but he is young, and he’s quick to point out that God’s chosen people, just like God promised to Abraham and Sarah, number more than the stars in the sky. And he knows he has the daunting task of having to build a house…FOR GOD. And so, when God asks Solomon what he wants, he forgoes riches and power, good looks and brawn, he asks, and he asks quite humbly, for wisdom.


When some of us looked at this passage the other night at our session meeting we began to compare Solomon’s account with our modern day candidates. I mean can you imagine?


The mailings? The calls? You pick up the phone and it’s a telemarketer who says, “I’m calling you on behalf of Barak Obama. Look, he’s a real good man, just like his pop, and yes he’s kind of green, in fact he’d tell you he’s just a baby. And yeah, he doesn’t know which way is in or out, but he wants to be a good leader for the lot of you. Vote Obama.”


Or a TV ad that said, “Hi. I’m Mitt Romney.  I mean when it comes down to it…who can really govern us? There’s a whole lot of you, and you all have a lot of problems. I don’t really know what I’m doing. Vote Romney.”


Solomon knows he can’t do this alone. Solomon asks for an “understanding mind.” Solomon prays for wisdom. It’s interesting that Solomon who married Pharoah’s daughter, Pharoah, whose heart was hardened against God’s people, asks for wisdom, which I commented earlier can be translated as a listening heart. So instead of an understanding mind, Solomon asks for a listening heart.  

This Deuteronomic theology that we spoke of earlier is relational. It not only calls for God’s people to be in singular relation with the one God Lord of all, it also calls for God’s people to be in relationship with another. It specializes in attentive care to the oppressed: for widows, orphans, and immigrants.[4] It specializes, as Jesus reminds us in Matthew, to yes, love God with every fiber of your being, but to also actively and unconditionally love your neighbor as yourself. And so as I mentioned earlier, even though we can’t really define the term “wisdom,” we do know that “this wisdom is not successful management or clever rulings or flourishing economy or technological mastery… [Rather, this wisdom is attentive] to the socially, economically vulnerable as the prerequisite for effective governance and power.”[5] God’s wisdom, a gift, is indeed a verb, which should become our highest action—it calls us to do justice in the world. And it is given to those who are steadfast in their obedience and faith of the Lord.


Immediately following our lesson for today, Israel becomes aware of Solomon’s unmatched wisdom when two women argue over whom is the real mother of the sole surviving child. Solomon asks for a sword and says he’ll just cut the baby in half and each woman can have her half of the baby, until the real mother relents and says the other woman can have the child, and Solomon declares she must then be the birth mom.


And later on we hear that the Queen of Sheba is so impressed by the stories she hears of Solomon’s great wisdom that she travels nearly 14 days to meet him for herself.


God grants Solomon with a wisdom that the world had not seen before and promises the world will never see again. God grants Solomon with a wisdom that seeks to be a listening heart; God grants Solomon with wisdom that forces him to be an active participant in God’s justice in the world.


And it begs the question…this wisdom that Solomon prays for and receives what would that look like in the daily walk of this Church? In the daily walk of our lives?


In the last verse of today’s scripture God says to Solomon, 14Walk in my ways and keep my statutes and my commandments.”


We can choose our will, or we can choose to listen to God’s will for our lives and God’s creation.  We stay in relationship. We come to worship, we pray the Lord’s prayer, we study God’s word with another.


It’s not that we earn God’s love, it’s that we have a choice about how to live our lives. God’s prayer is that we choose God.

May it be so.



[2] Fred Wise as explained on Facebook 08.18.12
[3] Weeks, Wayne A., The Harper Collins Study Bible: NRSV, HarperCollins Publishers (London:1993), 511.
[4] Walter Brueggemann,  http://www.odysseynetworks.org/news/onscripture-the-bible-1-kings-2-10-12-page-2
[5] Ibid.