1 Kings 3:5-13 & 1 Cor.2:1-7 Labor Day Week-end
Elizabeth M. Deibert 6 September 2015
Let’s consider some quotes about the difference between knowledge and wisdom. (on the screen) Knowledge can be obtained through education, while wisdom is most often acquired through experience. There is knowledge and there is wisdom. The difference is compassion. Knowledge speaks. Wisdom listens. (Jimi Hendrix) To acquire knowledge, one must study. To acquire wisdom, one must observe.
We are reading about the wisdom of Solomon. Solomon is highly regarded because he prayed for wisdom and displayed wisdom. When he could have prayed for long-life, for power, for riches, he prayed for wisdom that he might lead the people well. Do you think the candidates for President are praying for wisdom? I’m afraid their prayers are for success. We should always pray for the wisdom of leaders that they would use their power for good.
1 Kings 3:5-13
At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, "Ask what I should give you." 6 And 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. 7 And 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. 8 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. 9 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?" 10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 God 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, 12 I 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. 13 I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. (NRS)
Solomon has to govern a very numerous people; and not just any people, but a nation of God's own choosing. Therefore, he asks of God a "listening heart" or, as many translations including the one we read put it, "an understanding mind". A listening heart, an understanding mind, the ability to discern what is right and good--these are qualities essential to good governance, qualities we should pray to find in all our leaders. It speaks well of the young king that he recognizes the enormous responsibility he has and seeks not material gifts for himself, but gifts of character that will benefit his people. We read of him treating his servants to great feasts. Solomon is indeed a king respected, but as you keep reading his story in the early chapters of 1 Kings, you begin to see that he loses the humility he has in the beginning. The humility of not-knowing, of calling himself a child, is lost to the ego of popularity, power, success, and sex. 700 wives and 300 concubines. Apparently that distracted him from God. Yes, I should think so.
Even though the Book of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon are all attributed to him, the book of wisdom literature in the Bible, along with Job, Solomon clearly fell away from wise choices. As a result of his seeking after other gods, the kingdom of Israel became divided and ultimate fell into ruin.
Solomon seeks wisdom but gets sucked into the vortex of popularity and power. Solomon surrounded himself with women who worshipped other gods and they influenced him in the end. Pure as his heart seemed, much as he had everything he wanted, and accomplished great things in the name of God, giving God glory, he was led away from a pure devotion to the One God, his creator. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
But we are still captivated by people with power, people who can say whatever they want. People who can buy whatever they want. People who can sleep with whomever they want. Why do we chase after people with power and success even when they have lost their moral compass? Because we, like they, are far too enamored with that power and success. They are still idols for us. But Paul teaches a different way…power of God that comes through weakness.
In chapter one of 1 Corinthians he talks about God’s power being made perfect in human weakness and about how God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
1 Corinthians 2:1-7
When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3 And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4 My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God. 6 Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. 7 But we speak God's wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. (NRS)
There is continuity and discontinuity between the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament and the New Testament. One of the big discontinuities has to do with power. Christ’s incarnation shows us that God uses weakness to demonstrate power. The weakness of an infant, the weakness of one sweating in the Garden of Gethsemane, saying not my will but yours. He was able to embrace pain and absorb sin rather than running from it or deflecting it by scapegoating others. In that weakness God’s strength shines. It becomes clear in the New Testament in the life of Christ that God is preferential toward the poor, the lowly, the marginalized. God cares about refugees who have no place to lay their heads. In Christ the King, power is completely re-defined.
In this story, Solomon's great wisdom is understood as a special gift from God. In the biblical wisdom literature, wisdom is also understood as a gift from God. It is given, however, not just to kings, but to all who faithfully seek it (Proverbs 2:1-6; 8:1-17). As in this story, wisdom will reward those who acquire it (Proverbs 3:16); but it is not to be sought simply for personal gain. It is integrally tied to one's life in community (Job 29:7-25) and to one's life with God--"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10). Workingpreacher.org Kathryn M. Schifferdecker is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary, and an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She is the author of Out of the Whirlwind: Creation Theology in the Book of Job (Harvard University Press, 2008).
Many of us feel uncomfortable with the idea of fearing God, as in being afraid. But I believe the way the Scriptures speak of it, it is reverence, respect, awe. It’s putting God first, desiring God to be pleased, wanting in every way to serve God. That’s why we can say “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” And wisdom is a gift from God. Ask for wisdom. Seek wisdom. Avoid spending too much time with those who encourage you to put other things ahead of God. Recognize that wisdom often leads to humble action, to being weak, that God’s power may be demonstrated in all its glory.