a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.
July 23, 2023
1 Kings 3:5-12 NRSV
5 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.
Haven’t you ever wished that you would find a bottle, rub it and a genie would come out and grant you three wishes? Did you see the movie Aladdin a few years ago? I might settle for a visit with comic genius Robin Williams, who was the voice of the genie in that movie if you remember. Robin left us far too soon. His story is just one more of those that inspires us to be a WISE Church, working to be welcoming, inclusive, supportive, and engaged with persons with mental health issues or those who are family or friends with someone who is.
Anyway, when I read this story of God and Solomon discussing what Solomon should ask for from God, I immediately got the mental image of having a genie and 3 wishes to ask for. The story of Solomon is one of the proudest moments for the nation of Israel. He was their king at the height of their glory and power. He was regarded as wise and wonderful. As the son of their most honored King, David, Solomon had big shoes to fill. He was not a soldier as his father had been. He was not a simple shepherd as his father started out as in life.
Solomon is an interesting character. Most of us know the basics. He was the blessed child of the blessed King of Israel. God offers him whatever he wants to ask for and he wisely asks for wisdom. You may remember the somewhat mythical story of his deciding which woman claiming to be mother to a child was the authentic one. He told his soldier to cut the baby in half and give half to each. The “real” mother, of course, gasped and said, “No, no let her have the baby rather than kill it.” And Solomon “wisely” sees that she is the real mother and orders the baby be given to her.
But dig a little deeper and the real Solomon is a far more interesting case than just another rich, powerful, wise guy. We can probably relate more to him “warts and all” than this “too-perfect” Solomon. Here’s some of the “dirt” on Solomon that might help us understand just who he is. It might also help us know who God is in relating to Solomon, and therefore ultimately to us.
In the verses just before the ones we read we learn that:
“Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt; he took Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her into the city of David, until he had finished building his own house and the house of the Lord and the wall around Jerusalem. 2The people were sacrificing at the high places, however, because no house had yet been built for the name of the Lord. 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.”
I have to wonder at the thought of Solomon making a political alliance by marrying a daughter of Pharoah. I wonder how the people of Israel, who remembered how Pharoah and Egypt had been the oppressors of Israel, and how God had liberated them from that oppression, thought of such an alliance. And another questionable part of this is the business of going to worship at “high places.” Almost everywhere in the Bible these “high places” were condemned by the prophets and by God as places of worship for false idols and gods. Yet here is Solomon doing it. The writer tries to placate us a bit, saying this was “only” because the Temple had not yet been built for YHWH, the one true God, the liberator of Israel. So these elements suggest that Solomon wasn’t as perfect a “man of God” as we might have thought.
Still, Solomon has this dream that God comes to him and invites him to ask what he wants of God. Showing he is at least a smart and diplomatic leader, Sol begins by pointing out how good God had been to his father David and what a great God YHWH is. My mother used to call this “buttering him up.” I always wondered the origin of that saying. I mean after all, don’t you butter something up before you cook it? Anyway. God is pleased by Sol’s prelude and then Sol gives God the main ask: he says, “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?” God is impressed, at least in Sol’s dream, and grants Sol’s wish.
Whatever we can learn from Solomon, three questions came to mind in our relationship with God, however we conceive of God. Let me offer them to you for your spiritual reflection in the coming moments, or days, if you can remember them: What is it you want most out of life? What is it you feel God has given you, or maybe an easier question, what do you wish God would give you? I’ll say more about that in a moment. And finally, how do you want to live in relationship to God?
The question of what we want most out of God, or life, is as important for us as for the King of Israel. We may not have the same options in terms of wealth or power but this passage itself makes it clear that those aren’t the things either God or Solomon ranked highest. We may want to “have it all.” Financial success, meaningful relationships, intellectual growth, all seem like good things to have. For some it might be as modest as just a little bit better health, peaceful relationships with a conflicted family, or simply to not live in financial ruin. What do you want most out of life?
My reason for this question is it leads directly to the second question for me. What do you feel God has given you and/or what do you most want from God. The clever person among us may have seen my title “3 wishes” and thought of making their third wish three more wishes, on into infinity. But most of us are mature enough in faith to know God is not a magic genie. We cannot rub the Bible and expect God to appear in a puff of smoke. But what we believe about God defines what we ask for or expect from God.
For me the question starts with the question, what have I received from God? That always leads to gratitude. Though I have not yet won the billion-dollar MegaBall lottery, I have more financially than 90% of the world’s population. I may not be as physically fit and beautiful as that guy that plays “Thor” in the movies, but I am grateful for how good my health is. I make no claims to being an intellectual heavyweight either, but I am deeply grateful for the privilege to reflect on theological questions and share my thoughts with you as part of my professional life.
When it comes to what I ask of God a lot of it begins with forgiveness for my failures as a husband, father, pastor and general human being and guidance on how to be better, for the spiritual guidance and strength to be a better person. I’m not recommending my list or professing my list to be the best or only one. But I do want to invite you to reflect on that and perhaps make your own list, if you haven’t got one you have already thought through and decided on. I am always editing my list, by the way, editing, if you will. I simply gave you the part that is first and foremost on my mind right now.
All of that leads me to that final question: how do I want to live in relationship to or with God? I think this is the heart of the spiritual lesson of this passage. God asks Solomon what he wants God to give him. In essence God asks each of us that and when it comes down to it, I believe the question is, what do we want from our relationship with God? When God asks this and Solomon asks for wisdom the Scriptures tell us that God commended Sol for not asking for wealth, or more power, or vengeance on his enemies. I take that to mean that God does not see those as the top three things to ask of God.
Let me comment that I stopped typing at this point, walked away from the computer and did a whole lot more thinking and praying. The next day I sat down to write this: I think what I want most from my relationship with God is to be transformed into the person God believes in. I want to reiterate that I don’t believe God forces this or controls us or changes us like a genie. What I believe is that the love of God is so powerful, so perfect, so amazing, that whenever we encounter it, it changes us. Or perhaps more accurately, we change because of that encounter. Again I do not believe God so much will transform me as I believe the more I encounter, and trust, and respond to God’s perfect love the more I will change.
There’s no magic wand, no genies, no getting those 3 wishes I wish I could have. There’s only God’s perfect, unconditional love. I guess when I really start believing in its power, as much as I want to believe in it, I will change. I will be changed. And maybe if you encounter it, you will be transformed too, in a great and beautiful and amazing way. And maybe if enough of us start really believing in it this world will be transformed. Right now that’s only a wish. But I do believe. Lord help my unbelief. AMEN.