Text: 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
If you had one single wish, what would that be?
If God could grant you any one thing in life, what would that be?
Would it be the usual suspects? Wealth? Power? Fame? I think given many of the life experiences that we have had, one wish we might have would be a chance to once again see and talked to a loved one who had died. Maybe a chance to go to a place that we have never been… maybe wish to change a painful experience in the past.
There are many stories out there where people are given the chance to wish for whatever they wanted. We know the variants on the Aladdin stories that have been made into film… drawn from Mediaeval tales from the Middle-East… but even these are not as ancient as the story this morning of young Solomon…
It’s funny, this is a Biblical story that we really aren’t all that familiar with, and yet all of its themes have a great resonance with us. I’m surprised that we do not tell it more than we do.
It’s really a very simple story: young Solomon, becomes King of Israel on the death of his father David. Unlike David, who came to power as a favoured general, anointed by Samuel as God’s heir to the throne… Solomon became a king at a young age. He had other generals to do battle for him, he essentially had everything handed to him… but there was something missing.
As the story goes, early in his reign, God speaks to Solomon in a dream, and says “ask what I should give you.” –It’s simple question… but with far reaching results. This isn’t simply an “ask for what you would like, and I’ll consider it…” God essentially says to Solomon, “Tell me your wish, and I will grant it.”
So more than a thousand years before the story of a young Aladdin and the Genie… we have Solomon being offered what really is a wish. There are more connections with that story than we realize. Yet the question is still the same: If you were in Solomon’s shoes how would you answer? If you had one single wish, what would it be?
As the story goes, Solomon’s answer is simple: Wisdom.
He says that he recognizes his own inexperience, and desires to have “an understanding mind to govern the people, able to discern between good and evil.” Solomon asks for wisdom. But here’s the twist. By asking for wisdom, Solomon already shows that he has it.
God seems pleased by Solomon’s choice… and as the story goes grants him his request.
How many of us would wish for wisdom?
Then again, how many of us really know what wisdom is?
When it comes to the Bible we are probably most familiar with the stories that emerge out of it. The early stories from Genesis, or the stories of Jesus…” but there’s all sorts of different facets to the Bible, like the multiple tiny pieces of glass that make up a stained glass window. If we only pay attention to one piece or a single colour of pieces, we miss the big picture.
Wisdom… particularly Biblical wisdom… is probably one of those parts of the Bible that we really don’t pay that much attention to… and yet in the midst of this story from the Bible, it tells us that God was pleased with Solomon’s request for wisdom. Yet in all of the lessons that we remember, I bet that there is not a lot in the way of the wisdom books that immediately spring to mind! Yet in Hebrew Scripture, wisdom makes up a large part of it. You’re probably familiar with terms like Law and the Prophets… but there is this whole other section… the Writings… of which wisdom… Biblical wisdom is a major theme.
There are several books in the Bible referred to as wisdom literature… Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Job which are dedicated books to the pursuit of divine wisdom. Even the prophets themselves seek to apply God’s wisdom to their experience of life.
But what exactly is wisdom anyway?
One way of describing it, you heard it in the Psalm this morning…
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” –Psalm 111:10
It’s a simple wisdom statement, and it appears in many different places in the Bible. I think too often though we’re put off by that word “fear” because we have come to associate it with darkness and terror… rather than a genuine sense of awe and respect. I don’t think that translation has served us well at all, because it generates this sense of fear in the worst possible way. Don’t do anything that might upset God or we might get smacked.
And yet… as Solomon discovered… as the writers of all that wisdom literature knew… it wasn’t a sense of “God’s gonna get me” fear that motivated them, but this genuine sense of awe and wonder of being a part of something so magnificent, and to have an insight into the one who created it all. It is also being in awe that in such an infinitely large universe, that nothing can ever contain who God truly is. It is being in awe of that, and realizing that we have a genuine and tangible connection to that, is where wisdom begins. It is in the awareness of God in every facet of life that helps one to become discerning and wise. It is curious that the wise are never ones who simply make snap judgements or pronouncements, but instead try to see all the subtle ways that God is present.
Not too far after Solomon’s wish for wisdom is this story where two women come to Solomon claiming that they are the mother of a given child. You may be familiar with this story, it is intended to demonstrate Solomon’s new-found wisdom. DNA testing didn’t exist… there was no way to tell. So Solomon comes up with what seems to be an unthinkable plan: he orders the child to be cut in half, with one piece given to each of the two women. One of the women then immediately says to Solomon that they would rather see the child with the other woman than to be killed. Upon this revelation, Solomon grants custody to the woman who just gave up the child… because with that insight, he perceived that the true mother would rather give up their child than to see them killed. In this Solomon doesn’t rush to judgement, he listens, he observes, and he perceives. He even goes so far as to apparently make one decision, only to reverse it once new information came to light.
These days we tend to place value on leaders that make decisions and stick to their guns regardless of new facts or information. But from these stories, Biblical wisdom is anything but… it is about doing our best to perceive God in life, and never being too quick to rush to judgement. It is even about willing to admit that one is wrong, and allowing for those moments of reconciliation. There’s a cautionary element in all this, even though Solomon was granted the gift of wisdom, it is possible to foolishly squander it if we forget that sense of awe and wonder and connection that we have with God. Like David before him, unfortunately, Solomon would get too comfortable in his perceived role as a wise king. Resting on his laurels, or presuming any decision he made was wise, he would later in his life make many mistakes that would have long-reaching consequences in the life of Israel.
Going back to that original question that God asks of Solomon… what is your wish?
When Solomon asks for wisdom, it is a gift that he already had. It is a bit ironic, but Solomon already seemed to have wisdom beyond his years when he made his request. He loses it when he begins to assume that any decision he makes is a wise one. You’ve heard the saying, “be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.” Maybe it should read, “be careful what you wish for, you might just lose it.”
I have to be honest, I am not sure what I would say if God asked me the same question as Solomon. Maybe Solomon’s request to God should have been phrased more like this. “God give me wisdom, but don’t let me know I have it.” Because before he even asked for wisdom, God had already granted him that gift. I think that if anything, my prayer, my wish would be to see, appreciate, and use the gifts that God already gives to each of us, and that we might always seek to make the best and wisest of choices.