Christmas 2 · 1 Kings 3:4-15 · January 3, 2010
By Travis J. Scholl
Wisdom doesn’t seem to come up much in our biblical preaching, despite the fact that the themes and literature of wisdom play a significant role in the Bible, particularly the Hebrew Bible. And perhaps this narrative of King Solomon’s dream is wisdom’s “source text,” the central narrative of wisdom and how people of faith may attain it. We know this story as well as we know any story taught to us in Sunday school. What does it teach us about biblical wisdom? Allow me to draw some brief insights from the text:
Wisdom begins in repentance.
Prior to Solomon’s dream, he goes to Gibeon to make sacrifice to the Lord (v. 4). The prophets remind us that sacrifice and repentance are not the same things, but nevertheless Solomon’s act involves contrition and supplication. Through the eyes of faith, unrepentant wisdom is an oxymoron.
Wisdom begins in prayer.
“And Solomon said, ‘Yοu have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David…'” (v. 6). It would seem to go without saying, but when God gives Solomon a blank check, Solomon does not go straight into his wish list. He first recounts God’s loving-kindness back to God in thanksgiving.
Wisdom begins in humility.
“…And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a litde child…” (v. 7). It is this sense of “childlike” humility that prefaces Solomon’s request for wisdom. Indeed, it is only when we are humble(d) that we feel the need for a wisdom beyond ourselves.
Wisdom begins in the promise of God.
Solomon points to this promise when he alludes to the fact that God’s promise to Abraham has been fulfilled: “a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted” (v. 8). But God’s promise is fulfilled for Solomon in the fact that the wisdom God gives him comes as a free gift. At no point is God obligated to provide for Solomon’s request. And God’s gift goes above and beyond Solomon’s request: “I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life …” (v. 13)
But the wisdom God gives subdy subverts Solomon’s wish. James Crenshaw points to the difference: “the young king requested an understanding mind to judge God’s people discerning good and evil. When a pleased God announced the gift that he intended to grant the pious ruler, he varied the language significandy: Ί give you a wise heart and unparalleled understanding’ (author’s translation)” (Old Testament Wisdom, 38). Solomon asks for a wise mind. God gives him a wise heart.
We need the wisdom God gives even more so today. There’s more than enough evil to discern in the world. Yet, sometimes the wisdom required of us is less about “good and evil” (v. 9) and more about choosing between two competing goods or, more difficult, choosing between the lesser of two evils. This requires the divine wisdom of the “litde child” in today’s Gospel reading. “And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Lk 2:47). Later, Luke will recount the one time Jesus mentions Solomon: “…even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these” (Lk 12:27b). God’s wisdom upends human worry every time, even when God’s Messiah ends up at the “principal high place” (v. 4) that no one would have ever asked for or expected.
Of course, Paul, in a completely different context, hits the nail on the head. “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:27). Perhaps only when we come to this point of foolish wisdom (or wise foolishness?) will our heart be able to discern the depths of grace and mercy of which Paul speaks so richly in today’s episde reading.