>The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, August 16, 2009. The text for this week’s message is 1 Kings 3:1-14.

Today we are going to spend some time looking at the story of Solomon. But before we dive into this part of Solomon’s story, I want to take a few minutes to give you the broad-brush strokes view of Israelite history to this point. In the story of the exodus, which is found in the second book of the Bible. The descendants of Jacob, who is also known as Israel, start off as slaves in the land of Egypt. They have been slaves for nearly 400 years in this foreign land, when along comes Moses, who through a long series of events, leads the people of Israel to eastern border of the Promised Land, but not into it.
Moses passes away, and the mantle of leadership is passed to Joshua. He leads the people across the Jordan River, and they start conquering the land. You can read about the initial invasion in the book of Joshua, which is the sixth book of the Old Testament. By the end of Joshua, the Israelites have made a good headway into the land of Canaan, which is another name for the Promised Land. They divide the land into different territories and each of the tribes of Israel has its own section of the land. They are told to continue the campaign to conquer the land they had been given.
If we look a little more closely at Israelite history, we realize that they never obeyed this command to continue driving out the inhabitants of the land of Canaan. It’s almost like they got their land, and then they get caught up in the day-to-day business of living. “Thanks, God. We’ll take it from here.” Anybody do that before? They forgot about their original task, about what God had done for them and what He had given them. And it ended up costing them dearly over the centuries. That’s an important point that we will come back to in a little bit.
As we move on to the book of Judges, we see a period in which the Israelites were in this cycle of turning away from God, being oppressed by a neighboring nation, turning back to God, who would then raise up a leader to end the threat, and then, as the shampoo instructions tell us – lather, rinse, repeat. That’s basically what the book of Judges is about – this continual downward spiral that displayed a need for godly leadership. We then head into a very important time for the nation of Israel in 1 Samuel. Samuel was a prophet, and is sometimes considered the last judge of Israel.
Samuel spends some time as the judge of Israel, but as he gets older, he allows his sons to be the judges of Israel. To say the least, his sons are nothing like their father. In fact, the writer even says, “Yet his sons did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice.” Because his sons were such terrible people, the people come to Samuel and say, “You are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” By the way, you can read all this in 1 Samuel 8. Samuel warns them what will happen if they have a permanent king instead of intentionally following after the Lord, but the people insist that they want a king just like all the other nations around them. Be careful what you ask for because you just might get it.
The Lord says, “All right. They can have their king.” And the first king of Israel is Saul from the tribe of Benjamin. He is reported to be the most handsome man in Israel. I can’t verify that, but it’s what the writer of 1 Samuel says. Saul’s kingship is confirmed in three ways. 1) Samuel anoints him as king of Israel. 2) Saul is chosen as king by casting lots (which I’m pretty certain is a game much like Yatzee). And 3) his kingship is sealed with a military victory over the Ammonites at Jabesh-gilead.
Saul started out to be a pretty good king. He led Israel in military victories and the people were pleased with him; however, prior to one particular battle, Saul was told to wait on Samuel to perform the sacrifice. But Saul got impatient and ended up performing the sacrifice himself. He no longer wanted to wait on God, but wanted to do things his own way. This was the start of him being rejected by the Lord, who wanted a “man after His own heart,” and that man ended up being David.
We are much more familiar with the story of David, so just a few details will get the point across here. David is most well known for killing the Philistine giant Goliath. Saul became irrationally jealous of David and tried to kill him, so David lived in hiding for quite some time. David had opportunities to kill Saul, but never did. Eventually, Saul was killed in battle, and for a brief time there actually was a struggle for power. David came out victorious and was anointed as the king of Israel.
David’s reign as king is looked at as the golden age of the nation of Israel. David ruled Israel well, for the most part. His most public failing was committing adultery with Bathsheba, getting her pregnant and having her husband killed in battle to cover up his mistake. The prophet Nathan, however, called him out on it, and David was repentant. If you ever read Psalm 51, keep in mind that it was written as David’s response to his sin with Bathsheba. David kept Bathsheba as his wife, and they had another son – Solomon, who David named as his successor after reigning as king for forty years.
Solomon is attributed with writing three books of Scripture: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. He is widely considered to be the wisest person to have ever lived. During his reign, the Temple was built in Jerusalem. And while David’s period as king may have been seen as the golden age, it was during Solomon’s reign that Israel really began to prosper. In today’s Scripture, we come to Solomon at the beginning of his reign. He isn’t known as the wisest person in history just yet. In fact, he is barely known at all on an international level at this point.
Let me ask you a question to get the wheels turning on this passage. If God came to you and said, “Ask me for anything that you want and I’ll give it to you,” what would you ask for? All sorts of things can come flooding to our minds. This is a completely wide-open request. God, the creator of everything, is offering to give you whatever you ask for. What do you say? Do you just go for whatever pops into your head? Well, maybe, but that’s not always the best option.
Have you ever seen Ghostbusters? It’s one of my favorite movies, and it’s been on television lately. I always love the end when Gozer tells them that they will decide what form the Destructor will take, and before anybody says anything, this voice says that it has been decided. They are trying to figure out what happened because none of them said anything, and then Ray apologizes. He says, “I couldn’t help it. I just popped in there.” And then the giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man can be seen walking down the street. One thing I learn from that movie is that you never know what will just pop into your head at any given moment. Including, sometimes, sermon illustrations. Okay, so if saying the first thing that comes to your mind is not the best option, what should we do?
I think it’s good to look at Solomon’s approach here. It is a very simple, two-step process. Step One: evaluate the situation. The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is nowhere to be seen here. Solomon didn’t just ask for the first thing that came to his mind, he took a look at the situation in which he found himself. He had just become the king of an entire nation. He thinks back to the faithfulness and love that God showed to his father David. He knows that God is trustworthy. He knows that David was blessed as long as he walked in the ways of the Lord. Solomon wasn’t being selfish with this request from God. In fact, he treated it as the honor and great responsibility that it really was. He looked at his situation and what it was that he was charged with doing. This wasn’t Aladdin rubbing a lamp and getting three wishes to make his life better.
When we ask God for something, we need to do so in light of his love and faithfulness. It is not about getting what we want for our own benefit, but it’s about how can we glorify God with our lives. Evaluate the situation. Who is God? What responsibilities has He given you? How can you glorify Him with the gifts He has given you? What tasks lay ahead of you?
The second step in this process: make a decision. Do you know how many things don’t happen simply because somebody doesn’t make a decision? I’m guilty of this in my own life. There are times when I’m not sure which decision to make, so I don’t make one, and, not surprisingly, nothing happens. I read a quote from Roberto Clemente, a Hall of Fame baseball player, who said something along the lines of, “You get three strikes, don’t waste them with the bat on your shoulder.”
Strategically, in baseball, there are times when you need to take a pitch, but his point is that you can’t give away a strike. Considering that Clemente is one of a relatively small number of players in the 3,000 hit club, I’d say he knew what he was talking about. Evaluate the situation, and then make a decision. Don’t waste all that time you spent evaluating by being paralyzed by indecision. Solomon didn’t say, “No thanks, God. I’m all right. I don’t need anything right now.” He evaluated his situation and told God what he needed. And what did he ask for? Wisdom. He wanted wisdom to govern the people and to discern between good and evil.
And what is God’s response? He is pleased. In fact, God was so pleased that He decided to give Solomon wisdom to govern and understand right from wrong, as well as great wealth and great honor. God doesn’t say, “No, Solomon, you don’t need that. Ask for something else.” No, God is pleased by the fact that Solomon realized he couldn’t do it on his own. This tells me that relying on God for all things is important. We can’t trust in our own abilities in the place of God. No matter how smart or talented we think we are, we cannot stop relying on God every step along the way. How often do we rely on God to get us through the day? How often do we ask God for the wisdom to live right? If you are anything like me, then it’s not very often. We forget about it. More often than we would like to admit, we forget that we need to rely on God each and every day. As great as a positive example as this is, I think there is one more thing that we can learn from Solomon in today’s passage.
In the larger context of the passage, we do see a change in Solomon. Just a chapter before, Solomon uses the sword to secure his place as king. David named him as his successor, however, Solomon perceived threats from a couple other fronts and eliminated those threats violently. After he asks for wisdom, we are told of a story of two women who had a dispute as to whose baby was alive and whose was dead. Solomon once again used the sword, but this time it wasn’t in violence, but as a result of his insight into humanity. He threatens to cut the living baby in half so that each woman would have half a baby. He does this to elicit a reaction that would help him determine who was the true mother of the baby, and the people saw that the wisdom of God was with him.
However, we also see the seeds of Solomon’s downfall in this chapter. And as we continue through the story of Solomon, we see him more and more relying on his own wisdom instead of relying on God. In verse 1 it is said that Solomon “made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt.” It seems like a fairly harmless sentence, but as we dig into all the implications of this sentence, we start to see something very harmful to Solomon and the nation of Israel.
In Deuteronomy, the Israelites are warned against “returning to Egypt” in terms of making relations with that nation. Egypt was the sight of their worst oppression. The Egyptians held the Israelites in brutal slavery for 400 years. Why would Israel want anything to do with Egypt? And yet, in the very first verse of this chapter, Solomon makes a treaty with the Egyptians. What is also important is that the Hebrew word translated here as “marriage alliance” is translated as “intermarry” in Deuteronomy 7:3. In that context, it is a warning to avoid marrying outside of the nation of Israel because such marriages would lead the Israelites to serve other gods.
Here is where we jump back into the history. Remember how the Israelites came into the Promised Land and didn’t completely drive out the other nations? They began to be influenced by those other nations. It was those other nations that caused them to turn away from God, which led them into idolatry. That warning was just as good when Solomon was king as it was on the day it was given to Moses, but Solomon still took on a bride from Egypt. And, much like how the nation was led astray by ignoring this warning, Solomon was led astray by ignoring it as well. It was a practice that Solomon maintained throughout his rule as king. He ignored the wisdom of God and began relying on his own wisdom. What is the point of asking for wisdom to govern and discernment between good and evil if you are just going to ignore it? That’s what Solomon did. He ignored what he had been given by God and Israel was much worse off because of it.
Solomon ends up with hundreds of wives and concubines who lead him away from walking the ways of his father David. He turns away from God, and is eventually rejected by God for his unfaithfulness. He doesn’t use the wisdom that God granted him, he ruled by what he felt was right instead of relying on God. That is a danger that we all face in our lives. God gives us something, and then we, like the Israelites in the Promised Land and like Solomon, think that we can handle it on our own. We say, “Thanks, God. We’ll take it from here.” Doesn’t that seem just a little backwards? What are we thinking when we do this?
When God gives you something, use it, and don’t forget that God is the one that gave it to you in the first place. God has gifted you in a particular way. Maybe you know it, maybe you don’t. If you don’t know it, let me tell you – God has gifted you in a particular way.
Don’t rely on yourself to make the best use of those gifts because you will fall short every time. Rely on God. He is the one who gave you those gifts, and He will be the one who puts you in positions to use them in such a way that He is glorified. If we strive after our own glory, we are nothing more than a dog chasing its tail, and do you know how ridiculous that looks? It doesn’t do any good, and when the dog finally does catch it, it hurts. It doesn’t do us any good to seek after our own glory. And the truth is, once we do get our own glory, it’s not as satisfying as we thought it would be. Often it hurts.
Pray that God will show you what He has gifted you with, and look for opportunities to use those gifts for the kingdom of God. It’s a matter of stewardship. Use what God has given you for His glory, not your own. Solomon may have been the wisest person in the world, but that didn’t keep him from making major mistakes in his life. And if Solomon made some major mistakes that pulled him away from God, how much more will do we need to rely on God in our lives? We can learn from Solomon’s good choices, but the truth is, there weren’t a whole lot of them. We can learn a whole lot more from his mistakes, and the biggest mistake that he made was that he started trusting in himself, and not in God. Don’t make that mistake with your life.