9 December 2013
Solomon the King reaches a point when he is on his own with a country to rule and he needs help. God appears in a dream to him and asks him what gift will Solomon ask for. And he asks for an understanding mind, able to discern between good and evil. We are told this was granted, along with riches and honour. But it is also made clear that Solomon is the one who will exercise this wisdom for he himself will continue to make choices as to whether he will follow God and keep the commandments.
Did he do this? Wisdom is something which needs defining. There is the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God.- Sometimes the two coincide, sometimes they are in opposition., and thatís where the discernment comes in Ė the ability to know the difference.
Was Solomon all that wise? Look at how Solomon became king. Solomon was not Davidís eldest son and the route to his succession was politically astute. and bloody. The text today comes at a time when David is approaching death, the succession like that in Ngaruawhaia and Tonga must be decided.
Absalom, who should have been king, rebelled against his father and made himself king, until his execution by Joab. Adonijah. son of Haggith, took a more political route, getting the support of David's general, Joab, and the priest, Abiathar.
He held a feast to celebrate invited everyone except Solomon, Nathan, and David;s own warriors. The writing was on the wall. Nathan told Bathsheba, Solomonís mother and Bathsheba, went to David who reminds David of a promise, which he may or may not have made, that he agreed that Solomon be King and did he agree to this? Nathan the prophet does the same, telling David that Adonijah is celebrating his kingship and did not invite Nathan, the priest Zadok or his brother Solomon although everyone else was invited. Have you done this my king.?
Daivd calls Bathsheba and she again reminded him that Solomon her son was to be King.
Take with you the servants of the Lord and have my son Solomon ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon, there let the Priest Zadok and the prophet Nathan anoint him King, then blow the trumpet and say long live King Solomon.
They did that and all the people with them made a huge noise with musical instruments , and trumpets. Adonijah and his guests were still feasting and asked what was the noise about. They were told that King David had made Solomon.King.
The messenger embellished it with
And David bowed in worship on his bed and went on to pray, Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel who has granted one of my offspring to sit on the throne and has permitted me to witness it.
Then all the guests of Adonijah got up trembling and went their own ways and Adonijah went and took hold of the altar horns claiming sanctuary..
Just before David dies he gave Solomon a list of whom to trust and whom to eliminate.
Solomon banished the priest Abiathar and shortly after ordered the execution of Adonijah for requesting the young and beautiful Abishag the Shunammite , Davidís property, as his wife. We find Bathsheba being given a throne next to Solomonís, underlying her power as Queen mother. Next, Solomon had general (the king maker) Joab killed. Though Shimei had not supported Adonijah, Solmon put him under house arrest, and when he left Jerusalem to retrieve some runaway slaves, from the King of Garth, Solomon had him executed. The scripture says, "So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon." And so it is: with three executions and a banishment! Solomon did walk in the ways of his father David.
Solomon used the wisdom of the world to become king. He used political intrigue, murder and banishment. So, maybe his rule over the empire was one of great intelligence, wisdom and common sense. What was it like to live under King Solomon?
He was aided by it being a time of weakness of the surrounding nations and his Empire expanded to the greatest limits Israel ever knew and Solomon became extremely wealthy. Here is part of the thread of Old testament theology which said the richer you were the more God had blessed you.
Solomon made strategic alliances with powerful neighbours which permitted a generation of peace. Solomon married the daughter of a Pharaoh, and established a trade agreement with King Hiram of Tyre, cementing relationships to the south and to the north. Even if the tradition exaggerates (1 Kings 11 claims 700 princesses among Solomon's foreign wives), Solomon clearly understood the usefulness of turning your neighbours into in-laws. However the wives brought with them we are told, their own gods.
In addition, Solomon extracted great wealth from his subjects, permitting the construction of the glorious temple, and many other works. He introduced forced labour on a massive scale, with thousands of subjects working a third of the year for the king. (1 Kings 5:13-17) He also adopted the horse and chariot, instead of riding the donkey of his father. (1 Kings 15:26) This permitted swift and terrible punishment of anyone who dared to rebel against the king.
There is a difference between the actions of Solomon and the way the history of Solomon is written.
There is the history of Solomon and the tradition of Solomon. The history is very clear that you are dealing with a warlord who got to be king and ruled with an iron hand. The tradition paints a far different picture, and the picture is not without merit. The tradition is holding up values and virtues that people want perpetuated. The ancient Hebrew writers wanted a specific set of values and virtues advanced into the future and the way they sought to achieve that goal was place an emphasis that would advance their goal. That is what has happened to Solomon, and that is the point of the Scripture text for today.
There is a picture of Solomon having come to the end of his fathersí instructions now had to decide his way forward. He had ruthlessness and political nous but he realised that he needed more than that to govern.
This is a great dream he has, the emphasis upon wisdom, upon a discerning heart, and upon the ability to listen so carefully that a good decision can be made in the midst of awful circumstances is for all those who have to make decision which affect others. The story of the two women coming to Solomon, asking for justice when one baby has died and both mothers claim the living baby. The situation is awful and filled with agony, grief and sadness. For justice and the right thing to come about from that awful situation is truly remarkable. If this is what wisdom can do, this world needs great quantities.
But the biblical text also judges Solomon, his wisdom was missing in the important parts, Although he worshipped God he also worshipped at the high places. He edged his bets. His actions in placing his own people into forced labour caused the division of the kingdoms after his death. Even the Temple he built which followed the other pagan temples like the other Kings around him was eventually destroyed.
Solomon had wisdom, but there is something missing as we look at his actions recorded in the Bible.. He had intelligence, but that is not the same as wisdom
. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, I.1.
"Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern."
Solomon prayed for Godís wisdom, and was gifted with it in his reign but the realism of the bible stories also leads us to question whether Solomon, as an absolute monarch forgot his own human frailty, and started to equate his own thoughts with the wisdom of God.
Absolute power maybe even corrupts the wisest person when they forget that God is the source of all true wisdom,;
and when they think they are the source, then they are usurping God. That is a dangerous place to be for anyone and especially the power ruler of a any nation.
The wisdom of God we find starts and ends in God, not in human wisdom.
Paul writes years later about the death of Jesus which did not fit into human understanding of wisdom ; that the cross is foolishness to the Greeks [foolishness is the opposite of wisdom] and a stumbling block to the Jews.
Jesus himself is revealed to us as Sophia, the wisdom of God Showing a way of servanthood, but first and foremost always putting Godís way first. The clash between that and human wisdom led to his death but also to life in resurrection.
There are wise people there are intelligent people but we are told over and over, that true wisdom lies in knowing that is source is in a loving God. The wise person. says Jesus in one of his parables is the one who heard the word and went and did it.
So may we have the wisdom to listen to God, to hear the word and to follow.
[With thanks to Paul Kabo for some of the content]
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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