Friday, September 30, 2022

The Kings Of Israel And Judah. Day 12, Solomon Asks The Lord For Wisdom

In the first half of Chapter 3 the Lord invites Solomon to ask Him for big things. Solomon asks for wisdom and the Lord is pleased with this request. But before we arrive at that portion of today's text the author provides us with some additional information about the early years of Solomon's reign.

"Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter. He brought her to the City of David until he finished building his palace and the temple of the Lord, and the wall around Jerusalem." (1 Kings 3:1) It was common in ancient times as part of a political alliance for a king to marry a close family member of another king's family. Pharaoh's daughter is the first of Solomon's many foreign wives. The Bible does not prohibit a man from marrying a foreign wife if she is willing to convert to the God of Israel. We don't know whether Pharaoh's daughter forsook the false gods of Egypt and gave her heart to the one true God but most Bible scholars appear to hold that opinion. 

Many of Solomon's later wives did not convert to the God of Israel, or perhaps they mixed the worship of the Lord with the worship of pagan deities, for in Chapter 11 we'll learn that he built pagan altars to please his foreign wives and that he was even drawn into dabbling in idolatry himself. However, Chapter 11 names the gods to whom he built altars and none of them were Egyptian gods. This has led scholars to believe his Egyptian wife converted to the God of Israel, especially since Solomon married her during the time in his life when he was still maintaining a faithful relationship with the Lord. 

Before the temple was built the people were still making sacrifices and offerings on the hilltops instead of solely at the tent of the Lord. "The people, however, were still sacrificing at the high places, because a temple had not yet been built for the Name of the Lord." (1 Kings 3:2) This is in violation of Leviticus 17:8-9 where the Lord told the people that none of them, including foreign converts, was to make an offering or sacrifice anywhere other than at the doorway of the tent (the tabernacle) of the Lord. David brought the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem a long time ago and it is housed in a tent there in Solomon's day but the tabernacle is at Gibeon. Without the ark and the tabernacle in the same place, the people have not yet come to regard Jerusalem as the central location of worship for the nation. We don't find the Lord rebuking the people for still sacrificing at various altars they've set up around the nation and this could be because none of the kings of Israel have so far reunited the ark and the tabernacle to create a center of religious activity at which sacrifices are made. Some people are sacrificing at Jerusalem, some at Gibeon, and some at hilltop altars dedicated to the Lord. 

"Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places." (1 Kings 3:3) Solomon himself has utilized hilltop altars and I presume these are not pagan altars that were repurposed for use in the worship of the Lord but that they are new altars set up in the Lord's name. Again, this is in violation of the Lord's command, but we don't see the Lord reprimanding Solomon for it. 

Solomon makes a special trip to Gibeon to offer an enormous number of sacrifices to the Lord. "The king went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, for that was the most important high place, and Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar." (1 Kings 3:4) We've already been told that Solomon loves the Lord and demonstrates his love for the Lord. He may not yet be making his offerings and sacrifices at a centralized location, and he may not yet be commanding the people to do likewise, but his heart at this point in time is devoted to the Lord. The Lord knows Solomon's heart and invites him to ask great things of Him. "At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, 'Ask for whatever you want Me to give you." (1 Kings 3:5) 

Some scholars interpret the Lord's words as a blank check. They feel Solomon could have asked for literally anything (anything that wasn't sinful) and the Lord would have granted it. What I think is happening here is that the Lord knows what's troubling Solomon the most and He says to him, "Pour out your heart to Me. Tell Me what you're concerned about. Ask Me what you want to ask Me." The Lord is never surprised by anything. Solomon isn't going to ask Him for something that catches Him off guard. The Lord knows that Solomon's primary concern is that he is too young and too inexperienced to lead the nation wisely and to discern innocence from guilt in the capital cases that will come before him. The Lord is aware that these thoughts are heavy on Solomon's heart. 

Solomon is surprised and humbled by the Lord's invitation. Even though wisdom has been on his mind, has he not ever prayed for wisdom before? It appears not. It could be that he loves the Lord and desires to serve Him but has not yet developed a close personal relationship with Him. In that case, it may be that Solomon has never felt bold enough to present his request to the Lord. So the Lord comes to him instead and Solomon is filled with grateful praise for the Lord's goodness. "Solomon answered, 'You have shown great kindness to Your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to You and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.'" (1 Kings 3:6) He thanks the Lord for showing him the same kindness He showed to David in the past.

Encouraged to say what is on his heart, Solomon reveals what has been troubling him. "Now, Lord my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give Your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of Yours?" (1 Kings 3:7-9) Solomon says, "This job is too big for me! This job is too big for anyone to perform in a godly way without Your help. I want to honor You by leading Your people in the right ways. I want to be able to discern the truth when cases are brought before me. I am young and inexperienced. The weight of the responsibility of leading these people is so heavy it threatens to crush anyone who is under such a load. Without Your guidance and strength, I will fail. But with Your help I will be able to do good things for the nation."

The Lord is not surprised by Solomon's request. He knows what is uppermost in Solomon's mind. But He also knows that many kings of the earth would have asked for something different if He had extended the same invitation to them. They would have asked for blessings upon themselves instead of asking to be a blessing to their people. "The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, 'Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for---both wealth and honor---so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in obedience to Me and keep My decrees and My commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.'" (1 Kings 3:10-14) 

We don't know how old Solomon was when he became king. Modern theologians tend to place his age at his coronation at anywhere from eighteen to twenty but in times past it has been suggested that he was as young as twelve or thirteen. We will find him reigning for forty years which means he did not live as long as his father David did, for even if he were at the upper estimate of twenty at his coronation, this means he only lived to age sixty instead of age seventy like his father. The Lord promised him a long life "if you walk in obedience to Me and keep My decrees and My commands" but Solomon's heart won't be as steadfastly faithful to the Lord as David's heart was. The author of 1 Kings will tell us that his many wives "led him astray" and that "he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done". (1 Kings 11:4,6) This is likely the reason he does not live an especially long life. 

But here in 1 Kings 3 he has not yet taken all those foreign wives and his heart still belongs to the Lord alone. He is still living by a principle we'll find the Lord Jesus recommending in the New Testament: "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (Matthew 6:33) Solomon made a godly request of the Lord in asking for His help to lead the nation. He is seeking the Lord's kingdom and His righteousness. The Lord is pleased with this request and gives him many blessings in addition to granting his request. Solomon goes home to Jerusalem in a spirit of rejoicing. "Then Solomon awoke---and he realized it had been a dream. He returned to Jerusalem, stood before the ark of the Lord's covenant and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then he gave a feast for all his court." (1 Kings 3:15)

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