Sermon by: Robert Austell
This is our third week looking at kings in the Bible. We are doing so not just for a history lesson, but because doing so provides us with good points of application as we have opportunity to be leaders and have influence on people around us at work, school, home, and among our friends. Regardless of age or stage, each of us will have the opportunity to speak and act in ways that lead and impact others. The purpose of this study is to help us do so in good and godly ways.
Each week I’ve shared five basic facts about each king, then we’ve looked at a key scripture text to understand one significant event or quality of their lives. Today we are looking at King Solomon of Israel. So, first let me give you five things you need to know about Solomon and then we’ll turn to 1 Kings 3 and see why he is known as the “wise king.”
1. Solomon was the third king of Israel (971-931 B.C.). He became king in the midst of great contention for the throne and came to rule through politics and strategy rather than by anointing. He later received God’s blessing when he asked for an “understanding heart” over riches and power. (1 Kings 3:9)
2. Solomon was the son of David and Bathsheba.
3. He was credited for much of the wisdom literature in scripture (Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes).
4. He engaged in much building, trade, and political alliances (no major military campaigns) – including building the Temple, though at the expense of popularity with the people.
5. Political marriage to many foreign wives was detrimental to his spiritual health and seen as a breach of the covenant.
An Understanding Heart
As we have done the past two Sundays, I want to look with you at one key passage and quality of Solomon’s leadership. Solomon was known for his “wisdom” and today I want to look with you at the benefits and the limitations of that trait. In Solomon’s case, it was both a gift of God and something he walked away from as his life progressed.
Let’s look at 1 Kings 3, particularly verse 9. It is the record of Solomon’s famous prayer, asking God not for riches or power, but for wisdom. More accurately, Solomon doesn’t ask for wisdom, but asks in verse 9 for “an understanding heart to judge your people to discern between good and evil.” Most literally, the phrase “an understanding heart” reads “a listening heart” or “a heart that hears.”
I have preached a number of times on the meaning of worship, including numerous references to the Shema, the foundational passage in Deuteronomy 6 that reads, “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and might.” That first word, shema in Hebrew and “hear” in English is what Solomon asks God for. He asks for a heart that hears and listens. And interestingly and rightly, such a listening heart should be able to listen to both God and man. And that’s how Solomon finishes the sentence. He asks for an understanding or listening heart so that he may do two things: 1) judge [God’s] people; and 2) discern between good and evil [i.e. according to God’s Word].
As you heard in the first scripture reading, God was pleased with Solomon’s request – that he didn’t ask for power or riches. And God responded by granting Solomon what he asked PLUS riches and honor. But notice, too, the last thing God said in response: “If you walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and commandments, as your father David walked, then I will prolong your days.” (v. 14)
I make the two point distinction in what Solomon asked and note God’s response because it is at this point of listening to God’s Word that Solomon falls short.
Solomon did indeed become known for his understanding heart. Stories are included in Kings about his effective judging of the people. The most famous is probably his resolution of a dispute between two women about which one of them was mother of a baby. You can also read Solomon’s wise words in Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and some of Proverbs. But I chose the passage in chapter eleven to point out the limitations of his gift and the danger of significant human talents not offered in obedience to the Lord.
Solomon did use the gift of an understanding or discerning heart to judge the people well. He also was known for his political alliances, usually achieved through marrying the princess of a foreign power. He was able to greatly strengthen the kingdom through these alliances, and greatly enrich the kingdom, such that he financed and completed the building of a Temple to God in addition to a palace for himself. It is easy to see how his significant God-given gift of reading the human situation allowed him to prosper among men.
But 1 Kings 11 is also the record of Solomon’s spiritual failure. Though warned that foreign wives who worshiped false gods could turn him from the Lord, Solomon continued marrying them for the sake of the kingdom. And that led to his dabbling with and then worshiping the gods of these foreign women and building places of worship for those false gods.
In addition to this false worship, we read in 1 Kings 11:9 that his “heart was turned away from the Lord.”
In keeping with the strong, strong promise of the covenant we talked about last week, God did not abandon him or Israel, but there were horrible consequences that were played out in Solomon’s family and among his children.
Ultimately, Solomon’s story is not about seeking wisdom from God, but about what one does with the gifts God gives us.
Gifts from God
Growing up, I think the great lesson I always heard in relation to Solomon was the importance of asking for and seeking wisdom. Solomon prayed for wisdom, therefore I should pray for wisdom. And it seems like something God would grant.
But remember my warning from the first week of this series? We can get into dangerous territory if we simply use biblical characters as examples for our lives, because all of them (with the exception of Jesus) were flawed. We also have to ask what NOT to do, and Solomon is a good example of why that distinction is necessary.
Wisdom, or a discerning heart, is a good thing and worth praying for. But Solomon’s example teaches us that it is not enough to be able to employ that talent among human beings. Ultimately that talent, as any, must be submitted to God in obedience to His Word. That’s the broader application here. Whether God has given you an understanding heart or a sharp mind or a strong body or blessed you with wealth, we each then have the opportunity to decide what we will do with those talents and gifts.
Maybe you can sing like an angel. You can try to become the next big thing in music, or you can lay your life and your voice before God and say, “What would you have me do, Lord?”
Maybe you are smart. You think strategically and can make things happen. You can pursue success in business and try to climb the ladder. Or you could lay your life and your intellect before God and say, “What would you have me do, Lord?”
Maybe you are young and strong. Maybe you could get somewhere with sports or at least be popular in school. Or you could lay your life and your health and strength before God and say, “What would you have me do, Lord?”
Maybe you have great wealth. Even with a depressed economy, you have invested well and know how to get the most of out every dime. You can use your wealth to gain more wealth, perhaps do great and noble things with it. What would it mean to lay your life and your wealth before God and say, “What would you have me do, Lord?”
And just so you’ll know this isn’t a sermon for the Solomon’s, Michael Jordan’s, and Bill Gate’s of the world: maybe you are in poor health or feel inadequate or ill-equipped or trapped. You could spend your time dreaming of what you need or lack. But what would it look like to lay your life and your limitations before God and say, “What would you have me do, Lord?”
Solomon had the gift – a gift from God. He could hear and discern what was going on around him and he could use that for good and even for his own advantage. Somewhere along the line, he stopped listening to God and turned away from God.
I want to be a pastor who listens to God and who urges you to tune in and listen to God. With you, I want to keep asking what God is doing around us and how we can be a part of that. With you, I want to continue again and again, week after week, to lay our lives and our gifts and our limitations before God and say, “What would you have us do and be, Lord?”
Solomon had a significant gift – the gift of a heart that could listen well. And he did some good with it. But in the end he wasted that gift and dishonored God because he tuned God out.
The question Solomon raises for you and me is this:
What will you do with what God has given you and who God has made you to be?
Lord, what would you have me do and be?