When anointed as the new king, Solomon asks for wisdom from God. What is wisdom? How might we become wise? Join us this Sunday as we seek wisdom together.
I Kings 3:3-14, 28
Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar.
At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life…”
All Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered; and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to execute justice.
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines wisdom as the “capacity of judging rightly in matters relating to life and conduct.”
Charles Spurgeon, the well-known Baptist preacher, defined wisdom as “the right use of knowledge.” Wisdom shows up again and again in our scriptures. In Hebrew, the word is חָכְמָה (chokmah), and it is best translated as wisdom, but it also entails skill and shrewdness and prudence in matters of religion, as well as a sense of being ethical.
The Greek word is σοφία (sophia), and the concept of sophia was central to Greek thought and philosophy. Again, it is best translated as wisdom but includes the notions of great insight, skill, and intelligence.
We even have a category in the Hebrew portion of our scriptures that are called the Books of Wisdom. Included in that are the books of Job, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs. If you include the apocryphal books, we would add Sirach, and the Wisdom of Solomon.
One online source says, “Wisdom isn’t just a concept for Proverbs—it’s a person, either allegorically or as a… being of immense power. Proverbs talks about Wisdom’s background, and adds some detail to God’s mysterious pre-Creation days. It reveals that [God] created Wisdom before [God] created the earth, even before [God] first said, “Let there be light.” Wisdom was hanging out, watching and helping God create the world, and delighting in it.” [end quote] (Shmoop Editorial Team. “Wisdom (Personified) in Proverbs.” Shmoop. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 16 Aug. 2018.)
Wisdom when personified is feminine; her pronouns are “she, her, hers.” And much like the late, great Aretha Franklin she demands R-E-S-P-E-C-T, respect.
Wisdom speaks in Proverbs saying:
…when God created the world, I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily [God’s] delight, rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.
‘And now, my children, listen to me:
happy are those who keep my ways.
Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it.
Happy is the one who listens to me,
watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors.
For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favour from the Lord,”
– thus saith Wisdom. (Proverbs 8:29-35)
“From the get-go, Wisdom was God’s right-hand [woman], cheering on the creation of the world and its inhabitants.” (ibid.) Wisdom beckons God’s creation, beckons us to listen, to seek, and to find her. Because when we find wisdom, we find life itself.
Solomon, son of King David and successor to the throne, whom we read about this morning, is, of course, said to have written the Book of Proverbs. Whether that is historically accurate or not, is not quite the point, at least not in this particular sermon. Whoever wrote or compiled these sayings attributed them to him.
Solomon became king probably at about age 20. And as we heard from today’s passage, God appeared to him, offering him whatever he wanted. Famously, Solomon responded that he wanted an understanding mind to discern between good and evil and to govern God’s people well. And as he reigned, people indeed saw that God’s wisdom, chokmah, was in him.
In fact, you’ll notice that in our reading for today we skipped quite a few verses, from 14, jumping all the way to verse 28. In-between is a story of how Solomon used and demonstrated that wisdom to decide a case before him. On your own time, or if you’re really bored with this sermon right now, please feel free to read that story. I heard it over and over growing up as an example of wisdom. Although as an adult woman with children now, I have some concerns about it, but that’s neither here nor there.
Now, oftentimes, when I read the stories of the first testament, particularly the stories of King David and King Solomon and the supposed “heroes” of the Bible, I take this approach: “All stories are true, and some may have even happened.”
As a progressive Christian, I do not believe in the inerrancy or the infallibility of the Bible, nor do I read it literally. I believe that the Bible is the word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, AND, as it says in the PC(USA)’s Confession of 1967:
The Scriptures, given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are nevertheless words of human beings, conditioned by the language, thought forms, and literary fashions of the places and times at which they were written. They reflect views of life, history, and the cosmos which were then current. The church, therefore, has an obligation to approach the Scriptures with literary and historical understanding.”
John Dominic Crossan brutally says it like this: “My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.” (Who Is Jesus? Answers to Your Questions about the Historical Jesus)
So, all stories are true, and some may have even happened. To me, that means even if the stories we read in The Bible did not happen exactly as they have been recorded, they still hold truths about God, about us, and about our relationship to God and with one another that are worth mining.
So, here are some truths that we might glean from today’s story.
First, wisdom is from God.
The most well-known verse about Wisdom is probably from Proverbs 9:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Knowing God, being in relationship with God, fearing God, not in a debilitating way, but in a way that has the humility to understand that we are mere mortals and God is not, that is the beginning of wisdom. God is the source of wisdom.
And secondly, wisdom is completely attainable. All we have to do is ask. There is nothing God gains from hiding or withholding wisdom from us. If we ask, as Solomon did, we, too, can have wisdom.
But just because we have the capacity to be wise, does not mean we always choose wisely. Solomon’s own life is a testament to that.
Frederick Buechner reminds us that Solomon was a “big spender.” He built that temple, if you’ll remember?
it was [Solomon’s] subjects who had to pick up the tab. In order to finance his building program he had to bleed them white with tolls and taxes. In order to get people to run the bulldozers and bench saws, he had to press them into forced labor gangs. You don’t keep seven hundred wives and three hundred lady friends happy on peanuts either, and it was the people who had to foot that bill too. When some of them revolted in the north under the leadership of Jeroboam, he managed to quash it successfully, but instead of solving the problem, that just postponed it.
And we know that as soon as Solomon was buried, Israel became a divided nation, with a northern and southern kingdom. So, yes, Solomon was given wisdom; many say he was the wisest man to have ever lived. But he did not always choose wisely.
We must not only ask for wisdom, we have to commit to live wisely each and every day.
And what does it mean to be wise? To choose wisdom and life?
Well, this morning’s final gem of truth comes from verse 28. Turn with me there for a second, and follow along.
“All Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered; and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him,” for what? “…to execute justice.”
Justice is the purpose of wisdom. Justice for a hurting and broken world that needs wise leaders to step up and speak out and help change structures and systems that keep people in bondage and oppression.
Somehow, in the discourse of this country, wisdom, knowledge, and skill which were all once virtues and attributes to strive for became untrustworthy and undesirable. And we’ve replaced these virtues with hubris, bullying and name-calling, and a short-sightedness that may satisfy people immediately but doesn’t bring about the changes we need to thrive as a people. Somehow these have become an acceptable means to lead a country.
Scripture shows us that we have the capacity to follow the leadership of both those who are wise and those who are completely foolhardy.
But these are choices that we must make, at every election, at every decision that is before us, as we try to address homelessness, hunger, foreign affairs, our next job, our next family argument, each and every life circumstance is an opportunity to respond, wisely or otherwise.
Now, I will be the first to admit, I don’t always know how to spot what is the most wise choice. But perhaps these can serve as some parameters for us: Wisdom is trying to experience time through God’s lens, not through our own. We get impatient; we do want immediate results. We have our own timelines and our own mortality that affects that timeline. But God’s work is eternal.
If we can just try to go through this life with a little bit of God’s perspective on time, Kairos time, God’s timing rather than Chronos time which is our own linear understanding of time, we might make wiser decisions. Wisdom is also being critical and asking the right questions. As Jesus says, “Be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves.” Doubts are ok, even encouraged. Your questions are welcomed. Wonder about things when you hear them; fact-check stories before you share them. Not because our media is all fake news, in fact it is not. But because it is so important to critically engage and to seek and uncover truth.
Adrienne Maree Brown says, “Things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. We must hold each other tight to pull back the veil.” The more we learn and the more we uncover, it becomes all the more important to hold each other so that we do not then become cynical. “Be wise as serpents AND innocent as doves.” Be critical, but don’t become cynical.
Furthermore, wisdom is humble. It is able to learn and to be taught, to grow from new and different experiences. To apologize when it’s wrong, and to admit that it may not always be right. And as the truth is uncovered, those who are wise are able to let that truth transform them. So be weary of those who walk through life as though they’ve got it all figured out. The wisest among us know that they do not.
The Dalai Lama once said, “The mind is like a parachute. It works best when it’s open.” So keep an open mind, open to the possibility that you may be wrong, open to the possibility that you might have something to learn, open to what God and Wisdom might have to teach us.
And finally, wisdom loves like God loves. It sees people through the loving gaze of God, not as the “other” to be feared, but as a sister and brother in the family of God. That love embraces all, welcomes everyone, but also calls us to our better selves, to our best selves.
Friends, wisdom is accessible to us all. It is a gift from God. And we must choose to use it for the sake of justice. We must choose wisdom as we discern who God is calling us to be as a community of faith and as individual people of God.
Proverbs Chapter 1 and 2 say:
Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice.
At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks. “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?
Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you. …
Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; prudence will watch over you; and understanding will guard you.” (Proverbs 1:20-23, 2:9-11).
Sisters and brothers, Wisdom calls. May we heed her call. Amen.