The strange way of wisdom

Sunday 17 in Year A

One of the things that I kind of find myself struggling with as I grow older is some of the stories that I heard and learned when I was a child, and particularly in church circles. Some of those stories about the Saints and heroes of the faith. Like the only thing that I really knew as a child about King Solomon was that he was wise. And yet, when you read the Bible, when you actually read the Scriptures, you discover that it’s a much more rich and complex story, just like the story of any of our lives.

You can’t just categorise it in very broad strokes. I mean, you can do so, but that robs the real richness of what is possible in that person’s story. For King Solomon, the son of David, out of that adulterous union with Bethsheba, Solomon is here as the wisest man, we’re told. But if you read the beginning of this third chapter of First Kings, you hear that his main interest at this point is trying to get a new bride, not from one of the Jewish people, but from one of the princesses of Egypt.

That becomes this pattern that we see in the heart of Solomon. And where does this dream take place? Where does the Lord grant him his heart’s desire? It’s not in Jerusalem. He’s not there. Where the Ark of the Covenant is. Not there where? His father had spent so much time establishing this new capital city for the Kingdom. He’s gone north to Gibeon and to one of the high places. One of the places that later kings will thoroughly condemn because it’s pagan worship.

And Solomon goes there and he offers not just one sacrifice. Solomon does things in the grand way – he offers 1000 burnt offerings we’re told at this place. He’s being very extravagant, but he continues to be distracted not just with wanting to find other wives, but he’s also distracted because he’s wanting to build a bigger and better house. That’s his focus. And yet none of these things seem to affect the Lord’s relationship with him.

It’s not as if Solomon has to be perfect before God will come to him in a dream. It’s not as if Solomon has to have everything in his life organised and arranged, and he’s now fully dedicated to God. Solomon, with all of his faults and they will become even more awful.

Solomon will use his untold wisdom, and in fact it’s also interesting that it’s only later in this third chapter of First Kings that we get a story demonstrating Solomon’s Wisdom. There are two prostitutes who give birth and one of the children dies and the other mother claims that the dead baby is the other woman’s and vice versa. And so Solomon has to decide between which of the two women is the rightful mother of the living child. It’s the only story. The only story that actually demonstrates his wisdom. Otherwise we’re simply told: Yes, he’s very wise.

It’s really good if you can get a reputation from one instance in your life. And unfortunately, that’s also often the case in our lives that something will happen, and that marks us, and that’s often a really unfortunate thing.

But Solomon, as he goes on, what does he do? He still seems to be caught up with building personal wealth. We’re told in 1 Kings 10, as he’s building – finally, after he’s finished his own house, he begins to build the temple and the weight of gold that is brought into the temple in just one year is 666 talents of gold. 666! There’s only one other place in Scripture where that number is used, and that’s describing Satan in the Book of Revelation. So Solomon’s heart, so dedicated to the Lord – but also so distracted and so wisdom is not just something that that happens simply and easily. But we need to discern all of that, and even though Solomon is wise, he seems to get it wrong so often he begins to enslave people.

He begins to turn Israel into a war machine building these war camps and continuing to furnish arms all these things that the Lord strictly said to the Kings of Israel, don’t do these things. 1 Kings 11 tells us that among his wives, there were 700 princesses! (NRSV) 700 princesses! For the men here who married and just kind of remembering how long it took you to woo your wife. How much effort you had to put in to be able to present yourself well enough to be able to be a worthy candidate for your wife? Imagine having to do that 700 more times for these different princesses!

How much time would Solomon have had left to be able to thoroughly administer the Kingdom? So Solomon isn’t here as a model of his goodness. It’s all about the grace of God. It’s the Lord who’s doing this work. It’s the Lord who’s calling. It’s the Lord who’s inviting, and we need to remember that as we hear in this wonderful combination of our readings from Romans 8, you know. The Lord is the one who is justifying us as the Lord who’s the one who is calling us. It’s the Lord himself who is indeed glorifying us.

The Lord who is sharing his glory with us, the Lord who wants us to receive the treasures that we hear about in the gospel. The Lord who is wanting to remind us that. He is the one who will take the initiative. He is the one who is doing this work.

All that we need to do, is the one thing that Solomon did – he put his heart in the hands of God. He continued to trust in the Lord. He got it wrong most of the time, but there were those moments where he got it right. And that’s what we celebrate. That’s what we acknowledged. That’s what we give thanks for. And in our own hearts, in our own lives, we can make that same choice.

We can continue to open ourselves to the wonder of God. We can allow God to be the one who is present to us. The God who is calling and inviting the God who’s justifying and glorifying. Let’s allow the Lord to be the one who calls us more deeply into his life and love today as we continue to celebrate as we continue to offer our hearts to the Lord.

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