1 Kings 3:4-28
(sermon note: 10-30 sermon note)
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 towards 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.’
Then Solomon awoke; it had been a dream. He came to Jerusalem, where he stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. He offered up burnt-offerings and offerings of well-being, and provided a feast for all his servants.
Later, two women who were prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. One woman said, ‘Please, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house; and I gave birth while she was in the house. Then on the third day after I gave birth, this woman also gave birth. We were together; there was no one else with us in the house, only the two of us were in the house. Then this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him. She got up in the middle of the night and took my son from beside me while your servant slept. She laid him at her breast, and laid her dead son at my breast. When I rose in the morning to nurse my son, I saw that he was dead; but when I looked at him closely in the morning, clearly it was not the son I had borne.’ But the other woman said, ‘No, the living son is mine, and the dead son is yours.’ The first said, ‘No, the dead son is yours, and the living son is mine.’ So they argued before the king.
Then the king said, ‘One says, “This is my son that is alive, and your son is dead”; while the other says, “Not so! Your son is dead, and my son is the living one.” ’ So the king said, ‘Bring me a sword’, and they brought a sword before the king. The king said, ‘Divide the living boy in two; then give half to one, and half to the other.’ But the woman whose son was alive said to the king—because compassion for her son burned within her—‘Please, my lord, give her the living boy; certainly do not kill him!’ The other said, ‘It shall be neither mine nor yours; divide it.’ Then the king responded: ‘Give the first woman the living boy; do not kill him. She is his mother.’ 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.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a cruel pet owner who abandoned his old dog in the deepest jungles of Africa. Wandering around, the poor old dog noticed a leopard coming quickly in his direction with the intention of having him for lunch. Just then, the old dog noticed some bones laying on the ground close by. The dog immediately settled down to chew on the bones, turning his back to the approaching leopard. Just as the leopard was about to leap, the dog loudly said, “My, that was one delicious leopard! I wonder if there are any more around here?” Hearing this, the leopard slunk away. “That was too close,” thought the leopard, “that dog nearly had me.” Meanwhile, a mischievous monkey had observed the entire scene, and decided to cause trouble for the dog, while getting on the good side of the leopard at the same time. The monkey ran off after the leopard, to tell him what truly happened. The dog saw the monkey dash off, and suspiciously tailed him from behind. He overheard the monkey spilling the beans, and quickly decided on a course of action, racing back to the pile of bones. At the same time, the leopard had decided to take care of the dog once and for all. The monkey hopped on the leopard’s back, to watch the demise of the doomed dog. As the leopard approached, he could hear the dog talking to himself. “Where’s that lazy monkey? I sent him off half an hour ago for another leopard, and he’s still not back!”
Hmmm, don’t suppose the leopard was too keen on “taking care of” the dog after coming upon yet another supposed massacre! It makes you wonder if the leopard “took care of” the wily monkey for having almost led him to his own death. The whole situation goes to show that you should never underestimate the wisdom of our canine friends. There’s a reason why we consider dogs to be our best friends and it isn’t simply because of their loyalty and companionship. No, they can be pretty clever when they wanna be. Contrary to the beliefs of some of you wives out there (mine included!), dogs can be pretty smart as well as loyal! I have complete faith that a dog could outsmart a leopard any ole day, it just needs to be given a chance.
Of course, intelligence is much different than wisdom. I’ve heard it said that intelligence is measured by how efficiently knowledge can be absorbed while wisdom is measured by how efficiently knowledge can be applied. It’s good to be able to absorb knowledge quickly. We live in an ever-evolving world that requires us to continuously change and adapt. The quicker we can absorb knowledge, the quicker we can apply knowledge and change and adapt. Absorbing knowledge is a good thing but actually applying knowledge is a better thing. What good is knowledge unless it’s applied? Too many people focus simply on acquiring knowledge but unless it’s applied, it stands to benefit no one, including the person who acquired it. And isn’t that the purpose of knowledge, to benefit us and/or others? To better our lives or the lives of others? Indeed, to have wisdom is far better than to simply have intelligence.
In our reading for today, we met King Solomon, arguably the wisest king to have ever lived and will ever live. God very plainly said, “no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.” Indeed his powerful wisdom can be attested to by the book of Proverbs, most of which was written by him. Solomon was a very wise man and we received a taste of it in how he resolved the conflict between the two prostitutes. Resolving such a conflict required Solomon to know the nature of mothers and their strong bond with their children. The true mother would give up her child if that was the only way her child could live. The false mother would have the child killed because she has no real bond with the child. Thus is the nature of mothers and Solomon needed to know this, to have this intelligence, in order to apply it and resolve the conflict, to show wisdom. Knowing maternal bonds wasn’t beneficial until such knowledge was actually applied. It was important that Solomon knew about maternal bodies but even more important that he applied such knowledge.
As mentioned earlier, it’s the application of knowledge that allows us to change and adapt to our ever-evolving world. Wisdom is a true gift from God that helps us live in this world. It’s no wonder that we hear all throughout Scripture how we are to seek after wisdom. Wisdom helps us adapt and grow. It helps us overcome obstacles that present themselves in this world. Most importantly, wisdom helps us to live and our God is a God of life. Ecclesiastes tells us, “for the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom gives life to the one who possesses it.” (7:21) Wisdom encourages and sustains life in this world. James writes, “but the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” (3:17) These are all traits of a life-affirming force. Wisdom is all about life! Our God is a God of life!
It is particularly important to remember this as we celebrate today the reformation of our church 500 years ago. We know from the history of the Christian church that both the theology and practice of the Christian church for its first 1500 years had strayed from its life-giving purpose. From its conquering conquistadors and Crusaders to its bad theology, the Christian church had formed a pretty life-discouraging identity. The church needed people like Luther to clean up its bad theology and practices so that it could once again be life-encouraging. The church needed wisdom, God’s wisdom, and the church received it from leaders like Luther. We celebrate the gift of wisdom returning to the church. No doubt the church will stray again from wisdom one day but we can have hope that there will be leaders who will bring wisdom back to it. Our God is a God of life and because of this He is also a God of mercy and compassion. There is life in mercy and compassion! God WILL show his mercy to his church just as He did 500 years ago!
Wisdom is important because with it comes life: new life, prolonged life, enriched life. Jesus said, “for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” (21:15) Opponents, by their very nature, oppose life and yet wisdom defends life. Let us give thanks for the gift of wisdom and pray that God will continue to give it to us and his church. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.