I Kings 3:5–12
Rev. Jennifer Schneider, guest preacher
Video includes entire worship service. Bulletin
Solomon, David and Bathsheba’s son, became David’s successor after a bitter fight in which Solomon forcibly suppressed a faction led by his brother, Adonijah. During his early reign, he built up a strong army and created a vigorous economy by supplementing agricultural surpluses with income from trade. Solomon was known for his shrewd commercial dealings such as the “arm sales” of chariots and horses to other governments.
The building of the temple in Jerusalem was one of King Solomon’s greatest achievements. Yet, the building of the temple, his huge palace, and massive military fortifications came with a price. His subjects were forced into labor gangs in order to complete the work. During his reign, a very small upper class was created, and this economic prosperity didn’t benefit the rest of society. This new society was contrary to the previous Israelite social order and by the time Solomon’s reign ended, this new economy left the Israelite people open to invasion.
Like other people of God, Solomon was imperfect. He disobeyed God and married foreign women in order to make political alliances. He struggled with vanity and greed. Yet, despite his shortcomings, God loved Solomon and chose him to lead God’s people.
In our scripture reading this morning in the book of I Kings we hear about God coming to Solomon in a dream. This is the first time God appears to Solomon and God says, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Before making his request, Solomon first praises God for all God has done. He gives thanks for the kindness God showed his father, David, and for continuing to bless David by putting his son, Solomon on the throne. Furthermore, he admits to his lack of knowledge and experience when he says he is only a little child. (Solomon was not a child in years because he was already a husband and a father). Solomon does all of this before making his request.
Solomon says, “give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.” In Hebrew Solomon asks for lev shoe ma. Lev is translated hearing or discerning. Shoe ma is translated heart or mind. He is seeking both knowledge and the desire to govern God’s people justly.
Solomon could have asked for anything. It seems God wrote a blank check and said, you can have whatever you want. What other things could he have asked for? Great riches, lots of children, fame, a long and healthy life, any of the comforts being king could provide (large home, expensive clothes, best food)
Yet, Solomon’s request is not for the benefit of himself, but for others: for God’s people.
I Dream of Jeannie debuted September 18, 1965 on NBC. In the pilot, Astronaut Tony, played by Larry Hagman, finds himself downed on an island in the South Pacific. While on the island he finds a bottle. He opens the cork and out comes Jeannie, played by Barbara Eden. This genie, unlike the genie in Aladdin, isn’t limited to three wishes. Tony only wishes for two things while on the island, for Jeannie to speak his language and for her to provide a rescue. When he is rescued, he leaves the bottle behind, so he thinks, and returns home. Of course, Jeannie manages to get in his duffle bag and follows him home. This is the first of 139 episodes and only the beginning of wishes for Tony.
I don’t know how many of you are familiar with this television show, but I’m sure you can imagine Tony’s wishes sometimes turned out great but other times, his wishes ended in disaster. But despite the main character’s problems with wishes, fans of the show loved the idea of having their own genie in a bottle.
Haven’t we all at one time or another pondered the idea of being able to wish for whatever we wanted? A new bigger house, a faster car, a new job with a bigger salary, a luxury vacation which includes first class plane tickets (one item on my bucket list is to someday fly first class somewhere) It is fun to think about making wishes. Yet, in our text this morning Solomon, when faced with decision, chooses we over me.
I would like to think if given the opportunity to ask for anything I would pick something which would benefit humanity as a whole. World peace, end to world hunger, healthy earth, or even no more Covid. Yet, if I were honest, I wonder if I would have thought of myself first. Solomon’s choice to choose others over himself had a lasting impact on God’s people. It wasn’t a temporary wish (like a new car or a long life) but rather a decision which impacted generations of people.
Yet, it is pretty rare for God to appear in a vision and offer someone whatever he or she desires. The chance to make such a big wish just doesn’t happen. So- what difference does this passage make for us? Today.
The reality is every day we make decisions and every time we do; those choices can benefit only ourselves or benefit others. Some choices, like coffee or tea in the morning, don’t have huge impacts on society. But other simple decisions can affect others.
- Recycling our trash helps protect the earth for the next generations.
- The single mom in line at the grocery store. The one who has three kids, the baby is crying, and you help her get her bags to the car. Reminding her there are people who care in the world.
- Choosing to spent your day off serving in the community rather than doing something fun with a friend.
- Wearing a mask when going into a store or restaurant because you just might have Covid and not know it. Seeking to protect your neighbors.
However, if we are honest, we will admit the shift from only myself to everybody is not effortless. It means we must let go of traditions or habits that no longer benefit others, cease making rash judgements, and redirect our thoughts and actions to create a new future. A future which is the kingdom of heaven here on earth. Yet, it has to be an internal change before it happens outside of us.
Solomon chose an “us” perspective. He asked for a discerning heart, a heart that would recognize other’s pain. He asked to see the needs of God’s people, and to hear God’s voice. Solomon did not request something for himself such as a long life, wealth, or political power.
What does it look like when we shift our mindset from just me to everyone- It means:
- Seeking to live a life of vulnerability and service. Rather than one of power and control.
- Choosing a life filled with hope and faith rather than distrust and fear.
- A life which doesn’t create boundaries and divides people but instead seeks to create circles which bring people together.
A life which looks to the needs of others is a life which seeks to be like Jesus.
On August 28, 1963, in Washington D.C. Martin Luther King Jr., delivered his I have a dream speech. In that famous speech he said, I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream that…one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
Before things change in our world, Christians must dream what is possible. An internal change must happen before an outward result occurs. Like Solomon, we must imagine something can happen before it actually happens. Our world is desperate for new possibilities. New dreams. And each of us has a choice to make. Are we going to choose only ourselves or are we going choose us?
I Kings 3:15 tells us when Solomon woke up “he returned to Jerusalem, stood before the Ark of the Covenant, and sacrificed burnt offerings.” Solomon’s response was to give thanks to God for he trusted God would fulfill the promises made to Solomon. As we seek to dream dreams for our world, and wish for all God’s people, not just ourselves, let us not forget to praise God for all God has done, is doing, and will do in the future.
Rev. Schneider is the Associate Executive Minister of American Baptist Churches of the Central Region (ABCCR).