1 Kings 3:3-15 ~ Open Ears Lead to Wise Hearts
When was the last time you were in over your head, the last time you were in a situation that was more than you could handle? Maybe you had gone to a new school or to college and felt that everyone there was smarter than you. Maybe you started a new job and were overwhelmed by all that you were supposed to learn and do. Maybe you married into a new family and felt outnumbered by all the new people and new family traditions. When was the last time you realized you were in over your head?
When Solomon became king of Israel at age thirty, he realized he was over his head. So many people to take care of! So many tough decisions to make day after day! One decision in particular may have troubled him. He had to find a way to protect his kingdom from the superpower to his south, Egypt. So he made an alliance with the pharaoh, which he sealed by marrying the pharaoh’s daughter. It was a highly irregular arrangement. In the annals of Egypt it was written, “From time immemorial no daughter of the king of Egypt is given to anyone.” (Letters excavated from Tel Amarna) In the Law of Moses it was forbidden to marry the daughters of other countries who worshiped other gods. But Solomon, to avoid war with Egypt, married the pharaoh’s daughter and brought her home. Had he done the right thing? Was he up to the task of governing? And what about the other tough decisions that would surely present themselves to him in the royal court – complex cases awaiting him day after day? Solomon realized he was in over his head. He knew he needed help.
So Solomon went to a high place called Gibeon. A high place was where people came to worship and offer sacrifice. There was no temple yet in Jerusalem, so Solomon went to the high place nearby, taking animals to sacrifice as a burnt offering. That evening, with his offering still smoldering, Solomon lay down to sleep at Gibeon. He hoped that maybe the Lord would appear to him in his sleep. He was not disappointed. The Lord appeared to Solomon and said, “Ask what I should give you.”
Now, if the Lord ever came to you and said, “Ask one thing I should give you. Name it and it’s yours,” what would you ask for? What one thing do you need from the Lord most of all right now? Long life? Riches? Love? Health? Peace? Payback? What one thing would you ask God for?
Solomon asked for this: “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil…” (3:9) He asked for an “understanding mind.” A literal translation of the phrase would be, “a listening heart.” Back then people said that the heart was the seat of all thought and decision making. “Give me a God-listening heart,” asked Solomon. In that moment, he demonstrated great self-awareness and humility. He knew himself well enough to recognize the quality he lacked. Give me a listening heart, O God. So I can hear and obey your word, so I can have the wisdom to discern what is right and wrong. It may have been the best and noblest moment of Solomon’s entire reign.
God was impressed. Solomon could have asked for long life or riches or victory over his enemies. So God gave him a wise and discerning heart. And then God gave much of what Solomon didn’t ask for, riches and honor. And if Solomon would keep God’s statutes and commands, he could have long life too. As Jesus said centuries later, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.”
From then on, Solomon began to show great wisdom and discernment in his rulings. To his court one day came two prostitutes who shared a dwelling. Both had recently had babies. But one night as all were sleeping, one of the mothers accidentally rolled over her baby and smothered it. Then she quietly switched her dead baby for the live baby of the other mother. In the morning the other mother woke up to a dead infant next to her, but as daylight came, she could tell it was not her baby. She realized what had happened.
So the two mothers came to Solomon with the surviving child, and before him each made their claim to it. Solomon said, “Bring me a sword. Divide the living boy in two, then give half to the one, and half to the other.” Immediately one of the women, “because compassion for her son burned within her” – cried out “Don’t kill him! Give her the boy!” Meanwhile the other woman said, “If I can’t have it no one can. Go ahead with the sword.” Then Solomon commanded, “Give the first woman the living boy; do not kill him. She is his mother.” And the whole kingdom marveled at the wisdom of Solomon. (1 Kings 3:16-28)
And along with the wisdom, the riches and the honor did come, just as God had promised. So Solomon made a marvelous beginning. He was so gifted. He had so much potential. He was on his way to being a most effective king. But there is more to be told.
In your high school, do you remember who was elected, “Most Likely to Succeed?” Wouldn’t it be interesting to check back and to see what became of him or her? I’d imagine that some of the “most likely to succeed” did go on and make a name for themselves. But we also remember others who were so gifted, who had everything going for them, but who crashed and burned. They sparkled for a while, but then fizzled out.
Solomon sparkled for a while, well more than a while; he reigned for forty years. He began a most ambitious building program: a temple, a palace, a city wall. But to do that, Solomon drafted thirty thousand Israelites into forced labor to build them. And Solomon taxed and taxed his people to pay for it all. And Solomon kept more and more of that wealth in his personal treasury. His rich lifestyle became legendary.
And remember the Pharoah’s daughter that he married in order to protect his southern border? She wasn’t the last one. Solomon continued to make treaties with other kings on other borders and took their daughters as wives as well. And there was the problem. Each wife worshipped a different god, gods named Astarte or Milcom or Chemosh or Molech. Some of those religions even practiced child sacrifice. His wives continued to worship those gods. Worse, Solomon even built temples for his wives’ gods and worshiped with them.
What happened to Solomon? At first, he had a God-listening heart. But eventually “his wives turned away his heart after other gods.” (1 Kings 11:4) His listening heart stopped listening to God. As he pursued other gods and used other people for his personal wealth and glory, his kingdom began to crack under the strain of it all. Then at the age of seventy, Solomon died. He was “hardly cold in his grave when revolution split the country in two.” So Solomon ended up “one of the wisest fools who ever wore a crown.” (Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures, p. 161)
This king, most likely to succeed, had started out so well and so wisely. It is written that Solomon composed three thousand proverbs. (1 Kings 4:32) But Solomon’s life turned into a living proverb of the folly of a heart that turned after other gods.
His life is a living proverb of how important it is to keep a God-listening heart. At twenty or thirty, you and I may start with so much going for us, with a heart that is all ears for God. Then our years and decades are consumed by building our personal kingdoms. We are tempted to use others for our own benefit. We are tempted to forget God. The more power we gain, the more we are corrupted by it. We start believing that we got where we are because of our own wisdom.
How can we keep from becoming another Solomon story? How can we keep from burning out or fizzling out? How can we stay in it for the long haul — such as in teaching, or in marriage, or in business, or in governing, or in ministry — without becoming just another wise fool like Solomon? If you could ask God for one thing to help you do that, what would it be?
Give me a listening heart, O God. Give me a God-listening heart. Keep my heart listening to you, not only when I’m twenty or thirty, but also when I’m forty or fifty or more.
Around the world, believers are re-learning what it means to have a listening heart. It means to build into our lives more silence, more reflection, more contemplation on where and how God is at work in the world. It means to pray to God, “My desire is to do what you desire of me.”
But in the end, it means that a listening heart can only come from God. It’s the gift of God. It all starts with God. And there is our only hope, that God is the kind of God who will respond to our imperfect love with undeserved blessings. Young Solomon, over his head and desperate for help, was already a curious mix of piety and flirting with other gods. Yet when Solomon cracked open the door of his heart to God, God jumped in with grace and blessing beyond measure. If only Solomon had kept that door open.
And the same for us. We come crying to God when we realize that we are in over our heads. We come to God even though we’re still flirting with our other gods (you know the usual — wealth, power, self). But when we open the door of our hearts just a crack, God jumps in with grace and blessing beyond measure.
So crack open the door of your heart to God. Admit that you’re over your head. Ask God for the thing you need most of all, a God-listening heart. And God will grant you just that, and much more.
And if, as the years have gone on and you have done well for yourself, if you have stopped listening to God, if you have turned into a wise fool who is still over your head, then crack open the door of your heart again. You’ll be surprised that God is still waiting.
- Douglas E. Murray
PRAYER BY THOMAS MERTON
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me.
Nor do I really know myself. And the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore, I will trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death, I will not fear, for you are ever with me.
You will never leave me to face my struggles alone. Amen.