The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - July 30, 2017
Scripture Reading: 1 Kings 3:5-12 
Sermon Title: A Wise and Discerning Mind

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     This week once again, we bounce around in the Bible to a new spot, and a book I don’t think I have preached on since I arrived here.  Last week we talked about Esau and Jacob, and heard about Jacob having a dream in which there was a ladder leading up to heaven.  Jacob was promised by God descendants like dust, even greater than the grains of sand that his grandfather Abraham was promised.  This was probably around 2,000 BCE, but we don’t really know.  The Jewish people end up in Egypt serving as slaves, and then Moses brings them out of Egypt, splits the Red Sea and leads them to the promised land. 

     A little before 1,000 BCE, or about 1,000 years after our last story, but still about 1,000 years before Jesus, Israel becomes a country, and its first King is named Saul.  Different Saul than the Saul that became Paul after Jesus.  This Saul was the first of 3 kings to rule Israel before it was split into Israel in the North and Judea, which contained Jerusalem in the South.  For Saul to become king, Samuel, who is considered a prophet and has his own story in our Bible, was interested in creating a monarchy, and though a confusing process chose Saul to be the first King.  Samuel later went to Saul to tell him that he was not the one God had chosen, and they started to choose another King.  David, who was Saul’s son in law was chosen as the next King.  Now life between David and Saul was not always smooth, but when young David killed Goliath with his sling, you all remember that story, it helped to seal his place in history. 

     David was a good king.  Remember the stories of Jesus, how Mary and Joseph had to go to Bethlehem to be registered because he was of the house and lineage of David.  This is King David.  David had a son named Solomon.  David actually had a lot of children, but that gets really confusing.  When David was old and no longer able to get out of bed, one of the children invited many people to a feast, not including Solomon and told everyone that he was going to be the next king.  When Solomon’s mother heard about this, she went to David, who had already said that Solomon was going to be the next king, and was worried that both she and Solomon would be killed if this other son were allowed to be king.  David made Solomon king before he died. 

     We know a lot about Solomon.  Solomon’s temple, which was the first temple in Jerusalem built to replace the tabernacle to hold the ark of the Covenant.  And one of the most well-known stories about Solomon about two women who had sons about 2 days apart.  One of the women accidently laid on her son and the son died, so she went and switched the dead baby with the baby who was still alive.  When that mother looked at the dead baby, she realized it was not her son, but her son was with this other women.  They brought the baby before King Solomon and the king said to cut the baby in half, give each mother half of the child.  The real mother said “no, don’t do that, give the baby to the other woman,” so King Solomon was able to figure out who the real mother was. 

     We also know that King Solomon had some, how should I word it, faults.  As King he collected taxes, and became quite wealthy.  According to the Bible he had 700 wives and 300 concubines.  There is a story about the Queen of Sheba visiting him, leaving him pleased and later bearing a son.  This son became king of Axum, which later became Ethiopia and whose lineage ruled Ethiopia, almost uninterrupted until 1974. It is also said that Solomon gave him a replica ark of the Covenant, which might have actually been the real ark.  Today the church and government both will not allow this ark to be examined by experts.  

     I share this because often we view Bible stories as really long ago, not really containing anything modern.  You could argue 1974 as not modern, but these stories are containing facts, perhaps accurate facts.  Just last Wednesday, there is a archeological dig happening in the West Bank, and they think they have found where the tabernacle, where is where the ark was before the temple was built by Solomon.  The Ark or its replica in Ethiopia, is being guarded by monks, whose only lifelong job is watching over the ark.  The church where it is located has a leaking roof, and so those monks are building a new church next to the old one, and when it is completed, the ark, real or copy, will be moved in secret to the new location.  It is cool to look at modern news stories and see how, at times, they support what we read in the Bible.  As I say many weeks, these were not written as they were happening, but probably written down later from oral stories handed down, but we are now getting into a time where both Bible stories and non-biblical sources can be used to piece together historical events.

     But back to Solomon.  He was rich, he was smart, and today we would say that he knows how to smooth talk.  God asks Solomon what he wants and Solomon replies:  “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David,”  Notice that he starts by pointing out God’s love of David, his father.  “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.”  First half of the prayer, now he just starts to get into himself .” 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.”  Solomon was not a little child, but putting himself in a lower place before God.  “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.”  Referring back to Abraham or Jacob, both promised a great people.”  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?”  Finally he gets around to asking for it.  An understanding mind, able to discern between good and evil.

     Well took him long enough.  But notice how smooth that was.  Praise, praise, praise, of his father, of God, but I am just a lowly servant, all I want is an understanding mind.  Now I have painted the picture that Solomon is a smooth talker, and he is, but he did ask for something good, beyond himself.  And his model of prayer, is often the one I use in my own prayer life.  Praise God for all the good things, thank you for the air I breathe, thank you for the sun and the stars, the rain.  Thank you for all who have gone before me.  I am just one person out of about 7.4 billion people on earth.  And we know that there are probably other planets out there that could support life, so who knows if God created other worlds in addition to ours.  But even in my tiny status, I still ask God to be present with me, to give me guidance, to give me words to say, to do what is the will of God. 

     And God is pleased with Solomon’s prayer, and grants him an understanding mind, and the ability to discern before good and evil. 

     But before we say “and they all lived happily ever after,” I do get to add my Paul Harvey “the rest of the story.”  We already know that Solomon had many wives and concubines, 1000 of them.  I am not even sure I could remember the names of 700 wives, not even thinking of the concubines.  He had perhaps an encounter with the Queen of Sheba resulting in a son.  He also lost his faith. Maybe not totally, he did create the first temple, and it was reported that he had been doing the sacrifices, at least when he became King.  But he had a wife who wanted him to build a temple to another god, actually a few wives that wanted him to build temples to other gods.  Men, has your wife ever asked you to build something?  A moment for marital counseling, when you wife says build, your proper response is “Yes mam, where are the nails?”  So in addition to a huge temple to our God, he also built temples to other gods. 

     Also, in Deuteronomy, which is one of the books that contains Jewish laws, it warns against multiplying wives, horses and gold.  700 wives is a lot for one man, in fact he bringing wives in from other countries such as Egypt.  Remember, Moses brought the slaves out of Egypt, and one of his wives was the daughter of Pharaoh.  In some ways this helps diplomatic ties between the countries, but marrying of foreign wives is prohibited by Jewish law.  This, some believe, is the reason that Israel split after his death.   He also multiplied horses and chariots, also bringing those in from other countries.  A few horses, a chariot or two, OK according to Jewish laws, but the law warns against acquiring too many.  And Solomon apparently acquired 666 talents of Gold in taxes every year.  A talent was between 57 and 130 pounds, probably about 67 pounds at that time, it changed between countries and times.  Even with lower numbers used, that is about 38,000 of pounds of gold each year from what is a very small country.  So despite his good things, there were also not good things.  Perhaps knowing the difference between good and evil does not prevent one from choosing evil. 

     He died at about age 80, natural causes, and one of his sons Rehoboam takes over as king.  10 of the 12 tribes of Israel do not accept him as king, which causes Israel to split into two kingdoms. 

     I believe Solomon was a good talker, he knew how to get things done, got what he wanted from God, and acquired a huge amount of wealth.  And in many ways he was not a bad king, but he did have his faults, turning away from God, multiplying wives and horses and gold, sins in the Jewish laws, some of the outcomes of which at least helped Israel to split after his death.  Perhaps his prayer, and our prayer should be, after praising God for all that God has done, to give us an understanding mind, the ability to discern between good and evil, and the ability to do the good and avoid the evil.