Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary – 20th Ordinary (Day 10)

Kings 2:10–12; 3:3–14

10 Then David lay down with his ancestors and was buried in David’s City. 11 He ruled over Israel forty years—seven years in Hebron and thirty-three years in Jerusalem.
12 Solomon sat on the throne of his father David, and his royal power was well established.
3 Now Solomon loved to walk in the laws of his father David, with the exception that he also sacrificed and burned incense at the shrines.
4 The king went to the great shrine at Gibeon in order to sacrifice there. He used to offer a thousand entirely burned offerings on that altar. 5 The LORD appeared to Solomon at Gibeon in a dream at night. God said, “Ask whatever you wish, and I’ll give it to you.”
6 Solomon responded, “You showed so much kindness to your servant my father David when he walked before you in truth, righteousness, and with a heart true to you. You’ve kept this great loyalty and kindness for him and have now given him a son to sit on his throne. 7 And now, LORD my God, you have made me, your servant, king in my father David’s place. But I’m young and inexperienced. I know next to nothing. 8 But I’m here, your servant, in the middle of the people you have chosen, a large population that can’t be numbered or counted due to its vast size. 9 Please give your servant a discerning mind in order to govern your people and to distinguish good from evil, because no one is able to govern this important people of yours without your help.”
10 It pleased the LORD that Solomon had made this request. 11 God said to him, “Because you have asked for this instead of requesting long life, wealth, or victory over your enemies—asking for discernment so as to acquire good judgment— 12 I will now do just what you said. Look, I hereby give you a wise and understanding mind. There has been no one like you before now, nor will there be anyone like you afterward. 13 I now also give you what you didn’t ask for: wealth and fame. There won’t be a king like you as long as you live. 14 And if you walk in my ways and obey my laws and commands, just as your father David did, then I will give you a very long life.”


This extraordinary passage is full of hope and peril for Israel. The great David is gone and with the great man’s demise the future of the people is up for grabs. The narrator’s first mention of Solomon in this passage highlights this uncertainty. He “loves” to follow his father’s laws (are these God’s laws too?) save for a crucial exception of his proclivity for improper worship (no small error!).

It is precisely at Gibeon during one expression of this improper worship that God appears to Solomon in a dream (3:5). What grace! What warning! How will Solomon deal with God about this in light of his royal responsibilities?

The young man Solomon appropriately remembers God’s dealings with his father (in both mercy and judgment, no doubt). In gratitude and awareness of the immense task he faced, Solomon stands before God humble, awed, frightened, and needy. In fact, three times Solomon refers to himself as God’s “servant” (vv.7,8,9). Just the response to portend a special and glorious future for this king. He prays with a wisdom beyond his years for the wisdom required to faithfully carry out his calling.

God takes Solomon’s prayer seriously. It pleases him. And he gives Solomon even what he did not ask for “wealth and fame” (v.13).

Solomon, like David before him, is not a perfect man, a plastic figure of devotion. He is a great and gifted man (as we will see later in his story) who begins his ministry attentive to God’s past work among his people and responsive to the need for that same God’s presence and power to govern Israel wisely and faithfully. His “servant heart” is as evident as it is necessary.

And this is how new ministries usually start, I believe. And I mean both pastoral ministries and any other ministry God calls us to do. We know God has been at work in the place we are called to work. We know the task before us is such that only God can enable our doing it. And we usually have a genuine servant’s heart. Yet we also know we carry in us tendencies toward unfaithfulness that we neither can or will stop. Even if we do not or cannot deal with this matter ourselves, God will not let us off the hook. Just as with Solomon, God will meet us even in our places of unfaithfulness calling us to deal with him about whatever it is that might potentially sabotage our ministry. Much depends on how we deal with God over these matters. Solomon could not, apparently, work his way through his issues with worship and ultimately these worship improprieties undid him!

In whatever God calls us to do, major or seemingly minor, I suspect these dynamics are at work. It behooves us to take them seriously. It behooves us to recognize these dynamics and to pray for those who lead us that God help them negotiate their issues faithfully, to maintain the servant hearts they begin with, and to stay close to God all along the way. Solomon stands as a figure for the road not ultimately taken, the “narrow way” that alone leads to life. May we heed the lesson of Solomon for ourselves and those who lead us in the church!

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