Praying With Solomon for Wisdom
1 Kings 3:1-15
Now this morning we are continuing our series of Great Bible Prayers. The reason for the series is that we want to be people who pray with depth, and there is no better way of learning to do that than tying our prayers to the scriptures and finding out how people there prayed. So, if you like this is a message about how to do a Solomon. What did he ask for, what didn’t he ask for, how did God act, why did God act?
I want to start with that last question – why did God do this for Solomon? It is so easy to fall into the idea that God answers prayer as some kind of bargain with us. A little bit like Father Christmas – he knows if you’ve been naughty or nice, so be good for goodness sake. Good people get their prayers answered, right?
Thankfully, no. In fact that is the precise opposite of the biblical picture here. When Solomon ascended to the throne of Israel in the mid-10th century BC, things were in a terrible mess. David, the man after God’s heart, was dead, there were coups and palace plotting, rival rulers and villainy. And just when you thought that Solomon’s coronation might make things better you read 3:1-3.
A Man With a Divided Heart
This is a body blow to anyone who thought that the people might finally stop sinning. Solomon has a very divided heart. He was naughty, not nice. You might wonder what was wrong with allying with Pharaoh and marrying his daughter as part of a political bargain? Is that not just sensible foreign policy?
Solomon knew, and everyone else knew, that it was the big no-no from God. It inevitably led to a divided heart because you not only married someone who didn’t know God, but you ended up worshipping their gods as well. And that is exactly what happened. You can see it here immediately: v2 the people sacrificed at the high places – that is sites for worship of local deities. V3 Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the statutes except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.
Now, it would be easy to conclude that because God came to him and blessed him anyway, that dating and marrying outside God’s people wasn’t all that bad. That would be the wrong conclusion. At the end of his reign, it kills his relationship with God. He drifts further and further from the Lord and it destroys the kingdom. You who are young hear this: there is nothing for creating a divided heart like romancing someone who doesn’t know God. We urge you, we implore you, not to. Read the sobering account of what it did to Solomon in 1 Kings 11.
So why does God come and bless a man with a divided heart like this? The answer is that he does it out of pure sovereign grace. There is no deal. God does not say “Solomon is so deserving that he gets goodies”. Solomon is bad - and God blesses. And you and I are bad and God blesses. That’s the thing about grace – it is given to the undeserving. He is seen to be even greater because he gives to those who don’t deserve and can’t earn it. If it wasn’t we would all be finished. So if you sit here this morning and think “I’m not good enough for God to hear and answer my prayers”, this passage is for you. He answered Solomon and he will answer you.
Let’s push on in the story. Solomon went to Gibeon to make offerings. Gibeon was the chief high place, because it was Yahweh’s high place where the Tabernacle was sited. The tent where God manifested his presence before there was a temple in Jerusalem. I want here for us to avoid another false conclusion, which is that God gave the dream and the wisdom as payback for the burnt offerings. I have known people who have said “I’ll go to church and do my religious bit as a kind of insurance policy, just in case its all real.” The implication is “if I scratch God’s back, he will be obligated to scratch mine. I did stuff for him so I’ve got one over on him, he will have to let me into Heaven because I’ve twisted his arm.” Don’t think that. God is free. He owes us nothing. He owed Solomon nothing.
Solomon wasn’t offering, expecting some mutual backscratching. He didn’t know God was going to make this incredible offer. But – but – at this point he was being spiritually serious about God. And I think it is right to say that when people are being spiritually serious, when we are casting ourselves on him as king – that’s what Solomon was doing - its right to expect something. The Bible is full of examples of people worshipping him and spiritually seeking, who find that he comes in power. And there are hundreds, thousands, of testimonies we could tell in this room of when together or individually we have been seeking the Lord and he has come in power. Acts 17 says God wants people to seek him and reach out for him because he isn’t far from each one of us.
We believe this, you know? This church is not a nice religious social club. This is the community of God. Don’t come spiritually unexpectant. Our default position should be to expect, rather than to not expect. When we ask each other “what is God doing in your life at the moment?” we should think there will normally be an answer rather than no answer.
God Reveals Himself
Back to the passage. It is the strangest prayer because it doesn’t start off in Solomon’s heart to pray it. It takes God to show himself to Solomon to prompt it “ask whatever you want me to give you.” Wow, there is a once in a lifetime offer.
I am wrestling with what to do with the request for wisdom. It’s a great request, God loves it. But I wonder if it is quite the best request. I don’t know, I am struggling over v6 where Solomon says “you showed kindness to my Father because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart.” And what I so want him to say is “be kind to me and make me faithful, righteous and upright in heart like him.” A part of me says that would have been the prayer to pray.
I guess it is about grace again in the face of a divided heart. Solomon knee-jerks straight to the biggest gap in his spiritual and practical skill set: I don’t know how to rule. And so he prays “David was faithful, you were kind to him, he knew you. But I want wisdom.” But right at the end he tacks on “who is able to govern this great people of yours.” However imperfect, this is a cry for God to provide rule for God’s people. “God, be the real king. God, rule with heavenly wisdom.” And it pleased the Lord.
I find this so comforting. The King didn’t know how to rule. This is the prayer of an imperfect, needy man and leader, facing big problems. And God gives wisdom when asked. What is wisdom? Some of us are studying Ecclesiastes in home groups and finding that wisdom is the ability to discern and make right decisions about difficult things in life.
I want you to notice four things about the prayer.
1. I’ve already said the first – it was a prayer for God to be king. Solomon says “Even as the king I am so needy, I so need you. I am sunk without you.” He throws himself on God
2. The prayer is specific. He is specific about what he wants – wisdom – and what he wants it for: to distinguish between right and wrong in governing the people. I think I would have been tempted to give a more generalised “whatever, you want Lord, if it’s in your will of course” pathetic kind of prayer
3. He isn’t really asking for himself. He is praying for the goodness, righteousness and good leadership for the people. As God says in v11, for discernment in administering justice. “Give this to me, for them. Bless me so that your people are built and your name is honoured.” God loves discerning leaders administering justice out of their relationship with him
4. God is delighted with what he didn’t ask for: things for himself. Long life, health, death of enemies. Why does God not like shopping lists of things I want, like that? Because when we pray like that, we are reversing the relationship between us and God. We are saying “you exist for me” rather than “I exist for you.” Asking for things that will get glory and honour for me. Solomon didn’t. He asked for things to honour God among the people.
But you know God says in the Bible “those who honour me, I will honour.” “Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well.” So easy to seek our honour in our status, in being up the front here, in our money. Some of you are extremely wealthy. Solomon makes you and every other wealthy person in the world look like a peasant by comparison. He made Bill Gates look like an amateur in the wealth game. When push came to shove he wanted God’s honour more than he wanted money.
God gave the great gift. The wisdom was far-reaching. If you read on when you get back home you find that right up to chapter 10 is the outcome of this prayer. First you get wisdom in a small dispute of two women over a child. The you get it in the in the arranging of right officials and leaders, bringing wisdom to the life of the kingdom. Then in prepping and building the temple and bringing the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem.
When Solomon prays the prayer of dedication of the temple in 8:31, he says “lord when a court case is brought before your temple, you punish the guilty and acquit the innocent. If your people have sinned and there is a drought, you teach them what is right and send rain. Give your people what they deserve because you know their hearts. Then they will fear you and walk in your ways, and foreigners will hear of your mighty miracles and come and worship.” And the foreigners do come and receive grace and wisdom from God, most notably the Queen of Sheba in chapter 10.
You do it! You do it! You be king and ruler over these people, that’s what Solomon is praying for. In many ways Solomon’s reign is held up as a godly ideal, because it is the reign of God’s wisdom over his people.
A Conditional Gift...
However… this great gift from God was a conditional gift – and Solomon finally forsook it., There were conditions on the blessing. V14 “If you walk in my ways, and obey my statutes and commands…” If. God appears to Solomon a second time at the end of the dedication in 1 Kings 9 and says “If you follow me with integrity and godliness I will establish your dynasty forever. But if you worship other gods then I will uproot and destroy the people because they forgot the Lord.” And worship other gods he did. For all his enthusiasm for worship at Gibeon, he kept a bit of himself back. God you can have my work life, my ruling over the people, but I will worship however I like, and you don’t have a say over the way I conduct my marriages. Sounds like politicians – its OK to commit adultery because it doesn’t affect my ability to do my job. I am sad to say it all ended in tears.
...And an Unconditional One
What are we going to do? We pray every day “incline my heart to your word”, but we know we don’t walk perfectly in it. Does that mean God walks with us and gives wisdom when we obey, and turns his back every time we sin? That would be terrible!
Very briefly – I wish I could linger – that is not the case. The reason is that God sent King Jesus Christ, who walked before the Father with an undivided heart, a king who was perfectly faithful unlike Solomon, and who gives us his wisdom unconditionally. In fact he is our wisdom. Jesus Christ is the wisdom of God. I don’t have time to unpack it, but go away and read 1 Cor 1:24 which says that Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God for us. 1 Cor 1:30: Christ has become our wisdom from God – that is our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
That is a great definition of wisdom – applying to all our decision what it means to be righteous, holy and redeemed.
What does that mean? It means you can have confidence that you can ask God for wisdom and he will give it because of Jesus. It means that you can know the depths of your heart and you can still come to him. You can turn in repentance and faith.
1. Be like Solomon in what he asked for and what he didn’t ask for
2. Don’t be like Solomon in having a divided heart. Pray “give me an undivided heart”. When you know you don’t have it, turn and repent - again
3. Rejoice that you are in Jesus Christ. He is the greater son of David, he sits on David and Solomon’s throne, and he is exercising wisdom on your behalf when you feel so weak and powerless to make right decisions
4. Seek him for your decision –making all the time. 1 Cor 3 and Heb 5 talk about Christians who should be wise and aren’t. They should be growing in depth of wisdom but they are stunted. Have the Bible at your right hand and in your heart. Stop being a passive receiver. Done my Sunday bit, heard the sermon, instantly forgettable, no change as a result.
5. Ask God for wisdom for leaders. Cry to the Lord for us. If you think it is easy discerning, preaching, teaching, leading, being the focus for unity, praying, challenging the comfortable and comforting the afflicted, you have no idea. The tears that are shed precisely over this question “I don’t know how to lead your people, Who is up to the task? oh give wisdom.” Pray for us, that we should lead and teach as we should
Father, I am not praying from this passage that we should be Solomon – although that’s not an entirely bad thing to pray – but that we need you as our perfectly wise ruler. Solomon ruled with your wisdom and the kingdom flourished, and the people were built, and the nations streamed in But Solomon failed and the thing fell apart. People always fail. They should have been crying out for the perfect wisdom of God to rule over them. We praise you that Jesus Christ is our perfect wisdom from God.
May there be nobody here this morning who carelessly throws away your message or who doesn’t want to apply righteousness, holiness and redemption to all our decisions. Make us people with of deep biblical worldview, of wisdom and truth.
For the glory and honour of your name I ask. Amen