Wisdom’s Riddle

“Give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your People, that I may discern between good and evil.  For who is able to judge this great People of Yours?” I Kings 3:9

I must admit that I am puzzled.  Whenever I read this account, I can’t help but wonder just what it was that Solomon was missing.  For all the extraordinary wisdom that he had, he seemed to lack the most important kind.

Perhaps from Sunday School days, you may remember the story that is our Old Testament Lesson.  Already Solomon had exhibited a tremendous wisdom in that he – as God Himself pointed out – did not ask for success against his enemies, nor for long life, nor for great wealth. Instead he asked for the ability to lead God’s special People, he asked for a wise and discerning heart, which the Lord was delighted to give him.

The Bible goes on to give evidence of the great wisdom that Solomon indeed had: the judgment of the one child between the two mothers, and the visit of the Queen of Sheba.

But now comes the difficult part.  First of all, the nature of wisdom is that this is more than merely “smarts” or knowledge.  Rather it is based on a very deep understanding of especially HUMAN nature.  The deeper the wisdom, the greater the awareness of what effects and results would come out of a given action.  That’s why when Solomon commanded that a sword be used to divide the baby between the two mothers, it was because of his deep understanding of the human nature of the real mother – which is what the rest of the story demonstrated.

The puzzle comes in that here was a man so extraordinarily wise, and yet did some of the most foolish things that anyone could do – not just little foolish things, but things that would destroy his own spiritual life as well as destroy the very People for whom he had asked for the wisdom to serve.

First, he had done what everybody else was doing – at least, all the other kings of that time.  Despite God’s command not to, despite the warnings against falling away, despite Solomon’s own prayer concerning how the nation might fall away – not only did Solomon marry wives from heathen nations, he also fell in love with their gods.

The reason why he ended up with 700 wives and 300 concubines was because often a way of sealing a treaty between two nations was that the more powerful king would marry a daughter of the other king – theoretically that as long as the marriage lasted, so also would the treaty.  Rather than stand as unique among all nations – which is what God’s People always are – Solomon jumped on the bandwagon and followed a practice that was contrary to God’s Word, a practice would do nothing but lead him into serious trouble.

Sure enough, one thing led to another: Solomon accommodated his heathen wives by building temples for their gods in and around Jerusalem, even the gods that were most repulsive to the Lord: the gods who demanded human sacrifices.  Then it was not long before he was to be found burning incense and sacrificing to these very gods.  Because of this false god worship, because of the taxes and forced labor that such a building program required, Solomon was directly responsible for Israel being torn into two after his death.

Solomon had God-given wisdom and he was the wisest man of all time – excluding Jesus, of course.  How could he have been so blind and foolish? What did he lack, for him to miss such obvious conclusions as to what would happen when he tried to stand on both sides of the fence at the same time, the one side being part of the special and unique People of God, the other side being the ways of the world that God’s People simply cannot be a part of, and the fence between being the barrier of God’s law?

In horror, we watch such an obvious spiritual decline of one so powerfully gifted by God, especially when the Lord, and even Solomon himself had warned of such things happening.  Part of the horror is because we realize just how fragile a ground we stand on – we also make the same small compromises with the world, and here is the unmistakable and relentless effect of such rejection of God’s ways and commands.

A week or so ago an article in the book section of the newspaper caught my eye [“Author Cuts Out Internet, Cellphone For Book About Tech Addiction” by Michael Oliveira, Lethbridge Herald, 2014-08-09, p B9]. A fellow told about how he had sat before two computer screens in which on facebook and emails and all other kinds of social media there where a whole assortment of demands for his attention.  On the desk was his cell phone where a friend had just texted him, and had texted again and again because he hadn’t immediately replied.  He decided to swear off electronics for a month.

In his book he told about how strong the addiction was and how much he found himself composing in his mind what he would be texting or emailing someone else.  One comment he made was that he began to realize how much social media was time consuming and that it forced him to constantly be reacting – there was not much time left for any kind of deep thought.  One might compare it to a stone skipping off the top of the water, but never getting deep into the water.  Although I haven’t read the book yet, it sounded as though that at the end of the month he found himself back close to the way things were before.

In Romans 12 [vv 1-2], Paul wrote:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Notice that Paul does not say, “be transformed in your emotions” or in your heart or anything like that. He says that the battleground will be the mind.  How effective it is if Satan can get us too busy, too overwhelmed, too involved with what everyone else is doing so as to prevent us from stopping long enough to do really serious thinking.
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Yes, we do make the same compromises which Solomon did.  Oh, we may not build temples and burn incense to false gods, but we compromise: we cave in to the popular “politically correct” ideas that constantly flit about our heads, perhaps swayed by sympathy to reject God’s Word in favor of what God forbids.  We worship at the feet of popularity, or of success however you may define it, or of gratification.  How many of us have something either we must do or must have, even if we have to be sneaky about it, or where we have to ignore the comfort and welfare of others?

How much does your language, attitudes, even your thought processes change, depending on your company. I have always found it ironic how often some World War II Nazi officers, who were guilty of some of the greatest atrocities that mankind can commit, were also described as loving family men.  There almost seems to be the sense that since some good can be found in them, their atrocities are somehow diminished and now are OK.

There are other ways that we do foolishly destructive things to our spiritual lives.  Persisting in any kind of known sin, refusing to give up on it, refusing to turn aside – St Paul speaks about how such things can make a shambles of faith.  And that’s in spite of the fact that many times we may feel we are in a situation which allows no other alternative – consider what Solomon must have felt when he first started making treaties with other nations!

So also, how often do we neglect the things that would strengthen and encourage us spiritually!  We need to be where the Word and Sacrament are offered, where the fellowship of the Body of Christ can equip us for another week amid the temptations and abuse of Satan and the world.  We need so strongly something that will counter the TV shows whose morals and spiritual content are simply junk.

The odd thing is that you don’t have to have Solomon’s extraordinary wisdom to figure out what the result of such a spiritually negative lifestyle will be – even a child could figure it out and recognize what the obvious results will be of putting the Lord into second place!

Yet, like Solomon, we still persist in such rebellion – not only that, but even will attempt to justify it.  I wonder how much Solomon must have used his great God-given wisdom to justify doing what he knew was wrong.

The problem is identified by Jesus in Matthew 13[:44-52].  If our faith could be compared to a treasure or a uniquely valuable pearl, how many of us would really sell everything for the sake of it?  The problem is that we, like Solomon, are not convinced that what God has to offer is the singularly most important thing we could ever possess.  Yet the answer to that requires a wisdom that even a child possesses.

It is interesting that in God’s wisdom, the best thing He could do to prove how valuable what He offers is, is to demonstrate how valuable we are to Him. In other words, if He wants us to give up everything for the sake of His gift of life, then He must first prove that He would give up everything, even His own life, for your sake.

That is quite wise! Human nature likes to be secure.  If it is to give up every other source of security, whether it be mental, emotional or physical, it has got to know that One Thing that it will place all its trust in is dependable – and even more than that, that This Thing earnestly desires good for us – and will carry it out.

So God knew that before He could require such single-heartedness from us, HE would have to demonstrate HIS single-hearted love, power and wisdom toward us.  This is what the cross is all about!  Nothing anywhere else could have cost God more than the death of Jesus on the cross.  It is hard enough to watch your own child die, but when this is your only child, it is devastation piled on devastation.  And when you are willing, not merely to sell all you have, but to undergo torture and agony and death for the sake a beloved person, truly God has demonstrated what HE considers is His greatest treasure.

And then the more you understand about Baptism, Holy Communion, the fellowship of the Body of Christ, the Holy Spirit’s presence, and so much more that’s in the Bible, the more powerful is the message of just how important you are to the almighty Creator God of the Universe Himself.

So now we have a foundation for OUR wisdom.  Having made us so valuable to Himself, He has proved that He will not stand for our lives being destroyed, but instead will work hard for OUR life, growth, and blessings that will never end. Unlike those who have no wisdom, He never promises that life should always be easy.  But He does point us to the cross, so that even during tough times, we would always have the foundation of not an idealized theory, but of a concrete event proving how singularly important God has considered us to be – so important that God was willing to “sell all” in order to possess us.

So today we as we look at Solomon, we consider two different types of wisdom, the extraordinary wisdom of the heart that Solomon had, which not many can possess, and the spiritual wisdom that everyone of us has, a wisdom that wraps itself around the cross of Jesus, where God has proved that we are the most precious treasure He could ever possess, so that we would make HIM the most precious treasure we could ever possess.


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