10/28/18 – Wisdom of Accountability

WISDOM OF ACCOUNTABILITY

October 28, 2018
Jazz Vespers Homily
1 Kings 3:4-9, 16-28
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

 

The Solomon depicted today is the good Solomon, the ideal Solomon thought he could reach. Before I went to seminary, all I knew about Solomon was that he had humbly asked God for wisdom and that he used his wisdom to judge, correctly, the real mother of an infant in dispute. You miss a lot when you don’t read the whole story.

This snapshot of Solomon is deceiving. Solomon was not the obedient, faithful servant king for his people and his God that he seems to portray in this passage. There are some telltale clues here that expose Solomon’s shortcomings, which will become strikingly apparent later in First Kings.

Last week, we read the story of David and Bathsheba. At that point, Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother was an innocent victim in David’s abuse of power. As David’s health wans, Bathsheba learns how to use the power of her position as leverage to have her son anointed the new king of Israel instead of David’s other seven sons. Solomon is complicit with his mother in the plot to become the new king. He even goes so far as to kill one of his own half-brothers. Solomon has also taken many foreign women as wives.

We enter the story today with Solomon making extravagant sacrifices in Gibeon, called here a “high place.” The problem is that these “high places” were sites of cultic worship and thus, the Deuteronomic law forbade worship there. Altars to other gods were built on high places. Gibeon was a place of worship for the Canaanite god, Baal. Even before this encounter with God, Solomon had been influenced by his forays into areas outside of Jerusalem and by his foreign wives. Having a foreign, non-Jewish, wife was also against the Deuteronomic law.

Why did he go to Gibeon instead of staying in Jerusalem? Even though the temple had not yet been built, the ark of the covenant was in Jerusalem. One reason for Solomon’s choice of a site of cultic worship was that he had spent 13 years having his own grand palace built. Solomon put the construction of his palace before that of the temple.

Yet, in this passage today we see the ideal Solomon, the king he should have been. Solomon knew all the right words to say to God. When he asked for the gift of wisdom, it appeared that Solomon was going to be a great king in the model of David. David was flawed and made some errors in judgment, but he allowed himself to be held accountable for his mistakes and change his ways when he drifted away from God. With God’s gift of wisdom, Solomon was given the power to judge others. The Hebrew word for judge can also mean govern.

The catch was Solomon was unable to judge his own actions and govern his own desires. Solomon’s reign started off as a time of great prosperity and global power, but by the end of his reign, Israel was bankrupt from his hunger to build grand monuments to display his wealth and power. Using slave labor and heavily taxing his people to pay for his personal extravagance, his kingdom became weaker and more vulnerable. By the end of his reign, the Northern and Southern halves of Israel divided.

God knew that Solomon had made unwise and even disobedient choices. He had made a political alliance with Egypt, Israel’s ancient nemesis. In the deal, he got an Egyptian princess as a wife. He was so interested in increasing his influence in the countries surrounding Israel that he neglected to build needed defenses. Yet, despite Solomon’s questionable start as king, God came to Solomon and offered him a gift of his choosing.

One might also question the wisdom of Solomon’s decision in the dispute between the two mothers. What if both agreed to have the baby split?

Like us, Solomon is both wise and foolish. Despite this, God used him anyway and God does the same for us. We are given gifts to use in service to others. The question is: Are we wise enough to use them? We are given opportunities to serve every day, but are we alert so that we do not miss the chance?

Solomon had this shining moment in his reign to be transformed by God’s steadfast love; but, when we read the rest of the story, we learn that Solomon failed to follow through. Blinded by his own ambition, he could not judge his own actions and set himself up to avoid any accountability.

This is a cautionary tale for all leaders, particularly leaders of nations. It is also a cautionary tale for us. We can feed our egos, or we can feed our souls, but we cannot do both.

The Word of the Lord.

 

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church
1420 W. Moss Avenue – Peoria Illinois 61606
WestminsterPeoria.org   |   309.673.8501