12th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15B)
Sermon by the Reverend Jo-Ann R. Murphy, D.Min.
What’s the very first word that comes to your mind when you hear the name Solomon? I’ll bet you think of wisdom, don’t you? Most church-going adults have heard of Solomon’s wisdom and today’s text is aimed at helping us understand why Solomon, the son of King David who ruled the united kingdoms of Judah (in the south) and Israel (in the north) has the reputation of being wise. There’s only one problem. There’s only one problem but it’s a big one - - Solomon was not wise. Oh, he may have made some strategic alliances; he may have made some intelligent decisions - - let’s give him that. But, by Judeo-Christian standards Solomon was a fool. Solomon forgot rule # 1. He also forgot most of the other rules (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, & 10) that God gave to his people. Solomon was the third and last king of the united kingdoms of Judah and Israel. That’s right, because of Solomon’s foolishness the kingdoms of Judah and Israel were overrun and captured and carried off into exile. We’ll get to that.
The story goes that God appeared to Solomon at night in a dream and tells Solomon that he will give Solomon whatever Solomon asks God for. Solomon is polite, deferential, savvy, and even clever, we might say. Solomon asks God for “an understanding mind, to be able to discern between good and evil” as our New Revised Standard Bible has it. Eugene Peterson’s “Message” translates Solomon’s request as “give me a God-listening heart.”
God likes Solomon’s request and he promises Solomon much more than Solomon has asked for. God promises Solomon riches and fame. But here’s the catch, here’s the big IF. God tells Solomon “If you will walk in my ways, if you stay on course.” There’s always an “if,” right? There’s always a condition or two. Covenants are usually two-way streets and the God of the Bible is a God who makes covenants. Solomon clearly did not walk in God’s ways.
Writer Frederick Buechner writes “Solomon did not have an auspicious beginning. He was the product of a scandalous liaison between King David and Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. Then he was brought up in that hot bed of oriental intrigue and ostentation that was his father’s court, and that was less than conducive to the development of sound moral character. He also spent his formative years under the thumb of his beautiful but conniving mother who had brow-beaten King David on his deathbed into giving her son Solomon the throne in the first place. It’s a wonder he turned out as well as he did.
He was the first of the big-time spenders.” Archeological digs reveal Solomon had forty thousand horses and twelve-thousand horsemen . . . and I could go on. And on. The Bible does - - columns and columns of Solomon’s possessions, excess and excess.
Solomon is known for building a splendiferous Temple in Jerusalem. He’s also known for offering sacrifices in many of the pagan high places (violating commandments #2 and 3 – “Thou shalt have no other Gods,” only me). Solomon was also an adulterer, although monogamy wasn’t de regur for men then, none the less . . . not exactly kosher. Solomon offered sacrifices in the pagan high places. Solomon loved many foreign women. The United Kingdom did not persist. Nevertheless, God’s promise to David remains, despite Solomon’s failure to keep God’s commandments, to walk in God’s ways, generations later we find David’s descendants in Jesus’ lineage.
We started out wondering about Solomon’s so-called wisdom. When we scratch the surface we find his idolatry, his impropriety, his selfishness, his excesses, his disobedience.
Perhaps we are being called to stop and take stock. Does all that stuff that I am accumulating really bring me happiness? What do I worship - - that is, what is my first allegiance? In what ways am I wise, in what ways am I foolish? What are my priorities?
If God appeared to you in a dream and told you that you could have anything you ask for, what would you choose to request? What is missing from your life? Where is your life heading?