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Solomon is just a young man when he is abruptly installed as king of Israel to succeed his father, David. He is not his father’s oldest son, nor even his most favored son. Solomon never received the kind of apprenticeship that might have prepared him for the office thrust upon him.
Solomon is aware of the enormity of the challenge set before him AND how woefully unprepared he is. “I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in.” Add to this the fact that by the end of his father David’s reign, there is a great deal of political tension and unrest in the family and the kingdom, and Solomon has got his hands full.
But we are told this about Solomon that is reason enough for us to be hopeful. “Solomon loved the Lord…” That in itself is a good foundation for anyone to build on.
“Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on the altar…” That’s a lot of offerings. He is appealing to God for help and guidance to be the king he needs to be to govern Israel, “a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude.”
And “the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream… and said, ‘Ask what I shall give you.’”
Let that one sink in for a minute. That’s quite an offer. What would YOU ask for if the Lord God said that to you?
But wait a minute, He has, hasn’t He? “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.” (Mat.7:7). I ask you, how is that offer any different than the one that Solomon received? And we didn’t offer a thousand burnt offerings on the altar. Jesus Christ, the offering to end all offerings, has already been offered on the altar for you.
So, what do YOU ask for? Or, don’t you?
Solomon prayed, “Give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil…” “And it pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this.”
It almost sounds as though God is caught off guard by Solomon’s prayer. “Wow! I haven’t gotten a response like that in quite a while.” And its obvious that He considers this a PLEASANT SURPRISE.
“Because you have asked this and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind…”
And then in His joy, He throws in what everyone else asks for but Solomon didn’t. “I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor…” “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt.6:22).
“Give your servant an understanding mind to… govern your people…, (Go ahead and substitute whatever responsibility you have been given in your particular vocation… spouse, parent, child, employee, citizen, neighbor…) that I may discern between good and evil.”
An “understanding mind” that can “discern between good and evil” is the essence of what ‘wisdom’ is all about. How do I manage the responsibility that has been given to me WELL? How do I make ‘decisions,’ big ones and little ones, WISELY?
I’m afraid that somewhere along the line, we have swallowed some bad advice which may have been given with good intentions and in all sincerity and piety, but bad advice nonetheless. When faced with difficult responsibilities and decisions, sometimes we are advised that we should ‘PRAY THAT THE LORD WILL SHOW YOU WHAT TO DO.’
The problem with this advice is twofold. First, how are we to know? Will there be some ‘sign’ that tells us what we are supposed to do; and what will the ‘sign’ be; and how will I recognize it; and what if I don’t?
Anyone who feels the pressure of making the RIGHT DECISION is bound to feel the PRESURE INCREASE if they are told to ask the Lord to tell them what to do.
The second problem with this advice is that it advices us to shirk the responsibility that has been given to us. Instead of doing the hard work that is necessary to learn how to ‘discern between good and evil,’ we cop out and ask the Lord to tell us what to do. Instead of making a decision, we remain in a state of ‘indecision’ which is always a poor way of handling responsibility.
This is not the picture of God’s intention for us that we get in the Scriptures.
In the beginning, God gave Adam dominion over His creation and told him to “work it and keep it.” (Gen.2:16). That’s a huge responsibility. Adam had to make a lot of decisions, big ones and little ones. Nowhere are we given the impression that God gave Adam a detailed set of instructions as to what to do and how to do it. Adam knew what was ‘GOOD’ and God expected him to ‘DO’ what was GOOD.
In the gospels, Jesus tells the parable about the man who planted a vineyard and leased it to some workers to manage while “he went into another country.” They are entrusted with the responsibility of managing the vineyard and making the daily decisions of faithful stewardship. Again, there is no indication that the man left a detailed set of instructions as to HOW to manage His vineyard. Just imagine if instead of “discerning between good and evil, right and wrong,” they didn’t do anything because they thought that they should wait for ‘the Lord showed them what to do.’
In fact, it is the steward who does nothing with the talents entrusted to him who is scolded by the master.
Over against this, Solomon prays, “Give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil.”
Solomon is not asking God to ‘tell him what he should do.’ He is asking for the ability to make good decisions on his own.
The Bible is not a book of detailed instructions on how we should carry out the responsibilities that we have been given, although that is the way that many people treat the Bible. The Bible is however the authoritative source on what is “GOOD” and what is “EVIL.” And we need to do the hard work of studying the bible so that we may be carry out the responsibilities that we have in life by “discerning between good and evil.”
From its very first pages, God begins to show us what “good” is. “And God saw that it was good.” The word for “good” in the CREATION ACCOUNT is the same word that Solomon uses in his prayer to God. “Tov.”
“Tov” means, ‘exactly what God had in mind.’ When I have an idea in my head of something that I want to make or the way that I think some project should go, let me tell you, it never comes out the same as what I had in mind. This sermon is a perfect example of that. It’s even more true if the idea in my mind involves carpentry.
But what God creates through His Word is exactly what He had in mind. And that is why God is so ‘pleased’ with His creation, in every detail. It is ‘good.’
“Evil” is just the opposite of “good.” Evil is not at all what God has in His mind. It’s not the way He wants it to be, whatever ‘it’ may be.
The prophet Micah gives us as good a summary as any. “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).
If we want a more detail than this, which we surely do, we can turn to the 10 Commandments which spell out the distinction between good and evil pretty clearly. Any one who prays, “Give your servant an understanding mind… that I may discern between good and evil,” will find the answer to his prayer right in his bible. But it must be read and studied and tested and discussed with others and tested again and discussed with others some more and tested.
The point is, a ‘discerning mind’ doesn’t just happen. It isn’t like taking a pill or following a set of instructions. “Discerning between good and evil” is ‘learned.’ It requires practice and involves making mistakes and learning from our mistakes, and confessing and being set free to try again.
Anyone who feels the pressure of making the RIGHT DECISION is bound to feel the PRESSURE RELEASED when they hear it said, “I forgive you all of your sins.”
Just to be clear, it should be said that there are two kinds of wisdom that the Bible talks about.
WORLDLY WISDOM seeks to discern between GOOD AND EVIL, but GOOD AND EVIL as defined by man. With our sin distorted minds, we define “good and evil” in terms like “long life or riches or the life of our enemy.”
The USEFULLNESS of ‘worldly wisdom’ is limited to this world. There are many ‘wise’ men and women in this world whom the bible nevertheless calls ‘FOOLS.’
“SPIRITUAL WISDOM” on the other hand, seeks to do the ‘good’ and avoid the ‘evil’ as God defines them. Often times, “spiritual wisdom” does not result in ‘long life or riches or the life of our enemy.’ In fact, the exercise of ‘spiritual wisdom’ may involve suffering and the loss of riches and even a shortened life. But no matter what the world may have to say about the ‘spiritually wise,’ they are no ‘fools.’
Sadly, despite the fact that he “loved the Lord,” and was given such divine ability to discern between good and evil, Solomon, by his own admission, died a fool. Knowing the good and the evil, time after time, Solomon decided to do what was ‘evil.’
Just as sadly, this is the way that it is with us too. Even when we are able to discern between what God’s Word calls “GOOD,” and “EVIL,” how often do we make decide on what is evil because we want to be worldly wise more than spiritually wise; because we want “long life, riches, revenge on our enemies,” happiness or the acceptance of others; because we do not FEAR THE LORD?
The rich young man came to Jesus and asked what he must do please God. Jesus told him to do what was ‘good.’ The man asked Jesus, what is ‘good?’ Jesus pointed him to the 10 Commandments and told him to decide to carry out his financial stewardship accordingly. And the man walked away. And we all walk in his shoes.
The twelve year old child in the Temple is the ‘greater than Solomon” and the greater than each one of us. St. Paul writes, to the Colossians that it is “Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Col. 2:3) “There is only one who IS good,” and His name is Jesus.
“The Spirit of the Lord rests on Him; the Spirit of wisdom and understanding…” (Is.11:2) He discerns between good and evil; and does the good; because He IS good. He is the MAN that God HAD IN MIND when He made man. “With Him I am well pleased.”
Jesus did not ask for ‘long life, riches or the life of his enemy.’ He choose the ‘good,’ not because it was practical or profitable or successful or so that He might be accepted by others, but because it was ‘GOOD.’ And what is ‘GOOD’ pleases God.
Deciding to do what is ‘good’ cost Jesus great suffering and pain and rejection and death.
Don’t be misled by those who call this ‘folly.’ They’re perishing. “God choose what is foolish IN THE WORLD to shame the wise.” “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men.”
And you have been united to Christ. Paul writes, “we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Cor. 1:27,24; 2:16). We are equipped through the Word with the Spirit of Christ to discern between the good and evil and make the hard and difficult decisions.
We are like children before God in that we know that we will never master this. God’s wisdom will always go so much deeper than we are able or willing to go. “I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in.”
But God does not want us to act like children when it comes to the responsibilities that He has entrusted to us. United to Christ and His forgiveness and grace, we are bold to carry out the responsibilities we have been given as spouse, parent, child, employee, student, citizen, neighbor, discerning between good and evil, and deciding to do what is good, to the pleasure of God.
James tells us to pray as Solomon prayed. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5).