1 Kings 2-3: Wisdom
June 2, 2020
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
David’s final instructions to Solomon are suitably brutal (2:5-9). How are we to think of these things? Is this a final sign of David’s less than mature spirituality, seeking vengeance with the last breath of his body? Or is it a real-politic leadership that, while plainly inappropriate for a New Testament church leader, in the world of secular state leadership, requires life and death decisions be made—and be made on occasion with decisive force?
To my mind, the text seems, if understood in right context, to suggest the latter. As Solomon, in one way or another, fulfills his father’s instructions to kill this one and that one (2:28-46), he is doing so with an expressed intention not of vengeance but of justice. David has sworn to not act in justice on certain individuals himself, but that does not mean they do not deserve justice. When we think of how Joab dies, we must think of how those whom he killed also died. As Paul puts in Romans 13, the authorities do bear the sword for a reason. God, in our New Testament world, has set up secular authorities whose responsibility it is to administer justice and to defend nations and states. We are to pray that they would exercise this lethal force with justice, tempered with mercy, and with great wisdom.
Chapter 3 then segues naturally to Solomon’s prayer for wisdom (3:5-14). He is already marked out as a wise man (David calls him wise in his final instructions to him, 2:9), and it takes a wise man, when asked by God for anything (3:5), to request wisdom (3:9). Solomon’s very request for wisdom shows his already existing wisdom. That said, God then gives him an extra measure of such wisdom so that Solomon may govern God’s people well (3:12). Those who are in positions of leadership know full well the feeling of being beyond their human capabilities. Ask God for wisdom to do what is right and to do it in the right way. Solomon asks, God grants, and also adds to the specific request an abundance of extra material blessing as well (3:13).
Then we come to the story of the two women competing over who is the mother of the baby they both claim (3:16-28). Solomon’s decision to bring a sword to cut the baby in two and give half to each (3:24-25) immediately makes the real mother say she would rather the other woman have the baby and the baby live, whereas the one who is not the real mother would prefer that neither of them have the baby (3:26). A risky proposition certainly—but one that was remarkably effective, and shows to all the people Solomon’s extraordinary, supernatural, God-given wisdom to lead (3:27-28).
In the middle of this display of justice and wisdom, there is a little warning note sounded. Solomon makes a formal marriage alliance with Pharaoh, king of Egypt, by marrying his daughter (3:1-2). Such marriage alliances, which came with duties towards the pagan deities they represented, became a trap for Solomon as his life progressed. On the face of it, a marriage alliance to Egypt was good news. But behind it was a seed that would grow into spiritual compromise and the worship of other gods. Perhaps Solomon, for all his wisdom, was tempted, as a lot of canny individuals are, by always choosing the most pragmatic option. An alliance with Pharaoh may have been pragmatic, but it could become spiritually dangerous for Solomon and for the whole nation. Still such developments are yet mainly in the future for Solomon.
Be wise, then, and make sure (as Proverbs itself teaches us) that wisdom is based upon the fear of God (Prov. 1:7), for then it will be truly wise.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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