Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
In a kingdom long long ago, there came to the throne a king named Solomon. This man was not the firstborn son of his father, nor was he the second, and by all rights, when his father died, he should not have assumed the throne. Yet Solomon was the son of his father David’s most-beloved wife, Bathsheba. On the day she bore Solomon, David promised her that her son would one day be king.
Now King David lived a long life. He reigned over Israel for 40 years. It was not until he was very old, “advanced in years” the bible says, that the question of who would succeed him began to circle about in conversation. It seems hardly anyone knew of the promise made long ago. Perhaps only Bathsheba, David, and David’s closest counselor, the prophet Nathan knew of David’s promise.
It was not a surprise to anyone, then, that David’s oldest son Adonijah began to take charge when it became clear David could no longer rule. While David lay in bed covered in sheepskins, his old bones aching with cold, his oldest son prepared the succession celebration. Adonijah sacrificed sheep, oxen, and fatted cattle by the traditional stone, and he invited all the royal officials of Judah, and all his brothers, except Solomon, to join in the celebration feast.
Nathan and Bathsheba heard of this and went to David reminding him of the old promise. They implored King David to give his blessing upon Solomon, so that he may be named King and not Adonijah. Their visit proved fruitful.
Without rising from his bed, King David ordered his men to gather the trumpets and put Solomon upon his own mule. He commanded that Solomon should ride the donkey into the city and the king’s men should shout, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ So, Solomon’s ascent to the throne was consummated on his father’s deathbed, and Solomon became king over Israel.
Solomon’s reign was a tale of two kings:
He was a Shrewd King from the very beginning. After his father’s death, it did not take long for King Solomon to consolidate his power. He ordered the murder of his older brother Adonijah—just to be sure there would be no challenge to his reign. He went on to carry out several vengeful killings on behalf of his father’s honor. His shrewdness led others to fear him. His shrewdness helped him to establish a very wealthy, prestigious, and powerful kingdom, trading with lands from afar—in gold, silver, ivory, gathering all the riches he could find to secure his place in history. Yet, his zeal for power was to excess. Solomon married 700 women, making the most of strategic political alliances, but forgetting the first commandment, I am the Lord thy God who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have none other gods but me. He built pagan shrines for his many wives and allowed unspeakable sacrifices. (This is what the scripture is talking about when it begins, “Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places.” No doubt Solomon’s cunning brought him riches unrivaled by any, but he lived beyond his means, levying taxes that his people could not bear, enslaving people in order to construct the grand buildings and the great temple. Solomon was a shrewd king.
Solomon was a Wise King….People came to him from far and wide to have him settle their differences. The most famous story is the one that follows right on the heels of Solomon’s dream today. It tells of two women who claim the same baby. Solomon orders that the baby be cut in two and each woman given half. His order incited the real mother to cry out “No!” And the baby was returned to his mother. The King’s reputation for great wisdom spread across the entire region; many of his sayings were compiled, saved to this day in the apocrypha and in the book of Proverbs. Wise sayings such as,
“Whoever walks in integrity walks securely,
but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.”
“Fools show their annoyance at once,
but the prudent overlook an insult.”
“Hatred stirs up conflict,
but love covers over all wrongs.”
Solomon also collected the wisdom of other cultures, marking his reign as a golden age for Israel in which great literature was written and education thrived. Solomon was a wise king.
Both Shrewd and Wise…or as a colleague wrote: Solomon was a human being. “Blessed with wisdom and cursed with foolishness. Devoted to God and attracted to idols. Committed to his intellect and shackled to his appetites.”
Just like us.
We are aware of the gifts of living a life true to the purposes of God, but we are so easily diverted.
We know full well that Jesus practiced radical hospitality, inviting those to the table who the world considered dirty or unworthy or unfit, but our own generosity so often falls short.
We feel the tug of the Holy Spirit urging us to open our hearts to truth and equity as we said in our psalm today, yet we find excuses to believe what we want and preserve the status quo.
One day God came to King Solomon in a dream and said to him, “Ask what I should give you.” The King was stunned into humility and he confesses, I do not know how to go out or come in, Lord. I am like a child. I do not know how to govern this your great people. Therefore, I ask for you to give me an understanding mind, a discerning heart. God loved Solomon’s answer, praising him because he had not asked for riches or to do away with his enemies, but asked that he might be able to better serve others with an open heart. And God grants Solomon this gift.
Along the way, in his 40 years of rule, Solomon tried to live up to this gift, but devastatingly for the lives of so many, God’s dream was pushed aside as Solomon pursued his own dreams. The Old Testament historian Walter Brueggemann teaches, “The wisdom that Solomon does not learn is attentiveness to those for whom God has special attentiveness. There are all kinds of dreams — of power and money and prestige and control. But the dream of justice for widows, orphans, and immigrants is the deep wisdom of Torah obedience.” That is God’s dream. Solomon lost this dream along the way.
I wonder what the story of my life, and your life will look like one day when written in the annals of the church. Not one of us could claim perfection—successes and failures accompany us all, as do mistakes and times of great caring, understanding, and perhaps even wisdom, should we be willing to share. Our story might tell of our big and even little dreams, though, our lives need not be a claim to fame to be part of God’s dream…God asks only for us to walk in his ways, to keep the commandments, to love others with the love he’s given to us.
This is the life of faith. Thanks be to God.