We enter this story today as King David, flaws and faithfulness alike, passes away leaving God’s people in the hands of son Solomon.
“Then David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David. The time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established. Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar.
At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, "Ask what I should give you." And Solomon said, "You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?" It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, "Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life."
Do you remember being 20 years old? Maybe it’s not been that long- or you’re not there yet- or perhaps those days are a bit fuzzy. Where you lived, what interests you pursued, who you spent time with, the values you held, how you spent your days? 20 is such a beautiful age- filled with potential, when a young adult mind often begins contemplating “the meaning of life.” Maybe it’s a book or philosophy class, or an experience- like heartbreak, losing a loved one; perhaps it’s a falling out with friends or family; maybe it’s simply anticipating a job; Young adulthood is filled with possibility, AND the beginning of a real weightiness to decisions made. Solomon, son of David, finds himself at the tender age of 20, occupying Israel’s throne. The guy in charge. 20 years old. Despite his youth, the gravity of his situation is not lost on him. Young King Solomon recognizes there's a lot he doesn't know yet; and rather than puff himself up with feigned confidence, Solomon does something that perhaps not all of us were capable of at 20 years old, and maybe still have a hard time doing: acknowledging his need for guidance, for wisdom.
“Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.”
We often equate older age or “the school of hard knocks” with wisdom, and there’s truth to understanding derived from experience, for sure. But Solomon’s story asks us to think of wisdom in terms of attitude rather than age. Upon hearing Solomon’s request for wisdom, the LORD grants him a wise and discerning mind...but really, he kind of already has it, right? He was wise enough to know what truly matters.
We hear in his response to God the irony in this attitude of wisdom: it’s knowing you’re not yet as wise as you could be. Wisdom starts there. You have made me king, but I am so young. I don’t know what I’m doing. I want to govern your people well. Help me in my decision-making. That's what I want most… “And it pleases the Lord that Solomon asks for wisdom.”
As a teenage Christian, I recall my fascination with all the young people in the bible who God calls into ministry. King Solomon included, my youth pastor emphasized these folks because he believed God works in the lives of those who desire MORE wisdom...and often youth are positioned well for this: listening and obeying God’s call in their lives. Saying YES without reservation. Teen Miriam is a vital instrument of grace in her brother Moses’ path to leading the Israelites to freedom. Solomon’s dad David himself, called from shepherding the flocks to lead God’s people. The young boy in our story a few weeks back who offers his loaves and fish for Jesus’ miraculous moment, he is the one who steps up to a challenge the adults had a hard time wrapping their minds around. Teenage Esther, literally saving the lives of thousands of Jews with her bravery. Jesus’ very mother- Mary, setting the course of human salvation as a pregnant teen. Jesus himself, completing his earthly ministry at the age of 33.
Wisdom is an attitude, not an age. And we know it in our gut- there’s something compelling and refreshing about the keen insights children and youth bring forward out of curiosity and wonder. The same curiosity and reverence that led Solomon to seek first the wisdom of the LORD. “I’m in this position of leadership, and I desire to do it well- for God’s glory!” Now there’s a twist in Solomon’s story. See he’s promised this wisdom (and because he didn’t ask for it- wealth and longevity as well) so long as he maintains relationship with God. Those are the terms for wisdom. “If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life." He is called to a life-long pursuit of God in his quest for wisdom, And it’d be so nice to insert “and he lived happily ever after” here, but that’s not exactly true; here’s what really happens: he loses sight of God’s guidance along the way.
Years pass, Solomon's kingdom is great, and maybe his sense of humility is lost as his reign grows stronger? What we know is this: In the end, Solomon let temptations pull his allegiance from the God who granted him wisdom. 1 Kings 11:2 "For when Solomon was old, he turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David."
That life-long path of seeking wisdom? We’re always on it- even King Solomon. And the second we think we’ve got it all figured out, we in a sense turn away from God too, turn away from the source of surprise and wonder, guidance and wisdom that draws us closer to true wisdom.
Solomon forgot that no amount of earthly wisdom is enough to make us righteous. Here’s a confession, sometimes I forget this too; I have a memory from my youth that draws me back into an attitude of wisdom. In my church youth group, graduating HS seniors were asked to give a piece of parting wisdom to the younger kids. I’m not sure what possessed me to say this, but I stood up and simply offered this, “The older I get, the more I realize, the little I know.”
Seventeen year-old Emily possessed an attitude of wisdom, and this current version of Emily,more than twice her age, often needs to be reminded of that moment in time, that precise orientation of the heart. Faith as an attitude of wisdom, and regardless of age, able to say, “I have more to learn. Teach me thy ways, O Lord.”
We all are still growing in our faith, and despite the fact that each of us has a unique relationship to God, we need others to be a part of our journey too. So let’s devote ourselves to graciously reminding one another that wisdom is an attitude, not an age, and it’s accessible to all of us who desire the path young Solomon directs us toward:
“If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.” When I need a reminder that I don’t have it all figured out yet- I look to the young people around me, and I trust that God is already hard at work, forming an attitude of wisdom that I can learn from. I came across a wonderful thought just last night that speaks to God’s insistence on using young people to move us:
“The great events of this world are not battles and elections and earthquakes and thunderbolts. The great events are babies, for each child comes with a message that God is not yet discouraged with humanity, but is still expecting goodwill to become incarnate in each human life.” - Marian Wright Edelman
Young and old alike, wisdom prevails when we are able to joyfully acknowledge all we do not yet know about God’s love, the greatest mystery of all. May it be so, for you and for me, Amen!