1 Kings 3:5-14 – A Prayer for Discernment

Stained glass window of King Solomon in Saint-Joseph Des Fins Church, France

The Lord appeared to Solomon at Gibeon in a dream at night. God said, “Ask whatever you wish, and I’ll give it to you.”

Solomon responded, “You showed so much kindness to your servant my father David when he walked before you in truth, righteousness, and with a heart true to you. You’ve kept this great loyalty and kindness for him and have now given him a son to sit on his throne. And now, Lord my God, you have made me, your servant, king in my father David’s place. But I’m young and inexperienced. I know next to nothing. But I’m here, your servant, in the middle of the people you have chosen, a large population that can’t be numbered or counted due to its vast size. Please give your servant a discerning mind in order to govern your people and to distinguish good from evil, because no one is able to govern this important people of yours without your help.”

It pleased the Lord that Solomon had made this request. God said to him, “Because you have asked for this instead of requesting long life, wealth, or victory over your enemies—asking for discernment so as to acquire good judgment— I will now do just what you said. Look, I hereby give you a wise and understanding mind. There has been no one like you before now, nor will there be anyone like you afterward. I now also give you what you didn’t ask for: wealth and fame. There won’t be a king like you as long as you live. And if you walk in my ways and obey my laws and commands, just as your father David did, then I will give you a very long life.” (Common English Bible)

You will recognize today’s Old Testament lesson as being the same as yesterday – just in a different book of the Bible. The books of 1 and 2 Chronicles are a restatement and edited version of 1 and 2 Kings. That’s because each was written in a different time for a particular context. Kings was compiled at the time of the Jewish exile when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem. Chronicles was put together for the exiles returning to Jerusalem.

Both accounts were meant to be lessons in how to live rightly as God’s people. For the people going into exile, the Kings narrative was to serve as a remembrance of how far the people had strayed from their roots in basic life wisdom.

“It is said that wisdom lies not in seeing things, but seeing through things.”

Manly P. Hall

Solomon was a very wise king. And today’s lesson makes it clear why. At the outset of his reign, Solomon could have asked for anything from God. A typical request might be for power in subduing enemies, popularity for appealing to the masses, or perks for maintaining political stability. 

Instead, Solomon asked for understanding and wisdom to govern God’s people so that he could discern between good and evil. It was the kind of asking which the Lord was pleased to hear and to give. All these millennia later, Solomon still has the reputation of being the wisest king that ever lived.

Solomon’s prayer resonates with me. As a church pastor, rather than focusing prayers on a bigger budget, more people reached, or adding programs, I can make the choice to pray for wisdom so that I will have my ministerial ladder on the right wall. 

As a hospital chaplain, instead of praying for greater visibility of the spiritual in healthcare, increased impact within the system, or more healing of patients, I can pray for understanding so that I will be able to make sound ethical, practical, and ministerial decisions in each context and case I encounter.

Solomon’s request was borne of a clear realization of who God is (the One who shows steadfast love) and who he himself is (like a little child with a big responsibility). God’s greatness and Solomon’s humility collided in a wonderful prayer for discernment to carry out God’s will on earth and to bless God’s people.

In this time of year, in which it is vogue to make New Year’s resolutions based upon the individual’s willpower, let’s take a different approach. Let’s pray and invite God to do the kind of deep change needed in our lives so that we can accomplish the will of God on this earth for this time. 

May we pray for discernment to serve well, ask for wisdom to be good stewards of our callings, and seek understanding from the God who delights in answering altruistic requests from humble people.

May you walk in the way of wisdom so that you will make good decisions and act in all good understanding.

Lord God, give me a mind and heart of wisdom so that I might rightly discern good and evil, right and wrong, and the best decisions to made in every situation. I choose to seek your ways and follow the narrow way of Jesus Christ through the enablement of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 Kings 1:1-30 – Facing Death

King David was now an old man, and he always felt cold, even under a lot of blankets. His officials said, “Your Majesty, we will look for a young woman to take care of you. She can lie down beside you and keep you warm.” They looked everywhere in Israel until they found a beautiful young woman named Abishag, who lived in the town of Shunem. They brought her to David, and she took care of him. But David did not have sex with her.

Adonijah was the son of David and Haggith. He was Absalom’s younger brother and was very handsome. One day, Adonijah started bragging, “I’m going to make myself king!” So, he got some chariots and horses, and he hired fifty men as bodyguards. David did not want to hurt his feelings, so he never asked Adonijah why he was doing these things.

Adonijah met with Joab the son of Zeruiah and Abiathar the priest and asked them if they would help him become king. Both of them agreed to help. But Zadok the priest, Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, Nathan the prophet, Shimei, Rei, and David’s bodyguards all refused.

Adonijah invited his brothers and David’s officials from Judah to go with him to Crawling Rock near Rogel Spring, where he sacrificed some sheep, cattle, and fat calves. But he did not invite Nathan, Benaiah, David’s bodyguards, or his own brother Solomon.

When Nathan heard what had happened, he asked Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother:

Have you heard that Adonijah the son of Haggith has made himself king? But David doesn’t know a thing about it. You and your son Solomon will be killed, unless you do what I tell you. Go say to David, “You promised me that Solomon would be the next king. So why is Adonijah now king?”

While you are still talking to David, I’ll come in and tell him that everything you said is true.

Meanwhile, David was in his bedroom where Abishag was taking care of him because he was so old. Bathsheba went in and bowed down.

“What can I do for you?” David asked.

Bathsheba answered:

Your Majesty, you promised me in the name of the Lord your God that my son Solomon would be the next king.But Adonijah has already been made king, and you didn’t know anything about it.He sacrificed a lot of cattle, calves, and sheep. And he invited Abiathar the priest, Joab your army commander, and all your sons to be there, except Solomon, your loyal servant.

Your Majesty, everyone in Israel is waiting for you to announce who will be the next king. If you don’t, they will say that Solomon and I have rebelled. They will treat us like criminals and kill us as soon as you die.

Just then, Nathan the prophet arrived. Someone told David that he was there, and Nathan came in. He bowed with his face to the ground and said:

Your Majesty, did you say that Adonijah would be king? Earlier today, he sacrificed a lot of cattle, calves, and sheep. He invited the army commanders, Abiathar, and all your sons to be there. Right now, they are eating and drinking and shouting, “Long live King Adonijah!” But he didn’t invite me or Zadok the priest or Benaiah or Solomon. Did you say they could do this without telling the rest of us who would be the next king?

David said, “Tell Bathsheba to come here.” She came and stood in front of him. Then he said, “The living Lord God of Israel has kept me safe. And so today, I will keep the promise I made to you in his name: Solomon will be the next king!” (Contemporary English Version)

Death isn’t exactly a popular subject. You might think, since all of us will eventually experience it personally, and most of us have seen it up close through dying loved ones, we would talk it up as something to face and deal with squarely…. Yet, we don’t.

Death ought to teach us how to live, how to face our limitations, and how to accept hardship and the inevitable.  Through today’s Old Testament lesson, I want us to observe four differing responses to the impending death of King David:

King David’s Servants

The servants of David treated his downward health as a problem to be solved. They were essentially sidestepping the whole death situation. The servants knew the David who was vigorous and took on enemies and problems. They wanted him to act like a king, so they looked for the miracle cure of a virgin who would be some sort of fix for David. In the ancient world, a king’s vitality was always linked to his sexual vigor. The servants thought if they could arouse David, he would be back to his old kingly self. In other words, the servants were trying to avoid death. And, of course, it didn’t work.

King David’s Son, Adonijah

Whereas the servants were scheming a way to get the old David back in the saddle, Adonijah was impatient to see his father David in the grave. He wanted his dad, the king, out of the way so he could pursue his own kingship. So, Adonijah simply proclaimed himself king, maybe hoping to hasten David’s death. Adonijah was just looking for his own opportunity and ended up losing his own life for it. Adonijah never understood the true dynamics of life and death – that life is complicated, and death should be honored, not used for personal gain.

King David’s Wife, Bathsheba

Bathsheba wanted to make sure her son Solomon became king. Reading today’s narrative, you might wonder why King David needed a virgin – where in the world was his wife!?  Bathsheba shows up to see David, not because she wanted to keep him warm and comfort him, but because she was concerned for her son. For Bathsheba, David simply became a means to an end – someone who could help her negotiate a difficult situation.

King David’s Caregiver, Abishag

Throughout this story, we have no recorded words from Abishag. Everyone else had plenty to say. In contrast to all of the other people, Abishag is simply a witness to David’s deteriorating health, and eventual death. She is like a hospice worker, who exists to ease the person’s pain in the end of life. In this, we can perhaps learn more from Abishag than from anyone else – to be present, to listen, to serve.

Unfortunately, death brings out the worst in some people. But if we will face death and not view it as a problem to be solved, an opportunity to be seized, or a difficulty to be negotiated, I believe we will find the grace of God when we become sacred witnesses to death.

The Lord Jesus faced death. Christ didn’t try to avoid death. He wasn’t impatient to get it over with. And it was not a difficulty to stoically endure. Our Lord’s death is our life – and it has brought meaning to both our lives and to our own eventual deaths.

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend all your servants staring death in the face today. We, your people, humbly ask that you acknowledge these sheep of your own fold, these lambs of your own flock, and these sinners of your own redeeming. Receive them into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.