All good – all God – all the time

We are accustomed to thinking of Solomon (son of David) as being incredibly wise.  He is held up as an example of powerful wisdom – his personal wealth being the evidence – but upon hearing again the account of Solomon’s “coming to wisdom”, we must reconsider.

“Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father, David; only he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places…” (1 Kings3:3 NRSV)

Ordinarily, this is the kind of introduction (in the Hebrew Scriptures, at least) that is quickly followed by a wrath of God moment.  Solomon honoured his father David ahead of the Creator – (walking in David’s path is fraught with complications) – he meant well, but old habits die hard .  This is usually a bad idea in the biblical narrative.  But not this time – this time, God comes to the king in a vision, with an offer of excessive generosity: “Ask what I shall give you.”

The question we are usually tempted to ask is “What is it about Solomon that moves God to treat him in this manner?”  It isn’t Solomon’s good intentions – the history of Israel is littered with the wreckage caused by the good intentions of those who would rule.  For David’s sake, perhaps the Lord is moved to generosity and compassion?  That is how we have always explained it, but Solomon is the child of David’s sin, remember?  What claim would such a child have on the most high God…?

Ah, but Solomon offers such a sincere prayer for wisdom – who wouldn’t be moved by those words:  “you have made your servant king, though I am only a little child…you have places your servant in the midst of a vast people…therefore, give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people…”

It pleased the Lord that Solomon asked this – and well it should!  Solomon has been caught paying homage to the gods in high places – following in his father’s commandment shattering footsteps – and Solomon has some serious “making up” to do.  Yes Lord, no Lord, thank you very much Lord.

There is, as usual, more here than meets the eye – and God may well have been pleased by Solomon’s rapid repentance.  It is not Solomon’s request, nor his resulting rise to power and fortune that should concern us – this is all about the character of God.

Coming to the story as we do from the wrong end – we know that Solomon cannot keep the kingdom together.  In spite of God’s grace to him in this instance, the ever present threat of conquest proves too much for this tiny kingdom.  Scripture portrays the downfall of the kingdom, the exile of the people as tokens of God’s judgement -but here we have an example of how God deals with those who fall from the path of righteousness.  God does not stir up the nations against us (we do that ourselves) God chooses to meet Solomon as he sins, and offer him grace.  “He offered incense at the high places, says the narrator – a direct contradiction of the primary tenet of the Jewish faith – a first class violation against the honour of the one true God – and in response, God invites Solomon “Ask what I should give you.”

So – lets consider.  Is God concerned with the sin of God’s people?  Yes

Is our portrayal of God as a glowering judge appropriate in light of this evidence in the Hebrew Scriptures?  Hardly.

This is but one example, and you may be prepared to offer evidence to counter my proposal, but I would invite you to proceed with caution.  For while there may be portions of Scripture that suggest God’s activity has been less than tender to the law-breakers of the past – and since our tendency is to “expect the worst and hope for the best” even where God is concerned, I believe that we have some re-learning to do –  and Solomon gives us a good place to start.

Solomon’s story helps us to expect grace, no matter what.  The favourite child of an unfortunate union (David and Bathsheeba) becomes king.  He tries to do right, but wanders from the path – and still God offers Solomon a way back to the fold.  God is revealed,  as neither harsh, nor rigid and unrelenting – but is inviting Solomon to take his pick.  Choose a gift – any gift – and when the choice is made, (wisdom) Solomon is rewarded with abundance.

This is the God we serve.  This is the God who calls us to account.  This is the God we occasionally portray as jealous and angry and vengeful – offering even the rule-breakers the very best of everything, every time, even in the midst of their “sin”.

Is God concerned with our sin?  Yes – because it is our sin that keeps us from asking for or accepting the grace that God cannot help but offer us.  Absence of good does not equal absence of God – rather, it signals our inability or unwillingness to see and accept God’s constant offer of grace.  And it is that grace as we find it revealed in Jesus the Christ that causes us to alter our attitudes toward God.

There is no difference in God’s basic character in our two Testaments.  There are differences of culture and language and perspective, but the God who offered glory to a sinful king, is also the God who shows us glory in a simple servant.

The Bread of Life, John’s gospel says – comparing Jesus to something both ordinary and necessary –

but full of potential and promise that only God can offer – that God cannot help but offer –

even as we continue in ignorance and disobedience and arrogance

(all rooted in our brokenness and sin).

Solomon asked for wisdom, and God was pleased.

We long for sustenance, for endurance – for grace and forgiveness –

and God provides the bread of life

Always more than we expect, or deserve.

All revealed in Jesus.

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