I Kings 3,4
Do you remember the cartoon movie, Aladdin? I don’t know if kids are still watching it today, but I remember watching and enjoying it. My favorite character in the movie was the genie. This cartoon character is spoken by Robin Williams and he is just hilarious - bouncing all over the place, making jokes. The original idea of a genie arose out of Arabian folk tales, the best known about a boy named Aladdin who found a genie in a lamp and became fabulously wealthy. These stories have been written down and have inspired many spin offs. In the mid 60’s, we enjoyed the TV show “I Dream of Jeanie” and then in 1992, Disney’s Aladdin came out. The basic idea about genies is that a person finds a lamp and when it is rubbed, a genie comes out and the one who has the lamp is granted wishes.
What would you wish for if you found a magic lamp? a new car? pay off all debts? a long vacation? kids that obey their parents and get along with each other?
perfect health? Now before I lose you as you go off on a mental fantasy about what you want, let me remind you that what you wish for will reveal a lot about what is important to you.
Last week, we learned that God’s plans happen as we saw how Solomon became king after his father David. The concluding line of last weeks message was, “The kingdom was now firmly established in Solomon’s hands.” The question which follows the establishment of his reign is, “what kind of a king will Solomon be?” Will he be a king who will walk in accordance with God’s plan, or will he be a king who wants things for himself? The answer to this question is revealed in I Kings 3,4, in an incident in which God came to Solomon, while he was worshipping at Gibeon, and said to him in I Kings 3:5, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” This was a “genie in the bottle” type of offer, only much better because the creator of the universe was making the offer to him. We learn much from this story. We learn about what kind of a king Solomon would be. We learn about how we should respond to God’s offer to ask whatever we want and we learn about how God answers prayer.
I asked earlier what we would ask for if we had such an offer. The truth is that we do have such an offer. God has promised numerous times in the New Testament that we can ask for whatever we want in prayer. Matthew 7:7, says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” In verse 11 we read, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” This promise is given many more times in the Bible. Often, however, we do not receive what we ask for. Could it be that we do not ask in the right way?
When God made this offer to Solomon, the promise of an answer is only implied, not stated. God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” God only implies that He will give it, He does not state that He will. Could it be that the answer was dependent on Solomon’s request? It is evident as we shall see later that God was pleased with his request and gave him much more than he asked for. Could it be that he did so because the request Solomon made was according to the will of God?
Should we perhaps consider that the promise that God has given to us is also contingent upon asking according to the will of God? The answer that Solomon gave helps us to think about how we can ask according to God’s will and is a valuable lesson in how we make a request in response to the same kind of offer that was given to Solomon. So let us examine the request Solomon made.
The first thing we notice is that Solomon approached God with a right understanding. He said in 3:6, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.” Solomon approached God with an understanding that He acts in kindness. He recognized God’s past acts of kindness to his father David and to him in setting him on the throne. Even though the recognition of God’s kindness was based on the faithfulness of David, Solomon did not see God’s acts towards David and himself as acts of reward which they had somehow earned or deserved. He recognized that even though God’s kindness has a conditional element to it, it is still kindness. It is not reward or desert. It is mercy.
As we approach God, we often fail to recognize this.
Sometimes we approach God as if we deserve what we ask for. We have behaved well, we are no worse than other people and we are suffering and we think that we deserve the answer we want from God. Whenever we think like that, we need to remember that what we deserve is eternal punishment and anything we receive from God is a gift.
On the other hand, sometimes, we approach God with the thinking that he is a reluctant giver. We see God as a miser who has to be persuaded to act in a beneficial way. This is a pagan way of looking at God. Pagans looked at their deities as disinterested in them and that they had to be persuaded to do something nice, or, more often, to not do something bad. I don’t know where we get such ideas about God when he has always acted in kindness towards those who love him. God’s love had been shown to Solomon in the experience of his father and also his own experience. As we read the Bible, we see how much God has acted in mercy. We read of his kindness in bringing the Israelites out of Egypt. We read about his grace in sending Jesus to die on the cross for us. We can look back at our experiences and see how many times he has acted in mercy towards us. And yet each time a new situation comes up, our first response seems to be that God is a reluctant giver who has to be approached with great caution and fear so that perhaps he will be merciful to us.
As we come to God in response to his offer to ask whatever we want, we must come with the understanding that he is and always has been kind.
The next thing we notice is that Solomon came with a right attitude. He said in verse 7, “Now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties.” Solomon knew that he did not have what was required to be the kind of king that God wanted him to be. This is a most amazing statement! When was the last time you heard a politician or anyone else for that matter admit that they needed help? When was the last time you heard a politician go to God for that help? It is seen as a weakness not to have it all together but Solomon knew that he needed help in order to rule successfully. He also knew where that help was going to come from. He went to the source of all wisdom and knowledge in order to ask for the help he needed.
What a great lesson for us in our response to God’s offer. James 4:2 says,
“You want something but don’t get it...You do not have, because you do not ask God.” We act as if we are self sufficient. We do not think we need any help and so we do not ask. We admire those who are self made, who have it all together. We admire those who have an answer and a way for every problem they face. Solomon was a great man who had been trained for this position and already possessed great knowledge. Yet he knew that he needed help. I believe that the best place we can be is absolutely helpless because then we finally realize our need and become willing to humbly approach God for help. The attitude of humility before God, the recognition that we need Him is the most important attitude if we are to receive an answer to our requests from God.
The other thing he did was to direct his plea for help to God. Now it is good to go to others for help, but ultimately, we need to go to God. When we face a problem we can’t answer, we often think about who can help us. How often is God the first person we think about? Recently, someone with a medical problem was thinking about how to deal with the problem. They knew that they would have to go see a doctor, but they decided that the first place they would go would be to God. So they prayed and asked for the elders to come and pray with them. I thought that was a good thing.
If we expect God to respond to his offer, certainly we must recognize our need of him and humble ourselves before him and go to him.
The third thing we notice about Solomon’s response to God’s offer was that he had a right desire. His desire was not for himself, but for what God wanted. Solomon did not ask for the trappings of glory and worldly success. His desire was that he would govern the people well and judge them accurately. In Deuteronomy 17:14-20 God had set out the instructions for a godly king. There it says, “The king…must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold…he is to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law…” This was Solomon’s desire. It was a Biblical desire, it was God’s desire. God’s word had revealed what Solomon should desire and this desire came to rest in the heart of Solomon.
As we come to God with our requests, what is our desire? Are we looking for peace and comfort for ourselves or are we interested in the will of God? Do we have a desire for what God wants? When Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6, he said we should ask, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Do we pray this way?
And so with a right understanding, a right attitude and a right desire, Solomon made a right request. He asked for a discerning heart and the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. He wanted a heart that was in tune with God and that had in it the wisdom that came from God. He desired an instinct for the truth of God.
I believe that our requests of God will also be properly shaped when we begin with a right understanding - that God acts in kindness; a right attitude - of humility before God and a willingness to go to God; and a right desire - a desire for the will of God. Then we will begin to pray in a way that fits with God’s way and God will answer.
And as we read on, we find that this is exactly what happened to Solomon. In 3: 10, we read that “The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this.” The question of what kind of a king Solomon would be has been revealed and God was pleased.
Because God was pleased with Solomon, he answered, but not just with a simple answer to the prayer, but with abundance and blessing. From this we learn something else about asking from God and that is that God blesses beyond our expectation. As we read about how the prayer was answered, we learn something else and that is that when God answers a prayer that pleases him, he answers with great abundance and blessing.
God answered Solomon with three promises. Two are absolute and one is conditional.
First of all, He answered with a promise that he would give Solomon what he asked for. It says in 3:12, “I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there be.” God not only answered in a direct way, he answered with abundance - “You asked for wisdom, I will make you the wisest man that ever lived.” This is the nature of God. He blesses abundantly and we see the abundance of his answers in this answer to Solomon.
Secondly, he answered beyond what Solomon had asked for. In 3:13 we read, “Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both riches and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.” God promised the blessing of abundance in areas which most people desire - riches and honor. God promised that Solomon would be famous and wealthy. Solomon had not asked for these things and we don’t even know if he desired them, but in the abundance of mercy which we have come to see in God, he gave it.
The third promise, is a conditional promise. In verse 14 he says, “And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” This is the promise we will need to keep an eye on. Already the seeds of problems had been sown as Solomon had married Pharaoh’s daughter to make a political alliance. We also read that Solomon had tolerated worship in the high places and although we see obedience in his change from worshiping in Gibeon to worshiping in Jerusalem, the seeds of problems are already sown. In two weeks, we will examine this promise in more detail. However, today, we see again how God gives with abundance and great mercy.
God answered with blessings of abundance far beyond what was expected. But God answered not only with promises, but with action. In the rest of chapter 3 and in chapter four, we see how these promises were fulfilled.
There are a number of verses, in this section, which show us the wisdom which Solomon was given.
The first story in 3:16-28 is a well known story which demonstrates how wise Solomon was. Two prostitutes each had a baby. They lived in a house together and one night as they were asleep, one of them rolled over and killed her child. After she had done this, she took it and switched babies with the other woman. In the morning, the one whose baby was switched realized what had happened and the legal battles began. No one seemed to be able to discern who the real mother was. There was no DNA testing at that time so they had to find another way of discovering truth. The case came to the highest court, to Solomon himself. The wisdom of Solomon was demonstrated in a daring move which revealed the heart of each woman. He ordered the child to be cut in half and shared with each one. The true mother was willing to give up the baby rather than have it killed and her heart was revealed as the heart of the mother. The conclusion is that all the people realized “that he had wisdom from God to administer justice.” God kept the promise he had made.
Other illustrations of his wisdom are seen in the next chapter as well. First of all, we see his wisdom in administering a large nation through other officials. His concern in 3: 9 had been, “who is able to govern this great people of yours?” His response to that concern, given through the wisdom of God, was to establish a set of officials and governors who would help him in the administration.
The final section in the chapter further expresses his wisdom when it talks about how his wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men of the East and greater than certain obviously well known wise individuals. His proverbs and songs are mentioned as evidence of his wisdom. He also seems to have been a scientist in the field of biology, identifying plants and animals.
The conclusion is that Solomon received what God promised. It is a demonstration of the abundant blessing of God which came in answer to Solomon’s request.
The way in which the other part of God’s promise was acted upon is also demonstrated. God had promised that he would have great riches. In 4:22-28, a listing of the daily provisions for Solomon’s house are listed. These lists of his wealth, and the list of his army further reveal that Solomon was indeed a very wealthy man. His wealth is also seen as a blessing to others. In 4:20 it says, “The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy. Everybody wants to be happy and when Solomon was king, things were so good that everyone was happy.
Once again, the abundant blessing of God is revealed. When he answers a prayer, he does not do it in a half measure.
Several times in these chapters, we also see that he was honoured. In 3:28 after the verdict on the two prostitutes we read that “all Israel…held the king in awe.” Then we read in 4:31 - “He was wiser than any other man…” and “His fame spread to all the surrounding nations.”
In all of these illustrations of what happened to Solomon, we see how God kept his promises. He did so not in a stingy way, but with great blessing. This is the nature of God and when we approach him and respond to his invitation, to ask, with a right request, we can also expect that He will also answer with great blessing.
The story of Solomon is interesting but its intent is more than just an interesting story.
The story reveals the heart of Solomon. He would be a king who would do what God wanted.
The story also teaches us about how we ought to approach God with our requests. He has made the same kind of an offer to us when he said, “ask and it shall be given to you.” From Solomon’s experience, we learn how to ask in the right way - recognizing God’s kindness, we come to Him with humility and make requests that are according to His will. May we learn to ask God in the right way.
From Solomon’s story we also learn that when we ask with His desire in our hearts, he answers abundantly and with great blessing.
Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”