"What Would You Ask For?"

Of course, God is not a genie with three wishes to grant and Solomon is not Aladdin. Instead, Solomon’s throne still has training wheels, and he is in desperate need of a blessing..

The disciples examine the fresh wounds on Jesus's body after the resurrection
[1] “Prayer” by Graham Dean

1 Kings 3:5-13

July 17, 2022

Dr. Todd R. Wright “If you had one wish, what would it be? If you could take back one boneheaded thing you have done, what would your mulligan be? If a fairy godmother appeared at the foot of your bed, what would you ask for? If you had a chance to sleep on it, [would that make a difference]?”[2] That’s how Thomas Blair begins his reflection on this text. Of course, God is not a genie with three wishes to grant and Solomon is not Aladdin. Instead, Solomon’s throne still has training wheels, and he is in desperate need of a blessing. At this point, he is a pale shadow of his father: He is not a crowd favorite; not a warrior like David; not even the first born. But he is quick learner … absorbing lessons in palace intrigue from both his parents. He has his older brother killed; his father’s lead military officer eliminated; a rival from the northern kingdom slain; and the High Priest, who backed his brother, banished.[3] So, you can imagine he is both delighted and wary of God’s offer, “Ask what I should give you.”

 

In his shaky position, he might have asked for the undying love and loyalty of his people; or military insight and strength to best his enemies; or wealth enough to impress and to fund his plans. He might have asked for fast chariots, or beautiful women, or feasts without end. He could have asked for anything! But to his credit, he does not ask as an individual, but as a shepherd of Israel;

as one who takes his responsibilities as king seriously;

as one who understands what YHWH expects of one who will rule God’s people.

 

Would that context change your answer from the beginning of the sermon? What would you ask God to give you to help you fulfill your responsibilities at work? What would you ask for as an elder working with others to lead this congregation? What do you need as a spouse or a parent or an adult child to take care of those you love?

 

Solomon does not rush to answer God’s question. God may be leaning in, waiting to hear how Solomon responds to this test, but the young king circles the question carefully, as if he is checking for trap doors or tripwires. First, he seeks to get off on the right foot by flattering God: “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant, my father, David,” all while establishing his own footing: “you have given him a son to sit on his throne today,” and exaggerating for effect: “although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.” But then, after praising God and showing humility, he puts his cards on the table: “Give your servant an understanding mind!” (The Hebrew is “a listening heart”.) Or to sum up: wisdom.

 

Why does he need such wisdom? He spells it out, as if God doesn’t know: To govern God’s people, to discern between good and evil, and to manage a people with enough variety in circumstance and conflicting interests as to challenge any human ruler. Let’s be honest – we all need such wisdom – whether we are leading a fortune 500 company or trying to calm two screaming toddlers! And so we pray as desperately as Solomon – give us wisdom! Not pithy proverbs or parlor trick judgements splitting hairs or dividing babies, but the sense to do what is right in that moment. Not “a supernatural implantation of a body of knowledge, (better than Alexa or Siri!) or a miraculous reconfiguration of brain cells, but the ongoing, effective, divine presence”[4] Not something that will develop over time, or as the result of learning from our mistakes, but the specifically spiritual sense that you are doing what God would have you do.

 

That is what Solomon prays for. That is what this “great” prayer reminds us to pray for. So, what do you need wisdom to see clearly, to sense, to sort out, to settle? It could be anything. Nothing is too big … or too small … for God! I ask because maybe you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders and have no answers. I ask, because I believe this story tells us that God is anxious to give such wisdom! Not just to flustered, fledgling kings, but to anyone who would serve God’s people. I ask because, the whole point of including this story in the Bible is to make us pause and consider how we would respond – what would you ask for if you had one wish? You could do worse than to ask God for wisdom! Amen

[1] “Prayer” by Graham Dean [2] Adapted from his reflections on the text in Feasting on the Word, year A, volume 3, page 266 [3] A summary provided by Walter Brueggemann in Great Prayers of the Old Testament, page 48, and in 1 Kings 2 [4] From Terrance Fretheim’s book First and Second Kings, page 33
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