Great Chapters of the Bible I Kings 3 - King Solomon's Prayer A Sermon by Dr. Neil Chadwick During days gone by, when people would sit around and tell tall tales, they would often include fables about the "Three Wishes". One popular story of this kind goes like this: Once upon a time, there was a woodcutter who lived happily with his wife in a pretty little log cabin. One day he had a strange surprise just as he was about to chop down a big fir tree - the alarmed face of an elf popped out of a hole. "You're not thinking of cutting down this tree, are you? It's my home. I live here! Lucky I was in, or I would have found myself homeless. However, if you don't cut down this tree, I'll grant you three wishes." "Three wishes, you say? Yes, I agree." And he began to hack at another tree. Later, over a cup of hot coffee, the woodcutter told his wife of his meeting with the elf, and she too began to picture the wonderful things that the elf's three wishes might give them. The woodcutter's wife took a sip from her husband's cup. "Nice," she said, smacking her lips. "I just wish I had a string of sausages to go with it." Instantly, out of the air appeared the sausages while the woodcutter stuttered with rage, "What have you done? Sausages . . . What a stupid waste of a wish, I wish they would stick to your nose!" No sooner said than done - the sausages leapt up and stuck fast to the end of the woman's nose. Now the woodcutter's wife flew into a rage. "What have you done?" the woodcutter's wife cried. "With all the things we could have wished for . . ." She tried to tug away the sausages but they would not budge. The sausages were firmly attached to her nose. Feeling sorry for his wife, the woodcutter said: "I'll try." Grasping the string of sausages, he tugged with all his might, but to no avail. "What shall we do now?" they said. "There's only one thing we can do . . ." ventured the woodcutter's wife timidly. "Yes, I'm afraid so," her husband sighed, remembering their dreams of riches; and he bravely wished the third and last wish. "I wish the sausages would leave my wife's nose." And they did. Instantly, husband and wife hugged each other tearfully, saying "Maybe we'll be poor, but we'll be happy again!" In order not to get into trouble with the women, let me tell another variation of this story which has the husband making the first foolish wish. This man (let's call him Jim), had been complaining that his wife had not made him a cherry pie, when a fairy appeared on the candlestick. "Who are you?" growled the man. "I have come to offer you three wishes," said the fairy. Without thinking, the man said that he wished he had the biggest cherry pie in the world. Immediately a magnificent pie appeared on the table. "Look what you've done," shouted the woman. "You've wasted one of our wishes - I wish that cherry pie was on the end of your nose." Immediately the pie rose in the air and fixed itself on the end of the old man's nose. "Now what are we to do?" said the old man. "I can't move, I can't go out, I can't do my work. We are ruined." "It's your fault, for wishing for the cherry pie in the first place!" They argued back and forth for the rest of the evening, and when it was time to go to sleep they realized that the only thing for them to do was to use their third wish. v"I wish this cherry pie was on top of the cathedral in Leipzig," said the old man. Perhaps it is there still. At all events, both pie and fairy disappeared from the couple's kitchen and were never seen there again. Some people say that the man was lucky that the pie was removed from his nose before being whisked away to Leipzig. A version with religious overtones comes from the Northeast of Brazil. It's a fable about the little boy Jesus who came down to earth and granted three wishes to an old man. (This story can be read in its entirety at the end of the sermon.) Then there's the funny one about a man who finds an old bottle while walking on the beach. He picks it up, pulls out the cork and out pops a genie. The genie says, "Thank you for freeing me from the bottle. In return I will grant you three wishes." The man says "Great! First, I want one billion dollars in a Swiss bank account." Poof! There is a flash of light and a piece of paper with account numbers appears in his hand. He continues, "Next, I want a brand new red Ferrari right here." Poof! There is a flash of light and a bright red brand-new Ferrari appears right next to him. He continues, "Finally, I want to be irresistible to women." Poof! There is a flash of light and he turns into a box of chocolates! Sometimes these stories take on a mean streak like the one about a cruise passenger by the name of Mike who spied a bottle in the water and, after pulling it out, was surprised when a genie appeared. "I will grant you three wishes" announced the genie, "but there is one condition: I am a lawyers' genie. That means for every wish you make, every lawyer gets the wish as well, only double. The man, who didn't like lawyers, thought for a moment and then said "For my first wish, I would like ten million dollars". Instantly he was given a Swiss bank account number. "But every lawyer in the world just received twenty million dollars", the genie said. "I've always wanted to own my own cruise line, that's my second wish". Instantly, every sign on the ship changed to "Mike's Cruise Lines". "But every lawyer in the world has just become the owner of two cruise lines", said the genie. "And what is your last wish?" "Well", said Mike, "I've always wanted to donate a kidney for transplant". When the Bible story found in I Kings 3 is told, some might be tempted to think that this is just another folk tale, similar to the ones just recited. In the bible story, Solomon had a dream in which God prompted him to "Ask for whatever you want me to give you." Solomon asked for wisdom, God was pleased, Solomon got his wish and more - riches and fame were thrown in too. It seems so magical. Solomon had just been installed as the third king of Israel. David's first-born (Amnon) had raped his half sister and was killed by the third-born, Absalom who had in turn been killed by Joab. The second born (Kileab, son of Abigail) never received any mention, and the fourth-born (Adonijah) made an unsuccessful bid to take over the throne when his father was near death. Solomon, the favored son of Bathsheba got the nod, and began to follow in his father's steps, loving the Lord, although he made sacrifices at the high places and took a foreigner to be his wife. In spite of this, the Lord evidently saw the sincerity of Solomon's heart and granted him his wish - to rule the people with wisdom. It's here that we get our first lesson. God responds to us when we pray according to His will, even if we don't yet "have it all together". In addition, Solomon's prayer was heard because he was willing to identify his need. He said, "I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties." In so doing, he demonstrated some of the very substance he craved - wisdom. The beginning of wisdom certainly must be the recognition that one needs wisdom. It seems that Solomon understood the principle of James 1:5: there must be an awareness of a "lack" before one would "ask of God." It's important for us to find out precisely what it was that Solomon asked for. You say, "That's easy, he prayed for wisdom." Actually, in this passage there are several different words used, each with its own particular contribution. First is "shama`" (shaw-mah') (v.9 - "understanding heart") which means to "hear intelligently", often with the implication of attention and obedience. This word could mean discern, give ear, listen, obey, perceive, or understand. He also asked that he might be able to "discern" (Hebrew, "biyn" - bene) This means "to separate mentally, to understand, or deal wisely." The Lord repeated this word in His answer as recorded in verse 12, and He added yet another word - "I have given thee a "chakam" (khaw-kawm') and biyn heart." This is a "wise, intelligent, skillful or artful" heart. Solomon wanted to know how best to govern the people, so he asked for "shaphat" (shaw-fat') which means to "judge or pronounce sentence." So what is it that Solomon was asking? * He wanted to receive wisdom by carefully listening and obeying the Lord. Once when Jesus was teaching, He made the comment about Solomon's wisdom, and then commented, "now one greater than Solomon is here." (Matthew 12:42) Of course He was referring to Himself as the Christ, the Son of God. However, we might also say, "Something greater than wisdom is here, obedience." Without obedience, so-called wisdom is nothing better than intellectualism. * Solomon wanted to know how do to his job. Wisdom is practical, related to a specific commissioned task. Adam Clarke comments, "He did not ask [for] wisdom in general, but the true science of government. This wisdom he sought, and this wisdom he obtained." The wisdom Solomon asked for was related to the role he was assigned. Are you a husband, or a wife? Seek God for wisdom in becoming the best husband or wife you can be. Are you a parent? Without a doubt, you have the most difficult role in the world; without God's wisdom, failure is all but certain. The question may arise, "How does one know that wisdom has been obtained?" A hint of an answer may be found in the Book of Proverbs, the Book of Wisdom. In the last chapter, praise is given to a virtuous woman. At the end, these words are written, "Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her." (Proverbs 31:28) In other words, wisdom is noticed by those who receive the benefit of that wisdom. In Solomon's case, it was others who noticed and broadcast the reputation of his wisdom. Are you a builder? a driver? a craftsman? a salesman? a teacher? or manager? The ability to become the most respected builder, driver, craftsman, salesman, teacher or manager is within reach. It is God's will that you grow in wisdom related to what it is you are called to do in the world. * Solomon wanted to judge wisely. An example of this is given later in the chapter. It's the famous story about two women who were arguing over an alive baby after one of them discovered that her baby had died. Solomon resolved this dispute by pretending that he would have the living baby divided by a sword - the real mother was then identified as the one who would not allow this to happen. As an aside, these women probably were not prostitutes. According to a better translation, they were "tavern keepers". * Solomon wanted moral discernment. In our age of relativism, we have all but lost the awareness that there even is such a thing as right and wrong. Moral depravity has reached so low that there are those who believe that if it advances their cause, it is not wrong to steer planes into tall buildings, killing thousands of people - and do this as way to please God! But here's the thing: when asking for wisdom, we must believe that God will provide the wisdom we seek; we must trust Him to do it in His own way, which usually means that we will be in partnership with Him. We must be involved in the process of acquiring wisdom, and He will often use others in this process as well. It seems to me that while we dismiss the "Make Three Wishes" stories as irreligious fables, we too often go down this same path when it comes to asking for wisdom. When we read the Solomon story, it seems so simple - get wisdom by miraculous impartation. For too many people, God is the "genie in the bottle". But that's not the whole story. God did His part, but Solomon also did his. Later he would write, "I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven." (Ecclesiastes 1:13) Once again, let me quote Adam Clarke - "God gave him the seeds of an extraordinary understanding, and, by much study and research, they grew up under the Divine blessing, and produced a plentiful harvest. . . ." In verse 12, it's as though God is saying, "I have given you an excellent mind, one capable of knowing much: make proper use of it, under the direction of my Spirit, and you will excel in wisdom." As we mentioned at the beginning, according to James 1:5, the acquisition of wisdom begins with the awareness of a need and a willingness to, like Solomon, pray for wisdom. It also comes as the result of an unwavering faith. In closing, here are four questions for further thought and prayer: Where in your life is the need for wisdom? Is there a willingness to be obedient and to look to God so that yours will be a righteous wisdom? Are you willing to partner with God for the acquisition of wisdom? Is there faith to believe that God will provide? +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ This story from the Northeast of Brazil is fable about the little boy Jesus who came down on earth to play, and met a merry old man, carrying a bunch of twigs. The old man stopped for a game of soccer with the boy. "I will grant you three wishes," said Jesus quite happily. The old man did not even hesitate. "First: I want to face Death right in the eye, when my time is come. Second: if anybody touches my bed, I want him or her to be glued there till I decide it is time for them to leave. Third: I want the same to happen with anyone who touches my chair." Time passed by. One day the old man was lying on his bed when he saw Death coming into the room. He tried to convince him it was not his time, and after some discussion, Death finally let the old man pray just a single Lord's Prayer. But he did it so slowly that Death was tired from the wait and sat on the edge of his bed. And there he was, glued. The old man continued to live his own life, but he started to hear complaints from the carpenter, who had no caskets to make and from the gravediggers, who had no graves to dig. But, what was much worse, he had to hear Death whining, glued on his bed. "Let me go, let me go. I will give you five more years. Ten more years." One evening, the old man decided to open negotiations. "I want 20 more years. Moreover, you must do what I ask. If somebody is sick, but will recover, you must appear on the right side of his bed. But if the person is going to die, you will appear on the left." Death agreed, and the old man announced that now he was a doctor. When he visited patients, he never failed. If death was on the left side of the bed, he would shake his head and say that there was nothing to be done. But if Death was on the right side, he demanded the windows to be opened, and ordered chicken soup and a glass of water each three hours. The patient naturally got better. The old man became famous. After 20 years had passed, Death called the Devil. "Go there and take this old man for me. But beware of his bed." "Feel at home. Come on and sit here, on my bed," invited the old man. "I am no fool, old man," answered the Devil, as he sat on his chair. When the Devil tried to get up, he discovered he was glued. But the old man began to feel tired and worn. He felt that resting in heaven would be a good idea, at last. "I will let you leave, dear Devil," said he, "but only if you promise never to see me again." "That I can assure you," screamed the imp. Finally the old man got to heaven's gate, but Peter wouldn't let him in. The old man laughed. "Ok. But just ask the Devil if he will take me." The Devil wouldn't have the old man, not even for all the gold in the world, so Saint Peter had to let him in. And the old man is in heaven happy as ever. Once in a while, he even plays soccer with the boy.