For today’s post, I want to share a devotional/exegetical reflection from 1 Kings 3.
In 1 Kings 3, we encounter a young and prosperous Israelite king named Solomon, who loves the Lord. He goes to the great high place at Gibeah, and offers a thousand burnt offerings before the Lord. The Lord appears to him in a dream at night, and says, “Ask what I should give you.” What an offer! Most of us are familiar with Solomon’s answer: Solomon asks for, literally, a “hearing heart”—a Hebrew idiom for wisdom. First Kings 3:10 says the Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this thing, and Solomon was granted his request.
For a long time I assumed that Solomon had given the right answer, and that if God were to make me the offer that He made to Solomon, I should ask for wisdom. Over the years, however, I slowly began to question this. Solomon gave a good answer, to be sure, but was it the best answer? And if it was not the best answer, then what is the best answer? I think I finally have it.
Solomon’s request pleased the Lord, because he had asked for an excellent, selfless thing—a thing which would enable him to serve the people of the Lord more effectively. His prayer for wisdom is rightly memorialized in Scripture as a great expression of a heart devoted to God. But wisdom is not the only virtue in the world, and surely there are other good things which Solomon could have asked for, which also would have pleased the Lord. As the story of Solomon’s life unfolds in the pages of Scripture, it becomes clear that he did not in fact ask for the best possible thing, though he did ask for a good thing and is not to be faulted for it. Solomon’s wisdom did not prevent him from turning away from the Lord in his later years. This shows that Solomon would, in the end, have been better served by a request for a perfect heart, than by a request for a hearing heart. If the Lord were to make me the offer which he made to Solomon, my prayer would be an adaptation of Jeremiah 31:33-34—”O Lord my God, put your law in my inward parts, and write it upon my heart, that I may know you perfectly and serve you perfectly all of my days.”
That this is the best thing that could be asked for is confirmed by Jesus’ identification of the two greatest commandments of the Law as the commands to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22:35-40; Mark 12:28-31). These are the things which have real and ultimate significance, more than the cares of this life—and more, in the final analysis, than even wisdom itself, though wisdom cannot be separated completely from sanctification. Even wise old Solomon himself affirmed the paramount importance of fearing God and keeping his commandments as the conclusion of his great investigation of human life, in Ecclesiastes 12:13. Wisdom is very important, useful, and necessary, but nothing is more important than sanctification.
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