By James Cornwell
A Reading from 1 Kings 3:1-15
1 Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt; he took Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her into the city of David, until he had finished building his own house and the house of the Lord and the wall around Jerusalem. 2 The people were sacrificing at the high places, however, because no house had yet been built for the name of the Lord.
3 Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. 4 The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt-offerings on that altar. 5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” 6 And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. 7 And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”
10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. 13 I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. 14 If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.”
15 Then Solomon awoke; it had been a dream. He came to Jerusalem, where he stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. He offered up burnt-offerings and offerings of well-being, and provided a feast for all his servants.
Today’s reading from 1 Kings describes King Solomon’s famous dream in Gibeon. In this dream, the Lord asks Solomon to name his heart’s desire. Solomon responds in humility, noting that he has recently been made king while still young, and desires a discerning heart and the wisdom to know right from wrong so that he may do justice among the people.
The Lord is pleased by this, and praises Solomon for not choosing other things: long life, riches, or that his enemies be brought low.
It is amazing the extent to which our society is awash in prayers that turn Solomon’s choice on its head. Advertisements promise health, pleasure, and long life. Economists and politicians promise us riches, wealth, and peace. Our public intellectuals, pundits, and other contemporary mystics promise that our enemies will be brought low by earthly powers, whether that be the invisible hand, the arc of history, or the silent majority.
Under all such false promises rests a foundational lie: that our finitude, our poverty, and our weakness in the face of our enemies are the only sources of our unhappiness. And the lie is effective because, these sources assure us, we are already made wise — there is no need for a humble prayer for wisdom.
Every night I say my prayers, and I wonder to myself, if God were to appear to me and ask me this question, could I choose as humbly as Solomon? Even if I were to make the conscious decision to choose wisdom, would my heart betray my true desires? Let us be truly counter-cultural and join in Solomon’s prayer as best as we are able. Perhaps we are not now able to truly desire wisdom more than these other things, but we can ask God that he teach us to be more like Solomon, until the day when our desires are not only conquered by humility, but, by God’s grace, fulfilled in it.
James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their six children.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Egbu (Church of Nigeria)
The Consortium for Christian Unity