“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?” — 1 Kings 3:9
Teachers: Scroll down to find teaching resources and Tony’s video.
Redeeming a Shaky Start
Old things pass away; new things come. Times change. All of us know this. No one remains president or peon, king or commoner forever. We live, we die, and a new generation takes our place.
We acknowledge change, and some of us even embrace it, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Even when we’re the ones who’ve been chanting “Out with the old and in with the new,” we know that change can be hard.
Today’s text involves the first peaceful transition of power in Israel’s new monarchy, but it was far less peaceful than one might expect.
A dying father’s advice?(2:1-4)
The text begins with a dying David giving solemn advice and ignoble orders to his son Solomon, who had been named as his successor, though his older brother Adonijah had also sought the throne.
The reader imagines that David sensed death’s call and summoned Solomon to impart fatherly advice before shuffling off the scene. The first few sentences of this advice sound more like the Deuteronomistic narrator than David, and should probably be seen as an editorial embellishment.
David’s opening counsel that Solomon should “Be strong, be courageous, and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways …” (2:2-3) reflects the theology that pervades most of the Old Testament. After Moses’ death, God instructed Joshua to “be strong and courageous” no less than four times in Joshua 1:6, 7, 9, 18; and Joshua in turn promised the Israelites that they would win the land if they were strong and courageous (Josh. 1:25).
Success, according to the theology underlying the books of Joshua-2 Kings, comes from obedience to God and keeping the statutes, commandments, ordinances, and testimonies “as written in the law of Moses” (2:3) – all typical Deuteronomistic terminology. The advice is what one would expect from a man who followed God closely and wanted his son to do the same.
The promise of v. 4 refers back to 2 Samuel 7, where Yahweh had promised David that his descendants would rule Israel in an unbroken dynastic succession. The promise is more conditional here, however: Solomon’s heirs would remain on the throne only so long as they “take heed to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul” (v. 4). This is yet another reflection of the beliefs (compare Deut. 6:1-6) that guided the writing of Joshua-2 Kings.
Whether David spoke these words or not, they bear a sharp contrast to the less inspirational instructions that followed.
An old king’s revenge(2:5-12)
David’s further directives served to settle some old accounts with people who had offended or opposed him while also removing them as threats to Solomon’s rule. The first target was David’s nephew Joab, who had long served as his military chief (2:5-6). Not only had David’s crusty commander supported Adonijah over Solomon, but during his earlier service to David he had twice murdered persons whom David wanted to honor (Abner, 2 Samuel 2; and Amasa, 2 Samuel 20). Solomon’s disposition of Joab is recorded in 2:28-35: Even though Joab fled to the supposed sanctuary of the altar and pled for his life, Solomon ordered Benaiah to strike him down.
David charged Solomon to honor persons who had aided David when he fled Jerusalem during Absalom’s revolt (2:7, cf. 2 Sam 17:27-29; 19:31-40), but to punish Shimei of Bahurim, who had cursed David on that same occasion (2:8-9, cf. 2 Sam. 19:23). David had promised that he would not harm the vocal critic – but he charged Solomon to “not hold him guiltless” and “bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.” The account of Shimei’s demise is found in 2:36-46.
David’s last words thus reflect the hard and bloody road he had traveled since his youth, when he had been known as “a man after God’s own heart.” David’s death and burial are reported in 2:10-11, after which Solomon found a way to rid himself of his rival brother, Adonijah (2:13-25). [For more, see “The Hardest Question” online.]
At the end of a pathway marked by blood and tears, the narrator could say “So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon” (2:12, 46b).
A new king’s wish(3:3-14)
To cement his rule, Solomon entered an alliance with Egypt by marrying the Pharaoh’s daughter (3:1). The narrator adds that people “were sacrificing on the high places” at that time, because “no house had yet been built for the name of the LORD” (3:2).
These verses foreshadow Solomon’s positive contribution of overseeing construction of the temple, but also something for which the writer would later condemn him: He married many other foreign wives to seal political alliances, but also built temples for their gods and reportedly worshiped them himself (1 Kgs. 11:1-13).
When most of us think of Solomon, we probably call to mind his wealth and his wisdom, both of which became legendary. How Solomon came to possess such wisdom is the subject of 3:3-14, a charming story of innocent piety that is a welcome change from the previous accounts of violent power.
The story begins with the glowing remark that “Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David.” Before the temple was built, we are told, Solomon offered sacrifices to God on the high places (3:3), including a primary site at Gibeon where he reportedly “used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar” (3:4).
Such an effort would have been a multi-day event, and Solomon would have slept on location. It was not unusual, in the ancient Near East, for persons to seek a word from God by sleeping in a sacred space and hoping that God would speak in a dream. Old Testament characters such as Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, the Pharaoh, Samuel, Daniel, and others heard from God in dreams, though most did not actively seek them. The text does not indicate whether Solomon was seeking a vision, but he got one anyway. While at Gibeon, God appeared to him and offered to grant Solomon one wish: anything he asked (3:5).
Can you imagine such an offer? If you could ask for just one thing, what would it be?
Solomon’s response was a model of humility. He thanked God for having loved his father David and having made him king in David’s place. When it came to ruling such a great people, though, Solomon professed to being like a little child who didn’t know when to go out or come in (3:6-8). Thus, he prayed, “Give to your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil …” (3:9).
The expression translated as “understanding mind” (NRSV) or “discerning mind” (NET) is literally “a listening heart.” Hebrew thought assigned mental faculties – especially those related to decision-making – to the heart. A “listening heart” is one that would be open to God’s guidance in making wise decisions.
God was pleased that Solomon asked for wisdom rather than the expected request of long life, riches, or victory over enemies. As a reward, God promised to give Solomon riches and honor in addition to the wisdom for which he asked. Victory over enemies was also implied in the promise that “no other king shall compare with you” (3:10-13).
God also pledged to give Solomon long life – but only “if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked” (3:14). Readers both past and present know that David did not always walk in God’s ways, so we are not surprised that Solomon would later turn from the path. For the present, however, Solomon had redeemed the bloody beginnings of his rule by seeking a better way, proving himself to be a wise and capable ruler.
What can we take from this multi-layered story in which both David and Solomon appear as alternately upstanding and lowdown?
The narrator remembers David’s earlier love for Yahweh and puts into his mouth a charge for Solomon to follow the path of obedience to God – but also to take vengeance on his enemies.
Solomon does David’s dirty work and forcefully consolidates his rule, but he also leads the people in worship through offering sacrifices, and prays humbly for the wisdom needed to rule God’s people.
The narrator doesn’t want us to miss the fact that Israel’s two greatest kings had potential for both good and bad. Both did great things when they utilized a listening heart – when they sought to follow God’s way and put the people’s interests above their own. Yet, they both were subject to human frailties: to selfishness, to pettiness, to self-aggrandizement at the expense of other people.
Isn’t this the way it is in our own lives? We all are capable of good or evil, of humility or pride, of obedience or rebellion. We all have the ability to love unselfishly or to turn our desires inward.
Choices lie before us every day. Making good choices does not make us immune from mistakes; making bad choices does not take us hopelessly off the path. Life with God is an ongoing affair in which faithfulness and failure are always before us.
What guides your choices? BT
| © Nurturing Faith Bible Studies are copyrighted by Baptists Today. DO NOT PHOTOCOPY. Order at: baptiststoday.org
Adult Teaching Resources
Download the PDF for August 16, 2015 teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide, Digging Deeper, and Hardest Question pages.
Read Scripture online: 1 Kings 2:1-12, 3:3-14
Teacher Prep | Youth & This Session
Choices are hard to make. We make it seem like there are only two decisions with every choice: you either do it or you don’t do it. If it were only this simple choices would be much easier to make, especially the tough ones. As our students make choices remember how hard it is to make choices. We’ve made thousands of choices over the course of many years and we still make wrong choices. Walk with your students as they struggle to make choices. Don’t make the choice for them or you aren’t teaching them anything. The most important thing is to walk with them after they make their choices as well. They will remember that more than you helping them to make the choice.
Teaching Resources | Download
Download the PDF for youth teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide for this lesson.
Encourage youth to check out this video ahead of the lesson.
“Dumbledore’s Death and Farewell” from Half Blood Prince
Read Scripture online: 1 Kings 2:1-12, 3:3-14