Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
"SOLOMON’S KINGDOM OF PEACE RECEIVES A LISTENING HEART."
I Kings 3
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Psalm 119:37, 38, 39
Psalm 72:1 & Hymn 15:3,4
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
The wisdom of Solomon is proverbial. In the face of decisions we have to make regarding our children, we lament that we’re not as wise as Solomon. Similarly, in the challenge of governing the congregation, we wish we could ask Solomon a question or two. It seems to us we’d be farther ahead with Solomon’s wisdom….
Solomon isn’t here. The "greater than Solomon" has come and gone too. But the God behind Solomon, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, remains unchanged. We need wisdom in answering the questions of life before us –be it in the home, be it as office-bearers, be it on the job-site- and this wisdom is available to us. In the words of James: "if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God…, and it will be given to him" (1:5).
But there is a recipe. Wisdom does not come in the form of a heavenly injection. Scriptural wisdom comes through work, comes through an attitude. The Lord in our text says to Solomon that "I have done according to your words." The point of Solomon’s request is recorded in vs 9, where Solomon asks for –as our translation has it- "an understanding heart." But some of you will notice a footnote beside the word ‘understanding’, indicating that the word the Holy Spirit uses here is actually the word ‘hearing’. What God gives to Solomon is a "hearing heart", a "listening heart." And the result of Solomon’s "listening heart" was that he received the gift of "understanding to discern justice", received "a wise and understanding heart", was granted "the wisdom of God … to administer justice."
We yearn for "the wisdom of God … to administer justice." The Lord shows us the recipe. He also shows us that in the brokenness of this life we shall not achieve the wisdom we’d desire. Yet we need not lament, for the "greater than Solomon" remains with us through His Holy Spirit. And He governs His church in perfect wisdom.
I summarize the sermon with this theme:
SOLOMON’S KINGDOM OF PEACE RECEIVES A LISTENING HEART.
The need for a listening heart
The Lord, our text tells us, granted Solomon’s request for a "listening heart." Why did Solomon ask for such a heart? What’s behind the request? I could, brothers and sisters, draw your attention to Solomon’s argument in his reply to God in vss 6-8. As it is, the Lord has given more background information in vss 1-5. To appreciate the need for a hearing heart, we need to listen to all the background information the Lord has given.
At the tender age of 18 or 19 years, Solomon inherited the kingdom from his father. In his 40 years as king over Israel, his father David had repeatedly gone to war in an effort to defend Israel from outside invasion, yes, even to subject would-be invaders to Israel’s authority; his reign had been characterized by fighting, blood-shed. It had been the work of a lifetime, but the result was that by the end of his reign Israel’s borders were secure and Israel’s place in the world as a leading power was generally recognized. Young Solomon inherited a rather secure kingdom.
Still, the new king had to assert himself, establish himself on the throne. The Holy Spirit has told us some of the details of that effort in chap 2. But in terms of our text, it’s the material of chap 3 that needs our attention. I read in 3:1:
"Now Solomon made a treaty with Pharaoh king of Egypt, and married Pharaoh’s daughter; then he brought her to the City of David…."
This marriage was a political marriage. That is, by marrying into the royal house of another people, you established in concrete a given political relation between the two countries concerned. That the girl here was taken to Jerusalem made her effectively a hostage to Solomon, by which he could compel Pharaoh of Egypt to do his bidding. It’s important to notice too then that it’s Solomon who does the acting in vs 1 and not Pharaoh; it’s Solomon who makes the treaty, Solomon who takes the girl to his own land. Here we receive a picture of Solomon’s authority in the arena of international politics. Though such a very young man he was respected around the world and could set his own terms for political alliances. His authority and resulting alliances immediately produced peace for Israel; else he could not do the building projects mentioned in the second half of vs 1 – "his own house, and the house of the Lord, and the wall all around Jerusalem." You see, Solomon’s was a kingdom of peace.
That’s what’s pointed up already by the king’s name. You’ll be familiar, I’m sure, with the Hebrew word ‘shalom’; it means ‘peace’. As it is, the name of the king comes from that word; ‘Solomon’ means ‘peace’. It is no accident that the man God put on the throne of His covenant people should have the name ‘peace’, and should (after years of war under David) now bring peace to God’s people.
Add to that what we read in vs 3. The Lord tells us that "Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David." To us the picture is clear: here is a leader devoted to the Lord, and God grants him and his people the blessing of political peace and international respect. Here is fulfillment of anybody’s dream; surely, this is heaven on earth, Paradise restored!
And indeed, beloved, this is something of heaven on earth, Paradise restored. After the struggles against evil and the forces of darkness in David’s reign, the Lord grants under Solomon a foretaste of the peace that shall follow when every force of darkness is finally destroyed. What is described in the first part of chap 3 foreshadows the kingdom of Jesus Christ as it is described in Rev 21, where the inhabitants of the New Jerusalem know no tears or crying or pain anymore; in fact, God’s own are kings with Christ over all the world. Peace on earth.
But in I Kings 3 God had not yet come that far in bringing true peace to earth. The kingdom of peace begun with the reign of Solomon –his name means ‘Peace’!- turns out to be a broken peace, a peace that looks good on the outside but is corrupt in the inside – and therefore is shallow, superficial, and cannot last. I read in vss 2 and 3 that in the midst of the peace the people were enjoying under Solomon, they regularly "sacrificed at the high places." The people’s habit is explained by the observation that no house had yet been built for the name of the Lord. But that excuse is not sufficient; the Hebrew makes clear that the divine author is unhappy with this practice. Our translation begins verse 2 with the word ‘meanwhile,’ but that’s too weak. The word used conveys a contrast. That is, while vs 1 tells us of a kingdom of peace where all seems well –Paradise is restored- vs 2 must relate that there’s a problem in this kingdom of peace, a rot, for "the people sacrificed at the high places." Vs 3 adds that even Solomon himself –though he loved the Lord so dearly- joined in sacrificing and burning incense at the high places.
Concerning these high places, two things need to be said. In the first place, the Lord had discouraged the practice of sacrificing on the high places. God’s instruction through Moses was very clear that His people were not to sacrifice to Him in the places where the Canaanites had sacrificed to their gods (and that was invariably on the high places) – because the God of light has nothing in common with idols of darkness (cf Dt 7:5; 12:3). In the second place, David shunned the practice - in accordance with God’s displeasure about sacrificing at the high places. The most we read of David is that he presented his offerings to the Lord in front of the ark he’d brought to Jerusalem.
Solomon acted differently. The Holy Spirit presents that habit on Solomon’s part as a weakness in his kingdom of peace. Just how much of a weakness it was is pointed up by later history. Solomon’s tolerance on the point opened the door for the people to make use of the high places once used by the Canaanites in their service of their gods, and that in turn led to adopting Canaanite practices. Several of the future kings of Israel are labeled good or bad by what they did in relation to these high places (cf II Kings 17:7-18; 23:4-25). Solomon tolerated the high places, and that was a crack in his kingdom of peace, was a signal that one day his kingdom of peace would collapse. For a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.
But here, congregation, is the boundless mercy of a God slow to anger. Solomon went one day to "the great high place" in Gibeon to sacrifice. From the book of Chronicles we learn that on this high place at Gibeon the tabernacle Moses built at Mt Sinai had received a place (II Chron 1:3). (David, of course, had taken the ark, which belonged in the tabernacle, to Jerusalem and erected a tent for it there.) At the tabernacle on this high place, Solomon "offered a thousand burnt offerings." Burnt offerings: they symbolize that one offers ones heart to the Lord, promptly and sincerely – as the John Calvin school motto has it. That he offered a thousand burnt offerings underlines the fact that Solomon offered all his heart, all his soul, all his being to the Lord.
Though Solomon’s heart remained touched with sin, the Lord who dwelt between the cherubim on the ark in Jerusalem appeared to Solomon in Gibeon. He didn’t come with words of rebuke because of the wrongs Solomon tolerated in his kingdom of peace; instead, the Lord gave to the king of peace the instruction to ask whatever God should give him. Yes, beloved, here is God’s mercy; He remembers that Solomon is but dust, a man so touched by the fall into sin. At the same time God confronts Solomon with the fact that Solomon doesn’t have everything; his kingdom of peace is not Paradise Restored. If it were, there would be no place for offering to give more. Being on top of the political ladder, not just nationally but internationally too, did not mean that Solomon had everything. Having in his kingdom the peace and prosperity needed to support those three major building projects – his own house, the house of the Lord, and the wall all around Jerusalem- did not mean that Solomon had everything. For sin remained, and so tears and hurt did too. In fact, that’s why God’s people needed leadership, needed a king able "to judge" God’s people, a king able to "discern between good and evil."
And see, that’s what Solomon asked for. He acknowledged that all he has is not his own doing, but is the gift of the Lord. Vs 6: "You have given [David] a son to sit on his throne." But, says Solomon to the Lord, the man You put on the throne is still so young, too young to know how to lead; not even 20. And the people he has to lead is none other than God’s people. Hence his request in vs 9: "give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people." Or, as the text literally says: "give to Your servant a listening heart."
A "listening heart." To listen to whom? Our thoughts go to cases of dispute, where the king will need to listen carefully to both sides of the story before he can make his judgment. So we understand the phrase "listening heart" to refer to the need of the king to listen carefully to people.
Now, it is certainly true that for the king to do justice to any case brought before him for judgment, Solomon shall need to listen carefully to both sides. But ability to do that is not the point of Solomon’s request. What he asks for is the ability to listen carefully, to hear, what God says. Solomon is king over Israel under God. At Mt Sinai the Lord told Moses that He would speak to Moses face to face so that Moses might be able to judge God’s people properly (cf Ex 18:13ff; 29:42f; 33:7ff). Moses’ successor Joshua could turn to the priest "who shall inquire before the Lord for him by the judgment of the Urim" (Num 27:21). Though David sought God’s counsel once via the Urim (I Sam 23), the Holy Spirit had moved David to write in his psalms that not speaking with God face to face, nor appealing to Him via the Urim or Thummim was the way to receive God’s guidance; instead, God’s Word was to be the light on David’s path. Solomon, then, needs to work with that word; to rule over God’s people Solomon does not first of all need to listen carefully to the people, but needs first of all to hear what God says. Just how necessary careful listening to God might be is pointed up by the fact that Solomon tolerates the high places – though God in His revelation to Israel through Moses had condemned the practice. More than anything else, this king of peace needs ears to hear what God’s will for him and his people might be; otherwise his kingdom of peace shall never last.
So we have answered our first point, the need for a listening heart. In the face of the sins and sinfulness that remain within Solomon and in his kingdom, Solomon’s kingdom of peace can last only when Solomon truly hears what God says – and of course that means that he lives and judges accordingly. That brings us to our second point,
The nature of a listening heart
The Lord says that He grants Solomon’s request so that Solomon receives a "listening heart," a heart able to hear God’s word. Now, what does this heart look like? What is a "listening heart"?
In answer to that question, we need to keep in mind what the Lord says in the second part of vs 12. He says, "see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart." Yet that phrase "wise and understanding heart" does not describe what a "listening heart" is; it describes instead the result of having a listening heart. That is: listening to what God says to you has as consequence that you act in a wise manner.
The thought here is the same as Solomon repeatedly put to his children in the book of Proverbs, namely,
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" (9:10; cf 1:7; 15:33).
To fear the Lord is to stand in awe of Him, and awe for God produces an attitude of humility before God, of wanting to be taught; it is to listen to Him, to want to hear Him. That is why "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom"; awe for God leads to knowledge of God and His ways, and therefore to an understanding of how God wants His people to act in this situation or that. As king under God Solomon had to rule God’s people according to God’s will even when the pressures of his advisers and the weakness of his own flesh prompted him to move in another direction. Similarly, he had to dispense justice in all kinds of ticklish situations. To be able to do that, he needed to know God well. Well, by giving him a "listening heart" the Lord God gave him insight into His word so that in turn Solomon might be able to discern justice, might be able to speak wisely in the face of the questions put to him.
The Holy Spirit includes in I Kings 3 an example of Solomon’s "wise and understanding heart", an example of what flows from a "listening heart", a heart open to hear God’s word. Two harlots appealed to Solomon for justice, each carrying a child, one dead, the other alive. The one woman related her version of the story, with the conclusion that the dead child in her arms was not her own but belonged instead to the other women – while the living child was hers. To which the woman with the living child in her arms shouted out her disagreement; "No! But the living one is my son, and the dead one is your son." To which in turn the first woman over-shouted the second: "No! But the dead one is your son, and the living one is my son." So it went, back and forth. And young king Solomon had to dispense justice….
How? Listening to God’s word would teach him that the human heart was desperately corrupt, to the point of being willing even to steal the neighbor’s child. The dishonest of the two was not psychologically warped (as today’s experts would have it), but simply one who gave in to feelings of jealousy; so depraved was she that she stole and then lied in order to obtain what her neighbor had and she didn’t - a living child. But if the core of the problem was jealousy, then the answer was to take the child away from both women; then there was nothing for the thief to be jealous about, and that would cause the thief to put down her guard. Hence the call for a sword, and the command to divide the living child in two with equal share for both. You see, the king listened carefully to the Word of God, heard God speak about the depravity of the human heart, and so followed the thoughts of God about human depravity in the specific tragic situation before him. His careful listening to the Lord gave him "understanding to discern justice," gave him "a wise and understanding heart." The result is –vs 28- that "all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had rendered; and they [stood in awe] of the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice."
Here is instruction for all today who would be wise. Wisdom is of God, and so any who would be wise must begin with a listening heart, with being humbly busy with every word from God. And we know so well: in our ungodly society, the child of God needs so much wisdom – be it to run a God-fearing home, or to care well for the congregation of the Lord, or to live as a Christian in the daily calling one has received. One comes to act wisely in the home, in church, at work when one internalizes the Word of God, thinks God’s thoughts after Him, works in one’s specific circumstances with all that God has revealed. Well has James written that "if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God…, and it will be given to him" (1:5). God gives it, not via an injection or a dream, but through listening carefully to His Word. That’s to say, He gives it through our reading the Bible and meditating on it.
We move on to our third point,
The perfection of a listening heart
Sin remains. Could Solomon hear every word God spoke? That is, did Solomon have it in him to rule and to dispense justice only in total agreement with God’s revelation? Was he that "wise and understanding"? True, there was none like Solomon before him, and none ever arose after him; so wise was this man, so well did he listen to God. But sin remained, in Solomon and in his realm. It’s no coincidence that the two women mentioned in our chapter are harlots. And harlotry is not the stuff of peace. Harlotry speaks of unfaithfulness, and therefore of broken hearts. The hormones cruising through our sinful bodies may tell us something different, but the Lord is emphatic that engaging in intercourse outside the bonds of marriage tears a person apart; harlotry does everything except produce the peace of Paradise. In truth, sin remained in Solomon’s kingdom. And sin remained in Solomon’s heart also. For we read later in the book of Kings that Solomon married other foreign women; the day came when he didn’t listen anymore to God’s Word and so went astray, led his people astray. In fact, in his later years Solomon built just outside Jerusalem a high place for Chemosh the god of Moab, and another for Molech of Ammon… (11:7). Peace? Yes, as long as Solomon kept his "listening heart" there was a foretaste of true peace. But once he determined to go his own way, the peace of the land disappeared. At the end of his life the land of Israel erupted into civil war…. Solomon’s sinfulness got in the way of his listening heart – as our sinfulness gets in the way of us listening well to God.
The Lord knew that would happen, even before He answered Solomon’s prayer, yes, before He put on David’s throne a young king named Solomon – and so tagged him as the king of peace. But God put this sinner on the throne of Israel, and gave Him immense wisdom. By so doing, the Lord God taught Israel that He was busy developing for His people a kingdom of true peace; the reign of Solomon foreshadowed something that coming kingdom. At the same time, God taught His covenant people that a kingdom of peace can never come through the labors of sinful men - no matter how much wisdom and humility and political advantage he may have. So God taught His people to look for Another, to look for the "greater than Solomon" (Mt 12:42).
And see, in the time of God’s choosing, this "greater than Solomon" appeared. The heavenly Child entrusted to Joseph and Mary stayed busy with the Word of His Father; He had such a "listening heart" that "Jesus increased in wisdom" even in His tender youth – I read in Luke 2:52. And when Jesus at the age of 30 taught in the synagogues of Galilee, the people with whom He’d grown up "were astonished and said, ‘Where did this Man get this wisdom…?’" (Mt 13:52). Wise He was because He had such a "listening heart". So it was that Jesus knew from God’s revelation how to reach into people’s problems and what the core of these problems was. Such was His wisdom that He followed the thoughts of God to the cross of Calvary – there to pay for the sins of God’s own that caused so much misery. Through that sacrifice on the cross He established on earth His kingdom of peace, for He reconciled sinners to God.
He has since ascended into heaven, there to receive the throne at God’s right hand. But He hasn’t deserted His kingdom on earth. This ascended King governs His church –I read in Eph 4- by means of office-bearers – brothers "endowed with Your Holy Spirit," as the prayer in the Form for Ordination has it (cf Acts 6:3; cf Num 27:18ff). That is to say that these men may count on the Holy Spirit granting a "listening heart" so that in turn these men receive the wisdom to rule Christ’s flock and to dispense the justice Christ desires.
Coupled with that promise is also then the obligation. These men, endowed with the Holy Spirit, need to make it their business to listen carefully to the Word of God – from Genesis to Revelation. What it says about the sovereignty of God and the depravity of the human heart, what it says about the redeeming work of Jesus Christ and the renewing powers of the Holy Spirit – all that and so much more is essential for proper government of Christ’s church. By such careful listening, by such submission to the Word of the King of the Church, office-bearers promote something of the peace that characterizes Christ’s kingdom.
They’ll do it with shortcomings and with sins. For those sins and shortcomings they are responsible before God. But this is the way the Christ triumphant on Calvary is pleased to establish His kingdom of peace on earth.
Soon He returns on the clouds of heaven. Then that kingdom, once foreshadowed in the early reign of Solomon, shall come in perfection. Then, and only then, shall the tears and the pain that characterizes this earthly life come to an end.
For that day we long, and therefore labor. Amen.