Over the past several weeks we have been reading about Israel’s early history when they were ruled by kings. First there was Saul and then David. In today’s scripture we will be reading of the death of David and the battle over who will be the next king.
Today we move into the Old Testament book of 1st Kings. I hope that Dean and Dianne Marsh don’t mind me telling this story. I actually did ask Dianne for permission. They are probably watching from home right now. As many of us know, Dean is unable to get out very much now and his wife Dianne remains lovingly at his side.
Dianne told me recently that she was reading the Bible to Dean when they came upon the first verses of 1st Kings. Dianne read about how King David was old and how he was covered in blankets to keep him warm. But, according to 1st Kings, a beautiful young woman was sought out for David to be his personal attendant.
The text says that this young woman, named Abishag, was instructed to lie beside David in the bed to keep him warm. Her real role was to be sure that David still had the stamina to be king.
Dianne tells me that she was kinda embarrassed to read this part of the story to Dean and wasn’t sure he was listening. But then after hearing about the young woman Abishag laying down beside David to keep him warm, Dean spoke up and said, “I want to be like David.”
It was not clear who would be the next king after David. Absalom had been the oldest of the sons but we read last week how he tried to make himself king before David died. Absalom’s army ended up losing in battle against David’s army and Absalom was later killed by one of David’s military officers.
Another of David’s sons, Adonijah, decides that he should be the new king. So Adonijah assembles himself an army and convinces some of David’s military and religious leaders to join him. Adonijah conducts a military parade with fancy chariots to show that he is now the new king.
But Nathan did not support Adonijah as king. Nathan we learned a couple of weeks ago was the one who kept David on task. Nathan was David’s very faithful friend and he did not support Adonijah as king.
So Nathan approaches Bathsheba and tells her about what is happening. Bathsheba was the woman who had become one of David’s wives after David took advantage of her. But Bathsheba was now the mother of Solomon and both Bathsheba and Nathan believed that Solomon should be the new king.
So Bathsheba and Nathan approach David and tell him about what is going on. David concurs with them that Solomon should be the new king and not Adonijah. So David organizes a coronation for Solomon and he is anointed the newest king of Israel.
We pick up the story in chapter 2 of 1st Kings. We will be reading of the moment when David is on his death bed and he gives parting advice to Solomon. Words which are good for anyone to hear as they move into a new role.
Read 1st Kings 2:1-3
Be strong and be courageous and follow the Commandments of God. Really good advice. Good advice for Solomon and good advice for us. Be strong and be courageous and follow the commandments of God. But what are the first acts that Solomon carries out? The first actions that Solomon does as king is to get revenge on his brother who tried to become king and anyone who followed him.
Solomon seeks out his brother and has him killed. Solomon seeks out the religious leaders who supported his brother and has their authority removed. Solomon seeks out the military leaders who supported his brother and has them killed. Solomon solidifies himself as the new and ruthless king.
And this is where the telling of the story becomes complicated to me and to many others. Because what happens next in the telling of Solomon’s story seems to be pure propaganda. Solomon has just ruthlessly killed his brother and anyone who supported him but the text says that Solomon loved the Lord and faithfully followed in his father David’s footsteps.
The Lord then appears to Solomon in a dream and asks Solomon what he needs in order to be successful. And Solomon asks God for this.
Solomon says to God, “Give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people by being able to discern between right and wrong.”
This prayer for wisdom is followed by a test of Solomon’s wisdom. Two women come before Solomon and in a fairy tale like story they share that they live together and each had given birth to a child. But then one of the children died in the night.
One of the women then accuse the other woman of switching her dead child with the live child. Solomon listens to their story and tells the two women to bring the living child to him. Since he can’t determine who is the real mother, the king says that he will simply cut the child in half.
At that, one of the women screams in horror and says to not kill the child. This woman says that she would rather give up the child than see it killed. The second woman shows little concern at Solomon’s plan. Solomon then determines that the woman willing to give up her child to save it must be the real mother.
I remember hearing this story as a child. And the moral of the story is that Solomon prayed for wisdom and was granted wisdom by God and proved to be a faithful leader. But that is not the way to story goes from here. Solomon turns out to be a ruthless and troublesome leader who employs slave labor to build the mighty Temple for God.
Solomon is vengeful to his enemies. And as a result of his poor leadership, Solomon becomes the last king of a united Israel and it splits apart with his children each claiming to be king.
So what do we do with this story? What do we do with the sanitized image of Solomon that so many of us have been taught verses the real version of what Solomon was like?
I think that one lesson we can learn from this story is that praying for guidance and wisdom from God doesn’t mean that everything that we do will be right and perfect. That we pray for wisdom and guidance but we recognize that what we do may not be what God desires.
That we will mess up and sometimes that even when we think we are doing what is right, that sometimes we are not. But that even our worse failings can be used by God for something good.
I think that we also learn that just because someone says that they are doing God’s will, that just because they say it and just because they have been faithful in the past does not mean that what they are doing now is of God. I am reminded of Jim Jones, the Christian pastor who began with a passion to serve God and create a diverse Christian community.
But then somewhere along the way the power went to his head and he became the leader of a dangerous cult that ended with a mass suicide as people drank Kool-Aid laced with poison.
Just because someone says that they are doing the work of God does not mean that they are doing the work of God. Just because someone was faithful in their past does not mean that they are faithful now. Just because someone says the right words does not mean that they are following God’s will.
So we pray for wisdom. We realize that we might really mess up. Sometimes we do some really bad stuff because even with God’s wisdom we have selfish agendas.
But even when we mess up we trust that God can redeem our mistakes into something good. We follow the advice to be strong and courageous and to follow the commandments of God.
We pray for God to grant us wisdom. AMEN.
-Cook, Matt, http://chchurches.org/missional-fervor-telling-our-story/
-Given: August 15, 2021 in Allison Creek Presbyterian (York, SC)