Sermon preached on 1 Kings 3:1-15 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 7/7/2019 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Kings 3:1-15
Ask! What Shall I Give You?
We left off last time in 1 Kings with the kingdom being firmly established in the hand of Solomon. Chapter 1 had recounted the drama of how Solomon’s brother Adonijah tried to take the kingdom. However, God used to David to thwart Adonijah’s ambitions and instead set Solomon on the throne. Then, last chapter, we saw David exhorting Solomon to establish his kingdom in justice and righteousness. Along with this general advice, David gave him some specific items that needed to be dealt with in the matter of justice and righteousness. Chapter 2 then recorded Solomon dealing with such matters and it ended with the statement of how Solomon had become well established as king in the kingdom. Yet, as we come to chapter 3, we quickly see that Solomon’s work as king was really just getting started. Yes, God had now firmly established him as king in the kingdom. But as king, Solomon had a lot of kingdom building work to be about. Likewise, by analogy, when someone becomes a Christian, that isn’t the end of their spiritual journey, it’s really just the beginning. It’s a call into service and continued growth as a Christian. So too, we will see here today kingdom needs that would require King Solomon’s attention. And we’ll also see God’s equipping of Solomon to be able to address those kingdom building needs. This too is what God does for us as Christian – he not only calls us into his kingdom service; he also gives us gifts to aid in our building up of his kingdom.
Let us begin then today in our first point by observing a need in God’s kingdom at that time. It’s presented in the opening verses. It’s the issue that the house of the LORD had not yet been built. Recall that David wanted to build a house for the LORD – a permanent structure to replace the mobile Tent of Meeting made during Moses’ time. Recall as well the repeated teaching from Deuteronomy that once God’s people came into the Promised Land that God would put his name in a central place of worship, and that is where the sacrifices and annual religious feasts were supposed to take place (e.g. Deut. 12:1-6, etc.). Though that central place of worship had for a time been in Shiloh, David apparently believed it should be in Jerusalem. That’s clear from the fact that he brought the Ark and kept it there in Jerusalem. Yet, God would not allow David to build a permanent home there for the Lord’s presence. Instead, God told David back in 2 Samuel 7:13, as part of the Davidic covenant, that David’s offspring would be the one to build a house for God. And so here the text anticipates Solomon building the temple in Jerusalem. But that had not yet happened.
We see the challenge this brought for the people. In verse 2, we are told that the people were at that time sacrificing in the high places because there was not yet a house for the LORD. We’ll see as the book of 1 and 2 Kings unfolds that this is a problem that gets mentioned a number of times. In Deuteronomy 12, Israel was told that when they came into the Promised Land they weren’t to adopt the various high places that the other nations used for their idol worship and their pagan sacrifices. This was because Israel was to have a single, central place of worship for all their various offerings to the LORD. That was the command of Deuteronomy 12. But instead, at that time, God’s people weren’t following that command – a violation of the Regulative Principle of Worship (the “RPW”). These high places were scattered cultic places of worship all over the land where the Israelites would offer up various sacrifices. Verse 3 says that this was a problem not only for the people in general, but it even was a blemish on the otherwise faithful record of King Solomon – he too worshipped in such high places. But the passage does seem to lesson the charge with the note that the underlying issue was that the kingdom didn’t yet have a house for the LORD. Surely that didn’t excuse the sin, but it does serve to offer an explanation. And more to our point for today, it shows that though Solomon was now established as king in the kingdom, there were some great needs in the kingdom that he would need to address.
On a related note, this seems to be the point of mentioning Solomon’s marriage to the Egyptian princess. Many have wondered if that was wrong of Solomon to marry a foreign wife like this, since we know foreign wives become a big problem for Solomon later. But we have to be careful to not say more than what Scripture says. First off, it doesn’t say whether she became a Jewish proselyte or not – in fact there is Jewish tradition that said she did. Whether that is reliable tradition or not we can’t say, but it does warn us from reading into the text what is not there – it doesn’t say she brought Egyptian idolatry with her. In fact, in chapter 11 when his later issue of foreign wives leading his heart astray after idols is mentioned, something interesting stands out. This Egyptian wife is mentioned in distinction from those, with the note that Solomon married foreign women who were specifically banned by God. That referenced Deuteronomy 7, the only explicit command at that time, which only forbade marriage with the seven Canaanite nations out of the concern that they might draw Israel’s heart astray after their idolatry.
Rather, here in verse 1, the concern of the Egyptian wife must be read in light of the fact that there was not yet a temple in Jerusalem. 2 Chronicles 8:11 records Solomon moving this Egyptian wife out of Jerusalem once the temple is made out of a concern of holiness. This seems informed by Deuteronomy 23 which specifically said Egyptians were not to be abhorred in terms of the worship and assembly of the LORD, and that those born to them in the third generation could enter the assembly of the LORD. Evidently Solomon thought that the holiness of the city once the temple was built meant the Egyptian wife needed to live outside the city walls – but presumably the third generation from their offspring would be able to live there. But verse 1 connects this all together. The fact that Solomon’s Egyptian bride could live at that time in Jerusalem was because there was not yet a temple there. That seems to be the whole point of mentioning the Egyptian wife – simply here to say that it further reflects the fact that this great need existed in the kingdom – there was not at that time a central house of worship.
One last comment then on this first point. This is all further demonstrated by the reference to Solomon’s worship at Gibeah in verse 4. This is described here as a high place, but you’ll note it says it was “the great high place”. The parallel account in 2 Chronicles 1:3-4 helps us understand this reference. This was no ordinary high place. It was where that original Tent of meeting from Moses’ day was, along with the original altar from that Tent. We read there how when David had previously brought the Ark to Jerusalem, he just brought the Ark. The Tent of Meeting stayed behind – David setup a new tent for it in Jerusalem. So, there you have this dilemma of sorts – where do you worship? At Gibeah, where the authorized Tent and altar was? Or at Jerusalem were the Ark of the Covenant was? Interestingly, Solomon, after receiving his wisdom from God in this chapter, will end the chapter with his worshipping at Jerusalem at the Ark. There he not only offers burnt offerings but also peace offerings which especially seem to be most appropriate wherever the Ark was in the central place of worship. So maybe that shows growth by Solomon here. But either way, the clear point is that we see the great need here for the kingdom to be able to come into better compliance with God’s regulative principle of worship. Much work was left to be done for Solomon in this regard.
So then, that brings us to our second point to see what Solomon requests of God. After Solomon’s worship at Gibeah, God immediately responds in verse 5 with this amazing and wonderful command by God. It’s an imperative; God commands Solomon to “Ask!” God says to Solomon, “Ask! What shall I give to you?” By the way, in context this clearly is in response to his worship; his worship at Gibeah at this great high place. There is clearly an application to modern debates that not all violations of the RPW are created equal; some are clearly more heinous than others, and some can be a violation of the principle without completely invalidating the act of worship. Surely that is the case here, that amidst this violation of the RPW in the high place worship, God still graciously receives the worship with divine favor and in turn gives opportunity for Solomon to bring a request to God.
Notice how Solomon responds to God’s invitation to make a request. First, note Solomon’s demeanor. There is much humility by Solomon here. In what essentially is prayer from Solomon to God, Solomon humbles himself under the mighty hand of God. He speaks of God’s greatness in comparison to his own lowliness. In describing himself in verse 7 as a little child – it’s the sense of dependence – like how we might describe an adult who is still claimed as a dependent on their parent’s tax return. Solomon was probably in his twenties at this time, by the way, and was already the father of at least one child himself – Rehoboam.
Also notice that Solomon begins with thanksgiving in the form of praise. In verse 6 he acknowledges all God has done for his father David. He implies that God has been faithful to his promises in the Davidic covenant. Likewise, in verse 8 when speaking of the people being too great to count, he implies God’s faithfulness to his promises in the Abrahamic covenant. This praise and thanksgiving is fitting for at least two reasons. One, we shouldn’t be asking more from God without remembering to thank God for what he’s already given to us. Two, why bother asking someone for something whose has a track record of not delivering on previous promises? But our God is the opposite of that as Solomon recognizes – God has shown himself repeatedly faithful to all his gracious promises.
So then, we see Solomon’s specific request then in verse 9. Though often his request is described simply as for “wisdom”, it most specifically is for wisdom with regard to judging the people in terms of righteousness. Verse 9, “Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” Here we see another need in this kingdom. The people will need Solomon to lead them in righteousness in the sense of right judgment among them. Implied is what we see illustrated in the next passage. This kingdom includes sinners, sinners who too often sin against each other, and the king is at the head of seeing that righteousness is administered among the people. But King Solomon realizes that will require wisdom. I love the specific language there first in verse 9 – that he would have an understanding heart. The word for “understanding” in the Hebrew is literally the word for “hearing”. That word can be used with the nuance of “understanding” or even with the nuance of “hearing so as to judge rightly in a trial. We might remember how in our own judicial system, certain legal proceedings are called “hearings”. In order to rightly judge a matter, Solomon realizes he will need a heart that truly hears the testimony and the matter and then uses wisdom, discernment, and the law of God to make a right judgment. Solomon prays for this because he realizes it is a major part of the job of being king. And as verse 9 suggests, he realizes that the people won’t make this an easy job – the language for great people is arguably better translated as burdensome people. And so, I remember David’s charge to him from last chapter when I see Solomon’s request. David charged him to administer the law of God in the land. So then, this request to hear and understand with wisdom and discernment is the gifting Solomon will need to truly live out that charge as king to administer righteousness in the kingdom.
Let’s turn now to our third point today and see God’s response to Solomon’s request. What a prodigiously generous God we see here. It was a wonderful request to start – this bold call for Solomon to ask for a gift from God. And as Solomon makes his request, I love God’s initial response. Verse 10, the LORD was pleased. The LORD was pleased with the specific thing Solomon asked for. God explains this to him and to us. Solomon could have asked for lots of typical, mundane, human desires. I mean, think, what would you ask if God came to you and said what do you want most from me? Solomon’s request for such wisdom shows a few things that surely are pleasing to God. His request was others-focused; it would especially bless God’s people; it would help God’s people be growing in godliness. Also, his request showed that he was valuing the kinds of things God values most. Humans tend to value material and earthly things like money and physical health. But the things God values most tend not to be something physical like that. God certainly values wisdom and justice and righteousness! These are on the top of God’s valuation and it’s what Solomon asked for. Such a request deeply pleased the LORD. We would be wise to find application here for our own prayer life. Certainly, we are encouraged to bring our various needs and desires to the Lord in prayer. But surely part of our maturing as a Christian is to grow in what we ask for from God. We are to look to set our hearts especially on things that tend to the glory of God and to the welfare of his church.
And so, God generously gives Solomon what he asks for here. In verse 12, it’s clear that he not only gives Solomon this desired wisdom, but he gives it in abounding measure – that Solomon would be renown in human history for this God-given wisdom. It seems that God’s prodigious giving like this is related to how much he was pleased by Solomon’s request for it. But then God’s giving goes even beyond this. He gives Solomon even of those things that humans typically ask for: riches and honor, verse 13. And again, God gives him these in such abundance that Solomon would be renown in human history for them.
And then God offers Solomon one more thing – this one put conditionally. Verse 14, God offers long life if he will carefully walk in the ways of the LORD. That sounds very similar to the call in the Davidic covenant. Sadly, it will be one that Solomon will later in his life come to struggle with when his heart turns away after the false gods of his foreign wives. We’ll read about that in 1 Kings 11. Even after Solomon does such great things to advance the kingdom of God’s people, he’ll have such a major failing later in his life. Of course, in the providential working of God, it serves to show that God’s promises to David don’t find their ultimate fulfilment in Solomon but in Jesus Christ.
For King Solomon will go on and use both the God-given wisdom and wealth to address various needs of the kingdom. He will even build the long-anticipated house for the LORD in Jerusalem. Yet, even then, that was not the ultimate house of the Lord that God intended David’s offspring to build. We remember the preaching of the martyr Stephen in Acts 7 which made this point. That Solomon build a physical house for God, but Jesus builds a greater house for God. As we see in Psalm 2, God gives a sort of similar command to Jesus that he gave to Solomon. Ps. 2:8, ultimately speaking to Jesus, God commands, “Ask of Me, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for Your possession.” Indeed, as we see evidenced by Jesus’ prayer life in John 17, Jesus received a people from the Lord. It’s the kingdom of God’s saved people in Jesus Christ that he has made a house for himself. We, the saved kingdom of God’s people are his house. This is where we have been called to worship. We worship by the Holy Spirit and we bring our praises and our thanksgivings and even our petitions unto his heavenly throne of grace! In Christ, in the answer to his petition from the Father, we have peace and fellowship with God, and can now draw near to him in worship!
Saints of God – we who are a part of Christ’s kingdom by grace – be reminded then today of Jesus’ words to us. He extends the same sort of offer that God gave here to Solomon. Matthew 7:7, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” What a prodigiously generous God we have that calls us to bring our requests to him. Let us thank him for his generous giving. Let us think and bring to him especially those requests that give him the most pleasure. Let us especially request those things that can be used to build up God’s people. Let us be encouraged as we see that God not only gives us our salvation but then gifts us with spiritual gifts to serve him. Let us praise our God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Copyright © 2019 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.