Telling the story: King Solomon’s Decision

given on Sunday, February 12, 2012

Telling the Story:  King Solomon’s Decision

What is the lesson for us to learn?

         One of my favorite teas is blackberry sage that is marketed as the “tea for wisdom.”  As I wait for the teakettle to whistle, my mind can wander around aimlessly; but when the hot water hits that tea bag, an aroma lifts up that seems to just bring all those random thoughts together.

Whether or not that specific tea really triggers wisdom or not is undoubtedly an advertising gimmick, but it does seem to make a mixed up mind slow down and begin to work a bit better for me.  I suppose in a way, just the process of making a cup of tea is the real reason the mind begins to focus.  Still, how does one develop wisdom is a question to consider.

Today’s Old Testament story continues to serve as a model of wisdom.  The judgment a young king made in a heart-wrenching disagreement serves as a foundational lesson in wisdom.  As young Jewish children were taught the law, King Solomon’s decision demonstrated the application of wisdom.

Researching the story revealed how essential the story is in the Jewish tradition.  Googling ‘King Solomon’ the first non-Wikipedia articles are from Jewish resources.  One that captured my attention was from a law office.  The entry was a detailed explanation about the decision made in the parentage of the disputed baby.

Trying to summarize the content of that article and a historical piece would be time-consuming.  But, the gist of the two Jewish references indicates that this particular judgment is culturally complicated.  Prostitution was simply one more means of economically meeting the needs of a family or of single women in a patriarchal society.  The issues of widowhood, infertility, and various social situations led to the practice.

In the legal dissertation on the story, the two women were identified as a mother and daughter who were competing to gain a socially acceptable status as a mother of a son.  The more interpretations one reads, the more complicated the story becomes.  Again, the question develops:  Why is King Solomon’s decision about the mothers’ argument used as a teaching tool?

The decision to cut the baby in half certainly grabs attention, and in today’s society downright appalling.  For us to understand the story, we need to understand the culture.  Yet, the graphic images that come to mind with this story have nothing to do with the lesson.  The lesson is about wisdom.

Consider the Old Testament struggles to keep the Jewish people focused on living a God-centered life.  The Ten Commandments seemingly would have been enough but instead laws upon laws upon laws were made controlling every facet of life.  Following that law became so complicated one may have been tempted to just stay home and not even venture outside.

The lesson appropriate today as well as in late 900 BC and early 800 BC is a God-centered life leads to wisdom.  The first verse read today is included in the dream segment.  Young King Solomon was making political decisions by “creating alliances” with other country leaders—some through marriages.  In a dream, God talks with Solomon.  God asks him what he should give him as a result of a pleasing offering.  The answer was for discernment between good and evil.

The Jewish references go in detail how Solomon made the decision, even to the point of watching the body language of the two women.  Asking God for discernment rather than for wealth or influence or any other tangible, materialistic gift pleased God.  The lesson is that asking God for things is not good, but asking God to be central in making decisions is good.

Jesus reiterates this in his ministry.  Rather than force people to learn all the minute details of the law and to live within those extremely tight guidelines, we are to look at the world through God’s eyes.  We are to make decisions as God would make them.  We are to love one another as we would love ourselves.  There is the lesson.

Remember the phrase “Judge not that you be judged”?  That verse comes from Matthew 7, part of the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus again is outlining the guidelines for living a God-centered life:

A Simple Guide for Behavior

1-5 “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.  (the Message)

Simply do not judge others.  God is in charge of judging, not us.  If we judge one another, we do not love one another.

In the Wesley Study Bible, the core term ‘judgment’ ads another dimension to the story:

Judgment is critical evaluation against a standard.  In biblical terms, the standard is the word or the law of God.  No one escapes God’s judgment . . . the Reformation tradition—including the Wesleyan tradition—places judgment in the context of grace.  Redemption is the final word—not judgment.  . . .  John Wesley. . . insisted that God’s prevenient grace opened salvation to all under judgment.  God through Christ calls everyone to respond in faith, to be forgiven, and to grow in love.  Judgment nevertheless remains an awesome reality.  Some, all of us must stand—beyond death—before the judgment throne of Christ.  (p. 1122)

God judges; not us.  We can make decisions about good and bad, but we cannot judge others and their decisions.

The lesson from King Solomon’s decision is one for us today.  We are to ask God for the ability to discern good from bad.  We are to ask God to guide us in seeing the world through his eyes.  Maybe the Jewish lawyer was right.  What the story is about is not the lesson.  The lesson is making decisions based on solid reasoning after seeing the situation through God’s loving eyes.

Another core term of Wesley points this out:

God calls us to use our minds.  God wants us to use the intellectual abilities with which we have been blessed . . . it means to love God is to develop our minds in ways that deepen or enhance our expressions of love.  . . .  Solomon developed his reasoning powers in ways that we now think of as setting the standard for wisdom.  . . .  To be wise is to know how to fully integrate the information we have stored with the situation at hand.  This integration takes into account the relationship we have with God and others.  Wise Solomon sets an example that we ought to emulate.  (p. 414)

Whether the story is remembered for the threat of cutting a living baby in half or not, King Solomon’s decision to ask God for discernment rather than riches demonstrates wisdom in the story.  The lesson for 21st century Christians is simply to love one another.  Look at the situation through God’s eyes and leave the judging to him.

Dear Wise Father,

All too often we jump to conclusions.

We look at the world through our eyes, not your eyes.

When we do, we judge.

Open our hearts and our minds today.

Give us discernment as you did King Solomon.

Guide us in using our reason in making decisions.

Help us to teach others how to love one another.

Amen.

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