Staunton Mennonite Church
1 Kings 3:5-28
3:1 Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt; he took Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her into the city of David, until he had finished building his own house and the house of the Lord and the wall around Jerusalem. 2The people were sacrificing at the high places, however, because no house had yet been built for the name of the Lord. 3Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. 4The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar.
5At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” 6And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. 7And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9Give 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?” 10It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. 13I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. 14If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.” 15Then Solomon awoke; it had been a dream. He came to Jerusalem where he stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. He offered up burnt offerings and offerings of well-being, and provided a feast for all his servants.
A man was walking his dog on a hot summer day when he came to the local ice cream store. And since it was so hot, he decided to go in and have himself a cone. But when he got inside, the worker behind the counter said, “I’m sorry, but you can’t bring your dog in here.”
The man replied, “It’s okay, he is my seeing-eye dog.”
So as the man is sitting there enjoying his chocolate ice cream cone, another man walks in with his dog. So the first man says to him, “Hey buddy, they don’t allow dogs in here, so tell the worker it is a seeing-eye dog.”
Sure enough, the worker told him he couldn’t bring in his dog, and the second man told him, “But he is my seeing-eye dog.” The worker replied, “That’s a lie, they don’t use Chihuahuas for seeing-eye dogs.” And the second man replied, “They gave me a Chihuahua?!!” (Plato and a Platapus walk into a Bar: understanding Philosophy through humor)
This joke illustrates that we come to know things through certain ways. The worker in the ice cream store knew that the man had a Chihuahua because he had seen a Chihuahua before. He also knew that they don’t train Chihuahuas as seeing-eye dogs because he had never seen a Chihuahua seeing-eye dog. But for a blind man, how might he know that his dog was indeed a Chihuahua if he had never seen a Chihuahua, or any other kind of dog before?
How do we come to know the things we know? How do we gain wisdom and knowledge? I think these are important questions, especially for Christians because we must be continually seeking wisdom and knowledge, in particular wisdom and knowledge about God. So today we are going to look at the story of Solomon to see how we come to know the things we know, and I hope to show you how we can continue to gain wisdom and knowledge.
Leading up to today’s scripture we find king David passing on the throne to his son Solomon. Then our scripture for today picks up with the new king, Solomon, doing a little bit of foreign relations work by marrying the daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh. Solomon then takes his new bride and he moves her to the city of David, Jerusalem, where Solomon is in the process of building the Jewish temple and a house for himself.
So since the temple had not yet been complete, many of the Israelites were searching for somewhere else to make sacrifices to God. Many of them were going to the pagan places of worship, which the Old Testament often calls the high places, and making sacrifices to the God of Israel. They were claiming that place as a place of worship for Yahweh, the God of Israel.
Solomon is said to have been a person who loved the Lord, walking with God just as his father, David, had done before him. Our text tells us that Solomon sacrificed incense at Gibeon and that he had been known to sacrifice a thousand burnt offerings to God on that altar, which was the most popular of the high places. Essentially by making all of these sacrifices, Solomon is saying, “This altar was at one time an altar to the pagan gods. But now I claim it in the name of the Lord.”
So because of his diligence in following the Lord, God appears to Solomon in a dream and offers Solomon whatever it is that he wants. And Solomon replies to God by thanking him for his place of privilege. He thanks God for the blessings that his father had received, and he thanks God for the blessings that he has received in being the heir of the throne.
But Solomon has been through a lot in the recent history. He became king, got married, and he started ruling over the nation of Israel. And Solomon recognizes that he is not as prepared for his new responsibilities as he might be. Solomon refers to himself as a child. Some scholars estimate that he was a teenager, but it seems more likely that he was in his early 20’s when he inherited the throne. Regardless of just how old he was, he was young and inexperienced. He knew that he was not prepared for the responsibility he had inherited, and he knew that he needed help.
So in response to God’s offer of whatever Solomon wanted, Solomon replied that he desired an understanding mind so that he might be able to best fulfill his new-found duties. Or as we commonly understand Solomon’s request, he asked God for wisdom. And this is my first point for how we acquire wisdom. We first need to humble ourselves and admit that we don’t know it all.
This past Thursday, I was ordering carpet for our old place in Harrisonburg, which we will be renting out to some grad students this fall. We are planning to carpet a couple of rooms and a stairway. So as we were working on the square footage for the estimate, the carpet salesman asked me if there were ballasts on the stairway. “Ballasts?” I thought to myself. I didn’t know what he was referring to. The only ballasts that I knew of are on a ship or plane to balance the load. So since I didn’t know what he was referring to, I said, “yes.” He asked if the ballasts went the entire way up the staircase, and if they were on both sides. Again, I answered yes, not knowing what a ballast was in this case. I assumed it had to do with the two boards that run the length of the stairway on the angle of the stairway.
Well, when it came to the final step of the estimate, the price was quite a bit higher than I had expected. I was a little caught off guard and I think that the salesman noticed my disappointment. Then the salesman said that it was in part because of the higher cost of installation, because they had to install the carpet around all of the ballasts. I had to swallow my pride and ask him, “Just what are you referring to when you are talking about the ballasts?”
The ballasts in this case are the spindles that hold up a banister. The installation cost is much higher when they have to install carpet around the spindles. I guess they also call the spindles ballasts because they help to distribute the load one puts on the banister by leaning on it.
But this just goes to show that in order to learn, sometimes you have to admit what you do not know. I almost made a costly mistake by paying for a service that I did not need. I would like to think that they would have not charged me so much for labor when they realized I indeed did not have ballasts on this stairway. But the point is, I didn’t know what a ballast was on the stairs, and I didn’t want the carpet salesman to know that I didn’t know what he was talking about. I was afraid to ask because I didn’t want to look stupid. And what happened? I ended up looking even more foolish. But as the old saying goes, ask a silly question and you look silly once. Don’t ask the silly question and you look silly for the rest of your life.
But Solomon was humble, wasn’t he? He knew that he did not know what he needed to know, so he asked God for wisdom. And God blessed him with more wisdom than any who came before or after Solomon. And Solomon was blessed with even more than he had asked for. So one of the first steps to acquiring knowledge is humbling yourself and admitting that you don’t know everything.
Now I think that it is safe to say that most of us will never have God offer us whatever we want in a dream the way he did for Solomon. It hasn’t happened to me, and I would bet it hasn’t happened to you either. Perhaps that is because God knows that we would ask for something a little more selfish than for a discerning heart and mind.
So how do we come to learn the things we know, should know, or need to know? We as human beings learn through a number of different ways. And probably the best way for us to learn is through our personal experiences.
The last few days I have been at the Virginia Mennonite Conference annual meeting in Harrisonburg. And there are a lot of things that take place at VMC each year. I spent a lot of time in the delegate sessions, there are workshops and worship sessions. In the last few years they have begun having youth activities the entire time as well.
So on Friday, I was standing in a long line for our evening meal, and I watched as the first few people came through the line. The first ones through, as is often the case, were the teenagers. And it was interesting for me to watch as they went through the line and began to eat their meal. I believe that the first thing that came out of the kitchen that evening was Indian food. If you have never eaten Indian food, you don’t use forks, knives, or spoons. You are given a piece of flat bread called roti, and you use it to scoop up the rest of the food, which is often made up of some rice, curried meat, and potatoes.
So it was fun to watch these teenagers experiment with their roti and other foods. They made a lot of mistakes as they fumbled around the food, and as is often the case, much of it went on their faces instead of in them. They dropped food, made messes, got dirty, and eventually were able to eat a good meal. Through their experiments, they were able to figure out how to eat with roti. They learned through their personal experiences.
Unfortunately for Solomon, he didn’t have the opportunity to learn how to be king through his experiences. He didn’t have the luxury of learning by trial and error like the youth learning to eat Indian food. He was thrown into a situation that did not allow him to make mistakes. And unfortunately for Solomon, he also didn’t have his father around to go to for advice as he learned how to be king.
I believe that we can learn a lot through our personal experiences, but we can learn more through the experiences of others. It was Mark Twain that said, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around, but when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” And as the old saying goes, “Those that don’t learn from history are bound to repeat it.” We can learn from the mistakes of our elders, or we can make the same mistakes ourselves. We can repeat the successes of our elders, or we can miss the opportunity to be successful.
So what if these youths at conference would have had the opportunity to learn how to eat Indian food from a more experienced Indian food aficionado? They would have been able to avoid a lot of troubles and messes. They would have wasted a lot less food.
So as I was standing there in line, watching the teenagers eat and waiting on my own meal, I was talking with Jason Gerlach, the conference youth pastor. And Jason and I started talking about the youth and how they could benefit from learning from another person. And Jason started telling me about the mentoring program that they have a Community Mennonite Church. Jason said that when the youth enter into the 6th grade that they are paired with an older, more mature person in the church who then becomes their mentor, walking with them through junior high and high school. He said that essentially it is like Big Brothers, Big Sisters, only in a Christian setting. He told me that they have 50 pairs of mentors and mentees; 50 Pauls and 50 Timothys.
But it isn’t just teenagers that need someone to learn from and someone to teach. It has been said that every Christian needs a Paul and every Christian needs a Timothy. We all need someone to learn from and we all need someone that we can disciple or teach. Some of you may be familiar with the Jericho and Damascus Road Outreach program here in Staunton. Essentially, this outreach is a mentoring program that recognizes that children are not the only ones in need of a mentor. The Jericho and Damascus Road Outreach is a program set up to provide education, job skills, life skills, social skills, and employment experience for ex-offenders. The Jericho and Damascus Road Outreach seeks to continue the rehabilitation of people that have been released from prison.
Those behind this outreach have recognized that there is a problem with the way our punitive systems work, or don’t work, in the United States. We lock someone up for a period of time, then when their time is served, turn them back to the streets where they cannot find a job, have difficulties developing relationships, and often times end up back in jail.
So instead of continuing to allow young adults to continue in this cycle, the Jericho and Damascus Road Outreach seeks to teach them from their own experiences how to contribute to one’s community financially, socially, and spiritually. And I bet that if you are interested in being a mentor to one of these trouble youths or young adults, that the Jericho and Damascus Road Outreach would have a place for you.
As I was going into one of the events at the Virginia Mennonite Conference this Friday, I came across my old Hebrew professor, Jim Engle. We exchanged pleasantries and he asked about the church. So I told him that I had just come from working on my sermon for this Sunday, and I was preaching from an Old Testament passage, his area of expertise. I told him I was speaking about Solomon and how he gained his wisdom by humbling himself to ask for the knowledge he knew he didn’t have. I told Jim how I was looking at different ways that we as human beings come to know the things we know, through our own experiences, and through the experiences of others. And Jim kind of caught me by surprise. Jim said “Thank-you for teaching me over the last three years.” I thought maybe he forgot that he was the teacher and that I was the student. But he told me, “The only difference between your side of the desk and my side of the desk is that they pay me to sit on my side.”
That was obviously an oversimplification, but what Jim was telling me was something that I figured out a while back, though I don’t always put it into use. You can learn something from everyone; there isn’t a person alive that I or you can’t gain some knowledge from. This retirement aged, grey bearded seminary professor with a PhD that has been on archeological digs in the Middle East and spent time serving as a missionary in Ethiopia just told me that he had learned something from a student. In fact, he would probably say that he learns a little something from every student. Because he realizes that everyone has something to offer in the way of knowledge and wisdom, and he has committed himself to a lifetime of learning.
Solomon was blessed by God with wisdom. The rest of us have to work for it. The first step is to humble ourselves to come to the realization that we don’t know it all. When we think we know it all, we will not and cannot learn anything new. Then we come to learn things through at least two different avenues: through our experiences and through the experiences of others. It is my prayer that we will humble ourselves to learn from not only the PhD’s, the credentialed, and the professionals, but that we would look to learn from all people; young and old, male or female, it does not matter. Because we gain wisdom from our experiences and the experiences of others. Let us not limit our education to a few sources, but let us learn from all we come in contact with, and may we be willing to teach all those we come in contact with, using words when necessary.