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Seeking Peace and Wisdom — A Reflection

August 14, 2021

In the opening verses of 1 Kings:3-14 we read about the lavish offering which Solomon offered in the temple once his reign was firmly established. Now Solomon was anything but perfect, just like his father David before him. The first strike we see is when Solomon, who loved the Lord and followed his statues sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. Offerings and sacrifices in Israel were to be offered at the Temple in Jerusalem. The high places were where others worshipped, and people were led away from God to worship idols and local gods. 

While we could focus on Solomon’s failings, I want to focus on something that he did which pleased God. Even though he was worshipping in the wrong place, God still came to him in a dream. The Lord asked Solomon, Ask what I should give you. Solomon had given a lavish offering to God and now God asked what Solomon wanted in return.

Have you ever thought about what you would do if you came into a large sum of money? In the movie, “It Could Happen to You” a cop asked the waitress at the diner he had been going to for years to help him pick the numbers for his weekly lottery ticket. In the movie when the cop hears that his lottery ticked was the big winner, his wife was thrilled. That was short-lived when the cop said that he was going to share half of the winnings with the waitress who helped him pick the winning numbers. The cop had a choice in the matter, and I would say that he chose wisely and generously. He thought of others before himself. 

Solomon himself had a choice to make. Even though he had the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah which his father had reigned over he could have asked for more. He could have asked for more wealth, more territory, or many other things. Instead, Solomon asked for something to help him be a better ruler. Give 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? (1 Kings 3:9)

God’s response showed God’s pleasure with Solomon’s act of selflessness as he began his rule. 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, I 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. (3:11-12)

While we may not be Kings like Solomon, we do have a choice when it comes to asking God for things. I know that I have been guilty of asking for selfish desires without thinking of others. Despite my selfishness, the love of God is never withdrawn from me, and it can be the same for you. May we ask for discerning and understanding minds and hearts as we seek to serve the Lord. Can you imagine what might happen if local community, state, national, and international leaders dropped their often greedy and self-serving ways and decided to govern with wisdom on behalf of all the people?

In Psalm 34:9-14 we can explore how this passage ties into such wisdom. In that Psalm, the psalmist invites the people to “fear” the Lord in order to have “no want.” Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. (34:11)The next two verses are where I see the connection between the two readings. Which of you desires life, and covets many days to enjoy good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. (34:12-13)

Just what is this “fear” that the psalmist is talking about? Too often we think of this fear as being afraid of God. In the context of the Hebrew language, fear means “to honor or reverence” God. Just as Solomon chose gifts that would honor God and help him to be a more compassionate and just ruler, the psalmist invites us to make choices that honor God. Instead of telling us to be terrified of God, the psalmist invites the reader to honor and revere God through our words and our actions. How does one do that? The psalmist offers these closing words in verse 14 — Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. This is the way of wisdom. This is the way of compassion. This is the way of justice. This is the way of peace. In the words of Thomas Merton from his book, The Nonviolent Alternative (p. 35), Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.

As we seek wisdom and peace for our neighbors and strangers, we will be seeking them for ourselves as well. Merton reminds me of the challenges that I have had as I contemplate where I have been as an Air Force Chaplain and where God seems to be leading me as a “Peacemaker.” Will you join with me in this journey, dear reader?

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