If you could have any one thing you wished for, what would it be?
It's the kind of question kids love to ponder during a sleepover. Do you remember what your answer would have been back then? Or how about now... has it changed?
What do you desire most?
A great deal is made of the story of Solomon being asked by God in a dream, “What should I give you?” along with Solomon’s response in requesting wisdom, that he would know both good and evil.
Interestingly, the separate accounts of 1 Kings and 1 Chronicles are in harmony in their celebration of this moment in the young king’s life. And they aren’t always – the Chronicles often provide a different perspective or a bit of commentary on what was written down in the books of the Kings. But here, both say that God was pleased Solomon had not asked for long life or riches. And God made further promises to him in addition to granting him the great wisdom he requested.
I’ve been chewing on this story this story a bit lately. I find it fascinating that Solomon (to some degree) “doubles down” on the illusory appeal of the Tree of Knowledge from the Garden. And why? For the purpose of his own ability to govern and lead. In his dream, he states his one wish and then says to God, “For who can rule this great people of yours?” Solomon is overwhelmed, and limiting his perspective to the only options he sees before him… He doesn’t seem to recall that God never required a king of Israel to govern her in the first place. Israel’s monarchy had been a concession to their desire to “be like the other nations,” in fact.
Further, if wisdom solves so many problems – and no doubt, Solomon does turn out to be conventionally wise – it’s worth pointing out that there was still a lot that was wrong in the reign of Solomon. His governance of Israel is not without faults, many of them great. He continues to grow Israel’s power as an empire and accumulates wealth through dominance and subjugation. His ruthless rule leads to a people who fear him both at home and elsewhere. The Israelites suffer under the burden of his demands to finance the “national interest,” which sows the very seeds of discord which later split the nation in two – when Solomon’s son Rehoboam sees his father’s “wisdom” and plots an even harsher course down the same path. (Wasn’t Rehoboam “wise” to do the “wise” thing even more strictly?) Outside of Israel, other rulers fear Solomon. They scramble to make peace treaties to protect themselves against any sudden onslaught these once enslaved Hebrews might spring on those outside their borders.
So Solomon remains: Not as the great king of Old Testament Israel, but as the great contradiction.
He's the half-hearted king, who is often driven to the worship of other gods, and who alienates a covenant people in doing “kingdom” the way the rest of the world does it. His infidelity with 700 wives and 300 concubines is like a microcosm of his entire life, a snapshot of just how fragmented Solomon became. To have the sort of power and control and wealth he accumulated required being pulled in many compromising directions, to say the least.
And sure, there's the whole dedication of the Temple (which God never required in the first place) thing. And there's that neat story where he figures out who the real mother of a disputed baby is. And some proverbs of very general statements Solomon himself didn't seem to adhere to all that often. Oh, and Ecclesiastes - the frustrated lament of an old man who felt he'd wasted much of his life... So is this the extent of what all his great wisdom amounted to? Because the life he actually led with that wisdom seems eerily similar to what Jesus was offered (which he said "no" to) while fasting in the desert. Solomon's story is one of a sold-out, tepid king. His great wisdom did not make him noble, or beautiful, or selfless, or loving automatically.
And yet we tend to celebrate Solomon’s wish without reservation. As though Solomon had given the best possible answer - even though the wish granted to him did not make of him what we would normally expect.
If God is glad Solomon doesn't ask for this or that, it doesn't mean God is saying Solomon has made the best possible request. Consider this: When Solomon first has his dream, he says to God of his father David, “he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart…” And yet Solomon doesn't ask for faithfulness, right relationship to all things, or integrity, even though he sorely needed those things more often than he lacked wisdom. Isn't that interesting? He credits these ways of his father with the reason the kingdom has remained - the kingdom which he is looking to preserve and strengthen himself... And yet he asks for something his father didn't always have. So we begin to see that Solomon wanted the same result his father had achieved, but he also wanted to reach that result in a different (and more efficient) way. He wanted the same end, but through different means. Which leads me to wonder…
So what was it about David?
David was the one who scripture famously describes as "a man after God's own heart." But David wasn’t perfect either. David’s life was often one of tension, distress, confusion, and trial. David made some major mistakes, and was the victim of mistakes made by others... And David was never asked by God in a dream what he would want if he could have one thing, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still see what his answer would have been. We don’t even have to guess.
...HE TELLS US.
In Psalm 27, David says, “The one thing I ask of the Lord — the thing I seek most — is to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life…” There is no temple in Jerusalem when David makes his request, so he's appealing to a greater reality than a mere building. David’s one wish was to be connected to God, and aware God’s presence always and everywhere. His one wish wasn’t wisdom to rule for God, but intimacy with and nearness to God. And he develops this core conviction further, declaring in Psalm 139, “Where can I go from your Spirit?” For David, God’s presence was one he could not be separated from - a revolutionary idea in the ancient world. While David did a lot of unfortunate things as well, his central conviction in seeing God as present and with him as the nature of their relationship was beautiful and influential.
David was honest before God. He didn't have a lot of pretense.
The desire of David reflected in some beautiful things and progressed the discussion for the whole world. Where his son desired wisdom above all else and wrote proverbs, David desired to sense the nearness of God... and he wrote songs. A whole lot of them.
It could be reasoned that David saw himself as an ambassador joined with the move of God, while Solomon saw himself as a diplomat working for God. These two ideas persist to this day. Many still beg God for wisdom and seem to labor as though they were going it alone, while many others simply live with God and focus on declaring God's faithfulness to sustain and beautify all things. Many see God in the compartments, and focus on making big shows and displays of faith and piety for God... But many others see God with them always and everywhere - even down in the muck, when they're at rock bottom and have nothing to give.
Solomon and David's differing views of essential closeness lead to very different results. But one of them seemed to have a deeper connection to God, beyond conquest or power. Even beyond wisdom. David and Solomon sought different means to different ends, generated by a core reality of desire and reflection. So let's ask ourselves...
What do I desire most?
The dandelion lead image for this post is the work of a Romanian photographer named Mihaela.