By J.R. Miller
1 Kings 3
Solomon began well. He evidently desired to be a godly king, to perform faithfully the duties of his position, and to lift up his kingdom to nobleness and strength. He was deeply impressed with the sense of his responsibility as David's successor, sent to carry on the work which his father had begun. He was also conscious of the inadequacy of his own wisdom for ruling, and his need of divine help. There is no doubt that this vision at Gibeon came in answer to the longings of Solomon's heart. He had gone to Gibeon to hold a great convocation of the heads of the people. The occasion was an urgent one. He offered on the brazen altar a thousand burnt offerings. The night following he had this dream, that the Lord appeared to him and asked him what He should give to him. "Ask what I shall give you."
God comes to every one in youth, if not in such a dream as Solomon's, at least in some other way quite as real. The question the Lord asked Solomon, is one that every young person hears. Someone may say, "If God came to me and gave me my choice out of all the things people desire, I would try to make a wise choice, too." But God really does give to every one in youth the same privilege--the choosing of things to live for. Christ says, "Ask, and you shall receive." But we do not avail ourselves of the munificence of His offers of good things to us. The days are like messengers sent to us from God, and we do not know what treasures they carry in their hands.
"But why must I make a choice?" Someone asks. "God is far wiser than I am. He knows what are the best things in all the world for me. Why does He not choose for me, giving me that which is best? Why must I, in my ignorance and inexperience, choose for myself?" One of the conditions of living--is that we must make our own choices. Even a mother cannot choose for her child. She may advise, persuade, and urge--but she cannot decide. Even God does not choose for the feeblest of His children. To every one He comes, saying, "Ask what I shall give you." And what we choose to take, He will let us have.
Solomon's heart was full of gratitude. He thought of God as the Giver of all his blessings. He was thinking of what he owed to his father. Those of us who have or have had godly parents, never can repay our debt to them. That is one reason why we ought to choose good things. Think of all a godly parent hopes, dreams, plans, longs for, asks for in prayer--for a child. Then think of the bitter pain and disappointment when the child grows up and makes a bad choice. Solomon felt under obligation to live and rule worthily because of the favor which God had shown to his father.
We talk about the responsibility of parents for their children--we should think sometimes also of the responsibility of children for their parents. A child may make a father's life a failure. Before David died, he gave Solomon this counsel: "I am going the way of all the earth: be strong therefore, and show yourself a man; . . . that Jehovah may establish His Word which He spoke concerning me." That is, the fulfillment of God's promises to David for the success of his kingdom, would depend upon Solomon's faithfulness. What David had done was but the beginning; it was Solomon's mission to take up and continue David's work until it was complete. Many a son wrecks all his father's hopes, and tears down all that through years of toil and sacrifice and sore cost his father has built up. An honored parentage is a good heritage--but it puts one under a tremendous burden of responsibility, for its blessings are a sacred trust, and must be kept unsullied and then accounted for at last.
It is a grave and serious moment in a young man's life--when his father dies and the care of the family and of the business passes into his hands. It tests his character. If he is true-hearted, it makes a man of him. If he is weak and without strong principle, he breaks under the burden. Solomon realized that now the responsibility was his, and he resolved to meet it like a man. Suddenly there had been set upon his brow, the crown of a great kingdom. From a careless, lighthearted youth--he had suddenly become a man, with a man's burden on his shoulders. There comes to many young men such a moment some time in their life. A new duty is suddenly put into their hands. They are called to face a new responsibility. What should we do when we find ourselves before new responsibilities?
There is a great deal of beauty in the humility of Solomon as we see him that night before God. "I am but a little child; I know not how to go out or come in. And Your servant is in the midst of Your people which You have chosen, a great people." We need not take these words literally. The tradition that Solomon was only twelve years old when he began to reign, probably came from a misunderstanding of Solomon's meaning here. He was almost certainly older--eighteen or twenty. Still he was but a little child.
That was a holy moment in Solomon's life. He saw his duty in all its largeness, and he saw himself in all his littleness. He was only a child in knowledge, experience, and wisdom. He knew nothing about the duties of a king, and he was aware that he knew nothing. We call Solomon the wisest man; he never showed greater wisdom than that night at Gibeon, when he felt the pressure of the crown upon his brow and realized his own inability. Not always do young people experience such self-distrust as they take up new responsibilities. Sometimes they have too much self-confidence, and realize no need of help. Such a beginning is always fraught with danger.
Then Solomon made his prayer to God. "Give Your servant therefore an understanding heart to judge Your people." There is a fine ring in these words. Solomon wanted to be a good king, and to rule wisely and justly. He did not want to dishonor God, to do God's work negligently or mistakenly, to be a failure as a king. So he looked up into God's face and said: "You have made me king. The work is great, and I am but a little child in preparation for it. Give me wisdom to be a good king." That was Solomon's choice. That should be the choice of every young person starting out in life. We should want always to do our work well, whatever it is.
Some people fail to understand that all of life is sacred. They think there is great responsibility in being a preacher or a Sunday-school teacher. Men must answer to God for these things. But they do not think of the responsibility of being a carpenter, a shoemaker, or a plumber.
The old shoemaker and told the preacher that his shoemaking was just as religious a business as his pastor's preaching. If he should mend the shoes poorly, and a boy should catch cold and get pneumonia, and die--he would be responsible. "I cannot afford, as a child of God, with the hope of heaven in my heart," he said, "to put poor work into that job, for much depends upon it. I would not like to meet that boy's parents, and have them tell me he had died, because I was not a faithful shoemaker."
The old man was right. All work is sacred, and we need God's help in the commonest experiences.
The answer showed divine approval: "Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked for yourself long life, neither have asked for riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies--but have asked for yourself understanding." God was pleased with the choice Solomon had made.
He had not chosen long life. Long life is not the most desirable gift from God. There are people who have lived seventy years--and would better not have lived at all. The truest, completest, most perfect life ever lived on this earth was only thirty-three years in length. Let no one choose to live long--but rather to live godly.
Riches was another thing Solomon had not chosen. Some people seem to think that money is the best of all possessions. No doubt, if the choice were offered, many men would choose riches before anything else. But it would be a sad, impoverishing, fatal choice!
There is a Russian story of one who entered a diamond mine in search of gems. He filled his pockets with the precious stones and then, as he went on, he would throw away those he had already chosen, to make room for the larger ones he had now found. At length he became very thirsty--but there was no water. He heard what seemed the flow of waters--but when he came to them they were only rivers of diamonds. At what seemed the sound of a waterfall, he hastened forward--but only to find a cascade of precious stones. With all this marvelous wealth round him, he was dying of thirst. All the riches within his reach--would not buy him a drop of water! This is a true parable of the seeking of wealth. It is not life's best choice. It will not give men true blessing.
Another thing Solomon had not asked for was the life of his enemies. This would have been a most selfish choice, indeed. The law of Christ is love, and hate never can be the best thing.
The Lord was pleased with Solomon's choice, and gave him his request--a wise and an understanding heart, that he might be a good king and rule well. Then He gave him also more--riches and honor. Riches are a blessing--only when one has the wisdom to use them rightly. Honor is a blessing--only when one knows how to use it for Christ. When one's heart is right, God loves to give him this world's good things--to add to his power for doing good. As we read the words of God to Solomon, we think of the words of one still wiser, "Seek first His kingdom, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." Money and honor are not the first things--the first things must always be God and godliness. But when we make God and His kingdom our first choice--God often gives us besides, other good gifts to add to our power of usefulness and service.