Two Americans were sitting at a bus stop when a Swiss man pulled up in a car to ask directions. “Entschuldigung, können sie Deutsch sprechen?” he asked. The two Americans just stared at him. “Excusez-moi, parlez vous Francais?” he tried, but the two continued to stare. “Parlare Italiano?” No response. “Hablan Ustedes Español?” In discust at their blank stares, the Swiss man drove away to find help elsewhere. The first American turned to the second and said, “You know, maybe we should learn a second language.” “Why,” said the other. “That guy knew four languages and it didn’t do him no good!”
I am not good at asking directions. My wife Lucy is great at it, however. Any time we are going somewhere, she will ask the person on the phone for directions . . . and then hand the phone to me! Lucy, you see, is wise enough not only to ask for directions. She’s wise enough to know that she is bad at directions. In 2 Chronicles 1:1-13, David had died. Solomon was now the king. Chapter 1 tells us about the first act of this new king. In it, we find that Solomon was wise enough to know that he needed wisdom if he was to rule his people effectively.
The first thing we discover in the text is that wisdom begins with humility. Proverbs 11:2 tells us, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” In Solomon’s first act as king, he gathers Israel’s leaders together and they accompany him to Gibeon, where the tabernacle from Moses’ wilderness wanderings still offered daily sacrifices. Solomon went there with the leaders to “inquire” of God (v. 5). The Hebrew word that this translates is the same word that was part of David’s advise to Solomon prior to David’s death, “If you seek God, he will be found by you” (1 Chron 28:9). So Solomon’s first action is to do as his father commanded.
That night, we are told God appeared to Solomon and told him to ask whatever he wanted and God would give it to him” (2 Chron 1:7). Solomon begins his response by noting that God had “shown great kindness [hesed]” to David (v. 8). Hesed is the covenant love of God that ensures the fulfillment of God’s promises to his people. Solomon says, because of your covenant love–the love that fulfills your promises–“let your promise to my father David be confirmed” (v. 9). The covenant or promise God made with David was twofold. First, David’s son would reign. Solomon is asking God to fulfill that promise. God has already made him king, but he asks God for wisdom to be able to govern well. He has come to the tabernacle to offer sacrifices with the leaders. He wants them to know of his desire to govern well and wants their prayers to be with him in that regard.
The other part of God’s covenant to David was that his son would build a temple. Solomon would build a temple. What is Solomon doing in his first act as king? He has gone to Gibeon to see the tabernacle that was build in the days of Moses. He has gone to inspect it and possibly to gain insights from it. Note that there is an emphasis about the tabernacle-builder, Bezalel (v. 5). God gave the plans to Moses, who was instructed to give those plans to Bezalel to build the tabernacle and all its accoutrements, such as the bronze altar on which sacrifices were made. So we were told earlier that God gave David plans for the temple, which Solomon would now build. Solomon had the designs of his father, but he has come to inquire of God before the tabernacle of Moses to make sure these designs conform with the will of God and not his father David.
When God says, “Ask whatever you want me to give you,” he is not some magical genie coming to grant any wish Solomon can conceive. This invitation is related to the teachings of Jesus. Jesus tells us to ask and it will be given (Matt 7:7-12), but this command has embedded within it a call to humility (if you are evil yet give good gifts to your children) and a call to serve others with whatever it is we request (do to others what you would have them do to you). And when Jesus commands us to ask “in his name,” we are told that what we ask for will be in order to do “the works I have been doing,” not for selfish motives or self-glorification, but to glorify the Father in the Son (John 14: 12-14). Or, as Proverbs 15:33 states, “Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the LORD, and humility comes before honor.”
A second lesson we find in the text is that wisdom is the most precious gift. Solomon is wise enough to know that he desperately needed wisdom! “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it costs all you have, get understanding” (Prov 4:7). This proverb can sound oxymoronic, but Solomon understood this great truth. What if we substituted something else for “wisdom”? How do you learn to play the piano, for instance. “The beginning of playing the piano is this: Play the piano.” That makes perfect sense to us. No one sits down and suddenly plays like Beethoven or Mozart. But if they sit down and play the piano, and play the piano, and play the piano . . . eventually they will truly be able to play the piano (especially better than the many who never take the time to sit down and play!).
God’s response to Solomon (v. 11) shows us that Solomon’s request for wisdom truly was the most precious of gifts. Wisdom is better than wealth (or investments or property or “stuff”–as in my favorite VeggieTales episode about “Stuff-mart”). Wisdom is better than honor (or power or glory or titles). Wisdom is better than victory (or as the text says, “the death of those who hate you” or vengeance). Wisdom is better than long life (or heath or heritage through progeny). God says, because you did not ask for any of these . . . I will also give these to you along with the wisdom you requested. It is like Jesus’ teaching, if we “see first God’s kingdom and his righteousness [that is, his wisdom], then all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt 6:33). In fact, if you read through Proverbs 3:13-18, it indicates that those who find wisdom also find wealth, honor, peace, and long life– for these things are but the overflow of wisdom. And the wisdom Solomon asked for wasn’t wisdom for himself or for his own sake. It was wisdom for others, to lead his people.
This leads to the final lesson in the text, wisdom has a purpose. The tendency when you read 2 Chronicles 1 is to focus on the request for wisdom in order to govern well. That is the most clearly stated reason Solomon gives. But recall that the promise to David was twofold. It was that David’s seed would reign, but it was also that he would build the temple. Note where Solomon goes before God gives him this gift. He has gone to the tabernacle to offer sacrifices in front of it on the bronze altar. Normally, this altar is either called the bronze altar or the altar of YHWH. But in this story, it is specifically called “Bezalel’s bronze altar” (v. 5). While he is there, he no doubt studies the construction of the tabernacles as well as the altar and other vessels. Underlying his prayer for wisdom was the concerns he had about his ability to be the temple-builder. David had given him the plans but could he accomplish the project? The Chronicler changes certain aspects of Solomon’s request to help us see this unspoken desire. In the 1 Kings version of the story, Solomon asks for a “discerning heart.” in 2 Chronicles, however, Solomon asks for “wisdom and knowledge.” The most likely reason for the change of wording is Exodus 35:30-35. The passage is Moses’ proclamation that YHWH had chosen Bezalel and filled him with the Spirit, “with wisdom . . . with knowledge” to accomplish the work of the tabernacle. So Solomon (or the Chronicler) is referencing this statement about Bezalel to emphasize that Solomon also would now have the wisdom to accomplish his calling as temple-builder. It is the unspoken reason for his request for wisdom. This is why the altar is called the altar of Bezalel. It is why in 2 Chronicles, Solomon almost immediately afterwards begins the building of the temple (2:1) where the writer of Kings first emphasizes several stories of the great wisdom of Solomon. In Chronicles, virtually all the stories of Solomon are of his work in building and dedicating the temple. The wisdom stories from Kings are either absent or relegate to the end of the Chronicler’s history.
Solomon’s request, then, is twofold. Help me rule over these people. Help me fulfill my charge to build the temple. The shift away from an emphasis on Solomon’s wisdom as his crowning glory (as the writer of Kings presents it) to immediately beginning the temple project (as in Chronicles) is the Chronicler’s way to say wisdom is not for yourself. Wisdom, at least the wisdom truly from God and for God, is for others. It has a purpose and that purpose is to serve the community. This is how James sees it in the New Testament. James tells us that Godly wisdom is humble, it is for others and not selfish, and it produces good fruit all around the wise one (3:13-18).
Yet another hint that the Chronicler is thinking of wisdom in terms of temple-building is the idiom he uses for the people of Israel. When Solomon asks for wisdom to rule, it is to rule “a people who are as numerous as the dust of the earth” (v. 9). The only time that phrase is used is in Genesis 28:14. It is made by God when he is speaking to Jacob (the man who later would be known as Israel). The phrase is in the middle of God’s promise to make the Abrahamic covenant pass through Jacob and his offspring, which included the promise to bless all nations through Abraham’s seed. The dust of the earth phrase is stated to Jacob at Bethel, the “house of God.” (The term “house” is the primary way the temple is referenced in the Davidic covenant.)
Ultimately, Solomon was simply the foreshadowing of the true seed of David, Jesus. Jesus’ calling was to be the great temple-builder. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus built the temple, the people of God who become the temple wherever they meet and go. Through the forgiveness of the cross and its expansion to all peoples of every tribe and tongue, Jesus blessed all the nations. We who follow Christ are called to get wisdom through humility in order to serve others. We are to build the temple through serving one another, encouraging and discipline one another in our faith, and comforting those who are in sorrow and helping those who are in need. We bless the nations–those outside our community–through our witness and aid, through our encouragement and comfort, and by addressing the injustices of society around us and improving the lives of all people in our communities.
Peter spoke of the Christian community in the language of the covenant with David, the covenant with Abraham, and the covenant with Israel through Moses. He says we are being built into a temple (Davidic promise). He says we are to bless all nations by living good lives among the non-believers (Abrahamic promise). He describes us as a kingdom of priests and a chosen people (Mosaic promise). We are chosen to serve (1 Pet 2:4-12).
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