“I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.” - 1 Kings 3:13-14
Wise as Solomon is a misnomer if ever there was one. Humble as Solomon would be more in line. Mostly because, when it comes to wisdom, Solomon himself claims to be in short supply of the stuff (v. 7, 9). Because wise means something like, “not easily fooled, not even by the self.” It is extremely elusive, and the closest Solomon ever comes to it is realizing he doesn’t have anything like it.
Earlier in 1 Kings, David, the dying king, counsels Solomon the successor to not go easy on a traitor to the crown, “for you are a wise man. You will know what you ought to do to him” (2:9). David suggests the opposite of wisdom here, but he seems to define it spot on - knowing what to do when no one knows what to do. In this way, wise and wisdom seem less to be something you have as something you borrow. Wise and wisdom seem to be a spirit willing to listen and overhear the voice of God speaking from pure character into moments where the stakes are the very highest.
There is no shortage of academic arguing over Solomon’s age at this point in the narrative, mostly deriving from Solomon’s self-characterization in verse 7, “I am but a little child.” Tradition interprets Solomon’s claim by suggesting he is a 12-year-old boy at this time. Remember, though, in the previous chapter David has referred to him as a wise man. This has led other interpreters to estimate Solomon’s age at somewhere around twenty. The number of candles on Solomon’s birthday cake doesn’t matter any more than the breath he would need to puff them out. What Solomon is crying out in prayer over is not his age, but his aptitude. Solomon seems acutely aware that the worst imaginable trait for a king like him in a moment like this is swagger. Conversely, he also seems to realize that the best trait in the moment is smallness. When he prays, “I am but a little child,” he is saying something like, “I don’t measure up to the task, the responsibility, the office. I can’t carry this weight. I am undersized in every way.”
The reason children seem so well suited to the Gospel is, children know how to size themselves up honestly. When they are outmatched and they run up against their limits, children know how to assume the posture of worship - outstretched arms to be lifted up and empty, clutching hands eager to be filled. Children are willing to assess their need quickly and cry out for help in the next reflex. It’s this same child’s posture that rejoices at the unspeakable beauty of the cross, that laughs and dances on the threshold of the broken tomb, that gets a catch in the throat when served the bread and the wine, or when standing at the font and hearing the water of renewal poured over another little one. It is also not too much to say that to be as a little child is another way to describe what wise means.
In his child’s posture, Solomon somehow realized that God, on the contrary, is oversized to our every crisis. When Solomon cries out, “I can’t do this! I can’t compare to my father, I can’t meet the standards of righteous and faithful, I am not a great man to lead your great people, I can’t discern good from evil, when I leave the house in the morning I don’t feel like a conqueror, and when I punch out at the end of the day I feel like I’ve conquered even less!”, he is praying the Gospel. It is into desperate ears like these, into a yielded heart like this that God whispers, and it comes out in our world as wisdom. It comes out as justice and mercy and truth in a tangled argument between two prostitutes haggling over who had accidentally rolled over and smothered her baby in the brothel the night before (3:16-27). It comes out in the celebration of the people in the street that God would watch over them all through the admitted smallness of the king (3:28), and it even comes out renamed by the end of the chapter - what we commonly call the wisdom of Solomon is properly credited as the wisdom of God (3:28).
The most world-shaking prayer any of us could utter, even in the hurry and clamor of an ordinary day, is “I am a little child,” with outstretched arms and clutching hands, of course. It is the true prayer of faith, the one that God is pleased to answer with Gospel surprise. Don’t be shocked to hear or feel his whisper in the desperate moments if you add this prayer to your regular line up of cries and pleas. AND, if God does something for you like he did for Solomon, if he loans not only his wisdom, but also throws honor and abundance on top of it - well, the trick of it is, wisdom will help you to see right through those, too.
Faith and Practice:
1) Is your own self-reliance and swagger standing in the way of enjoying more of the Gospel?
2) Make it a priority to pray in desperate moments, “I am a child.” Keep track of how many times you pray this way, and keep track of how Jesus answers.
We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Let's face it, the Christian life is hard. Relationships take work. Christians forget. Sometimes it is tempting to go back to the days when God was not the center of our lives - to backslide. We are all faced with tremendous pressures to drift away from intimacy with Jesus and the community of the Church. However, the Lord invites us to pay attention, to move forward, to draw near, and to live lives of worship. Draw Near: Hebrews on Christian Worship is a small group Bible study on the Book of Hebrews intended to lead participants into a deeper intimacy with the Living God in the context of New Testament worship. Draw nearer to God in authentic worship today!
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