So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?
We all know the story of God asking Solomon in a dream, ask for whatever you want me to give you [1 Kings 3:5], and young King Solomon asked not for wealth and riches, but for a discerning heart to administer justice [1 Kings 3:11] – which we often summarize as him asking for wisdom in stories today. There is a distinct difference between wisdom and the discernment to administer justice, although they are largely of the same vein – it should be fair to conclude that the discernment to administer justice is a subset of wisdom. A story was told immediately in the Bible to illustrate how King Solomon possessed unique wisdom and was able to be discerning in his administration of justice – the story of the two prostitutes arguing over a dead son and a living son. Surely there have been many other cases that the King had administered, but this one ruling that was recorded in the Bible already gives us sufficient evidence of God’s promise – he did indeed give Solomon what he asked for. In this study, we will examine Solomon’s request and consider why exactly did he ask for wisdom, and should we ask for wisdom too?
So – When God asked him for whatever he wanted God to give him, Solomon didn’t answer immediately – a discerning heart to govern. Instead, the three verses prior to his request were spent explaining why he asked for what he asked. There were 3 main reasons why he asked for discernment:
1. His father David was an outstanding King, and naturally, filling his boots wouldn’t be easy [verses 6-7]
2. He was young and hence inexperienced – I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties [verse 7]. There are many conflicting arguments regarding how ‘young’ exactly was Solomon when he became King, with some going as far back as to say that he was 12, and others saying that he was 30. We probably don’t know for sure.
3. For who is able to govern this great people of yours? [verse 9] – Without help from God, without special blessing from God, no normal person would be able to administer God’s chosen people, who are too numerous to count or number.
a discerning heart – a discerning heart could apply to many things in life, but Solomon was very specific in his request. First, a discerning heart in order to govern the people; second, a discerning heart in order to distinguish between right and wrong. Solomon understood his role as King of the Israelites was a daunting one, and he understood that in order to be able to govern well, in order to be able to distinguish between right and wrong, it all began with the heart. He did not ask for just a general discerning heart – for surely, to some extent, he already had one – but he asked specifically for one in political matters, which he was new to, which he was at that point still in his father’s shadow of; and the ability to distinguish between right and wrong – not that he can’t tell right from wrong at this point, for that would be bad, but in controversial matters, in cases when right and wrong seemed blurred together, and one would require divine intervention to discern.
For who is able to govern this great people of yours – this is not merely an extolling of God’s people, but more like an extolling of God himself – this people are only great, because they belong to God. And because they belong to God, they are great, and require somebody with greater than normal discernment to rule over them. Not one mortal, by his own strength, would be able to rule over this people righteously. And because this people belongs to God, and hence they are great, they deserve to be governed by a man who has a discerning heart, and can distinguish right from wrong. They don’t deserve a poor ruler. God’s people don’t deserve injustice.
If God asks you tonight, ask for whatever you want me to give you, what would your response be? Good health? Intelligence? Foresight? A new house? My take on Solomon’s story may be slightly different to what the Sunday School teachers might teach. The textbook answer to the question, ask for whatever you want me to give you is not Wisdom. Solomon asking for wisdom was appropriate, because his task in life was to be King and rule over the Israelites. To do well in the task that was given to him, he requires great wisdom. Of course, wisdom is something that everyone of us can do with more of. But instead of blindly asking for wisdom, or for other things that we may desire, let us learn to be like Solomon – to look at our tasks and purpose in life, and to look at what we really require to prosper in our tasks. It may be compassion. It may be discipline. It may be strength. It may even be wisdom.