We have been covering the formation of the
monarchy in ancient Israel, not for the sake of historical knowledge,
but to see what lessons there are for us to learn, what might be
relevant still for us today. But still, a little more historical
awareness of Biblical events, even of history some 3,000 years old,
couldn't hurt. I think today we have in better image of the surface of
Mars than we do of some of our Biblical history:). But, thanks to the
wonders of modern technology and the recent invention of the DeLorean
Time Machine (Back to the Future :), I'm able to provide some glimpses
into those colorful figures from long ago.
I'm going to start us with 3,300 years ago -- that's when Moses came on
the scene to set his people free out of Egypt. And you can see why (you
can also see why they wouldn't let them into the promised land :). After
the period of Moses, when the people come into the promised land, that
is what we call the period of the Judges. And of course the most
colorful of those that is remembered is Samson, and we know about him
because he and Delilah made a movie together, we have those artifacts
from that movie (was a very cutting tale, I hear :). At the end of the
period of the Judges, the last judge that we talked about at the
beginning of this series is Samuel, who anoints Saul (they were shorter
people back in those days :).
Saul, of course, is the first King of Israel, and shortly after Saul
becomes King, David comes onto the scene and takes on Goliath (I want
you to know that these are historically accurate pictures :). We just
recently learned that David was a sumo wrestler :).
At any rate, thereafter David becomes King. And by the way, that's just
right about of 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus. So that gives you
an easy way to relate it on the scale of history. So, about 1,000 years
before the birth of Jesus, David becomes King, and of course he meets
Bathsheba (striking resemblance to Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward :),
and their second child, born to them (we talked about the first
previously), is of course Solomon, who takes the throne around the year
970 BCE (before our common era). Don't you think that the King and I
have a similar look? :) Who knew that the King of Siam was also
the King of ancient Israel?! Probably why he lost so much hair.
Solomon is largely known for three things: first of all, his wealth.
Even the Queen of Sheba (pictured here on his right) comes to pay him
homage, bearing gifts. Part of that wealth, by the way, is 700 wives and
300 concubines (as if 700 wives was not enough). He is also the builder
of the Temple in Jerusalem, a temple that remains standing for nearly
400 years. Not only that temple, but also built a number of cities to
solidify the gains made under David in uniting the 12 tribes of Israel.
And indeed, it's under Solomon that ancient Israel achieves its greatest
strength and power, which would remain unmatched until 1967, with the
the victory of modern-day Israel in the Six-Day war. And not since the
days of Solomon has a government in Jerusalem controlled as much
territory as they do today. And it's not a lot of territory, frankly, as
anyone who has been there would know. Of course, that's why the
government of Jerusalem does not want to give up any of that territory,
in spite of the of face that Palestinians have been there all along as
The third thing for which Solomon is known is what? His wisdom, the
reason for his great success. Now, once Solomon became King (after the
death of David) he eliminated any competing claims to the throne,
stories that are told in the first two chapters of 1 Kings. And then we
read there that he received a visitation from God (in a dream) in which
he requests not wealth, not power, but wisdom.
And God is pleased with his request, and so
grants it. Kind of makes God sound like a genie-in-a-bottle, you know,
but that's the story. And it's to confirm that gift that immediately
afterwards we have the story which is our text for this morning.
Fortunately, Rafael was there to paint the picture for us. So, here it
is from 1 Kings 3:16-28:
Later, two women who were
prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. 17One woman said,
‘Please, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house; and I
gave birth while she was in the house. 18Then on the third day after
I gave birth, this woman also gave birth. We were together; there
was no one else with us in the house, only the two of us were in the
house. 19Then this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on
him. 20She got up in the middle of the night and took my son from
beside me while your servant slept. She laid him at her breast, and
laid her dead son at my breast. 21When I rose in the morning to
nurse my son, I saw that he was dead; but when I looked at him
closely in the morning, clearly it was not the son I had
borne.’22But the other woman said, ‘No, the living son is mine, and
the dead son is yours.’ The first said, ‘No, the dead son is yours,
and the living son is mine.’ So they argued before the king.
23 Then the king said, ‘One
says, “This is my son that is alive, and your son is dead”; while
the other says, “Not so! Your son is dead, and my son is the living
one.” ’ 24So the king said, ‘Bring me a sword’, and they brought a
sword before the king. 25The king said, ‘Divide the living boy in
two; then give half to one, and half to the other.’ 26But the woman
whose son was alive said to the king—because compassion for her son
burned within her—‘Please, my lord, give her the living boy;
certainly do not kill him!’ The other said, ‘It shall be neither
mine nor yours; divide it.’ 27Then the king responded: ‘Give the
first woman the living boy; do not kill him. She is his
mother.’ 28All Israel heard of the judgment that the king had
rendered; and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived
that the wisdom of God was in him, to execute justice.
Now, some may ask how accurate are these great
stories? You know, they sound a lot like folklore. But hey, we have the
pictures, right? So we know they're accurate :). I mean, everyone knows
that Sir Lancelot and Guinevere is a legend, right? But David and
Bathsheba? That's history. How can anyone confuse the two? I don't know
Speaking of Camelot, I had to laugh at the editorial this last week in
the Register Guard, complaining that President Obama doesn't schmooze
enough. Like we want him to schmooze more, like some of our other past
presidents known for schmoozing :) You know, he should leave the
schmoozing to the professionals -- like preachers! So, it is the nature
of societies to tell stories about their leaders, some of them good,
some of them bad, and if those leaders don't do anything worthy of
gossip, well then, we'll make something up.
Now, I grew up (as I suspect many of you did) hearing stories about
George Washington chopping down the cherry tree. Confronted by his
father, "I cannot tell a lie, I chopped down the cherry tree". Only to
discover, later in life, it's a legend! It probably never happened. So
the story about the importance of telling the truth is a lie? Huh. How
does that work?
And we all know what George Washington looked like crossing the Delaware
-- strong, brave, leading his troops. Yeah, right! I mean, look at this
-- the ice on the river is cold! And the people on the other side, they
have guns, and bullets. Do you think he's going to be standing up there
like that? Truth be known, I think he's the guy in the back of the boat
where it's safe and warm :).
So maybe our images of legendary events become a little embellished in
time. And indeed, many of the Biblical stories we have been exploring
these last few weeks sound a lot like those mythical tales. And so it's
hard to know when we are reading history and when it is folklore. But
here's the important thing: when we are reading scripture, whether it is
history told as myth, or it is myth being told as history, that does not
change the point of the story and what it means. And hence the whole
reason that it is told in Scripture. The issue is not "Did it really
happen this way or not?". The issue is not really about whether a woman
actually would do what that other woman did -- saying "Go ahead, divide
the boy in two", I mean, what woman would ever suggest anything like
And why doesn't the King bring in a good lawyer, Perry Mason, who can
quiz them, catch one of them in a lie? My favorite story about attorneys
is the one about the murder trial, the Coroner is being cross-examined
by the defense attorney, who asked "Did you take the pulse of the
deceased?" No, I did not. "Did you listen for his heart-beat?" No, I did
not. "Did you check to see if he was breathing?". No, I did not. "In
other words, it is your testimony that you did nothing to determine
whether or not the alleged deceased actually was dead at that moment?".
"Well, the brain of the deceased was sitting on my desk. For all I know,
the alleged deceased could be out practicing law" :)
So, granted, the wisdom of Solomon exceeds that of attorneys or Kings or
Judges or Presidents, even preachers, the point is, the legendary wisdom
of Solomon is still the kind of wisdom to which we should aspire.
Wisdom, we should note, that is not human wisdom but that which comes
Now, the first shocker, then, about this divine wisdom that is the model
for us, comes at the very beginning of the story. Who are these mothers?
Warm picture of motherhood, right? They're prostitutes! Did you remember
that about the story? These are prostitutes. Not exactly our model for
And not only that, but nowhere in story does Solomon pronounce any
judgment upon them -- you know, "Go, and sin now more", or anything. He
accepts them, he receives them with respect by hearing their case. Which
is rather remarkable given that in that time and culture, the testimony
of women was not accepted in court. Which is why the whole reason that
there were no other witnesses in the house, right? Who would those
witnesses be? Male customers, right? Their witness would be accepted,
but that of the women would not. And yet he hears them out.
So from the beginning of this story, it goes against gender biases and
cultural norms. God's wisdom puts no stake in human prejudice.
So recall that story that Beverly read for us, with the Contemporary
English translation. What I like about that is that it makes it really
clear. Usually, in most translations, it's the woman caught in adultery.
How do you catch a woman in adultery? What little bit of the
birds-and-bees that I learned, it takes two, both birds and bees. That
translation made it really clear, they caught her lying with a man.
Where is the man? So again, the gender bias becomes very relevant.
Much like Solomon, Jesus shows divine wisdom when presented with this
dilemma of choosing between the law that requires death and the life of
the woman. Rather than judge her, he turns the tables against the
accusers, 'Whoever is without sin, cast the first stone'.
Now, would that we could so easily cut through all the babble and
confusion and delusion and deception with such clear, clever, wit and
wisdom. And we all try, right? I mean, prayed to God, give me just half
the wisdom of Solomon. Now you know why they call me a half-wit :)
We know such wisdom comes from God, but we do not know how to obtain it.
General Omar Bradley, who was one of our leaders in World War II (and
famous for its witticisms) said: "The world has achieved brilliance
without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear
giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about
peace. More about killing than we know about living". And he should
Mark Twain, another one known for his witty comments, said: "Better to
remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove
all doubt". So, being the half-wit that I am, I will foolishly share two
clues that I get from this story here about splitting the baby for
finding the wisdom of God.
First, to discover the wisdom of God, you don't need to know about God,
you need to know God. Earlier in chapter 3 of 1 Kings, we are told that
Solomon loved the Lord. Knowing God begins with loving God, with all
your heart, soul, and mind.
Judy and I celebrated our 32nd wedding
anniversary together, and I posted this picture taken on our anniversary
after we rode out to Our Daily Bread in Veneta for our anniversary
dinner. Posted it on Facebook, got 58 "likes" in response to that --
what a cute couple :) But I said, the couple that rides together, stays
together. Felt really good -- 32 years. Then I realized, it's only 18
more until 50! It goes really quick. So I'm getting in all the miles I
can as fast as I can.
So, after 32 years, you know, I feel like I can offer a little bit of
foolish wisdom on what I've learned from the art of marriage. For me,
it's no different than that first commandment: love the Lord your spouse
with all your heart, soul, and mind, right? And the difference, I have
come to believe in so many cases (not all, but in many) between
successful marriages and those that end in failure is simply that -- a
lack of mutual commitment, in any relationship. If it's not mutual,
without that mutual commitment of loving with all your heart, soul, and
mind, you can't make it up -- you know, if the other doesn't, then
you'll love them twice as much. It doesn't work that way -- it's got to
be mutual to be successful. So taking the time and effort to renew those
vows, to renew that commitment, is so vital in every relationship.
Same is true with God. The Biblical story is about God's commitment to
us. The question is: what are we doing to renew our commitment to God?
That's why coming together for worship, or volunteering in our Sunday
kitchen, or participating in a prayer pod, practicing spiritual
disciplines, and good stewardship of all our resources -- all those
things we do as part of being church, being a disciple of Jesus, are so
important. Because learning to trust the way of Jesus is getting to know
When we do those things, we gain glimpses of
God's divine wisdom for our lives, an insight into how God wants us to
Second, the second thing that I get from the story is seeing, if you
take note at the very end of the story, that the wisdom Solomon results
in justice for the mother. If there's no justice, there is no wisdom.
If you are reading Joan Chittister's book "Monasteries of the Heart",
then perhaps you have signed up fore her E-mail notification of a prayer
list. The note she sent out this week quotes Sir John Templeton, who
said: "If we had been holier people, we would have been angrier
oftener". Angrier more often :) Now, we don't usually associate anger
with holiness. So Sister Joan goes on to explain what she gets out of
that quote. She says: "Never endure what is not in itself essentially
good or designed to make everybody's world a better place, or in the end
really good for your own development. To violate any of those things is
to violate the will of God for creation. God, scripture shows, expects
us to take a stand".
So the point is not to get angry just for the sake of being angry, but
to channel that into doing something good, to take a stand for what is
right, to take a stand for justice is to show wisdom. And note in this
story, the relationship of compassion to justice. When the life of the
child is threatened by the King, then the real mother, it says,
"compassion burned within her". Now, if you know a little bit of Hebrew,
you know that the word "compassion" comes from the word "womb". "The
womb of the mother cries out". Her act of compassion begets the Kings
act of justice.
John Dominic Crossan, as I've noted before, says "Love (which is another
word for compassion) without justice is banality. Justice without love
is brutality". So, love your neighbor, Jesus said, it's the second half
of that great commandment.
Now, some enterprising group has created this T-shirt, to suggest what
that means. To love thy homeless neighbor, thy Muslim neighbor, thy
black neighbor, thy gay neighbor, thy white neighbor, thy Jewish
neighbor, and so on. And of course today we would add to that thy Sikh
To love your neighbor means we will not stand by and watch as people of
other faiths are gunned down.
To love they neighbor means that we will not allow mosques and
Synagogues and Temples to be burned down.
To love thy neighbor means that we will not remain silent when the civil
rights of people of color or people of disabilities or people of
different sexual orientations are violated.
For the wisdom of God shows no prejudice. The wisdom of God knows no
enemies. The wisdom of God is compassion and justice for all.
May it so be.