Saturday of Week 4 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 1 Kings 3:4-13

Today we have our first reading on King Solomon. It tells of the source of Solomon’s proverbial wisdom. In the second part of the chapter, which we will not be reading, is the story of that wisdom in action when Solomon solved a dispute between two women over which of them was the real mother of two children, one living, one dead.

We are told today that Solomon goes to Gibeon to sacrifice. Gibeon lay to the northwest of Jerusalem and was in the territory of Benjamin. At the time of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites, the Gibeonites tricked Joshua and Israel into a peace treaty. The city was subsequently given to the tribe of Benjamin and set apart for the Levites. David avenged Saul’s violation of the Gibeonite treaty by the execution of seven of Saul’s descendants (see 2 Sam 21:1-9 and Monday’s reading of this week).

The reason for Gibeon’s importance was the presence there of the tabernacle and an ancient bronze altar. These must have been salvaged after the destruction of Shiloh by the Philistines. There Solomon made a huge offering of 1,000 holocausts. Later, the tabernacle will be moved to the new temple that Solomon will build in Jerusalem.

While still in Gibeon, the Lord tells Solomon in a dream to ask for anything he wants. Before the time of the prophets, dreams were one of the main channels by which God communicated with people. But in the New Testament, we also see Joseph being spoken to by God three times in a dream (Matt 1:20; 2:12 and 2:22), and there is the vision of Peter in Acts (10:10-16). It is not clear what the distinction would be between a dream and a vision.

In response to God’s command, Solomon praises the Lord for all that had been done through his father David. And these favours continue by God seating a son of David on his throne. But Solomon is very young and knows little about administration. The birth of Solomon is generally placed in approximately the middle of David’s 40-year reign, meaning that Solomon was about 20 years old at the beginning of his own reign, and hence lacked experience in assuming the responsibilities of his office.

Moreover, he is king of a very large number of people, “so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted”. Something of an exaggeration, of course, but from the small beginnings of a single family living in Egypt, the Israelites had increased to an extent approaching that anticipated in the promises given to Abraham and Jacob.

Solomon, therefore, asks the Lord to give him “an understanding mind” so that he can rule with equity and distinguish right from wrong. He prays for wisdom in practical affairs. It is a generous request, made not for himself, but for the benefit of the people over whom he rules.

The Lord is deeply pleased that Solomon has not asked for what Near Eastern rulers traditionally looked for: long life, great wealth, the destruction of enemies. He had asked for wisdom, for deep insight into what is true and good. And so the Lord gives him what he asks:

…I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you, and no one like you shall arise after you.

And, because of his integrity and concern for the good of his people, Solomon will also get those things which he did not ask for – riches and glory, the like of which had never been seen until that time.

And indeed, Solomon would become famous both for his wisdom and also for his great wealth.

God today puts to me the same question he put to Solomon:

Ask what I should give you.

What will I ask for? What do I really want? What do I really need? Let me not be too hasty in answering the question. Remember the promise of Jesus:

Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. (Luke 12:31)

The answer I give to this question can be very revealing of my attitudes, my values, my priorities and where I stand in my relationships with God, others and self.

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