The issue of good and bad has existed from the time of creation. There was chaos, a void, and God created and pronounced all of creation “good” and “very good.” Many of the first things we teach our children relate to the comparison of good versus evil. We teach them what is safe and what is dangerous, what they may and may not do, and we are proud when we can say that our kids know right from wrong! Of course, in the next day we may be wondering how, knowing the right thing to do, they have managed to do something wrong and ended up in trouble!
Imagine with me for a second. Think about your life at this moment; your joys and struggles, and then imagine that God came to you and said that he would give you the one thing you wanted most for yourself. What would you request? How would God’s granting of this request affect your life? Neither of these questions is easy. Now if it were a genie, rather than God, we would know that we had two wishes left if that first one didn’t pan out. But even with three wishes every show and story we have ever seen about people and genies ends up being about the unexpected and unfortunate consequences of the wrong wishes. In an episode of the Simpsons, even Lisa’s wish for world peace ends up turning out wrong.
Solomon wasn’t dealing with a genie and didn’t have three wishes. He was a young man in his twenties who had been recently affirmed as king of a huge nation of people, too numerous to be counted. At the point of our reading, Solomon was still grieving the loss of his father and taking a deep breath after all the violence and intrigue that had gone into his confirmation as king. His father had been the man of action who, even in his youth, took down a giant single handed and then went on to rule his people successfully and follow God’s statutes for forty years. David had not been perfect, but he had been very good. Solomon had a lot to live up to and was not off to a very good start. Despite his belief in the God of his ancestors, he was still following pagan practice of making sacrifices in high places.
Following the sacrifice at Gibeon, God appeared to Solomon in a dream and offered him one gift, whatever he requested. Solomon told God that he was just a child, which may be read as a show of his humbleness, but certainly shows his continuing need for instruction on the true nature of good and evil.
Talk about being put on the spot! We have no indication of time passing while Solomon considers his options. One would think that foremost on his mind at the time was the enormity of the task ahead of him, ruling Israel and living up to his father’s example. Even in his dream Solomon made a good choice of gift. He didn’t ask to conquer other lands, he didn’t ask to be richer than anyone else, he didn’t ask to live forever, he asked for an understanding mind so that he could discern good from evil when dealing with his people. He asked for the “ability to discern inner qualities and relationships : insight” which is one of the dictionaries definitions of wisdom. He didn’t just want to know the facts, he wanted to know what to do with them. Of course it may be said that in the very choice of his gift he showed great wisdom.
In Psalm 111 it says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practise it have a good understanding.” Here we see also the need to practise wisdom, or as my father often quotes from John 13, “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” The gift Solomon chose was with the love and fear of God in mind, and the request pleased God so much, we are told, that he promises riches as well. God makes one more promise, if Solomon followed God’s statutes, as seen in the Ten Commandments and the Torah, he would have a long life.
Our reading today from Ephesians makes two large comparisons in order to indicate the path of the wise; one between good and evil (which Solomon wanted help figuring out) and the other between drunkenness and being filled with the spirit. There are three specific down to earth guidelines;
First we are told to make the most of our time. We are meant to be wise and discern God’s purposes for us and then to work towards them, to dare to be Godly in an evil or pagan world.
Secondly we are warned to stay sober because drunkenness (excess in anything), in the view of the Old Testament, opens the gate for immorality. Excess leads to a loss of self-control. This is not the only time in the Bible that the comparison is made between drunkenness and being spirit filled. Remember at Pentecost when the apostles are filled with the spirit and begin to speak in tongues? Many believed, but some thought they were drunk.
The final guideline is that, filled by the Spirit, we should sing songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. We are to sing with the people in our church and other believers as we do with our hymns every Sunday, but not just that as the reading in Ephesians refers to spiritual songs as well. In this we are called to share from our hearts the personal experience of our journey of faith.
So, as we are coming close to the beginning of another school year and thinking about our schedules we are called to spend some time in the presence of God through his Spirit and listen for his direction. We need to dare to be Godly in the midst of our hectic lives. We need to keep ourselves full of the Spirit rather than the excesses of our world. And we need to sing not only the hymns of our faith, but also of our own personal experience. You may be sitting there thinking, “There is no way I’m getting up in front of people and singing anything and definitely not something so personal!” The choir director in me would like to stress that everyone can sing, but that isn’t really the point. Some of us sing through music, some through serving on committees of the church, some by volunteering their time for things like coffee hour and cleaning, and some through their acts of kindness and service to others in their church and their communities. Wherever you go, “give thanks to the Lord with your whole heart, in the company of believers and in the broader society…The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practise it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.”
1 Kings 3:3-14