This reading is a fairly fitting parallel to the Gospel for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, which involves seeking wisdom. Here Solomon seeks wisdom when offered anything he wants.
The Lord appeared to Solomon — what a privilege! Note the divine name — Yahweh, the God who freely makes great promises to unworthy man and freely keeps them. It’s not used again in this reading — except by Solomon, which is significant. That’s how Solomon sees the Lord: as the gracious God who gives him everything good that he has and who has the right to ask of him whatever He wishes, because He gave it all in the first place.
What a mark of favor, that the Lord would appear to Solomon! Many have wished for or coveted just such a vision, but here only David’s son is permitted to see the Lord, out of His grace — just as David’s greater Son, the Son of God, even now has the closest and most intimate communion and relationship with the Father in heaven.
What an offer the Lord makes Solomon! He must have known Solomon would choose wisely. God tests those He knows will pass — or rather, better said as He enables us to pass the tests He brings.
Solomon’s answer is humble and conscious of God’s great promises. The new king keeps them ever before him, ever in mind. (Of course the sacred history records that he was later to forget, but for now he is steadfast.) Solomon is conscious of himself as as a partial fulfillment of God’s promise, which awaited its full and glorious fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Solomon protests that he is a little child and does not know how to rule. Frankly I know how he feels: totally inadequate for the massive scope of the task in front of him. Any Christian (perhaps especially any pastor) who won’t admit that is trying to put on a brave front, or he’s begun to take confidence in his own abilities — an undesirable character trait that the Lord knows how to correct in a multitude of ways. The Christian life (and this goes for the pastoral ministry as well) has a way of mercilessly hammering on your weak spots, and you learn pretty quickly to rely on God’s grace…or you get good at masking those weak spots. Yet the thing is that the weak spots don’t go away. They continue to be soft and vulnerable, open to the air, and either you need God’s grace or you limp along under your own power like a wounded animal. I’d much rather have God’s healing and help. Look at Solomon. He let his multitude of wives and concubines sway his heart from the Lord God of Israel, and it not only brought down his reign, he dragged his kingdom down after him, after he died.
But that’s later in the future. For now Solomon is humbled by what the Lord has given him to do, so he very honestly and directly asks for mercy, in the form of wisdom to carry out his calling. He asks for what he most keenly feels the lack of, the ability to discern, to judge rightly, to rule justly. This is a gift of the Lord, one that comes only by His Spirit for the child of God who is conscious enough of his need to beg for it. The Lord grants this ability to His children, and especially to His servants in the holy ministry. “I am wiser than all my teachers,” Psalm 139 says — and that doesn’t come from us, it comes by His Word. Thus every teacher instructed by the kingdom of heaven, by God’s working on the heart through His Word, is like a householder who brings out new treasures as well as old. There’s a never-failing supply of new and wondrous treasures to marvel over, as well as the old, familiar, and beloved heirlooms of the faith that are passed down, handed down as the good deposit of the faith and the form of sound doctrine.
Solomon’s request pleases the Lord. Solomon didn’t ask for things that would make his own life easier; how different is that from our own lives & prayers many times? He doesn’t even ask for the death of his enemies — of which he had not a few, e.g. Adonijah, Joab, etc. See I Kings 1 & 2 for background. The story of Solomon’s early reign is pretty interesting, and it’s not often included in the children’s storybooks or the Sunday School lessons. Instead, Solomon asks for what pleases the Lord. Solomon looks long term — for his country (and all true acts of service are done entirely for another, not for self), but also for himself…and for eternity.
God promises to give what he asked for, in spades — and more besides. Thus does our gracious God always reward choices made in faith, out of His free grace and favor. I Kings 6 & 7 vividly portray for us the immense wealth of Solomon’s rule and kingdom. The Lord promises to raise Solomon head and shoulders for wisdom above everyone else who would ever live (except our dear Lord, of course.) And He did. Solomon was renowned throughout the world then, and his name is still synonymous with wisdom even today. The Queen of the South came from afar off to listen to Solomon teach and to see for herself if the reports were true. (They were, and then some.) God richly blessed Solomon in his time at the top.
Yet it was faithfulness, not wisdom, which he ultimately lacked. Solomon tolerated false gods and their worship alongside the true God, for the sake of his wives — and eventually lost God’s favor. God troubled him with rebels and seditionaries in order to bring him back to repentance and faith, and to lead him to purge out the false leaven of idols from his life and rule. Solomon didn’t, and the kingdom was eventually torn away from his son, Rehoboam. Many think that King Solomon was Qohelet, the Preacher, the author of the book of Ecclesiastes. That book’s ruminative, world-weary musings certainly fit with someone who had Solomon’s personal history — like he sat down with pen in hand to pass on his vaunted wisdom, and to warn others to avoid madness and folly by taking a different path than he did. Solomon’s life turned out to be pretty comfortable overall, full of luxury and splendor, but in his quiet moments you have to wonder if he didn’t look at everything he’d done and said and regret that he hadn’t been more faithful. Even though he’d enriched his nation and made it into a world power, despite all his personal accomplishments, he still knew he could have done better with what the Lord had given him. Imagine what Solomon would have been able to accomplish had he not conceded to false worship and lying idols through self-satisfaction and (let’s say it) a measure of laziness. God still used him, it’s true, but he could have done a lot more for his Lord.
This is both an encouragement and a warning for us today. We don’t need to be as wise as Solomon to be God’s chldren — only faithful to what He says. If you know God’s Word, believe what it says, and live it to the utmost of your ability, Jesus promises you will come to the glories of heaven, which far exceed anything Solomon was able to assemble at his court. If we obey God’s voice in His Word, pay attention to His commands, and walk in His ways, we will be more blessed than Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived and yet one who was made foolish by the seductions of worldliness and falsehood. God grant that each of us remain faithful to Him, despite all the pain and pleasure that this world brings us.