Some of you might remember the days when if you had a question you were told to “go look it up.”
That meant going to a dictionary, or an encyclopedia, or maybe even to the local library where you would do “research” that required thumbing through the card catalog (which had actual paper cards), searching by topic, author or title. We might have to pull a reference book off a shelf, and comb through its actual pages, to find an answer to a particular question. Perhaps we had to ask the librarian for some help to get the information we needed.
The advent of the Internet changed all that, and now “Googling” a question is the first step for most of us. But even this involved physically typing words on a keyboard and, well, in an age when information comes at us fast and furious, who has time for that? So Apple crafted the voice command digital assistant where we can simply say to our phones, “Hey Siri.” (Google has one too.) But even though our phones can help us with weather forecasts, the score of last night’s Tribe game, or remedies for the common cold, it can’t answer questions that are ambiguous or open-ended.
Ask a question like, “What’s the meaning of life?” and your phone is more likely to act like a politician and duck the question.
Here are some examples I tried with Siri:
I asked: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Siri’s answer: “I checked their calendars. They both have the same birthday!”
I asked: Where is Elvis Presley?
Siri’s answer: “My sources say he has left the building.” (Apparently Siri is a Pittsburgh Penguins fan.)
I asked: What is the meaning of life?
Siri’s answer: “I find it odd you would ask this of an inanimate object.”
Witty, I suppose, but not helpful.
And sure, these are the questions you might fire off at your phone if you’re bored, or while doing “research” for a sermon, but it’s clear that Siri and the like are not privy to all the answers in the universe, and certainly not answers for of the questions that keep us up at night—questions like, “Why is there suffering?” “Why is there evil?” or “What’s the purpose of my life?” For answers to these questions, we need to go with a voice that has a bit more bandwidth than our phones can access. We need to ask God.
In our text for today Solomon has many questions he needs answered, but obviously, Solomon didn’t have a smart phone to muse on the big questions of life. But he did have a relationship with God— a relationship that was promised to his father, King David, when God said that David’s heir “will be a son to me.”
Solomon was a young man when his father King David died, and suddenly the weight of ruling Israel fell to him. It was then that God made an offer to young Solomon that Siri and Google could never even come close to.
The God of the whole universe says to Solomon, “Ask what I should give you.” Can you imagine God saying to you, “Ask what I should give you, and I’ll give it to you.” What would you ask for? Some would ask for wealth, no doubt. Others for renewed health. Some may ask for a relationship, others for talent. Still others might ask for the proverbial more wishes—which would be silly because God did not say “I’ll grant you three wishes.” The question, however, is less about what we’d ask for, and more about whether we’d know what to do if we actually got what we asked for.
For example, who hasn’t prayed to win the lottery? I know I have. Of course each time I do God answers, “Meet me half way—buy a ticket!” And sure, lottery winners see their wishes come true when they hit the big jackpot, but many lottery winners wind up miserable because they don’t have a good plan for the money. We might ask God for wealth, but we may not have the ability to maintain it. Or we could ask for a special talent or ability, but squander it in the wrong place.
Solomon, however, asked for something far greater than a talent or a winning lottery ticket. Solomon asked God for wisdom. Instead of asking for something temporary to benefit himself, Solomon wanted a framework for managing his life and his leadership as the king of Israel. He recognized that, on his own, he was young and inexperienced and “did not know how to go out or come in.”
Solomon knew he needed help from which to make decisions, so he asked for wisdom, saying, “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” In asking for wisdom, Solomon asked God to bless him so that he could be a blessing to others. And God was pleased to respond.
Now the understanding that wisdom would be of great benefit to one’s life is not new, even this early in the Old Testament.
Wisdom, you’ll recall, was also offered to Adam and Eve. The difference is Adam and Eve chose to take a shortcut to get it. Discernment between good and evil was something Adam and Eve wanted when they ate the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3. They listened to some bad advice, hoping to “be like God.” They forgot that true wisdom only comes from God, and is only cultivated in humans through a long-term relationship with God. Adam and Eve wanted to make themselves the source of wisdom, and humans have been making the same mistake ever since, which is why the difference between good and evil is often misconstrued in a fallen world.
Bottom Line: You can’t get real wisdom from a human source, or even a digital one created by humans. For real wisdom, you have to ask God.
Solomon understood how wisdom should be gained, which he had learned by watching his father, David. He didn’t treat God’s offer like that of a magic genie, wishing wishes that would benefit only him. Rather he understood real wisdom is given to God’s people so that it might be exercised on behalf of others.
Solomon was more concerned about his people than he was about himself. He wanted to do right by them, and do right by God, therefore he asked God for the one thing that would bring real peace and prosperity to the kingdom. Wisdom. And Solomon’s request for wisdom pleased God so much that God also offered Solomon the things he didn’t ask for: riches and honor, an incomparable royal reputation, and long life.
But there was a caveat. All these things would be added to Solomon “If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked.” For God, wisdom wasn’t a one-time offer, but rather the product of a long relationship— a constant asking and constant conversation between God and God’s servant. Solomon knew to always ask God.
Solomon was a wise and good king of Israel. But he was also human. Solomon became known for his wisdom, but he gradually began turning his attention away from God. Instead of turning to God, Solomon turned to his gold, to building up military might, and to alliances via marriage to foreign princesses. These were the very things God had warned the kings of Israel to avoid.
God had told the kings of Israel to spend time every day reading the law of God, saying in Deuteronomy, “so that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, diligently observing all the words of this law and these statutes, neither exalting himself above other members of the community nor turning aside from the commandment …” In other words, the kings of Israel were to cultivate wisdom every day by connecting with God and remembering that God alone was the source of wisdom. But not even Solomon could fully do such. And as a result, Solomon eventually became ineffective and unwise.
Now this might seem disheartening. Maybe you’re thinking, “If even Solomon can’t keep this up, what chance have I?” What is critical to know here is why Solomon—who had been so faithful and so right in his walk with God—eventually failed. Why did Solomon, who had it all figured out, fail?
Solomon failed because he began to focus only on himself.
Solomon failed because he stopped asking the right questions to God.
Solomon failed because he didn’t ask God.
Solomon’s story is an example of what to do, and it is a cautionary tale of what not to do. We need the wisdom of God, to be able to discern what it is God wants us to do with our lives, and then how we should do it— but are we asking for it? Are we cultivating the opportunity to gain such wisdom, daily, in our relationship with God? Or are we relying more on our phones, Google, or Siri?
When we ask God for wisdom, and we open ourselves to receive it, with the understanding that we are blessed to be a blessing, then our lives become full, meaningful, directed, and a blessing to others, as Solomon’s was. Without the wisdom of God, our desires become twisted and selfish, as Solomon’s eventually became. And as a result we fail to ask God for what we really need and we end up living life without the wisdom of God.
Our approach to the questions of life, both big and small, will be altered if we ask, daily, for wisdom, while drawing near to God in prayer and reading God’s word.
So may we cultivate a lifetime relationship with God. May we will learn to ask the right questions. May we seek to be blessed to be a blessing to others. And may we be ready for the answers God gives. No need to ask our phones or Google, or Siri. May we ask God. Amen.