King Solomon’s desire for wisdom to equip him for just rule establishes him as the paradigm of the Wisdom tradition and as an example for us to follow. The scriptural emphasis upon wisdom in rule may contrast strongly with contemporary emphases upon technique.
Framed merely as a story about the call to discipleship, and omitting verses 17-18, the fact that God is instigating political coups through his prophets in this passage could easily be missed if we didn’t consider the scriptural context of this week’s lectionary reading. Reflecting upon this passage and the ensuing events, we can learn something about God’s relationship to political rule.
Ahab’s murderous appropriation of Naboth’s vineyard is an example of rulers’ assault upon and destruction of local wealth built up over generations. A contemporary analogy to Ahab’s sin can be found in government treatment of Black communities in highway construction.
According to 1 Kings 8, prayer is what Israel is supposed to do in times of helpless hopelessness. The temple is where they turn when there is nowhere to turn. Israel as a whole was invited to appeal to the High King for help in times of trial, and the text leads us to wonder if every polity directs its hopes toward a temple.
Elijah’s ministry takes place during the reign of king Ahab in the 9th century BC. The narrative about the prophet is expressly political. It depicts a political dissident who speaks against the powers of his day, with the main focus on promoting the worship of Yahweh and fighting against the worship of Baal. The prophet’s actions must be understood against a wider Near Eastern context where religion was completely intertwined with politics and where Yahweh was the national god of the Israelites.
Defining one’s territory is in and of itself a highly contentious endeavor. Defining God’s territory brings this to a whole new level. In the building of Solomon’s Temple we see that God is to great to be contained by any single building or territory.
This week’s lection is a well-loved, much-cited chestnut from which a thousand moralistic sermons have germinated. And with good reason. Solomon becomes king and when given the chance to have any wish fulfilled by God, chooses wisdom over the usual favorites, long life, wealth and power.
As even a cursory glance at this weeks lectionary reference will reveal, however, there are a couple of gaps in the text. The first is what happens just before Solomon dies, as he gets last minute instructions from David about scores that the family needs settling. The second is between the time that Solomon ascends to the throne, and the time Solomon and Yahweh have their little heart-to-heart. When you read that part that the lectionary omits, what you find is not Solomon sitting around having his daily quiet time in prayer and study of the scripture, but rather in the ruthless pursuit of control and the exercise of the royal prerogative of vengeance against the enemies of the monarchy…