Who Can Govern God’s People?

I am struck by the question Solomon asks in 1 Kings 3:9: “who can govern this your great people?” There are so many questions that question raises:

  • What does it mean to govern?
  • Why did he refer to the people as “this”?
  • What makes a people great?

Solomon asking the question was a confession that he understood his inadequacy to perform the assigned task. No wonder he called himself a “little child”! He was comprehending the enormity of leading God’s people! And that is why he asked for wisdom.

Have you ever felt like that? Has your boss at work ever asked to do something to which you agreed to do, even though you didn’t know exactly how you were going to accomplish it? Has the minister or youth leader ever asked you to do something at church that you were not sure you were qualified to do? Or perhaps you were asked to sing something you felt was beyond your capability?

That is how Solomon felt – only complicated by the greatness of God’s people. And that is why Solomon asked for wisdom. He knew he needed it if he was to fulfil his duties.

Our service today is followed by the AGM. St Johns was founded in 1854 making it 167 years old!! That means this is the 166th AGM for St Johns Papatoetoe. How can we serve God through this church that has such a great legacy?

We pray for wisdom!

Let us take the time to look at couple aspects of Solomon’s question before attempting to understand how we can gain wisdom today.

Governing a “Great” Congregation

First, what did Solomon mean when he referred to Israel as a great people? The context is very clear that he is referring to the number of Israelites. We have to appreciate that Solomon was the first king to confirm a dynasty. Before him was David. David was the first in his family to rule. David ruled over only his family’s tribes at first. Later, he was able to rule over the other tribes.

David took over the kingdom from Saul. Saul was from a different tribe and different family. David married into that family and served that family, but it took years for all the clans of Israel to agree to one king. Solomon, therefore, was the first successor in a dynasty. And he took over the reign of a people who had humble beginnings. The children of Israel were 12 in number. Now, by Solomon’s day, they could not be fully numbered. We know that because David, in his pride, attempted a census that could not be completed.

But you cannot help but realise there is more to the use of “great” in that question: “who can govern this your great people?” The second thing I point out to you is “your” people. Solomon recognised Israel was a special nation. They were a covenant nation! The Creator had entered into covenant with Israel so that they could be an example to other nations how God expected governments to rule.

Today, in the reformed tradition, we recognise the Church as God’s covenant people on earth. The responsibility to set an example of God’s Kingdom on earth falls on our shoulders. We have the responsibility of Solomon! We must exercise justice in our community.

Leaders who govern nations are expected to govern in such a way where every citizen is given fair treatment under law. We expect that from our New Zealand government today. Israel expected that of Solomon in his day.

Governing with Wisdom

Solomon recognised the great responsibility entrusted to his leadership. As the king, he not only was governor of the land, his court was the place of judgment. That is why he appealed to the Almighty for wisdom. Let us spend some time thinking about governing with wisdom.

The story helps us identify what exactly wisdom is all about. Wisdom is not having a high IQ. Intelligence is helpful, but having a lot doesn’t mean you have wisdom. Neither is wisdom all about having EQ. Emotional Intelligence was all the rage in leadership training 10-15 years ago. It is finally being embraced by Presbytery ministers but EQ is only part of the balance. Emotional Intelligence is not wisdom in and of itself. Wisdom is having an understanding mind. That is the ability to discern what is right (or righteous). This type of thinking is described as having a wise mind.

I do want to unpack that a little bit more and tell you how you can have a wise mind. But before I do, I cannot help but point out to you the similarities between the story of Solomon’s dream with that of Adam’s in the Garden of Eden. The Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible explains.

Solomon asks for wisdom, more specifically for “discernment of good and evil” … (3:9), using a phrase similar to that found in Gen. 2–3 to describe the tree in the garden … a tree that gives wisdom. Solomon’s request can thus be described as a request for access to the tree forbidden to Adam. Like Adam, Solomon goes into “deep sleep” in order to receive a bride, but Solomon awakes in the company of Lady Wisdom. As in 1 Kgs. 2, Solomon is a new and improved Adam.[i]

If that is the case, and 1 Kings recalls the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, there is a movement beyond the order of Genesis. In Genesis 2 and 3, that tree associated with wisdom and authoritative rule in the wider world was forbidden to Adam and Eve. However, Solomon is given access to that very wisdom.

Leadership programmes today including national governors, focus on techniques and are devoid of wisdom. I will tell you how to obtain God’s wisdom. I will encourage you how you can have a wise mind. But I point out to you that modern political theory has lost touch with wisdom’s character. The character of wisdom, in the discernment of good and evil. Post-modern politics no longer recognises absolutes. As such, they must govern by technique.

Alastair Roberts, on the Political Theology Network, made the following application.

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… technique pursues efficiency, so often divorced from perceptive apprehension and prudent pursuit of the common good, yet wisdom attunes us to, directs us to, and gives us deep understanding of that good. Through such wisdom, good rulers bring life and health, not merely to themselves, but also to the communities and nations they serve. [ii]

Gaining Wisdom

Perhaps political theory is not your cup of tea – and I understand. I wanted you to have the context of our passage. But it is time to now get down to the practical: how can I get wisdom today?

The clues are in the text of Solomon’s story as well as being spelled out for us in the other readings. In fact, we can summarise the answer into two phrases. One is in Psalm 111, the response to our 1 Kings 3 text; the second in Ephesians, our New Testament text.

However, there is just one more comment to make before giving you those two secrets to gaining wisdom. That is dealing with the fact that our story is about a dream.

Much of Christian thought has been developed within a European context. With our post-modern Pakeha/Pelangi culture, the concept of dreams conveying divine revelation sounds more like make-believe than reality. That was not  always the case. Today, however, European thinking seems to reduce any reference to divinity as myths, stories, and political agendas.

Thinking about this dream, I want to show you a classic picture painted by Luca Giordano: The Wise Dreamer. See commentary on illustration here from Fr. Warner D’Souza, a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Bombay. Indian Christianity is representative of not only Eastern Christianity, but that of two-thirds of the Christian world. According to the latest statistics, only one-third of Christians reside in Western countries. Theologians in the Two Thirds World encounter non-Christian traditions in many different forms and thus are confronted with the challenge of speaking about a Christian God in the face of many forms of sometimes hostile religions.[iii]

We need to remember that the Christian world’s centre of gravity has shifted. In Nigeria, for example, there are more Anglicans at church on Sunday than in the whole of UK, USA and Western Europe put together. Today, in Nigeria alone, there are 26 million persons at church![iv] Whether Europeans like it or not, the East is reclaiming how to understand scripture – which is, after all, an Eastern book. And the majority Christians who reside in South Asia, Latin American and Africa take dreams very seriously as a valid form of revelation.

As colourful and dramatic this image may be, sometimes a child’s colouring page may be more accurate! I wonder what Solomon’s dream would look like from a Pacifica context?

Alright. We are coming to the end of my time and I have promised to tell you how to obtain a wise mind. Psalm 111 brings it to a crescendo conclusion:  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.

The first step in obtaining a wise mind is to fear God.

I will not take the time to discuss why we are to fear God. We can spend time side-stepping the obvious – God is Almighty; God is Sovereign; and God’s will must be done. And that is the second way to obtain a wise mind: understand what the will of the Lord is!

The Ephesians text explains we must make the best use of the time we have on earth. What are you doing with your time? Do you understand God’s will in these days of evil?

The marks of people who understand God’s will are laid out in the Ephesians text:

  • You will be drunk in the Holy Spirit
  • You will sing like a drunkard from the heart
  • You will be thankful in ALL things
  • You will submit to one another in reverence to Christ.

Ephesians connects wisdom with the practical. Unwise persons are not careful with how they use their time. Wise persons understand God’s will for God’s people. Possessing this understanding possesses the person. Life becomes full of song, praise, and thanksgiving.

God is in you. You are in God. We revere each other. We fear God. We live a life following God’s leadership. That is the way of wisdom. The Wisdom of God is personified in Jesus Christ. The spiritual power behind the words and teachings of Jesus gives eternal life to those who consume its food. Believe in Jesus Christ as Saviour. Embrace his Body, which is the Church. That is you and that is me. That is us with all other believers.

Prayer of Application

Our children’s program here at St Johns is called “Faithbuilders”. The children are taught lessons from today’s lectionary readings at their age level. We have pebbles, rocks, and boulders. The rocks today (children 6-10 years old) are being taught a prayer. I thought I would share it with you as a way of closing this message. It is practical wisdom. It is a real world application for us today.

Jesus, did I hear you needed players on your team?
Well, here I am!
I hear you needed volunteers?
That’s me!
I want to be on your side, Jesus,
fighting for good against evil,
fighting for justice and truth
with weapons of love and hope.
Who’s for Jesus?

Susan Sayers, Living Stones (Kevin Mayhew Ltd: Suffolk, 1999), Proper 15 (B)

For short summary of lectionary reading themes, go to Understanding Wisdom.

[i] Leithart, Peter J., Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Brazos Press: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2012) e-book edition.

[ii] https://politicaltheology.com/the-politics-of-solomons-dream-1-kings-35-12-alastair-roberts/

[iii] Dyrness, William A., Emerging Voices in Global Christian Theology (Wipf & Stock Publishers: Eugene, Oregon, 1994), 17.

[iv] Introduction to Contextual Theology, Majority World Teholgoy: Learning Guide 2020 version 1 (Laidlaw College, 2020)

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