Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
(1) The power of prayer;
(2) The condition on which it is granted;
(3) Its result.
I. THE POWER. "Prayer," said Adolphe Monod, "sets in motion the whole power of God." The words of God to Solomon show us this Almighty power, placing itself, as it were, at the disposition of human weakness. When the Son of God came to earth, taking upon Himself our frail humanity, that He might perfectly sympathize with all its woes, He spoke in the same way to the poor blind Bartimaeus: "What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?" (Mark 10:51). Before going back to heaven He addressed the same language to His disciples: "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, He will give it you" (John 16:23). Let us then ask all that we need with holy boldness, for it is God Himself who bids us do so. Like the father of the prodigal son, He always comes to meet us. Our hopes and desires can never be so large as His promises. We truly honour Him when we make His love the measure of our trust.
II. THE CONDITIONS ON WHICH OUR PRAYERS ARE GRANTED ARE:
(a) Full trust in this infinite love, and grateful remembrance of favours received: "Thou hast showed unto David my father great mercy and hast given him a son to sit on his throne" (ver. 6).
(b) The consciousness of our own helplessness and weakness: "I am but as a little child, and know not how to go out or come in" (ver. 7).
(c) The precedence given to spiritual over temporal gifts: "Give thy servant an understanding heart" (ver. 9). Prayer is not intended to bring to us at once all material prosperity. Such an answer to prayer might be often injurious, hardening the heart, and depriving us of the salutary discipline of trial. If the thing we sought beyond all else was material prosperity, we should be mere mercenaries. We are always heard, but not always in the way we desire, so far as our earthly life is concerned. But when we ask of God a new and understanding heart, we are asking that which He is pledged to grant, for it is written: "If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not."
III. THE RESULT OF THE PRAYER OF SOLOMON was not only the spiritual grace he sought, but also the prosperity and glory of his reign. "I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked" (ver. 13). There is a general application both to individuals and nations of the words of Christ: "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all other things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33), with the exception of afflictions, which may be necessary as discipline, and on the condition that we walk in the ways of the Lord (ver. 14), for the mercy of God, free as it is, is still bound up with His holiness, and cannot suffer the violation of His laws. - E. DE P.
I. THE NATURE OF TRUE WISDOM. A power of moral discernment. "An understanding heart to judge," etc. This was the virtue of Solomon's prayer - it craved a moral rather than mere circumstantial, or even intellectual, endowment. He had the wisdom of the man of science, the "minute philosopher" (see chap. 4:33). But higher wisdom was wanted for higher work - for guiding and governing the people - and this is what he prayed for. Little trace in Solomon of the pure, fervent spirit of devotion that glowed in his father David. The yearning of David's heart was not so much for wisdom as for holiness. But Solomon has a lofty ideal of kingly rule before him, and this is how he seeks to realize it.
1. Wisdom is a practical quality; not merely theoretical; consists less in true ideas than in the ability to embody them in a real and living form; not knowledge or insight, but power to turn what is known and understood to highest account. In common affairs of life - in matters of business, science, art - how many clever theoretical men are there whose cleverness never takes a tangible, practical form! You can point to nothing that they have ever done as a worthy expression of their native capacity. Only in a qualified sense are such men "wise." How much more in the higher sphere of moral and religious life. Here also a science and an art, the ideal and the practical. Wisdom is the combination of the two. It is thought and it is life - the science of spiritual truth and reality married to the divine art of living under the influence of what is real and true.
2. Wisdom deals with those eternal principles that underlie the surface appearances of life. The judgment of Solomon in the dispute between the two women about the child (verse 16 to end) is suggestive here. Its peculiarity is, that instead of trusting to appearances to decide the doubt, he leaves the decision to the deep instinct of the mother's nature, i.e., his wisdom is seen in calling to its aid a principle profounder and less fallible than itself. Apply this to the higher conduct of life. We want something more reliable than our own observation or reason as a guide. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Lay hold on God. Walk by faith. Let there be a divine element in your life:
"There is more wisdom in a whisper'd prayer II. THE DIVINE ORIGIN OF WISDOM. "Ask what I shall give thee." God is the infinite Fount of Wisdom, and He "gives" from His exhaustless fulness. "The Father of Lights." What a world of wonders is the book of Nature! What creative thought, constructive skill, wise adaptation are here! A world of profounder wonders is the Book of Truth. "O the depth of the riches," etc. But this is revelation; we have to think of impartation. God will give wisdom, "Ask what I shall give thee." "If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God," etc. All true light that guides man in any right path is His gift. Most of all those right thoughts, high aspirations, holy energies, which are the very life of men. Man can only disclose his mental riches. The philosopher cannot "give" the rustic wisdom, nor the father or teacher the child. God sheds the light of His Spirit into the soul. "If ye being evil," etc. III. THE ABUNDANT REWARD OF WISDOM. "And I have also given thee," etc. (ver. 13). God's beneficence exceeds the expectations of His children. "Able to do exceeding abundantly," etc. (Ephesians 3:20). "Seek ye first the kingdom of God," etc. (Matthew 6:33). - W.
II. THE DIVINE ORIGIN OF WISDOM. "Ask what I shall give thee." God is the infinite Fount of Wisdom, and He "gives" from His exhaustless fulness. "The Father of Lights." What a world of wonders is the book of Nature! What creative thought, constructive skill, wise adaptation are here! A world of profounder wonders is the Book of Truth. "O the depth of the riches," etc. But this is revelation; we have to think of impartation. God will give wisdom, "Ask what I shall give thee." "If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God," etc. All true light that guides man in any right path is His gift. Most of all those right thoughts, high aspirations, holy energies, which are the very life of men. Man can only disclose his mental riches. The philosopher cannot "give" the rustic wisdom, nor the father or teacher the child. God sheds the light of His Spirit into the soul. "If ye being evil," etc.
III. THE ABUNDANT REWARD OF WISDOM. "And I have also given thee," etc. (ver. 13). God's beneficence exceeds the expectations of His children. "Able to do exceeding abundantly," etc. (Ephesians 3:20). "Seek ye first the kingdom of God," etc. (Matthew 6:33). - W.
1 Kings 3:5. - SERMON FOR CHILDRENJames 1:5, 6). In youth our future is generally decided. If we go wrong then, it is not easy to be set right. An injury done to a living thing during its growing time is irreparable. The man who was crippled when he was a child, the tree blasted when it was a sapling, cannot by any subsequent care be made straight and whole. Solomon, however, started well - going up to the ancient tabernacle in Gibeon, to offer sacrifice to the Lord. Let us see what preparation Solomon had for the dream spoken of here. Many a child says, "I wish God would come to me, and tell me I might ask for whatever I liked. I often say my prayers, but God does not seem real to me. I never see Him or hear Him." You will not see Him as did Solomon, nor hear Him as did Samuel. But you may feel Him in your thoughts - in the prompting to do right, or to speak the truth when doing this may get you into trouble; and in the relief and rest you know after telling God about the sorrow you have. [Quote part of Faber's hymn: "Dear Jesus, ever at my side." Tell some story of a child who has found help, relief, and rest in prayer. This will bring the old story of Solomon near to the experience of children.] Three things prepared Solomon for listening to God.
I. SOLOMON HAD COME FROM WORSHIP. Describe the old tabernacle, now pitched on the top of the hill at Gibeon; the coming of the procession of nobles, soldiers, priests, etc., to the sacred festival; the offering of the thousand victims; the song of praise, the united prayers, etc. This worship prepared the young king for his dream. Children go to Sunday schools who are seldom found in God's house. Trace the lads and girls leaving the senior classes to spend their Sundays in pleasure and sin - their forced merriment, their aching hearts. Trying to forget God, they are not prepared to see Him as Solomon did. Contrast with this the day spent in worship. The children whose hearts are uplifted by songs of praise, who have been hearing of the love of God in Christ, who have been reminded of those who knew the Lord, are prepared to say, as Samuel said, "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth!"
II. SOLOMON WAS ALONE WITH GOD. The crowd had dispersed. The shouts, and songs, and music were silent. The stars shone down on the camp, and in his own royal tent the young king had retired to rest. As he slept he dreamed, and a happy night followed a holy day. Dreams were often used by God in olden days. Give examples. These were overruled, but they were natural. A dream is the product of familiar thoughts. Boys don't dream of protoplasm, of which they know nothing, but of cricket, lessons, companions, etc. The elements of a dream are in the mind before sleep; e.g., the Midianitish soldier dreamt of a barley cake, which was his ordinary food; the Egyptian butler, of Pharaoh's cup; the baker, of his white baskets of bakemeats, etc. So Solomon had been thinking about his kingdom - the greatness of his father, the overruling providence of God; he had been filled with a desire to rule wisely, had been fired with devotion during the day, and all these things re-appeared in his dream. If you have never had such dream, you have had quiet times when you were ill, or before going to rest, when God seemed real to you. Recall the first time when the old form of prayer had a new meaning, when God seemed close, and loving, and gracious. An example from child life may be readily found.
III. SOLOMON WAS LISTENING TO GOD, who said, "Ask what I shall give thee." Sometimes children wish that the fairies, of whom they read, actually existed; that one, with her fair form and beautiful wand, would come and say, "Ask what I shall give thee." Many, like Cinderella, would exchange drudgery for glitter. God does not do this. If He did, many of us would ignorantly ask for foolish things. We do not know what we shall be doing or wanting even tomorrow. If you were going abroad and did not know for what country you were destined, nor even whether it was hot or cold, civilized or uncivilized, it would not be wise to provide things on the chance they might be useful. You might get weapons of defence for a country where they would not be wanted, and have to wear in the tropics clothing only suited to the polar seas. It would not be really kind for your father to say, "Now go into that shop, and get whatever you like." You would say, "No, thank you; as you know where I am going, and I don't, I would rather trust you; though if you think it would be good, I should like this, or that." So we are taught to pray to our Heavenly Father. Give examples. Sometimes God does give us what we foolishly choose, as the father did to the prodigal, and then sorrow teaches us the folly of our self will The freedom to ask anything can only be given safely to those who are like Solomon. He had just given himself up to God as a living sacrifice, and had asked God to accept him and use him for His service; for it was this which he expressed by his offering of a thousand burnt sacrifices. (Romans 12:1.) If you can say in your heart, "Lord, I want to become like Jesus Christ, and always to be obedient to Thy will;! long to be earnest and humble, and pure, and loving, and to live altogether for Thee;" then He says, of all that will keep you toward that, "Ask and ye shall receive, and your joy shall be full." Show the necessity of prayer to children; point out their special temptations to neglect it; and close by the story of Esther going into the king's presence with trembling, only to see the golden sceptre extended, and to hear the gracious encouragement, "What is thy petition, and what is thy request? and it shall be done unto thee!" "When thou saidst, 'Seek ye my face,' my heart said unto Thee, 'Thy face, Lord, will I seek.'" - A.R.
The prayer before us was characterized by the following excellences: -
I. GRATITUDE. (Ver. 6.) Solomon thanked God for what his father had been. David was far from being a sinless man, but his son loyally veiled his faults, and praised God for what he had been to himself and others. What reasons for gratitude many have in this respect. Loving care during the feebleness of infancy; provision for education, etc., often the result of habitual self denial; protection of the home not only from physical, but from moral evils, in the shape of bad literature, companions, etc. These are the ordinary blessings from parenthood, but often there are more than these, e.g., the moral heritage of wholesome tendencies; the good name, to be chosen rather than great riches; the repression of evil, and encouragement of good habits of thought and action; the counsels and warnings to the inexperienced; the Christian truth revealed in the holy life, proclaimed by the loving lips. Few blessings are greater than these; but few are less thankfully recognized. Gratitude should reveal itself in tender consideration, in graceful courtesies, in prompt obedience, etc., in the home, and should express itself in praise to the Giver of all good gifts. [This is but an example of subjects for graft. tude: others may be suggested.]
II. SOLEMNITY. The young king seemed overwhelmed with a sense of responsibility. He was about to succeed a father renowned as a warrior, as a statesman, as a poet, as a ruler of men. He was about to rule a numerous and prosperous people, who had been specially declared to be the Lord's, so that he would be henceforth the representative of Jehovah. He foresaw that there would be snares not easy to avoid, difficulties hard to surmount; and therefore he dared not go forward without the prayer, "O God of my father, stand by me." Contrast this with the light spirit in which life work is often undertaken. Describe a father about to vacate his plan in business, or in the Church, whose honour has been unstained, who has been a king amongst men, and urge on any who are about to succeed to such an inheritance the responsibility incurred, that they may feel "who is sufficient for these things?" To go on to unknown temptations, to unattempted duties, in a flippant, godless spirit, is to show the foolhardiness of the captain who, in strange waters, wrecks his vessel on the hidden shoal, because he scorns to employ a pilot.
III. HOPEFULNESS. In ver. 4 he tacitly refers to what God had done for his father, as an example and pledge of what God could do for him. He implies that the promise, like the throne, came by inheritance. This was the teaching of the patriarchal dispensation. It was not withdrawn by Christ, who came "not to destroy, but to fulfil." Hence, in the first sermon preached after the baptism of the Church by the Holy Spirit, Peter refers to, and endorses for this dispensation, the declaration of Joel, "The promise is unto you, and to your children." Show how the privileges of Christian parentage keep pace with its responsibilities. What God had been to David was a sign to Solomon, his son, of what God would do for him; and therefore he prayed with eager hope.
IV. HUMILITY. "I am but a little child." Solomon had enough to make him proud. He was immensely rich, was flattered by courtiers, was obeyed by a disciplined army, was strikingly handsome (Psalm 45.), and was at an age (twenty years old) when no one thinks least of himself. But he recognized that God made him what he was ("Thou hast made Thy servant king"), and that, so far as wisdom and ability were concerned, he was "but a little child." Such has been the spirit of all truly great men, e.g., Moses, when called in Midian (Exodus 3:11); Isaiah, when he saw the Lord in the temple (Isaiah 6.); Jeremiah, when invested with prophetic office (Jeremiah 1.) This humility should characterize all who approach God. Refer to the Pharisee and publican (Luke 18:10-14); also to declaration that except we become as little children we cannot enter the kingdom. Contrast Solomon with his brothers, Absalom and Adonijah. He was content to wait God's time, and so was prepared for the place prepared for him. The chrysalis waits - is kept back - in its inactive stage, till both the wings are ready for the sunshine, and the sunshine ready for the wings. Humbly let us wait for the higher spheres of earth and the highest spheres of heaven. - A.R.
e.g., Saul the King, Esau. It is well to know the kind of choice that "pleased the Lord." In Solomon's there was true wisdom, for it had these elements -
I. THE CHOICE WAS FOR THE GOOD OF OTHERS RATHER THAN FOR THE ADVANTAGE OF HIMSELF. It was not like asking for knowledge and wisdom that he might himself be admired as a sage. This followed, but this he did not seek. He wished to rule God's people well for their good, and asked that he might do what was just in judgment, what was equitable in law. Such equity establishes any rule on a sure foundation. Our hold on India is chiefly due to the righteousness of our magistrates, and the trustworthiness of men like the Lawrences, Lord Mayo, etc. Natives would not hesitate to bring an action in one of our English law courts against an Englishman, so certain are they of even-handed justice. This Solomon sought, and the peace and prosperity of his kingdom (1 Kings 4:25) arose from the fact that God gave it him. To ask God to make us wise and capable for the sake of others, is a prayer consonant with His will. Unselfishness is commended and exalted under the new dispensation as it never was under the old. Christ Himself came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life "a ransom for many." The prayer of selfishness, greed, avarice, can never be put up in Christ's name.
II. THE CHOICE WAS MADE OF INWARD WORTH AND NOT OF OUTWARD SHOW. He did not ask for himself riches and honour. What will make us noble is always more readily given by God than what will make us wealthy. A wise father would rather that his son should be truthful than that he should win popularity among his schoolfellows by anything surreptitious and deceitful. So our heavenly Father cares little that we should make money, or win applause; but He cares much that we should be wise, and true, and loving; and these graces He will in no wise withhold from those who seek. Sometimes He answers our prayers for these inward blessings in modes we resent. The illness that throws us back upon Him, the failure that proves a man's life does not consist in the abundance of things that he possesseth, etc., may work in us the peaceable fruits of righteousness. The Lord Jesus, who was at once the King of Glory and the village carpenter, showed us this; and in the inward gladness His disciples experienced amid their outward woes, we have confirmation of it. Show how, in New Testament history, and in the lives of the saints, the words which begin the Sermon on the Mount have been fulfilled. Blessedness of the highest kind comes to the poor in spirit, to them that mourn, to the meek, to them which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, to the merciful, to the pure in heart, to the peacemakers, and even to those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake.
III. THE CHOICE MADE OF THE HIGHER BROUGHT WITH IT THE LOWER BLESSINGS, (Vers. 11-13) Because Solomon asked wisdom God gave him that, but added to it wealth and honour. If we ask grace to fulfil our mission, and rightly do our life work, our heavenly Father will see that we do not want for life's necessities. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." The teaching of Christ (Matthew 6:24-34) goes to show that a man who is chiefly concerned to please God need have no anxiety or care about lower things. If God feeds the birds, He will feed you; if He clothes the lilies, He will clothe you; if He gives the life, He will give the "meat" that is less than life. Ask God for the higher blessings: pardon, righteousness, reverence, wisdom, etc., and He will give you not only these, but all things necessary for us, and all the riches and honours that are good for us. Solomon's wisdom was great, but there has come into the world one greater than Solomon, more worthy far of our adoration and love. As the child in Nazareth, Jesus grew in wisdom, and in stature, and in favour with God and man. His wisdom was purer, deeper, truer than Solomon's, because it was united with purity of life, with victory over sin, and with sacrifice of self. He is the true Shelomoh, "the Prince of Peace;" the true Jedidiah, "the well beloved of the Father;" and to Him now let us humbly bow the knee, as to One worthy to be exalted both as Prince and Saviour. - A.R.