Commentary on 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
The transition from the reign of David to that of Solomon is noted in 1 Kings 2:10-12 and Solomon’s beginning is marked by a narrative of how he is divinely equipped for the task in a dream encounter with God (3:3-14).
First Kings 3 begins by noting that Solomon will eventually build the Temple, but before the temple’s construction he worshipped at the high places, originally Canaanite worship places, as did the rest of the people (3:1-2). Worship at these centers was regarded negatively but here Solomon is exonerated because the temple had not yet been built. The narrative highlights the positive qualities of Solomon by pointing out that at this initial stage, his devotion to God is equal to that of his father David, if the worship at Canaanite centers of worship is ignored (3:3-4).
The exoneration of Solomon for worshipping at Canaanite religious places is surprising because this was one of the sins considered to have led to the destruction of both Israel and Judah by the Deuteronomistic writers. (In scholarly theories, the Deuteronomistic writers are credited with putting together the theological history that traces the experiences of the people of Israel/Judah from conquest to exile—Joshua-2 Kings, excluding the book of Ruth.) It seems that these writers were concerned that worship at these Canaanite centers would lead to confusion in the identity of the God worshiped. At this initial stage, however, Solomon and the rest of the Israelites were not confused about the God they were worshipping there. But at the end, Solomon does worse by not only building worship places for the gods of his foreign wives but abandoning his God and worshipping these other gods. Nevertheless, at this initial point, he is following in the footsteps of his father, David, whose devotion and loyalty to his God was never questionable.
When Solomon still has his father as his model, he experiences a theophany—God appears to him in a dream vision. He had witnessed how his father had been a successful king and maybe Solomon really wanted to be as successful as his father. Or he may even have aspired to surpass his father’s achievements. So, Solomon has a dream in which God appears to him while he is asleep. The dream may have been triggered by how Solomon was aware of his lack of preparation to fill his father’s big shoes, an awareness that was even present in an unconscious state of sleep. This may reflect that Solomon at this stage was consumed with a desire to do right.
When God asks him what he wants to be given he thus starts by showing that he understands what grounded his father’s successes: “he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness and in uprightness towards you.” The source of his father’s success is evident to Solomon. He even acknowledges that his selection to be his father’s successor is not based on his own accomplishments but on the mutual loyalty between God and his father. Solomon is very much aware of what his selection entails. He is one among a multitude of God’s people—his task is to serve for the good of the whole community.
Solomon is also very much aware of his own inadequacies as far as serving in the role of king. He lacks the wisdom that is necessary in making decisions for the good of God’s people. Thus, Solomon asks for the ability to fulfill the role of governing God’s people well—“an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.” He does not ask for power that would lead him into the accumulation of wealth for himself and those close to him.
Solomon’s unselfishness pleases God so that God gives him even the riches he did not ask for, because at this stage Solomon does not see political power as the route to self-aggrandizement. He genuinely wants to use his political power for the good of others. He wants to serve rather than to be served. He wants to provide good leadership for God’s people. This story should not be taken to mean that God will miraculously equip persons for tasks in ministry. Rather, it does reflect that a desire to be equipped for ministry is the right posture when anyone feels called to serve God and community in any way. It reflects more a posture of servant leadership that is so lacking in our communities today.
Why do individuals in our communities seek political power, or any kind of power for that matter? Is it for bringing good to the community or is it for personal gain? We are in a world where people with any form of power seem more and more interested in power for personal gain. We need to seek wisdom and equip ourselves to build communities in which every person is valued; where the reality of justice and peace is experienced by all; where the vulnerable are protected; where power is used for the good of all.