Pray for Wisdom
1 Kings 3:1-15 (ESV) Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt. He took Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her into the city of David until he had finished building his own house and the house of the LORD and the wall around Jerusalem. The people were sacrificing at the high places, however, because no house had yet been built for the name of the LORD. Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father, only he sacrificed and made offerings at the high places. And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place. Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.” And Solomon awoke, and behold, it was a dream. Then he came to Jerusalem and stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and offered up burnt offerings and peace offerings, and made a feast for all his servants.
Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 3:6-9 is a model of gratefulness and humility as he responds to the Lord’s gracious invitation to ask for a gift (3:5). It begins with praise of God for His steadfast covenant love toward Solomon’s father David, recounting what He has graciously done in the past and is still doing for Solomon now. Then he confesses his weakness and inability to serve Israel without the Lord’s help, so he asks the Lord for “an understanding mind to govern” God’s people with discernment between good and evil.
An unbelieving king would ask for “long life or riches or the life” of his enemies (1 Kings 3:11); in other words, a selfish request. But remarkably, Solomon asked for something that would specifically benefit his neighbor: a mind instructed by godly wisdom.
We can learn from Solomon to focus our prayers on the needs of others. This does not mean that we neglect to pray for our own needs (we do this in the Lord’s Prayer), but even the things we ask for ourselves should have the goal of serving our neighbor. St. Paul supports this when he says, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1 Corinthians 10:24).
The Lord was pleased with Solomon’s request, so He multiplied His blessings on Solomon. Jesus promises the same to His followers: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). This does not mean that we seek God’s Kingdom as it comes to us in the Word and Sacraments with the intention of gaining benefits for ourselves—that would be selfish! Rather, we seek the Lord’s grace and mercy in the church, and He superabundantly provides for our every need.
Before Solomon was granted a “listening heart” by the Lord, he would frequent the high place in Gibeon, where he “used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar” (1 Kings 3:4). But with his newfound godly wisdom, Solomon sought out the place where the Lord had promised to dwell: in Jerusalem, above the ark of the covenant of the Lord.
Old Testament sacrifices were never meritorious; they did not earn God’s favor. Solomon’s sacrifices at the ark were thank-offerings, expressions of gratitude to the Lord for His mercies. He offered sacrifices in order to “Praise the Lord!” as the Psalmist encourages us to do in Psalm 116:12-19:
“What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD, I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people. Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant. You have loosed my bonds. I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!”
And then he held a feast for all his servants, celebrating the Lord’s goodness! We too gather for a feast each Sunday in the Lord’s house, gladly receiving the Bread of Life, lifting up the Cup of salvation, and calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus!
Prayer: Almighty and merciful God, by Your gift alone Your faithful people render true and laudable service. Help us steadfastly to live in this life according to Your promises and finally attain Your heavenly glory; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.