Background on 1 Kings 3:4-13~Today’s reading is from a slightly larger immediate context, 3:4-15. This passage describes what Jerome T. Walsh in his Commentary on 1 Kings terms “Solomon’s first encounter with God.” Walsh suggests that the passage has a reverse parallel structure (highlighted by color coding):
A1. Solomon went to Gibeon to offers sacrifice (3:4).
B1. God appears to Solomon in a dream (3:5a).
C1. Solomon addresses a prayer to God (3:5b-9).
C2. God responds to Solomon (3:10-14).
B2. Solomon awakes and realizes he had a dream (3:15a).
A2. Solomon goes up to Jerusalem and offers sacrifice (3:15b).
1Ki 3:4 He went therefore to Gabaon (Gibeon), to sacrifice there: for that was the great high place: a thousand victims for holocausts, did Solomon offer upon that altar, in Gabaon (Gibeon).
Gibeon is about six miles to the northwest of Jerusalem at a site now called “the Mount of the Prophet Samuel,” and it appears that from very early times a shrine had been maintained there by the Gibeonites. Apparently, not long after the conquest, it became a site for Israelite worship. In and of itself this appears not to have been sinful as long as “there was no temple built to the name of the Lord” (1 Kings 3:2). The law of Deuteronomy however laid down that once a temple had been built it was to become the one sanctuary: “In the place, which the Lord your God shall choose, that his name may be therein. Thither shall you bring all the things that I command you, holocausts, and victims, and tithes, and the firstfruits of your hands: and whatsoever is the choicest in the gifts which you shall vow to the Lord. There shall you feast before the Lord your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levite that dwelleth in your cities. For he hath no other part and possession among you. Beware lest thou offer thy holocausts in every place that thou shalt see: But in the place which the Lord shall choose in one of thy tribes shalt thou offer sacrifices, and shalt do all that I command thee” (Deut 12:11-14).
Solomon has been chosen to build the temple (house) envisioned by Deuteronomy (see 2 Sam 7:12-13, 1 Kings 6:1-38; 7:13-51; 8:1-66). This makes Walsh’s outline of 1 Kings 3:4-15 given above rather instructive. The passage opens with Solomon offering sacrifice at Gibeon and ends with him offering sacrifice at Jerusalem, the place where the temple would be built. This foreshadows the coming transfer from many sanctuaries to one.
1Ki 3:5 And the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, saying: Ask what thou wilt that I should give thee.
And the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream. Dream revelations are fairly common in the Bible (Gen 20:3; 28:12, 37; Judges 7:13-16; Zechariah and Daniel, passim; Matt 1:18-21; 2:12-13, 9)
Ask what thou wilt. Later in the history of the davidic dynasty God made a somewhat similar offer to king Ahaz who showed himself a fool, feigning piety (Isaiah 7:10-25). Later still, Herod offered Salome whatever she asked, with grisly consequences (Mark 6:22-28).
1Ki 3:6 And Solomon said: Thou hast shewed great mercy to thy servant David, my father, even as he walked before thee in truth, and justice, and an upright heart with thee: and thou hast kept thy great mercy for him, and hast given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day.
1Ki 3:7 And now, O Lord God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David, my father: and I am but a child, and know not how to go out and come in;
1Ki 3:8 And thy servant is in the midst of the people which thou hast chosen, an immense people, which cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude.
Solomon begins by reciting a history of God’s merciful dealings with, and blessings upon, his father David (verse 6). He caps this part of his recitation of with the words, And now, O Lord God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David, my father, subtly indicating that this too was for David’s sake.
He then introduces a some problems:
1. Solomon pleads youth (I am but a child) and inexperience, claiming he knows not how to go out and come in, a Hebraism for not knowing how one should act (see the NAB translation). In saying this he is contrasting himself with his father who walked before thee (God) in truth, and justice, and an upright heart (verse 6).
2. The immensity of the task: And thy servant is in the midst of the people which thou hast chosen, an immense people, which cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude (verse 8).
This leads to his request from God:
1Ki 3:9 Give therefore to thy servant an understanding heart, to judge thy people, and discern between good and evil. For who shall be able to judge this people, thy people, which is so numerous?
He asks for an understanding heart so that he might exercise right judgement and the ability to discern between good and evil. This corresponds to the upright heart of his father David mentioned in verse 6. Only in this way can he deal with the numerous people he spoke of in verse 8.
1Ki 3:10 And the word was pleasing to the Lord, that Solomon had asked such a thing.
And the word was pleasing to the Lord. The reason becomes apparent in what follows.
1Ki 3:11 And the Lord said to Solomon: Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life nor riches, nor the lives of thy enemies, but hast asked for thyself wisdom to discern jndgment;
1Ki 3:12 Behold I have done for thee according to thy words, and have given thee a wise and understanding heart, in so much that there hath been no one like thee before thee, nor shall arise after thee
The things he might have asked for and which are mentioned in verse 11-long life, riches, victory over enemies-are not sinful, but Solomon has asked for something better a wise and understanding heart; and it is this which the Lord found pleasing. Not only has God given Solomon what he has asked for, but he has done it abundantly: in so much that there hath been no one like thee before thee, nor shall arise after thee.
1Ki 3:13 Yea, and the things also which thou didst not ask, I have given thee; to wit, riches and glory: so that no one hath been like thee among the kings in all days heretofore.
So pleased was God with Solomon’s request that the things he didn’t ask for will be his, with one important difference. In place of the life of his enemies Solomon will be given glory. Riches is self-explanatory.
1Ki 3:14 And if thou wilt walk in my ways, and keep my precepts and my commandments, as thy father walked, I will lengthen thy days.
I will lengthen thy days. He will be given another one of the things he didn’t ask for, a long life. But note the conditions that precede the promise. As the story of Solomon unfolds it becomes obvious that positive nature of “Solomon’s first encounter with God” was not to last. His understanding heart would turn from the Lord (1 Kings 11:9). He ceases to keep the precepts and commandments of God (1 Kings 11:11). All of this we learn in his last encounter with God. Of course, the reading was chosen for today in order to highlight the fact that seeking God’s wisdom, manifested in his teaching, is pleasing to God. As the responsorial antiphon state pleads: Lord, teach me your statutes. Without that teaching we are like sheep without a shepherd (Gospel reading, Mark 6:30-34).