Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Dream of Grateful Hearts: Homily on 2 Chronicles 1:1-13

“The king is dead; long live the king!” It was a new and perplexing day for Israel, and certainly for Solomon. Officially, he had been placed on the throne while his father David was still living – a measure to ensure that the succession wouldn't be contested. But now David had gone the way of all flesh. And Solomon, about twenty years old, was left to rule. His father had viewed him as “young and soft” (1 Chronicles 22:5; 29:1). Yet David had charged Solomon with the task of ruling a people and building a house worthy to bear the name of Yahweh the Almighty, and had told Solomon to “set [his] mind and heart to seek Yahweh your God” and to “know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind” (1 Chronicles 22:19; 28:9). So when Solomon “established himself in his kingdom,” consolidating power (2 Chronicles 1:1), he knew it was only because he'd followed his father's instructions – Solomon confessed that it was God who “made me king in this place” (2 Chronicles 1:8), and that “Yahweh his God was with him” (2 Chronicles 1:1). God had blessed.

So Solomon's first act as the sole king of Israel, the twenty-year-old alone on the throne, was to call the leaders of the people together at a high place called Gibeon (2 Chronicles 1:2-3a). Why? Because of the artifacts that were there. The tent of meeting was there, although David had relocated the ark (2 Chronicles 1:3b-4). And the bronze altar built by Bezalel in the wilderness was still standing in front of the tent of meeting (2 Chronicles 1:5). Solomon could have gone to the new Davidic tent on Mount Zion, but instead he went to where the old things were – the tent made by Moses, the altar made by Bezalel – and trusted that God would still receive their worship there, even without the ark of the covenant inside the tent.

So once Solomon got there, once the leaders of all Israel got there, they worshipped. And they worshipped by making sacrifices. Solomon entered the proximity of God's presence, and he sponsored the priests to make a thousand burnt offerings (2 Chronicles 1:6). It was a lavish gesture. Each one of those offerings was an animal – maybe an ox, maybe a sheep, maybe a goal, maybe a pigeon or turtledove – which had to be an unblemished male animal, slaughtered in the divine presence, with its blood and guts handled appropriately, then set entirely on fire until nothing was left. No mortal got to use any part; it was given entirely over to God as a gift. These could be used to make atonement for sin, but from Solomon's behavior, I'd surmise that his goal is just this: to show a lavish gratitude in answer to a lavish grace.

How long does it take to burn a thousand offerings on just one altar? At least all day. Beginning in the morning and continuing through the late hours, the entire day is devoted to this worship – perhaps some Levites are on hand to sing praises while the sacrifices go up. Night falls. And Solomon lays down, there in the dirt at Gibeon in front of the tent of meeting. He's young. He's tender. He wants to seek God and know God and serve God with a whole heart and a willing mind. God sees and responds.

And so during the night, Solomon's search finds its target. His grateful heart and mind dream a dream, and God appears to Solomon, speaking through the darkness, offering a blessing (2 Chronicles 1:7). And Solomon sees that God is handing him a blank check, an unrestricted wish. There are plenty of things Solomon could want, he could ask for any of them. He could ask for immense wealth – for mounds of gold and silver and jewels. He could ask for possessions, perhaps hold great estates. He could ask for honor, so that everyone would always respect him. He could ask God to strike down all his enemies, so that he would forever be unopposed. He could ask for long life, so that he would rule into his eighties or nineties. But he doesn't ask for any of those things (2 Chronicles 1:11a). Solomon has a different evaluation of what it means to be a success. For Solomon, being rich isn't a successful life, being respected isn't a successful life, and being alive longer isn't a successful life. What does it mean to be successful? Solomon's view is that it's being faithful to God over what he's been given stewardship over. He tells God, “You have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth” (2 Chronicles 1:9). That's a substantial stewardship! “Who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?” (2 Chronicles 1:10b). Even for a tried-and-tested administrative genius, it would be a formidable undertaking. And Solomon is a soft twenty-year-old, delicate from palace living.

So Solomon's humble request is just this: “Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people” (2 Chronicles 1:10a). Offered a blank check by God, he uses it not for any personal gain but only to be equipped for the job, so that he can be a faithful steward in God's sight. Even when God offers Solomon a blank-check blessing, Solomon wants to use it for God (2 Chronicles 1:11b)! And God is so pleased that he replies, “Wisdom and knowledge are granted to you; I will also give you riches, possessions, honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like” (2 Chronicles 1:12).

The dream ends. Dawn breaks. Solomon is roused from his sleep. But he gets up a changed man – a man in communion with God's Wisdom, with eyes of insight and a sharper mind than ever. And so he leaves the tent of meeting at Gibeon. He returns to Jerusalem, his capital city, from which he resumes his reign over all Israel (2 Chronicles 1:13). And he thoroughly prospers, just as the Lord had promised (2 Chronicles 1:14-17).

Over the next few months, we're going to explore God's gift to Solomon. Because Solomon didn't hoard this wisdom all to himself. The wisdom-sayings he collected or composed were later compiled, and they form the core of the book we know as Proverbs. As we glean from that book, topic by topic, we'll come to recognize how it not only gives us practical lessons, but how it points us to the King Greater Than Solomon: Jesus Christ, the Wisdom of God (cf. Matthew 12:42; 1 Corinthians 1:24).

But before we get to all that, we pause here to see two things that Solomon knew before he even got this gift of wisdom and knowledge. First is this: Blessings are cause for costly expressions of gratitude. Solomon was established as king by God's faithfulness; Solomon therefore reacted to God's faithfulness by making sacrifices and devoting himself to worship. And God is still faithful – he establishes us, and if we're to be more like this Solomon at his best, our gratitude will express itself through sacrifice and worship. And the second lesson is this: God-centeredness and faithful stewardship are the metric of success. Solomon didn't define success in any of the self-serving ways he could have, when he was given a blank check for a blessing. He only wanted to get the wisdom and knowledge he needed to steward God's people well, and he kept himself focused on God. Just the same, every other metric we use to define church success pales. Our success as a church, and your success as people, is based on whether we're seeking God and are faithful and responsible stewards of the mission he has assigned to us. We chase nothing else for its own sake, but rejoice in it as an unsought bonus.

So in the coming months, we like Solomon will sit at the feet of Wisdom, learning how to live and how to live well. May we seek it with gratitude and with an eye to what truly matters most. But here we are now, gathered for our congregational meeting. God established Solomon's kingdom, and God gives us a new year of ministry in this community for the sake of his name – he has raised us up as a temple. And we now gather to ask God to give us the wisdom we'll need to carry out the ministry he's trusted to our care. That, and nothing else, is what this congregational meeting is all about. Amen.

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