Preached by Terrell Carter on June 8, 2013- WGBC Centennial Celebration
By a show of hands, how many of you remember the radio personality Paul Harvey? For those who are not familiar with him, Paul Harvey was a radio broadcaster and news commentator for the ABC family of radio networks. His career spanned several years. Over his career, he garnered a large and faithful following, and many awards and accolades for his style, wit, and professionalism.
One of Mr. Harvey’s most famous regular radio segments was titled “The Rest of The Story.” “The Rest of the Story” was a Monday-through-Friday radio program which he began during the Second World War. During these segments, Mr. Harvey would tell stories of what seemed like ordinary people, like you and me, who through, or after, overcoming certain events, became someone important in world history.
The story would begin simply and anonymously, but end with a surprise or twist. Like the story of John Pemberton, who invented a cough syrup that didn’t taste good or sell very well. Well, it didn’t sell very well until a pharmacist began to tweak the mixture of ingredients eventually combining the syrup with carbonated water, eventually the cough syrup into a concoction we now know as Coca Cola.
Or the story of a young boy named Guisseppie, whose father wanted him to be a fisherman, like everyone else in his family. Because the little boy did not like fishing, his father considered him to be a lazy, good for nothing kid. This boy was eventually estranged from his father and family because his “laziness” eventually led him to pursue a different occupation. Baseball. He was shunned and kept away from the family business, only to eventually become one of the greatest baseball players of all time. This lazy boy was eventually called The Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio.
Or the story of Harland. A man who couldn’t keep a steady job for most of his life. He tried his hand at almost every profession you could think of, and failed at them. He was considered a failure by everyone, even his own wife, who left him multiple times, once taking their daughter and hiding her from him. This unfortunate event led to his arrest when he tried to kidnap his daughter and take her back. Life was never simple or fulfilling to him. Between a lack of a steady job, and marital discord, life couldn’t get any worse for this man. Well that was until he got his first social security check. The day that it was delivered to his home, he realized that he had squandered most of his life, and had nothing to show for it. So he took his $105 retirement check and began his own business. The man was Harland Sanders, Colonel Sanders, and the restaurant was Kentucky Fried Chicken.
When telling the stories, Mr. Harvey would give an introduction that presented a tidbit or fact about the person in order to wet the listener’s appetite. Often, it would be about how the person struggled for a portion of their lives and there seemed to be no hope for the future. He would end the stories with his signature tag line, “And now, you know the rest of the story.”
In reading I Kings 3:5-12, I could imagine it being a part of one of Mr. Harvey’s broadcasts. Mr. Harvey would start the program by saying, “Late one evening, a young child, who just became king, is lying in his bed resting. Tucked away in his palace, he’s sound asleep. While other children his age are dreaming of games and playground antics, this young ruler, Jedidiah, is dreaming about how to lead his country.
But, there’s more to the story. This little boy is approached by God and offered all that his heart desires. But instead of going for the gusto, this young man asks for the unimaginable. He asks for wisdom. Wisdom, not to be able to win at checkers and chess, or to be able to best his classmates, but wisdom to rule over an entire kingdom. Who is this boy-king? We know him as Solomon, the son of David, who eventually became known as the wisest man to ever live. And now, you know the rest of the story.”
As you think through that fictional Paul Harvey monologue, what would have happened if you were Solomon? Solomon is presented with a “get out of jail free” card and he doesn’t use it. Instead, he’s the good dooby who asks for the right thing.
This young child, this boy-king, is approached by God in a dream, shortly after ascending his father’s throne. He’s about to begin ruling a kingdom. As he slumbers, God approaches him and offers him his heart’s desire.
How would you have responded to this question from God? Would you have rattled off a laundry list of things you wanted from God? A list of things you wanted/needed God to do for you? “Well God, since you asked, I need you to take care of this and that…..and can you make sure to do this for this person and that for that person ….and this person has been mean to me, so can you get them….and you know I always wanted this……”
This boy essentially asks for the opposite of what most of us would have requested. Instead of asking for things and possessions, he requests that God give him understanding and discernment so that he can govern God’s people correctly.
Would you have answered God’s question like that? Would you have forgone wealth, power, prestige, love, respect, fear, etc. for the sake of being a good leader?
Let me be truthful, I struggle with this passage. Not because of how Solomon answers God’s question, but because this passage is only a small snippet in the story of Solomon. And if this were the only chapter that we had in Solomon’s life, then we would have a beautiful picture of a man of God. But the truth is that this picture of Solomon is only a small piece to the overall puzzle of his life. As Paul Harvey would say, “There’s more to the story.”
When most commentaries address this passage, or preachers preach from this text, they give a romanticized view of Solomon and the virtue he showed as a child king. When presented with the opportunity to gain the desires of his heart, he instead opts for curtain #2, wisdom, a decision I would not relate to. The beginning of his reign is off to a resounding, yet humble start.
It all sounds good, doesn’t it. But in actuality, Solomon’s life and reign will be the antithesis of that. It will be marked by a stark contrast between him making wise and foolish decisions.
Solomon’s reign begins in chapter 1 of I Kings. There we find out that King David, his father, is old, and on the verge of dying. David’s oldest living son, Adonijah, seeing that David is dying, privately proclaims himself king, and builds a secret coalition of leaders who will support him as he attempts to ascend the throne. He does all of this without David’s knowledge or approval.
Nathan the prophet and Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, hear about this coup and come up with a plan to get Solomon anointed as king by David. And their plan works. Solomon, who is actually a young man, possibly in his early to mid 20s with a wife, is publicly anointed king in front of everyone, and the people celebrate this.
How do you think these two brothers will get along at the next family reunion? Adonijah eventually goes to Solomon, apologizes for his actions, and recognizes him as king. But, Solomon keeps a close eye on him. And there’s more to the story.
In chapter 2, David gives the new king Solomon instructions of what he should do to protect his legacy and the kingdom. David gives him specific instructions on who he is to let live and who he should kill. Sounds like the kinds of conversations we all have had with our fathers, doesn’t it? David dies, and Solomon goes about cleaning house, as David instructed, even killing his own brother.
Let me pause and ask this question; how wise does Solomon seem so far? His reign is off to an interesting start. Do you think that this is the way God would have wanted Solomon to start? He’s exacting revenge and making decisions based on political expediency, and what he believes is best for his reign and legacy. But, could there be other ways that he could have handled things? We will never know. But, there’s more to the story.
Chapter 3 begins with words any Israelite probably never expected to hear, or read. We are told that Solomon made an alliance with the King of Egypt by marrying the Pharaoh’s daughter. The Pharaoh’s daughter. The Pharaoh. The ruler of the country that once enslaved Solomon’s people. Solomon, who was likely already married, enters into a relationship with another woman that the Law of God likely frowned upon.
In Deuteronomy 17, God specifically tells the people that their kings should adhere to the following: “Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way (to Egypt) again.’ And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart neither turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.”
Wow. That three-fold prohibition seems pretty clear cut doesn’t it? Don’t have anything to do with Egypt. Don’t marry a lot of women. And don’t acquire a lot of personal wealth. But, is Solomon going to follow these commands? It doesn’t seem like it. Instead, it seems like he’s doing what he wants. Or what he thinks is in the best interest of the kingdom. And there’s still more to the story.
After Solomon marries the Pharaoh’s daughter, we find out that he regularly makes sacrifices at the high places throughout the land. Vs. 2-3 say, “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.” So, Solomon loved God and followed his father in worshipping God. This set of verses insinuates that the only problem that Solomon had was that he worshipped God at the high places.
High places were public places of worship. Small outdoor temples and facilities that were erected where people could worship their gods/deities. These places were not dedicated to YHWH, God the Father. They were for any and every god. But, since anyone could go to them and worship their gods there, and the temple had not yet been completed, followers of YHWH sometimes worshipped God there. Sometimes right before, or right after, a pagan god was worshipped.
Does anyone see a problem with this? The passage does say that the Temple had not yet been built, but people still needed/wanted a place to worship God. So, why not use any old place that’s available? The problem was that God had given specific instructions on how and where people were to worship.
In Deuteronomy 12, God says, “These are the rules that you shall be careful to do in the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth. You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. You shall tear down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and burn their Asherim with fire. You shall chop down the carved images of their gods and destroy their name out of that place. You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way.”
Wow. They did the opposite of what God wanted. Not just them, but Solomon, as well. Solomon’s decisions don’t seem to be that wise, so far. But there’s more.
We get to the moment of truth. The redeeming chapter in the novel that is Solomon’s life. God approaches him in a vision and asks what He can give Solomon. What does his heart desire, because he can have it? With all of the power and authority of heaven and earth behind you, what do you want Solomon?
Solomon responds, “Lord, I am immature. I haven’t been a leader for very long. I don’t know how all of this being king business is supposed to work. Make me into the man that my father wanted me to be. Make me into someone that serves You, and the people, rightly.”
And God was pleased with this response. But there’s even more. God told Solomon that since he didn’t ask for wealth, or prestige, or anything else, God would give it to him anyway. In addition to wisdom and discernment, God would give him all the things that would make him the envy of other leaders. He would receive riches and fame. He would be a wise, wealthy, and respected ruler.
And that’s exactly what happened. Very soon after the dream, Solomon is presented with opportunity, after opportunity to show himself wise. He makes judgments/decisions that bring him fame and accolades. His reputation grew. We are told that his wisdom surpassed all of the wisest men in the land.
But not only did his reputation grow, the kingdom also grew. It grew in size and stature. The kingdom encompassed more land and resources than King David could ever have dreamed of for his son. Solomon even eventually built the Temple that David could only dream about.
Solomon’s stature grew. The kingdom grew. And so did Solomon’s family. As part of his alliance building process, Solomon continued to marry the daughters and sisters of foreign leaders. His house grew from one wife, to two, to eventually 700 wives, and 300 concubines. Talk about political expediency. And if you asked him, he probably would say, “I’m doing this for the good of the country.” Yeah, right.
But there’s more to the story. And it doesn’t end well. When we read the final chapter of Solomon’s life, and all of the marriages, and all of the alliances, and all of the growth and prosperity, we find out that the people were heavily burdened by his lifestyle. Discontent grew in the kingdom. It took a lot of resources to keep the Solomon Bunny Ranch afloat. Taxes were astronomical. People were not happy. His enemies grew in number and boldness.
And worst of all, Solomon’s life closes on this note: Solomon loved many foreign women. He married them in spite of the fact that God said that His children should not mingle with foreigners, because they would cause them to turn their backs on Him. And they caused him to turn his heart away from God. And he worshipped other gods. He was not faithful to God. And God was angry with him.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the rest of the story.
As I said earlier, I struggle with the story of Solomon. It’s a story of contrasts and contradictions. Good decisions versus bad ones. Having your heart in the right place at the right time versus having a sinful selfish heart. Ruling wisely versus ruling foolishly. Doing what’s best for others and country versus doing what’s best for me and my interests. Honoring God versus honoring self. Does any of this sound familiar to anyone?
I struggle with the story of Solomon because, truthfully, I see myself in his story. If we could all be truthful, we can see a bit of ourselves in Solomon. We can see opportunity offered, only to be under appreciated and squandered. We can see frailty and weakness. We can see greed and a desire to be upwardly mobile, sometimes even at the expense of others. A desire to be the center of attention. The big boss who is feared as well as adored. Does any of this sound familiar to you?
His story started so well, but ended so tragically. In some ways, he is a case study in what not to do. How not to live out your relationship with God.
But, for all the negatives of Solomon’s life, the dichotomy of how he started versus how he ended, all of the failures, I still see a redeeming point in his narrative. I see something that is redeeming and worthwhile. The one consistent thing in Solomon’s story was God’s grace. In spite of his outright sin and disregard for God’s desires, God still expanded the kingdom and protected His people. God still expanded the territory. God still expanded his legacy.
God stayed faithful to the promises that He made Solomon, and King David. God did for Solomon what He promised, even when Solomon didn’t do what he promised to God.
I can see the same grace and patience that God showed to Solomon in my own life.
So, how are we to view Solomon and his life? What I see, as I read the story of Solomon, is that, first, God is faithful to us, even when we are not faithful to Him. God’s determination to love us and care for us is not based on anything other than the fact that God is love, and God has purposely chosen to love us.
Second, in spite of Solomon’s unwise and selfish decisions, God still used him to build and protect His kingdom. God used the wisest fool to lead His people. And eventually, this wise fool built the temple where God chose to dwell bodily with His people.
Before any of us judge Solomon, we should ask ourselves this question: How has your decision making been going lately? Have all the paths you have chosen to take been down the straight and narrow? Has everything you have done been for the right reasons, and blessed of God? Have you ever fallen due to bad choices? Have you ever just outright sinned?
If you have, there is good news. Your story has not been fully written. The final chapter has not been written in your life, in spite of what you may think, or others may think. You still have pages to fill. You still have kingdom building work to participate in.
The good news is this, “God works through some interesting characters.” People like Abraham, David, Solomon, You, and Me.
God uses imperfect, selfish, goofy people to build and expand God’s kingdom. To tell God’s story of faithfulness, of love, and redemption for the world. God uses imperfect men and women in the work of God’s kingdom.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the rest of the story.
Hold on, Terrell. Why in the world are you preaching this type of sermon as the 100th anniversary message? Today is supposed to be about how long WGBC has been around. Today is about recognizing all of the people who have been coming here faithfully for so long. Today is about patting people on the back and telling them good job. Today is about recognizing all of the visitors that are present today.
Don’t misunderstand me. I agree with all of that. But I would be remiss in my privilege to speak before you if I did not challenge you from God’s word, as well. I agree that, like Solomon, at the time of his coronation as king, this is a time of celebration. We can celebrate where God has brought us from. 100 years is an amazing thing. But like Solomon, this is also a time to have a conversation with God about the future.
I imagine that at year 100, God is asking WGBC the same question that was asked of Solomon in year 1 of his reign. That question is what do we want God to do for us?
At times like this, we may want to say, “God, we miss the glory days. Bring back the glory days. Bring back former members so things can be like they used to be. We miss those people. We miss spending time with them.” I have to admit that is not a bad request. Past relationships and past experiences are valuable.
But, is there a better way to respond? We can tell God that we don’t want the glory days. Instead, like Solomon, we can ask God to make us wise so that we would rightly do what God has called us to do. God, give us the wisdom to envision new days and new friends in addition to our old friends. God give us wisdom to enter into a new mission with the priority to build your kingdom and not our own. Give us a heart to see your creation as you do.
We can ask God to make us faithful so that we will see another 100 years of serving the Webster Groves community and making a tangible difference in the lives of men, women, boys, and girls so that God’s kingdom will be built and God would receive the glory.
And that, WGBC, can be the rest of our story.
Will you pray with me?