“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?”1 Kings 3:6-9
The cry of Solomon resounds in my heart. It is a cry born of deep humility and a profound sense of dependence upon God. “I am but a little child,” he cries, “I do not know how to go out or come in.” Ascending to the throne of his father, the great King David, Solomon must have realized his frailty, his inadequacy. Though he was already a grown man when he became king, Solomon considered himself a little child dependent on a Father’s wisdom.
In the book of 1 Kings we learn that, while Solomon was at Gibeon to offer sacrifices to the Lord, God appeared to him in a dream and said simply, “Ask what I shall give you.” We are commonly taught that Solomon asked the Lord for wisdom and that God, being pleased with this request, instantaneously blessed him with a great outpouring of this gift. But in Solomon’s words we see that he requests more than wisdom: he requests discernment. His specific request is this: “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9a). God reiterates and answers this request, saying to Solomon, “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” (1 Kings 3:11-12a). And here is what God gave Solomon: “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” (1 Kings 3:12b).
Commenting on verse 9, Hebrews scholars Keil and Delitzsch point out that the “understanding mind” Solomon requested was actually a “hearing heart” or a “listening heart”-“a heart giving heed to the law and right of God.” Solomon was given wisdom, to be sure. But he was also given a hearing heart. He was given discernment such as no mere human has possessed before or since. We might even say that Solomon requested discernment, but because of the connectedness of wisdom and discernment, God gave him both what he requested and its important prerequisite. Solomon became both wise and discerning.
We can read Solomon’s Psalm, written after the events of this night, a Psalm in which he asks God’s assistance in applying wisdom:
Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son!
May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice!
Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness!
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,(Psalm 72:1-4)
give deliverance to the children of the needy,
and crush the oppressor!
Unlike Solomon, I have not been called by God to govern a nation. But even in the humble ways God has called me to lead, I feel the desire of Solomon. Even when I look at my family and think of how I must lead my wife and teach my children I feel like a little child, uncertain of what to do and how to act. So often I have called out to God for wisdom and for discernment. So often I have sought to be like Solomon. So often I have wanted to know that God is pleased with my requests.
God honored Solomon’s request because He was pleased with what Solomon had asked. This teaches us that God values discernment and honors those who seek after it. In this short series we will see the importance the Bible places on discernment by showing both the blessings that accompany discernment and the curses that accompany a lack of discernment.
Tomorrow we will look at three marks of a lack of discernment, and on Wednesday we’ll look at the benefits stored up for those who desire discernment, who seek after it and who practice it.