Like many of my counterparts in the pulpit today, I admit I was tempted to preach on politics. Rather than tell you that the candidates from one party are better than another, however, I was going to ask you to compare any candidate you support for any office with the description spelled out about the king in our OT text today. Solomon’s request, I think, demonstrates come of the complexities involved in fulfilling the office of public servant. Yes, I know we think of kings traditionally as being public servants, but remember, this is God’s anointed king of whom we are speaking. Solomon’s request for discernment demonstrates that a public servant must live in a tension between humility and assured confidence, between one’s strengths and one’s weaknesses, and even between the self and office. Being a public servant should be really tough, when we think about it. As I said, I was going to ask you to compare your favorite candidate to their ability to live in the tensions of public service, but then I realized I had to give us all some hope! I often preach that God can redeem everything, but I confess I sometimes find myself wondering during this election cycle if He can redeem our political system.
Then it dawned on me. There is a great sermon for this week. There’s a great sermon for politicians, too, but we have none among us. It did not so much as dawn on me as get pointed out in Bible Study this past week. We have spent a bit of the past few weeks talking about some of the sins of David. Last week, in particular, we looked at how David had failed as king and as dad with respect to Absalom. The king’s job was to teach the people how to live as the people of God. A father’s job is to teach his son’s and daughters to love and fear the Lord. With respect to his son, David failed on both accounts. His son modeled the selfish behavior of his father rather than the heart for which God credits David as righteous.
Fast forward a few years. How do we know that David was truly repentant with respect to his failure with Absalom? How do we know his grief was real? Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David. David’s behavior has truly changed. He has, given this second chance, truly fulfilled his obligation as king and as father, at least as far as it concerns Solomon. Given Solomon’s request for a discerning heart, we know that Solomon was actually trying to live as his father taught. Gone are the selfish requests of his half-brother. Now, that is not to say that there have not been obstacles. In particular, Solomon had to kill his half brother Adonijah in order to ascend the throne. That’s one of those little wedgies that make us wonder whether Solomon is the “larger than life” character that is often described in Sunday School classes. Another wedgie should be the description that follows the praise of Solomon for walking as his father David instructed him. Except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places. In the beginning of his rule, Solomon does a good job except in this one thing. Later, he will marry an Egyptian lady and allow her to teach the people about her idols, so Solomon will forget what he was taught. But, for a time at least, Solomon’s heart is in the right place, and Israel is blessed.
Speed ahead to our last verse today, however. And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life. You may have missed the sentence gearing up for your “Thanks be to God” response. But listen to that sentence again. How could God ever think that David was obedient and that he kept His commands? Given the sins of David we have discussed the past couple of weeks, how can God make this offer with a straight face? As I was reading some commentaries on the passage this week, a few authors offered the weak explanation that Solomon was probably never told how Bathsheba became one of David’s wives. Seriously? You think that such a juicy piece of gossip could ever be kept quiet, even under threat or pain of death for speaking of it in the presence of the prince? Me either.
No, what makes David obedient and what ought to impress us about his work with Solomon is the fruit of humility. What do I mean? We have spoken of the difference between the good kings and the bad kings in God’s people. Good kings endeavor to keep His instructions. Bad kings are selfish. Of course, kings other than Jesus fail. So how does God deal with them and their sins? The same way in which He deals with ours. When kings such as David repent, truly repent, how does God respond? Mercifully. With the sin of David in our minds, how do we know that he repented? By how he raised his son Solomon. David works with his son to teach him God’s instruction. How do we know that Solomon has inward ingested David’s instruction? By his request of God. Solomon recognizes those tensions I mentioned earlier and that he is not gifted to do the job without God’s grace and help. So he asks for discernment or wisdom. Solomon is humble before God and asks for His help. And God is pleased with Solomon’s request, so much so that He gives Solomon those things which must have tempted Solomon.
But, we are left with an important question. Whither the humility? How is this humility understood and taught? Repentance. Simply put, brothers and sisters, all this humility arises out of David’s understanding for his need to repent of his sins. Whenever David is confronted by God with his sins, he always begs God’s forgiveness. Unlike His Lord who will come after him, Jesus, David recognizes his need to repent of those things he does wrong. And, if God does not choose to forgive him, then he will have no hope. How many times in the Psalms does the psalmist remind the reader that none of us could hope to stand before God, were God to remember our sins or other things done amiss? Those psalms, brothers and sisters, were composed by authors well aware of their standing before God. Those psalms, brothers and sisters, are often attributed either to David or to Solomon.
Have you ever considered the importance of repentance? Truly considered? Imagine the powerful image of the king begging God for forgiveness. Given what you know about other ANE kings, can you imagine them asking God for forgiveness? What if you were one of God’s people? What would that say to you if the king, God’s anointed king, were to ask God for forgiveness? Given his son’s humility before God, can you imagine how personal those stories of God’s mercy and God’s forgiveness were between this father and this son? Can you imagine? You should. You see, brothers and sisters, the asking for and granting of forgiveness is one of the greatest tools you and I have in our boxes to reach the people outside our faith. You and I understand, or ought to understand, the joy and the hope that comes through a God who accepts Christ’s offering for our sins. You and I ought to moved to music and celebration and joyful outreach because we know what it means to be a redeemed people! And you and I, like David before us, can speak with authority, experience, and humility, of God’s grace in our lives.
At the beginning, I half-joked that I wanted you to compare your favorite potential public servant to the description in today’s passage. When is the last time your favorite candidate or candidates every admitted they were wrong, let alone that they sinned? When is the last time your favorite candidate or candidates confessed that they acted selfishly and not for your welfare nor the glory of God? Now, this might make you uncomfortable, why are you so passionate about your candidate/s and often so silent about your God? Why are you so quick to share on Facebook or Twitter or over coffee which candidate/s you think is great or awful, but so unwilling to account for the joy that you have in Christ in conversations and other interactions with human beings away from here? Maybe, just maybe, the politicians are not the problem. Maybe, just maybe, the problem lies with us. Maybe we should be modeling this behavior described of David, emulated in Solomon, and made possible in our Lord Christ, as our collect reminds us this day. Until you and I and all other Christians improve in our willingness to repent and to forgive, maybe we are getting the politicians we deserve. Lord have mercy . . .