A Dream and a Prayer for Leadership – August 15
1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14, 15 1a
Psalm 72: 1-7, 11-14
Given at Mount Vernon, Ohio, August 15, 2021 *
By Rev. Scott Elliott
As we just heard, the Bible reports that God showed up in a dream and asked Solomon what he wanted. Solomon’s dream response was asking for “an understanding mind to govern [God’s] people [and to be able ] to discern between good and evil. . .”
That sure sounds like a wise thing to request, a human and divine dream answer. That dream request might actually be the wisest thing Solomon ever dreamed of asking. And Solomon’s considered wise in great part because of that dream choice he made for wisdom.
Unfortunately, the dream did not play out. Solomon fell far short of actually governing wisely.
While he did build the Temple and the kingdom was prosperous for him and other elites, he heavily taxed his subjects, exported at least thirty thousand Israelites as forced laborers (1 Kg 5:13-14; 10:14 et seq); and enslaved thousands of non-Israelites (1 Kg 9:15 et seq). He also hoarded riches, worshiped idols, and kept hundreds of women in a harem. At the end of the day Solomon’s actions so severely bankrupted and divided Israel that shortly after his death the kingdom split apart.
Even the famous story where Solomon is said to have wisely solved a conflict involving two women and a baby is upon reflection very unwise and opposed his dream wish and God’s dream answer. In that story Solomon threatens to cut the baby in half so the real mother would reveal herself by giving up her claim to save the baby. Threatening to cut a child in half is horrific especially since Solomon had the power to do it and the poor mother was made to think he’d do it. Solomon’s purportedly wisest moment is barbaric and uncaring, and in reality not wise at all, and not at all in line with Solomon’s and God’s dream.
And it’s not just the dream in our lesson that Solomon failed to live up to as his Nation’s leader and a follower of YHWH. Psalm 72 (today’s invocation) is credited to Solomon. It sets out more details of God’s dream in a human prayer for world leaders. 1 It’s a dream and prayer that all people be are provided equal access to justice, to righteousness, to care. Psalm 72 was relied upon by early Christians as proof that Jesus was the messiah because he embodied the Psalm’s dictates to tend to the poor and needy. 2
Listen again to those portions of Psalm 72:
“Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy and crush the oppressor . . .
May all kings fall down before him all nations give him service. For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence, he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.”
We have discussed Psalm 72 before, but I do not think we’ve laid it along-side of Solomon’s dream of wisdom. The details of Psalm 72 also indict Solomon’s governance as a failure of Biblical proportions– his leadership was unwise. Under Solomon’s reign the people were not judged with righteousness, the poor were not provided justice. Solomon did not defend the poor. He did not deliver them or the needy or those with no help. Solomon did not crush the oppressor–he became the oppressor. He failed to redeem those in need from oppression and violence. The poor and the needy’s blood was not precious in Solomon’s sight.
Going back the dream lesson in our reading, Solomon did not use “an understanding mind to govern . . . [or] discern between good and evil” at least not in his numerous recorded acts of oppression. That dream of Solomon and God’s, though, lives on. It’s there in Scripture. It’s lasted this long and has been lauded as wise because it is caring and compassionate, and justice and love oriented. It’s the way God wants leaders to govern. It’s the way most people want to be governed and want leaders to govern. As voters in a modern republic, we could insist on it as the measure of good leadership.
I’d love to hear it as the wisdom all legislators are elected for and held accountable to. Think what our communities and our nation would be like if we held officials to the standard of “an understanding mind to govern . . . [and to be able ] to discern between good and evil.” Think what would happen if that and Psalm 72 became the desire not just of God, but of our electorate and our leaders. And not just dream work and sermonizing but put into practice!
Christianity has power in our nation today, but, I can’t recall hearing powerful prominent Christian voices, like televangelists, pushing the government to do as Psalm 72 requires, to “defend the cause of the poor;” to “deliver the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.” Or to provide redemption of the needy from oppression and violence, to declare the resounding truth that poor and needy’s blood is precious.
Mainline Christian leaders and civil rights-oriented Christians, including those in our denomination, have made such pleas, but, you’d think the voices would be unified and resounding if not overwhelming on this issue. Jesus was poor. In fact, Jesus is still poor, Matthew 25 tells us that he is in all those who are poor: the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, and the imprisoned. Christ taught THAT how we treat those in need is how we treat Christ!
So why aren’t Christians across the board demanding that our nation’s leaders seek to live out God’s dream? Why aren’t we demanding it ourselves? What could be more important?
It saddens me that when I think of Christians in the media with the most power demanding things from politicians, or doing work as politicians, I tend to remember many of them, as passionately seeking other things, things not a priority in the Bible, things that are in opposite to Solomon’s dream, God’s dream. Wearing their brand of Christianity on their sleeves I hear about them seeking things like prohibiting women to have choices regarding their bodies; prohibiting use of bathrooms by people God made Transgender; prohibiting teaching facts about racism, history and science; prohibiting legal remedies for unequal treatment in the market place of LGBTQ+ Americans; prohibiting life-saving research and prohibiting Black, People of Color and Poor lives from fully mattering. None of those prohibitions are literally in the Bible. None of them. They oppose God’s instructions to nations’ leaders in Solomon’s dream and in Psalm 72 and in Matthew 25 ARE in the Bible.
And if we want separation of church and state those instructions have a secular equivalent in the document the United States was founded on– the truths of equality and God-given rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness enumerated in the Declaration of Independence.
See one way or another the leaders in our nation from the local to the state to the national level from whatever party they are in have a call to “an understanding mind . . . [and ] to discern between good and evil.” to “defend the cause of the poor;” to “deliver the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no help.” A call to provide redemption of the needy from oppression and violence. A call to declare the resounding truth that the poor and needy’s blood is precious.
To paraphrase Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25, nations will be judged on how they tend to those in need. When our nation acts to love them as we love ourselves, we will love our neighbors– and according to Jesus, we love Christ! That’s God’s dream for nations. That that dream was not followed by Solomon and by many leaders since – including many leaders today– is sad news. But THAT the dream exists, and it is God’s dream, is good news. It is good news for humankind. It’s still out there and we know it–and we want it to be a dream come true.
May it be so. AMEN.
* This sermon is based in part on a sermon I wrote in 2006
- McCann, Clint, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol IV, p. 965 (1996).
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