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The Wise and the Not-So-Wise
January 19, 1975

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

While our second son, Tim, was recuperating in the hospital from his birth along with his mother, two-year old Jack and I were keeping house. This meant that a lot of meals were eaten in restaurants. On one particular occasion, we were at a drive-in. I asked Jack what he would like. I said, “You’ve been so good lately, so helpful, that you can order anything you want. Whatever you want, you can have." He thought a minute, then said, "Onion rings and green pop; that’ s all I need." Green pop, by the way, is 7-up. “That's all I need." Such a simple need.

I wonder what the history of the Old Testament would have been like if King Solomon had been as simple in his desires, if he hadn't been so greedy. I wonder if America in the midst of the world crises of our day can adopt a new basis for our economic system, other than greed. I wonder how much chaos, confusion, unhappiness is caused in your life and mine because our wants and desires get out of hand.

We are looking at window number 12 today—King Solomon. To review, you may remember that after Moses led the Hebrews out of Egyptian slavery and trained them for forty years in the wilderness, the tribes entered into a loose confederacy under Joshua. They settled in Canaan. As neighboring countries began increasing in power, the tribes united under King Saul. Saul and David defeated the enemies, established the kingd­om of Israel, and at David's death, the power was handed to David's son by Bathsheba, Solomon. There was no further expansion under Solomon. Egypt and Assyria were relatively weak and inactive, so there was a curtailment of military activity. The time of Solomon was characterized by peace, industry (copper mining), construction, and wealth.

The reign of Solomon has been called by succeeding generations the golden era. Jesus once used the phrase, “Solomon in all his glory." Solomon engineered a vast building program over a 20-year period. It took seven years to build the temple which was an architectural feat of its day. For the next thirteen years, the palace complex was constructed featuring government buildings, the king's house and houses for his wives. Solomon had many wives, many of which he married for political reasons to ensure cooperation and friendship with neigh­boring nations. He significantly married the daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh for this reason. Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines!

Solomon brought much wealth into his land through trading. He built a fleet of ships that traded around the Mediterranean. He controlled trade routes through horse drawn chariots, a new phenomenon at that time. He was such a good horse dealer that soon horses and chariots were being exported at huge profits. He built a copper refinery which was an engineering feat.

Truly Solomon was wise. The Bible says the world was amazed at Solomon's wisdom. He was a philosopher, an inventor of wise proverbs, a master at wit and riddles. The Queen of Sheba traveled to meet Solomon because of his reputation, and went home very impressed with the wise King Solomon, He had such a reputation that most of the wisdom literature in the Old Testament was attributed to him, although he didn't originate much of it.

It would seem that the kingdom of Israel had everything going for it. Truly Solomon was wise, but he was also not-so-wise. When he died, the kingdom couldn't hold together; it split into two—Judah and Israel, southern and northern. This division so weakened the country that it became weak. Unable to remain strong, in succeeding generations it fell to conquerors.

What went wrong? It is much too complicated to narrow the problem to one reason, but much of the problem can be laid to greed. Solomon may have bee wise, but he didn’t have much common sense. He was not wise enough to control his greed. Our window today pictures a dream that Solomon had early in his career. In his dream, he asked the Lord to "give him an understanding mind." He prayed, "Who is able to govern this great people? Give me an understanding mind that I may discern between good and evil." A noble prayer. The dream went on. Because the Lord was pleased that he didn't ask for things but for wisdom, the Lord said, "I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days."

What a blessing, but remember this is a dream, and the dreamer is in control of his dreams, a dream is the unconscious speaking. In Solomons dream, he revealed that he wanted riches, honor, and to be a king like no other king.

In his greed, in his desire for things, his love of fame and honor, he committed some serious errors. First, he compromised and undermined Israel's faith. He brought in wives from other lands who brought their religions with them. He not only tolerated their religion, he allowed them religious freedom, and he participated himself. The temple itself was an affront to the Hebrew faith, for it reflected the Baal religion as much as Israel's. This was serious in that day for Israel was united as a faith rather than as a country or economic reason or whatever else to hold a people together.Joshua urged them to choose the Lord and serve the Lord as the basis for their unity as a nation. Solomon encouraged tolerance and compromise so that he could enjoy wealth and prosperity. Had the story of the Bible ended with this compromise, Israel’s distinctive faith would have fallen into oblivion. It was the prophets’ insistence upon returning to the Mosaic principles that kept the faith alive. Next week we begin looking at those prophets who preserved and brought the faith to the next generations so that we can participate in Christianity today. Solomon undermined the faith and brought disaster upon the nation. He was not-so-wise,

Secondly, another error: he was so captured with his greed to be rich and powerful that he exploited his own people. Not only did he use slave labor from conquered lands, but he used his own people. 30,000 Israelites were conscripted and sent to Lebanon to work in the forests felling the cedars of Lebanon. 80,000 Israelites were forced to work in the stone quarries. 70,000 worked as burden-bearers. The nation groaned under this conscription.

There was great wealth in Solomon’s kingdom but it was not shared by most of the people. There was a deep cleavage between the rich and the very poor. History teaches us that when there is a wide gulf between the rich and the poor, the climate is ripe for revolution, and revolution came to Solomon in his later years.The nation crumbled partly because of greed.

We are living in a time now when the entire world is seen as an entity, but the cleavage between the rich nations and poor nations is so deep, so vast, that the judgment of the Lord may come in our time as it did in Solomon’s time
unless thinking, discerning people can reorganize and redirect the systems under which the world is now operating. Much of America's economic system has been built on greed. Advertisers teach us to be greedy and they exploit our temptations to be greedy. We want things and more things. Is it right, and will the world long tolerate the wealth that we enjoy? People are starving across this world as never before, and the irony is that there really is no scarcity; the problem is in distribution. The United States has 5% of the world's population yet we use 40% of the world's resources. Can't American industry be reorganized so that it is built not on exploiting the greed of us Amer­icans, but on world trade, developing word markets, sharing resources, and wealth with everyone? Such a move which is absolutely necessary will require a major shift in life-style for all of us—less a preoccupa­tion with things, sacrificing, eating less, buying less. But it is possible.

I was inspired this week to read an article called, "The Land that Greed Forgot." In an Ecuador valley, there is a village called Vilcabamba which boasts many centenarians, people over the age of 100. They produce centenarians at a rate far greater than we do.The author visited with Miguel, age 127, who was singing and playing the guitar. He still likes to flirt with the girls, though he says he can't see them too well anymore. While the author was visiting with Miguel, his 75-year old grandson came riding up on horseback looking vigorous and vital. Experts contribute the phenomenon of Vilcabamba to natural diet (instead of the pollution we pour into our bodies), pure water, clean air, hard physical work, quiet living, and a strong religious faith. 'l'hey feel close to God and communicate with him easily in the simple life they live. The author feels that the basic underlying reason for the success of their way of life is the absence of greed. He says, "The more we get the things we think we want, the less we are able to experience the contact with God we really want and must have to live.”

Solomon and his kingdom were preoccupied with wealth, prosperity, the acquiring of things and fame. Judgment visited and the nation of lsrael collapsed. Will we learn? You and I, America? Will we learn? Are we wise or not-so-wise?

© 1975 Douglas I. Norris