In the Lectionary

August 15, Ordinary 20B (1 Kings 2:10–12; 3:3–14)

Solomon has everything—and still, he seeks transformation.

Before 1 Kings 3 it would be difficult to imagine ancient Egypt and ancient Israel arranging even a meal together, much less a marriage. There’s the book of Exodus, for starters, and then there are the Amarna letters, in which Egypt vows not to marry off its daughters to foreign states unless it is to power players whose alliances would strengthen their position. This is sufficient to describe how far Israel has come, with much thanks to both David and Solomon.

To be clear: Solomon is already quite wise, at least by all the traditional markers. It takes a lot of energy to bring or restore a nation to greatness, and this young king has already devised and implemented Machiavellian machinations on his own and his people’s behalf. There’s only one problem, and 1 Kings wants us to know it: he’s offering sacrifices in the high places.

This isn’t to say that Solomon is participating in idol worship. The clue here is Deuteronomy 12: “Take care that you do not offer your burnt-offerings at any place you happen to see. But only at the place that the Lord will choose in one of your tribes—there you shall offer your burnt-offerings and there you shall do everything I command you.” The Lord has chosen a place for sacrifices to be offered, so the Israelites don’t have to do it in the high places anymore—yet King Solomon is offering sacrifices in the high places. In all the excitement of coronations and stratagems, in all the noise of advisers and absolute authority, in all the fuss of being wise, Solomon shows himself to be a fool where it matters most.