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1 Kings 3:3
Solomon loved the Lord.
Love begets love
It is a process of induction. Put a piece of iron in the presence of an electrified body, and that piece of iron for a time becomes electrified. It is changed into a temporary magnet in the mere presence of a permanent magnet, and as long as you leave the two side by side they are both magnets alike. Remain side by side with Christ who loved us, and you, too, will become a permanent, attractive force. This is the inevitable effect of love. (H. Drummond.)
Love must be paid in kind
“As water is cast into a pump, when the springs lie low, to bring up more water, so God sheddeth abroad His love into our hearts, that our love may rise up to Him again by way of gratitude and recompense.” How idle is it then, to hope to chide ourselves into loving God! The price of love is love; the origin of it is not found in law or in a sense of duty, but in love, or a return of gratitude. When the sun of eternal love melts the glaciers of the soul, then the rivers of affection flow; but if the rocks of ice could all be broken to shivers with hammers, not a drop of affection would stream forth. Only a sense of Divine love will ever create love to God in the heart. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
1 Kings 3:5-15
The Lord appeared again to Solomon in a dream.
Dreams indicate character
Tell me your dreams, and I will read the riddle of your life. Tell me your prayers, and I will write the history of a soul. Tell me your askings, and I will tell you your gettings. Tell me what you seek, and I will tell you what you are. I do not wish to know your possessions--only your wants. I do not care to know what you have--only what you have not, and desire to have; not your attainments, but what you have not yet attained and follow after. That Which comes to you in your victories by day and your dreams by night, the ideal you set before you, the things which you approve as excellent, what you seek after and have given your heart to, these are the measure of the man. In a truer sense than Shakespeare meant, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on.” They have no price in the market, but they, and they alone, give worth and dignity to life. (Hugh Black, M. A.)
The duty, nature, and blessings of prayer
I. The duty of prayer. It is a fundamental law of our nature, on the mere supposition that there is a God in heaven, to ask His help. It is the plain, practical demonstration of our manifold obligations to God, of our own impotence, misery, and dependence; of Him as the source of all our hopes, and the one open, all-sufficient fountain of every blessing of peace and purity and power.
II. The nature of prayer.
1. It must be the utterance and the feeling of earnestness and fervour, under the sense of helplessness, misery, and sin, under the persuasion that if God help us not, there is no store whence shall man help us.
2. True supplication, to which God hath linked a blessing, is patient, abiding, persevering.
3. Confidence in God is an essential element in gracious and acceptable prayer. It does no honour to Him to adopt us into His family, that we should be unwilling on the one hand, or afraid on the other, to lay our wants, our wishes, nay our sins, freely before Him. As we have a new and living way into the Holiest, by the blood of Jesus, we may be sure that our entrance thither must be acceptable unto God.
III. The blessings of prayer. Answers shall be returned. When God said to Solomon, “Ask what I shall give thee,” He never meant to mock the youthful monarch.s petition. The words of Truth Eternal are fully and for ever pledged. “Ask, and ye shall have; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” Prayer, truly, fervently, and faithfully made, is like the bow of Jonathan, it never returns empty. (R. P. Buddicom, M. A.)
Lonely communion in view of great duty
In Mrs. Crawford’s recent story of the late Queen Victoria’s life, she tells the following incident: After the stately and imposing Coronation ceremony in Westminster Abbey, Her Majesty returned to her mother the Duchess of Kent. When they were quite alone she said, “I suppose, mamma, it must be true that I am Queen of England?” “Yes, love, you see that you are.” “Well, then, I have a request to make. I want to be alone and undisturbed for one hour.” She was left alone. How she spent that hour has never transpired. But surely we can guess. The young Queen was surely holding fellowship with the King of Kings, seeking His help for her overwhelming responsibilities. Before our Lord chose His twelve apostles “He went into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.” How much more need have we to bring all our plans and purposes to Him? (H. O. Mackey.)
A Prince at prayer
Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden, when in his camp before Werben, had been alone, at one time, in the cabinet of his pavilion some hours together, and none of his attendants at these seasons durst interrupt him. At length, however, a favourite of his having some important matter to tell him, came softly to the door, and, looking in, beheld the king very devoutly on his knees at prayer. Fearing to molest him in that exercise, he was about to withdraw his head, when the king espied him, and, bidding him come in, said, “Thou wondetest to see me in this posture, since I have so many thousands of subjects to pray for me; but I tell thee that no man has more need to pray for himself than he who, having to render an account of his actions to none but God, is, for that reason, more closely assaulted by the devil than all other men besides.”
The passage before us is the record of a dream which this great man had one night at Gibeon, a place celebrated in the Old Testament but not mentioned in the New, and whose geographical position cannot be determined with any certainty now. There are two things very noteworthy in this dream.
1. The blending of the human and Divine. There is much that you can trace to Solomon’s own mind in the nocturnal vision recorded here.
(1) It seemed to be according to the measure of his capacity. He was a large-minded man, and the dream is on a large scale. There is nothing mean or small about it. Solomon’s great soul took within the ample range of its imagination the whole Jewish nation, the Eternal Ruler of the universe, the righteous providence of Heaven, and the everlasting principles of moral obligation.
(2) It seemed to be also according to the moral state of his mind. The dream is thoroughly religious. As the religious sentiment had flooded his nature in the day, it worked his imagination in the night. It is generally thus Our dreams grow out of the waking thoughts that have most impressed us.
(3) It seemed to be, moreover, according to the strongest desire of his heart. He felt that to take the place of his father David, and direct the destinies of Israel, he required that wisdom which God alone could bestow. So far, we see the human in this dream; but the Divine is manifestly here too.
2. The suggested conditions of successful prayer. The prayer of his dream was answered in his actual history.
I. That effective prayer must be Divinely authorised. At the beginning of the dream Solomon received an authority to pray. “And God said, Ask what I shall give thee.” Such an authority is evidently a necessary condition Unless the Eternal gave us a warrant to address Him, our appeals would be impious and fruitless. Have we, the men of this age, a Divine authority for praying? H not, our appeals to Heaven are worse than idle breath. “Ask what I shall give thee.”
1. This authority to call upon God in prayer agrees with our religious instincts. Prayer in some form or other is the natural cry of the soul Tile child in distress does not more naturally look to his fond parent for help, than the human soul in sore trouble and danger looks to the heavens for aid. Even men who in theory deny the existence of a God, urged by this instinct will cry to Him in danger.
2. This authority to call upon God in prayer is encouraging to our hope as sinners.
II. That effective prayer must be earnestly spiritual. By this we mean that spiritual interest must reign supreme, that spiritual motives must be predominant. It was so now with Solomon in his prayer.
III. That effective prayer must be thoroughly unselfish. What he prayed for was “an understanding heart”; and he prayed for that, not that it might serve his own interest, but in order, as he says, “to judge Thy people, that I may discern between good and bad.” (Homilist.)
The first thing to do
When into any Old Testament incident there can be pressed the whole significance of a New Testament precept, the study of both becomes a still more eager pursuit. Thus we know that God is the same in character, and the Gospel m the same in purpose, through all the ages.
I. Every revelation of Divine Grace is definitely conditioned upon prayer as the instrument of its attainment. Evidently God is purposing to do him a great favour; but all that the voice says is that he is to “ask” before anything is to be granted. God says “ask,” and Jesus says “seek.” Only we ought to remember that we in an age of blessedness and light, we in these latter times of clearer revelation, have one supreme advantage over those who sought their help under the teaching of that former dispensation; this is no longer a dream-voice that we hear from heaven, but the intelligible living message from the lips of God’s Son.
II. Reminiscences of previous help are an excellent advantage in preparation for present petition. When we find so young a king referring to former histories in the household and the realm, it becomes clear that he kept his eyes open and his mind thoughtful while the story of Absalom and Mephibosheth in the old times was working itself out.
III. The consciousness of real need in carrying out the Lord.s purposes is a forcible argument for importunity in supplication.
IV. A weighty responsibility in duties constitutes a motive for asking God to interpose with his benediction of help. A burden of care is His reason for seeking audience with his King.
V. The first thing to be asked for in God’s grace is a new and “understanding heart.” The idea here is a heart of discrimination, a power to discern conscientiously between right and wrong, and to pronounce unerringly for the right.
VI. He will quickly succeed in life who has the testimony that he pleases God. From these words any one could predict the future of this young king; for the Lord announced Himself his friend.
VII. We may learn, once more, that a new heart, wise and understanding, is a better benediction than any other which human wishes could desire.
VIII. With this chief blessing of a new heart sought and gained, God grants everything else that is needed. Solomon took occasion a long time afterwards to put this thought in among his Proverbs.
IX. With present answers to prayer always come assurances of continued love and grace to the faithful for the future. The great Augustine was right when once he exclaimed, “ We must hold our empty vessel to the mouth of so large a fountain.” And indeed, if God.s covenant engagements have so fine an indorsement that they will circulate as petitions, it would be well to use them literally and often. It was the lamented Humphrey who was said to have had the power of weaving together the Scripture promises so appropriately into his prayers that his exercises of devotion seemed like cloth of gold. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
True aims and false aims
The men whose names the world will not willingly let die are those who find in others good their chiefest, greatest joy. The names of self-gratifiers, self-seekers die out. They lay hold for a time of the memories of men, but never of what is firmer, their respect. Selfishness never has imbibed life from the principle of immortality. The men who come up to the height of a great choice “Give me these that I may judge Thy people, that I may civilise, that I may educate, that I may evangelise, that I may bless my generation”--their names become the echo, ever sounding throughout the ages of the sacrifice they once chose to make for others.
I. God does come to every one saying, “choose what I shall give thee.” Goethe said that he admired the man who knew precisely what he aimed at in life. God wishes you at the commencement of your career to come up to the height of a great choice. You have all read Carlyle’s description of the Sphinx sitting by the wayside propounding her riddles to every one that passed; and if the passer-by answered correctly it was well for him, but if he did not answer the riddle he was destroyed on the spot. I have watched young men and others, and I say that life comes to every man in this world with its riddle, and if he answers it aright it is well with him, but if he tries to go on neglecting the commandments of the Giver of life; if he tries to go on living in his own way, and not in God’s way, life to him will be a thing of loss, and he will become an object to be wept over. “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” One of the latest discoveries I have read of is a spy-glass by means of which a man can see the sunken ships in all quiet seas. Oh that I could put a glass in the hand of every young man that would enable him to see the wrecks of the last twelve months in this great population! It would wring a prayer from your heart this minute--the very prayer of young Solomon, “Give me therefore an understanding heart, that I may discern between good and bad.” It must begin with the heart. “The pure in heart alone can see God”; and if you cannot see God in the world, you cannot see anything else in its true proportions. There are only two kinds of companions, and if you play and dally with the wicked companions woe be to you. One rotten apple affects the whole store, one putrid grape will spoil the sound cluster, one sinner destroyeth much good. Why should you read a bad book? You will be sorry for it, perhaps, in twenty years, as Angell James was. If you read a corrupt book, a bad book, you will hang up a picture in your mind that you can never turn to the wall, that you can never pull down. And why should you do it, with all the noble literature that is about you? It was a splendid motto for you, that saying of John Foster, “This soul of mine shall rule this body of mine, or else quit it; I will not be here a tenant unless I am a master.” We are placed here naked as the giant of fable to wrestle with the rude elements of the world, to conquer in the midst of its varied probation; but remember this, no devil nor devil’s child can ever cast you down without your own consent.
II. If any one comes up to this choice, or chooses a right aim in life, it will be said of him, as it was here said of young Solomon, “and the speech pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing.” It was this thing in contrast to three other things that he had rejected. He rejected the false, and the false are here enumerated: “Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life.” Then is that a wrong desire? Well, it is a nobler thing to act well your part than to be constantly thinking of living a long life. Religion is unquestionably favourable to length of days, but it is a very low aim of life to be constantly nursing yourself, and to be thinking of yourself. Life is not measured by length of days. Old Methuselah lived to 900 years, and never said a word worth putting down in the Bible. He lived for nine centuries and never did a single act worth reporting. He vegetated like a tree that was not living. Then it pleased the Lord, “Because thou didst neither ask riches for thyself.” Then is it wrong for us to desire riches? As the great absorbing passion in life it is wrong. It pleased the Lord, “Neither hast thou asked the life of thine enemies.” They say that it is the sweetest thing in life to have revenge upon an enemy. Another has said, “Revenge is mine, saith the Lord.” And I thank heaven for that, or else public men would not live twelve months. Christianity is the only religion that teaches all men to give over their vengeance to the Lord. It is said that Leclair, the great critic, was one day going along the streets of Paris, and he trod on the foot of a young man; the young man at once raised his hand and struck him a blow in the face. Leclair turned round quietly, and said, “Sir, you will be sorry that you have done that, when you know that I am blind.” He could have cut off his hand.
II. The reasons are here assigned why it pleased the Lord that Solomon rejected the false and chose the true aim in life.
1. Because he chose what enabled him to be serviceable to others. Our great poet has told us that Heaven does with us as we do with torches, not light them for themselves. We are lit in order to be the light of the world, and it can be said of every other life that “the game is not worth the candle.”
2. Again, it pleased the Lord because he chose to walk in the statutes of a good father, and so to encourage him in his last days in his faith in God’s covenant.
3. It pleased the Lord because he chose God Himself as his portion rather than all His gifts. “And Solomon loved the Lord.” Young men, trust the Lord, there is honour in the Lord. He will give you more than you ask, abundantly more. (H. Evans.)
The Gospel means, not that these old visions have vanished away, but that all that was true and substantial in them has simply been, as in a painting, made to stand out in greater vividness and nearness. The Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel stands before us, and says, literally, “Ask what I shall give thee.” The thing to notice is, that Solomon showed that, humanly speaking, he was worthy of this chance, by the way in which he did not jump forward and eagerly ask for some temporal thing. Solomon showed his wisdom, his preparation for the great largess of bounty in which God came to him, in the way in which he did not use his imperative of asking upon God’s imperative of offer. He seems to take a round-about road. He started off and said, “Thou hast showed unto Thy servant David, my father, great mercy, according as he walked before Thee in truth and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with Thee.” Strange--is it not?--that when God comes to him with this great offer, the first thing that springs before his mind is the image and memory, the life and character, of his father. Now, I want you to reflect before you make up your minds--to do what Solomon did. It was human and heavenly wisdom combined that made him look back and see what his father did. Solomon does not indulge in great praise nor in great depreciation. David was a man that you could have overpraised. You could have talked of David as if there was never such a man. And if you were the other kind of temperament, you could have found other things in David that would lead you to run him down. Now, Solomon did neither the one nor the other. Now, we are not asked to do more than Solomon did. I neither ask you to praise your father or mother up to the skies, nor to run them down; but if you look at them fairly you can strike this average, and say what Solomon said. When I look to those who stand immediately behind me, and have been living longer than I have, I can see what Solomon saw in his father, that religion was either the best or the worst thing about them. The best thing about your father was his religion, or it was the worst. If he was a true and real follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, that was the best. You are not asked to say he was perfect, but to know and rate him according to that. It may be he was only a hedger or ditcher; he may not have been a great man at all. But what was he before God? Solomon had this great advantage, that when he looked back on his father, the light that shined from his father’s record would guide him to a right decision. If it is not so, the very dimness and darkness that comes from ungodly parents should be a beacon light to put you right where they went wrong. Do not despise your father; do not despise your mother. They know what life means, and you have all that to learn yet. Solomon said, “I can see the best thing about my father was this, he rose and prospered in so far as he walked in truth and sincerity before God, and I will try to do like him there. It was religion that made him the man he was.” Do not despise the religion your father had, the religion that your mother had. Depend upon it, it was the very best legacy they left you. Solomon continues: “Thou hast made me king,” etc. There he looked into himself, and he passed an opinion upon himself and his powers and attainments, which is so uncommon among young people. This is where the greatness of Solomon comes out. Would God he had always remained at this point. Now, what is wrong with some of you up to this hour is the want of that humility. Be not highminded. Then Solomon looked round about him: he prospected a bit. Out in America and Canada, that great country where fortunes are made, so they say, and lost whether they say it or not, men go into certain regions prospecting. They are wanting to open a mine, and they see what a certain region is like. They tap here and there to see if they are going to make a fortune out of its rocks. So Solomon was prospecting the future. He felt life here and there, and touched its current, and he passed this verdict upon it: “I am in the midst of Thy people, which Thou hast chosen; a great people.” And I think he meant, “Life as far as I can prospect it is going to mean for me hard work and plenty of it.” Am I saying that you have mean ability? No, but with the best ability you will not necessarily get on. Young girl, you are sweet and fair to-day; you will grow up, marry, fall into ill-health; you will have children, maybe, and that will bring you more trouble, and by the time you are forty-five or fifty years of age you will be bent and weary to get away. Life, for a great many of us, means that. One by one the gorgeous dreams of south disappear; the rosy hopes go out into blackness; the bright expectations illumine the horizon, and then fade into the light of common day; and even if you were kings upon a throne, life would mean what I have said already. Now, will you settle yourself for the work? Life means business, toil, trouble, sweat of body and brain. Brace yourself for it; gird yourself for it. Be sure that is what is coming. Then, after looking back to his father and summing him up, and summing himself up, and saying, There is nothing in me; and, after summing up life and saying it means duty, it means hard work, and plenty of it, then he looked up. You see the process--backward, inward, outward, upward. He said, “Give me a wise and an understanding heart; build me up just where I am broken down; put the plaister on the weak place; put in Thine own great almighty arm just where I need nothing less than almightiness to under gird me.” “And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing.” That is just another way of asking to be converted. The Old Testament phraseology and the New Testament phraseology run into one. It is just the same as saying, “O God, save me from my foolishness and wrong opinions, direct my unwary feet. O God, be Thou my sufficiency, my help.” Will you choose God to-day? (J. MacNeill.)
The wisdom of Solomon
I. The honour of this precocious wisdom is perhaps due more to David than to Solomon himself. His understanding, his feelings, his desires are what they are; in one word, he is what he is only because he has the inestimable privilege of succeeding much a father as King David. His dominant thought, from which spontaneously springs his prayer, is that of the immensity of his task and his incapacity to perform it. He feels his profound need of God’s help. He learns to rely upon it. He has recourse to it with confidence. What a help to find in the memory of a father, as a second conscience accompanying us through life! Like the Polish King Boleslaus, who carried about with him the portrait of his father, and for whom it was enough, in cases of difficulty or peril, to cast a glance upon the revered image and say, “Boleslaus, thy father sees thee!” to recover his wisdom and courage about to forsake him.
II. A proper distrust of himself, very rare at his age and in his circumstances (verses 7-9). It was no trifling matter to be called upon to govern so important and unmanageable a nation as Israel. Generally speaking, men see the pleasures and privileges of power before they are made aware of its duties. An exalted position is always an object of envy and ambition. But at the age when one casts on life that long look of confidence and hope, which smooths down beforehand all its difficulties, and takes in only its bright and sunny aspects; at the age when one believes and hopes all things, how many others would have become intoxicated with pride and self-confidence!
III. His wise appreciation of earthly blessings. To this offer of the Almighty, “Ask what I shall give thee,” who would not expect to hear a young man, scarcely yet seated on the throne, reply by demanding what men most desire on earth--a long and happy life, unlimited and undisputed power, a glorious reign, and unbounded wealth? Not so, however; Solomon begins life by wisely putting all these things in their proper place. There before us success, wealth, the open fountain of all earthly felicities, a choice to make from among the prizes which the world temptingly offers its elect. Who, having communed with himself, would say, “Lord, give me the wisdom and grace I need to accomplish faithfully Thy work here below! That is the limit of my desires; I would it were also the limit of Thy gifts”? I fancy I hear, bursting forth from the silence of your hearts some such prayers as these: “Lord, raise me above my fellow-men; give me, in the profession I have chosen, such facilities as will secure for me undisputed success; make me rise promptly to that fame which appears to me from afar as the sweetest of all enjoyments.” That is a young man’s prayer, no doubt. “Lord, give me all the outward advantages of beauty, grace, wit, all that gratifies vanity.” That is, the prayer of a woman who perhaps does not think herself worldly-minded. “Lord, be pleased to increase by successful undertakings the patrimony I have received of my ancestors; assure me an exalted and wealthy station; grant that I may provide for my children such positions as will enable them to move in the highest circles of society.” That is perhaps the inward request of a man of deep convictions, and well known in the field of Christian activity. I dare not proceed! God is wise not to lead us into temptation by permitting us, as he did Solomon, to pray for the satisfaction of our earthly desires. (Homiletic Quarterly.)
The highest order of wisdom
Solomonic books have some incomparably splendid passages on wisdom; and if Solomon had fallen, and repented, and risen again, and begun again, till he ended in living up to his own sermons on wisdom, what a glory, both in sacred letters and in a holy life, Solomon’s name would have been. “Wisdom,” says Sir Henry Taylor, one of the wisest writers in the English language, “is not the same with understanding, talents, capacity, ability, sagacity, sense, or prudence--not the same with any one of these; neither will all these taken together make it up. Wisdom is that exercise of the reason into which the heart enters--a structure of the understanding rising out of the moral and spiritual nature. It is for this cause that a high order of wisdom, that is, a highly intellectual wisdom, is still more rare than a high order of genius. When they reach the very highest order they are one; for each includes the other, and intellectual greatness is matched with moral strength.” And then this fine essayist goes on to point out how Solomon’s great intellectual gifts, coupled as they were in him with such an appetite for enjoyment, together became his shipwreck. And Bishop Butler, though he does not, like Sir Henry Taylor, name Solomon, surely had him in his eye when he penned that memorable and alarming passage about those men who go over the theory of wisdom and virtue in their thoughts, talk well, and paint fine pictures of it, till their minds are hardened in a contrary course, and till they become more and more insensible to all moral considerations. (Alex. Whyte, D. D.)
On the youth of Solomon
It is not from the peculiar situation of Solomon that the beauty of this memorable instance of devotion arises.
1. The charm of it chiefly consists in its suitableness to the season of youth; in its correspondence to the character and dispositions which distinguish that important age; and which no length of acquaintance with the world prevents us from wishing to find in the young.
(1) It is suited, in the first place, we think, to the opening of human life--to that interesting season, when nature in all its beauty first opens on the view, and when the wisdom and goodness of the Almighty fall on the heart, unmingled and unimpaired.
(2) It is suited, in the next place, to the nature of youthful imagination; to that love of excellence and perfection which nothing mortal ever can realise, and which can find only in the truths of religion the objects of which it is in search.
(3) It is suited still more, perhaps, to the tenderness of young affections; to that sensibility which every instance of goodness can move; and to that warm and generous temper which meets everywhere with the objects of its gratitude or love.
(4) But, most of all, it is suited to the innocence of the youthful mind, to that sacred purity which can lift its unpolluted hands to Heaven; which guilt hath not yet torn from confidence and hope in God. The feelings of piety, however, are not only natural and becoming in youth; they are still more valuable, as tending to the formation of future character; as affording the best and noblest school in which the mind may be trained to whatever is great or good in human nature.
2. The piety which is formed in youth has a different character, and leads to very different effects. It comes not, then, to terrify or to alarm, but to afford every high and pleasing prospect in which the heart can indulge,--to withdraw the veil which covers the splendours of the eternal mind,--to open that futurity which awakens all their desires to behold, and, in the sublime occupations of which they feel already, as by some secret inspiration, the home and destiny of their souls. At such a period, religion is not a service of necessity, but of joy.
(1) The first advantage of youthful piety is that it tends to establish that tone and character of thought which is allied to every virtuous purpose.
(2) It is a second advantage of early piety, that it presents those views of man, and of the ends of his being, which call forth the best powers of our nature.
(3) It is the last advantage of early piety, that it affords those views of the providence of God which can best give support and confidence to conduct. (A. Allison, LL. B.)
To look through the shows of things, into things themselves. (Carlyle.)
I. Every new opportunity demands a peculiar choice. “Good” and “bad” are not changeable terms, yet in every new personal or public responsibility the sacred words seem to be spoken, “Ask what I shall give thee.” As king, Solomon must make a new choice, differing from any he had hitherto made. In civil life this law everywhere obtains. The responsibilities of the judiciary differ widely from those of the executive, and these in turn from the legislative. The same question comes to each; but each case must call forth a peculiar answer. So, likewise, consider the different factors of society. No two persons can make the same reply. Each day’s duties differ from all that have preceded, hence every day we must give answer to Him who speaks. The importance of our choice is emphasised by our power for good or evil.
II. Every choice involves character. We are known by what we choose. A defective choice means a defective character. The choice of Solomon was good as far as it went; but it had relation merely to his kingly work, and only incidentally to himself. In some respects Israel’s wisest king was the saddest of all scriptural characters. Notwithstanding his visions from God, his history is largely secular. At the beginning of the Homeric age in Greece, this greater than Homer made Palestine the centre of art and the treasury of wisdom. The mines of the known earth were delved for their riches to adorn the Temple, to whose beauty every forest contributed. He symbolised in these visible splendours the invisible God, only at last to become a worshipper of idols. The incense that floated in the clouds from the Temple in Jerusalem was mingled over Olivet with that from the altars of Phenicia and Moab, and above all with that of Moloch--the altar of human sacrifices--and all under his reign. His dream depicts him as praying for right dealings towards and among the people; and yet his later years inflicted an unbearable tyranny on that same people.
III. The highest choice is wisdom. His choice marked a new epoch. Before his time all kingly power was marked by standing armies, by riches and pomp. Each ruler was thought to need a long life to ensure the success of his plans; but here was a strange request. Under his reign was demonstrated for the first time the power of the brain in the conquests of nations and men. His was the golden age of Jewish literature, himself the founder. If intellectual power could save an empire, the trial was being made, but worms were eating at the roots. All nations owned his intellectual greatness--wiser than their wisest men. Phenicia, proud mother of letters, was dumb in his presence. Tyre spread her purple over his throne. India minted him her gold. We speak of our Linnaeus; but Solomon, the first great botanist, “spake of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon to the moss that springs out of the wall.” We boast of our Cuvier; yet Israel’s wise king, the first great naturalist, spake “of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes.” Upon his wise words Aristotle based all that was best of Grecian philosophy. The Wordsworth of Jewish poets, he laid all nature at our feet. Wisdom, however, means more than knowledge. Many a learned man is not wise. Knowledge is the apprehension of facts or relations; wisdom denotes “the use of the best means for attaining the best ends.” Wisdom is never shown in choosing what is always to remain exterior to self.
IV. The highest wisdom is evidenced in most common thugs. The wisest men use the simplest speech. The smallest children speak largest words. Simplicity of construction is the secret of the best invention. God’s mightiest forces are uncomplicated. The rattling shuttles of a mill are a wonder; but more wonderful still that noiseless, shuttleless weaving of the lily, whose fashioning none of us has ever seen. There is no book so full of thoughts for practical everyday life as the Book of Proverbs, yet that very simplicity is Divine.
V. Unsought blessings are given the truly wise. (Monday Club Sermons.)
I. God regards with special favour those who honour Him. It is idle to speculate as to whether Solomon would not have received the same blessings if he had not sacrificed and prayed. The fact was, that sacrifice and prayer were the immediate antecedents of the blessings, and are represented as having direct relation to them. Such a fact is sufficient answer to all philosophical objections to prayer, and an emphatic rebuke to those who say it is nonsense to insist that God has any pleasure in our worship and formal expressions of homage.
II. With proper regard to God’s will we may pray for special blessings. It was not presumption for Solomon to take God at His word. It would have been unpardonable unbelief had he replied to His offer of good that he could not presume to make mention of what was uppermost in his heart. God never trifles. His offers are never to be regarded as only general evidence of a willingness to do us good, but as real invitations that we make known our requests. There is proof enough that our Father is pleased to gratify the wishes of His children, and it is no pleasure to Him that they pray only in vague and indefinite generalities. The very idea of the relationship forbids such prayer; the idea of prayer itself is opposed to such expressions of desire.
III. We may make the experience of others a plea for good to be granted to ourselves. Solomon made mention of David’s life and reign as having been pleasing to God, and of God’s great mercy to him, and urged this as proof that a purpose to be upright may become a ground of hope since He who does not change will grant favour always when the required conditions are fulfilled. The faithfulness of God is the real stimulus to prayer.
IV. Blessings incomplete in their nature may be pressed as an argument in prayer for their completion. In David’s dying charge to his son he reminded him of God’s declaration to himself: “If thy children take heed,” etc. Solomon made this declaration the basis of his plea with God in this interview. A large part of Christian work is in progress, the execution of plans which require time and persistent toil. We need not fear lest God will weary of co-operation in such work.
V. Consciousness, and even confession of inability to perform duty may become a further warrant for help from God when the duty is clearly assigned by Him. The same conviction oppresses many a Christian whom God has called to do work in the different departments of His service. This should not cause him to faint or despair or retire, but should rouse him to greater confidence in prayer while he resolves to stand in the place assigned him.
VI. God does not content Himself with granting simply what we ask when we have the spirit He approves. His answer to Solomon’s prayer was: “Behold, I have done according to thy words.”
VII. Thanksgiving for answer to prayer should be prominent and in the most positive form of expression. (J. Eells, D. D.)
The story of a right choice
Significant the familiar lines of Lowell--
Once, to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of Truth with Falsehood for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God.s new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight,
Parts the goats upon the left hand and the sheep upon the right
And the choice goes by for ever.twixt that darkness and that light.
And not once only, but many times does such choice come. For to live is to choose. Life is but a series of choices. Though just as the current of the river, notwithstanding refluent ripples, carries with it in one main direction the multitudinous drops of water which go to make the river, so in life one main and dominating choice gives impulse and direction to the ten thousand lesser choices with which the days are filled. I am appalled at this power of choice. I do not think any one in the least thoughtful can help being. I was looking through the glass sides of a beehive. All was orderly and unclashing; none of the pain and disturbance of errant and rebellious wills; each bee doing just as each bee should, just the thing each was designed to do. And I asked myself, Why did not God make men thus? Why did God put men among the crowding dangers of the retributive results of their bad choices? There are only two answers to such questions: God has not made men thus; if God had made men thus men would not be men. No; real and shadowing is the fact of choice. Our Scripture tells the story of a right choice.
I. What such right choice involves.
1. Purpose of inward worth. Solomon prayed that he might have an “understanding heart.” He wanted the real gold, not tinsel. That is a great and constant trouble, that men are so willing to seem to be rather than to be. Here is the precise reason for the defalcations which too often and so sadly startle the community.
2. Such true choice involves recognition of duty. Duty is the child of relation; is that which is due because of the relations in which one is set Godward, manward. The true choice involves recognition of the duties springing out of the relations in which one is bound.
3. Such true choice involves determination to practise along the line of duty; “that I may judge this people.” As long as Solomon did this, how great and wise! But when he practised otherwise, how sad his fall l
4. Such true choice involves dependence on God. “Give, therefore, Thy servant an understanding heart.” Solomon felt himself insufficient. He must have and hang on God.
II. In what such right choice results.
1. In pleasing God (verse 10).
2. In Divine ratification (verse 12).
3. In external prosperity (verse 13).
4. In internal prosperity. Solomon, conscious of pleasing God, must have had peace and joy. (W. Hoyt.)
1. The address which God made to Solomon, when He said, “Ask what I shall give thee,” He does in effect make to each of us, especially to the young. By erecting a throne of grace in heaven, opening the way to it, inviting us to come to Him with our requests, and promising to grant our petitions when they are agreeable to His will, He does in effect say to each of us, “Ask what I shall give thee.”
2. Though we are not, like Solomon, kings; and therefore need not, as he did, qualifications requisite for that office; yet we all need spiritual wisdom and understanding, and may therefore all imitate his example in making our choice. Every parent, also, has reason to adopt the prayer of Solomon. Professors of religion have reason to imitate the example of Solomon.
3. That God is pleased with those who make the choice and sincerely offer up the prayer of Solomon.
(1) Because it is the effect of His grace. We are told that the Lord rejoices in His works, and with reason does Be rejoice in them; for they are all very good. If He rejoices in them, He must, of course, be pleased with them. But to induce persons to make the choice and offer up the prayer of Solomon, is always His work, the effect of His grace.
(2) He is pleased with it, because it indicates opinions and feelings similar to His own. In the opinion of Jehovah, spiritual wisdom, that wisdom of which the fear of God is the beginning, is the principal thing, the one thing needful, to creatures such as we are. Now those who make the choice which Solomon made, estimate objects according to their real value; that is, according to their value in the estimation of God. Their opinions and feelings in this respect correspond with His; and since all beings are necessarily pleased with those who resemble them, God cannot but be pleased with those who resemble Him in this respect.
(3) God is pleased with those who thus pray for a wise and understanding heart, because such prayers are indicative of humility.
(4) God is pleased with such characters, because their conduct evinces that they are actuated by a benevolent concern for His glory, and for the happiness of their fellow-creatures.
(5) God is pleased with those who imitate the examples of Solomon, because it actually and greatly tends to promote His glory.
4. All who make his choice, and adopt his prayer, shall certainly be favoured with a wise and understanding heart. That God will gratify the desires of those who thus pray for wisdom, is evident from His express promises. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth liberally to all men and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. (E. Payson, D. D.)
A wise choice
There are around the city of Chester high walls, on the top of which runs a much-frequented path which is reached by a flight of steps. It is said by the people of the place that whatever you wish for when standing on these stairs you will get it in a year’s time, and so they are called the “wishing stairs.” What would each of us now wish for if we were on these steps? “What is it exactly that I most desire?” we are often at a loss to know. It was not so with Solomon. He did not find it difficult to answer when asked what he most wanted.
1. Solomon prayed for an understanding heart, to discern good from evil, because he felt the responsibility of his position. He knew that without God’s guiding Spirit he could not rule so great a people. If we do not feel the same need of an understanding heart, may it not be because we refuse to look our responsibilities in the face? If for nothing else, we are all responsible to God for the management of the life He has given us. Then there are always other lives that depend upon us, more or lees. Poor Margaret Fuller, recording in her diary the birth of her child, expressed a feeling of responsibility with which many parents can sympathise: “I am the mother of an immortal being? God be merciful to me a sinner!” But what exactly is this understanding heart for which Solomon prayed? It is that wonderful thing which is so much spoken of in the Bible under the name of Wisdom. It is goodness or the fear of the Lord, the opposite of godless wickedness, which is “folly.”
2. Again, those who ask for and receive God’s Holy Spirit get also the highest kind of riches. They are content, and he who is most contented is the richest of men. Perhaps it may be said that nearly all people do desire an understanding heart, and that they need not be urged to make the choice. Yes, they desire it; but they cannot be said to choose it. They desire to be educated; but there are myriads of desires that never ripen into a choice, as there are a million blossoms and comparatively few apples. When those who desired to be educated saw that a choice would involve self-denial and drudgery, they preferred to put it off till to-morrow, or next week, or next year, and to take the consequences. A young man desires to be rich; but as soon as he finds that gaining wealth requires self-denial, painstaking, industry, and integrity, he does not choose riches. He chooses self-indulgence; he chooses pleasures. Men desire to have an honourable character and the happiness that comes from well-doing. They desire it; but whether they choose it or not, we can only tell when we sea how they act. In the same way many persons desire to obey Christ, and hope that one day they shall do so. But do they choose to have in them the mind of Christ or an understanding heart to discern between good and evil? It is easy to desire, it is difficult to choose, and this is the explanation of the religious sentiment which produces little or no result in life. (E. J. Hardy, M. A.)
I have given thee a wise and understanding heart.--
Acquisition of knowledge
I. That first steps in knowledge and in holiness must be taken by ourselves. Solomon gave his heart to seek and search out all things under heaven. When a choice of gifts was afterwards placed in his power by God, he had acquired intelligence enough by his previous industry to be enabled to choose aright, and to select wisdom. Like the youth told of in American story, we must fix our eyes upward, and scale the scarped rock slowly by cutting clefts for our hands and feet in its steep side, each foothold that we cut helping us to reach onward to cut another. To gain some knowledge helps us to acquire more; to learn to distinguish between the jewel truth and all the worthless spangles of falsehood, enables us to discern that “pearl of great price” which sooner or later God offers to every man.
II. That if we seek the highest good, God will in His bounty give us, as our need may require, lesser blessings also. (Homilist.)
The heart as organ of insight
The emphasis of current thought lies on light rather than on heat. A bright man is listed at a higher figure than a man with fervid impulses. Brain counts for a good deal more to-day than heart does. It will win more applause, and earn a larger salary. Emotion we are a little afraid of. We caution people not to let their feelings run away with them. We want to know that a conclusion has been reached in cold blood before we are disposed to assent to it, or to submit our own judgment to it. Convictions formed heatedly we are not supposed to publish till they have been reviewed and revised at a low temperature. Exuberance is in bad odour. Appeals to the heart are not thought to quite be in good taste. People are not disposed to surrender themselves to any influence or impression that they cannot intellectually construe. The current demand is for ideas. But the fact that our thinking is keen and alert is no indication that we reach, or have any relish for, the inward substance of the truth upon whose glittering surface our thoughts so jauntily divert themselves. This holds of religious truths exactly as much as of any other. If a preacher handles his matter with dexterity, and if in the process his own mind is quickened into any degree of activity, this activity of his will communicate itself to the machinery of his hearers minds, just as the movement of one cog-wheel communicates revolution to the companion wheel that it gears into. This movement of their intellectual gearing amuses them. They enjoy the sensation of feeling it go. The point is, that intellectual activity upon Christian themes is not Christianity, any more than working a flying trapeze m a church is “godly exercise.” An ox can devour the painting accidentally left upon the easel out in the pasture where he is grazing, but that does not help to make the ox aesthetic. The creature has dealt with the painting purely on the basis of his brutality; he has not chewed it with any reference to the spirit of beauty which the canvas incarnates. So it is the peculiar function of pure intellect to deal with the forms of truth, with the shell in which the truth is encased, without any necessary regard being had to the meat that is packed inside the shell; just as children can play with diamonds, and yet if you take away the diamonds and give them cheap beads, or even white beans, the probability is that they will go on with their play just as satisfiedly, because it is the shape and the glisten of the thing and not the quality of its interior substance that amuses them. That is the kind of thing pure intellect is; not to be trusted to prick through the cuticle of truth into its quick; brilliant as winter sunshine, but cold and surface-grazing as the frosty splendour of January; which has scintillant agility enough to whiten the hair without being competent to brush away the snow, eat through the ice, bore into the ground, unlock the fountains of fertility, fire the pulse of this ague-stricken old earth, warm it into springtime, and garnish it with summer life and loveliness. It is worth a great deal to have blood, and it is as essential to the intelligence as it is to the body. There has never been a thing said, more fundamental to the appreciation of the matter we have just now in hand, than what Solomon said three thousand years ago: “The issues of life are out of the heart.” Passion is axial. Power begins in heat. In the last analysis there is scarcely a terrestrial activity in either earth, sea, or air, that does not owe itself to the great sphere of material passion that we call the Sun. The throb of the sea, the currents of the air, the very coal on the hearth, that converts winter into summer, and turns evening into daytime, is every whir of it old sunshine, cosmic fire, preserved and translated into instant effect. God means something by all that. It is a Divine satire on cold-bloodedness, and it is the way Heaven takes to rebuke the notion that results in the intellectual, artistic, moral, and spiritual world can be hammered out by cold calculation. All the best thoughts in the world, into however solid and granitic a form they may eventually have become chilled and compacted, are ingots moulded from metal once molten, mayhap a thousand, two, five thousand years ago. Man’s first language is music. Prose is poetry cooled down. Geology tells us that the world began hot; so every thought that has had a history began as a passion. You can manufacture in cold weather, but all creating is done under a high temperature. What is true of thought is just as true of art. Art is enthusiasm become shape. The grand cathedrals are old, petrified pulse-beats. The master paintings--and they are all religious--are holy medieval passion flung on to canvas. Art is imitative now rather than creative, because the thermometer is down. We can make waxwork with the mercury at zero, but we cannot grow flowers there. Moses built the tabernacle, and he patterned it from what he caught, up in the Mount. A man can be an acute theologian without having any juice. It is clear, then, that we are not criticising Christian truth; our censure is only upon intellectual dexterity considered as a means of dealing with it. Intellectual dexterity cannot deal with it. Intellectual dexterity does not know how to deal with it. Truth has a heart, and only heart can find it. What we understand by dogma to-day is what is left of some old holy vision, but with all the original heavenly light died out of it. It is truth s body, but in which the warm currents of truth’s blood no longer circulate. The theologian constructs his system of theology out of truths that have ceased to beat, very much as the botanist constructs his herbarium out of dead flowers. All the theology that is in the Church to-day is in the Epistles, but it is not there as theology. So all the bone-dust that is in our graveyards to-day was once in society, but it was not there as bone-dust, Intellect is not vision. The sum of the whole matter is this: that In the sphere of truth, in the domain of life, and in the higher ranges of religious discernment and of Christian appreciation and aspiration, pure calculating intellect is being worked for a great deal more than it is worth. It is heat that makes the world a live world, and not light. It is heart that composes the core of Christianity, and not head. (C. H. Parkhurst, D. D.)
1 Kings 3:14
I will lengthen thy days.
I get a good deal of comfort out of that promise, “with long life will I satisfy thee.” I don’t think that means a short life down here--seventy years, eighty years, ninety years, or one hundred years. Do you think that any man living would be satisfied if he could live to be one hundred years old, and then have to die? Not by a good deal. Suppose Adam had lived until to-day, and had to die tonight; would he be satisfied? Not a bit of it! Not if he had lived a million years, and then had to die. You know we are all the time coming to the end of things here--the end of the week, the end of the month, the end of the year, the end of schooldays. It is the end, end, end all the time. But, thank God, He is going to satisfy us with long life; no end to it, an endless life. Life is very sweet. It would be a pretty dark world if death were eternal, and when our loved ones die we were to be eternally separated from them. Thank God, it is not so; we shall be reunited. It is just moving out of this house into a better one; stepping up higher and living on and on for ever. (D. L. Moody.)
1 Kings 3:16-28
Then came there two women.
The true mother
I. That sin produces suffering. The two women who came for judgment to Solomon were harlots; and the offsprings of their impurity were the means by which they were afflicted. The sin of unchastity is one of the most grievous of offences, because it is the one whose results are the most debasing and the most far-reaching. Of this sin, as of all others, it is eternally true, that the wages of sin is death.
II. That in the most degraded natures some noble trait remains. Some relic of a vanished Eden lingers in the worst of us, although the slime of the serpent may be over it still. These women, though sinners, loved their children. There is hope then for the worst of offenders, inasmuch as in every human soul there are dormant spiritual symphonies, which, when the dark night of sin is over, shall, at the dawning of a brighter day, be wakened by the touch of sympathy, like Memnon’s statue, into music and into life.
III. That where the ignorant can see only cruelty and disorder, the wise and faithful can recognise beneficence and order. The king, calling for a sword, ordered the living child to be divided. A cruel decree, superficial thinkers would say; but it was only a test after all, devised by true wisdom, in order the more readily to reveal the true mother. When men are so hasty in impugning the action of the Deity, and in imputing cruelty or unconcern to God at any period of public or private calamity, it would be well for them to bethink them of their own ignorance. So to us, who see but here in part through a glass darkly, the operations of God in grace and in nature must present many difficulties and apparent anomalies.
IV. That not by outward professions, but by the sentiments of the heart, must each of us be judged. Both these women professed equally to love the living child; but it was seen speedily in the hour of trial as to which of the two had real feelings of maternal affection in her heart. It is what we are, and not what we have pretended to be, that will avail us “in the hour of death and in the day of judgment.”
V. That often, when God gives to us a living talent, as a living child was given to each of these women, we, lazily slumbering away our time, fail to be thankful for it, or to utilise it as we ought. By negligence on our own part,--as in the case of the woman who overlaid her child,--or by the craftiness of other agencies, be it those of world, flesh, or devil, taking advantage of our own supineness,--as in the case of the woman whose child was stolen while she slept,--we lose our gift from God, our living grace, and find, when we awake from our slumbers, only a dead image of a departed spiritual beauty, which no shedding of our heart’s best blood can again quicken into life. (R. Young, M. A.)
Musicians strike a key or note which they call a “natural,” sometimes. It was for this note that Solomon was listening--the note of nature. The soldier’s naked sword gleamed close to the baby’s naked flesh, and, like a tuning-fork, it struck its note before it struck its blow. Its note was differently read by two different auditors. Two women’s hearts took up the key. The one followed it with a murmur of contentment, willing that its work of blood should be accomplished. The other caught it with a cry of horror, as if it struck a discord in her soul. The sword was the baton of harmony to jealousy, but of horror to motherhood and love. There was nothing unnatural to the vixen heart in the decree to cut the babe in half. But the voice of motherhood found vent in a shriek which preferred anything to that, and accepted bereavement and injustice rather than that innocence be harmed.
1. And this is the first instinct on which the relationship reposes. Instinct is a shorter and surer way to right conclusion than reason. It reaches it by a passionate leap, rather than by a patient process. Inference, sequence, deduction, calculation, hypothesis; these are the cumbersome machinery of what calls itself philosophy; and they almost always lead to a separate result in each separate mind which uses them, when they lead to any result at all; so that the only certain issue of their use is confusion worse confounded. With instinct it is all postulate, and all that complicates the logic of love, or encumbers the swift process of its flight, must be conceded, or it will be taken for granted. With the love that springs out of any relationship this will be more or less the rule; but with maternal love it is pre-eminently so.
2. If the mother-instinct pervaded all humanity, there would be no intricate question created out of the vivisection stir, on which science, “falsely so called,” is condescending to dispute. It would be taken for granted that it was base and brutal; and that higher reason, to whose platform instinct often vaults by its own innate buoyancy, would declare that true science has resources too vast to be compelled to criminality to reach discovery; that the intelligence that would grope its way through cruelty to daylight misses its path, and takes a false name; and that men who pretend to find instruction in the infliction of agony on what is dumb and defenceless, instead of being a little lower than the angels, are a great deal lower than the beasts they butcher. But if the very principle of motherhood is instinctive and unreasoning, its developments are not unfrequently capricious and unreasonable. Maternal love is often diluted by maternal cares. Necessities increase with each renewal of the relationship; but the means of meeting them too often diminish. The natural selection of the mother’s heart is towards the weakest and most helpless; and the survival of the fittest in the breast which is maternal, is asserted by feebleness rather than by strength. The mother loves that best to which she can give most.
3. It comes within the mother’s province to lead the child into the fragrant orbit of religious influence, and to guide its feet when young amidst those scenes which shall colour its whole life, giving ballast to its youth, strength to its prime, and light at eventide to illumine its old age. Then if you would not burlesque that religion and repel the child, gild it with the sunshine with which its Author fills it. Let it be a garden of flowers, not an Egyptian brickfield of toil. The patience and the ingenuity of motherhood are boundless, and in no sweeter mission can they be embarked than in leading the children to the Saviour. Show them His sweet example. The wisest and the truest mothers axe the Hannahs who give their children to the Lord. (A. Mursell.)
Evil of divisions
Now, by the same law that it would have been wicked in Solomon to have divided the child, is it wicked in us to divide our affections. Divisions at all times are bad. Whether they harass a church, which should be of one mind and one body; or a family, which should be united and strong in fellowship and love; we may rest assured, that evil consequences must arise, most injurious to individual members. And as for a house, we are told, if it be divided against itself it cannot stand. The Jew and the Gentile were two distinct persons, but Christianity made them one people. By the universality of the Gospel, all nations were united; by embracing the same faith they became one; a distinct people, having an appointed priesthood, with the great Author of our religion as their Head. They became indeed a church--one body, with one spirit--“a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments are duly ministered, according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.” (E. Thompson, D. D.)
Administration of justice difficult
James the First is said to have tried his hand as a judge, but to have been so much perplexed when he had heard both sides that lie abandoned the trade in despair, saying, “I could get on very well hearing one side only, but when both sides have to be heard, by my soul, I know not which is right.”
Judgment obtained by appeal to the principle of affection
Among the heathens we read of similar decisions. We read of an emperor having discovered a woman to be the mother of a certain young man, whom she refused to acknowledge as her son, by commanding her to marry him; but rather than this, she confessed the truth. Another instance we read, is that of the King of Thrace, being appointed to decide between three young men, who each professed to be the son of a deceased king, and claimed the crown in consequence; but Ariopharnes found out the real son, by commanding each to shoot an arrow into the body of the dead king; two of them did this without any hesitation; the third refused, and was therefore judged to be the real son. In both cases an appeal was made to the principle of affection; and the truth was discovered, as in the case of the mother of the living child. (E. Thompson, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Kings 3". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20