12th Sunday after Pentecost — August 15, 2021

A Looking into the Lectionary reflection by Whitney Wilkinson Arreche.

1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14
Pentecost 12B; Proper 15

Where do we find true wisdom?

Looking into the lectionary is sent to the Outlook’s email list every Monday.

If last week’s lectionary reflections upon Ephesians were all about paying attention to the language in the text itself, this week’s reflections upon 1 Kings are the opposite. We must pay attention to what is not included in this fragmented form of the events of Solomon’s succession to the throne. This passage gives us hints at missing details in phrases like, Solomon’s “kingdom was firmly established.” Firm, indeed. His succession was firmed up in both ingenious and inhumane ways. Solomon was the 10th of David’s 19 sons. This is akin to the oldest daughter of Fergie and Andrew, Princess Beatrice, suddenly becoming queen. It is a long shot.

But Solomon had wise people working on his behalf, and their own. Here’s where the gaps in this text must be minded: key people are left out of this smoothed-over succession story, especially Nathan and Bathsheba. Nathan saw the writing on the wall concerning Adonijah. He was to inherit the throne, and was in fact already celebrating his kingship before David even died. But Nathan knew the fate of Bathsheba and Solomon would be precarious if Adonijah succeeded in his claims. Nathan stepped in as an advocate, inviting Bathsheba to consider taking on the arduous task of convincing David to select Solomon as his successor. This task would be a delicate dance of convincing David the idea was his in the first place. Bathsheba used all the tools at her disposal, with flattery chief among her husband’s favorites, and secured the line of succession. Solomon was named David’s successor. His kingdom was firmly established by the agency of his mother.

The kingdom then became, in the ugly gap of our text, even more firmly established through the eventual destruction of Adonijah, Joab and Shimei. This establishing of the throne via execution was done in the name of his dad: “You know in your own heart all the evil that you did to my father David; so the Lord will bring back your evil on your own head” (1 Kings 2:44).

It is no wonder that this lectionary reading is plastered over to cover up all traces of the violence that establishes any throne, including Solomon’s. It is easy to preach a smooth wisdom that is consistent, steadfast, trustworthy and humble. It is difficult to reconcile that profound prayerful prose with the earliest vengeful deeds of young King Solomon. God praises Solomon for not asking for the lives of his enemies. But Solomon does not need to; he has already eliminated the greatest threats to his reign. So, where, in this story of the boy king who so quickly learned the ways of absolute power – ways so familiar to his father – does true wisdom lie?

I believe the wisdom is in the gaps. Not the gaps that smooth over the horrors of state-sanctioned murder, linking an established kingdom with the love of God. No, the gaps where someone gets left unnamed in Solomon’s frankly revisionist account of his father David’s wisdom: his mother, Bathsheba. Because whether we see her name or not, she is all over this text. Solomon is on the throne because of her courage to take Nathan’s good advice and her cunning in dealing with the fragile ego and failing faculties of her husband, David. The husband she did not choose. Bathsheba’s wisdom may not be memorialized in the canticles of King David. Her uprightness of heart, faithfulness and righteousness are not even noticed, while her body in some bathwater is remembered for all time. (Remember that she was not actually bathing on a roof, but it was David on the roof, spying on her. Remember, also, that she was performing her monthly rites of purification. This all matters.)

There would not be a King Solomon, or an established and unified throne, without Bathsheba. \ Wil Gafney shows all of this in her important book “Womanist Midrash,” writing: “In 1 Kings 2:19, Solomon gets up off of his throne, bows to Bathsheba, and enthrones her in majesty as his right-hand woman. She becomes the first of the queen mothers, a tradition that will live in the Judean monarchy until its end.” Solomon’s throne is firmly established through murder and violence, yes. But it is also firmly established through his mother’s wisdom, a very different form of leadership than his father exercised. She may be erased from this story. But she is not erased from Solomon’s story — her wisdom of survival, cunning and protection flows through his veins his entire life. And at his best, Solomon leans into her wisdom. The wisdom of his mom that points to the wisdom of God.

So, when wisdom is preached this Sunday – a wisdom named in Psalm 111 as faithful, just and trustworthy, a wisdom named in Ephesians 5 as Spirit-saturated songs sung on evil days – let’s remember that in the Hebrew Bible, wisdom is often embodied as a woman. And, for the purposes of this tale of kings who behave like boys and boys who become kings, that woman has a name: Bathsheba.

For reflection:

  • Where you do see God’s wisdom in the gaps of your own story?
  • When have you mistaken power for wisdom?
  • Who is wise in ways that often go unnoticed?
  • How is God calling the church to be wise in our time?
  • What tools do we need to walk that path together?