A little over a decade ago, scientists working in the Denisova Caves in the mountains of Russia came upon a fingertip bone. But this wasn’t a murder scene. The bone was ancient, and it was human, but it wasn’t us. Mostly.
Not Homo sapiens, our species, nor Homo neanderthalis. This was a whole new species or subspecies, now known as the Denisovans. (Artist’s recreation from DNA, not an actual portrait, obviously.)
Three years ago, the same caves revealed ‘Denny’, a paleolithic woman with a Neanderthal mom and a Denisovan pop. Hmmmn, Stone Age shenanigans!
Most recently of all, DNA found in the soil shows that modern humans also occupied those same caves, possibly overlapping with our now-extinct cousins. Obviously, this was the hip pace to be 45,000 years ago!
Fascinating, but what has this got to do with me, today? And what has this got to do with our readings about Solomon?
People with African ancestry have around half a percent Neanderthal DNA, while those with European ancestry are nearly 2% Neanderthal. (That explains Mr Scroggins down the road.) Modern Melanesians might have as much as 6% Denisovan DNA.
Basically, we’re all mixtures. Like the loveable mongrel dog called the Heinzhund – a mixture of 57 varieties.
We’re all mixtures of many things. Some parts we’re proud of, some, less so.
And so it was with Solomon. I don’t mean he was part Neanderthal (although he was), but that he was a mixture. We like to hold Solomon up as a model of wise and godly kingship. But take a look at the sneaky little verse 3. Just the end of it: “except that he continued to sacrifice in the hills and to offer incense there”
That was a no-no. There was a tabernacle, and later a temple, for sacrifices. You couldn’t just offer whatever you liked, wherever you liked, to whomever you liked. Later in his life, Solomon’s heart sadly drifted away from God. You can read the sorry tale in 1 Kings 11, but we see the thin end of the wedge here.
He loved God, but …
He loved God, and …
He loved God, except that …
Solomon was a bit of a mixture. Just like me, just like you. But here’s the amazing thing. Look at verse 5. God talks to Solomon and asks what’s on his Amazon wish-list. (Only one thing, but a good ‘un.)
But, but, didn’t God know about the sacrificing-on-the-high-places thing? Surely that would disqualify Solomon for being useful in God’s kingdom? Yes, sure God did know. But he worked with Solomon anyway.
You may have heard the story of a quick-thinking curate who, having tea with his bishop, was served a boiled egg that was well past its sell-by date. Asked about his egg, the nimble-minded young man replied, “Parts of it are excellent!”
God knew that Solomon was a bit of a mixture – good stuff and not-so-good stuff all shoved into one bowl and stirred around. And God looked past the rubbish to the parts that were excellent and said, “I can work with that.”
So when I look in the mirror and see someone who gets cross with their kids, is unreasonable, short-tempered, arrogant, impatient, and a whole load of other not-so-good stuff, I can thank my gracious God who looks past the rubbish and says, “I can work with that.”
This is not to say that the rubbish doesn’t need dealing with with. It does, but it’s not a deal-breaker. Which is just as well when you look at the children God adopts into his family. We’re all a bit Heinz.
1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14
Then David died and was buried in Jerusalem. He had reigned over Israel for forty years, seven of them in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem. And Solomon became the new king, replacing his father David; and his kingdom prospered.
(Solomon loved the Lord and followed all of his father David’s instructions except that he continued to sacrifice in the hills and to offer incense there.) The most famous of the hilltop altars was at Gibeon, and now the king went there and sacrificed one thousand burnt offerings! The Lord appeared to him in a dream that night and told him to ask for anything he wanted, and it would be given to him!
Solomon replied, “You were wonderfully kind to my father David because he was honest and true and faithful to you, and obeyed your commands. And you have continued your kindness to him by giving him a son to succeed him. O Lord my God, now you have made me the king instead of my father David, but I am as a little child who doesn’t know his way around. And here I am among your own chosen people, a nation so great that there are almost too many people to count! Give me an understanding mind so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between what is right and what is wrong. For who by himself is able to carry such a heavy responsibility?”
The Lord was pleased with his reply and was glad that Solomon had asked for wisdom. So he replied, “Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people and haven’t asked for a long life, or riches for yourself, or the defeat of your enemies— yes, I’ll give you what you asked for! I will give you a wiser mind than anyone else has ever had or ever will have! And I will also give you what you didn’t ask for—riches and honor! And no one in all the world will be as rich and famous as you for the rest of your life! And I will give you a long life if you follow me and obey my laws as your father David did.”
The Living Bible copyright © 1971 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Cartoon from Punch magazine, 1895.