Solomon’s prayer for wisdom, as it is frequently called, is a request 1 Kings 3:9. It arises during a dream in Gibeon. Solomon does not make the bold request of God on a lark or out of the blue. In fact, it appears that he would never have uttered such a request since he twice defers from making his request. First, by saying that he is only a little child and really does not know how to go out and come in 1 Kings 3:7-8. Second, he raises the rhetorical question about the possibility of any king being able to govern such a great people as Israel 1 Kings 3:9. He may not have thought that he could follow in his father’s footsteps. Or he may have thought something new was needed.
Solomon raises his request at the urging of God, “Ask what I should give you? 1 Kings 3:5. So for someone who claims that he is but a child and seems to defer from God’s question he sure comes up with a great request. As noted in the story he does not ask for a million bucks or to win a lottery jackpot. He does not ask to do away with all of his enemies or even to conquer the world. God only knows he is going to have enough enemies even within his own family. He doesn’t even ask to live forever. He asks, as the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translates, for an “understanding mind.” Quite literally Solomon asks for a listening heart.
Several issues are important for understanding this text. First, several historical and geographical points are of interest. Gibeon was a central place associated with Canaanite worship prior to Israelites. It is is just 5 miles northwest of Jerusalem. It was also associated with Saul's breaking an ancient treaty that led David to permit revenge on several of Saul's sons. It was clearly a “high place,” a location central to religious activities prior to the centralization of worship in Jerusalem. That Solomon sacrifices there and the writers of the story do not condemn him is indicative of the fact that a portion of this story is quite old and prior to the centralization of the temple in Jerusalem. Of course Solomon is central to God’s plan in building a house for the LORD in Jerusalem.
Second, our passage begins with the marriage alliance Solomon makes. This marriage and his many other international alliances and many foreign wives I Kings 11:1ff. will lead to much criticism and his downfall. So imbedded in the superb request he makes of God is a hint that all will not go so well.
Third, the request for a listening heart in Hebrew requires us to reflect on the Hebrew meaning of “heart.” It is not merely referring to the powerful circulatory organ in our bodies. It refers to the center of a human’s very being. It is character and more.
Most frequently the Hebrew word for heart talks about the heart of the human (over 800 times) and far less frequently the heart of God (25 times). It rarely refers to the human organ we call the heart. In fact, In 1 Samuel 25:36-38 a man is said to have had his heart die ten days before he was physically dead. The point is that the heart dies even if we physically survive.
In our passage the listening heart is said to be a request for wisdom. However, I think that what Solomon requests from God is not just an “understanding mind.” He asks, despite his youth that at the very core of his being, the center of his existence that God grant him emotional power and passion, a strong will or conscience, and resourceful reflection. That is indeed a gigantic request.