We thought about wisdom and what it looks like in our All Age Worship yesterday. No sermon to share, as I improvise at All Age Worship, but here are the two stories I told, from the Jewish oral tradition, about King Solomon, the king most associated with wisdom in the Bible.
King Solomon and the Goldsmith
One morning a goldsmith came to the court of King Solomon, very distraught and asking for help. The king was sitting in judgement in his throne room, with his adviser, Beniah, standing by him, when the man came before him. “Great King Solomon, please help me!” Last night a burglar broke through the door of my workshop and stole all my gold. I don’t know what to do, as my family and I will now be destitute!”
“Do you have any idea who might have done this?” asked Solomon.
“No – we were all asleep at home next door.”
“Did your neighbours see or hear anything?”
“No – they were all asleep too”
“Hmm…” said Solomon, as he thought. “It seems, then as if there is no one we can ask about this, no way of finding out what happened…and yet… there was one witness we might talk to”
“Who is that?” said the goldsmith.
“The door itself, of course,” said Solomon, “the door which let the thief through!”
“The door! But you can’t talk to a door”, said the king’s advisor.
“Of course I can. I am Solomon. God has given me the ability to hear the voices of all his creatures. The door is made of wood, from a tree, so of course I can talk to it. I shall be there in one hour from now”
The king summoned his heralds, and ordered them to go out to the area where the goldsmith lived and announce to all around that in one hour they would see the miracle of the king holding conversation with a door.
When he was ready, Solomon set off in a great procession, walking through the streets of Jerusalem until he came to the goldsmith’s workshop.
A great crowd had gathered, as you might expect, to see this wonder. Every man, woman and child in the area was there.
Solomon went up to the door of the goldsmith’s workshop and in a loud voice addressed it.
“Door! I am the great King Solomon. I am distressed to hear that you have failed in the one task you were given, to guard the goldsmith’s gold from thieves. What have you to say?”
Solomon put his ear to the door and nodded sagely.
“The door says it is sorry, and wants to make amends”.
“I am glad to hear, it, door. It is good to make amends. You can do so by helping us to catch the person who has done this terrible deed. Can you tell me his name? Do you know who he is?”
The king listened to the door again, and then said that the door had said it didn’t know his name.
“Can you describe him at all? No? It was too dark to see him clearly? What a shame.”
“Is there anything at all you can tell us that might help us to catch him?”
The king listened then announced to the crowd, “the door says that there is one thing he knows. Last night a spider spun a web across the door at about the head height of a man. So the man who broke in would have had to walk through it, and will certainly have a cobweb on his hat…”
The king turned to face the crowd, and stretched out his royal arm and pointed into it. “Guards ! Arrest that man! Yes, the one in the red cap, the one who has just put his hand up to take it off!”
And the guards rushed into the crowd and seized the man and brought him before the king. The man fell on his knees and begged for mercy, saying that he was sorry for what he had done and would pay all that he had stolen back twice over. The king ordered him to be taken off to jail where he could ponder his crime while he decided what was to be done with him.
The king and his entourage returned to the palace, where his adviser, Beniah, congratulated him on the clever way he had discovered the thief. “Yes, I am glad it came out so well,” said Solomon, “though I am always sorry when I have to lie!” “But such a clever lie, your majesty, to convince everyone that you were talking to a door, and that the door was talking back to you!”
“Oh, no, that was not the lie!”
“What! You mean you really were talking to the door, and it was really talking to you?”
“Oh yes, of course! God did, after all, give me the power to understand the voices of all his creatures! No, the lie was that, actually the door told me right at the beginning who the thief was, and where he was in the crowd, but I realised that I would need the man to confess if we were ever to bring him to justice.”
“But why, your majesty?”
“Well, besides the fact that it is always better for someone to own up to their own sin, our Law insists that it takes two witnesses to convict someone of a crime. And we only had the testimony of one door!”
King Solomon’s Ring
Beniah, the king’s adviser, knew full well how much power he had, so close to throne, and Solomon had noticed that he was a little inclined to throw it around, so he thought of a way in which he could bring him down to size a bit, so he decided to set him a challenge.
“I want you to find me a ring which will make a happy man sad and a sad man happy. You have one month, and if you do not succeed you will lose your place at court.”
Benaiah was alarmed, but not too alarmed. After all, how difficult could it be? Money was no object, and he had a whole month. He went through Jerusalem, visiting every shop, every workshop, and talked those who made and sold rings. Did they know of any such ring? They all scratched their heads and said that they did not.
So Benaiah went down to the harbour and spoke to the captains of all the ships there and the merchants unloading their goods. Did they know of any such ring? But they did not.
Benaiah sent out messages around the kingdom and beyond, but no one could think of anything which fitted the bill. The days passed and the weeks passed, and soon the month was nearly up, and Benaiah was no nearer finding a ring which would do what Solomon had asked than he had been at the start.
By the night before the deadline, Benaiah was in despair. What could he do? He would lose his job, and his family would be destitute. Benaiah found himself wandering distractedly through the bazaar, past stalls selling spices and fabric and He came at last to a little stall – not even a stall really, just a pitiful array of bricabrac, cheap trinkets and household goods spread on a cloth on the pavement, with a small boy watching over them. “Can I sell you something, sir?” said the boy. “Alas I don’t think you have what I am looking for,” said Benaiah. “What is that, sir?” “A ring which can make a happy man sad and a sad man happy. My master has said I must find it for him.”. “ I have never heard of any such thing,” said the boy, “but I will ask my grandfather, who makes these things, and see what he thinks. He lives in this little shack here, behind our stall – this is his workshop.“
The boy dived back through the curtain into the shack. A few moments later he came back. My grandfather has prayed to God and he says he knows exactly what you need, and will bring it to you in a few minutes if you care to wait.
Benaiah waited, and sure enough, a few minutes later a frail old man emerged bearing in his hands a package, all wrapped up in a scrap of fabric. “Take this ring to your master and give it to him, but don’t look at it first – you will just have to trust me that it is what you look for.”
So Benaiah, having no other option took the package, and the next morning gave it to Solomon, explaining where it had come from and how he had found it. It looked so poor in its tattered fabric wrapping, and when Solomon unwrapped it, Benaiah didn’t feel any better about it at all. It was just a plain ring, made of some cheap, base metal. But Solomon looked at it closely, and as he did so, he started to weep – great big tears. Benaiah was worried. What on earth had Solomon seen in this ring to make him so sad? And what would happen to Benaiah as a result?
Solomon wordlessly handed the ring to Benaiah, and Benaiah, full of sorrow and worry, peered intently at it. And then Benaiah began to smile.
There scratched into its surface were the words, “This too shall pass”.
And Solomon said to him, “Well done Benaiah, you have done what I thought was impossible. I, a happy man with wealth and power beyond imagining have remembered that it is only mine for a season, that one day I will die and it will all pass from me, that old age and death will rob me of all I have. You have made a happy man sad. But I see from your smile that you have also made a sad man – yourself – happy, because your troubles have evaporated since you have succeeded in this challenge. The man from whom you bought this ring is wiser than both of us, and God is wiser than us all. Earthly joys and sorrows all pass, but the joy we find in God is eternal. I shall wear this ring always”. And he did.