The Old Testament lessons in this week’s Daily Office are taking me slowly through the story of King Solomon, and among the events from his life that scripture records is a visit from the Queen of Sheba. After testing Solomon’s legendary wisdom and touring his extensive wealth, she declares:
“The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard. How happy your people must be!” (1 Kings 10:6-8)
Now, for those of us who’ve spent some time in Sunday School, this glowing report hardly comes as a surprise. Solomon in many ways represented the epitome of the Davidic monarchy: a king who — for much of his life — remained faithful to the Lord and received unparalleled blessings as a result.
What’s interesting to me, however, is that the daily readings “conveniently” skip over some interesting revelations about how Solomon acquired these blessings. For example, Solomon built his fabulous temple and palaces with wood and gold from Hiram, the king of Tyre. But when Solomon expressed his gratitude by giving the king an assortment of towns, he apparently wasn’t all that generous. “What kind of towns are these?” Hiram asked; and then he called the towns “the Land of Kabul” (1 Kings 9:13), which basically means “good for nothing.” In addition, chapter 9 tells how Solomon conscripted the descendants of the ancient Canaanite peoples (the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, Jebusites, and Termites…oh wait, that last one was mine), and forced them to serve as slave labor.
The point, I think, is that all of us — even a great king like Solomon — are standing on somebody’s shoulders. They may be the shoulders of people who willingly sacrificed for us so that we could live into our potential — people like parents and teachers and so on. Or they could be the shoulders of people who we’ll never know — people like utility workers who kept our power and water running during an ‘almost outage’ that we weren’t even aware of, or immigrant laborers who picked the vegetables we enjoyed at dinner, or foreign factory workers who made the affordable clothing on which we got such a great deal — but without whom our lives would be far more impoverished.
And because we stand on somebody else’s shoulders, we do well to be both humble and grateful. Sure, it feels good to be growing in wisdom or wealth or any other desirable quality. And it feels even better to have somebody recognize and congratulate us on our progress. But our success is never ours alone. Solomon, unfortunately, forgot that as time went by; and both he and the people of Israel paid for it dearly.
Upon whose shoulders are you standing today? And who do you need to thank for the “boost” that allowed you to see farther and do more than you ever would have managed without them?
May we be truly grateful for the shoulders of others; and may we offer our shoulders to all those whose potential we can have a part in fulfilling.