“The Gift That Is An Insult” (I Kings 9:10-14)

In “Henry V”, one of my very favorite plays or movies, Shakespeare tells of how when King Henry V of England was considering invading France, the French ambassador came to him with a “treasure,” saying that the Dauphin (or Prince of France) thought that this treasure would be more fit for him than invading their country. Henry asked his Duke of Exeter to examine the box and see what the treasure was. He peered in and reported: “Tennis balls, my liege.” Of course it was an insult: the Dauphin was implying that Henry was more fit for playing tennis than he was for warfare. It was an ancient form of “trash talking,” and that was a “gift” that was in actuality an insult. 

Many gifts are actually insults like that — and so was the “gift” we read about in I Kings 9 this morning, that Solomon gave to Hiram. I want us to see that this is more than just an inside look into the relationship between two kings, but is a challenge for us in the way we serve our God as well. 

I. The “Gift” That Was An Insult To The King

The first chapters of I Kings focus primarily on King Solomon, and how he built and established his kingdom, his temple, and his palace.  One of the characters we see Solomon interact with is King Hiram.  Hiram, Chapter 5 tells us, was the king of Tyre during Solomon’s time. Tyre is a city on the coast of what is today the country of Lebanon, just north of Israel. Tyre was an island that had two harbors, and it was an important port of trade, from which they sent dyes and lumber and other goods all over the world. 

I Kings 5 says that Hiram “had always been a friend of David”, and he kept up that good relationship with Solomon, who was King David’s son. One of the resources that King Hiram had was the famous “cedars of Lebanon,” which they traded all over the world. Solomon asked Hiram to cut and send to him these cedars of Lebanon for the temple he was building in Jerusalem, and that he would pay his workers. So they cut the timber, and made them into rafts and floated them down the coast to Israel, where Solomon brought them to Jerusalem for the temple and for his palace.  Verse 10 says “Hiram gave to Solomon as much as he desired of the cedar and cypress timber.” And :11 says that Solomon provided thousands of bushels of wheat in trade. They had a good relationship, and :12 says “the two of them made a covenant.” So that’s the background of the relationship between these two men: it was good.  

So now :10 of Chapter 9 here tells us that after 20 years had passed, Solomon had built his own house, and God’s house, with all the materials that Hiram had provided, and they had this good relationship — so now it says: “King Solomon gave Hiram 20 cites in the land of Galilee”, evidently as a gift for all he had done for him, and as an expression of good will for the relationship they had.  

You’d think that would be a good thing — Solomon gave him 20 cities! But

:12 says that when Hiram went out to look at the cities, “they did not please him.” (Lit., “they were not right in his sight.”) And in :13 “He said, ‘What are these cities which you have given me, my brother?’ So they were called the land of Cabul (which means “as good as nothing”) to this day.”

I want you to notice where the Bible says these cities were: verse 11 says: “they were called the land of CABUL (“good for nothing”) — that is GALILEE.” Galilee of course is the land where Jesus would grow up. Do you remember that in Jesus’ day they had the expression, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth” (John 1:46) and John 7:41 someone said, “Surely the Messiah is not going to come from Galilee is He?” Because historically this was NOT an impressive region — even in the days of Solomon — and evidently it hadn’t changed much even in recent years.  

In the 1860’s Mark Twain went through Galilee on his trip to the Holy Land, and he wrote about some of the villages he encountered on the way. Keep in mind these may very well be some of the very same villages that Solomon gave to Hiram in I Kings 9:

— “Magdala is not a beautiful place. … It is thoroughly ugly, and cramped, squalid, uncomfortable, and filthy — just the style of cities that have adorned the country since Adam’s time … the streets of Magdala are anywhere from three to six feet wide, and reeking with uncleanliness. The houses are from 5 to 7 feet high, and all built upon one arbitrary plan: the ungraceful form of a dry-goods box. The sides are daubed with a smooth white plaster, and tastefully frescoed … with disks of camel-dung placed there to dry. This gives the edifice the romantic appearance of having been riddled with cannon-balls …” 

— In Tiberias: “Its people are best examined at a distance. They are particularly uncomely … squalor and poverty are the pride of Tiberias.”

— “(We) found ourselves at Endor, famous for its witch. Her descendants are there yet. They were the wildest horde of half-naked savages we have found thus far. They swarmed out of mud bee-hives; out of hovels … out of gaping caves … a begging, screeching, shouting mob … dirt, degradation, and savagery are Endor’s speciality. … They do not mind dirt; they do not mind rags; they do not mind vermin; they do not mind barbarous ignorance and savagery …” (Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad)

You get the idea. THIS is what Solomon gave King Hiram!  20 squalid, poverty-ridden — “cities” is probably too good a word for them! They were ugly, impoverished villages. 

When Cheryl & I are traveling sometimes we like to get off the beaten path of the Interstates, and travel on state highways instead so we can see more of the country. We did that on the Oklahoma/Missouri border one time and came to one of the ugliest, most run-down little towns we ever saw. What was humorous was that they had a sign up with the name of the town on it (which I will omit!) and their town slogan was: “Experience our excellence.”

I suppose the 20 cities that Solomon gave Hiram were like that little town in Oklahoma. Hiram went and “experienced their excellence” — and they were NOT excellent.  ESPECIALLY for someone who 1) had the ability to give so much, and 2) towards one who had done so much for him. A “gift” of such poor quality like this was not a “gift” at all. It was really an insult — and Hiram called Solomon out on it: In :13 “He said, ‘What are these cities which you have given me, my brother?’ So they were called the land of Cabul (which means “as good as nothing”) to this day.”  It was a “gift” that was “as good as nothing.” A “gift,” that was really an insult.

II. Are YOUR Gifts An Insult To Your King?  

So understanding what went on here, let’s apply this passage to ourselves and our walk with God, and consider: are OUR gifts, that we bring to OUR King, really “gifts,” or are they an insult to Him?

Do you know the Bible tells us that we can insult God by what we try to give Him? Repeatedly God tells us in His word that there are “gifts” whicch people try to give to Him which He rejects:

— In Malachi 1 the people of Israel were bringing their blemished animals and offering them as sacrifices to God instead of bringing their first and best. So God said in :10, “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates … I am not pleased with you, says the LORD of hosts, nor will I accept an offering from you.” God told those people, your “gift” of these unwanted animals is an insult to Me. He said in :8, “Why not offer it to your governor?” You wouldn’t give something like that to him — why would you give it to Me?

It reminds me of a Pastor’s wife who told Cheryl years ago about a lady in their church who had canned some vegetables, but accidentally got sand in the while she was making them. So she gave it to her pastor’s wife and said, “We couldn’t use these, ‘cause they have sand in them — but I thought you might want them.” The pastor’s wife told Cheryl, “You know, we pretty much don’t like sand in our food either”! What kind of “gift” is that?  But God says that is exactly what too many people do with Him: they give Him whatever they don’t want — or their second- or third-best.

— In Genesis 4 is one of the most famous “rejected offerings” in the Bible, in the story of Cain & Abel. Much is made of the fact that Abel brought a blood offering, from his flock, which is a picture of the sacrifice of Christ for us, which is true. But I also want you to notice something else the Bible tells us about the difference in these men’s sacrifices:

— it says in :3 that “Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground.” Nothing special about it; it was just “OF the fruit of the ground.” Something he’d picked up. 

— but :4 says “Abel, on his part, also brought of the FIRSTLINGS of his flock and of their FAT portions.” 

Do you see the difference there? Whereas Cain just brought “OF the fruit of the ground,” Abel brought the FIRST; the BEST. There was a real difference in the quality of their offerings. See I don’t think it was just that it was vegetables; there are places in the Old Testament where a grain offering is acceptable to God; so it is not just the fact that it was the fruit of the ground that it was rejected, but it was because he didn’t give his best. And :5 says “For Cain and for his offering (God) had no regard.”  Cain’s “gift” wasn’t his best, and God wasn’t going to receive it.  

There are a number of such instances in scripture which show us that God is not satisfied with just any half-hearted “gift” we decide to toss His way. And quite honestly, many of the things we try offer to Him are nothing short of an insult.  

God said in that passage in Malachi 1, “’For I am a great King,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘and My name is feared among the nations.’” If we really believe that God is who He says He is, “A Great King,” then we need to consider that in what we offer to Him. 

Would you ask yourself this morning: what are you offering to God? Are you offering to Him sacrifices worthy of a Great King?  And not only a great King, but One who has done so much for us? The thing about Solomon’s cheap gift to Hiram was that Hiram had been so good to him — and this is how Solomon repaid him, with that cheap gift? But think about what God has done for us:

NO ONE has treated us better than God has:

— As we sang last week, “He’s a good, good Father …”

— As James 1:17 says:“Every good thing and every perfect gift are from above.” Every single thing good in your life, came from God.

— Romans 8 says “He did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up for us all …”. He paid for our salvation with the costly sacrifice of His Son.  

— Ephesians 1 says He “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

God has given us more than Hiram ever gave Solomon. He has given us more than the gold of Tyre; He’s given us more than the cedars of Lebanon: He’s given us the Son of God on the cross, and every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. In light of what He has done for us, we should give Him nothing less than the very best we have.

And it’s not like it’s a “business deal;” we don’t have to buy what God has done for us. We could never buy it. But we DO have the opportunity, like Solomon did with Hiram, to give gifts of thanksgiving to this One who has blessed us so much. The question is: What kind of gift will we give Him? Will it be a worthy gift, or an insulting gift? 

A person’s gift can be measured by their ability to give:

— a little child who gives a weed to his mother, is thought to be sweet. They thought of their mama, and gave her something they thought she would like. 

— but a husband who gives his wife a weed, may not be considered quite so sweet, huh? He had the ability and the knowledge to give and to do so much more. The quality of our gifts is based on our ability to give.

The insulting thing about Solomon’s “gift” to Hiram was that Solomon definitely had the ability to give great gifts:

10:21 says everything Solomon ate and drank from were pure gold; “silver was considered of little value in Solomon’s days”; 

:27 says silver was as common in Jerusalem as stones

:23 says he was greater in riches than all the other kings of the earth

Solomon had the ability to give Hiram a gift that would have “wowed” him — but instead he tried to pawn off those decrepit towns on him. It was an insult, especially to one who had done so much for him.

And the truth is, many of us have the ability to offer to God much better gifts than we do. But many of us as Christians just look for the cheapest, easiest way to “get by” with what we give or do for God — instead of really offering to God gifts and service that are worthy of Him. Think about some of the ways we often give “insulting gifts” to God:

— in our corporate worship: when we stay up all night Saturday and drag in on Sunday morning, half asleep, not able to give Him our full attention. You wouldn’t do that for an important meeting — is this an important meeting? Truly, some of us need to really ask ourselves: IS THIS AN IMPORTANT MEETING?  If it is, then we need to give it our best: in our preparation, in our attendance, in our participation. 

God asked His people in Malachi: would you offer that to your Governor? We ought to ask ourselves of our worship: would we offer this to our Governor? 

— Would I come to church like this if the Governor were here?

— Would I work harder on this sermon if I knew the Governor would be listening?

— Would we practice more faithfully on the music if we knew the Governor would be in attendance? 

— Would we participate better in the service if the Governor were here? Well, there is Somebody much more important than the Governor who IS here!  And we need to be doing our very best for HIM!  

— But it’s not just our corporate worship, but also our individual worship as well. Are you giving God your best in your own personal daily worship? Do you get up early to seek Him first, and give Him the best part of your day — or do you just give Him what’s “left over” when you’ve gotten all the so-called “important” things done, like work and exercise and school? We often give God a few drowsy seconds, and expect Him to think that’s a “gift”? It’s not a gift; it’s an insult!

— In your giving: are you giving God your best? Are giving the “firstlings” like Abel did — the FIRST of what He has given you? The first 10% that is His?  

Jesus showed us in the story of the widow’s mite that He doesn’t care how MUCH you give — if you are giving Him worthy gifts — gifts that are sacrificial according to your ability. That widow gave only two little “cents”, but in God’s eyes that was more than anyone else put in, because it was a sacrifice to her. 

You might say, Pastor, it would be a real sacrifice for me to give 10% to God. That is what He is looking for. He wants you to sacrifice to Him because He is worthy of it; because it shows you really appreciate what He has done for you. For some, the tithe is not a sacrifice, and He is looking for more from you. He wants you to give Him gifts that show that show your love for Him. 

And no, as we have said, you are not trying to “buy” His salvation, or trying to “pay God back.” You couldn’t pay Him back if you worked every second for the rest of your life! But we CAN and SHOULD give Him gifts of that show how much we love Him, and appreciate what He has done for us.  

I think of how Mary took the alabaster vial of perfume and broke it and anointed Jesus with it — so costly; a year’s income for a working man — and people criticized her for it. But Jesus said, “She has done a good deed to Me” and He said, “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.” Jesus LOVED that gift. It was costly; and it showed her love for Him. It was a worthy gift for a Great King. 

Does anything you do for the Lord look like Mary’s alabaster vial? Or are you just giving Him “cities of Cabul”— “as good as nothing” instead? Have you ever done anything great; have you ever given anything great, just because you love Him, and you’re thankful for what He has done for you?

— What about the gifts that you offer to God through your service? Do you attempt great and difficult things that are worthy of the King you serve?

We just read in II Samuel 23 of how King David said, “Oh, that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem which is by the gate.” The Philistines had captured Bethlehem at that time. But David’s 3 mighty men heard what he said, and fought through the lines of the Philistines, and brought him back a drink of water from that well. It was a bold gift of service. They didn’t do it because it was easy; they did it because it was hard, and it showed how much they loved their king. 

In September of 1962 President John F. Kennedy said to a crowd in Houston, Texas: “We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.”  President Kennedy said we’re choosing to undertake this moon mission, not because it is “easy,” but precisely because it is hard — because it is something that is worth doing with our lives!

As Christians we should have this attitude about our service for the Lord. We’re not serving Him just because it’s easy; we’re serving Him because it is the most important thing we can do with our lives, even when it is hard:

— We’re not teaching Sunday school because it’s easy, but because it is hard: because it’s the best tool we’ve got in the church to reach and teach and care for people.

— We’re not doing the Christmas program because it’s easy, but because it is HARD: because we have the opportunity to share the gospel with 5000 people outside of our own church walls.

— We’re not serving in the nursery because it’s easy, but because it is hard: because parents have these kids 24/7 and someone’s got to give them a chance to sit in our worship services and be touched by worship and the word of God.

— We don’t visit shut-ins because it’s “easy”: no, it takes time, and effort, and you have to listen, and sometimes you don’t know what to say or do, but we do it because it IS hard and it glorifies God when we take of these people whom He loves (if you’re interested: meeting Wed. Oct. 3 @ church)

— We don’t go on mission trips because it is easy or safe — parents sometimes ask, “Can you promise my kids will be safe if they go?” — I tell you, NO it is not always going to be safe on mission! — but we’re not going because it is safe or easy, we’re going because it is hard, because it is dangerous, and we do it because people need to hear the only way of salvation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. AND WE DO IT BECAUSE OUR KING IS WORTHY OF THE HARDEST THINGS WE CAN DO!  

Are you attempting anything difficult for your King? Or are you only willing to do something for Him if it is easy? I think of Hebrews 11:16, where, listing the great deeds of those in God’s “Hall of Faith,” it says: “therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God.” 

I wonder: is God ashamed to be called YOUR God? Can He point to the way you worship, the way you serve, the way you give, the way you witness, and say, “I am not ashamed to be called their God!”?  Or does He look at what you do — and say like King Hiram did to Solomon, “What is this that you’re giving me, my brother?” Do your gifts and service glorify God — or do they insult Him?  

CONCLUSION:

Cheryl & I got a lot of comments from the story I shared a couple of weeks ago about how I “just didn’t think” about something in regard to her.  I want you to know, guys, that I am so very happy for you to learn from all my mistakes!  Let me pass this along too: one time in our early married life (probably after I had just given her a gift that was an insult!) Cheryl told me that a good gift involves a couple of things: 1) it takes some thought, and 2) it takes some effort. Give it some thought; and put out some effort. And if they can see that you have shown some thought, and put forth some effort, then that’s going to be a good and acceptable gift for the one you care about. 

And as I said a couple of weeks ago, SO much in our marriages also applies to our relationship with God. In the things you do for Him, put some thought into it. Put some effort into it. And again, it’s not that by making sacrifices in what we give or do that we “earn” our salvation; we don’t. Salvation is an infinitely costly, free gift from God in Jesus Christ, and there is absolutely nothing we can do to earn or deserve it.  But if we really appreciate what He’s done for us, we will not want to be found guilty — with our half-hearted efforts, and cheap giving — of insulting the One who gave so much for us. Let’s not give our Great King a gift, that is really just an insult. 

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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