“Solomon Judges with Wisdom and Justice”
Lesson Text: 1 Kings 3:16-28; 2 Chronicles 9:8
Background Scripture: 1 Kings 3; 2 Chronicles 9:8
Devotional Reading:Psalm 37:27-34
1 Kings 3:16-28 (KJV)
16Then came there two women, that were harlots, unto the king, and stood before him.
17And the one woman said, O my lord, I and this woman dwell in one house; and I was delivered of a child with her in the house.
18And it came to pass the third day after that I was delivered, that this woman was delivered also: and we were together; there was no stranger with us in the house, save we two in the house.
19And this woman’s child died in the night; because she overlaid it.
20And she arose at midnight, and took my son from beside me, while thine handmaid slept, and laid it in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom.
21And when I rose in the morning to give my child suck, behold, it was dead: but when I had considered it in the morning, behold, it was not my son, which I did bear.
22And the other woman said, Nay; but the living is my son, and the dead is thy son. And this said, No; but the dead is thy son, and the living is my son. Thus they spake before the king.
23Then said the king, The one saith, This is my son that liveth, and thy son is the dead: and the other saith, Nay; but thy son is the dead, and my son is the living.
24And the king said, Bring me a sword. And they brought a sword before the king.
25And the king said, Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other.
26Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it. But the other said, Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it.
27Then the king answered and said, Give her the living child, and in no wise slay it: she is the mother thereof.
28And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgment.
2 Chronicles 9:8 (KJV)
8Blessed be the Lord thy God, which delighted in thee to set thee on his throne, to be king for the Lord thy God: because thy God loved Israel, to establish them for ever, therefore made he thee king over them, to do judgment and justice.
To retell the story of Solomon’s ruling concerning two women who both claimed the same baby.
To discover that a discerning heart is better than power than power or riches.
To join with others to pray for divine insight for church and/or political leaders.
When a court case gets extensive coverage in the media, a high-profile individual is usually involved. Think of the criminal trial of O. J. Simpson in 1995. People may remember the name of the judge in such cases, but more often than not that person stays in the background.
Of course, this is not the case with the TV programs that feature judges rendering decisions daily. The focus there is on the judges, not on the litigants. The fact that many people are fascinated by such programs is reflected in the salaries commanded by these judges. According to a 2008 article on www.forbes.com, “Judge Judy” (Judith Sheindlin) was earning $45 million a year!
Certain elements of the case brought before Solomon in today’s lesson text may seem quite familiar to those who watch the TV judges regularly. Two people stood before Solomon, each claiming that the other was not telling the truth, and it was one person’s word against another’s. But before we get lost in the details of the case, we should remind ourselves that the primary focus that day was on the judge—a man who had succeeded his noteworthy father as king of Israel. Obviously the new king had enormous shoes (or sandals) to fill. How would he handle this responsibility? The case confronting him in today’s text provided a clue.
Solomon recognized the vast scope of the task that lay before him as the new king of Israel. King David, his deceased father, had set the bar high by virtue of his exemplary life (other than the incident involving Bathsheba and Uriah, which the Bible does not try to downplay). In addition, David had made extensive preparations to transfer the kingdom to Solomon, recording plans for building the temple and arranging various groups of officials who would serve in the kingdom. These included priests, gatekeepers, and musicians. (The lists of these individuals and the account of David’s other preparations are recorded in 1 Chronicles 23-29.) Much had been given to Solomon; no doubt much was expected from him.
In spite of the generous assistance provided by his father, Solomon still recognized his deep need for help from the Lord. So when the Lord spoke to him one night in a dream and told him to ask for whatever he wanted, Solomon prayed, “Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?” (1 Kings 3:9).
Solomon’s understanding heart, especially the ability to “discern between good and bad,” was put to the test in the incident described in today’s text. It is recorded in the Scriptures immediately following Solomon’s dream, so it appears to have occurred fairly early in his 40-year reign as king of Israel, which began around 970 B.C.
THE CLAIMS MADE BY TWO PROSTITUTES (1 Kings 3:16-22)
1. Why where two prostitutes allowed such direct access to the presence of King Solomon (1 Kings 3:16)?
God's chosen leaders can't always remain on the heights of spiritual glory but must take that glory and blessing with them into the place of duty and service. Jesus left the Mount of Transfiguration for the valley of conflict (Matt. 17:1-21), and Paul left the heights of heaven to carry on earth the pain of a thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:1-10). Solomon had been worshiping at Gibeon and Jerusalem, but now he has returned to the responsibilities of the throne.
Like his father David, Solomon gave the common people access to the king (2 Sam. 14). God had given Solomon a special gift of wisdom and now he could put it to use. He had stood before the Ark, the throne of God, and now his people could stand before his throne and seek help. But for Solomon to receive two prostitutes at his throne was certainly an act of affability. Prostitution seems to have been practiced, even though it was unlawful in Israel (Lev. 19:29). Like Jesus, Solomon welcomed "publicans and sinners" (Luke 15:1-2), except that Jesus did more than solve their problems: He changed their hearts and forgave their sins. In every way, Jesus is "greater than Solomon"(see Matt. 12:42).
What Do You Think?
Under what circumstances, if any, should the fact that people are engaged in immoral behavior affect how justice is administered?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
In the church | In civil lawsuits | In criminal cases
2. What dilemma did the two women bring to Solomon to resolve (vs. 17-21)?
Because of the sensitive nature of the matter, the two women bring their case before Solomon. The first prostitute proceeds to explain the situation and noted that she and the other woman shared a house and that she gave birth to her son while both women were living there (1 Kings 3:17). Three days later, the other prostitute gave birth to her son. According to the first prostitute, they and their newborns were only ones in the house at that time (v. 18). Thefact that no one else was present means that there are no other witnesses available to shed light on what really happened.
Most likely these two women are rather poor. They live alone, having no husbands or servants. The only “company” they tend to keep is temporary. The contempt in which they are probably held because of their occupation means that hardly anyone takes pity on them or offers assistance. Also, any income from their prostitution probably has been minimal during much of the time of their pregnancies.
Nevertheless, it’s not hard to imagine the mutual joy both mothers shared at the births of their babies. But then tragedy struck when, according to the first prostitute, the other one accidentally rolled on top of her newborn and suffocated him during “the night” (v. 19). Since there were no witnesses to the baby boy’s death, this enabled the bereaved mother to devise a heinous plan. Later that night, she got up, took the other mother’s baby boy from her side without waking her up, and replaced him with her infant’s corpse (v. 20). When the first prostitute got up the next morning to nurse her baby boy, she was shocked to discover that he was dead. Even more appalling was the fact that when the mother carefully examined the newborn, she realized he wasn’t her baby (v. 21).
One may question how the first woman (the one who is speaking) knows all these details regarding how and when the tragedy took place since she was asleep at the time. To have such detailed knowledge could cast suspicion on her as the mother of the dead infant since this is the kind of knowledge the perpetrator would have! Perhaps we can presume that this time line of events is merely logical reasoning that is based on the end result.
3. What did the second woman say happened (v. 22)?
At this point, we can picture “the other woman” suddenly interrupting the first woman’s account to state her own position. She flatly contradicts the first woman’s testimony. Most likely the anger of both women intensifies rapidly as each accuses the other of lying. How can this situation possibly be resolved when there is no third party to consult and when the issue is essentially a matter of “she said/she said”?
The case before Solomon would be easy today. Just identify the mother with a DNA test!
But modern science makes things not only easier at times, but also more difficult. For example, science has given us various medical procedures to enable surrogate parentage in ways that were undreamed of a hundred years ago. Such capability has raised various moral and legal questions.
Focusing strictly on the legal issue of “whose child is it?” in our limited space here, we occasionally read of a case where a person, by contract, is supposed to give up the newborn, but refuses to do so. Then come the legal battles. Often presenting themselves are questions about what is legally “conscionable” in such cases, regardless of the wording of the contract.
We see the issue of surrogate parentage in Genesis 16, but modern technology has taken the moral and legal issues to a whole new level! One thing is certain: if we do not ask God for wisdom in these matters, disaster will loom. —C. R. B.
SOLOMON’S WISDOM DEMONSTRATED (1 Kings 3:23-28)
4. What decision did Solomon make concerning both women’s claim (vs. 23-26a)?
Solomon doesn’t dive right in and give a decision. Instead, he begins his response to the two women by summarizing the heart of the dilemma before him. People want to know that they’ve been heard (v. 23). Thus Solomon is showing some wisdom in this regard by summarizing or reflecting back.
Using the divine wisdom God gave him, Solomon bypassed the word of the women and went right to their hearts, for the heart of every problem is the problem in the heart. Solomon’s next words surely leave the women (and everyone else present) startled.
The king said, “Bring me a sword” (v. 24). What can the king possibly want with a sword? Even more bizarre is the king’s next command, to “divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other!”
Since (1) each woman claims that the child in question is hers, and (2) there is no evidence to support either claim over the other, then (3) each woman is to receive a “fair share” of the child. The technical “fairness” of such a verdict is, of course, completely outweighed by its gruesomeness.
Immediately, the real mother of the living child passionately protests this “solution” (v. 26a). The Hebrew expression is literally, “Her bowels ached for her son.” In biblical times, the bowels are believed to be the center of one’s emotions. (That belief is still reflected today in expressions like “gut feeling” or “gut reaction.”) The mother pleads with the king to let the other woman have the living child. Even though the real mother will not be able to carry out her role as the child’s mother, she will not allow any bitterness toward the other woman (or toward Solomon for his decision) to result in the death of her child. Although this woman makes her living through prostitution, she still possesses motherly instincts to want to preserve the life of her child.
5. How did the other woman react to the king’s feigned ruling (v. 26b)?
The other woman, however, sees the king’s ruling very differently. She is perfectly satisfied with Solomon’s reasoning. In her mind, she and the other woman will now be on equal footing: each woman’s son will be dead.
The reaction of each woman has revealed who the real mother is. Solomon revealed the heart of the true mother and gave her baby to her. We aren't told what he did with the mother who had lied and stolen (kidnapped) the baby. The Bible does not say. Of primary significance is the impact Solomon’s handling of this case has on the entire nation of Israel, as the next verse reveals.
The word about Solomon’s decision spreads quickly throughout all Israel. It is clear that no ordinary intelligence is at work here. Solomon possesses the wisdom of God... “to do judgment” (v. 28). He has used an adroit procedure to reach a verdict that is completely just. Solomon's decision announced to everybody that the king was indeed a wise man.
EXALTING WISDOM’S SOURCE (2 Chronicles 9:8)
6. Who is it speaking in 2 Chronicles 9:8?
2 Chronicles 9 records the visit of the queen of Sheba to see King Solomon, and she is the one speaking here. Sheba is located in the southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, perhaps in the territory occupied by modern Yemen. This location places it close to the trade routes linking Mesopotamia, Africa, India, and Israel.
The queen does not travel alone; accompanying her is a large entourage bearing “spices, and gold in abundance, and precious stones” (2 Chronicles 9:1). First Kings 10:1 also notes that she comes “to prove [Solomon] with hard questions.” The queen is overwhelmed with amazement on experiencing the scope of Solomon’s wisdom. She has heard rumors of his wisdom, but now she witnesses it firsthand. Among her words of tribute to Solomon is the verse before us.
The queen of Sheba appears to express faith in the Lord, acknowledging Him to be the one responsible for placing Solomon on the throne of Israel. She also observes the Lord’s special favor toward Israel. Solomon’s reign over Israel reflects that favor, for through him the Lord provides judgment and justice for the people.
However, the queen’s acknowledgment of the Lord most likely is not a personal confession of faith in Him as the only God. She may be expressing her recognition of the Lord only as sovereign God over Israel. In Matt. 12:39-42, Jesus didn't commend the Queen of Sheba for her faith but for the fact that she made every effort to travel about 1,500 miles to hear the wisdom of Solomon, when the Son of God, one "greater than Solomon," was in the midst of the Jewish people. Their sign seeking resulted in a lost opportunity! Clearly the queen is aware of Solomon’s reputation for exercising justice. In her mind, that testifies not only to Solomon’s greatness but also to the greatness of his God.
POINTS TO PONDER
1.Solomon was not only wise enough to seek God’s wisdom over his own, he did it for the benefit of others (1 Kings 3:6-9).
2.Would you let immoral behavior affect how justice is administered (vs. 16-22)?
3.Solomon used his wisdom to make good decisions (vs. 23-27).
4.What sort of counsel might the Lord want you to share with others (2 Chronicles 9:8)?
Compassion vs. Justice
Solomon’s verdict in today’s lesson demonstrated a healthy combination of compassion and justice. Solomon figured that his proposal to cut the child in two would reveal the love of the mother and the bitterness of the pretender. He was right. Compassion saw that the child was returned to his rightful mother; justice saw that the liar was exposed for what she was.
Today we may not face circumstances exactly like those confronting King Solomon. But we are sometimes faced with difficult circumstances involving having to determine whether or not someone is telling the truth. Numerous scams and con artists take advantage of unsuspecting victims, especially the elderly. Churches have been abused by such professionals, who make preying (rather than praying) a way of life.
How can the church exercise both compassion and justice in such situations? If we are going to err (and we most certainly will), is it better to err on the side of compassion or on the side of justice? Each congregation must look carefully at its surroundings and determine how best to address the needs for help that exist. In some cases, churches in a community can share information and pool resources in order to make sure that dishonest people who move from church to church do not take advantage of others’ generosity.
Sometimes a fear of “being used” can keep Christians or churches from acting. This is unfortunate. Jesus has called His followers to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13, 14). This should become a matter of prayer as we determine what needs to be done. If we are not certain what to do in a particular area, perhaps we can investigate what other churches have done and network with them. Will we make mistakes in the process? No doubt. But isn’t this better than to make the larger mistake of doing nothing at all?
Father, we live in a time that requires us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Help us to maintain that balance as we minister to a broken world. Help us to represent a Christlike perspective to Your glory. In Jesus’ name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
True wisdom includes viewing others as God sees them.