Summary: Compassionate people like Solomon readily recognize compassion within others of like heart.
Solomon and the Moms, I Kings 3:16-28 -A Mother’s Day sermon by Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
We’ve been studying the wisdom of King Solomon from the Book of Ecclesiastes. He asked God for wisdom to rule Israel. He wrote wisdom literature. Now let’s see his wisdom in action!
The two mothers who come before the king are of questionable character. Because of their social status and poverty, they have no one to act as an advocate to plead their case. A few Hebrew scholars think the term “prostitutes” (zonot) could be rendered “innkeepers,” but most say these were women of ill repute. You’d think that the rights of women from the more sordid fringe of society wouldn’t be granted a hearing. They wouldn’t be given the time of day, let alone a royal audience. Nonetheless, Solomon shows that he cares for the lowliest of his people. He defends the poor, the outcast, the disadvantaged. He believes that all should have access to justice. By their profession, these two were violating God’s law, yet Solomon knew God still loved them.
These poor women are to be pitied. Have you ever spoken to a prostitute? I have. While serving with the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea, I occasionally patrolled the clubs the GIs would frequent in the village outside of the camp with our Charlie Company Commander. One night as we were checking up on the troops, a “hostess” explained to me that poverty led her to sell herself. Her dream in life was to be a schoolteacher. With tears she said, “This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me.” I encouraged her to return home, like the Prodigal Son. We can easily condemn, but we can also pity such women.
Israel’s kings were sometimes called on to resolve particularly thorny cases. They were known to grant periods of public access to arbitrate disputes by royal edict. What we see here is reminiscent of the many popular “people’s court” shows on TV. In this case it’s not Judge Judy but the King of Israel who sits in decision. Solomon’s willingness to hear their case shows his concern for matters touching the lives of his people. Leaders are consumed by national interests, but occasionally they get involved with more personal, everyday matters. The two women appeal to Solomon for justice.
Liberal thinkers claim this is a fable, yet it was common for ancient kings to maintain records of exceptional legal decisions, to affirm how they ruled fairly and justly.
Solomon is presented with a complicated legal dilemma, a seemingly unsolvable dispute. Two women have newborn babies; they probably don’t know who the fathers are. One mother carelessly smothered her child in the night, and then switched the babies while the other mother slept. Now both are claiming the living child as their own. There are no witnesses, and no CSI Jerusalem to run DNA tests. Solomon prayed for wisdom, in verse 9: “Give your servant a discerning heart to govern Your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.” He hoped to carry on the legacy of his father David. God granted him wisdom enough to know which is the true mother without hard evidence. In Proverbs 8:15 Wisdom states: “By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just.” Wisdom is a very real and practical sense of what to do, how to do it, and why it must be done. Knowledge alone isn’t enough. We all know people who have book knowledge but lack common sense. We could surround ourselves with “the best and the brightest” but there’s no guarantee we’d make wise decisions. Solomon produces his own evidence, the evidence of the heart. In so doing, he reveals the compassion of the true mother and the callousness of the false. It’s been said, “You must live with people in order to know their problems; you must live with God in order to solve them.”
Solomon devises a severe scheme to draw out the truth. He calls for a sword, then confronts the two mothers with a test; and in order for it to work, they must think he is deadly serious. “The choice now is between the claim of motherhood and the claim of life itself” (DeVries). Solomon is confident that the true mother will show maternal emotions; that she will care about the welfare of her child and want to keep him alive at all costs. Solomon knew he could count on the self-sacrificing love of the true mother. Her concern for the safety of her child would surface and identify her. Simply “having” a child doesn’t make one a real mother, any more than having a piano makes one a musician (Sydney Harris). The false mother can do nothing but hate, and comes up empty in the end.