The text concerning which a reader asks is found in I Kings 3:16-28. The passage is well known. Two prostitutes, who were apparently living together, had each a baby with which they slept at night. One harlot accidentally lay on her baby and killed it. She awakened and saw what she had done, and switched her baby with the baby of the other prostitute with whom she lived.
In the morning, the second harlot saw that the baby that was lying dead at her side was not really her own, and she saw that the live baby of the other woman was her baby. But the argument could not be settled who was really the mother of the live baby, for both claimed it.
They brought the case to King Solomon to decide. Solomon was left with the problem of determining which mother was the true mother of the live baby.
The questioner asks, “Was Solomon willing to have the live baby killed [and so break the sixth commandment]? Or was he violating the ninth commandment, ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour?’”
It seems the questioner is assuming that Solomon was guilty of one or the other of these sins, for he commanded that a sword be given him, and he prepared to cut the baby in half and give half to each mother. The baby would have been killed if he had actually cut it in half, but he would have been lying if he did not mean to kill the child. Either way, he was sinning, so the argument goes.
Our readers will remember that the response of the two prostitutes to Solomon’s proposal was quite different: one agreed to let Solomon cut the baby in half; the other begged Solomon not to do it, but to give the other woman the baby. She would rather that someone else have the baby than see it killed. By her answer, Solomon knew she was the real mother and that the other woman was lying.
I doubt very much whether Solomon was guilty of any sin at all. Instead, the incident is recorded in Scripture so that people might have an example of Solomon’s wisdom that God had given him. The narrative concludes with these words: “And 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” (3:28).
Solomon’s action in commanding the baby to be cut in half is an amazing and startling example of wisdom. He had no way of knowing who the true mother was. They had no DNA tests in those days. How was he to tell who was lying and who was telling the truth? Since both woman were of no reputation, an appeal to character would not help determine the truth, for it was not that one was a wicked woman, known for her fornication and wild life, while the other was an outstanding and pious mother in Israel. They were both prostitutes. How could he get to the bottom of the matter?
Solomon proposed the only course of action that would reveal the true nature of these two women. One who would steal another’s baby would surely be one who was covetous and ruled by envy. And one who is covetous and ruled by envy is also one who is inclined to say, “If I can’t have this, then I do not want my friend to have it either.”
On the other hand, a mother, having carried a child beneath her heart, has a bond with her child that is unique. In childbirth, she has communicated her life to her baby and nearly died doing it. She sees her life in the baby’s life. If the baby dies, part of her dies, for the child came from her. Solomon’s wisdom led him to the only possible solution: appeal to the sinful nature of one and the natural instincts of the other.
It was apparently true that neither of the two women were godly women: they were both harlots and lived lives of fornication. The question was not which one was a true believer and which one was not. The question was simply: Who is lying and who is telling the truth? Solomon’s wisdom was astounding.
In the very next chapter, Solomon’s wisdom is described as greater than the wisdom of any man on the face of the earth (4:29-34). I Kings 4:33 reads, “And he spake of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he speaks also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes.”
In other words, Solomon’s wisdom extended to God’s entire creation. He had unparalleled insight into the creatures God had created. His wisdom extended beyond the spiritual to the natural creation, but it was always in the light of God’s truth.
It extended also to man—as is especially clear from Proverbs. He knew the heart of man and why man did what he did.
I had a professor in seminary who appeared to be extremely naïve as far as things around him were concerned. Nevertheless, there were times in the course of his instruction when he would wander away from the subject being taught. Why he wandered away, I do not remember. Whether it was some question from a student or whether he had been occupied with some problem and simply spoke of what was on his mind, I cannot tell. But in these off-the-cuff discourses that would occasionally be delivered in the classroom, he would talk about human nature and why people are the way they are. I was enthralled. He taught me things about human nature that I have used in my ministry and that continue to intrigue me to this day. He understood man created, man fallen, man recreated. He pointed out truths that were profound and that I had never heard before he told us of them and I have not heard since.
Solomon’s wisdom was like that in this respect: It included an understanding of all God’s world. But he also knew what a depraved nature was like and what a redeemed person was like according to his flesh. That was the wisdom that solved the problem of who was the true mother of the baby that was brought to him.
So let us admire and follow our Lord Jesus Christ, “the wisdom of God” (I Cor. 1:24), the One “greater than Solomon” (Matt. 12:42), “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3)!
- Volume: 14
- Issue: 9
Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)
Ordained: October 1955
Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965
Emeritus: 2001Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko
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