A very memorable story is found in 1 Kings 3:16-28. From its words we learn a number of valuable lessons about wisdom, love, and sacrifice, especially in the manifestation of motherly love. If only every person could consider the example of the unnamed woman and mimic her love, then far fewer little children would go through life unwanted and miserable! In this section of scripture, we see how remarkably the promise of God is fulfilled in 1 Kings 3:12, “Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you.” In the following account, Solomon’s magnificent wisdom is displayed in a way that no other man would have thought to handle it!
1 Kings 3:16-18 – “Then two women who were harlots came to the king and stood before him. And the one woman said, “Oh, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house; and I gave birth to a child while she was in the house. And it happened on the third day after I gave birth, that this woman also gave birth to a child, and we were together. There was no stranger with us in the house, only the two of us in the house.”
There are some things that are unclear from the text before we begin an explanation of the story. The Hebrew word for “harlot” can more accurately be interpreted as “inn-keeper” or “hostess” so the assumption that either or both of these women is a prostitute is, perhaps, hasty. On the other hand, it is clear that the two children were born out of wedlock, and it is suspicious that the women live together (Pulpit Commentary, Vol. V, 62). In any case, the situation is a most lamentable one. It is sad that so many people go through life and dig themselves into one hole after another, seemingly uninterested in even trying to make their lives better. Here we have two women of the same general background, practicing the same disreputable profession and apparently both impregnated at about the same time. Neither of them seems to be questioning their decisions in life, only stating the facts so plainly that one wonders how remorseful they are. The difference between them, however, is the way in which one of them vindicates herself. As an optimist, I would like to believe that her new child and his near-death experience would motivate her to repair her life and try something better for herself.
Unfortunately, not much has changed in our “modern” society. Women are still bunking together in shabby little homes, busily making a small sum off of the abuse of their bodies. Women are still producing unwanted children at an alarming rate, bringing them into a world of abuse, drugs, and sexual impurity. Although now there is the clever answer of abortion – would either of these two women have opted for an abortion if it had been available in that time? Beyond that, the first woman is not good at checking her facts when choosing a roommate! If she had known more about this second woman, perhaps she would have seen that she was the kind of person who feels no remorse at either stealing a baby or simply letting it get chopped to pieces!
The situation in which these two women find themselves simply affirms the need for pure, whole, and Biblical families. There has been a recent trend in America which encourages and praises the single mother, the working mother, or the alternative family. Single parents now account for around 27 percent of all family households (2000 U.S. Census), which has resulted in half of all children experiencing single-parent home life at some point in their childhood. One in three children is born out of wedlock (State of America’s Children Yearbook 2000, Children’s Defense Fund), and between 1978 and 1996, the number of babies born to unmarried women per year quadrupled from 500,000 to more than two million! All of this has resulted in the weakening of the family structure, the incomplete rearing of children, and a lack of either male or female parental role models. Do people not see the ill effects of broken and alternative families? Do they not remember the story of these two harlots? Without the balance between a godly father and a godly mother, children end up becoming the unwitting recipients of abuse, poverty, and, like our text will soon point out, neglect.
1 Kings 3:19-21 – “And this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on it. So she arose in the middle of the night and took my son from beside me while your maidservant slept, and laid him in her bosom, and laid her dead son in my bosom. And when I rose in the morning to nurse my son, behold, he was dead; but when I looked at him carefully in the morning, behold, he was not my son, whom I had borne!”
Good people often have to suffer because of the ineptitude of foolish people. Because the second woman neglected the needs of her son, and crushed him in the night by rolling on top of him, the first woman now must deal with the ramifications. Essentially, she is being forced to pick up the tab of the neglectful woman! “The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands” (Proverbs 14:1). Even at this point the differences between the first and second woman are becoming very clear. While both of them made the mistake of having their sons out of wedlock, at least one of them has the sense, discipline, and motherly love to take care of her son. The first woman sleeps with her baby, and is eager to wake up in the morning to nurse it. The second woman, however, cannot even keep her baby alive! In fact, she is so horrible that she believes the other woman will not be able to tell the difference between the babies! That any mother would not be able to tell her baby from another is simply ridiculous. There were no witnesses, however, and it became a matter of “my word against hers” (1 Kings 3:22). What do we do when faced with this? What is the appropriate response?
1 Kings 3:23-27 – “Then the king said, ‘The one says, “This is my son who is living, and your son is the dead one”; and the other says, “No! For your son is the dead one, and my son is the living one.”’ And the king said, ‘Fetch me a sword.’ So they brought a sword before the king. And the king said, ‘Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other.’ Then the woman whose child was the living one spoke to the king, for she was deeply stirred over her son and said, ‘Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means kill him.’ But the other said, ‘He shall be neither mine nor yours; divide him!’ Then the king answered and said, ‘Give the first woman the living child, and by no means kill him. She is his mother.’”
It is clear that only drastic measures would reveal the true mother’s identity. From the text we see that it was, indeed, the wisdom of God that led Solomon to pronounce this judgment (1 Kings 3:28). This means that God sometimes expects us to do some things that do not make sense to us at the time, or that seem risky. The wisdom of God leads us to take drastic steps in dealing with sin in our lives, as well as the lives of our brethren and those outside the church. The wisdom of God leads us to take drastic steps in teaching the Gospel. It also leads us to take drastic steps in maintaining doctrinal purity in the church. While God does not want us to chop babies in half, He does want our faith to be manifested in such a completely obedient way that we would do anything for Him, including sacrificing our own son like Abraham (Hebrews 11:17-19). God allowed Abraham to go almost the entire way before accepting that his faith had been tested enough – how far do we think Solomon had to raise his sword above the baby before the mother began to plead for his life?
This story shows us just how terrible arguments can be. Do we ever find ourselves arguing over something, even to the point that it is no longer even about the object of the conflict, just because we do not want to be wrong? How many of us risk everything for pride’s sake? Do we ever reach a point at which we would do harm to our reputations just to prove somebody wrong, or ignore the needs of our families just to accomplish some selfish end, or split up a congregation of God’s anointed people just because we refuse to admit that we are wrong?
Some things are worthless when divided
Here is one of the most important lessons that we can learn from the story of these two women. Of what value would a child be to anybody if it is dead? The second woman had become so jaded and cynical because of the death of her own son, that she now desired the death of the other woman’s son. She is basically arguing that if she has to be miserable, then everybody else around her does as well – if she is going to be childless, then so is her acquaintance! The problem with this attitude is that it is selfish. She obviously never understood the wisdom behind Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Instead of trying to draw the attention to herself and force everybody to be sad because of her loss, she should have rejoiced that her friend’s baby was still alive and healthy – perhaps if she had lived more unselfishly, her attitude would have been reciprocated and she would have been comforted in her tragedy. Many people today live like this; they always want the spotlight to be on themselves. They want others to be angry about the same things as themselves, they want others to cry when they cry, they want others to stop sobbing and laugh when they want to be surrounded by laughter. It is a terribly selfish way to live! And now this second woman is so selfish that she just want everybody to be childless!
What other things are useless when divided? Beautiful paintings? Surely, nobody wants only part of a Van Gogh or a Monet! Collector’s cards? What about a novel? What good is the first half of a novel if there is no conclusion, and what good is the second half of a novel if there is no context or introduction of characters? What about something even more precious, like the church? What good is a divided congregation to the advancement of the Gospel, especially if it has only divided over petty issues of opinion or misunderstanding? Christ Himself prayed for the unity of the church in John 17:20-21 and said, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself shall not stand” (Matthew 12:25). Consider the sad condition of the church in Corinth, which was so divided over worthless issues that Paul had to condemn them in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8. By suing each other and arguing with each other over business arrangements, Paul concluded, “It is already a defeat for you.” While it is essential that we each put up a fight for the defense of the Gospel, we must also understand that a divided congregation does about as much good as a baby that has been chopped in half – not only are the lost left in sin, but the brethren grow more and more hateful toward each other. What a defeat, indeed!
At a very basic level, one of the most worthless things when divided is our loyalty, whether it be in a spiritual sense or a secular sense. Our Lord states plainly in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” It is impractical and unfair to everybody involved if we try to work for two competing companies. It is impossible to play for two opposing sports teams without being detrimental to the efforts of both. It is rather pointless to pledge allegiance to the flags of two countries, for neither country’s citizens will trust that feigned allegiance. In the same way, we cannot serve the Lord and wealth at the same time. We cannot serve God and institutions of mankind in like manner, either. A lot of us would love to ride the fence on religious issues – we would like to please everybody and never make enemies! “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for in the same way their fathers used to treat the false prophets” (Luke 6:26). Instead of always trying to please everybody, we ought to seek the praise of God first, standing with Him when the time for testing arrives (Matthew 12:30,33). Some things just lose their worth when divided, whether we are talking about babies, sculptures, or loyalty.
The sword cannot solve our problems
The final lesson that I want to point out from this story is that the sword can never solve any of our life’s problems. For generations of Israelites, the sword could no nothing but bring trouble – there was constant fighting from within and without for the people of God. While it is true that they gained some great military victories, we must realize that the only truly lasting victories were the ones accomplished by God. What is most encouraging, though, is that God’s victories never even needed the sword! Let us be impressed by the fact that God can use anybody, any weapon, in any way He desires to bring about the redemption of His people – our God has no need for the “conventional” tools of mankind. Notice a few things about some of the heroes from only the book of Judges. God does not need a great army to defeat 600 Philistines in Judges 3:31, only a single man named Shamgar, with no weapon but a standard ox goad. God needs nothing more than a left-handed Benjamite named Ehud to assassinate the mighty king of the Moabites in Judges 3. In Judges 4, God is able to defeat the mighty Sisera with only the help of Jael and a tent peg. In Judges 7, God begins with 22,000 available men but chooses to use only 300 to defeat His enemies. God uses Jephthah, the son of a harlot, in Judges 11. A single man named Samson killed thousands of Philistines with nothing more than his bare hands and a jawbone. Even more remarkably, God needs nobody to literally decimate the Philistines when the Ark is captured in 1 Samuel 4-5. The sword was not the answer in the Garden when the soldiers came to take away our Lord (Matthew 26:51), and it is only by the blood of Christ’s self-sacrifice that our sins are washed away. The sword is never the answer when dealing with out enemies today! Consider Romans 12:17-21, which makes it clear that the best way to defeat the evil people of the world is by acting kind, gentle, and unselfish. The sword cannot save us in any spiritual sense, and even in most physical situations. Instead of always fighting, and trying to divide each other – like the jaded woman who would rather have half a dead baby than see her friend’s joy with a living baby – we ought to trust in the Lord and let Him lead us into glory!
Once can imagine that this near-death experience led the baby’s mother to rethink her life and her relationship with her son. How lucky she is that King Solomon dealt with the problem in such a timely and godly manner! Now let us consider just how lucky we are that God deals with us in an even more righteous fashion (Psalm 103:10-14)! We do not deserve His mercy, yet He extends it so freely to all who would obey! “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16).