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1 Kings 3:16-28 – Solomon’s Wise Decision

Summary

Solomon demonstrates his divinely given wisdom by ruling wisely in a court case between two prostitutes.

Analysis

Since the story appears in various forms throughout the ancient Near East, we should not look for historical clues, as if there were any to be found in this tale devoid of details. Rather, it serves to demonstrate that all Israel acknowledged God's gift of wisdom to Solomon. It is beautifully told, with dialog carrying the story; the reader is drawn in to the bickering of the two women over the disputed child and readily imagines Solomon observing the back and forth nature of their disagreement much as one would watch a tennis match. There is no evidence; only "she said…she said" reports. By ordering that the child be sliced in two, the king proposes a brilliant stratagem designed to reveal which of the two claimants was the true mother of the child. His judgment reveals his justice and, more important, God's gift of wisdom in action.

Much of the impact of this story is lost in the NRSV's ostensibly "helpful" translation of the climactic verse 27: "Give the first woman the living boy." In Hebrew, and other translations, the text reads "Give to her." But removing the ambiguity of the "her," that is, the one who spoke the poignant words of verse 26a, "Please, my lord, give her the living boy," also removes the decision the reader must make as to which claimant is the real mother of the boy.

1 Kings 3:16-28

Solomon’s Wisdom in Judgement

16 Later, two women who were prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. 17One woman said, ‘Please, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house; and I gave birth while she was in the house. 18Then on the third day after I gave birth, this woman also gave birth. We were together; there was no one else with us in the house, only the two of us were in the house. 19Then this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him. 20She got up in the middle of the night and took my son from beside me while your servant slept. She laid him at her breast, and laid her dead son at my breast. 21When I rose in the morning to nurse my son, I saw that he was dead; but when I looked at him closely in the morning, clearly it was not the son I had borne.’ 22But the other woman said, ‘No, the living son is mine, and the dead son is yours.’ The first said, ‘No, the dead son is yours, and the living son is mine.’ So they argued before the king.

23 Then the king said, ‘One says, “This is my son that is alive, and your son is dead”; while the other says, “Not so! Your son is dead, and my son is the living one.” 24So the king said, ‘Bring me a sword’, and they brought a sword before the king. 25The king said, ‘Divide the living boy in two; then give half to one, and half to the other.’ 26But the woman whose son was alive said to the king—because compassion for her son burned within her—‘Please, my lord, give her the living boy; certainly do not kill him!’ The other said, ‘It shall be neither mine nor yours; divide it.’ 27Then the king responded: ‘Give the first woman the living boy; do not kill him. She is his mother.’ 28All Israel heard of the judgement that the king had rendered; and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to execute justice.

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10 February 2011

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