By Sam E. Stone
Solomon succeeded his father, King David, as ruler of Israel. Early in his reign, before he built the temple in Jerusalem, he went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices. There he offered a thousand burnt offerings on the altar. At Gibeon, the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream. God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you” (1 Kings 3:5).
Solomon responded in complete humility, “O Lord . . . you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties” (v. 7). Then he made this request: “So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (v. 9). The Lord was so pleased with his request that he replied, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself . . . I will do what you have asked . . . There will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be” (vv. 11, 12).
The Women’s Story
1 Kings 3:16-22
The exceptional wisdom given to Solomon is immediately shown by his handling of a difficult judicial case. A. H. Konkel explains, “The purpose of the prophetic authors in the Bible is not to provide a review of various judicial activities of the king, critical as these are, but merely to illustrate his concern and competence for justice in the exercise of extraordinary wisdom that he has just divinely received.” First the king simply listened, as two women each told their story.
Two prostitutes lived in the same house. (While prostitution was condemned by the law, it was tolerated by the Israelite society.) Each of the women had recently given birth to a child, just a few days apart. The first woman explained that the other woman rolled over on her baby during the night and he died. That mother then exchanged the dead child with the one belonging to the first woman. When the first woman awoke and realized that it was not her baby lying beside her in bed, the second one refused to admit the attempted deception. No witnesses could confirm either story. With no DNA to go by, the judge faced a difficult challenge! It was the word of one prostitute against another.
The King’s Decision
1 Kings 3:23-28
King Solomon began by summarizing the testimony of each woman. He let them know that he had heard and understood what they were saying. Then he ordered, “Bring me a sword . . . . Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.” The child’s real mother panicked. Desperate, she begged the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!” The lying challenger disagreed. With brazen disregard for the child she told the king to go ahead and cut him in two.
The king then knew for certain which was the real mother. He immediately ruled in her favor. By so doing, Solomon established himself as both an insightful and sympathetic ruler. “The judgment of Solomon shows both mercy and justice—in principle both mutually exclusive, but in practice both indispensably necessary” (Konkel).
His obvious wisdom in handling so difficult a case had a tremendous impact on the entire nation of Israel. Everyone held the king in awe. Solomon’s ability to make wise and fair decisions provided unquestionable evidence that he had been given wisdom by God.
The Source of Wisdom
2 Chronicles 9:8
The final verse in today’s lesson is taken from 2 Chronicles 9. Here we find a record of the queen of Sheba’s visit to Jerusalem to meet the highly regarded king and to assess his wealth and wisdom for herself.
Mark J. Boda notes that her observations focus not on the material wealth of the kingdom, but rather on the magnitude of Solomon’s words and wisdom . . . . Her speech recognizes the divine source of Solomon’s wisdom, blessing Yahweh for delighting in Solomon.” The queen of Sheba concluded, “Because of the love of your God for Israel and his desire to uphold them forever, he has made you king over them, to maintain justice and righteousness.”
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.