Friday, February 5, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 6. Solomon Makes A Wise Decision

Prophets And Kings
Day 6
Solomon Makes A Wise Decision

Yesterday the Lord appeared to Solomon and urged him to ask for whatever he wanted. Solomon asked for wisdom. Today we sees him make a wise decision when two women come to him about a child custody dispute. One womans son is dead and they are arguing over who the living son belongs to. .

1 KINGS 3:16-28
"Now two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him." (1 Kings 3:16) I don't know whether a king would normally hear a legal case between two prostitutes; some Bible scholars seem to think most kings wouldn't. I found the opinion in some commentaries that the Hebrew word "zonot" could also mean "inkeepers" instead of "prostitutes" but I tend to think the Biblical translation is the correct one. As we will see, the two women live together alone and there don't seem to be any husbands who fathered their babies. If these women were married, the husbands would also be standing here before Solomon in regard to the unfortunate accidental death of the one child and the custody matter of the living child. This leads me to believe their house was used for the purposes of prostitution and not to run a hotel. If so, the fact that Solomon hears this case as eagerly as he would hear a case between two upstanding citizens further underscores his willingness to do right for all the people of Israel. 

"One of them said, 'Pardon me, my Lord. This woman and I live in the same house, and I had a baby while she was there with me. The third day after my child was born, this woman also had a baby. We were alone; there was no one in the house but the two of us." (1 Kings 3:17-18) This woman is careful to lay out the facts of the case. She and this other woman are living in the house together alone and they each give birth, three days apart. We will learn that one child has ended up dead and nobody can be responsible for his death but the other woman.

"During the middle of the night this woman's son died because she lay on him. So she got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while I your servant was asleep. She put him by her breast and put her dead son by my breast. The next morning, I got up to nurse my son---and he was dead! But when I looked at him closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn't the son I had borne." (1 Kings 3:19-21) What a tragic story! It was common for mothers to sleep beside their babies for the purposes of keeping them warm and for ease of nursing, but what's known today as "co-sleeping" has been responsible for many infant deaths. It's possible to roll over on the newborn, as one of these women did, but it's even more likely for the child to somehow get his face in a position where he can't breathe, like in the bedding or up against a pillow. A very young baby won't be able to move his head enough or reposition himself in order to escape smothering. 

Upon realizing she has accidentally smothered her son, the mother switches him for the other baby, hoping his mother will not know the difference. I can't say for sure why she did this. If she truly loved her own son I would expect her to be weeping with grief. I wouldn't expect it to even enter her mind to switch him for the other baby as if one is the same as the other. This leads me to wonder if there was some financial gain for her in having a child. The Bible calls them prostitutes and I think it could be that they are the "kept women" type. Maybe each woman was the mistress of somebody who was already married and therefore there was no doubt who was the father of each child. It could be that the woman who suffocated her baby was expecting the father to provide for her and the child, so the loss of the child meant less money, maybe even the loss of the man himself since he might blame her for the baby's death. We could spend a lot of time wondering about her motivations but we will never know for sure why she switched the babies.

The mother of the living child wakes up and, to her horror, finds the baby dead. We will soon see just how much this woman loves her baby, so we can imagine her heartbreaking grief. But as the sun rises, she is able to view the child more clearly, and she knows he is not hers. For one thing, her child is three days older than the other woman's child. He probably is a bit more lively and a bit less red and wrinkled than the other baby. In addition, because he is older, she is familiar with everything about him. This woman has had more time to memorize everything about her baby. She has spent many hours gazing on him in love. But upon accusing her housemate of switching the babies, the other woman refuses to admit it. Nobody but these two ladies have been in the house to see the children and there is no one to judge between them, so they go to the king. The woman who swapped the babies denies doing so. "The other woman said, 'No! The living one is my son; the dead one is yours.' But the first one insisted, 'No! The dead one is yours; the living one is mine.' And so they argued before the king." (1 Kings 3:22)

Wise as Solomon is, he cannot look at two small babies and tell which one belongs to which mother. This isn't like going on the Maury Povich show and taking a DNA test to see who the living child belongs to. What a terrible position the king finds himself in, but his prayer for wisdom is going to pay off today. "The king said, 'This one says, 'My son is alive and your son is dead,' while that one says, 'No! Your son is dead and mine is alive.' Then the king said, 'Bring me a sword.' So they brought a sword for the king. He then gave an order: 'Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.'" (1 Kings 3:23-25) When I first heard this story as a little girl in Sunday School, it horrified me. I know Solomon never for one minute truly intended to cut the child in half, but just imagine the shocked gasp that came from all the people standing in his court. The very idea of cutting a baby in half is appalling. Until the people in his presence realized what Solomon was doing, he must have seemed to be settling this dispute as he would settle the dispute of personal possessions or property. If evidence did not exist to help a king decide who something belonged to, it was the custom to divide it. You may recall David in 2nd Samuel dividing some land between two of his men because he could not determine who was telling the truth about their loyalty to him. 

"The woman whose son was alive was deeply moved out of love for her son and said to the king, 'Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don't kill him!'" (1 Kings 3:26a) She believes Solomon is going to carry out this deed and it's important that she believes it. He is using this ruse to find out who the real mother is. She would rather her heart be torn in two than the child. She would rather give him up and have him live than to allow him to die. 

With a callous heart the other woman speaks up, "But the other said, 'Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!'" (1 Kings 3:26b) We see her blatant disregard for the life of an innocent baby. We see her awful character. Her own child meant little enough to her that she didn't even grieve for him but swapped him for another as if they were the same. During the hours since the swap she has been caring for the other woman's child as if he is her own, nursing him on schedule, but feeling no compassion for him. 

The matter is decided by the actions of the women. "Then the king gave his ruling: Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother." (1 Kings 3:27)

"When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice." (1 Kings 3:28) The people admire Solomon for his wise handling of the seemingly impossible case, but I'm happy to see they give the glory to God, the Giver of wisdom. The Apostle Paul warns us about being prideful over our talents and intelligence, reminding us that these things are gifts from God; we did not give them to ourselves. "For what makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?" (1 Corinthians 4:7)

The heart of a good parent will always want what's best for the child, as the true mother in today's passage wanted her son to live at any cost. She chose her son over herself. Our Father in heaven chose us over Himself. God the Son came to earth in our image to take our sin and punishment on Himself so we could live. He loved us too much to let us die and was willing to give Himself for us. I don't know what kind of family some of you may have had or whether you felt loved, but you have a holy, righteous, and perfect Father who loves you so much He would rather die than live without you.

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