Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Wisdom has always been a coveted virtue. Consider the wisdom attributed to Solomon, “Train up a child in the way that he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Or “Riches are a stronghold in the imagination of a rich man.” But there is a lighter side to Solomon’s wisdom as well. An angel appeared to a man and offered him a choice. “You can have the Wisdom of Solomon, or $50,000,000.” Believing that this was a test from God, the man chose Wisdom. The next morning, the man was having breakfast with his friends and he retold the story to them. When he was finished, one friend said, “If you’re so wise now, then tell us some words of wisdom.” The man said, I should have taken the money.” Or there were two women in a bus were fighting bitterly over the last seat available. The conductor had already tried to intervene once politely, but to no avail. So, the second time he shouted wisely with the royal voice Solomon, “Let the ugly one take the seat!” Both women stood quietly for the rest of the journey.
Solomon was just a young man, perhaps 20 years of age, when he assumed the throne. He was the favored child of his mother Bathsheba, although four other sons entered the world before him. But before his death, King David selected Solomon to be his heir to the throne. After Solomon had solidified his control of his fathers’ house, he traveled to the ancient worship site of Gibeon with the elders and officers of Israel to pray and place and offering on the altar in thanksgiving for the beginning of his reign. While he was sleeping there, God appeared to Solomon in a dream. He asked the young king, “What should I give you?” Solomon responded, “Wisdom. An understanding heart to judge Your people.” God assured him that the wisdom he would grant him would be the likes of which no one before him or after him would possess.
When the king returned home to Jerusalem, the gift was immediately put to the test. Two prostitutes came before the king with a quarrel. The first began to lay out her side of the story: They had both been sharing a lodging space, and had both given birth—she first, her housemate three days later. Unfortunately, her housemate’s baby had died the night after it was born. Upon realizing this, her housemate had gone and secretly exchanged her dead child with her housemate’s live one. “I awoke in the morning to nurse my son, and behold, he was dead! But I looked closely at him in the morning, and behold, it was not my son whom I had borne.” The second woman denied this entirely. “Not so! The living child is my son, and the dead one is your son.” And so the argument continued.
The case was obviously made more difficult by the fact that there were no male witnesses for any of the events. It was most unusual that two women would appear before a court at all with no male representative whatsoever to plead their case. That is what is implied by stating that they were harlots or prostitutes. There is no distinction made about them. They had nowhere else to go. Certainly, there were local judges who could have heard their pleas, but the two women had exhausted all the traditional venues for seeking justice. The young King Solomon stood at the end of the legal road. The challenge for him was how to determine who was speaking the truth.
Finally, Solomon devised a risky, but slightly orthodox idea. He would offer the normal judgment of disputed goods and property. Divide it in two. “Fetch me a sword,” and his officers brought him a sword. The king then said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other.” Unorthodox and cruel perhaps, but at the end of the day word of Solomon’s great display of wisdom spread through out the kingdom.
So what was the wisdom that Solomon demonstrated? Some might say that the proof of the King’s wisdom was that in spite of his youth, he provided a clever scheme to determine the actual mother. That might be true, but I think the Solomon’s true gift of wisdom was allowing the feelings of the mothers to be revealed for all to see.
God’s gift of wisdom and insight allowed Solomon to know that a mother always knows her children. I imagine if a woman carries a baby for nine months, and then goes through hours or days of labor, she is going to know her baby. There is a special bond between a mother and her children. It is a bond that continues even if the child is separated shortly after birth. The true mother in this passage knew her child. She was not fooled by the deception of the babies being swapped.
By God’s gift of wisdom, Solomon understood the reaction of the true mother when she found the dead child lying next to her. It was the worst feeling she had ever known. It was probably similar to the other mother’s reaction when she found the child dead. However, the true mother was not fooled. She looked at the child closely and knew this was not her child. She knew her son and she knew she wanted him back. Your own mother whether natural or adopted knows you. If she has cared for you and raised you and has been there through your whole life, your mother knows you.
God’s gift of wisdom also taught Solomon that a mother is willing to fight for her children. Seeing that the dead child was not hers, and noticing the other mother had her child, the true mother then fought to get her child back. Maybe she had compassion for the other mother. Maybe she felt sorrow for her loss. But she also knew her child. She was not about to give up her son without a fight. Most animals have this same basic motherly instinct to fight for their offspring. Mothers are the fiercest fighters in the world when defending their children. Her child had been stolen and she fought to get him back. This mother eventually took her case all the way to the highest court in the land. She took her dispute to King Solomon.
God’s gift of wisdom had taught Solomon that a mother is willing to sacrifice for her children. Mothers and father give up a lot for their children. They sacrifice their own dreams and desires to do what is best for their family. Some parents have been forced to give up their children in order to give them the best life possible. We have seen images of that this past week in Kabul. Parents handing their children over to American soldiers. Solomon knew that the true mother in this passage would be willing to sacrifice as well.
Solomon now had to put into practice that godly wisdom he had asked God to give him. The sword was brought to him, and he ordered that the living child to be cut in two and each mother be given half. Solomon was not serious about killing the child, but this absurd, macabre act was meant to reveal the heart and feelings of the true mother. Facing a horrific situation, Solomon knew the real mother would stand up and sacrifice her desire to have her child back in order to save his life. Surprisingly, the other was content to have the child divided in two. This was the moment Solomon was waiting to see. The true mother’s love and compassion for her son overwhelmed her. She could not bear it. ”Please my lord,” she pleaded with Solomon, “give her the living boy; certainly do not kill him.” Yes, she was willing to give up her claim to have her son back if it meant to spare his life. This was the mark of true motherhood.
At that moment, Solomon knew who was the true mother, and so did everyone in attendance in Solomon’s court. The king responded, “Give the first woman the living boy, do not kill him. She is his mother.” All Israel heard of the judgment that Solomon had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king.
So my friends, what is Godly wisdom, the wisdom granted to Solomon? Godly wisdom looks very different from the wisdom of the world. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Godly wisdom, you see, is not about self-preservation and pride. Godly wisdom goes against the “conventional wisdom” of success and power. Godly wisdom is like the love of the true mother willing to work and fight and sacrifice for her child. It is a wisdom that always chooses life. King Solomon himself, with all his wisdom, could not follow that path alone. He would fail because he let his own desire and power consume him. But he offered every generation a map of where we should begin to pursue wisdom. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.