The Wisdom of Solomon: Dividing Our Children
Our Old Testament reading today comes from I Kings, Chapter 3. I invite your attention to that portion of God’s Word.
16 Now two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. 17 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. 18 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. 19 “During the night this woman’s son died because she lay on him. 20 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. 21 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.” 22 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. 23 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.’” 24 Then the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So they brought a sword for the king. 25 He then gave an order: “Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.” 26 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!” But the other said, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!” 27 Then the king gave his ruling: “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother.” 28 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.
This is the Word of God for the people of God.
This passage is certainly not what you would ordinarily think of as a Mother’s Day text, but I chose it today because it addresses an issue that is very important. You would not ordinarily think of this story as a text for Children’s Sunday either, but again I believe it has important lessons to teach us. On this day when we combine both Mother’s Day and Children’s Sunday, we will consider the story of two mothers. Their story becomes Exhibit A in illustrating the wisdom and great discernment of Solomon.
We read last week in Chapter 3 of I Kings that Solomon has recently become king. God tells him that he can have anything he wants. Solomon offers a prayer, asking God to grant him the wisdom of a listening heart. God is so pleased with Solomon that He grants this request but also promises Solomon many other favors, as well.
Immediately in the story, we see a theme emerging: no mother is perfect. Some mothers do, however, come close. The two mothers in this story are far from perfect women. Both are prostitutes. We do not know the details of their lives, but apparently they each conceive a child under sinful circumstances.
Solomon, king over God’s people, has the responsibility of judging their case. You might raise the question, Why would Solomon be so concerned about these two women of ill-repute? These two mothers seem to fall far short of being perfect, yet Solomon sees in them a reason to take interest in their plight, their conflict, and he spends time trying to resolve their difficulties.
Why would the king spend his time trying to settle their argument? His role is simply an indication that everybody in Solomon’s kingdom was important to him, at least early in his reign. His role is also an indication that everybody in the kingdom of God is important. Very few of us can live up to God’s ideals in every respect; but no person is outside the loving, compassionate reach of God, outside the justice and mercy that God can provide.
When we consider that fact, we must think of the church and our responsibility as the church. Certainly we want to stand for moral purity, but the church must also stand for forgiveness, for restoration, for redemption. We see in Solomon the desire to at least make this situation right in the lives of these women.
Always on Mother’s Day, I think of the people who have suffered with mothers who did not show them love. I know that some mothers are not good. Some mothers have treated their children terribly. Most of us, however, need to give our mothers a bit of a break. They need to have our respect. The truth is that sometimes we are too hard on them. It is also true that most of the time, they are too hard on themselves. No one should be treated with more compassion than a mother. On this day, above all days, we need to give them respect and tenderness.
Motherhood, by definition, is a stress-filled occupation from the very moment a woman learns that she is pregnant. Carrying a child full-term, giving birth, and enduring the heartbreak that children sometimes bring create emotional, mental, and physical strain. My grandmother used to say, “When they are young, they step on your toes. When they get older, they step on your heart.” Later on, grandchildren continue to add to the stress of life. Clare and I say that we are so glad to see our grandchildren arrive at our home and so glad to see them leave. It just works that way for everyone. We love them so much and take great delight in them, but at times we simply need a break.
God did not give Solomon wisdom so that people would be awed and amazed. God gave Solomon wisdom so that he could help people face the difficulties of life. These two women certainly have difficulty.
Think about how God endows the church with certain wisdom. The church must help single moms, adoptive moms, step-mothers, and moms with special situations. The church must also help moms who are ordinary, those in two-parent families. They also have hard times. When the church is responsive to the needs of mothers, we become responsive to the needs of their children.
I heard a cute story about a mother who was tucking in her little boy at bedtime during a thunderstorm. Thunder was clapping loudly, and lightning was flashing in the sky. The little boy asked his mother, “Mama, would you please sleep with tonight?”
She answered, “Honey, I can’t sleep with you tonight. I have to sleep with your daddy.”
The little boy thought for a minute and said, “The big sissy!”
Children do have a way of bringing us up short.
In this story from I Kings 3, you can see the love of a mother who is intent on sacrificing for the sake of her child. Think about the sacrifices that most mothers make: the sacrifice with their own bodies, simply by carrying a baby to full-term; the sacrifice of feeding and nourishing a child; the sacrifice of putting themselves in harm’s way to protect their child; the sacrifice of losing sleep at night with midnight feedings or times of sickness. How many times has your own mother made sacrifices for you? For some, those times may seem rather rare. For others, sacrifice on the part of their mother has happened repeatedly.
I wrote a column that appeared in the newspaper yesterday on the Faith and Values page. I told the story about a time when my mother received a pair of baseball shoes as her present for Mother’s Day. My mother did not need baseball shoes, but I thought I did. I felt that my Converse All-Stars were not suitable for playing Little League baseball. For Mother’s Day, she asked my dad to give her a pair of baseball shoes exactly my size as her present. That is just one small example of the kind of sacrifice mothers make. Their love should not go unnoticed and unappreciated. We need to respond.
Friday a week ago, I led a simple, informal memorial service for a ninety-three-year-old woman who died in Illinois. I had known this woman and her husband when they lived in Spartanburg; but following the husband’s death more than twenty years earlier, she had moved to Illinois. Because the husband was buried at Greenlawn Cemetery, the family wanted this woman to be buried next to him. The funeral home brought the body here and actually buried it with no family members present.
The woman’s step-daughter, who asked me if I would to lead the service, lived in Florida. No other family lived in town. Several of those at the memorial service made some comments that informed me that this woman had had no children of her own. She was the step-mother of the daughter who called me. The step-daughter said, “I never really knew my biological mother. My dad remarried when I was still a very small girl. This lady came into my life and became the only mother I have ever known. She was so good to me. She nurtured me. I have always called her ‘Mama.’”
I thought about how many women who have no children of their own, but they fill in the gap. My own mother’s situation was similar. Her mother died when she was six weeks old. She always thought of the aunt who adopted her as her mother. I always called that grandmother Granny. As I grew up, I did not think of her any other way.
At the funeral, I talked about how women fill in during the absence of mothers. Afterwards, three people out of that small group of ten spoke to me. One said, “You will never know what this service meant to me.” Tears filled another man’s eyes as he told me, “When I was two years old, my mother died. My older sister reared me. Her funeral was two weeks ago.” Another added, “I never knew my mother and father. I was raised in an orphanage. My mother-in-law filled that gap. She was like a mother to me.” Just on that one occasion, I heard many examples of women stepping up and filling the gap.
Life for children is pretty much life among the giants. Our children live in a world of kneecaps. Do you notice that people who relate well to children have a knack for stooping down and getting at eye level to those children? Think about what God did in His great illustration of love. He came to us at our level. God wanted us to have a personal relationship with Him, so He came to us at eye level in the incarnation.
When we start relating to children at their level, we discover that they are real treasures.
Early yesterday morning, I stopped by a home in this town where a little two-year-old boy lives. When he came to the door, barefooted and still in his pajamas, he craned his neck out the door to see what kind of automobile I was driving. He looked up at me and said, “Papa Kirk, you drove MC’s car.” I had driven Clare’s car. Then he asked, “Where is your truck?”
The day before, my son had borrowed my truck, and it was still at his house.
I said, “My truck is here, and Mama Clare’s car is here.”
You should have seen the wheels turning in his head, trying to figure out how I drove two vehicles to his house yesterday. Children have this little professor side to them that is absolutely fascinating to watch. Having a conversation with children and listening carefully to what they say is a real treasure.
Not all children are treated as treasures. Stories in the Bible tell about atrocious acts against children. Worried that the Israelites were going to out-populate the people of Egypt, Pharaoh decided to put to death all male children among the Israelites under two years of age. Years later, Herod made a similar decision when trying to kill Jesus. He sent soldiers into the town of Bethlehem to slaughter innocent children. These horrifying stories, even stories of the sacrifice of the first-born, are found in the pages of the Bible.
We hear some similar stories in our own day and time. Sharon Fields-McCormick talked with us recently about how human trafficking has become rampant. So much of that problem includes little children. A name like Susan Smith of Union County, a mother who drowned her two sons, brings disgust to our mind. A mother in Florida is currently on trial for a similar crime against her toddler.
Let’s consider some statistics:– Since 1973, more than forty-five million legal abortions have been performed in this country. – Forty-five million children have been slaughtered. – About 4000 abortions occur each day in the United States of America. – An estimated 10,000 abortions occur in South Carolina a year. – Forty-seven percent of the women who have abortions have had one or more previously. – Sixty-five percent of the women who have abortions identify themselves as Christians.
One of the children in our congregation this morning came to this pulpit and read a Scripture passage from the lips of Jesus. “Let the little children come unto me. Forbid them not. Receive little children” (Matthew 19:14). Do we receive them all? No, we do not receive many children. In this country alone, seventeen million children will go to bed hungry tonight. They often do not have enough to eat on the weekends. They depend on school lunches, subsidized school breakfasts. At the same time, the rate of obesity among children in the United States has tripled since 1970. Children are the victims of war. They are the victims of famine. They are vicyims of disputes between biological and adoptive families. They are the victims of separated and divorced parents who cannot get along and live together as a family. All children need to know that they are loved. All children need to know that they are welcomed into this world. All children need to feel protected and secure.
One of the two women in this story is a harlot whose her child has died. Even in her, I see a trait that is commendable. She, at least, wants a child. She could have had an attitude that a child was an inconvenience.
I was in my office in another church one day when a couple walked in and asked to see me. The woman, clearly pregnant, started the conversation by saying, “We cannot afford to have this baby. We have two children already. I have just begun a career that I do not want to interrupt in order to have this child. We are going to have an abortion.”
I talked with them, of course, about their decision, but they left, rather abruptly. The husband was furious with me. He did not like the way I responded at all.
About eight months later, the couple came back to the church, carrying a little girl in their arms. They said, “We wanted you to see our daughter. After we talked with you, we decided not to have the abortion. We came by to ask if you would say a blessing for our daughter.” I did for that little girl very much what I did for the two little girls of our church this morning. I offered a prayer of dedication.
The other mother in this story, the true mother, is willing to sacrifice even her child for the sake of that child. What a hard decision! She is willing to give up her child to the mother of the dead child in order to protect her child. She is not the greatest mother in the world. She is not a nominee for Mother of the Year. She is working in a terrible occupation, but she is willing to make a great sacrifice.
Just this past week, I saw a report of a bear in Greenville County. The news media reported that people should stay away from a mother bear with a cub. A special on the National Geographic channel showed one scene where a mother grizzly bear was standing at the top of a waterfall trying to teach her cubs how to catch salmon. When one of the cubs tumbled over the waterfall, the mother leapt to follow her baby. The young males below, which were bullying this cub, were no match for this mother. She took them all on, in order to protect her cub. Mothers do that.
Sometimes I pray for judges. Our legal system is so entangled, so complicated. Solomon, serving as the judge here, has a tough decision to make. In trying to give a righteous judgment, Solomon works on a precedent. You can read about a law in Chapter 21 of the book of Exodus, which speaks of a dispute over dividing land. Solomon’s response to bring a sword and divide the child is startling, but his strategy works. With this decision, the true mother is identified.
Years later, Solomon’s descendent was Jesus of Nazareth. What is so amazing about the genealogy of Jesus listed in the Gospel of Matthew is the inclusion of four women: Hagar had a sordid story; Rahab was a harlot; Ruth was not an Israelite, but a Moabite; Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, had an adulterous affair with King David. These four women, our Lord’s ancestors, are not nominees for Mother of the Year. These four women are not perfect mothers.
It is no wonder that in the Gospel of John, we see Jesus by a well in Samaria, talking to a woman whose life is pockmarked with sin. He speaks to her about living water, offering her redemption and forgiveness. In John 8 we see Jesus just outside Jerusalem witnessing the imminent stoning of a woman caught in the sin of adultery.
To the righteous Jews with large rocks in their hands, Jesus says, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.”
The Scripture records that they all walk away, beginning with the oldest in the group.
Jesus then asks this woman, “Does no one condemn you?”
“Neither do I. Go your way and sin no more.”
I know some women, some mothers, here this morning, have pieces of their past that they wish were not there. I would not be at all surprised if some women here have an abortion in their past. No one is perfect. No mother is perfect, but the long, loving reach of God extends to every person. If you are a mother, God wants you to show that kind of love to your children who are, after all, His children.
On this Mother’s Day, would you accept the forgiveness of the Lord Jesus Christ? Would you accept the grace of God? Regardless of your history as a mother, God loves you. He wants you to know that His love is unconditional. If you have never accepted Christ as your Savior, we extend to you that invitation. That invitation is offered to everyone – men, women, boys and girls. You come as God leads.
© May 2011