Wisdom's acid test

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Jesus told us to be as wise as serpents but as innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16). Bring to him any areas of life that require such wisdom.

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Bible passage: 1 Kings 3:16–28

A Wise Ruling

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(A) 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(B) from God to administer justice.

New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Audio Bible passage

The audio version of the passage is taken from the Contemporary English Version (CEV).


Painful dilemma
One person’s word against another’s (vs 22,23). It’s the classic but painful dilemma of relationship breakdown. In this case, it’s made even more tragic by the terrible loss of a child. How does one tell truth from lies? Entire professions have grown up over the generations to attempt precisely this.

Psychological insight
Now that Israel’s monarchy is firmly established, the king has the responsibility to adjudicate in difficult situations (like the judges of old). After listening to these two women’s complaints, he is decisive and seemingly brutal. Slice the baby in two (vs 24,25)! What makes this response so shrewd? Above all, it shows deep psychological insight. No doubt the women’s reactions were entirely as he predicted (v 26). The one whose child had already died would perhaps have felt a grim satisfaction if both of them ended up grieving. Isn’t it astonishing what our self-centredness can justify?

Right judgement
The theme of right judgement is clear throughout: see the recurrence of ‘discerning’, ‘distinguish right and wrong’, ‘wisdom’. Solomon had asked for them (v 9). God provided. The key thing is that justice was done. And it was seen to be done (v 28). But the people were in no doubt about the origins of this wisdom.

Mark Meynell


What a relief to know that the final judgement is in safe hands. Solomon’s descendant and our King will get it right. Praise him. And pray for others to lean on his mercy before it is too late.

Deeper Bible study

Wisdom in Israel is always practical and not the abstract philosophising of some other cultures. So Solomon’s wisdom is demonstrated in the daily reality of dispensing justice. It is justice that is available to all sections of the population. The terms that have been used in the previous verses for the nature of Solomon’s wisdom are echoed in Isaiah’s description of the Messianic Davidic king (Isa 11:2–5) who will judge all things rightly. Reflecting on the injustices of the world, we know there is a Judge who is even wiser and greater than Solomon (Matt 12:42). He will discern the thoughts and inclinations of the heart and not judge by appearances. The Word that he has given is like a two-edged sword (Heb 4:12).

Solomon’s wisdom shows his understanding of the human heart and the natural affection a mother will have for her child. He tests the reality of the testimony by presenting the possibility of neither mother having a living child. The true mother is revealed and the child is presented to her. Of the other mother we hear nothing more. Her lie has been uncovered. No accusation of perjury or punishment is mentioned. It is enough that she is bereaved of a child and her desire for motherhood frustrated.

All humankind needs wisdom in justice. Societies that do not have a good system of law and impartial judges allow all manner of evil to flourish. Whilst we may rejoice in the fact of a final judgement, we need also to work towards societies where women like the two prostitutes can expect and receive justice in this life. There should be justice that does not favour the rich or respond to a bribe, but reflects the perfect justice of God. Churches should be known as societies where all are treated justly and with great wisdom.

Ray Porter

Theological significance

The key focus of the story is that Solomon ‘had wisdom from God’ (1 Kings 3:28; see 4:29) or, ‘God’s wisdom’. This was no mere human insight – it was divine wisdom itself granted to Solomon. This amazing wisdom is celebrated by the people (3:28) and is recognised as exceeding even the wisest sages in other nations (4:29–34).

Solomon is functioning here as a human in God’s ‘image’ (Genesis 1:26–28). Note that the Hebrew word for ‘image’ is the same word used for pagan ‘images’ (ie idols).

Like the pagan god-statues that were thought to be animated by the spirits of the gods they represented, Solomon is functioning as Yahweh’s god-statue. Solomon is an ‘image of God’, filled with Yahweh’s own wisdom and mediating Yahweh’s justice and sovereignty over the people.

In a sense, then, we glimpse here something of God’s ultimate purpose for all humanity: humans are God’s images called to represent him in the world. He wants to fill us with his Spirit and his wisdom to rule over creation with justice.

Christ is the very wisdom of God himself made human. Solomon’s wisdom is a mere pointer to Christ. And in Christ our human destiny as God’s images filled with God’s wisdom is brought to a climax. Spiritual wisdom is available to us in ever-increasing measure in Christ, through the Spirit.
Tags: Image, Wisdom

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Song: Wisdom

Meditate on wisdom from God with this song by Iona: ‘Wisdom’.
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  • Song: God only wise
  • Composer: Eoghan Heaslip & Nick Herbert
  • Artist: Eoghan Heaslip
  • Album: Wonderful Story
  • Publisher: Survivor Music
  • Copyright: Copyright © 2008 Thankyou Music
  • Buy this album at www.integritymusic.com

The King Of Love
Stuart Townend/Kevin Jamieson
Copyright © 1997 Thankyou Music
This song can be found on the Kingsway Music album The Best Of Stuart Townend Live.
To buy this and other great worship songs, go to www.integritymusic.com

  • Oakley Bookworm | Thursday, 11 October 2018

    God holds the key of all unknown, And I am glad; If other hands should hold the key, Or if He trusted it to me, I might be sad, I might be sad. - John Parker WORDS: https://hymnary.org/text/god_holds_the_key_of_all_unknown MUSIC: (Hold the Key) https://hymnary.org/media/fetch/179916 I haven't sung this hymn since I was a child, but I thought on it today when I considered God's wisdom. Whenever trouble of upset arises in my family, one of us will always comment, "Thank God, that only He Himself knows what is around each corner." This hymn says that and much more.

  • Rachael Hampton | Thursday, 11 October 2018

    God made Jesus to BE wisdom for us. 1 Cor 1:30. In John 17:21 Jesus prayed for us that we would be as closely connected with Him - IN each other - as He was with the Father. It seems then that when Christ dwells in us so do all His attributes, including wisdom. There for us to draw on. Yet James 1:5 tells us that if we are in a dilemma during a tough time, we should ask - without any wavering or doubting- for wisdom, and God will give it. Interesting.

  • Rachael Hampton | Thursday, 11 October 2018

    Yes Oakley, great words. My son simply says, ‘The Lord knows.’

  • Rachael Hampton | Thursday, 11 October 2018

    Yes Oakley, great words. My son simply says, ‘The Lord knows.’

  • Rachael Hampton | Thursday, 11 October 2018

    Yes Oakley, great words. My son simply says, ‘The Lord knows.’

  • Alan Pang | Thursday, 11 October 2018

    Above all, let's pray for divine wisdom in our own personal life. Solomon failed here. Christ dwells in us by the Holy Spirit. Learning to walk with Him should be easier for us?

  • Gilvin Crisifeca | Friday, 12 October 2018

    I remember reading that story as a 10 year old child and being in awe of Solomon's wisdom. Now I'm in awe of the wisdom of God for He has entrusted me with the fullness of the Godhead living in this human body. You're right RACHAEL, all Jesus' attributes live in us for we have the mind of Christ. We died to sin but sin isn’t dead. The more we feed the soul part with the wisdom from His Word, the more the foolishness of being our own god will diminish. ALAN, it would be easier if we really believed that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in us and we were willing to give Him authority over our body and mind, thereby sanctifying them just as 1 Thess 5:23 suggests.

  • Angela Munday | Friday, 12 October 2018

    I am grateful to God that He lives in us all; right at the centre of each and everyone of His creation. Sometimes there is so much of ‘us’ surrounding Him that our hidden treasure finds it difficult to find a way out and allow “Rivers of living water to brim and spill out of the depths of anyone.” (John 7:37)

  • jean graham | Friday, 12 October 2018

    It’s easy to regard the second woman as vindictive and manipulative, and forget that she was a mother who no doubt blamed herself for the tragic loss of her son. The wisdom of Solomon foreshadows the wisdom of Christ – but perhaps after delivering such a judgement our all-knowing Lord would have enfolded the mourning second woman in His loving, forgiving arms.

  • Gilvin Crisifeca | Friday, 12 October 2018

    Thank you JEAN for the wisdom in your comment

  • Lynda Spencer | Friday, 12 October 2018

    Thank you for your insightful comment, JEAN.

  • Angela Munday | Friday, 12 October 2018

    Surely we must also understand that the second woman actually stole another woman’s child and broke God’s Holy law; she agreed that another innocent child should die just because she was hurting. Where was her love? She would cause another mother such suffering and the story shows how our actions reveal us to others; this is what Solomon saw, thankfully.

  • Gilvin Crisifeca | Friday, 12 October 2018

    I think LYNDA and I picked up JEAN'S reminder that however vile our sin, we can look for and know a loving forgiving God. My sin caused our Lord to die for me and I am so thankful he doesn't point the finger at me. Satan shames. Jesus upgrades. When we think of God do we see the finger pointing at us or do we receive the kiss of life? He alone breaks the power of shame but we'll never know if the second woman ever came to know how much she was loved by God.

  • Ruth Lewis | Friday, 12 October 2018

    So very very true ALAN!!!

  • Barbara Sabin | Friday, 12 October 2018

    Cure Thy children’s warring madness, Bend our pride to Thy control. Shame our wanton selfish gladness, Rich in things and poor in soul. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal, Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal.

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