Scripture Text: 1 Kings 3:16-28
Happy Mother’s Day! Mothers are God’s gift to us. They are there to care for us. They are there to support us. Mothers are also there to cheer us on. They are there to listen and to give advice. They are also there to discipline us and tell us when we are not doing right. I thank my mom now for nurturing me and spanking me when I needed it. I probably needed it much more than she knew. Mothers are an example of unconditional love to their children. Good mothers model God’s unconditional and sacrificial love for us. Good mothers are a gift to us and as the fifth commandment tells us, we ought to honor them (Exodus 20:12). We need to honor our mothers not just one day a year, but every day of the year. The familiar passage reveals some things about true motherhood. It is a familiar passage for probably a very different reason — the wisdom of Solomon.
An Occasion for Godly Wisdom
This passage about two mothers marks the first recorded occasion of King Solomon’s renown wisdom. This message is not really about Solomon’s wisdom, but it does occur just after Solomon’s request for wisdom; therefore, I would like to briefly look at how he received it. Just before the events of this passage, Solomon had a dream where he asked God for the ability to discern what is right and wrong in order to judge God’s people rightly. I think this “dream prayer” is a magnificent prayer, so let us look at it.
1 Kings 3:6–9 6 And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. 7 And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. 9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”
That is a great prayer! I love Solomon’s humility saying that he was “a little child” and did not “know how to go out or come in”. Some believe Solomon was about twenty years old. He was young and inexperienced, but he was humble enough to admit it. That is where we all need to begin, by saying, “I don’t know, but you do, Lord”. Solomon acknowledged his need for wisdom to lead the nation. Leaders need wisdom, and parents need wisdom. God answered Solomon’s prayer by giving him wisdom and much more than he asked. This passage about two mothers is an example of Solomon using godly wisdom to discern a serious situation. This passage is primarily about Solomon’s wisdom and how wisdom comes from God, but there are other truths we can learn here. Some of those truths include how a mother responds to a dire situation.
The Case of Two Mothers
This story is one of the best known in the whole Bible. Having been promised wisdom, Solomon now had the opportunity to use that wisdom. The situation was that two mothers came to Solomon to settle a very serious dispute. Something very bad had happened and these mothers came to the highest court in the land. They stood before the king as the only ones who knew what really happened. They had been alone and no one else was able to confirm the testimony of either mother, as the normal legal process required (Deuteronomy 19:15). The king represented the highest court of appeal in the nation. Israel’s kings had to sometimes settle particularly hard cases, and this was one. This was no ordinary situation and these were no ordinary mothers, if there is such a thing. These two women had a very immoral lifestyle. Look at the following verse.
1 Kings 3:16 Then two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him.
These women were involved in the oldest business in the world. They were prostitutes. Prostitutes appear throughout the book of Proverbs as one category of women that men would do well to avoid. What was their past? How did they get to this place in their lives? Was it out of desperation? Where were the fathers of these children? There are many questions we could ask about these women. The only information we have are that they were prostitutes and they were mothers. These mothers had made bad decisions. Maybe you can relate to that. Maybe you have made many bad decisions in your life. Both women had made bad decisions, but one of them kept making them. She made one bad decision after another. She had carelessly smothered her child in the middle of the night. I cannot imagine how she felt, to realize that you have killed your own child. When faced with situations like that, we can make more bad decisions. She made the situation worse by swapping her deceased child for the one that was alive, while the other mother slept. Maybe she did this to avoid the disgrace of killing her own child. Maybe she was so distraught over losing her own child, that she could not fathom being childless. She then lied about which child was hers. To make matters worse, she was later willing to have the living child killed. This situation spiraled out of control by the one mother’s own choices and now they were both before the king.
Both mothers claimed the living child as their own. Without other witnesses or evidence, Solomon had to use his godly wisdom to solve the case. Unfortunately, Solomon neglected wisdom later in his life as he pursued similar women; but for now, Solomon relied on his discernment. He decided to produce his own evidence by trying the case based on the women’s maternal instincts. Calling for a sword, he ordered the child cut into, with each woman getting an equal share. This sounds barbaric, but it was a common practice in ancient legal tradition to divide property evenly between two parties if the judge could not determine who owned the disputed property. We should not think that Solomon considered the child property or that he was serious about killing the child. Using his godly wisdom, Solomon exposed the true mother’s compassion. The real mother, who had already cared enough for her child to plead her case before the king, showed her motherly compassion for her son. She begged Solomon to give the baby to the other woman in order to spare his life. In startling contrast, the careless, dishonest woman was willing to have the child killed. Her cruelty was exposed, just as the true mother’s kindness was revealed. Thus, Solomon was able to judge rightly, and to give back the true mother her child. This passage reveals several things about motherhood.
A Mother Knows Her Children
I think this passage shows us that a mother 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. In fact, I hear 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. I have even heard of mothers knowing their children before they are even born. The true mother in this passage knew her child. She was not fooled by the deception of the babies being swapped. Look at the following verses.
1 Kings 3:20–21 20 And she arose at midnight and took my son from beside me, while your servant slept, and laid him at her breast, and laid her dead son at my breast. 21 When I rose in the morning to nurse my child, behold, he was dead. But when I looked at him closely in the morning, behold, he was not the child that I had borne.”
I cannot imagine the initial reaction the true mother had when she found the dead child laying next to her. It was probably the worst feeling she had. 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. Maybe the children were easily recognizable, especially with a close look. I think, however, this reveals something about mothers. I think this confirms that a mother knows her children. A mother who has carried her child for nine months and has anticipated finally meeting her child and welcoming him or her into this life, will know her child. This mother was not fooled. She knew her son and she wanted him back. Your mother knows you. If she has given you birth and has raised you and been there through your whole life, your mother knows you, and that is a good thing. It is good for someone to know us well.
A Mother Fights for Her Children
Seeing the dead child was not her’s, 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. What person would not feel compassion for the loss of a child. This was a terrible situation; however, the true mother of the living child was not about to abandon her son. 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. If you try to take a baby cub from a lioness, you are going to have a fight, and probably a very deadly one. If you get near a couple of geese and their goslings, they will hiss and attack you until their chicks are safe. 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 the king. How many mothers would go all the way to the Supreme Court if they had to protect their children? We need advocates like that. We need people who will defend us and fight for us, particularly when we cannot fight for ourselves. Babies cannot defend themselves, therefore they need an advocate. That is a mother’s job.
A Mother Sacrifices for Her Children
Parents have to give up a lot for their children. Parents have to often sacrifice their dreams and desires to do what is best for their family. Mothers know what it means to sacrifice for their children. They give up a lot to care for their children. Sometimes, a mother has to make some very hard decisions in order to do what is best for her children. Some mothers have to give up their children in order to give them the best life possible. The true mother in this passage was willing to do that. Look at the following.
1 Kings 3:24–26 24 And the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So a sword was brought before the king. 25 And the king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other.” 26 Then the woman whose son was alive said to the king, because her heart yearned for her son, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means put him to death.” But the other said, “He shall be neither mine nor yours; divide him.”
After hearing the testimony of these two mothers who were both declaring that this child was theirs, Solomon had to put to practice that godly wisdom he had asked God to give him. He ordered that the living child to be cut in two and each mother be given half. Now, we should not think that Solomon was serious about killing the child, but this act did reveal the true mother. I cannot imagine what it would be like to hear that from the king. It had to be terrible. The true mother had probably fought hard through the legal process to get her child back, only to hear the king say neither of them would have him. Facing a horrible situation, the real mother stood up and sacrificed her desire to have her child back in order to save him. She was willing to give him up in order to give him life. The passage says, “Her heart yearned for her son” or that she was “deeply stirred over her son”. The King James Version puts this in an interesting way.
1 Kings 3:26 (KJV) Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it.
I love that statement. Her bowels yearned for her son, or her bowels were hot for her child. The bowels were thought by most ancient people to be the place of our affections. This was probably because of the sensations which strong emotions excite there. When we get strong feelings about something or someone, it affects our inner being. We are physically affected by our emotions. The true mother’s love and compassion for her son overwhelmed her. Her love for her son overflowed to where she could not help but act in a way that would save her son. She was willing to give up her claim to have her son if it meant to spare his life. This is a mark of true motherhood: sacrificing to save her children. I believe this mother would have been willing to die for her son if she had to do so. This would be a great message about the sanctity of human life. Giving up a child is a wonderful option if it means giving life to the child. So many women are willing to kill their children, like the false mother was here. The real mother, though, wanted to give her son life. A real mother will go to great lengths to ensure her children are well.
Because of Solomon’s wisdom and the true mother’s love and sacrifice for her child, the true mother’s identity was revealed. Can you imagine the joy this mother had that day to be reunited with her son? She had fought to have her child, and she was willing to give him up in order to save him; but now, she received her son back. It must have been a wonderful day. The other mother, the one whose child had died, who had stolen the living child, and who had lied to the king about it, that mother was willing to have the living child killed. This is puzzling. Why would she do this if she had really wanted the living child? Why would she not continue to fight for the child she apparently wanted? Maybe this shows just how un-motherly she really was. Maybe this shows the continued spiral of bad decisions in her life. We should pity her, though. She lost her child. She lost her way. She may have lost more that day after the king’s judgement! Many are in places like that. They need to hear of God’s love and forgiveness. They need the gospel and the compassion of the Church to come alongside them and show them the Way.
God’s Motherly Love for Us
This passage reminds us of some of the characteristics of true mothers. Mothers know us. They fight for us. They love us and they sacrifice for us. I trust that most of us have mothers like that. However, maybe you have not known that kind of motherly care. Not all people have the experience of good, caring mothers. The good news is that you can. These qualities are the same characteristics of God. This passage about the compassionate mother reveals the care our Heavenly Father has for His children. In fact, the prophet Isaiah made a comparison in the following passage.
Isaiah 49:14–15 14 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” 15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”
God does not forget His children. He is like the true mother in this story who knew her child, would not forsake him, and had compassion for him. If an immoral woman, a prostitute, could be merciful to the son that she gave birth, and could not forget her little child, how much more will God offer the very best to care for and to save His children? If an immoral prostitute loves her child this much, how much more does a holy God love His own children? God knows us. No matter what you have done, God knows you and yet, He still wants you. He is there to welcome you to Him. God also fights for us. You are never alone for He has promised to never leave nor forsake His children (Hebrews 13:5–6). You have an advocate who is always fighting for you. God also knows sacrifice. He has sacrificed so much for us. He gave His very best for us. He sacrificed and gave His own life so that you could live. Yes, God has shown the same motherly traits for us. Do you know Him? Are you a part of His family? If not, you can be today, by confessing your need for a Savior and turning to Jesus for that salvation.
In closing, Happy Mother’s Day! Mother’s Day is a special day for us to remember and honor our mothers. We should honor our mothers not just one day a year, but every day of the year. May we celebrate our mothers today and everyday as God’s gift to us. Good mothers are a treasure. They know their children. They fight for their children. They sacrifice for their children. Mothers come from all sorts of backgrounds and make all sorts of decisions, good and bad, like the rest of us. However, a good mother, a godly mother, is a true gift of God. We need mothers who will care for their children like the true mother in this passage. But, we need to remember, that even as good or bad our earthly mothers may be, there is One who is always there for us, who loves us unconditionally, and who sacrifices for us. God has the same motherly qualities that the true mother in this passage had. Are you resting safely in His care? May it be so. Amen!
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.