Researched and studied by HH, Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
Solomon’s First and Wise Judgement.
1 Kings 3:27.
The first judgement of Solomon is the finest instance of extemporaneous judicature that is to be found in the records of any age or country. The wisdom of that judgement has been so highly and widely appreciated, that with a difference of personal attribution, it has found a place in the traditions or the literature of several other nations.
When we take into view all the circumstances of the case, we must be convinced that the judgement of Solomon is altogether worthy of the high fame which has attended it.
In Oriental nations, legal machinery was much more simple, and legal proceedings much more summary, than in the nations of the West, and particularly than in those of modern Europe. But this simplicity often rendered judicial cases much more difficult and onerous for the judge. The sovereign, who was the supreme judge, when he exercised the judicial part of his office, generally united in himself the various functions which, with us, are divided between the counsel, the jury, and the chief justice. There was no long array of witnesses to accuse and to exculpate: no professional counsel using their utmost efforts, on the one hand, to criminate, and on the other to exonerate; to examine and cross-examine witnesses, to analyze and sift the evidence, and to employ all their legal knowledge and rhetorical powers to place the case in its best or in its worst light, according to their opposite aims. There was no jury to deliberate and decide upon the guilt or innocence of the accused party; leaving the judge to preside over the whole proceedings and pronounce sentence according to the law. All this, to whatever extent it was done, was done by the judge himself, and by the sovereign when he acted in that capacity. Besides this difference in the forms of procedure, the trial often followed immediately upon the commission or discovery of the crime, without any previous knowledge of the case on the part of the judge. This comparatively simple model of a judicial proceeding, in which so much depended on the talents or even the temper of the judge, frequently made it necessary for him to have recourse to ingenious expedients with a view to discover the truth and enable him to pronounce a just decision. And it appears to be the genius of the Oriental mind to be more ingenious than profound, quicker to penetrate than patient to investigate.
The case in which Solomon, then only about twenty years of age, was first called upon to adjudicate, might well have put to a severe test the wisdom of an older man and a more experienced judge. Two women appeared before the king. “The one woman said, O my lord, I and this woman dwell in one house, and I was delivered of a child with her in the house. And it came to pass the third day after that I was delivered, that this woman was delivered also: and we were together; there was no stranger with us in the house, save we two in the house. And this woman’s child died in the night; because she overlaid it. And she arose at midnight, and took my son from beside me, while your handmaid slept, and laid it in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom.”
The difficulty of this case is well stated by the king himself. “The one says, This is my son that lives, and your son is the dead: and the other says Nay; but your son is dead, and my son is the living.” How was such a case to be decided? The women themselves are the only witnesses, and one seems to be as much entitled to credit as the other. Their testimony is opposed; there seems no way to discover the truth. The spectators no doubt felt the difficulty which the king expressed. Some may have believed that the youthful judge was as much perplexed as they themselves were, and they may be supposed to have been keenly anxious to see how he would extricate himself from so difficult a position. Others perhaps remembered that God had appeared to him in a dream, and promised him the precious gift which he had asked, the gift of wisdom; and they expected to see his wisdom exemplified in the judgement he was about to pronounce. What then must have been their disappointment and even their horror when, after commanding a sword to be brought, they heard the king utter the sentence, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and a half to the other.” In this feigned judgement, which those who heard it must have regarded as the result of weakness or of cruelty, lay the secret of the judge’s power. Besides the varied knowledge of the king, who “spoke of trees, from the cedar-tree that is in Lebanon, even to the hyssop that springs out of the wall; who spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of creeping things and of fishes,” he possessed, that higher knowledge which is more entitled to the name of wisdom, the knowledge of the human heart. Unable to discover the truth from the statements of the women themselves, though he no doubts suspected it, he had resolved to make an appeal to their maternal instincts, their motherly nature. He judged that the impending fate of the child would bring out the feelings of the mother’s heart, and enable him to distinguish, by an infallible sign, between the real and the pretended parent. In this, he was not mistaken. Solomon’s expectation was fully realized. When the infant’s life was in danger, “then spoke the woman whose the living child was to 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. But the other said, Let it be neither mine nor yours, but divide it.” How must the horror of the spectators have been turned into admiration, if not melted into tenderness, when the king pronounced his real and final judgement: “Give her the living child, and in no wise slay it: she is the mother thereof.”
Admiration of this decision was not confined to the king’s court. His fame extended far beyond it. “All Israel heard of the judgement which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgement.”
In the record of this judgement, everyone will acknowledge, not only the wisdom of Solomon but the faithfulness of the description, as true to nature, of the exhibition of feeling by the mother of the living child. She loved the child as her son and ardently desired that it might be restored to her. But much as she loved it as her offspring, she loved it still more for its own sake; and she was willing to resign it into the hands of her adversary to save it from destruction. Not so the mother of the dead child, she was willing not only to lose it but to see it die. There may seem indeed something of inconsistency in the represented conduct of this woman. Why should she, who had stolen the child of another, and had borne false witness to prove it her own, yet prefer to see it slain rather than it should be restored to its real mother?
With Hebrew women, the desire for children was a passion. But this passion sprang not always from the love of the innocents themselves, but from the love of that honour which the possession of children conferred. The love of their children might, therefore, be nothing but the love of themselves. And indeed all really evil parents do not love their children for their children’s sake, but for their own: they love themselves in their children. The consequence is, that they do not love, but inwardly hate, all other children but their own: and so intense is this hatred, that, according to the testimony of Swedenborg, in the other life, where the inward disposition comes into full and undisguised manifestation, wicked mothers desire to tear in pieces all other children than those whom they believe to be their own. If this testimony is true, the conduct of this woman is a correct representation of the character of such a one as she may reasonably be supposed to have been.
But the judgement of Solomon, interesting and instructive as it is as a subject of sacred history, viewed only in its literal sense, is still more interesting and instructive when regarded as representative of a subject intimately connected with the spiritual interests of mankind, and significative of spiritual states and circumstances in the regenerating process, by which we are born anew.
Solomon was one of the most distinguished representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ, as the Ruler of the kingdom established in righteousness and peace.
In Scripture, women, in their general typical character, represent the Church. And the first judgement of Solomon has reference to the state of the Church. The careless and unnatural woman who overlay her child, laying her dead infant in her neighbour’s bosom, and taking and claiming the living child of her companion as her own, yet willing to see that innocent destroyed, represented the Jewish Church; while the woman whose the living child was, and who was willing to relinquish it living rather than see it put to death, represented the Gentile Church.
These women, it is true, are called harlots. But-this does not render the representation the less but the more true and striking. For both the Jews and the Gentiles are described as having turned away from God, and become worshipers of idols; and as the Lord is the Husband of His Church, as well as the Father of His people, all idolatry is described in the Old Testament as spiritual fornication and adultery. In Hosea the Lord, addressing the children of His people says, “Plead with your mother, plead: for she is not my wife, neither am I her husband; for their mother has played the harlot: she that conceived them has done shamefully “(Hosea 2:2, 5). The Jewish Church is not only accused of having departed from the Lord as her true Husband but as having in her skirts the blood of the souls of poor innocents (Jeremiah 2:34), by which the Jewish people are accused of having done violence to innocence itself. For innocence is the inmost life of true religion, of love to God and love to man; and where there is no innocence there is no spiritual life in the Church.
The Jewish Church, represented by the woman with the dead child, had destroyed in herself every principle of spiritual innocence; a destruction which was represented also by the massacre, by Herod, of the infants in Bethlehem, with the view of destroying the Infant Jesus, who was innocence itself; and by whose preservation that of the human race was effected through redemption.
The Gentiles, represented by the woman whose the living child was, though addicted to the sin of idolatry, were yet in a much less corrupt state and less debased condition than the Jews who despised them, and who regarded them as sinners, while they considered themselves as alone righteous. Not only had the Jews destroyed all innocence and all truth in themselves, but they had taken from the heathen, with whom they had been mingled, many of the principles which formed their religion, and appropriated them as their own; till the Lord came into the world, when the judgement which He performed disclosed their true nature, and deprived them of their assumed character and possessions.
But there was another and a still higher antitype to this circumstance in the spiritual world, where judgement has its cause and its beginning, and which is the scene of every general judgement.
It is there more especially that the tares and the wheat grow up together until the harvest. And these tares, we may observe, were sown while men slept, as the woman laid her dead child in her neighbour’s bosom while she was asleep, in the silence and darkness of the night. It is also in that world more especially that the tares and the wheat, the good and the evil, the true and the false, are finally separated from each other; that from him that has not is taken away that which he seems to have—that the good and truth which he has assumed, but which is not his own, is taken from him and given to him that has, that he may have abundance. It is there, indeed, that a just and final judgement assigns to each that which is his own.
Even in this world, something of this takes place, as its correlative. In every case of human degeneracy, the line which marks the separation between good and evil, between the true and the false, becomes less and less distinct, until, in some things at least, the boundary-line is obliterated, and the perception of the real difference between them is lost. And every act of Divine judgement is for this, among other purposes, to restore the knowledge, which had been taken away, of the difference between the clean and the unclean, that a separation may be effected between them. This effect of human degeneracy has been too fully realized in the past history of the Christian Church itself. But we cannot look around us without being convinced that the line of distinction which men had obliterated is again appearing—that the distinction between the true and the false, the good and the evil, is again beginning to be seen more clearly; that the dead and the living child are being assigned to their rightful owners; that truth and innocence are being more appropriate to the good, and the evil are being left more fully to their own natural destitution. And indeed it is one of the effects of such judgements that the yearning heart shall find the object of its desires and affections—that a good head and heart shall understand the truth, and feel the satisfaction of goodness. For the days are coming in which the kingdom of righteousness is restored, and justice and judgement reign.
There are a still more particular sense and a more pointed application of this interesting relation to be noticed.
In the woman who was the mother of the dead child, we may see the character of those who, by a careless or abandoned life, entirely destroy innocence in themselves; who make no scruple to rob others of their innocence; and who would, without compunction, destroy the innocence and peace of their neighbour, even when they themselves can reap no advantage from their neighbour’s loss. It is the very nature and constant effort of the wicked to lay their own dead principles in the bosoms of others and to assume a life which is not their own. Such persons desire happiness as ardently as others and wish to be admitted into heaven if they have any belief in heaven because they believe that happiness is there to be found. They can appear at the marriage without the wedding garment; or can ask from others, their companions, the oil of goodness, which they have neglected to procure for themselves, or having procured have lost, that they may revive their dying lamps, to light them on their way to an abode for which they are not prepared. But the door is shut against them.
In the woman who was the mother-of-the living child we see the character of those who, though erring, is yet in the love of innocence and truth for their own sake; and who, though subject to trials from the machinations of the selfish and impure, will be delivered by the final interposition of a protective and overruling Providence.
We may briefly trace the analogy of this subject still further, and point out its application to the individual mind. The two women in one house are emblems of two affections in one mind—one genuine and the other spurious, one true and the other false. And in Solomon’s judgement, we have a type of the highest and best means of discerning between the genuine and the spurious, the true and the false, in regard to the principle of goodness in ourselves. In judging, we form our decisions either from outward evidence or from inward discernment, or from both together. Our judgements for the most part rest on their united testimony. But there are cases in which outward evidence may be insufficient, or in which there may be a seeming balance of testimony that leaves the mind in suspense. The genuineness of the Divinity of the Scriptures, for instance, is with some a subject of doubt and is both affirmed and denied by those who judge of them by external evidence alone. We do not say that external testimony, in this case, is of no force, but it is obvious that it is of itself insufficient. Is there no means by which men disposed to judge justly are able to arrive at a certain and right conclusion? Solomon’s judgement enables us to see that there is. Affection will sometimes enable us to untie a knot which thought makes but the faster. When the understanding is unable to determine, the heart will often give the true decision. The conscience will often enable us to see at once what a long process of reasoning cannot enable us to discover. We are sometimes at a loss of how to judge and act when a balance of reasons are present to the mind. Two different affections may each claim to be the mother of the living child—to be the parent of vital innocence. Do not natural and spiritual affection sometimes display this character? Does not natural affection at times maintain that natural delights are living, and that spiritual delights are dead? and yet natural delights, so far as they have any vitality in them, derive their life from spiritual affection; and if the delights are merely natural, they are stolen from the spiritual, and claimed by the natural as its own. There is nothing of vitality and innocence in natural delight but what it draws from spiritual affection. How is this to be discovered? Spiritual affection has a heart of goodness in it that can be appealed to; natural affection is heartless, or it is a heart of stone, that is susceptible of no tender emotions or disinterested affections. It is by appealing to this inner nature of affection that we can, in any doubtful case, discern between the genuine and the spurious; and that will enable us, without the shadow of a doubt, to say which is the spiritual affection and which is the natural, and to restore to the arms of the true mother the innocence which the false would willingly have seen divided, and thus dissipated and destroyed. Let us remember that, in the language of the apostle, we must all appear before the judgement-seat of Christ, to receive according to the deeds done in the body, whether they be good or evil. We shall not, as is too often the case among men, be judged by what we say, but by what we are. The Lord looks upon the heart; and through the heart we shall be judged, according to our works, our works being such as our hearts are. In that day the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed, and everyone will be rewarded according to his work. Happy will it be for those who have cherished innocence? Whatsoever may have been their trials, the innocence which they have borne and nourished will be restored to their own bosom.