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THE RULE OF WISDOM
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
1 Kings 3:1. Pharaoh, king of Egypt—Probably Vaphres, but Winer suggests Psusennes. An alliance with so mighty a royal house shows that the Hebrew kingdom enjoyed high renown, and commanded influence among the nations. From the Egyptian monuments a supposed portrait of this princess has been obtained. The “Song of Solomon” is supposed to have her as the immediate theme. Brought her into the city of David—Not admitted into the stronghold of Zion, where the ark was; probably he found for her a temporary home in his mother’s residence (Song of Solomon 3:4; Song of Solomon 8:2) while his own palace was building. This marriage is never censured in Scripture, so that it is natural to conclude she became a proselyte to the Hebrew religion. To this, Psalms 45:10-11 may refer, a Psalm which is thought, in addition to the Canticles, to have been composed by Solomon in her honour.
1 Kings 3:2. Only the people sacrificed in high places—This is not recorded as a wrong act, but as rendered necessary until the Temple could accommodate them.
1 Kings 3:4. The king went to Gibeon to worship there: for the tabernacle was now there (2 Chronicles 1:3). called the great high place, because of that fact. High places, בָמוֹת, i.e., hills, and mountain heights: were chosen by all ancient nations for worship and sacrifice. Danger rose out of this temporarily permitted practice (Deuteronomy 12:13-14); but in Solomon’s conduct now there was nothing wrong. After the Temple was completed, the “high places” should have been abandoned; but the habit had become formed, and hence the share. A thousand burnt offerings—As an act of national consecration and homage to Jehovah; its motive being, “Solomon loved the Lord” (1 Kings 3:3).
HOMILETICS OF 1 Kings 3:1-4
THE PARADOXES OF A DEFECTIVE PIETY
We obtain a glimpse in these verses of the state of religion in the nation at this period. The enemies of Solomon had been despatched, the throne was established in the popular affection, and the government of the youthful king had already won the respect of surrounding nations. The only thing that indicated the kingdom was not so thoroughly established in all respects as it might be, was the unsettled condition of public worship. “Only the people sacrificed in high places.” The practices of the heathen still clung to the worshippers of the one living and true God. The growth of the religious life of a people is slow: it is a long time before all traces of a previous period of imperfection and debasement disappear. The best guarantee of permanency in all earthly governments is a strong, healthy, propagative piety; and in the process of development towards a more perfect knowledge and experience many contradictions will appear.
I. That piety may include a devout love of God, and yet be defective. “And Solomon loved the Lord.” So far good. It does not say he loved the Lord with all his heart. The command in this respect was most explicit, and frequently repeated (Deuteronomy 13:3; Deuteronomy 30:6; Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Mark 12:33, Luke 10:27). The religion of some is purely intellectual; they conceive noble ideas of God; they construct an ideal paradise, and adorn and fill it with bright poetic fancies; they scorn to betray the least feeling—this would be altogether too gross and sensual: they live in an ever-revolving circle of refined mental intoxication. The religion of others is all emotional; they have tears for everybody and everything; they are a power in society, and they know it, for we are all most easily moved through our sympathies. But excess of feeling is penicious—it over-rides the judgment, and is apt to degenerate into weakness and folly. The victim of emotion goads himself in vain efforts to produce certain sensational effects which will not admit of repetition according to order, and at last sinks into a condition of helplessness, and is constantly employed in a morbid dissection of his own miserable and over-wrought feelings. The religion of others consists in a blind and dogged devotion to some one moral precept; it is obtruded into everything; it is the oracle to interpret every problem, the key to fit the complicated wards of human opinion and unlock every mystery; it is with them the infallible touchstone by which to test the religion of everybody else. Such people have no conception of the harmony and continuity of universal truth. It is possible to love God with a devout and reverential affection, and yet be defective in the realization and practical presentment of the religious life.
II. That piety may influence the practical outgoings of the individual life, and yet be defective. “Walking in the statutes of David his father.” These “statutes” referred, not only to the directions which had been specially enjoined on Solomon by his father David (1 Kings 2:2-4; 1 Chronicles 28:8-9), but also to the Divine commandments which David loved, and (notwithstanding some grievous falls) ordinarily practised. They who love God will strive to regulate their every-day life according to the Divine precepts, and in imitation of the holiest examples. The best of human examples is imperfect; and the most devoted and conscientious Christian worker is painfully conscious of constantly coming far short of his own ideal of duty. There are contradictions in the individual Christian life difficult to reconcile—the most saintly have to mourn over innumerable defects.
III. That piety may be demonstrative in acts of worship, and yet be defective. “He sacrificed and burnt incense in high places” (1 Kings 3:3). The heathen were accustomed to perform their religious rites on the summit of lofty mountains, under the idea that they were thus nearer Deity and heaven. Abraham built his altars on mountains (Genesis 12:8; Genesis 22:2), and worshipped in a grove (Genesis 21:33)—whence the custom among the Jews was derived, and for which they were not reprehensible till the law obliged them to worship in one place (Deuteronomy 12:5-6). The law did not forbid “high places” directly, but only by implication. It required the utter destruction of all the high places which had been polluted by idolatrous rites (Deuteronomy 12:2). The injunction to offer sacrifices nowhere but at the door of the tabernacle (Leviticus 17:3-5) was an indirect prohibition of high-places, or, at least, of the use which the Israelites made of them; but there was some real reason to question whether this was a command intended to come into force until the place was chosen where the Lord would cause His name to dwell (Deuteronomy 12:11; Deuteronomy 12:14). The result was that high places were used for the worship of Jehovah from the time of the Judges downwards (Judges 6:25; Judges 13:16; 1 Samuel 7:10; 1 Samuel 13:9; 1 Samuel 14:35; 1 Samuel 16:5; 1 Chronicles 21:26), with an entire unconsciousness of guilt on the part of those who used them. And God so far “winked” at this ignorance that He accepted the worship thus offered Him, as appears from the vision vouchsafed to Solomon on this occasion. There were two reasons for the prohibition of high places:—1st, the danger of the old idolatry creeping back if the old localities were retained for worship; and, 2nd, the danger to the unity of the nation if there should be more than one legitimate religious centre. The existence of worship at high places did, in fact, facilitate the division of the kingdom.—Speaker’s Commentary. The worship of God is not confined to any one particular spot—the devotion of the worshipper, and the manifestations of Divine blessing, consecrate the locality. We may worship God with all the proprieties of external ceremonial, and with all the ardour of a devout spirit; and yet the religion of the life be defective. Few men carry into all the departments of practical duty the holy and exalted feeling realized in their best moments at the Mercy Seat.
IV. That piety may be liberal in sacrifices, and yet be defective. “A thousand burnt offerings did Solomon offer upon that altar.” A sacrifice of a thousand victims was an act of royal magnificence suited to the greatness of Solomon. So Xerxes offered a thousand oxen at Troy (Herod. vii. 43). We are not to suppose that Solomon offered sacrifice with his own hand; such a task was beyond the power of a single person to do. He simply presented the victims. Scores of priests officiated on such occasions, and the sacred festival lasted many days. Where God sows plentifully, he expects to reap accordingly; and those who truly love Him and His worship will not grudge the expenses of their religion. The liberality of the wealthy is the easiest part of Christian duty, and few give to God’s cause in proportion to their means. Giving is, to some natures, the severest test of a genuine piety, and one of its best evidences. There may be a princely generosity in giving, while there is a niggardliness in doing. The most opulent sacrifices cannot atone for active, loving, faithful service.
V. That piety may be associated with great worldly affluence, and yet be defective. “And Solomon made affinity with Pharaoh, king of Egypt.” It was an evidence of the importance into which the kingdom of Israel had risen that Solomon should succeed in forming an alliance with Egypt, the most ancient and splendid of the Eastern monarchies. It was the first intercourse between these nations since the time of the Exodus. Its immediate effect was probably favourable to Solomon, by increasing his fame and comparative importance among the nations, and adding to his dominions (chap. 1 Kings 9:16). Riches flowed in upon him, kings courted his favour and were proud to form alliances with his house: There is no reason why piety should not flourish in the king’s palace as well as in the humble cottage: there are many among the great and wealthy who fear God and work righteousness. It is not an easy matter to settle which are the most difficult to bear—the dangers of the rich, or the temptations and miseries of the starving poor. It is possible to be surrounded with temporal abundance, while the heart is restless and unsatisfied. Solomon had all that his soul could desire, and the result was detrimental rather than helpful to his piety. His marriage with the Egyptian princess, though not formally condemned, opened the way to other alliances that were disastrous. According to the letter of the law, only marriage with the Canaanitish tribes was forbidden to the Jews (Exodus 34:16); and inter-marriage with nations outside of Canaan was not only not prohibited, but tolerated in the examples, never rebuked, of Joseph’s marriage with the daughter of an Egyptian priest (Genesis 41:45); of Moses’ marriage with a daughter of Midian (Exodus 2:21); and that of Boaz and Ruth. But though the law did not forbid these marriages, they were not in harmony with its spirit; and it was by foreign marriages that Solomon was at length seduced from the worship of Jehovah. Piety is safest when it is humblest; and only as the believer retains his humble, child-like trust in God, amid increasing temporal prosperity, will he escape the perils that threaten.
1. There is danger in resting satisfied with the mere externalism of religion.
2. There may be much that is morally good in individual character, and yet a serious deficiency in piety.
3. True piety demands the full surrender to God of will, affection, and life.
THIS passage may be also homiletically treated as follows:—
PIETY LIMITED BY OPPORTUNITY
I. That piety is limited by individual experience.
1. It is limited by the individual experience of the love of God. “Solomon loved the Lord” (1 Kings 3:3). He was first loved by Him, and was thus called Jedidiah, the darling of Jehovah. Our love to God is but the reflex of His love to us (1 John 4:19). Our piety receives its character and attains its limits by the nature and degree of our love to God: as our love is, so is our piety. Love is the source and power of the religious life, and the stream can never rise higher than the fountain.
2. It is limited by the examples of those we are taught to imitate. Solomon walked in the statutes of David his father, and strove to copy his example. A good man is a pattern for all to imitate; and all men are more potently influenced by a living example of piety, than by the most elaborate code of precepts, however eloquently explained or cogently enforced. It was a high commendation to the Thessalonian converts that they became imitators of the highest patterns of Christian excellence (1 Thessalonians 1:6). All human models are imperfect, and the characters shaped and influenced by them must partake of their imperfections. The example of Christ is the absolute, all-perfect standard, the great infallible pattern after which the noblest life must ever be moulded.
3. It is limited by individual capacity. The dew falls in quantity sufficient to water the whole earth, but there is an endless variety in the capacities of the flower-cups held out to receive the refreshing draught; some are so small that one crystal drop each would fill their tiny fragile goblets. So the blessing of heaven descends upon mankind in superabundant measure, but there is a vast diversity in the capacity of the individual recipient. The grandest created nature is bounded by its finiteness. If man were not finite he could not grow.
II. That piety is limited by the opportunities for its cultivation. “Only the people sacrificed in high places, because there was no house built unto the name of the Lord” (1 Kings 3:2). The frequent public worship of God is founded in a necessity and tendency of human nature. Man will worship, and if he is not constantly directed to the great Object of all true and acceptable worship, and spiritually assisted in the exercise, he is apt to regard the vast fabric of created things as God; and nature, with her grand, silent motions, becomes the object of his pantheistic idolatry. The multiplicity and accessibleness of Christian ordinances in the present day lead many to undervalue their importance. But a compulsory and prolonged absence from the house of God, and the conscious depreciation in spirituality, rectify the delusion, and compel the sufferer to estimate more highly than ever the public means of grace.
II. That piety is limited by the associations and conditions of national life. “And Solomon made affinity with Pharaoh” (1 Kings 3:1). The alliance with Egypt, and growing importance and wealth of the nation, would have a powerful influence in developing and forming the character of the nation at that time. National life is the outcome and representation of many conflicting and contradictory causes, some apparent, some hidden; but all active. Climate, natural scenery, employments, modes of living, intercourse with each other and with other peoples, all act and react in giving form, colour, tone, and spirit to the national character. The ruggedness and strength of the free mountaineers are strangely contrasted with the refinement, softness, and supineness of the inhabitants of the sultry plains; and the causes of the difference are evident. And so the associations and conditions of national life affect and limit the piety of a people. There will be more vigour and enterprise in the religion of a nation struggling for independence and extended commerce, than in a nation reposing in contentment, and revelling in luxuries and riches. Success in either individuals or communities is often a fatal advantage, and the period of greatest prosperity registers the beginning of decline.
1. That the opportunities for cultivating personal piety are abundant.
2. That it is an imperative duty to strive after a higher standard of piety.
3. That the actual use made of opportunities will be the measure of personal piety enjoyed.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
1 Kings 3:1-4. National reformation.
1. Meets with rebellious opposition.
2. Is gradual in accomplishment.
3. Must be wisely conducted.
4. Is facilitated by promoting amicable relations with other nations.
5. Aims at strengthening the internal government.
6. Is permanent in its results only when it grows out of a genuine religious life.
1 Kings 3:1. Marriage.
1. An important crisis in individual life.
2. Not to be entered into without serious thought.
3. May make or mar the happiness of two lives.
4. Is honourable in all.
5. Broadens our sympathies for the race.
6. Has the divine sanction.
—Although marriage with persons of unlike faith be allowed, and is in itself no sin (1 Corinthians 7:14), it is, nevertheless, better that one avoid it, because the unbeliever perverts the believer more frequently than the believer converts the unbeliever. Solomon’s marriage with a daughter of Pharaoh was, strictly speaking, a political alliance, but it has also a significance in the history of redemption. The great and mighty king of the land which for Israel had been “the house of bondage,” in which it had eaten “the bread of affliction” (Exodus 20:2; Deuteronomy 16:3), gives now to the king of this once despised and oppressed people his daughter in marriage, and must, in the providence of God, contribute to the strengthening of the Israelitish throne, and to the increase of the power and glory of the Israelitish kingdom. God has the hearts of all men in his hands, and can bring it to pass that they who have been inimical to us, and have despised us, shall hold us in great honour (Proverbs 16:7; Genesis 31:24).—Lange.
—This seems to have been Solomon’s first act of foreign policy, and was, perhaps, designed to counteract the influence of Hadad, the Edomite, who had fled to Egypt during David’s reign, and was now securely housed in the royal family (see chap. 1 Kings 11:14-22). Everything in the history of Hadad naturally conspired to make him a settled enemy of the kingdom of Israel; and, perhaps, at a later period, he had a hand with Jeroboam in planning the revolt of the ten tribes of Israel. Solomon doubtless expected to strengthen his kingdom by this affinity with Egypt, and to prevent invasion from that quarter.—Whedon.
—“Until he had made an end of building the house of the Lord.” This Solomon would finish before he would set up the queen’s palace—such was his zeal while young; but he suffered sad decays afterwards. I read of a holy man who oft prayed that he might keep up his young zeal with his old discretion.—Trapp.
1 Kings 3:2. “Only the people sacrificed in high places.” The particle “only” has reference to the last sentence of chap. 1 Kings 2:46. This is not mentioned as a circumstance of blame either in the people or in the king; for had they not sacrificed and burnt incense on high places, they could not have sacrificed or burnt incense at all. And it appears by the sequel that the sacrifice at Gibeon was acceptable.—Bishop Horsley. Possibly Solomon thought it better to allow an error in a circumstance than to occasion a neglect of the substance of God’s worship, which he apprehended would follow upon a severe prohibition of that practice, because the people’s hearts were generally and constantly set upon these high places, as appears from all the following history; and they were not willing to submit to so much trouble and charge as the bringing of all their sacrifices to one place would cause; nor would they yield to it until the temple was built, which he knew would easily incline and oblige them to it. And that being speedily to be done, he might think it more advisable rather to delay the execution of that law of God for an approaching season, wherein he doubted not they would be sweetly and freely drawn to it, than at present to drive them to it by force, although these and all other prudential considerations should have given place to the will and wisdom of God.—Pool.
1 Kings 3:3. “Walking in the statutes of David his father”—the customs, usages, and laws of religious conduct practised by David. But it does not appear that David ever sacrificed or burnt incense in high places. The contrary is implied in this verse; and it is more than intimated that though this worship was tolerated because not offered to false gods, and because there was no house yet built to Jehovah, still both Solomon and his people were censurable for allowing it such great extent and prominence, and thereby paving the way for future idolatry in Israel. It would have been safer and better to have sacrificed only before the ark of the covenant, as Solomon did after his return from Gibeon (1 Kings 3:15), or else only at Gibeon, where the tabernacle was (1 Chronicles 16:39).—Whedon.
1 Kings 3:2-4. Solomon’s sacrificial festivity.
1. When he celebrated it—at the beginning of his reign, to return thanks for the past assistance of God, and to implore its continuance.
2. Where he kept it—upon the high place at Gibeon, because no temple was built as yet, the place of prayer in the Old and in the New Testament. Though God dwell not in temples built by human hands, yet it is needful for each congregation to have a house where, with one mouth, it praises the name of the Lord. Where this need is not felt, there is a defect in faith and love for the Lord.—Lange.
1 Kings 3:3. He loved the Lord. This is the best and greatest thing that can be said of a man. So every one that loves the world has not in him the love of the Father; this is only where God is loved above all things, His word observed, and His commandments fulfilled with joy and delight (1 John 2:5; 1 John 2:15; 1 John 5:3). Happy is he who, to the question of the Lord, “Lovest thou me?” can return the answer of Peter (John 21:17). Because Solomon loved the Lord, he honoured also his father, and walked in his ways. The want of filial piety in our day comes from want of love to the Lord.—Lange.
1 Kings 3:4. Gibeon was well worthy to be the chief, yea, the only high place. There was the hallowed altar of God; there was the tabernacle, though, as then, severed from the ark; thither did young Solomon go up, and as desiring to begin his reign with God, there he offers no less than a thousand sacrifices.—Bishop Hall.
If we should begin our daily work with the sacrifice of our prayer, how much more our life’s calling, and every weighty undertaking upon which our own and the well-being of other men depend!—Lange.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
1 Kings 3:5. In Gibson the Lord appeared to Solomon—Probably during this sacrificial festival.
1 Kings 3:7. A little child: נַעַר קָטּן a weak boy; but it is an error to suppose him only twelve years of age (as say the Rabbins, and after them Keil); for David called him a “man” (1 Kings 2:9) before this incident, and after forty years’ reign he is called זַקִוִ “old” (1 Kings 11:4); hence he must have been at least twenty years of age. But he felt himself a mere “child” in matters of royal responsibility and national government.
1 Kings 3:9. An understanding heart לֵב שׁמֵעַ “a heart hearkening to the voice of God” (Keil); “obedient heart” (Luther); cordocile (Vulgate); literally, a hearing heart, not self-confident, but eager to learn.
1 Kings 3:11. To discern judgment—Lit., to hear judgment; and Lange observes “a right sentence depends upon the hearing, i.e., the trial of the parties; and for this, understanding and judgment are most requisite for the judge” (comp. 2 Samuel 14:17).
1 Kings 3:13. Not asked; both riches and honour: כָּבוֹדֹ honour is here promised as answering to “the life of thine enemies” (1 Kings 3:11), and may therefore be regarded as a promise of military honour, victory over enemies, or the glory to be won by the bloodless triumphs of his far-famed wisdom.
1 Kings 3:15. Behold, it was a dream—yet not a mere creation of the fancy, but a real incident, “a divine vision in a dream (Theodoreti). The sequel proved it to have been more than a dream.
HOMILETICS OF 1 Kings 3:5-15
A DREAM OF WISDOM AND ITS REALITY
A PERIOD of special devotion is often succeeded by the brightest visions of God, and by rich endowments of supernatural grace. In ancient times a common mode of Divine revelation to man was by a dream (see Numbers 12:6; Matthew 1:20; Matthew 2:13; Matthew 2:19, &c.) In such cases the soul was raised to a state of Divine ecstacy and illumination, and held conscious intercourse with God and heavenly intelligences; but when the soul woke to its natural condition of consciousness, the person knew it was a dream, though the reality of the Divine communication remained. So God appeared to Solomon in a dream; and the youthful king saw more with his eyes shut than ever they could see open—even Him who is Invisible! “Solomon worships God by day: God appears to him by night. Well may we look to enjoy God when we have served Him; the night cannot but be happy, whose day hath been holy.” The experience of Solomon during the night spent within the sacred city of Gibeon had a mighty influence upon his future conduct and destiny.
I. That wisdom is a Divine gift (1 Kings 3:5; 1 Kings 3:12).
1. The ordinary endowments of wisdom are from God (James 1:17). The gifts of genius may exist apart from the personal enjoyment of Divine grace. Tremendous is the responsibility of men who are endowed with superior talents, and great will be the punishment for their abuse. Bezaleel was “filled with the Spirit of God in wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship”; but this does not imply that he possessed the highest gifts of grace. It is said of Othniel that “the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel” (Judges 3:10); the power conferred being not necessarily connected with his piety, but referred to his superior tact in governing the people. Many of the sons of genius have not been children of the Spirit. Scotland’s most honoured bard was the slave of one of the lowest appetites, and fell a victim to its sinful indulgence. The highest poetic genius in England in modern times was obliged to banish himself, because of his vices, from the society of the honourable and virtuous. Gifts are often found where the graces are not. We must not undervalue gifts, for they come from God; but we must beware of being satisfied with them.
2. The unique wisdom of Solomon was from God. “Lo, I have given thee” (1 Kings 3:12). It is the good pleasure of God to give wisdom to them that seek for it. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him” (James 1:5). Solomon’s wisdom was, to a certain extent, a supernatural gift, a signal dispensation of Divine favour, which must not be classed with natural acquirements, which are ordinarily obtained by dint of mental application alone. But while this much appears upon the face of the history, we must not suppose that all his knowledge was so special and supernatural an endowment as that he received it without any effort on his part. He doubtless studied and toiled like other men for his acquirements; but he was divinely and supernaturally assisted in a manner and to an extent which no other man ever enjoyed. We shall see further in chap. 1 Kings 4:29-34 that Solomon’s wisdom comprehended natural science, political sagacity, and a deep insight into spiritual truth.—Whedon. As an acute philosopher, and a wise, judicious king, Solomon stood alone—“There was not like unto thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee.” Trapp observes, “He was not only wiser than Trismegist, Orpheus, Homer, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Lycurgus, Ptolemy; but also Abraham, Moses, David, yea, even Adam himself after the fall. He was the wisest mere man, take him for everything, as ever was; insomuch as he had all manner of knowledge, natural and supernatural, infused into him.” Solomon saw around him the materials out of which a great and prosperous kingdom could be made, if he only had discretion to use them; and his prayer indicated that this and all other special endowments were in the gift of God.
II. That wisdom is to be diligently sought in prayer.
1. Prayer for wisdom gratefully recognizes the Divine mercy in the blessings already enjoyed. “Thou hast showed unto thy servant David great mercy” (1 Kings 3:6-7). A good child will remember his father’s excellencies, to imitate them, and draw a veil over his sins. Solomon refers to the goodness of God, not only to his father David, but also to himself as successor to the throne. Gratitude for past mercies is an excellent preparation for the reception of new benefactions. The search after the highest good should ever be pursued with a grateful remembrance of the good already possessed. God’s favours are doubly sweet when transmitted to us through the hands of those who have gone before us. The way to get the entail perpetuated is to bless God that it has hitherto been preserved.
2. Prayer for wisdom humbly recognizes personal incompetency. “I am but a little child” (1 Kings 3:7). Solomon, with graceful modesty and humility, feels and acknowledges his youth and inexperience. His exact age at this time is not known; he was probably not more than twenty years of age. Youth, which, as a rule, places freedom in lawlessness, needs before all things to ask God daily for an obedient heart. Those who are employed in public stations ought to be very sensible of the weight and importance of their work and their own insufficiency for it; and then they are qualified for divine conduct and instruction. Absalom, who was a fool, wished himself a judge; Solomon, who was a wise man, trembles at the undertaking, and suspects his own fitness for it. “I know not how to go out or come in”—to sway this massy sceptre, to rule this great people. An allusion to captains or shepherds, or, as some think, to a little child, who learneth of his mother to go out and come into the house.—Trapp. It is an idiomatic expression denoting the whole official conduct of a ruler before his people (compareNumbers 27:17; Numbers 27:17). The wisest men are most sensible of their own ignorance.
3. Prayer for wisdom has special reference to the object for which it is to be practically exercised. “Give thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad” (1 Kings 3:9). A monarch’s sagacity in the administration of justice was calculated to make the most marked impression upon the popular mind, and likely to be most generally talked about throughout the land. This quality also came more home to the personal concerns of his subjects than any other, and was for that reason alone the more carefully regarded. The administration of justice was, in all ancient monarchies, as it is now in the East, a most important part of the royal duties and functions; and there is no quality more highly prized than that keen discernment in the royal judge which detects the clue of real evidence amidst conflicting testimony, or that ready tact which devises a test of truth where the evidence affords no clue to any grounds of decision.—Kitto. The true wisdom for which we have to ask God does not consist in manifold and great knowledge, but in that which enables us to discern between good and bad, right and wrong, sin and duty, truth and falsehood, so as not to be misled in judging either of other’s actions or of our own (Job 28:28; James 3:17; Ephesians 5:17). This discernment is a fruit of our spiritual renewal (Romans 12:2).
III. That wisdom often includes inferior blessings (1 Kings 3:13). The way to temporal blessings is to be indifferent to them. Solomon has wisdom because he asks for it, and wealth because he does not. God superadds riches and honour, and promises long life to enjoy them. A similar principle in the Divine government is enunciated by Christ—“Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). The greater blessing includes all lesser ones. “So doth God love a good choice, that He recompenses it with over giving. Had Solomon made wealth his boon, he had failed both of riches and wisdom; now he asks the best, and speeds of all. They are in a fair way of happiness who can pray well.”—Bishop Hall. Riches and honour are then truly blessings when God bestows the wisdom and grace to improve them aright (Ecclesiastes 7:11).
IV. That the gift of wisdom is conditioned on personal obedience (1 Kings 3:14). All the Divine promises are largely conditional. This wise king, whose reign began so auspiciously, failed to meet the conditions of long-continued prosperity. “No character in the sacred writings disappoints us more than the character of Solomon.” As the condition was not observed (1 Kings 11:1-8), the right to the promise of lengthened days was forfeited, and it was not fulfilled. Solomon can scarcely have been more than fifty-nine or sixty at his death. Length of days is the blessing in the right hand of Wisdom—typical of eternal life; but in her left hand are riches and honour (Proverbs 3:16).
V. That the gift of wisdom should be devoutly and joyously acknowledged (1 Kings 3:15).
1. In diligent attention to religious duties. “He came to Jerusalem, and stood before the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, and offered up burnt offerings, and offered peace offerings.” Solomon determined to inaugurate his reign by a grand religious ceremonial at each of the two holy places which at this time divided between them the reverence of the Jews. Having completed the religious services at Gibeon, where was the Tabernacle of the congregation, and where he had received the Divine blessing, he proceeds now to Jerusalem. and sacrifices before the Ark of the Covenant, which was in Mount Zion (2 Samuel 6:12). This proceeding symbolized that coming hour when, under the greater than Solomon, all separation of tabernacle and ark would be for ever past, and the true worshippers would advance from a cultus that made locality a test, to find their great altar in the inner temple of the Spirit, and to worship the Father in spirit and in truth (John 4:21-24). We should give God praise for all his gilts, and for the promise of gifts not yet realized.
2. In promoting the happiness of others. “And made a feast to all his servants.” A great feast naturally followed on a large sacrifice of peace-offerings. In these the sacrificer always partook of the flesh of the victim, and he was commanded to call in to the feast the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow (Deuteronomy 14:29). We best employ the gifts of God by using them to increase the joy of those around us.
1. The highest blessings are secured only by importunate prayer.
2. To possess true wisdom is to possess all the essentials of happiness.
THE DREAM OF SOLOMON
Solomon was a great man—great in everything he did. When he sinned, great in sin; when he worshipped, great in worship. Good and evil strangely met and battled in this man’s life. He had a majestic intellect, an intellect whose every thought contained the wealth of a proverb; but he had great animal propensities too. The sea of passion within him was deep and warm, heaved in resistless waves, and its surges often swamped his reason and his conscience.
The passage before us is the record of a dream which this great man had one night at Gibeon, a place celebrated in the Old Testament, but not mentioned in the New, and whose geographical position cannot be determined with any certainty now. There are two things very noteworthy in this dream.
1. The blending of the human and divine. There is much that you can trace to Solomon’s own mind in the nocturnal vision recorded here. It seemed to be according to the measure of his capacity. He was a large-minded man, and the dream is on a large scale. There is nothing mean or small about it. Pharaoh’s dream was very inferior to this. He was a narrow, material-minded man, and he dreamed of oxen and of corn. The dream of the Midianitish soldier was a still more contemptible thing. A poor, uncultivated, small-minded soldier dreamed that which was in accordance with his capacity, about a barley cake. Solomon’s great soul took within the ample range of its imagination the whole Jewish nation, the Eternal Ruler of the universe, the righteous providence of Heaven, and the everlasting principles of moral obligation. A small mind can never have large conceptions, either awake or asleep. The dimensions of a man’s ideas will always be measured by his capacity. Flower-pots cannot grow the cedars of Labanon—they require depth of soil and sweep of area. It seemed to be also according to the moral state of his mind. The previous day he had been engaged in religious services. His whole nature seemed on fire with devotion. In the fourth verse we are told that at Gibeon he sacrificed no less than a thousand burnt offerings. A thousand cattle he offered in sacrifice to God in one act of devotion. If the amount of his sacrifice measured the extent of his religious ardour, his religious feelings on this occasion must have reached the highest point of elevation. It was natural, therefore, on the night of that day the religious element should be predominant. The dream is thoroughly religious. As the religious sentiment had flooded his nature in the day, it worked his imagination in the night. It is generally thus. Our dreams grow out of the waking thoughts that have most impressed us. Imagination in the stillness of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon us, brings these thoughts together, constructs them into a fabric often grotesque, strange, and thrilling. It seemed to be, moreover, according to the strongest desire of his heart. He had just been appointed king of Israel; he was inexperienced—not more, perhaps, than twenty years of age. The responsibility of governing a great country pressed heavily on his young heart, and filled him with solicitude. He felt that to take the place of his father David, and direct the destinies of Israel, he required that wisdom which God alone could bestow. This he earnestly desires. Our mental faculties are the servants of our desires; desires are the spirit in the wheels of the mental machine.
So far, we see the human in this dream; but the divine is manifestly here, too. The coherency, truthfulness, and sublimity of the religious thoughts, and the propriety of the spirit and language of the prayer that was offered, and the fulfilment of the Divine answer given in the actual history of Solomon, all show that there was a presiding Divinity in the dream. The other thing noteworthy in this dream is—
2. The suggested conditions of successful prayer. The prayer of his dream was, as we have said, answered in his actual history. He did receive a wisdom for ruling, and abundance of riches, and a splendour of dominion that have never been rivalled by any monarch on the earth. Now, what are the conditions of successful prayer which the dream suggests?
I. That effective prayer must be divinely authorized. At the beginning of the dream Solomon received an authority to pray: “And God said, Ask what I shall give thee.” Such an authority is evidently a necessary condition. Unless the Eternal gave us a warrant to address Him, our appeals would be impious and fruitless. Hell prays, prays earnestly and continuously, but it prays without Divine authority, and the supplications rebound with the force of a crushing despair. An all-important question arises here: Have we, the men of this age, a Divine authority for praying? If not, our appeals to Heaven are worse than idle breath. What saith the oracle? Hear its declarations on the point (Deuteronomy 4:29-40; 2 Chronicles 7:13-14; Jeremiah 33:3; Isaiah 65:24; Matthew 7:7-11). Here, then is sufficient authority. God says as truly to us now as he said to Solomon in his dream, “Ask what I shall give you.”
1. This authority to call upon God in prayer agrees with our religious instincts. Prayer in some form or other is the natural cry of the soul. The child in distress does not more naturally look to his fond parent for help, than the human soul in sore trouble and danger looks to the heavens for aid. The heathen mariners in that little vessel that was bearing Jonah to Tarshish, when the tempest lashed the sea into fury, and threatened their destruction, “cried every man unto his God.” Even men who in theory deny the existence of a God, urged by this instinct, will cry to Him in danger. There are many striking instances of this on record. Take one or two. Volney, the celebrated infidel, was once in a storm at sea. Whilst the vessel was reeling and plunging with the fury of the elements, there was no man on board more frantic with terror, and more earnest in prayer to that God whose existence he impiously denied, than this Volney. “Oh, my God, my God!” said he, “what shall I do?” One of his companions on board, struck with the inconsistency of this man’s appeal to heaven, said, “What! have you a God now?” To which he replied, “Oh, yes! oh, yes!” Voltaire, the brilliant Frenchman and the celebrated infidel, cried out, when the king of terrors confronted him, “Oh, Christ! oh, Jesus Christ!” Tom Paine, that bold, clever sceptic, who wrote the “Age of Reason,” cried out in his last hours, “O Lord, help mo! God, help me! Jesus Christ, help me! O Lord, help me!” &c. Yes, the instinct in the soul to call upon God when excited by imminent danger triumphs over the strongest logic and grandest theories of infidelity. It is to me no feeble collateral argument for the divinity of the Bible, that God does that which the soul in her most solemn mood craves for—authorizes prayer.
2. This authority to call upon God in prayer is encouraging to our hope as sinners. Oh! what should we, who are here involved in guilt, depravity, affliction, death, do were those heavens sealed above us, and there was no God to hear our prayer? Our condition would indeed be hopeless. But when we hear Him say to us, “Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee;” and again, “Ask what I shall give thee,” we feel that we may obtain His help to raise us to virtue, dignity, and immortal bliss. It is this truth that makes the thought of Him even tolerable to us. The thought that He created the universe, that He sustains all existence, that He is the righteous Governor of all worlds, would overwhelm us with terror unless we believed that He answered prayers. That He hears prayer is a truth that gives to every aspect of His character an attraction to us as sinners.
II. That effective prayer must be earnestly spiritual. By this we mean that spiritual interest must reign supreme, that spiritual motives must be predominant. It was so now with Solomon in his prayer. What a sense he had of the Invisible God! The grandeur of kingdoms and the splendour of material worlds seem to have had no place in his spirit now. The Great God is the one grand object, in all the reality of His being, before him. He recognized Him as the Author of all the distinguishing virtues which his father David possessed. “Thou hast showed,” &c. He speaks to God as a present, personal, conscious existence, seeing him, knowing and feeling what he said in prayer. What a sense he had of the importance of spiritual goodness in reference to his royal father in prayer! The idea of his temporal glory was lost in the thought of his spiritual excellence. “He walked before thee in truth, and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with thee.” What a sense he had of the Divine goodness! He ascribed all that his father had to God. “Thou hast kept for him this great kindness, that thou hast given him a son to sit on his throne.” Much as he loved his father, he traced all his father’s greatness to the goodness of God. What a sense he had of his own insignificance! “I am but a little child; I know not how to go out or come in.” Humility is essential to true prayer. No one can feel himself in the presence of the Infinite without being overwhelmed with a sense of his own insignificance. Egotistic thoughts can no more live in the breath of prayer, than flakes of snow in a summer sun. What a sense he had of his own responsibility! “Thy servant is in the midst of thy people, which thou hast chosen; a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude.” All this shows how earnestly spiritual his prayer was; and this earnest spirituality is an essential condition of effective prayer. When we pray, materialism must vanish from our minds as a cloud, and spiritual realities must rise in all their commanding importance. He that prays must feel that he has to do with one who is the original fountain of all kinds of good. He that prays must have the deepest humility, must feel as Abraham felt when wrestling for Sodom, that he is but dust and ashes. He that prays must deeply realize his responsibility, both to man and his Maker. All this spiritual earnestness is an essential condition of effective prayer.
III. That effective prayer must be thoroughly unselfish. “What he prayed for was, “an understanding heart;” and he prayed for that, not that it might serve his own interest, but in order, as he says, “to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad.” And this speech, we are told, “pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing,” &c. Mark, God answered his prayer; in fact, gave to him more than he sought, because he sought not the good for his own ends, but in order to enable him to serve others. What! it may be said, are we to forget self in prayer? Are we not to pray for spiritual and temporal good for ourselves? By all means. But seek the good for yourself, not mainly for the sake of yourself, but in order that thereby you may be qualified to serve your generation and your God. With this spirit Moses prayed, “Oh! this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt, forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book.” In this spirit Paul prayed, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.” In this spirit Jesus prayed, “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say, Father save me from this hour? but for this cause came I unto this hour.” Such are the conditions of effective prayer suggested in this dream. There are, of course, other conditions that are not here suggested, such as faith in the mediation of Jesus Christ, for all true prayer must be offered up in his name.
In conclusion, do you ask why prayer is not answered now as in olden times? We read of wondrous things it did in ancient times, in the generations of old. Abraham prays, and the storm of fire and brimstone is borne up for a time on the breath of his intercession. Moses prays, and now we see the earth opening her mouth, and swallowing up religious impostors, and now the sea dividing and making a highway for the chosen race. The disciples pray in the upper room at Jerusalem, and the day of Pentecost comes showering blessings on the ages. In fact, the Old and New Testaments are full of the triumphs of prayer—prayer creating the rain and the drought; prayer clearing the mountains, and dividing the seas; prayer scattering armies, and awakening the dead to life; prayer destroying the power of the burning fiery furnace, and sealing up the mouths of lions; prayer opening prison doors, and healing all manner of diseases. Nor have we been left in later times without striking examples of its power.—Homilist.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
1 Kings 3:5. Sleep is like a state of death to the soul, wherein the senses are locked up, and the understanding and will deprived of the free exercise of their functions. And yet this is no impediment to God in communicating His will to mankind; for He has power not only to awaken our intellectual faculties, but to advance them above their ordinary measure of perception, even while the body is asleep (Job 33:14). God can approach the soul in many different ways when the body is in a state of rest and inactivity, can move and actuate it as He pleases; and when He is inclined to make a discovery of anything, can set such a lively representation of it before the understanding as shall prevent a man’s doubting the reality of the vision (see Calmet). In the particular phase of sleep known in Scripture as “dream” or “vision,” it may be that the mind was sometimes in possession of all its powers, and that only the body slumbered. That which engages us most when we are awake will even in sleep still be our employment.
God well knew what Solomon needed, but He bade him ask.
1. To show how negligent men are in praying for what is spiritual.
2. That He would only bestow His gifts in the ordinance of prayer.
3. That great personages might have an example of what they should ask of God above all others.
“Ask what I shall give thee.”
1. A test-word, for as man wishes and prays, so docs he show of whose spirit he is the child (Psalms 139:23).
2. A word of warning, for we not only may, but we should also ask for all which we have most at heart (Psalms 37:4).—Lange.
1 Kings 3:5-15. The prayer of Solomon.
1. Its contents (1 Kings 3:6-9).
2. Its answer (1 Kings 3:10-14). A dream like Solomon’s does not happen when the day just past has been spent in revel and riot, in gross or in refined sin.—Lange.
1 Kings 3:9. Solomon’s choice of wisdom. And now occurred one of those prophetic dreams which had already been the means of Divine communication in the time of Samuel Thrice in Solomon’s life (at the three epochs of his rise, of his climax, of his fall) is such a warning recorded. This was the first. It was the choice offered to the youthful king on the threshold of life—the choice so often imagined in fiction, and actually presented in real life. “Ask what I shall give thee.” The answer is the ideal answer of such a prince, burdened with the responsibility of his position. He remembered the high antecedents of his predecessor; he remembered his own youth and weakness; he remembered the vastness of his charge; he made the demand for the gift which he, of all the heroes of the ancient church, was the first to claim; he showed his wisdom by asking for wisdom; he became wise because he had set his heart upon it. This was to him the special aspect through which the Divine spirit was to be approached and grasped, and made to bear on the wants of men; not the highest, not the choice of David, not the choice of Isaiah, but still the choice of Solomon.—Stanley.
As it appears eventually that Solomon did some foolish and some mistaken things, it becomes a matter of interest to know wherein lay that wisdom with which he was supernaturally endowed. God giveth to him that hath. It was the previous possession of wisdom which qualified him for more. His wisdom is evinced by nothing more than his choice of wisdom beyond all other blessings, when the fruition of his wishes was offered to him in the vision at Gibeon. The terms of his request indicate the nature of the wisdom he required. That Divine wisdom in spiritual things, that heart religion which the Jews sometimes denoted by this name, is not intended. With that he was not preeminently gifted; not more gifted, certainly, than his father David, hardly so much gifted. The wisdom which he craved was that of which he had already enough to be able to appreciate the value of its increase—practical wisdom, sagacity, clearness of judgment and intellect in the administration of justice and in the conduct of public affairs, with an aptitude for the acquisition and use of the higher branches of philosophical knowledge, natural and moral, which constituted the learning of his age. In the latter he excelled the most famous men of his time.—Kitto.
The terms translated “wise” and “understanding,” both denote practical wisdom (see Genesis 41:33-39; Deuteronomy 4:6; Proverbs 1:2, &c.).
1 Kings 3:11-14. The granting of Solomon’s prayer teaches and assures us—
1. That God grants more than they request, over and above praying and understanding, to those who call upon Him with earnestness and for spiritual gifts (Ephesians 3:20; Matthew 6:33).
2. That God gives to him upon whom He confers an office—that is, to one who does not rush into an office or calling, but is called thereto by God—the necessary understanding if he humbly seek it. “Where there is wisdom there comes, indeed, also gold and silver (Proverbs 3:16), but not the reverse.—Lange.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
1 Kings 3:16. Harlots—The Rabbins derive זנוֹת from זוּן, to feed, nourish; and the Targumist translates the word here, and in Joshua 2:1, by פונדקן, pundekon, hostesses, tavern-keepers.
1 Kings 3:20. Laid her dead child in my bosom—In order to escape the suspicion and charge of having killed her own child.
1 Kings 3:26. Her bowels yearned upon her son: רַחֲמִים, a Hebrew phrase for the seat of feeling, hence here “the tender mother love” (Keil); “for her motherly heart burned for her son” (Luther).
1 Kings 3:27. Saw that the wisdom of God was in him—Not that there was anything supernatural in Solomon’s method of settling this dispute, but that it proved this youthful king had penetrating discernment and acquaintance with the workings of the human heart.
HOMILETICS OF 1 Kings 3:16-28
THE JUDGMENT OF SOLOMON
The gifts of God are not permitted to remain long unused. He who bestows them finds ample opportunity for their employment. A case is speedily brought before Solomon which brings into exercise the faculty of wisdom with which he was supernaturally endowed; and his startling decision made a profound impression on the people, and added greatly to his reputation. The pattern-instance, as recorded in these verses, is, in all its features, thoroughly Oriental. Examples are recorded in ancient history of similar judicial penetration.—(See Kitto, Dr. A. Clarke, Lange). But the sagacity displayed by Solomon in the instance before us was most wonderful, and evinced to all that, though young in years, he was fully competent to fulfil the duties of the lofty position to which he was raised.
I. The judgment of Solomon was exercised on a case of peculiar difficulty.
1. It was too difficult for ordinary tribunals to settle. The case had, doubtless, been brought before a court where it was customary to hear and decide upon ordinary disputes and offences; but this was altogether beyond the capacity of the judge to settle. The final appeal must, therefore, be made to the king, and his judgment be irrevocable. There are questions sometimes brought before our law courts so involved and contradictory that the penetration of the ablest judge fails to detect the real transgressor, and the power of justice is for the time paralyzed. But the great Omniscient cannot be deceived; and the day is coming when He will reveal the secrets of all hearts, and redress the wrongs of the universe.
2. The disputants were of questionable character. “There came two women that were harlots”—persons of abandoned character. The word is also rendered victuallers or hostesses. Perhaps they were both, though they could not be common harlots, for such would hardly have ventured into the presence of the king. One sin injures the whole character, and there are some sins which cast suspicion on the veracity of the transgressor, however solemn his asseverations. The value of testimony hinges on rectitude of personal character. The greatest difficulties of our law judges arise from the unreliable nature of the evidence they have to sift.
3. The testimonies were evenly balanced (1 Kings 3:22-23). The stout affirmation of the one mother was met by the flat denial of the other. Their testimonies were of equal credit—i.e., of none at all. As there was no evidence, it seemed impossible to arrive at any decision, and the whole court seemed held in suspense, and unable to tell which to believe. But Solomon was equal to the occasion, and had made up his mind how to solve the difficulty.
II. The judgment of Solomon was successful by an appeal to maternal affection.
1. This appeal was sudden. Every opportunity had been given to each woman to state her case. The king had patiently listened, and shown every disposition to administer equal justice. There was nothing more to say but what would be a repetition of what had been already said. A painful pause had come in the progress of the trial, when, as if moved by a sudden inspiration, the king speaks. The actions which have had the most important bearing on the destinies of individuals have often been the result of a spontaneous impulse. When truth is quickly apprehended it is wisest to act promptly.
2. This appeal was apparently severe. “And the king said, bring me a sword” (1 Kings 3:24) Doubtless some of the wiser hearers smiled upon each other, and thought in themselves, What! will the young king cut these knotty causes in pieces? Will he divide justice with edged tools? Will he smite at hazard before conviction? There was a law concerning the dividing of a living ox and a dead one (Exodus 21:35); but that did not reach his case. The heart of kings is unsearchable (Proverbs 25:3). That sword which had served for execution, shall now serve for trial. “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other.” Oh! divine oracle of justice, commanding that which it would not have done, that it might find out that which could not be discovered? Neither God nor his deputies may be so taken at their words, as if they always intended their commands for action, and not sometimes for probation.—Bp. Hall.
3. This appeal revealed a deep practical insight into human nature. The mother’s heart was touched, and, without the aid of argument and cross-examination, the great discovery was made. The yearning affection of the true mother for the child whose life was thus threatened stood out in prominent contrast to the cold, callous attitude of her adversary. The case is strikingly put by Bishop Hall:—This sword hath already pierced the breast of the true mother, and divided her heart with fear and grief at so killing a sentence: there needs no other rack to discover nature, and now she thinks—woe is me, that came for justice, and am answered with cruelty! “Divide ye the living child!” Alas! what hath that poor infant offended, that it survives, and is sued for? How much less miserable had I been that my child had been smothered in my sleep, than mangled before mine eyes! If a dead carcase could have satisfied me, I need not to have complained! What a woeful condition am I fallen into, who am accused to be the death of my supposed child already, and now shall be the death of my own! If there were no loss of my child, yet how can I endure this torment of my own bowels? And while she thinks thus, she sues to that suspected mercy of her just judge—“Oh, my Lord, give her the living child, and slay him not!” as thinking, if he live, he shall but change a mother; if he die, his mother loseth a son: while he lives, it shall be my comfort that I have a son, though I may not call him so; dying, he perisheth to both. Contrarily, her envious competitor, as holding herself well satisfied that her neighbour should be as childless as herself, can say, “Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it.” Well might Solomon and every hearer conclude, that either she was no mother, or a monster, that could be content with the murder of her child; and that, if she could have been the true mother, and yet have desired the blood of her infant, she had been as worthy to have been stripped of her child for so foul unnaturalness, as the other had been worthy to enjoy him for her honest compassion. Not more justly than wisely, therefore, doth Solomon trace the true mother by the footsteps of love and pity; and adjudgeth the child to those bowels that had yearned at his danger.
III. The judgment of Solomon won the respect and confidence of the people (1 Kings 3:28). The justice of the sentence made a deep impression upon the whole people. They saw that he judged impartially; that they could not impose on him; and they were afraid to do those things which might bring them before his judgment seat. They acknowledged the Divine source of his marvellous endowment. “They saw that the wisdom of God was in him to do judgment.” What was done to the other woman we are not told; justice certainly required that she should be punished for her lies and fraud. Wisdom strengtheneth the wise: it is better than weapons of war (Ecclesiastes 7:19; Ecclesiastes 9:18). Good men reverence, and bad men stand in awe of, the wise.
1. To do justice is one of the most important duties of the sovereign.
2. Divine help is needed and should be sought in order wisely to discriminate between right and wrong.
3. The Divine justice is unerring, and all its decisions irrevocable.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
1 Kings 3:16-28. Sin infallibly exposed.
1. Notwithstanding the secrecy of its indulgence.
2. Notwithstanding the subtlety and ability of its defenders.
3. Notwithstanding the deceptive contradictions of its evidence.
Every part of the incident is characteristic. The two mothers, degraded as was their condition, came, as the Eastern stories so constantly tell of the humblest classes, to demand justice from the king. He patiently listens; the people stand by, wondering what the child-like sovereign will determine. The mother of the living child tells her tale with all the plaintiveness and particularity of truth, and describes how, as she “looked at him again and again, behold it was not my son which I did bear.” The king determines, by throwing himself upon the instincts of nature, to cut asunder the sophistry of argument. The living child was to be divided, and the one half given to one, the other half to the other. The true mother betrays her affection: O, my Lord, give her the living babe (the word is peculiar), and in no wise slay it.” The king repeats, word for word, the cry of the mother, as if questioning its meaning. “Give her the living babe, and in no wise slay it? then bursts forth into his own conviction: She is the mother.”—Stanley.
Solomon’s wise judgment.
1. The question in dispute (1 Kings 3:16-22).
2. The decision (1 Kings 3:23-28).—Lisco.
1 Kings 3:17-22. Such sin brings together, but it unites only for a short time, for it produces discord, wrangling, and controversy. Abiding peace dwells only in the house where the God of peace binds hearts together. He who takes from the heart of a mother her child, or estranges or deprives her, will not escape the righteous tribunal of the judge to whom the mother calls and appeals. Litigation is generally associated with envy, falsehood, and unrighteousness; hence the Lord says, “Be ready,” &c. (Matthew 5:25; Luke 12:58).—Lange.
1 Kings 3:19. The perils of infant life.
1. Arising from the ignorance and inexperience of those on whom it is dependent.
2. From its own fragile and defenceless condition.
3. From the consequences of others’ sins.
4. Are avoided only by the mercy and protecting care of heaven.
1 Kings 3:25-27. Even in morality it is thus also; truth as it is one, so it loves entireness; falsehood, division. Satan, that hath no right to the heart, would be content with a piece of it; God, that made it all, will have either the whole or none. The erroneous church strives with the true for the living child of saving doctrine; each claims it for her own; heresy, conscious of her own injustice, would be content to go away with a leg or an arm of sound principles, as hoping to make up the rest with her own mixtures; truth cannot abide to part with a joint, and will rather endure to lose all by violence than a piece through willing connivancy.—Bishop Hall.
1 Kings 3:26. If an immoral woman be merciful for the son of her body, and cannot forget her little child, how much more should every Christian mother be ready to offer, when necessary, the heaviest sacrifice to deliver her child from moral ruin. If in the hearts of sinners the love of father and mother be so strong, how strong must the fatherly love of God be (Isaiah 49:15)! Envy hardens all human feeling, and makes one hard and heartless.
1 Kings 3:27-28. When a child, apparently given over to death, is restored to its parents by Divine providence, so much the more must their chief solicitude be to educate and bring it up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Not power and force; not great pomp, and pride, and tyranny; but wisdom and righteousness give to the government authority, and call forth genuine fear and the voluntary obedience of the people. If it were given to a Solomon to bring to disgrace lying and misrepresentation by judicial wisdom and knowledge of the human heart, and to deliver a righteous judgment, how much less shall liars and hypocrites stand up under the tribunal of Him who could say, “A greater than Solomon is here!” who, without needing witnesses and judicial examination, will bring to light what is hidden in darkness (1 Corinthians 4:5), and before whose judgment seat we must all appear (2 Corinthians 5:10)?—Lange.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Kings 3". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10