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What is the Judgment of Solomon?

Judgment of Solomon

The Judgment of Solomon is the biblical example of King Solomon’s wisdom. When Solomon ascended to the throne, he sought after God, and God gave him opportunity to ask for whatever he wanted. Solomon humbly acknowledged his inability to rule well and unselfishly asked God wisdom. God gave him wisdom and wealth besides (1 Kings 3:4–15; 10:27). In fact, “King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth” (1 Kings 10:23). God also gave Solomon peace on all sides during most of his reign (1 Kings 4:20–25). The account of the Judgment of Solomon is found in 1 Kings 3:16–27:

Now two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. One of them said, “Pardon me, my lord. This woman and I live in the same house, and I had a baby while she was there with me. The third day after my child was born, this woman also had a baby. We were alone; there was no one in the house but the two of us.

“During the night this woman’s son died because she lay on him. So she got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while I your servant was asleep. She put him by her breast and put her dead son by my breast. The next morning, I got up to nurse my son—and he was dead! But when I looked at him closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn’t the son I had borne.”

The other woman said, “No! The living one is my son; the dead one is yours.”

But the first one insisted, “No! The dead one is yours; the living one is mine.” And so they argued before the king.

The king said, “This one says, ‘My son is alive and your son is dead,’ while that one says, ‘No! Your son is dead and mine is alive.’”

Then the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So they brought a sword for the king. He then gave an order: “Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.”

The woman whose son was alive was deeply moved out of love for her son and said to the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!”

But the other said, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!”

Then the king gave his ruling: “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother.”

Solomon’s strategy relied on the reality of the maternal instinct. He knew the true mother would prefer losing her son to another woman over seeing him killed. Solomon’s shrewdness in getting to the truth and the just verdict he pronounced caused everyone to take note: “When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice” (1 Kings 3:28).

It is the responsibility of national leaders to search out the truth and provide justice. “A wise king winnows out the wicked; he drives the threshing wheel over them” (Proverbs 20:26; see also Deuteronomy 16:18–20 and Psalm 82:2–4). In his divinely bestowed wisdom, Solomon was able to provide justice and promote righteousness in his kingdom.

The Judgment of Solomon has been the subject of many classical paintings, including works by Flemish painters Frans Floris and Peter Paul Rubens, Dutch painter Matthias Stom, and Italian painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.

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Questions about 1 Kings

What is the Judgment of Solomon?
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This page last updated: November 7, 2022