The Word Made Fresh
1Solomon negotiated a treaty with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married Pharaoh’s daughter. He brought her to the City of David while he built his own house and the LORD’s house and the wall around Jerusalem. 2In those days the people were sacrificing on the hilltops because there was as yet no temple for the LORD.
3Solomon demonstrated his regard for the LORD by following the habits of his father David, but he did offer sacrifices and burn incense on the hilltops. 4The most popular altar was at Gibeon, and the king used to go there and offer as many as a thousand burnt offerings.
5It was at Gibeon that the LORD appeared to him in a dream one night and said to him, “What do you want me to give you?”
6“You upheld my father David because he was faithful to you,” Solomon said. “He was obedient to you and his heart was right toward you. You always loved him, and now you have given him a son to sit on his throne. 7You have made me king in my father’s place even though I’m no more than a child and don’t know how things are done. 8But I am at your service, trying to lead these people you have chosen as your own; a great nation with more people than can be counted. 9So, I am asking you to give me a listening heart, to help me lead your people and to be able to tell the difference between right and wrong, because no one can lead your people without your guidance.”
10Solomon’s answer pleased the LORD, 11and God said, “Since you have asked this instead of asking for long life, or wealth, or even the lives of your enemies, but have instead asked for the ability to listen and discern what is the best course, 12I gladly give you this. There hasn’t been anyone like you before, nor will there ever be. 13And I’ll also give you what you haven’t asked, and you will have wealth and honor your whole life that no other king can compare. 14If you will walk with me and keep my rules and regulations as did your father David, I will give you a long life.”
15Solomon woke up, then, and realized it had been a dream. He returned to Jerusalem and stood before the LORD’s covenant chest and sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings. Then he hosted a feast for his servants.
16Some time later, two women prostitutes approached the king. 17One of them said, “My lord, this woman and I live in the same house. I gave birth to a child while she was there, 18and three days later she also bore a child. We were the only ones in the house; no one else was present. 19Then one night her son died because she lay on him and smothered him. 20She got up in the middle of the night and took my son to her bed and laid her dead son in my bed with me. 21The next morning I awoke to nurse my baby and found that he was dead. But then I looked more closely and saw that it was not my child at all.”
22The other woman interrupted. “No, the one that is alive is mine; your son is dead!”
The first one who had spoken insisted, “No! The one who died is yours! My son is the living one!” And they argued before the king.
23The king said, “Both of you claim the living child is yours and the dead child belongs to the other.” 24Then he called out, “Bring a sword!” and it was brought to him immediately. 25He said, “Cut the living baby in two, and give half to each woman!”
26Then the woman who had spoken first, with the passion that burned inside her, cried out, “No, my lord! Give her the living child! Please don’t kill him!”
The other woman said, “That way the baby won’t belong to either of us, so do it!”
27The king told the servant, “Don’t harm the child. Give him to the one who spoke out first. She is his mother.”
28News of the king’s judgment spread through the country and people were in awe of the king when they realized he had the wisdom of God to do what is just and right.
1-2: Solomon wastes no time in securing an alliance with Egypt, the major power to the south of Israel. He marries the Pharaoh’s daughter to seal the deal. We note that early on Solomon planned to build his own palace as well as a temple, but nothing is said about the disposition of David’s domicile. Something is said, unfortunately, about the religious disposition of Solomon’s subjects: they make sacrifices wherever they please.
3-9: Solomon loves the LORD, but makes sacrifices on the high places himself. Still, God appears to him at Gibeon and offers to give him whatever he desires. Solomon is said to have asked for “wisdom.” The NRSV renders it “an understanding mind.” The Hebrew words, ‘lev shomea,’ literally mean “a listening heart.” That is a wonderful request, but Solomon adds that he wants to be able to discern between good and evil. In other words, you might say he wants to partake of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:1-8).
10-14: God is pleased with Solomon’s request, and promises to make Solomon rich and powerful as well. Solomon will be the most magnificent king who ever rules Israel.
15: Of course, it was all a dream, but Solomon claims it as his authorization to proceed as he wishes. He goes back to Jerusalem and offers more sacrifices at the site of the sacred covenant chest (where he probably should have been in the first place).
16-28: The story of the two women and their babies is probably the best- known story from the reign of Solomon. One baby dies and both claim the living one. Solomon’s “solution” is ridiculous, but does result in his being able to identify the baby’s real mother. Apparently the “false” mother would rather that they both lose their children than be the only one bereft. Solomon is acclaimed for his handling of the situation.
Dreams are fickle things. We may have a frightening dream of some terrible danger, but awaken to find that we are perfectly safe. We may have an uplifting dream that we can fly, but awaken to feel our weight on the mattress. People in ancient times placed a lot of confidence in dreams and eagerly tried to interpret them (remember Joseph sorting out the meaning of Pharaoh’s dreams in Genesis 41) and perhaps dreams might sometimes shed light on present circumstances. But let’s watch Solomon’s career unfold, and see if his dream at the beginning of this chapter was real, or just another Solomonic ego trip. Keep in mind that the only way Solomon’s dream could be recorded was for Solomon himself to tell about it.