1 Kings 3:16
Then came there two women, that were harlots, to the king, and stood before him.
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(16) Then came there.—The celebrated “judgment of Solomon,” given here as a specimen of his wisdom, is simply an instance of intuitive sagacity, cutting the Gordian knot of hopeless difficulty by the appear to maternal instinct—an appeal which might, of course, fail, but which was, under the exceptional circumstances, the only appeal possible. It is in the knowledge how to risk failure rather than be reduced to impotence, and how to go straight to the heart of a difficulty when the slow, regular approaches of science are impossible, that we recognise what men call “a touch of genius,” and what Scripture here calls the “wisdom of God.”

1 Kings 3:16. Two women that were harlots — Or, victuallers; for the Hebrew word signifies both. Yet that they were unmarried persons seems probable, both because there is no mention of any husbands, whose office it was, if there were any such, to contest for their wives; and because they lived a solitary life in one house. Unto the king — Probably they had presented their cause to the inferior courts, and as they could not determine it, they now bring it to the king as the supreme magistrate, and famous for wisdom. And stood there before him — Desiring and expecting his sentence in the case.3:16-28 An instance of Solomon's wisdom is given. Notice the difficulty of the case. To find out the true mother, he could not try which the child loved best, and therefore tried which loved the child best: the mother's sincerity will be tried, when the child is in danger. Let parents show their love to their children, especially by taking care of their souls, and snatching them as brands out of the burning. By this and other instances of the wisdom with which God endued him, Solomon had great reputation among his people. This was better to him than weapons of war; for this he was both feared and loved.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 service at Gibeon, where was the tabernacle of the congregation, he proceeded to Jerusalem, and sacrificed before the ark of the covenant, which was in Mount Zion 2 Samuel 6:12. 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. Compare 2 Samuel 6:19; 1 Chronicles 16:3. 1Ki 3:16-28. His Judgment between Two Harlots.

16. Then came there two women—Eastern monarchs, who generally administer justice in person, at least in all cases of difficulty, often appeal to the principles of human nature when they are at a loss otherwise to find a clue to the truth or see clearly their way through a mass of conflicting testimony. The modern history of the East abounds with anecdotes of judicial cases, in which the decision given was the result of an experiment similar to this of Solomon upon the natural feelings of the contending parties.

Harlots, or, victuallers; for the Hebrew word signifies both. See Poole "Joshua 2:1". And possibly they might be both; this by their open profession, and the other by their secret practice: not that they were common harlots; for neither would Solomon have tolerated such; nor durst such have presented themselves before so wise and just a ruler; nor did such use either to bring forth children, or to have such a tender care of and affection to them as these express. Yet that they were unmarried persons, and so guilty of fornication, seems most probable, both because there is no mention of any husbands, whose office it was, if there were any such, to contest for their wives; and because they lived a solitary life in one house.

Unto the king: haply they had presented their cause to the inferior courts, who could not determine; and therefore now they bring it to the king, as the supreme magistrate, and famous for his wisdom.

Stood there before him, desiring and expecting his sentence in the case. Then came there two women that were harlots unto the king,.... The same day, as Abarbinel thinks, the night before which the Lord had appeared to Solomon; this came to pass through the providence of God, that there should be immediately an instance and proof of the wisdom and understanding the Lord had given to Solomon; these women, according to the Targum, were victuallers or inn keepers; and so Ben Gersom thinks they were sellers of food, as Rahab; though he observes it is possible they might, prostitute themselves: this may be said in their favour, that common prostitutes do not usually bear children, or, when they do, take no care of them, have no affection for them, and much less are fond of them, as these seem to be; but, on the other hand, no mention being made of their husbands, and living together in one house, and alone, and being impudent, brawling, and litigious, give great suspicion of the truth of the character they bear in our version and others:

and stood before him; to lay their case before him, and each plead their own cause; it may be, it had been tried in another court before, and could not be determined, and so was brought to the king; and, if so, the wisdom of Solomon was the more conspicuous, in deciding it in the manner he did.

Then came there two women, that were harlots, unto the king, and {k} stood before him.

(k) By this example it appears that God kept his promise to Solomon in granting him wisdom.

16–28. Solomon’s judgement between the two harlots, and the effect produced thereby (Not in Chronicles)

16. Then came, &c.] We need not, any more than with τότε in the New Test., consider ‘then’ as indicating immediate succession in order of time upon what has gone before.

harlots] The Chaldee paraphrase explains in the sense of πανδοκεύτριαι, but Josephus calls them (Ant. viii. 2, 2) ἑταῖραι τὸν βίον.

and stood before him] The Eastern monarchs sat often to give judgement at the gate of the city and so were accessible to all applicants. So sat the elders of the city by the Mosaic ordinance (Deuteronomy 21:19). Compare also Ruth 4:11; 2 Samuel 19:8; Proverbs 22:22, in which last instance, the words ‘in the gate’ mean ‘when he is before the tribunal, where his cause is heard.’Verse 16. - Then came there two women that were harlots [The Jewish writers here, as in the case of Rahab (Joshua 2:1), would understand "hostess," "innkeeper" (פונדקיתא, not פונדקן, as Bahr, which = , πανδοκεῖον, "inn"). In support of which it is alleged that prostitutes never have children, or if they have are not solicitous about them. The meaning "hostess," however (as if from זוּן, to feed), is not to be entertained for a moment, but we may readily admit that these children, though born out of wedlock, were not necessarily the offspring of professed harlots, though the fact that their mothers dwelt together and alone (ver. 17) is certainly suspicious; and see Gesen. s.v. זָנָה. Grotius, from Deuteronomy 23:17, concludes that they must have been foreigners. But it is equally probable that the law was constantly violated] unto the king [as supreme judge] and stood before him. This prayer pleased God well. "Because thou hast asked this, and hast not asked for thyself long life, nor riches, nor the life (i.e., the destruction) of thy foes," all of them good things, which the world seeks to obtain as the greatest prize, "but intelligence to hear judgment (i.e., to foster it, inasmuch as the administration of justice rests upon a conscientious hearing of the parties), behold I have done according to thy word" (i.e., fulfilled thy request: the perfect is used, inasmuch as the hearkening has already begun; for הנּה in this connection compare Ewald, 307, e.), "and given thee a wise and understanding heart." The words which follow, "so that there has been none like thee before thee," etc., are not to be restricted to the kings of Israel, as Clericus supposes, but are to be understood quite universally as applying to all mankind (cf. 1 Kings 5:9-11).
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