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A Mother's Love

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1 Kings 3:16-27

Mother’s Love

Two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. The one woman said, “Oh, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house, and I gave birth to a child while she was in the house. Then on the third day after I gave birth, this woman also gave birth. And we were alone. There was no one else with us in the house; only we two were in the house. And this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him. And she arose at midnight and took my son from beside me, while your servant slept, and laid him at her breast, and laid her dead son at my breast. When I rose in the morning to nurse my child, behold, he was dead. But when I looked at him closely in the morning, behold, he was not the child that I had borne.” But the other woman said, “No, the living child is mine, and the dead child is yours.” The first said, “No, the dead child is yours, and the living child is mine.” Thus they spoke before the king.

Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son that is alive, and your son is dead’; and the other says, ‘No; but your son is dead, and my son is the living one.’ ” And the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So a sword was brought before the king. And the king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other.” Then the woman whose son was alive said to the king, because her heart yearned for her son, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means put him to death.” But the other said, “He shall be neither mine nor yours; divide him.” Then the king answered and said, “Give the living child to the first woman, and by no means put him to death; she is his mother.”[1]


other’s Day is difficult for many people.  Women who long for marriage and children often find the day difficult.  Women who are infertile or who have experienced the loss of new life to miscarriage or stillbirth often privately confess the pain associated with the day.  I am aware of individuals who barely speak to their estranged mother—I am one such individual.  I confess that I face Mother’s Day with ambivalence.  I am glad for the good mothering that I witnessed in the wife God gave me, just as I rejoice in the good mothering I witness among so many of the people of God, but I sometimes privately grieve at the lack of mothering during my own childhood years.

Jenell Paris addresses the issue of difficult Mother’s Day in a timely article in Christianity Today.  She writes, “Unlike the unrealistic and sentimental feminine images dished out by Hallmark, the Bible and the church offer real stories of real women’s lives.”[2]  In the article, Mrs. Paris reminds readers of the inaccuracy of the idealised images of modern motherhood.  She reminds us of Ruth, left widowed at a young age.  She speaks of the infertility of Rachel, Hannah and Sarah, and she reminds us that both Eve and Mary lost sons under terrible circumstances.  She suggests that the churches give consideration to emphasising the liturgical year instead of the calendar year, to emphasising religious holy days instead of secular holidays.  Though I would not wish to be merely reactionary, there is considerable merit to this suggestion, I should think.

Nevertheless, observance of Mother’s Day within the church does permit us to focus attention on some of the deficits of contemporary Christian life.  It is an unfortunate truth that the church imbibes from the polluted well of contemporary attitudes.  Consequently, we are constantly challenged to examine our attitudes to ensure that we do not substitute the best ( or the worst) of modern thought for the wisdom of God.

One attitude commonly embraced threatens the church in this day late in the Age of Grace—it is exaltation of individualism and exclusion of a covenantal community.  The church is a community of faith—we are family.  We are a covenant community.  Each time we recite our church covenant we are reminded that we dare not think that we act in isolation from our fellow worshippers.  This attitude of seeking the welfare of others rather than self-promotion runs counter to the prevailing view of modern society.

The world emphasises individual rights, and almost unconsciously we enter the Body of Christ demanding that we receive our rights.  The Word of God emphasises consideration of others and selfless service if we will honour the Lord our God.  The emphasis for the church is that of community in which each member serves the rest and all are submissive to the will of the whole under the Headship of Christ the Lord.  We willingly and joyfully submit to one another out of reverence for Christ [Ephesians 5:21].

Nowhere has modern thought been more apparently in conflict with the Christian Faith than over the issue of women’s “rights.”  Modern feminism employs its strident voice to demand “a place at the table” for women, though it is increasingly difficult to sort through legitimate grievances that may be presented because of the hostility voiced toward all things masculine.  Though I haven’t time to address the entire gamut of complaints raised by the voices of religious feminists, I am compelled to speak to those women who are part of this congregation over which I have received appointment as an elder and a messenger of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Contemporary society emphasises that women have “a right to their own bodies.”  Superficially, this sounds wise and just.  Indeed, woman has the identical right of all humanity to security of her person.  However, with conception a woman becomes a mother and that new life demands that the mother become a protector of that life.  Even nature underscores this truth.  Mother bears are noted for their ferocity in protecting their young.  Even the humble hamster will attack the hand that dares attempt touch her young.  The mothering instinct is strong throughout all nature and can only be suppressed by Homo sapiens intent upon promoting their own desires at the expense of natural instinct.

The story we will consider in this service is familiar.  Whenever the story is related, the emphasis is almost invariably upon the wisdom of Solomon.  Of course, this is appropriate as the inclusion of this pericope is clearly intended to demonstrate the wisdom of the king.  This is abundantly evident as we read the concluding statement of the chapter.  And all Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice [1 Kings 3:28].

However, a secondary theme throughout the account is the power of a mother’s love.  If ever a nation or a culture needed godly mothers, it is in this nation and this culture.  Women today are taught from earliest age and by what were once respected institutions reflecting righteous moral and ethical principles that the highest good is whatever makes them “feel good.”  Though it may momentarily make a woman “feel good” to rid herself of the pressure of motherhood, the doyens of death fail to warn of the consequences that attend surrender to the momentary pressure.

Women who have chosen to abort their own babies tend to suffer excruciating psychological pain for decades after.  This says nothing of the increased incidence of cervical cancer, breast cancer and subsequent low birth rate infants in women who choose an abortion over the responsibility of motherhood.  Beyond these immediate concerns to the women involved is the rending of the social fabric as the greatest stabilising factor of any culture, the love of mothers that holds the family together, is ripped apart.  The nation with strong mothers—mothers who love their children—is a blessed nation.

I am compelled by honesty to say that a growing number of mothers, though not having chosen to abort their children, yet treat them as though they were a shackle and a burden.  Career and social position, possessions and pursuit of perpetual youth seem more important than does motherhood.  Consequently, many children are today sacrificed to the gods of personal desire as surely as ancient Ammonites surrendered their children to be burned in the flames to appease Molech.  I am sympathetic to that mother who is compelled to work by reason of social conditions, but I confess I am astonished at that family that considers possessions or position to be of greater worth than their children.

It is my ardent belief that modern churches have failed the challenge of teaching women to resist the pressure of contemporary culture to promote their own desires as of supreme importance.  Christians today have forgotten a necessary lesson from the Word of God.  Paul commanded Titus, to teach what accords with sound doctrine.  In part that teaching of necessity encourages older women to teach what is good, thus training young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure [cf. Titus 2:1, 3b, 4].  We need godly women to serve as mentors for younger women if we will reverse the trend.

Perhaps the “need” for young women to “learn” to love their husbands and children seems strange, but it should be apparent because of conditions that were prophesied to arise during the last days—a time that has at last fully arrived.  During these days as the end of the age rapidly nears, a time consistent with this present day, the focus of all humanity is increasingly upon their own individual interests and the concept of families is consequently denigrated.  This is as prophesied by the Word of the Lord.

Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power [2 Timothy 3:1-5].

Justice for an Abused Whore —The story that is related in our text is so touching, so realistic, that any true child of the Living God is compelled to identify with it.  Two prostitutes lived together.  Each had become pregnant as result of plying their trade.  Each bore a son, apparently within a very brief period of time of the other.

One night, when no clients were present in the room, one of the women lay on her baby, smothering her own child.  It is important for our understanding to realise that the emphasis in verse eighteen is upon the fact that the two women were alone—there were no clients present during the night.  In other words, there was no possibility that a client could have murdered the child.  Neither are we led to think that the act was deliberate, although we might wonder how the woman could have not known that she was laying on her child or why they child did not cry out.  Whatever the case, the child was killed and we are led to believe the death was accidental.

The mother of the dead child, realising what has happened, exchanged the dead baby for the living child of the other woman during the night.  At first light, the mother whose child had been stolen realised something was wrong.  Studying the face of the dead infant lying beside her, she realises that this is not her child.  One must surmise that she appeals to the maternal instincts of the other woman, pleading for the opportunity to be a mother to her own child.  We can likewise infer that the woman who would dare steal a child even as she refused to mourn her own dead child must have taunted the true mother, telling her that she was a poor excuse of motherhood for having smothered her own child.  Distressed, the true mother had obviously exhausted her appeals to motherly instinct in the other woman, and now she was compelled to appeal to the king.

There was nowhere to turn but to Solomon, the newly enthroned king of Israel.  Our true mother resolves to seek redress for her sorrow, and so both women appear before the king.  The true mother does almost all the speaking.  She relates the story—we can only imagine the pathos with which she presented her case.  After reciting her case, the other woman curtly rejects the argument, contending that the living child is hers, and the two women begin to argue.  One can almost feel the desperation of the mother of the child, and her fear moves us to compassion.  Similarly, we can almost hear the cold tones of the fraudulent mother, and her callus attitude offends us, chilling our hearts.

It is easy for us, after the fact, to depreciate the ruling of the king.  We look at the event and consider it to be a “no brainer.”  Even if the one who receives the child is not the true mother, she deserves the child if for no other reason than that she demonstrates a godly attitude toward caring for the child.  However, you must consider the situation.  Take careful note that Solomon is compelled to make an instant decision, thus revealing the godly wisdom that God had given him.  After the fact we may depreciate his verdict thinking that anyone could see that it was the only wise choice, but remember that he is required to instantly make a decision with the pressure arising from the knowledge that all Israel is watching him.

He calls for a sword, and presumably a swordsman, and gives what appears to be a foolish order to cut the child in two, dividing the infant between the two claimants.  Josephus writes that those present in the court laughed, thinking the response of the king to be quite childish.[3]  Those watching the proceedings had no particular pity for the two prostitutes.  They likely were amused, just as Josephus notes.  However, when the impact of Solomon’s actions at last seized their attention, they recognised the practical wisdom of the young king.  His rapid decision, based on divine intuition, was the right decision.

Notice that the king did not tentatively propose this solution to the two women.  Instead, he acts with boldness.  To those women, if not in actual fact, the sentence of the king was an accomplished act.  While some may debate whether Solomon would have actually hewed the child in two, those present that day were convinced that he meant to carry out the sentence.  In the face of the dire prospect that her child would be slaughtered, the true mother pleaded for her child’s life, whereas the second woman exposes her lack of natural affection by callously agreeing to the division of the child.

There was no DNA typing in that day, nor even serological typing.  This was a case where there were no witnesses; so it was impossible to prove by conventional means which of the two litigants had a just case.  Solomon displayed his extraordinary insight into human nature as well as shocking boldness of action in exposing fraud.

I must take a moment to speak of the unspeakable sin of prostitution, whether through coercion, out of desperation or voluntarily.  There would be no prostitution if there were no demand for deviant sex.  Is it because people are convinced that sex is so vital that they must compromise morality that the scourge of prostitution continues to this day?  Whatever happened to the noble ideal of self-control?  Have we actually so neglected this truth among the people of God until the virtue is utterly unknown?

Prostitutes were a regular institution in the ancient Near East.  Apparently, the Hebrews had no great inhibitions concerning whores.  For instance, it is recorded that the Hebrew spies visited Rahab at Jericho [see Joshua 2:1] and the Bible records that Judah had intercourse with Tamar, thinking she was a shrine prostitute [see Genesis 38].  Also, recall that Samson is reported without judgement to have used the services of a prostitute [Judges 16:1].[4]  I note this fact, not to condone the behaviour, but rather to recognise the general failure of the people to honour God in this aspect of common morality.  The prophets are united in condemning harlotry [e.g. Amos 2:7; Jeremiah 5:7].  No one born as result of adultery was allowed to belong to the assembly of the Lord [Deuteronomy 23:2].  No priest was permitted to marry a prostitute [Leviticus 21:7-14].  Also, if one were to make his daughter a prostitute, he would make the land fall into prostitution and thus it would become full of depravity [Leviticus 19:29].

It is bad enough when a woman feels herself forced into the sale of her own body in order to feed her children or to care for her own needs, but throughout our world today, women are sold into prostitution at a rate which can only be described as alarming.  In Sudan, Muslim slavers trade in the bodies of young girls and women.  Especially women from Christian villages are captured and sold into slavery, many forced into concubinage and prostitution.  Literally thousands of young Christian girls from the old Soviet Union were sold into prostitution in the Balkan states as a means of purging the state of Christians and coercing compliance with the communist ideal.  That trade in young women, especially young Christian women from Turkey, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, continues to this day.  Tragically, in recent years we have had reports even of Canadian Peace Keepers using young women in these countries to gratify their own sordid desires.  They justified their actions by noting that they could do nothing to help them in any case.

Young Chinese and Filipino women are smuggled into Canada where they are forced to prostitute themselves until they are either dead or diseased and aged beyond their years.  Young women from Latin America and Central America are similarly smuggled into the United States, lured by the promise of a better life and an adequate income to help support their families back home, only to discover that they are trapped by unscrupulous men intent on enriching themselves through trade in human flesh.

It is one thing to be tricked or even captured during a raid and forced into such a degrading condition, but how can one cope when her own parents sell her into slavery?  Impoverished parents in many Asian countries sell their daughters—many not yet in their teens—into prostitution.  Unscrupulous pimps purchase them and force them to service multiple men every day.  These children, some as young as ten and eleven, are beaten and raped until at last they simply surrender to the inevitable.  Their souls are forever scarred and their bodies brutalised.  Most will die young.  Thailand, Nepal, India and Pakistan are among countries noted for rampant sales of young women into prostitution.

I bring this up, not merely to inveigh against this wickedness, but to warn that when a Christian uses or condones pornography, he contributes to the spread of this slavery.  I pray for a generation of men who are pure in this regard.  I pray that we resist the pressure of a wicked age to condone such wickedness through deliberate blindness.  Our churches must become refuges for women who feel themselves helpless with nowhere to turn.  The strength of men within our churches must be employed to ensure that such women are protected from further harm.  The women of our churches must extend compassion to draw such women away from degradation and into the love of Christ the Lord.  May God make us a church marked by compassion and honesty where even the most desperate woman can find sanctuary and a haven.

An Analysis of the Views of Two Women — Of course it is obvious to us as we reflect on the account that Solomon’s decision was the right one.  The inescapable point of the account lies in its model of true motherhood.  Whether harlots or models of purity, the contrast between the two women is clear.  “The harlots are not here to be ridiculed, but to be pitied and wept over.  In her degradation and deprivation, the mother of the living child shows the lofty flight of the human spirit, the spirit of self-giving sacrifice on behalf of one beloved.  The other harlot typifies the meanness of which the human spirit is capable.  She can do nothing but hate, hate, hate, and comes up empty in the end.”[5]

We cannot help but be moved with compassion for the mother of the living child.  First, she endures the grief of having a child that has no father.  She is a whore, used by so many men that it is likely impossible to know who the father is.  No matter, she will love the child and make every effort to ensure that the baby has a better life than she has.  Sordid though her life may be, she will honour her Creator in caring for the life He has granted to her.  Then, the child is taken from her—she thinks—by death.  What seems to her God’s mysterious and awful act seemingly deprives her of the child whom she bore.  However, upon examination, she discovers that the dead child at her breast is not her baby!  First, she was bereaved and then she was robbed.  We can only imagine that she must also endure cruel taunts from the other woman, chiding her for carelessness in permitting her child to be smothered.  It is bad enough to surrender one’s baby to death, but to endure living in the same house with the evil woman who stole the baby would be unthinkable.  Better to be left bereft by God than to be robbed by such a companion.

To whom can the grieving mother turn?  The true mother turns to the King.  We are left to imagine that she neglects protocol and formality, so intent is she on her child.  There is no prostration before the king, none of the expected ceremonial speech, but only this unusual plea for justice—ynioda}AyBi—if it please my lord.  Gushing forth her passionate entreaty, one can only surmise that she is virtually breathless in relating the sordid tale.  Naturally, everything she says is contradicted by the wicked woman who not only is able to callously turn from her own child but steal the child of another woman.

The wicked mother of the dead baby wanted a baby of her own.  This desire for a baby to mother was stronger than her grief and love for her dead baby.  In trying to attach to herself the other woman’s baby, she was motivated equally strongly by her envy of the other woman who still had her baby.  It was this underlying motive that was the target of Solomon’s startling edict, Cut the living boy in two and give half to one and half to the other.[6]

Take particular notice of that phrase, her heart yearned for her son [verse twenty-six].  That is the way we would speak, but the Hebrew language is much more accurate.  Translating somewhat more literally, we would read that her bowels grew hot for her son.  The bowels (h;ym,j}r;) were the seat of the emotions in the reckoning of the ancient Hebrews.  The Phrase means literally ‘her bowels were in a ferment,’ or ‘grew hot…’”[7] Perhaps we would say we had a knot in our stomach, or that we felt sick to our stomach.  The point is, when she thought of her child she was overwhelmed with fear and a sense of dread.  This sense was exacerbated by the thought that this was her child who was imperilled.  Consequently, it was as though her stomach was on fire.

Professor Gray addresses this, exposing what is obscured through the translation.  “By the unusual form of the common root dWlY;h;, here a passive participle … meaning ‘the borne one,’ i.e. ‘the bairn,’ the mother recalls the bearing of the child whom she cannot see suffer.”[8]  The very thought that her child is imperilled causes a burning in the pit of her stomach.  Forced to decide between her immediate desire and the welfare of the child she bore, this mother concedes the day to her wicked foe.

Here we have a mother who yearns to be a mother.  She wants to nurture a child, to protect her infant, to mother her child.  Contrasted to her is a woman who seems at once odd and yet contemporary.  Paul writes of such women who will appear in the last days.  There would come a day when women would exchange[] the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! … For this reason God [would give] them up to dishonourable passions. Their women [would] exchange[] natural relations for those that are contrary to nature…  Paul continues by describing that society as one characterised with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. It would be a society full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. The people of that day will be gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless [see Romans 1:25-31].  In particular, heartless speaks of a lack of appreciation for family.  As such, it is a mark of social wickedness.

This list of wicked characteristics is echoed in 2 Timothy 3:1-5.  Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.  Again, among the societal characteristic of culture at the end of time is heartlessness [a[storgo~].  Natural affection, what we might otherwise speak of as “mother love” and “father love” will be uncommon.

Feminism has encouraged women to repress or distrust maternal desire.  Consequently, women today are arriving at middle age frustrated at the lack of opportunity to mother the children they hope for.  One woman, reflecting on the lack of fulfilled desires for a large family that she had as a young women, discovered that a growing number of young women want large families.  Opposed to that desire are the voices of doctrinaire feminists, enabled by self-serving males, demanding that women relinquish their attachment to spending time caring for their children.  This woman concludes her article with this thought.

“Amid all the doubts and worries young women face when it comes to combining not just work, but life and family, too few forces stand up for the seemingly senseless inner voice inside married women that says: I want (another) baby.  It makes no economic sense.  It won’t help my career.  It’s enormously inefficient.

“It’s just the greatest thing in the world.”[9]

I would not compel any young woman to enter casually into motherhood.  However, as a messenger of the Cross, I will insist that Christ transforms the heart of all who come to Him, and that transformed, young women—to say nothing of young men—will seek to honour Him through finding His will for their lives.  For the most part, women who receive Him as Lord will discover that Christ is honoured as they learn to love their husbands and children, becoming self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands [cf. Titus 2:3, 4].

Perhaps it is that we are essentially untaught in this day late in the Church Age.  Perhaps, however, it is that we are willing to settle for—or even to actively desire—an incomplete and a truncated salvation.  Hoping to be inoculated against condemnation, we seek a Saviour who is willing to redeem us but leave us to conduct our lives as we desire.  Such a message must be exposed as false and the message of the Cross clearly explained.  Christ saves us from condemnation, to be certain.  However, His salvation will purify us and make us suited for His Kingdom.

What else can be meant by the Word that the Apostle has delivered for all time?  By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them [Ephesians 2:8-10].

This is the call of this church, a call both to freedom from guilt and freedom from the slavery of sin.  This is the message we declare, that the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works [Titus 2:11-14].

This day can be a day of new beginning for all who will believe this message of life.  If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” [Romans 10:9-13].


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[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version.  Wheaton: Good News Publishers, 2001.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

[2] Jenell Williams Paris, When Mother’s Day Is Hard,

[3] Flavius Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews (Hendrickson, Peabody MA) VIII, #2

[4] Cf. John Gray, I & II Kings (2nd Edition), The Old Testament Library (Westminster Press, Philadelphia, PA 1964, 1970) 128

[5] Simon J. DeVries, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 12, 1 Kings (Word, Waco, TX 1985) 58

[6] Holman Christian Standard Bible, Nashville, TN, Holman Bible Publishers, 2000

[7] Gray, op. cit. 129

[8] Gray, op. cit. 129

[9] Maggie Gallagher, What do mothers want?

[10] Jenell Williams Paris, When Mother’s Day Is Hard,

[11] Cf. John Gray, I & II Kings (2nd Edition), The Old Testament Library (Westminster Press, Philadelphia, PA 1964, 1970) 128

[12] Simon J. DeVries, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 12, 1 Kings (Word, Waco, TX 1985) 58

[13] Gray, op. cit. 129

[14] Maggie Gallagher, What do mothers want?

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