Sunday as I started a walk in hopes of praying my way through the massive bunny trails of this week's verse, I saw a familiar neighborhood figure. A mentally-challenged young man, known to go happily through the neighborhood with his ear connected to his phone, and shouting out the occasional unintelligible thing, that only he understands. And I thought to myself- how DOES one pray for this man? Is he among those that some pastors tell you "are not responsible for their sins" due to lack of understanding and thus "automatically" eligible for heaven? Where is the dividing line? In the end, I said, "It wouldn't matter if I knew his ACTUAL circumstance down to the slightest detail- I'm still not smart enough, qualified enough, to make that judgment."
And God, knowing that this would be the point of this whole lesson, finally released to me the one word in our verse that taught the real lesson. Before I get to that, let me take you down the wealth of bunny trails you will need to see the message entire.
First, the verse in question.
16 Then came there two women, that were harlots, unto the king, and stood before him.
Many of you would recognize this as the start of the famous story of King Solomon threatening to cut the baby in two to determine the mother. If not, here's the very fast thumbnail. Woman number one explains that the two women had recently given birth. Woman #2 had rolled over on hers and killed it; got up in the middle of the night, and switched babies. The next morning, Woman #1 could tell the dead baby wasn't hers. Woman #2 claimed hers was the live child. Solomon said, Fine, let's just chop it in half and you can each have part. Woman #1 said no, spare the child, #2 said fine, split it. Solomon knew the real mother was the one who was willing to give him up to spare his life, case closed.
Bunny Trail one: Harlots? Really?
This is the most contentious part of the whole thing, and gives you a lot to think about. First, while EVERY Bible version I've looked at translates the word as harlot, whore, or prostitute, nearly all the commentators point out that the word actually used COULD- and probably DID- mean something else. The original word is from a "primitive root" that meant one thing and through shoestring association came to mean another: highly fed and therefore wanton. We could debate all day on how being highly or well fed leads to being wanton- and so they did. Most commentators look to ancient Chaldee translations and historical writers who took the fed part and said that this actually indicated an innkeeper, or a waitress, or as Wesley said, "a victualler"- one in charge of feeding the sailors of a ship. In other words, someone who serves for money- the debate being over just what they were serving.
Now to me, this makes an awful lot of sense. After all, the same word was used of Rahab at Jericho. Think about it. You are an Israelite spy, bound by Israelite law. Where would you go to learn information- a whorehouse or the local beer joint? Look at her in Matthew's genealogy of Christ. Bathsheba, an adulteress, was called "she who had been married to Uriah the Hittite". Didn't get named. But Rahab DID get named- does it make sense that she'd get named had she been a prostitute? Or that Salmon, a prince of the people, would have then MARRIED her?
Of course, the other end of that logic brings us to Judah's daughter in law Tamar- who DID "play a prostitute" with him to get the child that would continue the line of the Messiah. Yep, same word used.
Let me take a second tack. According to the story, they were living alone together, no men involved. Some commentators try to excuse that away by saying the men were "on the road". The Rabbis believed they had both lost husbands very recently. Or, perhaps never had husbands. This was more likely than the "travelling salesmen" bit, because Solomon would have been required by the norms of the day to ask where their hubbies were. Now, to me, a two girl whorehouse with two pregnant girls is not the classic definition of a successful venture. Could this have been a "halfway house" whether for the recently widowed, or harlots who messed up their birth control? It seems likely to me; but we really don't know. All we can really deduce from what we know of them is that they were NOT what one might call "members of polite society", with a nuclear family and a husband taking care of such matters. Which is a lot more sympathetic way to look at them than calling them "harlots" and moving on.
Bunny Trail two: How came you here?
One commentator flat says they couldn't be prostitutes as we understand, as they would not then have had access to the king. In fact, by Davidic Law, Solomon would have been obliged to pass the death sentence on the lot of them. Another says they came to Solomon because they had already went through the lower judges and they threw up their hands in the matter. Either way, they came. Why did they come?
The Jews ignored the whole harlot thing altogether. They looked at it on a strictly legal basis- the basis of which we'll look at in a bit. And the crucial law was that of Yibbum. This is that law about, if a man dies without heir, his wife goes to the first brother, that he might raise up heirs with her for the dead brother. So they start from speculating that one or both of the women were seeking to avoid that. The one with the living child would be off the hook; but because 30 days hadn't passed between the dead child's birth and death, the other was still on the hook. A bit cold, but it would tend to explain a bit of the heartlessness of Woman #2. Some, but not all- and this is where the Jews go from cold to bizarre.
The Midrash (Yalknt Shimoni 2:175) asserts that the husbands of the two women were father and son, making the two women, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law to each other.
So now, daughter-in-law accidentally kills the baby. She would have to marry the bro-in-law according to Yibbum- and that bro-in-law WAS THE OTHER BABY! Now, there is a way out of that- a lovely ceremony called Chalitzah:
The process involves the widow making a declaration, taking off a shoe of the brother (i.e. her brother-in-law), and spitting in his face. Through this ceremony, the brother and any other brothers are released from the obligation of marrying the woman for the purpose of conceiving a child which would be considered the progeny of the deceased man. The ceremony of chalitzah makes the widow free to marry whomever she desires.
Problem being, baby bro-in-law has to be Bar-Mitzvahed before they can do Chalitzah; So she'd be stuck married to an infant for roughly 13 years before she could get out of it. If the kid was hers, she could do what she wanted. If the kid was DEAD, she could do what she wanted. Thus she wasn't upset at Solomon splitting the child in two.
Interesting theory, but the big problem here is that you have to accept that Mom-in-law had been pumping out kids for at least 15 years and only had two boys- the first one and the last one.
So I'm going to suggest something completely different- yet lined up with where we'll be going: The ladies went to the lower judges, who thought, well, if we want to get rid of this boy king, here's a case that will do it for us. And that's how they came there.
Bunny Trail three: And Solomon came up with this brilliant idea...
There are two ways that the Jews looked at Solomon's incredible wisdom in this case. Let's call the first one, "the case of courts". They believe that there were three times that God Himself spoke to settle a case. The first they call the court of Shem. Shem, of course, was Noah's son, and through him the tradition says the first courts of judgment were established. However, the CASE they site is the previously mentioned case of Judah and Tamar- but called the Court of Shem since its rules were still being enforced by Shem's grandson Eber, who my best timeline says was already dead by this point, but let's go with it. In this court, Judah had slept with the disguised Tamar and produced twins. Judah was set to kill her for her incestual seduction of him, but she said, "I wouldn't have had to do this to get a child had you obeyed the Yibbum (because her first husband, the elder son of Judah, died before they got pregnant, the second one died because he tried to weasel out of Yibbum and God killed him, and Judah was afraid to give her to #3.)" At this point, He relents, saying, "She was more righteous in this than I"... but the Rabbis believed that was not him, but God, that said it.
The second court was the court of Samuel. This happened when the people wanted him to name a king, and he refused to until they testified under the witness OF THE LORD AND HIS ANNOINTED that he was off the hook for this sin. The Bible says they so agreed... the Jews say it was God who said, "I so witness." The third is this story, the "court of Solomon", and when in verse 27 he says, "She (woman #1 ) is the mother thereof," that God actually said that.
A little more common sense is the second way they look at it, which we'll call the, "Wow, he is smart" method... which brings us a step closer to our point.
Let me bring back our verse, and tie this all up, remembering the Kalko Rule and the Real Question Rules.
16 Then came there two women, that were harlots, unto the king, and stood before him.
The key word to this verse? The first one- THEN.
You see, the ten verses before tell the story of how, after Solomon had went up to Gibeon to sacrifice to the Lord, God came to him in a dream, offering the young king whatever he wanted.
1Ki 3:6 And Solomon said, "You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day.
1Ki 3:7 And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in.
1Ki 3:8 And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude.
1Ki 3:9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?"
See, just like me at the beginning of this story, Solomon KNEW he knew NOTHING. Just like me, to do his job- or to answer MY question- he would need a greater discernment, a God-given discernment. The only problem for asking for such a valuable, such a POWERFUL gift- and one the Lord was and is more than willing to give- is that you don't just get it to sit on it. You'll be tested on it. And FAST.
And that is what was happening here. Once again, the Jews added a little insight to this. Solomon's courtiers, they said, were at first aghast of his solution:
He specifically commanded his servants to bring the sword to him, not to give it to one of the guards. They too, were no doubt fooled and he did not want them to divide the baby before he had a chance to stop them. In fact, the King's ministers said "Woe to you Oh Land, whose king is but a boy!" They thought "what has God done to us to give us such a king? How long will we have to suffer with such foolish judgments?" But afterwards, when they saw the women's reactions they knew that he had recently received Divine inspiration and rejoiced saying "Happy are you, oh Land, whose king is a free man!" - i.e., one who studies Torah .
So the test isn't what man thinks of you- but if you followed what GOD has shown you.
There is a certain someone who might get a little upset at what I am about to add- and I hope this person doesn't take it that way. Last Wednesday, this person added a FB comment about "stretching." I wasn't sure how to take that. Was it referring to the Jewish sources, whom I often (and I think rightly) accuse of stretching to get a point- or was it about ME, stretching to gain what I thought was God's valuable lesson about judging? It hurt my pride- which told me I had a problem. Was I about to let this whole project come down to being about me, about the bunny trails I could learn from? Was I going off track? I think that question was why this had this sort of conclusion. I don't mind stretching the way we look at these verses, if it helps us to grow, to think outside the box. Like our two women- think about what we would call a "harlot" these days. Look at that poor girl who got shamed for wearing an oriental-themed dress to prom "when she wasn't oriental". What did you think of Tamar, of Rahab, of the two women BEFORE this? But the end of it has to be like Solomon, ADMITTING that God knows best. Realizing that compared to God, we are all "going happily through the neighborhood with our ear connected to our phone, and shouting out the occasional unintelligible thing, that only we understand. "
Yep, I LIKE stretching.