“A Real Mom”
(1 Kings 3:16-28)
A Mother’s Day Message
Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson
•I invite you to take your Bibles and join me this morning in 1 Kings, chapter 3 (page 234; YouVersion).
We are interrupting our verse-by-verse study of the Book of James in order to study a passage that has implications for Mother’s Day. Having said that, I will warn you that this passage is not a typical Mother’s Day passage! Over the years we have studied the more obvious biblical passages for Mother’s Day including reading in the New Testament about Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice, and Hannah and her love for little Samuel in the Old Testament. Great passages and great biblical texts to use on Mother’s Day.
This morning, however, we are reading about a couple of women who don’t usually come to mind on Mother’s Day. In 1 Kings chapter 3 we are told that the two women came before King Solomon to ask him to judge and render a decision on a very dark and troublesome matter.
People went to see King Solomon because he had the wisdom of God within. Many of you know that God once appeared to Solomon in a dream and told him he could have anything he wished. Wow! What would you ask for if God said, “I’ll give you anything you want?!”
Solomon, rather than asking for things like riches and long life, asked for wisdom. So God gave him wisdom and, because he had not asked for things like riches and long life, God gave Solomon all of those things, too! So people went to see King Solomon, people like these two women.
These two women each had a newborn child roughly the same age. And something tragic had happened one evening that occasioned their need to see the king that he might issue a ruling and settle a dispute. Let’s read about it, picking up in verse 17.
•Please stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.
17 And one woman said, “O my lord, this woman and I dwell in the same house; and I gave birth while she was in the house.
18 Then it happened, the third day after I had given birth, that this woman also gave birth. And we were together; no one was with us in the house, except the two of us in the house.
19 And this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him.
20 So she arose in the middle of the night and took my son from my side, while your maidservant slept, and laid him in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom.
21 And when I rose in the morning to nurse my son, there he was, dead. But when I had examined him in the morning, indeed, he was not my son whom I had borne.”
22 Then the other woman said, “No! But the living one is my son, and the dead one is your son.” And the first woman said, “No! But the dead one is your son, and the living one is my son.” Thus they spoke before the king.
These two women may, at first, may seem unlikely candidates for a sermon on Mother’s Day. But there are a few things that happen in this true, historical account that helps us see the love of real mothers for their children.
Before we talk about that specifically, think about what has just happened. These two women appear before King Solomon in what is really his first “Test Case” to show the world that the wisdom of God dwells within him.
One woman tells the king that the two of them live in the same house. The first woman gives birth and three days later the other woman gives birth. Now there are two women each with a newborn baby. Tragically one evening one of the women accidentally rolls over in the night and unintentionally kills her child. So this same woman deceptively sneaks over to where the other woman lay with her child and exchanges her dead child for the living child belonging to the other woman.
So the next morning the other woman wakes and begins to nurse her child and discovers this dead baby in her arms. Imagine her horror to have made this discovery, but then, upon closer examination she realizes this child is not her own, but the child of the other woman. She looks over at the other woman and sees her own living child in the other woman’s arms. But the other woman denies this and says, “No. The living child is mine and the dead child is yours!”
Well, this is the scenario brought before the king and he’s to determine who’s telling the truth and who’s lying. We are told in this passage that there are no other witnesses. It’s just one woman’s testimony against the other’s. Unlike today, there is no possibility of DNA testing. King Solomon merely hears the case and must render a decision.
After hearing the two women testify, the king restates the quandary aloud for the benefit of all present in the room, including the court reporter. Verse 23:
23 And the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son, who lives, and your son is the dead one’; and the other says, ‘No! But your son is the dead one, and my son is the living one.’”
Well, that was the problem, precisely. When Solomon had asked God for wisdom back in verse 9, he had asked for an understanding heart so that, in addition to leading God’s people, he might also “discern between good and evil.”
So here is Solomon now, immediately put into a position where he needs to discern between good and evil. Who is telling the truth and who is lying? It is easy for some of us to know which of the two women is telling the truth because some of us have read the story more than a few times! But imagine being in Solomon’s place here.
Actually, I believe Solomon already knew which woman was telling the truth as he sat there observing these two women, watching their body language, listening to them speak. His wisdom, after all, is a supernatural wisdom. He probably knew which of the two was the truth teller and which one the liar only moments after they entered the room. He waits patiently to hear them speak, then sums up the predicament, “Who’s son is the living one?” And then, a brilliant solution comes in verse 24:
24 Then the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So they brought a sword before the king.
25 And the king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to one, and half to the other.”
Now imagine the reaction of every person in that room. The king’s attendants freeze. The stenographer stops transcribing. The king’s handlers and bodyguards stop breathing for a moment. The king had ordered that the baby be divided into two and distributed evenly to the two women.
So one of the king’s men draws a sword from its sheath and, as it is drawn up from the hard leather of the sheath, it makes that familiar ringing sound and then one of the women gasps. Verse 26:
26 Then the woman whose son was living spoke to the king, for she yearned with compassion for her son; and she said, “O my lord, give her the living child, and by no means kill him!” But the other said, “Let him be neither mine nor yours, but divide him.”
The one woman cries out, “Give her the living child! Just let him live!” The other woman, however, reveals the callousness of her own sinful heart, a heart that would rather see a child die than to see another woman enjoy the blessing of childbearing. It’s the heart a person who does not walk with God, evidence of the fall and the depravity of one’s sinful nature.
So the hard-hearted woman says at the end of verse 26, “Kill the baby.” That is, in essence, what she says. She says, “Let him be neither mine nor yours, but divide him.” Verse 27:
27 So the king answered and said, “Give the first woman the living child, and by no means kill him; she is his mother.”
Classic! The true mother, the real mom, is the one willing to give her child to the other woman if it is the only way to save his life. So the true mother becomes evident when the sword is drawn and the child’s life is in danger.
And again, I believe Solomon already knew which mother was lying and which was telling the truth but you see by this stroke of genius, Solomon’s calling for the sword, he brings what he knows to be true out in the open for all to see. It really is quite remarkable and an evidence that the wisdom of God was in him. And that’s precisely how the writer sums up this chapter in the last verse, verse 28:
28 And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had rendered; and they feared the king, for they saw—and here is the main point of the narrative—that the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice.
That is the main point of this chapter: It becomes clear to all the people the land that, “The wisdom of God,” the wisdom of the One True God, “was in him,” was in Solomon.
And yet, while that is clearly the one main point of the narrative, there are implications here for real moms on Mother’s Day.
Solomon acted in a way to determine the “real mom.” And this passage identifies a few characteristics of real moms, authentic mothers. These characteristics prove helpful to us this morning. Let me encourage you to consider at least three characteristics of real moms in the time remaining. First:
I. Real Moms are Imperfect
I hope that’s an encouragement this morning to every mother in the room! Real moms are imperfect. They are not perfect. They are not sinless.
It’s a matter of record that these two women in the passage here had made mistakes, that they had done wrong. In fact, they both had a dark and shady past. We wouldn’t know that were it not for the way the two are described back in verse 16:
16 Now two women who were harlots came to the king, and stood before him.
It’s a small, but important detail that easily overlooked in the overall drama of the narrative. These two women are described as harlots, as prostitutes. They are hookers. I know! It kind of shocks us, maybe it changes our view of these two women. If we bristle a little and feel kind of unclean then that may reveal a sort of self-righteous expectation that these women are not supposed to be so—well, imperfect.
Make no mistake: The Bible here is not endorsing prostitution. That is not the point. But it explains why neither of the two had a husband present as they stood before Solomon and why these babies had no father hanging around. It also explains why the two women were dwelling in the same house. You may remember that from verses 17 and 18. They lived in the same house, probably a brothel, a house of ill repute, a place where men came to engage in illicit sexual activity.
A woman does not have to be sinless to be a real, loving, caring mother.
How many of us are familiar with the “Proverbs 31 woman?” The Proverbs 31 woman gets up early, buys and sells, cooks, cleans, makes clothing, changes the tires of the pickup truck, puts another log on the fire and takes off her husband’s cowboy boots at night, loves, cares for the children, loves her husband, he praises her, the kids praise her. It’s just almost—unbelievable.
I love Proverbs 31, but if that’s the only passage we know about motherhood we may wrongly think that every woman is to be this impossibly perfect woman of Proverbs 31. There’s not a single negative word about the woman in the entire chapter! I’ll bet if we had a personal interview, an “off the record” moment with her husband he’d be like, “Well, yeah, you know, she’s not perfect! She does sin!” Well, of course she does. As Paul states it much later in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Real moms are imperfect.
Isn’t it encouraging to know that, even when we make a mess our lives and goof up because of poor choices, isn’t it encouraging to know that God’s grace is still available to us? At the point of our confession and repentance God sheds His grace broadly upon us.
The church should be zealous for moral purity—and equally zealous to extend the forgiving graces of love, hope, and redemption to sinners.
Never forget that the church is not a place for perfect people, but for imperfect people. Jesus said, “I didn’t come for people who don’t think they need a doctor. I came for people who know they are sick (cf Mark 2:17).” The church is a hospital for sinners.
Real moms are imperfect.
Ladies, aren’t you glad that God loves imperfect mothers? And God also loves the little babies of imperfect mothers.
God gives His wisdom to Solomon so that the little child’s real mother can properly care for him.
God gives wisdom to mothers who seek it. God guides honest mothers who know they are imperfect. He guides and blesses married moms as well as single moms, adoptive moms, foster moms.
This is also a point of encouragement to those of us who know we have imperfect mothers—or know that we have had imperfect mothers. Some of you may feel like, “Well, you just don’t know my mother!” Yes, and yet you are here. She did some things right. Surely you can thank God for some things she did in her care for you, even if she did make a number of mistakes.
After all, we as imperfect children know that we have let down our own Heavenly Parent, God the Father. The Bible says in Ephesians 4:32, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”
Real moms are imperfect. Secondly:
II. Real Moms are Compassionate
Real moms have a maternal love for their children. You really see this first in the passage where the Bible says in verse 21 that the real mother who was deceptively given the dead child in the night, verse 21, “examined him in the morning,” concluding that, “he was not my son whom I had borne.”
The implication is that this mother really knew her own child. She was able to tell that this other child who had been placed in her bosom was not her child. Remember that this is a time before electricity and modern lighting. In the ancient near east, when it was dark at night, it was dark at night! Here is this woman the next morning when the sun begins to shine outside and she is looking at this baby and realizes it is not her baby.
For many of us, one newborn baby looks like another. I can’t tell the difference. Maybe it’s a guy thing! I can be at the hospital and someone is showing me a newborn and I really can’t tell. I mean, it’s cute and everything, but I can’t tell one from another. People are talking and asking, “Does it look like the mother or the father?” and I think, “Well, you know. It pretty much looks like a newborn baby.”
But this mother in 1 Kings 3 knew straightway that this child was not her own because she had lovingly looked over every detail of this child. This is what mothers do. Real moms love their children. She looked at the color of his eyes, his facial features, his length, any beautiful birthmarks, the way he cooed and cried. Love for child.
Sometimes when we get angry at our mothers it is helpful to remember that we were once this little helpless bundle and that our mothers spent an enormous amount of time caring for our needs.
Real moms are compassionate.
That very word, the word compassion, is even found in the New King James translation of this passage. Right after King Solomon orders that the child be divided in two, verse 26 says, “Then the woman whose son was living spoke to the king, for she yearned with compassion for her son…”
No matter the circumstances of how this baby was conceived, there is a real compassionate love of a mother for her child. No matter the poor choices or the regretful decisions, a real mother’s love for her child is constant.
I remember when I was younger and my parents divorced, I remember being concerned that my mother would resent me because of my father and that I looked a lot like my father, often acted like my father, and even my handwriting looked like my father’s.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that my mother loved me and that she would never hold my father’s mistakes against me. I want to encourage those of you who find yourselves in similar circumstances: your mother’s love for you is constant.
And God loves, you too. God loved this little child in the passage, even though it was conceived in such sin and there was so much against this child. Remember that it is God’s wisdom working through Solomon to care for this child. And God’s wisdom is available to all mothers who ask Him for it. James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, ask of God and He will give it without reproach.”
Real Moms are Imperfect. Real Moms are Compassionate. Thirdly:
III. Real Moms are Sacrificial
Real moms are willing to sacrifice for their children. Real moms are willing to give up things in order to bless their children.
Sacrifice is seen here in the text in verse 26, again right after Solomon issues the order to divide the living child in half, verse 26:
Then the woman whose son was living spoke to the king, for she yearned with compassion for her son; and she said, “O my lord, give her the living child, and by no means kill him!” But the other said, “Let him be neither mine nor yours, but divide him.”
The real mother was willing to give up her child.
More important than defending herself and arguing her case, the real mom was willing to give up her son entirely. “Give her the living child,” she cried.
Personal sacrifice is the higher calling of parenthood. Many of us can look back and thank our mother’s for their personal sacrifice—beginning with walking around for several months looking like they’ve swallowed a basketball!
And then there are those times of caring for, nurturing, providing for this little child; sacrificing their own wants for the wants of the child.
Ideally, children thrive best when their parents follow God’s ideal for marriage: one man and one woman—faithfully wedded to each other in biblical marriage—and raising the child together; the dad as the spiritual leader, provider, and protector; the mother lovingly nurturing and caring for the child.
And this passage gives tremendous hope especially to single parents who sacrifice for their children. My mother often did without when I was younger so that I would have. Some of you can share the same praise.
In any case, the mother’s role is not an easy one. Years ago, one woman wrote a letter to a newspaper columnist expressing her frustration with the stereotypical views of “Stay-at-home-mothers.” She writes:
I’m so tired of all those ignorant people who come up to my husband and ask him if his wife has a full-time job or if she’s “just a house-wife.” . . . Here’s my job description:
I’m a wife, mother, friend, confidant, personal advisor, lover, referee, peacemaker, housekeeper, laundress, chauffeur, interior decorator, gardener, painter, wall paperer, dog groomer, veterinarian, manicurist, barber, seamstress, appointment manager, financial planner, bookkeeper, money manager, personal secretary, teacher, disciplinarian, entertainer, psychoanalyst, nurse, diagnostician, public relations expert, dietitian and nutritionist, baker, chef, fashion coordinator and letter writer for both sides of the family.
I am also a travel agent, speech therapist, plumber and automobile maintenance and repair expert . . .
From the studies done, it would cost more than $75,000 a year to replace me. I took time out of my busy day to write this letter…because there are still ignorant people who believe a housewife is nothing more than a baby sitter who sits on her behind all day and [watches TV]. (Ann Landers, May 1988, quoted in Mom, You’re Incredible, by Linda Weber, Focus on the Family, 1994, pp. 23–24)
Real Moms are Imperfect, Compassionate—and Sacrificial.
•Stand for prayer.
God knows what it is like for mothers. God knows what it is like to have children go astray. Don’t you think God’s heart breaks when His children go astray? I mean, God is perfect, the perfect parent!! Yet, even His children break His heart at times.
God is the perfect parent with perfect love, and He made a perfect sacrifice. God gave His only Son for a world of wayward children.
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