Why Did Solomon Threaten to Cut a Baby in Half?
I was recently asked if there was a deeper meaning to Solomon’s threat to cut a baby in half, which would have killed the innocent child. The only interpretation this person had heard was about Solomon’s wisdom and perhaps also the consequences of harlotry. I was asked to use ancient Hebraic methods to uncover a deeper meaning from this story.
I will share with you my search of the Scriptures, not that I expect you to agree with me (you may or may not agree). However, I encourage you to journey with me through relevant biblical passages, and consider how I drew out deeper meaning.
I started by reading the story in English, which you will find in 1 Kings 3:16-28. Two harlots had each born a child. Sleeping together in the same house (and the same bed), one baby was inadvertently smothered to death by one of the women. Each claimed that the other had caused the death, and that the living child was hers. They both came to King Solomon and asked for his judgment. King Solomon represents God in this story.
As I read the passage I was listening for anything that would have startled and alerted the ancient listeners. I was drawn immediately to 1 Kings 3:18.
And it happened on the third day after I gave birth, that this woman also gave birth to a child, and we were together. There was no stranger with us in the house, only the two of us in the house. (1 Kings 3:18)
Does anything in this verse generate your curiosity? Read it again and “listen” as the people of ancient Israel would have “heard” anything unusual in this passage.
“Three days” is obvious for a believer in Christ, so I simply bypassed that one. Instead, I was drawn to “we were together” and “there was no stranger in the house.” I started with the concept of “together.” You can use an online concordance (I recommend http://biblehub.com) to identify the Hebrew word that has been translated “together,” and to see where in the Hebrew Scriptures this Hebrew word is used.
The Jewish sages believed that the first appearance of a word was relevant and marked a significant meaning. In all my work in Scripture, I have come to agree with them. The Hebrew word isיָחְדָּו(yachdav). It first appears in Genesis 13:6-7 where Abraham and Lot realized that the hill country of Israel would not support both of them and their animals. Lot insisted on taking the fertile valley of the Jordan River where Sodom and Gomorrah were located.
The land could not support them [Abraham and Lot] while they stayed together [יָחְדָּו], for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together [יָחְדָּו]. And quarreling arose between Abram’s herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot. (Gen 13:6-7)
Stop and consider this startling use of “being together.” The opposite of together is separation and division. Abraham and Lot were not able to live together in unity which led first to quarreling and then to the dramatic destruction of the land (inheritance) that Lot had selected for himself. Does this scenario of division sound familiar in your own life today or in the lives of those around you?
I was using a biblical language software program known as Bible Works to examine the use of the Hebrew word יָחְדָּו, and I was startled to see that the word sometimes implies two parties (or objects) that are bound together in an equal relationship. The software program suggested a verse that conveyed this meaning, which was a description of the construction of the tabernacle.
You shall make two boards for the corners of the tabernacle at the rear. They shall be double beneath, and together [יָחְדָּו] they shall be complete to its top to the first ring; thus it shall be with both of them: they shall form the two corners. (Ex 26:23-24)
The tabernacle was the dwelling place of God where He met with His people (through the intermediary, Moses). The tabernacle had to be perfect. By putting two parts together in a way that made the two separate parts equal, we are told, “They shall be complete.” Thus, two that are unified in an equal relationship are whole and complete. This is our desired relationship with God. When we are not unified as one with Him, we are divided and separated from our God.
As I continued to work on this passage on Solomon and cutting the baby in half, I will share another aspect of the story that caught my attention. Listen to the following verses and let your mind wander around Scripture to hear what I call an “echo.” That is, the passage about Solomon’s threat to cut a baby in half stimulates another biblical passage in your mind. I will give you a hint. The echo is in one of the New Testament parables.
Then the other woman said, “No! For the living one is my son, and the dead one is your son.” But the first woman said, “No! For the dead one is your son, and the living one is my son.” Thus they spoke before the king.
Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son who is living, and your son is the dead one’; and the other says, ‘No! For your son is the dead one, and my son is the living one.’” (1 Kings 3:22-23)
Do you hear the echo?
Go to the Parable of the Prodigal Son in the Gospel of Luke, and this is what you will find.
This son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found. (Luke 15:24)
The concept of “life” in Scripture has two powerful nuances of meaning. One is the opposite of death, and is associated with the promise of future eternal life with God. This first meaning of “life” is typically the only understanding that most people have of the parable. However, the other meaning of “life” is to be “walking” in true life that comes from a close relationship with our Lord Yeshua, who is drawing us to God the Father. In the parable, the prodigal son was dead, not in the sense of being buried in the ground, but dead in the relationship with his father.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son also conveys a second powerful meaning which is about the inheritance of God’s children. The firstborn son in the parable (the prodigal’s older brother) had been born to the birthright simply because he was born first. However, the oldest son lost this special inheritance when his father placed the signet ring on the finger of his younger, prodigal son. The older brother was still the father’s son and would still inherit, but his inheritance would not be a position of leadership (a role in both this life and the future) that the birthright conveys. Yeshua was speaking the Parable of the Prodigal Son in the presence of the Pharisees, who had been born to the birthright as all the children of Israel are born to the birthright as God’s firstborn son (see Ex 4:22). However, only those whom God deems worthy will receive the special inheritance of the birthright (see, for example, the story of Esau and Jacob). The Pharisees saw themselves as righteous, but sometime in the future, when they will apparently not be selected as worthy to inherit the birthright, there will be “wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Mat 13:42, 50).
Before returning to the story of Solomon and his threat to cut a baby in half, I will take you to one last appearance of יָחְדָּו in the Hebrew Scriptures, which I found to be the most exciting of all.
Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar.
Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!”
So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Ex 24:6-8)
In the Hebrew Scriptures blood represents “life” (Gen 9:4). In our passage in Exodus, the blood that was poured on the altar at the time of an animal sacrifice signified the life that comes from God. But notice that the other half of the blood was poured into basins, and this blood was sprinkled on the people. Furthermore, the blood that was sprinkled on the people brought them into a covenant relationship with God. God instructed them in righteousness through His Law, which taught them how to come into His presence. The people then responded by their commitment to obey the Law, which generates a walk of righteousness that actually brings them into His presence. True life exists only in God, who is imparting that life to His people. Our life with the righteous God can only occur when we are righteous.
Now we can return to the story of Solomon and his threat to cut the baby in two. I suggest that the deeper meaning is in God’s selection, not of “who will be saved” and “who will not be saved,” but His choice of those who are worthy to inherit the birthright. In my research I have come to associate the remnant with those whom God deems worthy to inherit the birthright. Of the two women who came to Solomon, the king’s judgment declared which one was righteous. When one woman said, “The living one is my son, and the dead one is your son,” she was speaking truthfully whereas the other woman was lying. Thus, life existed in her son, which is the life of God and can only come about through a walk of righteousness. The woman with the living son represents those whom God will deem worthy to inherit the birthright.
So, ask yourself these questions. Is there division in your life in personal and/or group relationships? If so, how can you restore a condition of unity? Does your heart desire to walk in righteousness? (Fortunately God only sees the heart). Are you growing in your relationship with your Lord Yeshua, and is Yeshua bringing you into the presence of the Father? Are you walking in “true life” with joy in your heart? Do you have an intense desire to be with the remnant in a future role that God is asking of those whom He will select?
I do not have time in this article to walk you through the other concept that caught my curiosity – “There was no stranger in the house.” However, if you know how to use the ancient Hebraic methods of searching the Scriptures, you can do that work on your own. If you want more instruction on these ancient methods, I suggest two things. First, a way to get started is with the book, “Recovering Ancient Methods of Bible Study,” which is available from Amazon. However, if you really want to learn how to use these ancient methods, I suggest that you purchase my 12 lectures on DVD that come with a workbook. That way you will not only learn about the methods but you will also be given ample opportunity to practice using them. The DVDs and the workbook are available from BibleInteract.