3 Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father; only, he sacrificed and burnt incense at the high places. 4 And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings upon that altar. 5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream[a] by night; and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” 6 And Solomon said, “Thou hast shown great and steadfast love to thy servant David my father, because he walked before thee in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward thee; and thou hast kept for him this great and steadfast love, and hast given him a son to sit on his throne this day. 7 And now, O Lord my God, thou hast made thy 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. 8 And thy servant is in the midst of thy people whom thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered or counted for multitude.9 Give thy servant therefore an understanding mind to govern thy people, that I may discern between good and evil; for who is able to govern this thy great people?”
10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. 13 I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days.14 And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.”
15 And Solomon awoke, and behold, it was a dream. Then he came to Jerusalem, and stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and offered up burnt offerings and peace offerings, and made a feast for all his servants.
Solomon’s Wisdom in Judgment
16 Then two harlots came to the king, and stood before him. 17 The one woman said, “Oh, my lord, this woman and I dwell in the same house; and I gave birth to a child while she was in the house. 18 Then on the third day after I was delivered, 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. 19 And this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on it. 20 And she arose at midnight, and took my son from beside me, while your maidservant slept, and laid it in her bosom, and laid her dead son in my bosom. 21 When I rose in the morning to nurse my child, behold, it was dead; but when I looked at it closely in the morning, behold, it was not the child that I had borne.” 22 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.
23 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.’” 24 And the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So a sword was brought before the king. 25 And the king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other.” 26 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 slay it.” But the other said, “It shall be neither mine nor yours; divide it.” 27 Then the king answered and said, “Give the living child to the first woman, and by no means slay it; she is its mother.” 28 And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had rendered; and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to render justice.
3.5 a dream: A common means of divine communication, especially before the age of the prophets.
Solomon’s request of God
3:2–14. The “high places” (v. 2) were altars built in open country, on the top of some hill, and under a shady tree, where Canaanites and Israelites of this period offered sacrifices to the divinity. From the time of King Josiah’s reform in 622 this type of worship was expressly forbidden in case the worship of God should become associated with worship of local gods, baals (cf. 2 Kings 23:4–20).
Gibeon, about 10 km. (6 miles) northwest of Jerusalem, belonged to the tribe of Benjamin (cf. Josh 18:25) and was one of the cities given over to the Levites (cf. Josh 21:17) in which, according to Chronicles, the desert tent or tabernacle was kept for a time (cf. 1 Chron 21:29). The fact that the Lord should speak to Solomon here also means that he is confirming him as king of Israel.
Solomon’s request pleases the Lord because it is made with humility (cf. v. 7) and because he asks not for material things but for “an understanding mind” so as to be able to govern well (vv. 9–14). Solomon’s request is an anticipation of the proper order which, according to Christ’s teaching, should be present in prayer of petition: “The one Master and Lord teaches us how and in what order we ought to pray to God for the things we want; since we indicate and express our desires and petitions in prayer, then we pray properly and well when the order of our petitions matches the right order of desires. True charity teaches us that we ought to dedicate ourselves and all our desires to God; God, the supreme Good, deserves the highest form of love. And God cannot be loved from the heart, exclusively, if his honour and glory are not valued above all other things and creatures; all good things, those we have and those we do not possess, all things that are called good, must be subordinated to the supreme Good from whom they derive their goodnes” (Roman Catechism, 4, 10, 1).
3:15. A “dream” means here as elsewhere in the Bible a “revelation from God” (cf. Gen 15:12–21; 26:24; 28:11; etc.).
The judgment of Solomon
3:16–28. The actual position given to this story in the narrative helps demonstrate the wisdom that God granted Solomon. The case is a difficult one for there were no witnesses, but Solomon manages to find in maternal feelings clear proof of where the truth lies. Similar stories are to be found in literature of the ancient East, but this Solomon version is the most famous.
The Fathers have read deeper meanings into these two women. St Ambrose says they stand for faith and temptation, for the woman whose son died, “having lost her child because she lived according to the flesh and her mind was closed in sleep, sought to steal away the child of the other” (De virginitate, 1, 3). St Augustine, approaching it from a different angle, says: “The case brought before the king by the two women is an invitation to us to fight for the truth, to reject hypocrisy as the false mother of the spiritual gift of the Church. […] I see these two women in one house as representations of the two lineages in the one Church—those who are dominated by the appearances of things; and those who are in the service of authentic love” (Sermo 10: De iudicio Salomonis, 4–5).
Source: The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries. Biblical text from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries by members of the Faculty of Theology, University of Navarre, Spain.
Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland, and by Scepter Publishers in the United States. We encourage readers to purchase The Navarre Bible for personal study. See Scepter Publishers for details.
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I am a cradle Catholic, wandered in the desert of sin for 20 years and returned into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church in 2005. I am the founder of Joe Catholic, a lay apostolate designed by men for men. Our mission is to aid lay men in answering the universal call to holiness and equipping them to be the spiritual leaders of their families. Simply put, we help people learn, live and share their faith.
I recently completed my Masters in pastoral theology from Ave Maria University and work as the Magnet Program Coordinator at the Judge Barefoot Sanders Law Magnet in Dallas.