In 1 Kings 3:16–28 we find an account of King Solomon hearing a case involving two prostitutes. The two women had both recently given birth to sons, and they lived together in the same home. During the night, one of the infants was smothered and died. The woman whose son had died switched her dead baby with the baby of the other woman as she slept. The other woman, seeking justice, took the matter before the king. She stated her case:
“And it came to pass the third day after that I was delivered, that this woman was delivered also: and we were together; there was no stranger with us in the house, save we two in the house. And this woman's child died in the night; because she overlaid it. And she arose at midnight, and took my son from beside me, while thine handmaid slept, and laid it in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom. And when I rose in the morning to give my child suck, behold, it was dead: but when I had considered it in the morning, behold, it was not my son, which I did bear.” 1 Kings 3:18–21
Solomon could not tell from their words which woman was telling the truth. Instead, he issued a command: “Bring me a sword. . . . Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other” (1 Kings 3:24–25). After he said this, the woman whose son was still alive said, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!”; however, the other woman, whose son had died, answered, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!” (verse 26). Based on their responses, Solomon knew the identity of the true mother: “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother” (verse 27).
Why would Solomon give such an outrageous command? Did he really intend to cut a baby in half with a sword? Solomon’s intention was to discover the truth. He did so by watching the responses of the two women and relying on the maternal instincts of the true mother.
The chapter’s final verse notes the effect that Solomon’s unorthodox methods had on the kingdom: “And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgment.” 1 Kings 3:28.
Solomon’s wisdom had been given by God when Solomon requested it (verse 5). The account of Solomon’s handling of the case of the two prostitutes showed that he had been granted wisdom from God. In the following chapters, many more examples are given of the wisdom of King Solomon.