Did King Solomon really order a baby cut in two? Literally? Why?

In 1 KIngs 3:24, King Solomon clearly says “Bring me a sword,” so it sure sounds like an order. While this is one of the most famous and beloved stories in the Hebrew Scriptures, it also turns out to be a pretty dark and disturbing story. Firstly, people wonder whether Solomon was bluffing when he prepared to have the baby cut in half. Nothing in the story indicates Solomon was bluffing, and as anyone who’s ever tried to bluff anyone over anything knows, a bluff is useless if people THINK the bluffer isn’t capable of following through. Everybody in the court HONESTLY BELIEVED their king was capable of murdering that baby.

Why would people think that? When we take a closer look at King Solomon, how he grew up, how he became king, and what he did after becoming king, it’s pretty clear that while he might have been considered a very wise man, that didn’t make him a good man. In fact, Solomon’s life and actions make the rulers in “Game of Thrones” look like Disney versions of kings.

Firstly, Solomon was the son of David and Bathsheba, who was married to Uriah the Hittite until David saw her bathing on a rooftop and he had Uriah killed in battle. The first baby Bathsheba conceived by David died because of this sin. Then, along came Solomon.

Then, while Solomon was growing up, his oldest half-brother, Amnon, raped their half-sister Tamar, then he shut her up because she had been shamed and despoiled. In revenge for this outrage, Tamar’s brother Absalom murdered Amnon, then he launched a devastating civil war against David himself, at one point seizing the city and stealing ten of David’s concubines. David won the civil war, including killing Absalom. This is the family dynamic in which Solomon was being raised. The word “sociopathic” comes to mind.

After Absalom’s death, the heir to David’s throne and kingship was another son, Adonijah. However, Solomon, his mother Bathsheba, and the prophet Nathan had other plans. When David is dying, Adonijah is busy preparing to become king, but Solomon beats him to the punch, getting David’s blessing (and kingship) in a way eerily similar to the way Jacob snatched Esau’s birthright and Isaac’s blessing way back in Genesis 27.

Once David is dead, Solomon goes on a murderous spree that reminds me of the climactic “baptism” scene in “The Godfather,” wherein all enemies, real and potential, are ruthlessly eliminated. Solomon has Adonijah killed even after both Bathsheba and Nathan advise him not to do so. Solomon then has Joab, David’s top general killed, he has most of Saul’s descendants killed, he enslaves hundreds of thousands of people, including Israelites, to first build the Temple, and then to build his own palace, a structure to his own glory that is four times the size of the Temple he built for the glory of God. And when I say, “Solomon built,” I mean, “Solomon had the people he’d enslaved build.”

As far as the baby story goes, think of it this way. It’s a political fable Solomon told to advise any potential enemies to back off.

The baby is Israel.

The true mother (and rightful king) is Adonijah.

The false mother (the usurper) is Solomon.

Everyone is so busy applauding the true mother’s selflessness by volunteering to give up her baby (the kingdom) they ignore the threat the false mother makes to allow the baby to be murdered by the sword (civil war).

Solomon is threatening to destroy the kingdom rather than allow the true king to sit on the throne instead of him.

Finally, if there’s any question left about the nature of Solomon’s character, after he died, his oldest son Rehoboam was made king. Two groups of advisors approached Rehoboam. The older group said, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you,” (1 Kings 12:4). The people gave Rehoboam a choice; either be a good king, or be like your father. Rehoboam’s famous response was, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions,” (v. 14). And the kingdom was forever torn asunder.

Solomon: wise? Probably. Good? Probably not. Capable of slicing a baby in half to prove a point? Hell yeah.