Spotting a Liar
“Then the king answered and said, “Give the living child to the first woman, and by no means put him to death; she is his mother (I Kings 3:27).”
One of the greatest frustrations of modern times is the lack of trust and integrity that runs throughout society. So many problems go back to this one simple question: who can I trust?
In the book of Kings, Solomon, the new king of Israel, had recently buried his father, narrowly escaped a coup, and was facing one of the first judicial cases of his young tenure as king. The fact that a case involving two prostitutes would make it all the way to the royal courtroom tells us a few things. First, that everyone in the area knew about it and was talking about it. It tells us that other judges and other courts had examined the matter and could not reach a verdict. We might think of the king’s courtroom like the Supreme court—the highest level of appeal in the nation.
The issue was simple, but very difficult: How do you decide who’s lying if there are no witnesses except the plaintiff and the defendant? How do you determine the truth when the facts can’t help you?
To complicate matters, the major facts of the case were heartbreaking: a mother had carelessly smothered her child while they slept. The same mother had taken her dead son and placed him next to the other woman and taken her child. A little baby’s life was at stake and if Solomon made the wrong decision, he would devastate the true mother for the rest of her life.
How do you know who’s telling the truth? The text offers no factual evidence; no proof. But what it teaches us is that there are many ways of determining who we can trust. Without telling anyone, Solomon arranged a test to determine who was telling the truth, and who was lying. After rehearsing the facts of the case in v.23, he asked for a sword and ordered the living child be cut in half (an ancient custom used to resolve cases involving real estate and property).
I suggest to you this was a test, not of facts—the witnesses contradicted each other—but of character and motivation. The true mother and the false mother would be revealed by their responses. The true mother would be motivated by love, by an undying quest to rescue her son from a heartless liar. The lying mother would be motivated by anger and hatred. Why else would she appeal this case all the way to the highest court?
The lying woman admitted through her words and deeds what would never be settled by the facts. If we knew nothing else from the text, we could have guessed the true mother. She would be the first one to speak up when Solomon said, “divide the child (v.25)”. And sure enough, she did: “give her the living child and by no means put him to death (v.25).” If that wasn’t enough “evidence”, the imposter made the truth plain for all to see in her response: “divide him” (v.26).”
Solomon and everyone present that day knew the truth and what needed to be done: “Give the living child to the first woman…she is his mother (v.27).”
Look for two qualities in people who ask you to trust them: their character and their motivation. Character is always revealed in what motivates a person. If you don’t see signs of it, don’t take their word for it.