“If one man’s ox hurts another’s so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and divide its price equally; and also they shall divide the dead.”
Having read through the Ten Commandments and realizing that those have been commented on and taught on ad infinitum, I decided to keep reading. None of the Ten jumped out at me and demanded to be considered further, but this verse did. I was getting ready to write on a different verse (21:14, for reference) and my eyes kept coming back to this one.
As I read this command over, it dawned on me slowly that there was a valid reason for my eyes continuing to come back here. That reason? Solomon suggested something very similar to this with regard to a dispute over which prostitute was the mother of a child. The story (found in 1 Kings 3:16-28), is that two prostitutes were sharing a house and both got pregnant. Not surprising, considering their line of work. They both gave birth to sons within three days of each other. It so happens that one new mom rolled over onto her baby and the baby died. That mom got up and switched the babies, leaving the dead one for the mom who hadn’t smothered her son. When that mom woke up, she thought she had killed her son (I can only imagine what that would do to a mom), but she realized, come the morning light, that the baby in bed with her wasn’t her son at all. So she goes to King Solomon for justice, because the other woman is claiming that the dead baby belongs to the mom who did not accidentally kill her son. Solomon’ solution? Cut the living kid in half and give each woman a piece. The solution shocks parents because a parent can’t imagine letting that happen to their child. But Solomon proposed to apply the law that pertained to property to the child. He did this for several reasons that I can come up with (and probably more that I can’t).
One: He did that because the Law is impartial and applies equally. When Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness, Jesus shelters in the Law. God’s Law is absolute and not open for change, because it is perfect to begin with. However, the Law also does not take into account mitigating circumstances — there must be a judge for that to happen. When I am faced with a difficult (or seemingly impossible) choice, I also should make God’s Law my recourse. Since His Law does not change, I don’t have to worry about keeping up with what it says now. It says the same thing now as it did a year ago and a decade ago and the day I was born.
Two: He was setting precedent. The modern court system involves this idea of “precedent” and rulings made now can potentially be echoes of what has already been said. When Solomon suggested that a Law regarding property be applied to a child, he was suggesting something absurd. To apply the Law in that way would make a child and an animal equivalent in legal terms. I do not think that Solomon intended for the child to be cast in that light, but that the litigants would see the obvious absurdity of arguing over whose child the baby boy was. There is precedent in Christian circles as well. There are volumes or commentary written by great and meager minds through the centuries that tell how The Bible has been interpreted over the years. But, to limit God to precedent is to miss what His Word says about Him, viz. He seldom does the same thing in the same way. He may do the same thing (heal a blind man, for example), but His method almost constantly changes. With regard to God’s Law, there is only one Judge and only He can set precedent. Hence, we have the gospels that tell us what Jesus said — gave us the Judge’s precedents.
Three: He was testing the women. No parent would willingly and knowingly allow their child to come to unnecessary harm. My daughter is young, but there are things that must be learned in certain ways. I’ve tried to hold her back from hitting her head on certain things, but she kept repeating the action that would result in a bonked head. The solution? Let her bonk herself when the pain would be as minimal as possible so she would learn. She has learned and she has stopped that action. Did I knowingly let her hurt herself? As little as possible, but yes. Was I willing? Not really, but she needs to learn and the hurt was necessary to learn the lesson. These two women are both claiming to be a loving mother, so Solomon does what seems rational: threaten the baby with imminent death and see if mom steps up. I can only imagine that the mother, through her tears and pleading for her son’s life, is glaring daggers at the other woman.
How does all of that about Solomon relate back to this verse? Simply put, everyone was amazed that Solomon had such wisdom. They had access to the same wisdom. The Bible says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. To fear God is to obey Him. In order to obey Him, I must know what He wants me to do. In order to know that, I must study His Law. His Law says that property that destroys property should be sold and split between the parties involved. Solomon just took God’s Law and suggested it be applied in a way that any parent in their right mind would object to.
My high school changed their graduation procedure while I was there such that the Valedictorian and Salutatorian were not guaranteed a speaking spot at graduation. The school held an open competition of speeches that allowed everyone to have a chance as speaking. I put together a speech and threw my hat in the ring. My speech was chosen and I delivered it at my graduation. This speech was quoted, in part, in a local newspaper as evidence that the graduating class had promise and had our heads screwed on straight. The portion quoted was directly from The Bible.
If I want to be wise, then I need to study God’s Word and His Law. If I do, then I will know what justice and mercy look like and will never confuse them with anything else.
God, thank You for Your Word and for Your Law. Please fill up my heart, my mind, and my life with Your Word, that I might not sin against You.