“So the king said, ‘Bring me a sword,’ and they brought a sword before the king. The king said, ‘Divide the living boy in two; then give half to the one, and half to the other’.”
—1 Kings 3:24-25 (NRSV).
There are priorities and values in the greater part of life; things that cannot be compromised. Yet, what happens when there are two of seemingly equal value—what then? The example of King Solomon’s sovereign wisdom—the situation of a test of two prostitutes’ testimony regarding their respective babies (one dead; one living) and the fight over the living one—is a great example of wise decisiveness shelling the true priority from the fake.
But not all issues in life are seemingly so cut and dried. Some matters reflect two equally great things, or two equally great paths to take.
Enter the greater value of discernment; not a quality betrothed on all, I’m afraid. The discretion of wisdom in accessing the given context to determine the remedies to be applied is critical—but, surely, there’s more to it.
Solomon shows the real value of discernment in working out very effectively his role as sovereign advocate. Yes, that’s right; his role wasn’t simply about deciding an awe-enthralling climax involving a sword, blood and tears. His incisiveness was most keenly felt in standing up for the poorer woman—the person truly poor of spirit (Matthew 5:3).
Solomon could just as easily have not convened a hearing and let them go on squabbling—with the risk that the wrong woman would keep the baby. She’d effectively been negligent in the care of her own baby, so this would perhaps have been a double blow. Mum loses living baby; mother of dead baby gets another but doesn’t have adequate reason to care for it.
Wisdom, true wisdom—in sovereign or leadership roles, is about discernment driven by a heart for advocacy. And this is a feature of the best, most inspiring leadership—guidance, headship and control that can be at first, trusted, and secondly modelled upon.
And this is one of the theological lessons of Old Testament history. The best judges and kings put their God, and therefore their people, first. By putting their own prosperity last they inevitably were blessed with first.
And what of today’s example? Is it any different? Hardly. It’s a wisdom truth preserved in the code of life—a Narnian ‘deeper magic.’ Those who lead are to do so in these ways. We lead by courage and faith. We lead by putting the cause and others first—ourselves last.
True leadership is both a gospel activity and a gospel reality:
“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
—Mark 9:35b (NRSV).
What does this say about the modus operandi of the true leader? He or she is first, servant.
© S. J. Wickham, 2009.
 John W. Olley, First & Second Kings: Then and Now – ‘In the midst of change, God.’ (