Verse 16 begins the story of two disreputable prostitutes who bring their appeal for justice directly to the king. Solomon’s great wisdom cut through the lies and deception to discover the real mother—here it was clearly one woman’s word against another’s. In the absence of other witnesses, there was no way to determine the legitimacy of either woman’s claim. But God had gifted Solomon with unusual wisdom and as he anticipated, the true mother betrayed her love in her self-sacrificing plea to let the child live. It is here that English translations have difficulty conveying some of the nuances of the Hebrew.
In this passage the depth of compassionate love the true mother demonstrated for her son is expressed in the plural form of “compassion” (רַחֲמֶיהָ lit. “her compassions”). This is most likely an intensive plural (NIDOTTE, 1093) demonstrating the intense love of someone for another. This plural form of the noun “compassion” is used three times with the Niphal verb form of כָּמַר (lit. “to grow hot, burn”) to represent an emphatic way of saying “to move one to great compassion” (Gen 43:30; Hos 11:8). In this case, her motherly compassion moved her to spare the child’s life by giving him to the other woman, even though it meant that she would have to surrender her right to rear her precious child. In an attempt to capture the intensity of her emotion, the NIV is probably the most accurate which states “she was deeply moved out of love for her son.” By contrast, the surrogate mother would enjoy the benefits of having a child and yet lacked the deep, self-sacrificing love of a true mother.
Ted Stallard undoubtedly qualifies as the one of “the least.” Turned off by school. Very sloppy in appearance. Expressionless. Unattractive. Even his teacher, Miss Thompson, enjoyed bearing down her red pen — as she placed Xs beside his many wrong answers.
If only she had studied his records more carefully. They read:
1st grade: Ted shows promise with his work and attitude, but (has) poor home situation.
2nd grade: Ted could do better. Mother seriously ill. Receives little help from home.
3rd grade: Ted is good boy but too serious. He is a slow learner. His mother died this year.
4th grade: Ted is very slow, but well-behaved. His father shows no interest whatsoever.
Christmas arrived. The children piled elaborately wrapped gifts on their teacher’s desk. Ted brought one too. It was wrapped in brown paper and held together with Scotch Tape. Miss Thompson opened each gift, as the children crowded around to watch. Out of Ted’s package fell a gaudy rhinestone bracelet, with half of the stones missing, and a bottle of cheap perfume. The children began to snicker. But she silenced them by splashing some of the perfume on her wrist, and letting them smell it. She put the bracelet on too.
At day’s end, after the other children had left, Ted came by the teacher’s desk and said, “Miss Thompson, you smell just like my mother. And the bracelet looks real pretty on you. I’m glad you like my presents.” He left. Miss Thompson got down on her knees and asked God to forgive her and to change her attitude.
The next day, the children were greeted by a reformed teacher — one committed to loving each of them. Especially the slow ones. Especially Ted. Surprisingly — or maybe, not surprisingly, Ted began to show great improvement. He actually caught up with most of the students and even passed a few.
Time came and went. Miss Thompson heard nothing from Ted for a long time. Then, one day, she received this note:
Dear Miss Thompson:
I wanted you to be the first to know. I will be graduating second in my class.
Four years later, another note arrived:
Dear Miss Thompson:
They just told me I will be graduating first in my class. I wanted you to be first to know. The university has not been easy, but I liked it.
And four years later:
Dear Miss Thompson:
As of today, I am Theodore Stallard, M.D. How about that? I wanted you to be the first to know. I am getting married next month, the 27th to be exact. I want you to come and sit where my mother would sit if she were alive. You are the only family I have now; Dad died last year.
Miss Thompson attended that wedding, and sat where Ted’s mother would have sat. The compassion she had shown that young man entitled her to that privilege.
Let’s have some real courage, and start giving to “one of the least.” He may become a Ted Stallard. Even if that doesn’t happen, we will have been faithful to the One who has always treated us — as unworthy as we are — like very special people (Jon Johnston, Courage – You Can Stand Strong in the Face of Fear [Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1934], 111-13).
Both of these portrayals of the self-sacrificing love of one human-being for another is a glimpse of the infinitely greater love of our heavenly father who was willing to give up his own son so that we might live.