Two harlot mothers had babies. One baby died. The two mothers fought over the living baby.

As a mother, what would you be willing to do in order to save your child? Would you give away your child to an unfit mother in order to save him from death? How far will your maternal instincts take you?

In today’s episode of All God’s Women we look at two mothers and their dramatic court battle over custody of one of their children. 

Two Harlot Mothers in the Bible

So many stories we read in the Bible and we wonder why they’re there. What is the significance of them? Why did God include them in the pages of His Word. In today’s story of two harlot mothers, we know why God included their story. It was to illustrate the wisdom of King Solomon. In the process, though, it shows us much about motherhood and maternal instincts.

Today’s story is found in 1 Kings chapter 3. The chapter opens early in Solomon’s reign as king. He’s taken a wife, an Egyptian princess, and was walking in the statutes of his father, King David, except that he was also worshiping in the high places, which was a form of idolatry. 

Solomon Asks For Wisdom

God came to Solomon in a dream and asked Solomon what he wished from God. As we all know, Solomon asked for wisdom. God grants his request. He wakes up. And immediately goes to the ark of the covenant, offered up burnt offerings, and prepares a feast for his servants.

The next verses in chapter 3 are about the two mothers. This is an interesting story as the two women are prostitutes who lived together in the same house. Obviously, they would have been at the bottom of the social class and looked down on by the Israelites. And yet, they are the ones mentioned as the first case brought to the new king. 

The Story of the Harlot Mothers

Here’s their story. They both had sons within a few days of each other. One of them smothered to death her baby when she rolled over on him. When she realized what had happened, she went into the other woman’s room and swapped babies. The other woman woke up to find a dead baby. Only it wasn’t her baby. But how do you prove that since no one else was around and babies tend to look similar?

The innocent mother took their dispute straight to the top, hoping King Solomon could get the other woman to return her baby. The first woman pleaded her case. The second woman denied her claims. 

The king responded by asking a servant to bring him a sword. So they brought in his sword and the king ordered the baby to be cut in two with each of the women given half. 

The real mother was horrified. She asked Solomon not to kill him, but to give him to the other woman.

The other woman, though, applauded Solomon on his wisdom, agreeing that his way made the most sense. 

That was all Solomon needed to hear. He knew who the real mother was. 

The chapter closes with, “When all Israel heard the king’s decision, the people were in awe of the king, for they saw the wisdom God had given him for rendering justice.”

It would be interesting to hear what happened to the two women afterwards. Did they continue to live together? Did the one woman abandon her profession in order to raise her son? What kind of mother did she end up being? We’ll never know. But we can learn much from these two women.

What Can We Learn From the Story of the Two Harlots in the Bible?

First, these women were harlots. Their sons were illegitimate. These women were not exactly the image we have of Bible mothers. And yet, suddenly they were thrust in the role of motherhood. Overnight, their lives changed. 

One woman rolled over onto her newborn, smothering him as they slept. It was an accident. Chances are, it never occurred to her that could happen. It’s not like she’d gone to parenting classes where they covered safety and prevention tips. But when she woke up and realized what happened, she panicked. Perhaps she was afraid of being accused of murdering her son. Maybe she was jealous because now her friend would have a baby and she wouldn’t. Or maybe she just wasn’t thinking straight.

She quickly swapped out babies and tried to convince her friend that the dead baby was hers. It didn’t work. Mothers have a way of knowing which baby is theirs, even if they look very much alike. 

Now the other woman is in a panic. Her former friend is trying to steal her baby, and there’s nothing she can do. No one will believe her when she says the baby’s hers. It’s not like anyone cares about two harlots fighting over a baby. But she’s not giving up without a fight. She announces she’s going to the king’s palace to plead her case. The other woman agrees, probably thinking there’s no way the king will let them in, and if he does, it’s just just her word against the other.

They come before the king and present their argument. It’s a tough case. How will he rule?

Imagine their surprise when he orders a servant to bring in a sword and the horror as they see the sword raised high in order to slice apart the living baby.

Maternal instinct came into play. The real mother can’t bear to see her child killed. She makes the ultimate sacrifice of giving up her son in order to save him. The other mother has nothing to lose. Her son is already dead. What care is it to her if the king kills this other baby? Now, at least, they’ll be even. Neither one will have a child.

Motherhood changes you. From the moment your arms wrap around that tiny baby, knowing that you’re responsible for them, your whole life changes. For most women, it evokes a protectiveness, a feeling that you will do whatever it takes to provide for and take care of this little one. Nothing else matters quite like it did now that you’re a mother. 

But for some women, motherhood overwhelms, especially those who feel inadequate to the task. Postpartum depression convinces them that they’re a failure at mothering. They may have assumed that mothering would come naturally, and when it doesn’t, they’re not sure what to do. It’s not that they don’t love their child. They do. But they’re scared.

Motherhood is scary. Each and every day you make choices that affect your child. Sometimes those choices don’t turn out the way you expected. Sometimes you just mess up, not purposely, but just because you’re human. 

Ultimately, though, the best thing we can do for our children is to keep their best interests in mind. If we make decisions based on what is best for their eternal well-being, we can’t go wrong. Many times those decisions won’t be easy for us or for our child, but that’s all part of parenting. 

Hopefully, you’ll never have to make life or death decisions for your child or give up your child to save them. But maybe you will. Being a mother is never easy. Fortunately for us, whenever we’re facing a difficult decision about our children, all we have to do is to take it to our King. He’s oh so wise and eternally available to hear our pleas. His ways may not make sense to us, but be assured, He is constantly watching out for us and our children, and He will always do what is best for us. 


Lord God, we come to you today, thanking you for your wisdom and insight. Thank you for hearing our pleas and being there for us whenever we call out to you. Lord, as mothers, we beg of you that you might give us good judgement in the days ahead. Help us always to remember that this world and all its temptations are temporal and that our decisions should be made based on eternal consequences. Be with us when we have to make hard decisions, when we’re forced to give tough love or to give up our children in order to save them. Grant us courage to do the right thing. Thank you for forgiving us all the many times we fail and fall short of who you would have us to be. Thank you for your mercy and grace. We love you. In Christ’s name. Amen.

Two Harlot Mothers

Two Harlot Mothers Bible Study

Scripture Background

1 Kings 3

Bible Study Review

  1. How did the baby die?
  2. How did Solomon determine who the real mother was?
  3. What was the reaction to Solomon’s ruling?

Thoughts to Ponder

  1. Why did the one woman swap babies?
  2. Who was best fit for motherhood?
  3. What might Solomon have done if both moms had agreed to the sword?

Personal Reflection

  1. How does motherhood change you?
  2. How have your priorities changed after having children?
  3. What’s the most difficult decision you’ve made as a mother?

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