The Visit of the Queen of Sheba
1 Kings 9:10-10:29
With this episode we reach the climax of the life of Solomon. Once more the theme of wisdom dominates this section in Solomon’s life because it is the signature of Solomon‘s reign. The word “wisdom” appears no less than 6 times in this passage:
When the queen perceived all the wisdom of Solomon [10:4] . . . "It was a true report which I heard in my own land about your words and your wisdom" [10:6] . . . "You exceed in wisdom" [10:7] . . . "Blessed are these your servants who stand before you continually and hear your wisdom" [10:8] . . . So King Solomon became greater than all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom [10:23] . . . and all the earth was seeking the presence of Solomon, to hear his wisdom [20:24].
When the Queen of Sheba visits Solomon, she visits him because of his reputation of being one of the wisest men in the world. His reputation is validated upon her visit.
Prior and after the visit the author of 1 Kings lists numerous examples of Solomon’s wisdom at work. This wisdom is not confined to theological matters but includes the practical aspect of administrating the vast construction projects and the commerce which flowed through Israel. The wisdom God gave Solomon resulted in Israel becoming the wealthiest and most prosperous nation on earth at that time.
MISCELLANEOUS EVIDENCE OF SOLOMON’S WISDOM (9:10-28)
Raising Income for the Building Projects (9:10-14)
Upon entering his initial treaty with Hiram of Tyre, Solomon had agreed to supply Hiram’s court with oil and other food stuffs. Apparently these provisions alone were not sufficient in order to obtain the gold and other resources Solomon needed to finish his building projects. (This will become more evident when we see its effects upon the reign of his son Rehoboam.) As a result, in order to obtain gold from Hiram, Solomon exchanges 20 of his northern Israelite cities with Hiram for gold. When Hiram views the cities, he is less impressed with them. He colloquially responds: “What the heck is this?” As a result, he calls them “Cabul” which literally means “What is this?” In exchange for these cities, Hiram gives Solomon 120 talents of gold (4 and 1/2 tons, ~$38.5m.) which Solomon most likely used to fund his building projects.
Description of Solomon’s Building Projects (9:15-22)
The reason Solomon needed more gold was that he had launched into several massive building projects. In order to realize his dream, Solomon took the men from among the Canaanites living in Israel (remnants of the earlier inhabitants of Canaan) and forced them into slave labor. (The author of 1 Kings claims that Solomon did not impose this upon the Israelites themselves; however, we saw earlier that he forced 30k. Israelites into working groups of 10k. men who rotated monthly.) This forced labor was needed especially for the rebuilding and fortification of 3 major cities in Israel: Hazor located north of the Sea of Galilee, Megiddo which was strategically located in the Valley of Jezreel, and Gezer which lay along the road which connected Israel with Egypt.
Hazor was important because it protected Israel’s northern border with modern-day Syria. Although Syria was a tributary of Israel, especially during the latter years of his reign Solomon was threatened from these quarters. Megiddo was especially important because of its strategic location overlooking the Valley of Jezreel. Commerce flowed between Egypt in the West and the nations of the Far East (especially India and China). Egypt was not only the breadbasket of the ancient world (as seen in the story of Joseph), it was also the point of contact with the continent of Africa with its wealth of precious metals, gems, and exotic animals. India, on the other hand, was the source of spices, while China furnished silk. Both of these commodities the Egyptians needed for the purpose of mummification. Although at first sight this might seem a strange reason for the flow of commerce between the east and the west, the great pyramids of Giza are proof enough that the Egyptians took mummification very seriously. Why was Megiddo important? The power which controlled Megiddo controlled the trade routes. The controlling nation could then tax the caravans which traveled through the Jezreel valley on their ways to the east and to the west. For this reason many of the great battles of the ancient world took place here in the Valley of Jezreel: Deborah’s conflict with Sisera, Gideon’s battle with the Midianities, and Josiah’s battle with Pharaoh Neco. (Modern day battles include General Allenby’s engagement with the Turks at the end of WW1 and the Israeli aerial dogfights with the Syrians during the 1967 Six Day War.) Finally, Gezer was important because it was the gateway to Egypt from the southwest. The Pharaoh who had given his daughter to Solomon in marriage had given this city to Solomon as a wedding gift in order to secure an alliance with Israel. This city also monitored the trade which flowed between Israel and Egypt.
In addition to these 3 major cities Solomon built storage cities for the grain supplies which built up during his reign. He constructed cities with stables for the 12,000 horses he used in military operations. (In the part of Megiddo which has been excavated, you can still see stone mangers built to hold the grain for the horses.) Solomon also initiated the program of building the Millo in Jerusalem. David’s city (Ophel) was located just south of the Temple mound. A deep ravine separated the two. In order to join them, Solomon created a landfill and built terraces to reinforce it.
Needing manpower to complete these projects, Solomon tapped into the thousands of non-Israelites living in Israel. Those he tapped into descended from the Canaanites who had originally occupied the land. Since they were not supposed to be there anyway, Solomon basically forced them into slave labor. Although he conscripted Israelites to serve one month four times a year, these were forced into perpetual labor. Although this practice was cruel, it nevertheless demonstrated Solomon’s administrative capabilities which God had bestowed upon him. Competent does not always means moral.
Extensive Trading with International Markets (9:26-28)
This brief passage serves as an introduction to the visit from the Queen of Sheba in order to show the reason she knew of Solomon's wisdom. In order to extend his trade with international commercial powers, Solomon enlists the aid of Hiram to construct a navy which can engage in trade with Ophir. The exact location of Ophir has been much debated. Some claim that it is the eastern coast of Africa, while others claim it is the southern part of the Arabian peninsula; yet others claim it to be the western part of India. No definitive solution has been determined; however, the next episode of the Queen of Sheba supports the claim Ophir was to be found in southwest Arabia because this was the location of Sheba. Hiram supplies ship builders and seamen in exchange most likely for trading rights from the southern Israelite port of Ezion-Geber located at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba.
THE QUEEN OF SHEBA (10:1-13)
Apparently Solomon’s trading activities attracted the notice of the Queen of Sheba. There is near unanimous agreement that Sheba (Saba) was located near modern-day Yemen, the southwestern corner of the Arabian peninsula. Unlike much of the peninsula which is desert, the people of Sheba had learned the technique of irrigating the land, thereby successfully converting it into rich agricultural land. Moreover, it benefitted from the commercial routes which linked the Far East (India and China) with Africa and Israel. With the coming of Solomon’s ships, the Queen of Sheba hears not only of his wealth and building projects but also of his superior wisdom. Her interest being piqued by these stories of Solomon’s kingdom, she assembles a caravan to visit Jerusalem.
It would probably help to visualize the scene of the approach of the Queen of Sheba. We are not primarily seeing horsemen and military personnel escorting the Queen (although undoubtedly some were present). What we are seeing here is a vast array of camels and servants of her court bringing riches from her country as a gift for Solomon. This vast assemblage must have been most impressive as it ascended up to Jerusalem from the south.
After introductions were made between the 2 potentates, the Queen begins to unload upon Solomon all that was in her heart. Some have tried to portray the Queen as being crafty, as trying to trip up Solomon with difficult questions and mashals, that is, difficult riddles to understand. Although she may have employed mashals in her discussion with Solomon, she asked them not in order to trip him up but in order to have many of her own legitimate questions answered. These questions may have involved the mysteries of God, of nature, and of human conduct.
She was not prepared for what she received. In addition to being exposed to his keen intellect regarding these weighty matters, she was also shown the wealth of his court: the food of his table, the seating of his courtiers, waiters and their attire, his cupbearers, the Millo which connected the lower city to the Temple mound. The NASB says that the entire episode left her with “no more spirit in her.” The Hebrew text literally says that she was breathless. In other words this whole experience left her breathless.
It was a true report which I heard in my own land about your words and your wisdom. Nevertheless I did not believe the reports, until I came and my eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. You exceed in wisdom and prosperity the report which I heard.
Her next comment though climaxes her praise of Solomon and serves as a challenge to us:
How blessed are your men, how blessed are these your servants who stand before you continually and hear your wisdom. Blessed be the Lord your God, who delighted in you to set you on the throne of Israel; because the Lord loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king.
Instead of claiming that Solomon was blessed because of all the riches and wisdom God had lavished upon him, she claimed that his people were the ones who were blessed. We see in this a fulfillment of Solomon’s prayer to God that He would be with him not simply for his sake but for the sake of the people (1 Kings 3:7-9). This is the climax of the story of Solomon’s reign. This is seen in the observation by the author that the Queen of Sheba was so impressed with Solomon that she lavished upon him so many spices that “never again did such abundance of spices come in as that which the queen of Sheba gave King Solomon.” Solomon was acknowledged to be wise not simply among his own people but also among the international powers of his day.
As I look at this passage though, I sense a challenge that we be the same kind of people Solomon was. In each and every Christian resides the Spirit of Christ. This means that we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), that we have His wisdom inherently residing in us. I need to be the kind of Christian man of whom people will say, “We know that God loved Nancy Putt Ford so much because of the person God gave to be her husband, Carey.” I need to be the kind of Christian father of whom people will say, “We know that God loves Nathan and Molly so much because He gave them Carey to be their dad.” The same applies to our place of work. People should feel that God has blessed them because He has brought us into their lives.
FURTHER DESCRIPTION OF SOLOMON’S WEALTH (10:14-29)
The author of 1 Kings once more launches into a description of the wealth God lavished upon Solomon because of his request for wisdom. The point is not how wealthy he was but only great wisdom bestowed by God could have ever resulted in such wealth. The following list gives us a glimpse into just how wealthy he really was:
(1) The amount of gold which came into Solomon’s coffers annually: 666 talents of gold (equivalent to 50k. lbs., ~$240m., an extravagant amount in Solomon's day with much greater buying power). This does not include the taxes he levied upon the merchants who traveled across Israel going between Egypt and the Far East.
(2) Solomon had so much gold that he had made 200 large shields made of gold, each shield made up of 600 shekels of gold (weighing approximately 8 lbs., ~$38.5k.). These shields most likely were large and rectangular in size. In addition to these he had made 300 shields, each made up of 3 minas of gold (weighing approximately 3 and 3/4 lbs., ~$19.25k.). Solomon had these 500 shields displayed in his royal lodge in the forest of Lebanon (probably a hunting lodge).
(3) Solomon had a magnificent throne and dais constructed in his throne room. The throne was made of ivory and overlaid with gold. At the top of the dais were 2 lions. Six steps led up to the dais from the floor. On each of the steps were 2 lions, numbering twelve in all, most likely representing the 12 tribes of Israel.
(4) All the drinking vessels used in Solomon’s court were gold. Silver was not used as a luxury item because of its overabundance, another piece of evidence of the wealth which flowed through his kingdom because of his God-given wisdom.
(5) The author of 1 Kings just keeps piling it on and on and on so that we get the point that Solomon indeed was a wealthy monarch. He had sailing vessels called “ships of Tarshish,” Tarshish referring to modern-day Portugal. This can mean one of 2 things: either these ships were so well-constructed that they could have sailed to Portugal if they had wanted but never did or else they actually helped Solomon carry on trade with Portugal and the far reaches of Europe. Because of the commodities they brought back, especially apes, they were probably the first kind of ship. They traveled most likely to Africa, Arabia, and even India.
The author of 1 Kings sums up this account with the world-wide respect for wisdom Solomon enjoyed: “All the earth was seeking the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom which God had put in his heart” (10:24). They were so anxious to hear this wisdom, they lavished upon him every kind of wealth.
It is sad though that the blessing of God eventually became a means of the curse of God. God lavished unimaginable wealth upon Solomon for his day and time. All saw these riches and blessed the God who had bestowed them upon him. When Solomon turned from the Lord though, these same riches became the occasion for God’s curse upon his kingdom. Later after Solomon led the Israelites into sin, God sent Shishak the Pharaoh of Egypt to plunder the city of David. In particular he stole the golden shields which Solomon had so highly prized. Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, replaced these golden shields with shields made of bronze. If Solomon and his son had not been so wealthy, they would not have attracted the Pharaoh’s notice. The fact that they were so wealthy (because of God’s blessing) meant they were now targets of plundering Egyptians (God’s wrath).
Never doubt for a moment that all the blessings God has poured out upon us during our times of obedience and devotion can evaporate overnight whenever our obedience and devotion to God evaporate overnight. The home God blessed us with can become a money pit. The children we so desperately longed for can increase the # of the grey hairs on our head. The cars we cherish always get scraped in the parking lots, no matter how hard we try to protect them. Our jobs can rally weigh us down. James says that our gold and silver can actually rust on us, while our garments will become moth-eaten (James 5:3). It is only when God remains on the throne of our lives that these remain the blessings of God and not His curses.