December 21, 2007

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical women: The queen of Sheba

John F. Fink(Twenty-first in a series of columns)

The queen of Sheba is a mysterious figure in the Old Testament. Chapter 10 of the First Book of Kings narrates her visit to King Solomon. She arrived in Jerusalem with a large retinue, including camels bearing spices, a large amount of gold and other precious stones.

The reign of King Solomon was by far the most prosperous period in Israel’s history so it’s natural that other countries wanted to trade with Israel. Sheba, for centuries, was the leading principality in what is now Yemen and, according to eighth-century B.C. Assyrian inscriptions, there were sometimes women rulers among the Arabs.

If this caravan came from modern Yemen, they had traveled a great distance. The visit probably had mostly to do with trade and commerce, but the Bible uses it to stress Solomon’s wisdom. It probably was a very large caravan since the Bible says that “never again did anyone bring such an abundance of spices as the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon” (1 Kgs 10:10).

In return, Solomon “gave the queen of Sheba everything she desired and asked for, besides such presents as were given her from Solomon’s royal bounty” (1 Kgs 10:13). It seems obvious that he was enthralled by her visit.

The queen was equally charmed. In fact, the Bible says that she was breathless when she saw Solomon’s “great wisdom, the palace he had built, the food at his table, the seating of his ministers, the attendance and garb of his waiters, his banquet service, and the holocausts he offered in the temple of the Lord” (1 Kgs 10:5). Solomon obviously knew how to do things right.

When she recovered her breath, the queen of Sheba told Solomon that when she first heard about his deeds and wisdom she didn’t believe the report, but now that she had seen it with her own eyes she discovered that the report didn’t tell her the full truth. She questioned him about every subject in which she was interested, and Solomon was able to explain everything that she asked about.

So the queen said, “Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report I heard. Happy are your men, happy these servants of yours, who stand before you always and listen to your wisdom. Blessed be the Lord, your God, whom it has pleased to place you on the throne of Israel” (1 Kgs 10: 7-9).

After making their trade, the queen returned to Sheba.

This same chapter in the First Book of Kings then devotes 16 verses to describing the wealth of Solomon’s kingdom. It says that he “surpassed in riches and wisdom all the kings of the earth. And the whole world sought audience with Solomon, to hear from him the wisdom which God had put in his heart” (1 Kgs 10: 23-24).

Among his possessions were “700 wives of princely rank and 300 concubines” (1 Kgs 11:3). His celebrated wisdom, though, did not keep him from turning his heart to strange gods by adoring the gods of some of his non-Israelite wives.

Therefore, God told Solomon that, in punishment, he would divide his kingdom—after his death. †

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