THE QUEEN OF SHEBA VISITS SOLOMON
A. The Queen’s visit.
1. (verse 1) The Queen of Sheba arrives in Jerusalem.
Now when the Queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the LORD, she came to test him with hard questions.
a. The Queen of Sheba: Sheba (also known as Sabea) was where modern-day Yemen is today (Southern Arabia). We know from geography this was a wealthy kingdom with much gold, spices, and precious woods. History also tells us that they were known to have queens as well as kings.
i. This was a long trip – up to about 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometres). She probably came as part of a trade delegation (1 Kings 10:2-5), but there is no doubt that she was highly motivated to see Solomon and his kingdom.
b. When the Queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the LORD, she came to test him: She came to Solomon and Israel at their material zenith. The great prosperity, splendour, and wisdom of Solomon’s kingdom were internationally famous.
2. (verses 2-5) What the Queen of Sheba saw.
She came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels that bore spices, very much gold, and precious stones; and when she came to Solomon, she spoke with him about all that was in her heart. So Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing so difficult for the king that he could not explain it to her. And when the Queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food on his table, the seating of his servants, the service of his waiters and their apparel, his cupbearers, and his entryway by which he went up to the house of the LORD, there was no more spirit in her.
a. She came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue: This queen travelled in the manner of queens, with a large royal procession, heavily laden with gifts and goods for trade.
b. When she came to Solomon, she spoke with him about all that was in her heart: Solomon’s kingdom was famous not only for its material prosperity but also for his great wisdom. The Queen of Sheba had great – and seemingly difficult – questions and Solomon answered all her questions.
i. “The hard questions were not just riddles, but included difficult diplomatic and ethical questions… The test was not an academic exercise but to see if he would be a trustworthy business party and a reliable ally capable of giving help.” (Wiseman)
c. When the Queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food on his table… there was no more spirit in her: This Queen was obviously familiar with the world of royal splendour and luxury. Yet she was completely overwhelmed by the wisdom of Solomon and the glory of his kingdom.
i. “What happened to the Queen of Sheba is a natural and not an uncommon effect which will be produced in a delicate sensible mind at the sight of rare and extraordinary productions of art.” (Clarke)
3. (verses 6-9) How the Queen of Sheba reacted.
Then she said to the king: “It was a true report which I heard in my own land about your words and your wisdom. However, I did not believe the words until I came and saw with my own eyes; and indeed the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity exceed the fame of which I heard. Happy are your men and happy are these your servants, who stand continually before you and hear your wisdom! Blessed be the LORD your God, who delighted in you, setting you on the throne of Israel! Because the LORD has loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king, to do justice and righteousness.”
a. Indeed the half was not told me: The Queen of Sheba heard wonderful things about Solomon and his kingdom, but upon seeing it with her own eyes she realized it was far greater than she had heard.
b. Happy are your men and happy are these your servants: It is a joyful thing to serve a great, wise, and rich king. If it was a happy thing to serve Solomon, it is a much happier thing to serve Jesus.
c. Blessed be the LORD your God, who delighted in you: This is an example of what God wanted to do for Israel under the promises of the Old Covenant. God promised Israel that if they obeyed under the Old Covenant, He would bless them so tremendously that the world would notice and give glory to the Lord God of Israel.
i. Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the LORD your God will set you high above all nations of the earth… Then all peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they shall be afraid of you. (Deuteronomy 28:1, 10)
ii. God wanted to reach the nations through an obedient and blessed Israel. If Israel did not obey, then God would speak to the nations through a thoroughly disciplined Israel.
d. Blessed be the LORD your God: It is fair to ask if this was a true confession of faith, expressing allegiance to the God of Israel. Taken in their context, these may not be more than the queen’s response to the astonishing blessing evident in Solomon’s Jerusalem.
i. “Her statement about the blessings of the Lord on Israel and Solomon in verse 9 was no more than a polite reference to Solomon’s God… There is no record that she accepted Solomon’s God, who was so majestically edified by the temple.” (Dilday)
ii. “Praise to the LORD implies recognition of Israel’s national God and need not necessarily be an expression of personal faith.” (Wiseman)
iii. If we take the Queen of Sheba as an example of a seeker, we see that Solomon impressed her with his wealth and splendour, and also impressed her personally. But she returned home without an evident expression of faith in the God of Israel. This shows that impressing seekers with facilities and programs and organization and professionalism isn’t enough.
iv. Regardless of the result of her search, we can admire her seeking.
- · She came from a great distance.
- · She came with gifts to offer.
- · She came to question and to learn.
- · She came and saw the riches of the king.
- · She came for an extended period.
- · She came telling all that was on her heart.
v. Jesus used the Queen of Sheba as an example of a seeker: The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here (Matthew 12:42). If the Queen of Sheba sought Solomon and the splendour of his kingdom so diligently, how much more should people today seek Jesus and the glory of His Kingdom. The Queen of Sheba will certainly also rise up in judgment against this generation.
e. Because the LORD has loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king: This statement is especially meaningful because Solomon was not necessarily the most logical successor of his father David. There were several sons of David born before Solomon.
i. “It was God’s special act to make him king rather than his elder brother.” (Poole)
4. (verses 10-13) An exchange of gifts.
Then she gave the king one hundred and twenty talents of gold, spices in great quantity, and precious stones. There never again came such abundance of spices as the Queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon. Also, the ships of Hiram, which brought gold from Ophir, brought great quantities of almug wood and precious stones from Ophir. And the king made steps of the almug wood for the house of the LORD and for the king’s house, also harps and stringed instruments for singers. There never again came such almug wood, nor has the like been seen to this day. Now King Solomon gave the Queen of Sheba all she desired, whatever she asked, besides what Solomon had given her according to the royal generosity. So she turned and went to her own country, she and her servants.
a. There never again came such abundance of spices as the Queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon: She came from a region rich in spices and skilled in the processing of spices.
b. Solomon had given her according to the royal generosity: To give according to the royal generosity means to give a lot. This description of Solomon’s measure of generosity to the Queen of Sheba also describes the measure of God’s generosity towards us.
i. According to tradition – fanciful stories, perhaps – the Queen of Sheba wanted a son by Solomon, and he obliged her. Her child was named Menilek, and he became the ancestor of all subsequent Ethiopian monarchs.
B. Solomon’s great wealth.
1. (verses 14-15) Solomon’s yearly income.
The weight of gold that came to Solomon yearly was six hundred and sixty-six talents of gold, besides that from the travelling merchants, from the income of traders, from all the kings of Arabia, and from the governors of the country.
a. Six hundred and sixty-six talents of gold: This was a vast amount of gold, which came to Solomon yearly. One commentator estimated the value of the 666 talents of gold at $281,318,400. According to the value of gold in the year 2015, it would be just under $1 billion dollars. This speaks not only to the great wealth of Solomon, but it also makes him the only other person in the Bible associated with the number 666.
i. The other Biblical connection to 666 is the end-times world dictator and opponent of God and His people often known as the Antichrist (Revelation 13:18). In fact, the Revelation passage specifically says that the number 666 is the number of a man, and the man may be Solomon.
ii. This isn’t to say that Solomon was the Antichrist or that the coming Antichrist will be some strange reincarnation of Solomon. But it may indicate that the Antichrist may not be someone purely evil from the very beginning. Instead, he may be like Solomon – a good man corrupted.
b. Besides that from the travelling merchants: Solomon received more than 666 talents of gold a year. The 666 talents were just his beginning salary.
i. The writer of 1 Kings gives us a warning signal here. He assumes that we know of the instructions for future kings of Israel in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. He assumes we know verse 17 of that passage, which says: nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself. God blessed Solomon with great riches, but Solomon allowed that blessing to turn into danger because he disobediently multiplied silver and gold for himself.
2. (verses 16-27) Examples of Solomon’s wealth and prosperity.
And King Solomon made two hundred large shields of hammered gold; six hundred shekels of gold went into each shield. He also made three hundred shields of hammered gold; three minas of gold went into each shield. The king put them in the House of the Forest of Lebanon. Moreover, the king made a great throne of ivory and overlaid it with pure gold. The throne had six steps, and the top of the throne was round at the back; there were armrests on either side of the place of the seat, and two lions stood beside the armrests. Twelve lions stood there, one on each side of the six steps; nothing like this had been made for any other kingdom. All King Solomon’s drinking vessels were gold, and all the vessels of the House of the Forest of Lebanon were pure gold. Not one was silver, for this was accounted as nothing in the days of Solomon. For the king had merchant ships at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the merchant ships came bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and monkeys. So King Solomon surpassed all the kings of the earth in riches and wisdom. Now all the earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart. Each man brought his present: articles of silver and gold, garments, armour, spices, horses, and mules, at a set rate year by year. And Solomon gathered chariots and horsemen; he had one thousand four hundred chariots and twelve thousand horsemen, whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem. The king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones, and he made cedar trees as abundant as the sycamores which are in the lowland.
a. Two hundred large shields of hammered gold… three hundred shields of hammered gold: These shields made beautiful displays in the House of the Forest of Lebanon, but they were of no use in battle. Gold was too heavy and too soft to be used as a metal for effective shields. This shows Solomon had the image of a warrior king, but without the substance.
i. According to Dilday, each large shield was worth about $120,000 ($250,000 at 2015 values). The smaller shields were worth $30,000 ($57,000 at 2015 values). $33 million was invested in gold ceremonial shields.
b. Not one was silver, for this was accounted as nothing in the days of Solomon: This was a statement of wealth. If taken seriously, it shows the tremendous abundance of Solomon’s kingdom. Truly, King Solomon surpassed all the kings of the earth in riches and wisdom, and the promises of Deuteronomy 28:1-14 were fulfilled in his reign: The LORD will open to you His good treasure, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season, and to bless all the work of your hand. You shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow (Deuteronomy 28:12).
c. Now all the earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart: This was another fulfilment of the promises of Deuteronomy 28: And the LORD will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above only, and not be beneath, if you heed the commandments of the LORD your God (Deuteronomy 28:13).
d. Solomon gathered chariots and horsemen; he had one thousand four hundred chariots and twelve thousand horsemen: In comparison to the reign of David, there were few military conflicts during the reign of Solomon, yet he still saw the importance of a strong defence. Perhaps there were few military conflicts because Solomon had a strong defence.
i. Remains of Solomon’s fortress and stables at Megiddo can be seen today.
d. The king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones: When we think of Solomon’s great wealth, we also consider that he originally did not set his heart upon riches. He deliberately asked for wisdom to lead the people of God instead of riches or fame. God promised to also give Solomon riches and fame, and God fulfilled His promise.
i. We also consider that Solomon gave eloquent testimony to the vanity of riches as the preacher in the Book of Ecclesiastes. He powerfully showed that there was no ultimate satisfaction through materialism. We don’t have to be as rich as Solomon to learn the same lesson.
3. (verses 28-29) Solomon’s interest in horses.
Also, Solomon had horses imported from Egypt and Keveh; the king’s merchants bought them in Keveh at the current price. Now a chariot that was imported from Egypt cost six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse one hundred and fifty; and thus, through their agents, they exported them to all the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Syria.
a. Solomon had horses imported from Egypt and Keveh: At the end of this great description of Solomon’s wealth and splendour, we have the sound of this dark note. This was in direct disobedience to Deuteronomy 17:16, which said to the Kings of Israel: But he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, for the LORD has said to you, “You shall not return that way again.”
b. Thus, through their agents, they exported them to all the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Syria: This may explain why Solomon broke such an obvious commandment. Perhaps the importation of horses from Egypt began as trading as an agent on behalf of other kings. From this, perhaps Solomon could say, “I’m importing horses from Egypt, but I am not doing it for myself. I’m not breaking God’s command.” Many examples of gross disobedience begin as clever rationalizations.