Researched and studied by HH, Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
The Queen of Sheba’s visit.
1 Kings 10:1-10
the wealth, the glory, and the wisdom of Solomon became so famous as to gain him the admiration and the homage of all other kings. “He exceeded all the kings of the earth for riches and for wisdom. And all the earth sought to Solomon, to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart. And they brought every man his present, vessels of silver, and vessels of gold, and garments, and armour, and spices, horses, and mules, a. rate year by year.” In this exaltation in riches and wisdom over the kings of the earth was represented that of the Lord Himself as King of kings. This supreme royalty of the Saviour does not merely mean that He is the supreme ruler on earth as He is in heaven, that all kings rule in His might as by His authority; but understood in relation to the Church and heaven, it describes the fact that all Divine Truths, which kings signify, have relation to Him who is the Truth itself, and that their power to rule and the efficacy of their governments are derived from the Lord alone. The Lord to us is King of kings, when all the truths we know and acknowledge are subordinate to the one Divine truth that the Lord is all to us, that He is the author of our mercies and the Saviour of our souls—that Jesus in His Divine Humanity is the only object of our love and faith. This precious truth is that which sanctifies all others; and the practical exaltation of Him who is the way, the truth, and the life is that which brings wealth and peace to the soul. Solomon, as richer and wiser than all kings, is the true order of Divine truths in the inner man; and when this order is established, then the faculties and principles of the outer man render a universal submission, and bring their various offerings of gratitude or duty, to the ruling power. All the earth seek to Solomon to hear his wisdom, which in its origin is Divine, when the whole natural mind turns to the spiritual for instruction and guidance in the ways of wisdom and of life, and bring the various perceptions and knowledge of goodness and truth, to enrich the inward man with the wealth of knowledge and science. We bring our gifts, vessels of silver and of gold, and clothing, and spices, horses, and mules, year by year, when we apply the science of good and truth, and the intellectual and rational perceptions of truth and goodness, to the inward principles of religion in order to confirm and illustrate them, and thus to enrich and exalt them. Such things are involved in the kings of the earth being excelled by Solomon, and by all the earth coming to hear his wisdom, and presenting him with gifts.
But while we thus read of the kings of the earth being inferior to Solomon in riches and wisdom, we find that one of the queens of the earth made a pilgrimage to the city of the renowned sovereign, to hear his wisdom and to test it with hard questions. “The queen of Sheba, when she heard the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, came to prove him with hard questions. And she came to Jerusalem with a very great train, with camels that bare spices, and very much gold, and precious stones.”
The visit of the queen of Sheba to Solomon is essentially Oriental in its character. It has something of the air of an Eastern romance. But it is true history and shows that truth is more beautiful and instructive, if not always stranger, than fiction. It is not of human but of Divine creation. It is not shaped by the human imagination, with a view to produce a certain effect and teach a particular moral lesson. It is the outgrowth of human nature and is shaped by that providential operation which enters into all the affairs of human life. It comes home therefore to the hearts and understandings of men, and does not, like fiction, merely or chiefly play about the imagination and appeal to the moral sentiments. The difference between them is like-that brought out in one of the traditional stories that have come down to us respecting the queen of Sheba, in testing Solomon’s wisdom. The queen appeared once in the presence of Solomon with two flowers in her hands, one natural and the other artificial, and demanded of the king which was the true and which the false. The artificial flower was so much like nature that the king was unable to decide, but raising his eyes he saw some bees outside the lattice; he ordered the window to be opened when the insects at once made their way to the true flower, where the honey-cells were contained. As, in the case of the two women, he discovered the true from the false mother by appealing to the affection of the human heart, he now saw which was the true flower and which was the false by appealing to animal instinct, which, in its own sphere, is more unerring than human wisdom, but in the ready employment of which human wisdom shows its superiority and power.
One of the uses of the historic form in which God has been pleased to present a considerable portion of His Word is, that it may interest the minds of pious readers, especially of the young and simple. And as the Word is the medium of connection between heaven and earth, and. of communion between angels and men, the narratives of the Bible not only, like other histories, afford immediate pleasure and instruction, but they are the means by which attendant angels convey some of their own celestial affections and delights to the mind, where they lie like hidden manna, that is gradually gathered up to feed the tender germs of heavenly feeling and thought that the Spirit of the Lord generates in every human soul.
To the young mind, with warm impulses, an ardent desire for knowledge, and a keen relish for the beautiful and the true, what can be more interesting than the conduct, what more inspiring than the example, of this Eastern queen undertaking a long and toilsome journey to do homage to the king whose fame for riches and wisdom had spread through all lands, and whose wisdom she had come to try with hard questions, not as a mere intellectual exercise, but as a means of drawing forth the treasures of human and Divine knowledge with which this favourite of heaven had been so richly endowed?
We need not stop to examine the question as to the particular country from which Solomon’s royal visitor came. Sheba is mentioned several times in Scripture, but without anything being said from which we can determine with certainty whether it was in Arabia or in Ethiopia. Our main objective is to draw from it some religious instruction, and this we must expect to find in its spiritual meaning. And perhaps the safest ground on which we can base our idea of place in regard to the queen’s dominions is that contained in the statement of our Lord, who calls her the queen of the south-south in relation to Palestine, south in the spiritual sense.
To the young mind, with generous sympathies, an ardent desire for knowledge, and a keen sentimental relish for the beautiful and the true, what can be more interesting than the conduct, what more inspiring than the example, of the Arabian queen undertaking a long and toilsome journey, to do homage to the king whose fame for riches and wisdom had spread through all lands, and whose wisdom she had come to try with hard questions, not as a mere intellectual exercise, but as a means of drawing forth the treasures of human and Divine knowledge with which this favourite of heaven had been so highly endowed?
Under this pleasing narrative lie profound spiritual truths relating to the Lord and the Church. In its highest typical sense, it relates to the Lord Himself. The queen of Sheba coming to Solomon, to Jerusalem, with a very great train, with camels carrying spices, and very much gold and precious stones, represented the wisdom and intelligence that were added to the Lord in His humanity, whom Solomon typified. In a lower sense the incident, as we learn from the Lord’s teaching, had reference to the Gentile Church. For in the Gospel, our Lord, favourably contrasting the conduct of the Gentiles of former times with that of the Jews in those days, addresses His unbelieving and profane hearers in these words: “The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgement with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgement with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.” The Gentile queen, no doubt, therefore represented the Gentile Church, which turned with affection and a teachable spirit to the Lord the Saviour, who was indeed greater than Solomon. For if Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of the lilies of the field, how much less was he to be compared to Him who created the lily, and who taught it to grow, without toiling or spinning, into a thing of simple but exquisite beauty and grace, and whose internal structure, composed of fibres woven by the hand of infinite Wisdom, is still more admirable than its outward appearance?
And what is true of the lily was still more true of Him who made it, since, under the simple garb of frail humanity, though adorned with virtue and beneficence such as never man exhibited, and speaking words such as never man spoke, concealed under His human form glory, and wisdom, and riches, in themselves infinite and incomprehensible.
In its particular sense and individual application, the queen of Sheba represents that love of true wisdom which, as it is inspired by, turns to, Him who is Wisdom itself—the wisdom that is displayed and reflected in the works of creation, which is manifested in the works of Providence, Redemption, and Salvation, and which is revealed in its fullness in the Sacred Scriptures. This love of wisdom is inspired indeed into all minds. It is that which prompts the human mind everywhere to seek after knowledge—for even the love of the knowledge of nature is from the Source of all love and the Author of all knowledge. The knowledge of nature is introductory and subservient to that which we derive from the Word of God. There is an exact correspondence between them; for the same Divine love and wisdom are embodied in and expressed by both. But it is the wisdom that comes from above through the written Word that we are now to consider. And the love of this wisdom, like its object, is spiritual, not because of a difference in its Source but in its recipients. That same love which is natural in the natural mind is spiritual in the spiritual mind. It is only those, therefore, whose minds are in some degree spiritual that can desire and seek after the wisdom of heaven. But as natural knowledge is introductory to that which is spiritual, and as spiritual knowledge itself is but the means of introduction into true wisdom, those who would acquire the wisdom of eternity from the Eternal Himself, must bring their gifts to Him whose favour they would entreat, and of whose wisdom they would receive a share.
The gifts presented in ancient times were intended to show respect and to secure favour. Those which are offered to God by the spiritually minded, are indeed intended as expressions of reverence and homage; but they are not offered as the means of propitiating Divine favour, since God is ever propitious, and more ready to give than we can be to ask. Christian offerings are made to the Lord as the overflowings of a grateful heart, that feels its affections satisfied in rendering, in humble acknowledgement, the blessings which have been received from the Divine bounty back to their beneficent Giver. And this return of the Lord’s gifts to Him to whom they belong re-connects them with their Author and brings the offerer into closer connection with Him.
The gift of the queen of Sheba was similar in its nature, as it is in its signification, to that presented to the Lord at His birth by the wise men who came from the east to worship Him. And such gifts signify the offerings of love and faith which the true worshiper presents to the Lord, as the Object of worship, and as the Origin and Owner of everything which enters into the formation of love and faith. The wise men from the east presented to the Lord, gold, frankincense, and myrrh; and the queen of Sheba came to Solomon with a very great train, with camels that bare spices, and very much gold and precious stones. The spices signify the grateful and delightful perceptions of the Lord’s love and truth, which make worship itself delightful. Everyone recognises in the incense of the representative Church the symbol of the incense of praise, offered by the grateful heart to the Author of its mercies and its joys; and the spices, which were abundantly employed in the censers and on the altar of incense, denote the interior truths, which have become truths of affection, and give a grateful perception of the delights and satisfactions of holy worship.
Of the gifts brought to Solomon by the queen of Sheba, the spices were the sweet and grateful perceptions of goodness and truth, and the gold and silver were the principles of goodness and truth themselves, which are presented to the Owner and the Author of true wisdom; the very camels by which they are borne symbolize the science of the natural mind on which its higher and more valuable acquisitions rest, and which serve as the lowest mediums of connecting them with the end of all knowledge, the wisdom of loving God and keeping His commandments.
The queen of Sheba had not only heard the fame of Solomon, as a king distinguished for his wisdom and magnificence, but she had heard his fame concerning the name of the Lord. This is the great point on which our minds should be fixed in regard to the Lord Jesus as the antitype of Solomon. We should be able to say, in the language of the prophet, “Surely God is in You; and there is none else, there is no God. Verily You are a God that hide Thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour.” The name of Jehovah is in Him: Jesus is the name, the manifestation, the expression, the form, the person of Jehovah. In coming to Him we come to the Infinite and Eternal, in Himself incomprehensible, brought near to our apprehension, and still nearer to our affections, in the blessed person of the Divine Man, with whom we are able to associate all that is pure and merciful and good, and who have encircled us within the outstretched arms of His all-comprehensive Humanity. This is the Grand Object to whom we are privileged to come, whose fame is as wide as the universe, for He is the Saviour, as He is the Author, of all the earth in the universe. Are we influenced by that love for the Lord which will inspire us with a desire to see and hear Him for ourselves? and will it draw us to Him as nothing but the cords of love and the bands of a Man can draw us? For mere human strength and ardour shall fail, but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
Let us now consider the queen’s object in coming to Solomon, and the actual result of her visit. She came, it is said, to try him with hard questions. The queen’s purpose no doubt was to test the wisdom of Solomon in the way which was much practised in those times. She came to propose enigmas, and test his wisdom in their solution. Those who come to the Lord have their hard questions, though they do not put them forth as riddles, to try the skill of Him whom they interrogate. The natural man indeed plays something of this part even with the Author of Revelation itself. Once, at least, it was the fashion for the natural man to maintain that both nature and Revelation were full of enigmas, which he believed even infinite Wisdom itself could never solve. Hard but honest and earnest questions—how many of these have been solved by that very Book in which the wisdom of the Lord is revealed! How many hard questions and dark enigmas has the revealed wisdom of God solved to the satisfaction of the yearning soul! The highest intellects of the heathen world laboured long and hard to solve the mysteries of God, of creation, of the soul’s immortality, and future states of existence. But with all the aids derived from the traditional light of ancient, and the influence and diffused light of contemporary revelation, how obscure and distorted were their views of those great truths which are so plainly delivered in the Bible! These have ever been hard questions with mankind, and only in proportion as men have been able or willing to bring them for a solution to the revealed or incarnate Wisdom have they been able to obtain true and really satisfactory answers. Such questions as these Christians do not indeed need to ask, as involving points that still require a solution. But, independently of these, there are hard questions enough in every earnest one’s experience. We who possess and believe the Scriptures do not question the existence of God, or of the human soul, or of heaven or hell, or even the wisdom and goodness of the Lord in His dealings with His creatures. And yet, when we come into the real business of spiritual life, there are many hard questions, both of the intellect and the heart, that can only be set at rest by submitting them in humility to the decisions of Divine Wisdom. The young Christian may know little of these except when they come in the shape of intellectual difficulties which he is not well able to surmount, or disappointments which he finds it hard to bear. In the ordinary course of religious experience there are, in later periods of life, more difficult questions to be solved, and nicer distinctions to be drawn between God and self, and between the love of the neighbour and the love of the world; for life presents motives for increasing attachment to the two earthly loves which are antagonistic to those of heaven.
But the result of every earnest appeal to the wisdom of the great King will be such as that which attended the trial of the queen of Sheba: Solomon told her all her questions; there was no one hid from the king which he told her not. The queen, too, had communed with Solomon of all that was in her heart. And this laying open of the heart is one of the means of obtaining a full and satisfactory solution of the real questions of life, and making its paths plain, if not easy. The difficulties of life and the pains attending it arise essentially from the discordance between the human and the Divine will and wisdom. If the human will and understanding could feel and see finitely as the Divine will and understanding feel and see infinitely, there would be no mental conflict either in our perceptions or volitions—there would be no perplexities to clear up, no doubtful points of belief to determine, no conflicting impulses to decide between. It is only our nearer approach to a state of harmony with the Divine will and wisdom that brings us into a clearer perception of all truth and more perfect love of all goodness. Every real coming to the Lord is a practical coming; a coming with the heart as well as with the understanding, and with the works as well as words.
But the answers to her questions did not constitute the whole benefit and satisfaction which the queen of Sheba derived from her visit to the court of Solomon. She had heard reports of his acts and of his wisdom in her own country, but now she saw with her own eyes and heard with her own ears. Such is the difference between indirect and direct knowledge, between what we learn from others and what we know from the Lord: and such is the difference between knowledge and wisdom; and between what the Apostle calls faith and sight. We must all first, in our own land, hear from others of the wonders of wisdom and love that exist in the spiritual and heavenly kingdoms of the Lord: but if we desire or expect to see them in reality and as they are, we must go up to Jerusalem and see eye to eye. Too often in the things of this world does distance lend enchantment to the view; and the things which we pursue as the greatest blessings often elude our grasp, or when we have obtained them, perish in the using; but those which are spiritual and eternal are seen to be more beautiful and enduring as we approach them more nearly, not theoretically but practically. The reason of this is, that the nearer we come to the Lord by a life of religion, the nearer we come to that state which reflects the Divine attributes in their purity, for we see the Divine perfections only as they are faithfully mirrored in our own minds. Nor is the conception of the beauties of heaven an exception to this. The glories of that kingdom are true, in themselves, such as eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man to conceive, yet all its magnificence and beauty will remain forever unseen and unfelt unless they are reflected in our own hearts and understandings. We must first go up to heaven as a state before we can go up to heaven as a place. And if we indeed do go up in heart and mind to the heavenly Jerusalem while we are sojourners in this world, truly will the truth of the saying be realized,” Behold, the half was not told me.” And this may be a matter of experience with regard to the heavenly state itself even while we live in this material world, obscured though our perceptions are by the dullness of the material body. Experience realizes more than knowledge promises. Such was the testimony of the queen of Sheba, and such will be the testimony of everyone who acquires for himself and in himself that wisdom which comes but by experience. “And she said to the king, It was a true report that I heard in mine own land of your acts and of your wisdom. Howbeit I believed not the words until I came, and my eyes had seen it: and, behold, the half was not told me: your wisdom and prosperity exceeds the fame which I heard.” In every instance of indirect and direct knowledge, the experience of the queen of Sheba is repeated. But far more is this the case with regard to spiritual knowledge. Those who know the truth of religion, the things of eternity, only by report, as others have declared and described them, know little and believe less. We must know these things for ourselves: we must see them with our own eyes and hear them with our own ears before we can have any adequate conception or any well-grounded belief of what has been told us. And then shall we be convinced that the half was not told us—that the reality exceeds the fame of the Lord and His kingdom.
In a still more practical view—if we know the things of religion only intellectually or theoretically, we have but an indirect knowledge of and a weak faith in them. It is only when they become things of the will and of practice, that they become truly our own; that we see them in ourselves, and feel their power, and form a true estimate of their value and importance. Happy is it when the indirect and intellectual knowledge of these things leads us to seek that more intimate and practical acquaintance with them, which opens the mind to a perception of their reality and a sense of their grandeur. While the mind is content with a kind of hearsay knowledge of religion, how distant, and cold, and formal is the state and practice of the Christian! When, on the contrary, men hear and believe the report of the glad tidings, and are inspired with an earnest desire to know these things for themselves, though they may be far removed from the centre of light and perfection, yet the desire itself is a source of satisfaction as well as a means of progress; and although, in the words of the Lord, they be, like the queen of Sheba, in the uttermost parts of the earth, they will find their way to the city and temple of the Lord, to see the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple. And if we consider the Lord’s words in their spiritual sense, how expressive are they! For the south signifies where there is light or knowledge, and by the uttermost parts of the earth is signified the extreme limits of the Church—also the lowest degree of the natural mind. To come from the uttermost parts of the earth, even when it is in the south, to Jerusalem, is to advance from the most external state to the most internal—from the lowest to the highest state and condition of mind.
How far the reality exceeds the expectation in matters of spiritual faith and eternal life, we may learn from the history before us. “When the queen of Sheba had seen all Solomon’s wisdom, and the house that he had built, and the meat of his table, and the sitting of his servants, and the attendance of his ministers, and their apparel, and his cupbearers, and his ascent by which he went up to the house of the Lord; there was no more spirit in her.” The splendour of Solomon’s court and the magnificence of his palaces and of the temple represented the glory of the Church and kingdom of the Lord in His Humanity. In reference to the Church and the member of the Church, the king’s house and the house of Jehovah are the faculties themselves that are receptive of the principles of truth and love, for a king is the symbol of truth, and Jehovah is expressive of Divine love. The principles of goodness and truth, considered as the support of the spiritual life of the soul, are the meat of Solomon’s table and the wine supplied by his cupbearers; the perceptions of truth and affections of goodness are his servants and ministers, their apparel being the holy truths by which they are adorned and distinguished. The wisdom which is first mentioned in this enumeration of the objects that the queen beheld with speechless admiration is that in which all spiritual principles have their beginning; while the ascent to the house of the Lord, which is last mentioned, is that to which they all tend. Where wisdom is the principal thing in the Church and in the mind, all intermediate things are means, the end of which is ascent to the house of the Lord—ascent into conjunction with the Lord in His Divine Humanity—ascent into a state of love to the Lord above all things— and finally an ascent into the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens; into the mansion where the Lord dwells with the angels, with whom the regenerate as angels shall unite in serving the Lord, and shall dwell in His presence forever. There it is that the blessed state shall be fully realized: “Happy are your men, happy are these your servants, which stand continually before you, and that hear your wisdom.”