The queen of Sheba’s visit to Solomon

About a thousand years before the birth of Christ there was a legendary encounter between two wealthy rulers, one that has been immortalized in three world religions and one that people still talk about today. This encounter is recorded in the Bible and in the Koran, and it has been the subject of films.

She came from southern Arabia, an ancient kingdom in present-day Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula, directly on the Gulf of Aden. He lived in Jerusalem, in the royal palace of the holy city. She ruled the kingdom of Saba (or Sheba). Her kingdom was situated at a strategic point between India, Africa, and the Mediterranean states. He was the third king of Israel and was revered for his wisdom and prudence, and was considered liberal and fair. His intelligent peace policy with the neighbouring states ensured his people decades of peace. She came with a large retinue and tons of gold—120 talents of gold—spices, precious stones, and a special kind of wood. Shiploads of gifts were presented to Solomon.

This is the stuff that legends are made of and why the story has endured over all these centuries. A typical oriental success story: two wealthy kings meet at eye level. No wonder then that Hollywood also fell under its spell and released an epic film.

Wisdom triumphs over curiosity

A little bit of curiosity was involved too. She wanted to know whether Solomon was really as wise as the people said he was. She asked him to solve a number of riddles. This is how things were done in the Orient; it was a popular game. Solomon went along and was able to answer all her questions. There was nothing that the king could not explain. Finally she realized that this king was truly extraordinary. Her famous words: “Indeed, not the half was told me,” express her amazement. She who was so rich and who had and knew everything had to admit that she had found her master. Solomon’s wisdom and wealth exceeded the fame of which she had heard: “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” (1 Kings 10: 7). She returned to her country with many gifts.

Come and believe

Even Jesus referred to this rich queen from the south. He used her as an example to demonstrate that even a Gentile went to seek out Solomon. How much more so should the contemporaries of Jesus not have gone out to seek the Messiah instead of rejecting Him. In Matthew 12: 42 it says that she will appear as a witness at the last judgement. We must come to the Lord and see and experience Him. And then we have to go home and believe! This is the personal conclusion we can draw from this old story.

The Bible text

The report in the Old Testament about the meeting of the two rulers makes for an interesting read. Following is an excerpt from the story: “Now when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon, she came to Jerusalem to test Solomon with hard questions, having a very great retinue, camels that bore spices, gold in abundance, 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 Solomon that he could not explain it to her. And when the queen of Sheba had seen 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 their apparel, and his entryway by which he went up to the house of the Lord, there was no more spirit in her. 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 their words until I came and saw with my own eyes; and indeed the half of the greatness of your wisdom was not told me. You exceed the fame of which I heard’” (2 Chronicles 9: 1–6).

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Peter Johanning
Doctrinal instruction, People/Personalities