1 Kings 10: the Queen of Sheba meets Wisdom

1(A) Now when(B) the queen of(C) Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the LORD, she came(D) to test him with hard questions. 2She came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels(E) bearing spices and very much gold and precious stones. And when she came to Solomon, she told him all that was on her mind. 3And Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from the king that he could not explain to her.

Matthew 12:39-42:

39  But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40  For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41  The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. 42  The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.

Thus, Matthew 12:42 sums up the beauty of this chapter – behold, something greater than Solomon is here.  Indeed, until we reach Christ proclaimed in His fullness, here we see a shadow of Christ proclaimed – and it is in this chapter that we see the immense impact that Solomon has on the surrounding kingdoms.

In reading this chapter, let us not fall into the temptation that we should identify with Solomon in the way which only he could identify with Christ.  For we, indeed, shall inherit the riches of the world – but only by the name of the LORD.  Indeed, we shall be seated in a city of gold (c.f. v. 27), the new creation Jerusalem (c.f. Revelation 19-21), but again – only by the name of the LORD.  Yet, Solomon is not primarily a portrayal of daily Christian living; rather, Christ quotes Solomon’s life as a precursor in preparation of Christ’s incarnation.  Jonah and Solomon are both simultaneously seen as secondly prophet and king respectively, but in Christ’s eyes they both primarily testify to Christ’s coming to the ends of the earth.  Unlike Christ’s ministry to the Israelites, we see in Matthew 12 a specific reference to both Nineveh and the South, pointing us towards the eventual fulfillment of Japheth resting in Shem’s tent (Genesis 9:27).  Even David’s prayer of Psalm 72 is a simultaneous portrayal of the blessing upon his son Solomon, but immediately telling us also of the Son of the Father whom David is praying to, He who even the kings of Tarshish will render him tribute, the kings of Sheba and Seba bringing gifts to him (Psalm 72:10), that all nations may serve Him (Psalm 72:11), that the gold of Sheba be given to him (Psalm 72:15), that His name may endure forever (Psalm 72:17) as all nations call Him blessed (Psalm 72:17) – this is the Son who is blessed by the LORD God of Israel who alone does wondrous things (Psalm 72:18), the name of the Son deriving from the name of the LORD (Psalm 72:19), both identified as the One filling the earth with glory.  Indeed – “Amen and Amen!” (Psalm 72:19).   This Spirit-filled prayer is much in line with the theology of Isaiah in his titular book, chapter 60, anticipating the Light of the world dawning upon the darkness which ocvers the earth (Isaiah 60:2), the Light being the centre of the nations and kings (Isaiah 60:3), the wealth of the nations coming to Him (Isaiah 60:5), all those camels from Midian, Ephah and Sheba going to him, bringing gold, frankincense and the gospel (Isaiah 60:6), culminating in the beautifying of the house of the LORD which Solomon has built (Isaiah 60:7).

And are these things not true of v.1-2 of 1 Kings 10?  The Queen of Sheba is but the first of many to provide tribute to Solomon; we have already seen Hiram’s 120 talents of gold in chapter 9, matched by the Queen’s 120 talents of gold, the number symbolically representing the theocratic government and authority over Israel.  So also, her recognition of this blessing to come primarily from the very name of the LORD Whom she has heard about (v.1).  Yet, like Christ filled with wisdom, so Solomon answered to her heart’s content by the Spirit’s prompting (c.f. Proverbs 24:12; Isaiah 6:9, 43:1; Matthew 13:14, 16:9; Mark 2:8, 4:12, 5:30, 8:17, 9:45; Luke 5:22, 8:46, 9:45, 20:19, 20:23; John 6:15), the Spirit-led perception of all that was on her mind.

4And when the queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, 5the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, their clothing, his cupbearers, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the LORD, there was no more breath in her.

So we know, firstly, what Queen of Sheba was most impressed with.  It wasn’t the wisdom of Solomon, primarily – rather, as v.1 indicated, she approached Solomon for the very reason of the name of the LORD.  It is under that context that she then sees the very wisdom of Solomon as the catalyst of such awe, understanding fully that such wisdom comes from the LORD Whose name she is intrigued by.  What was it like to “see” (the Hebrew word, “ra’ah”, bearing the semantic range of definitions including that of perception, and discernment, both literal and figurative) all the wisdom of Solomon (v.4)?  Perhaps wisdom, to the Queen, and to the Israelites of those days, was as elusive as Job would describe in Job 28:12-28?  Such valuable gift which cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir, precious onyx or sapphire (Job 28:16) – the culminating conclusion that it is the very fear of the LORD which is wisdom (Job 28:28)?  Yet, the very sight of this “wisdom” would imply a matter personified, more tangible, than a mere inherent characteristic’s of Solomon (as earlier touched upon when He had clearly received this gift from the LORD in 1 Kings 3), as if seeing the house of the LORD, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the other items (v.4-5).  The Name of the LORD undergirds all of which she has seen, taking her very breath away.

If there is one person whom we should identify with, it is the Queen of Sheba herself.  Can we ask whether our breath is taken away at the very foresight of Christ’s impending new creation kingdom?  Can we give Him all of what we have, our treasures in our present kingdom, over to the Lord of lords full of wisdom and discernment?  Do we look forward to the day of new creation where we stand around the table of the King, the Lamb who bore our sin away, slain for us (Revelation 19-21), astounded that we are actually sitting at the prophesied, sumptuous, and grand wedding feast?  Solomon is but a figure of Christ, who is of far greater splendour than Solomon’s impact on the Queen of Sheba.  And yet, unlike the Queen of Sheba, our response is lukewarm for we look only by sight – at the weak, frail, and pitiful body of Christ incarnate, but forget that His weakness is the true glory unveiled by the Father’s witness.  And such true glory is seen, by faith and in the Spirit, in the new creation and His eternal transfiguration as the light of the new heaven and earth (John 17:24; Revelation 21:23).  What more need I say, when the focus on Solomon’s stature already overshadows the elements which support this imagery – from his priestly officials (1 Kings 4) to the abundant offering (1 Kings 8:62-65, 9:25).

Yet, it is clear from the first three verses that v.4 is the crux of this chapter.  It is the all the wisdom of Solomon that she sees, in response to Solomon discerning and speaking truth into the Queen’s heart and mind as to take her breath away.  And this wisdom is tied to the elements aforementioned which support this imagery.  Proverbs 8:12-36 speaks it best, that the Spirit by Whom even the One King reigns to this day (Proverbs 8:15), for Solomon is but a type of Christ, and his wisdom is the Wisdom of the Christ, the Wisdom who is one with Christ as Christ is one with Him, the Wisdom who is the Holy Spirit providing Christ with growth (Luke 2:52).  Mark the words of this Godly Wisdom, the Third Person of the Trinity – “35  For whoever finds me finds life

and obtains favor from the LORD,

36  but he who fails to find me injures himself;

all who hate me love death.” (Proverbs 8:35-36)

These are the words spoken and re-iterated in Luke 12:10 – whoever finds the Spirit finds life (even Christ Himself sought the Spirit to be resurrected from His death on the cross), and all who hate Him, so much as to blaspheme against Him, simply loves death.  Listen to the words of Glen Scrivener in his piece on “Marriage & Wisdom” on the Father who loves the Son in this piece of Wisdom literature:

Because Proverbs is all about a father – King Solomon – addressing his son, the young prince.  And he keeps saying, over twenty times, “my son, my son, my son.”  It’s a case of saying, “Now boy, here’s what you need in life.” You can almost imagine it as the vicar and his son having a father-son chat.

And as you read through Proverbs essentially Solomon’s advice to his son is this:  Watch out for the ladies!

In fact there are two ladies you need to look out for.

There’s a lady called Wisdom – get her, embrace her, marry her.  There’s a lady called Folly – avoid her, don’t listen to her, don’t be ensnared by her.

And the King keeps saying to his son, the young prince – embrace wisdom, shun folly.  All of life essentially boils down to one of two paths.  Will you go wisdom’s way, or will you go folly’s way?  The way of wisdom is the way of life and success.  The way of folly is the way of death and disaster.  Everything depends on shunning folly and embracing wisdom.

But what’s fascinating is that King Solomon does not present this choice as a matter of the intellect.  It’s not just about applying ourselves to learning and head knowledge.  And neither is this choice a matter of the will – as though we just need to be determined and resolved and just do it!.  No, wisdom and folly are matters of the heart.

Our lives are ultimately a success or a failure depending on what we love.  Or rather on Who we love.

Because Wisdom is not an abstract idea in the book of Proverbs.  Wisdom is a Person… here within this allegorical world of Proverbs, Wisdom is pictured as a lady… Verse 35 – whoever finds me finds life and receives favour (or you could translate it – grace) from the LORD.  Christ is life and He is the grace of the Father.  It’s very appropriate.  But with your eyes fixed on verse 35 let me read out to you another Proverb from chapter 18:22.  There it says:

Proverbs 18:22 He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favour from the LORD.

Did you hear that?  If you find wisdom you’ll receive favour from the LORD.  If you find a wife you’ll receive favour from the LORD.  That’s just one of many ways that wisdom is spoken of as the ultimate wife.  There are other ways too.

In Proverbs 4:9 wisdom is spoken of as a crown of splendour.   But in Proverbs 12:4 it says, “A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown.”

In Proverbs 8:11 it talks about Wisdom being more precious than rubies.  But in the famous chapter, Proverbs 31 it says:

Proverbs 31:10 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.

Church history has spoken often of Christ as Wisdom, save for Irenaeus who stands lonely in post-apostolic church history as one who has made reference to Wisdom being the Spirit:

Wherefore also the light which is from God does not illumine them, because they have dishonoured and despised God, holding Him of small account, because, through His love and infinite benignity, He has come within reach of human knowledge (knowledge, however, not with regard to His greatness, or with regard to His essence—for that has no man measured or handled—but after this sort: that we should know that He who made, and formed, and breathed in them the breath of life, and nourishes us by means of the creation, establishing all things by His Word, and binding them together by His Wisdom (i.e., the Spirit)— this is He who is the only true God); but they dream of a non-existent being above Him, that they may be regarded as having found out the great God, whom nobody, [they hold,] can recognise holding communication with the human race, or as directing mundane matters: that is to say, they find out the god of Epicurus, who does nothing either for himself or others; that is, he exercises no providence at all.Chapter XXIV “Recapitulation of the various arguments adduced against Gnostic impiety under all its aspects. The heretics, tossed about by every blast of doctrine, are opposed by the uniform teaching of the Church, which remains so always, and is consistent with itself.”, Against Heresies Book III, St. Irenaeus.  It would appear here that Lady Wisdom, by Whom our Christ the one true Solomon and true King shall reign, is the Holy Spirit.  Christ should cling onto Him (or in this analogy, Her), just as we should as Christians cling onto the Spirit for life, wisdom, discernment and guidance (Isaiah 11:2, Jeremiah 8:9) from the LORD.

Yet, there should be no reason for me to divorce the Spirit from Christ, though distinctions must be made.  Christ is incarnate; the Spirit is not – though Christ incarnate is the Spirit moving with the Christians of the apostolic day, the “other Helper” (parakletos), of the same glory shared between the Father and the Son (c.f. John 17).  The death and resurrection of the Christ shall bring with him the firstfruit of new creation, as we bear the image of the first-born son of the Father (Romans 8:29) – and the first of such fruit is the Holy Spirit Himself for Christ was filled with the Spirit without measure (John 3:34).  As John 7:39 revealed, the giving of such Spirit in Acts 2 is both an eschatological and present statement marking the giving of Spirit not only to the Israelites as with Solomon and the other saints in the Old Testament, but to all flesh, the Spirit proceeding through Christ who reigns by Him without measure, and given to us so that we could share in the glory of the Father and the Son (John 17).  This is the beauty of Lady Wisdom, that we should cling onto Her for life, instead of the Babylonian Lady Folly.  Christ and the Spirit are thus so intimately tied, that Christ thus calls Himself Wisdom of God (Luke 11:49, compared with Matthew 23:34)

6And she said to the king, “The report was true that I heard in my own land of your words and of your wisdom, 7but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard. 8(F) Happy are your men! Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! 9(G) Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel!(H) Because the LORD loved Israel forever, he has made you king,(I) that you may execute justice and righteousness.” 10(J) Then she gave the king 120 talents[a] of gold, and a very great quantity of spices and precious stones. Never again came such an abundance of spices as these that the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.

11Moreover,(K) the fleet of Hiram, which brought(L) gold from Ophir, brought from Ophir a very great amount of almug wood and precious stones. 12And the king made of the almug wood supports for the house of the LORD and for the king’s house, also lyres and harps for the singers. No such almug wood has come or been seen to this day.

13And King Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba all that she desired, whatever she asked besides what was given her by the bounty of King Solomon. So she turned and went back to her own land with her servants.

The purpose here is not to be in awe of the almug wood, which later becomes the supports for the house of the LORD (v.11-12).  No matter how precious the house of the LORD is, it is now destroyed.  No matter how precious this almug wood is, no such almug wood has come or been seen to this day.  The operate word here is “seen” – it is of such rarity that no-one can definitely seek this beautiful and tangible wood; yet, it is Solomon’s wisdom, seen in all its glory, that takes the Queen’s breath away.  Such is the impact of Lady Wisdom, exceeding that of the beautiful materials as a prophetic statement of the glory of the Lamb, the light of our new earth and new creation home.  Only have we established the LORD’s Wisdom as a precursor, do we now move to v.14-29 which displays fully the wealth which stems from such Wisdom.

14(M) Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold, 15besides that which came from the explorers and from the business of the merchants, and from all the kings of the west and from the governors of the land. 16King Solomon made 200 large shields of beaten gold; 600 shekels[b] of gold went into each shield. 17And he made 300(N) shields of beaten gold; three minas[c] of gold went into each shield. And the king put them in(O) the House of the Forest of Lebanon. 18The king also made a great ivory throne and overlaid it with the finest gold. 19The throne had six steps, and at the back of the throne was a calf’s head, and on each side of the seat were armrests and two lions standing beside the armrests, 20while twelve lions stood there, one on each end of a step on the six steps. The like of it was never made in any kingdom. 21All King Solomon’s drinking vessels were of gold, and all the vessels of(P) the House of the Forest of Lebanon were of pure gold. None were of silver; silver was not considered as anything in the days of Solomon. 22For the king had(Q) a fleet of ships of Tarshish at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the fleet of ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks.[d]

Perceive the beauty of Solomon’s throne, which can only be exceeded by the true throne of the LORD:

Only to be exceeded by these words:

1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb

2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.

4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.

5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” – Revelation 22:1-5

23(R) Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. 24And the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind. 25Every one of them brought his present, articles of silver and gold, garments, myrrh, spices, horses, and mules, so much year by year.

26(S) And Solomon gathered together(T) chariots and horsemen. He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen, whom he stationed in the(U) chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem. 27And the king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he made cedar as plentiful as(V) the sycamore of the Shephelah. 28And Solomon’s(W) import of horses was from Egypt and Kue, and the king’s traders received them from Kue at a price. 29A chariot could be imported from Egypt for 600 shekels of silver and a horse for 150, and so through the king’s traders they were exported to all the kings of(X) the Hittites and the kings of Syria.

What unmatchable beauty and wealth – and yet, this very same author of Ecclesiastes (c.f. Ecclesiastes 9:9-18), received such wealth only in the LORD’s Wisdom, the only worthy object of worship (and not mammon) – for it is indeed true that “…wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard.  The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools.  Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good” (Ecclesiastes 9:16-18).  So also, the Spirit on Christ is like wisdom on a poor man – His words despised and words are not heard, and is it not true that Christ’s parables as he wore the ragged clothes of a son of a carpenter in Nazareth confounded several of the Pharisees who shouted their laws like barking dogs?  Praise Christ that He is not that ‘one sinner’, for indeed His one sin would have unlocked the most calamitous chaos since the unordered creation at the beginning.  Instead, Christ fought with the Spirit, our true weapon, by dying as a poor man on the cross which has spoken the loudest words of wisdom in all of history.

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1 Kings 10: the Queen of Sheba meets Wisdom