I Kings 10:1-29
“Solomon and the Queen of Sheba”
OBST591-D17 Old Testament Orientation I
Dr. Doug Wilson
December 12, 2010
This is a literary analysis on I Kings 10:1-29, commonly referred to as “The Queen of Sheba” passage.1 This passage is a fascinating story of the queen of a faraway land visiting King Solomon. She traveled over fifteen hundred miles2, not a small undertaking in those days, to see for herself the King of Israel she had heard much about. The characters, plot and setting of the story are interesting and teach us a lot about Solomon and the Israel of his day.
The most significant features of the narrative are the character development and the setting of the story. My first insights into the passage center on the uniqueness of the two main characters, the Queen of Sheba and Solomon. These were both very rounded characters in that they were fully developed in the short twenty nine verses of this chapter. The character of the Queen is unique not only in the way she is described and “lives” in the story but is a unique character in history and literature. Four highly respected sources detail her visit with Solomon, but outside of those four sources there is no evidence that she ever existed. Her visit is detailed in the Habeshan history, Hebrew Bible, New Testament and the Qur’an.3 In these sources, after
1New American Standard Bible, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), 481.
2Enduring World Website <http://www.enduringworld.com/commentaries/1110.htm>,(accessed December 5 , 2010)
3Wikipedia Website <http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_of_Sheba>,(accessed December 5 , 2010)
her visit with Solomon she is never mentioned again. She is certainly a mysterious and
She has strong traits as outlined in verses 1-9. She has a curious nature, travelling great distances to meet Solomon. She is intelligent and demanding, coming to test him with hard questions. She is domineering and strong in that she picked the topics of their conversations and in the end, she was given “whatever she asked for”.4 She was capable of humility as she was truly in awe of Solomon and his court after her visit. The Queen is also a motivated person who operates with a plan for her actions, not acting randomly or acting according to the actions of others. She came. She explored. She satisfied her curiosity and returned home.
There are many insights in this story into the character and true person of Solomon, primarily in how he was treated by others. Respect for this king ran deep. The Queen of Sheba gifted him with 120 talents of gold, about 9000 pounds!5 At today’s rough price of $13006 an ounce that is approximately $187,000,000. Not only was she rich but she was also obviously in awe of Solomon. She also gave him many, many other gifts of great value. Today we think of the wisdom of Solomon as taught in biblical stories but his reputation and knowledge of his wisdom and wealth must have stretched across the world in his day to demand and deserve such
4Today’s Parallel Bible, New Living Translation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 783.
6Gold Tracking Website<http://www.goldprice.org,>,(accessed December 6, 2010)
attention. He is clearly presented as a respected individual who was sought after by many people.
Solomon is also a person of creativity. The passage tells several times of his creative use of materials available due to his great wealth and even of some horse trading!7 Despite his great wealth his wisdom is shown also in the creative way he allocates resources.
The setting of the story follows the theme of wealth and vast riches started in Solomon’s character development. His kingdom was “richer than any other king in all the earth”.8 Yearly his court received over twenty-five tons of gold, over $1,400,000,000 in today’s dollars.9 The setting of the story, unique and fascinating, pulls in the reader as the plot keeps him there. The doubting Queen visits, is completely overwhelmed and impressed by the King, pays him great homage with huge gifts and departs, never to be heard from again. The story concludes with more details of the King’s wealth and power. It is a sort of biblical version of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous10, not your typical Bible story!
There are several good examples of literary devices. Repetition is used in the list of gifts and their uses, primarily gold and its many uses. Gold is mentioned ten times in twenty nine verses!11 Comparison was as a device to show the wealth of Solomon in that he “made silver as
7 Today’s Parallel Bible, New Living Translation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 783.
10 TV Guide Website<http://www.tvguide.com/…/lifestyles-rich-famous/202698>,(accessed December 6, 2010)
11Blue Letter Bible Website<http://blueletterbible.org,>,(accessed December 6, 2010)
plentiful in Jerusalem as stones”.12 Tension building was successfully used at the beginning of the story in the description of the Queen and her journey from doubt to belief in the wisdom of Solomon. You can feel the Queen’s cynicism of the great wisdom of Solomon melt away as she gets to know him. She arrived antagonistic and left satisfied.
Overall a beautifully written story full of interesting characters in a unique setting with a well-developed plot.
INTERPRETIVE ISSUE AND RESOLUTION
The significant issue with properly interpreting this story lies in understanding one of the primary components of the setting and the character development of Solomon. How rich was he really in comparison to others of his day? I can do the math on the amounts of gold and other riches in the story, but what did it mean in Solomon’s day? Was it even more or less impressive as compared to today’s standards? How rich was Solomon truly? It is not a theological question but based on the setting of the story seems a relevant question in interpreting the passage.
I was unsuccessful in finding information on this question from published books but discovered it to be quite a common topic of interest on the internet. One source listed Solomon’s wealth as including 12,000 houses, 1400 chariots, 700 wives and 300 concubines in addition to the control of most of the world’s major trade routes.13 I’m not sure how to truly value these items but believe that the answer is that he was probably the richest person who ever lived. I _____________________
12Today’s Parallel Bible, New Living Translation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 785.
13Jewish Virtual Library Website<http://Jewishvirtuallibrary.org>,(accessed December 8, 2010)
knew from previous studies that he was wealthy but this story requires me to see him from a new perspective, not only wealthy but wealthy probably beyond anyone’s understanding, then or today.
This explains many things about Solomon and his life including why the Queen of Sheba had heard of him and would travel so far. It also gives some insight into his wisdom. If God would trust him with so much, he must have been truly wise.
The timeless theological and applicational principle of this story is that all people seek wisdom and that true wisdom comes from God. Before this story was told, Solomon sought wisdom when he asked God for it in I Kings 3:5-11.14 For much of the rest of his life God answered that prayer and developed his personal wisdom. Also for much of the rest of his life, others were attracted to him.
The Queen of Sheba in this passage, despite her obvious personal wealth and success sought Solomon out. She did not come to see the wealth of his court, but to test his reputation of wisdom. Was he really that wise? Yes! She found that he was even wiser than his reputation!15 “People from every nation came to visit him and to hear the wisdom God had given him, year
14New American Standard Bible, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), 468.
15Today’s Parallel Bible, New Living Translation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 783.
after year….”16 People are attracted to wisdom. Careful reading of that last verse shows that people didn’t seek Solomon out because of his wealth, but because of his wisdom.
Why are people so inspired to be in the presence of wisdom? True wisdom has one source and that is what those who pursue wisdom truly desire. True wisdom comes from God. The life of Solomon itself is proof of that. He simply asked for it and his prayer was answered. The source of Solomon’s wisdom was God and it was result of his simple prayer early in his life. Can it possibly be that easy?
Solomon loved the Lord, walked in his ways17 and prayed. He asked for wisdom. God was pleased that he asked for “this thing”.18 And because he asked for wisdom and not other things more common things like a long life or riches, God granted his prayer. Solomon walked with the Lord as a young man and as the wise king described in this story. To this point his life appears to be a model of consistent behavior in this regard. He is presented overall as a model to follow.
On a personal note, I live in Bentonville, Arkansas, the home of Walmart and once the home of the world’s richest man, Sam Walton. I never met Mr. Sam but know many people who knew him well. It is truly amazing to see how many thousands of people visit this small town every year, searching for a glimpse of what made Walton successful. If you speak with visitors near the town square where the original Walton Five and Dime is still
17New American Standard Bible, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), 468.
located, they are not interested in Walmart or any of the business details, they are interested in Mr. Walton. What made him successful? Was he really that wise?
There are no parallels presented here connecting Mr. Walton and Solomon except to further illustrate that people seek out wisdom. Sometimes it is the Queen of Sheba traveling from another part of the world to the court of Solomon and sometimes it is a Japanese tourist from Tokyo on the town square in Bentonville, Arkansas. People seek wisdom.
Solomon asked God for wisdom and truly believed that it came from God. “For the Lord gives wisdom”19 are Solomon’s words from Proverbs 2:6. Solomon’s wisdom was then and is now legend. People are attracted to and compelled to seek out wisdom and those who are wise. True wisdom has only one source, as potentially the wisest man in human history described in this story, illustrated with his life up to this point.
The Old Testament is full of fascinating characters and their stories. They are often presented as simple stories such as the visit of a king by a queen from a distant land. In reality they are often complex and deep in character development, setting and plot to fully express the ideas of the heavenly inspired writer. The story described here is just one of many to be explored and understood!
Bible Letter Bible Website <http://blueletterbible.org>
Enduring World Website <http://enduringworld.com/commentaries/1110.htm>
Gold Tracking Website <http://www.goldprice.org>
Jewish Virtual Library Website <http://Jewishvirtuallibrary.org>
New American Standard Bible, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006)
Today’s Parallel Bible, New Living Translation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000)
TV Guide Website <http:www.tvguide.com>