Among all the queens of the Bible none is so fascinating as the one who came from somewhere on the Persian Gulf to Jerusalem to prove for herself the profound wisdom of Solomon. (Consult the writer’s volume on All the Kings and Queens of the Bible.) What she heard from the king’s lips and saw of his wealth and power astounded her. We know nothing of her beauty, but it is certain she was all that could be desired in this respect. As we are discovering, the names of some of the most remarkable women of the Bible have been omitted. While this queen’s name is not given in the Bible, Arab writers call her Balkis, and Ethiopian writers name her Makeda. In fact, the Abyssinians not only claim her as their ancient queen, but trace the descent of their present king from a son who, these traditions say, was born to her by Solomon. But such a contention is without any Biblical foundation. After her royal visit to Solomon we read that she returned to “her own country.”
What was the quest of this queen of the South? She did not take her long journey from vanity nor out of any feminine curiosity because she had heard of the much heralded greatness of Solomon. Hers was not a State visit to make a new treaty of some sort nor to behold the magnificence of the court of Solomon. No, she was a seeker after wisdom and so made the tedious journey from her own palace to that of Solomon’s to increase her knowledge. She was inspired to make the visit because the fame of Solomon as the wisest man in the East had reached her. The Bible distinctly says that “she came to prove Solomon with hard, or perplexing questions,” and her questions were both numerous and varied. This nameless queen had heard that Solomon knew all about “the name of the Lord,” and it was this particular aspect of his wisdom that attracted her to Jerusalem. She had not come to see the king’s material possessions and trappings of wealth, for as a queen of considerable importance she had plenty of these herself. She came to see and hear “the Wisdom of Solomon,” as Christ said of her. As, centuries later, wise men came from the East to Bethlehem to worship Him who appeared as, “the Wisdom of God,” so Sheba’s queen came to the Holy City in search of higher knowledge. She was not only a woman of enterprise and affluence but also of a penetrating mind. Cultured, she had a thirst for wider intellectual pursuits, and therefore represented the desire in the hearts of all princely characters for a deeper understanding of the true knowledge.
Josephus the Jewish historian says of the queen that “she was inquisitive into philosophy and on that and on other accounts also was to be admired.” Word had reached her that it was Solomon’s God who had made him so remarkably wise, and as a worshiper of other gods she wanted to know about this Jehovah who had favored the king in an outstanding way. Thus, there was no mere sensation seeking in her visit. The renown of such unparalleled wisdom drew her to Solomon and in going to him she revealed how wise she was. Possibly she had read some of Solomon’s great proverbs, and the one affirming that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” gripped her and prompted her to seek out the king occupying the throne of Israel. She was seeking for a deeper knowledge of his God. While she gave utterance to religious expression such as “Blessed be the Lord thy God, which delighted in thee, and set thee on the throne of Israel: because the Lord loved Israel for ever, therefore made thee king to do judgment and justice,” we have no Bible evidence that she was converted from her heathen gods to worship the God of Solomon. Her acknowledgment of God does not imply the acceptance of Him. “It expresses the belief that He, as the tutelary God of Israel, is to be held in reverence, proportionate to the extraordinary glory which He has given to His nation.” We can but trust that the spiritual truths Solomon enunciated found a lodgment in the queen’s heart and bore much fruit in her life after she returned to her own country.
Accustomed to gorgeous finery, the queen of Sheba was an eager student of a more coveted adornment—truth for the mind. What the true nature of her “hard questions” was we are not told. What the narrative does say is that “Solomon told [or answered] all her questions, there was not anything hid from the king, which he told her not.” What did he tell? Did he recite the facts of creation of the earth and man, the Fall, the promise of the Redeemer, the significance of the law and the sacrifices, and of how the glorious “house of the Lord” she saw was designed to honor God? Did he unfold the significance of Israel’s choice and destiny and how she herself was connected with his God-honored nation? How as a descendant of Sheba, the son of Abraham by Keturah had wandered off and settled in the country bearing her name and from which she had come?
The queen “communed with Solomon of all that was in her heart.” Her heart! All the deepest questions within had been answered. Learned herself, she found Solomon’s knowledge supreme. How she would listen as the king opened his lips and gave utterance to truths that left her speechless! How the minds of these two royal persons must “have struck sparks in each other, their mutual attraction a leaping flame between them”! The lines of Addison are appropriate as we think of this king and queen, desiring above all else, wisdom and understanding—
Great souls by instinct to each other turn,
Demand alliance, and in friendship burn.
By instinct the Queen of Sheba was drawn to Israel’s wise king, and we can imagine how, after they had parted, any further questions the queen had received a ready answer from Solomon.
Not only did Solomon’s “wisdom excell the wisdom of the children of the east country.” God also added to his wisdom, countless precious possessions. Although accustomed to grandeur herself, the magnificence which the queen gazed upon in Jerusalem was beyond her conception. What she saw was almost as remarkable as what she had heard—Solomon’s gorgeous palace with its retinue of servants, ministers and cupbearers with their conspicuous apparel and also the most beautiful house of the Lord, in which gold was everywhere. Such external wealth and prosperity overwhelmed her until “there was no more spirit in her,” implying an almost speechless condition because of all the wonders she had seen. Her highest expectation had been outstripped by the abundant rich stateliness she had witnessed. Seeing Solomon in all his glory enraptured the queen’s senses, and so overcome she confessed to the king—
Howbeit I believed not the words, until I came, and mine eyes had seen it; and, behold, the half was not told me: thy wisdom and prosperity exceedeth the fame which I heard. Happy are thy men, happy are these thy servants, which stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom.
Ellicott says of these sincere sentiments, “They breathe at once the spirit of Oriental compliment, and a certain seriousness of tone, as of a mind stirred by unusual wonder and admiration.”
After expressing her heartfelt gratitude for all she had seen and heard, she bestowed upon Solomon rare and costly gifts. The queen was accompanied by “a very great train” or numerous attendants and servants to care for all the camels bearing her gifts to Solomon—not that he needed any of them. “She gave the king an hundred and twenty talents of gold, and of spices very great store, and precious stones: there came no more such abundance of spices as these which the Queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.” The price represented by spices and stones must have been fabulous. As for the 120 talents of gold, the same was equivalent to a gift of about $3,500,000 from the opulent queen.
The queen’s gifts doubtless seemed lavish—and they were—yet they were in the nature of tribute for what her ears had heard, and her eyes seen. When Solomon loaded her with gifts he gave “of his royal bounty.” We read that he gave the queen “all her desire, whatsoever she asked.” Doubtless they were many wonderful creations of Solomon which she praised and coveted, and all she said she would like to have in her own royal court, the king gave her. In addition, what he willingly gave her out of his enormous bounty must have been fabulous. But the greatest treasure she took back with her was the spiritual and moral wisdom God had put into the heart of Solomon.
As the Queen of Sheba returns to her own country, the curtain falls, and we do not know how she acted upon the knowledge of God received from Solomon, or when she died. We hear no more of her until the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world, and when, exercising His public ministry He said to a crowd gathered around Him—
The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment 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 Queen of Sheba was superior to the generation Jesus wrestled with in that she journeyed some 1,200 miles to hear and see Solomon, yet a greater than Solomon was in their midst and they would not listen to His God-given truths. They failed to appreciate Christ as Wisdom incarnate. “A greater than Solomon is here.” How blind were the religious enemies of Christ to the fact that the manifold wisdom of God, some of which Solomon had been made the recipient of, was before them personified in Him who was made unto us Wisdom! So, the illustrious Queen of Sheba “rises up in judgment,” and is poised in mid-air for all to see. She does not say a word, but Jesus voices her appreciation and appropriation of the divine wisdom to which Solomon gave utterance. The Queen of Sheba will not rise in judgment to condemn any of us, if only in our hearts there reigns the One who is, in every way, greater than Solomon. She sought the wisest and most wonderful teacher she knew of. Loving wealth and wonders, she loved wisdom more, and made the long and patient journey to the throne-city of the king. Is it not the height of folly to despise all which the King of kings, who is closer to us than breathing, so freely offers us out of His royal bounty?