The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the LORD, she came to prove him with hard questions.The Queen of Sheba
THE queen of Sheba was an earnest inquirer. She was not content with the reports which she had heard in her own land; she bethought her that she would put to the test this man of marvellous wisdom, whose gifts of expression, both in speech and in song, were unrivalled. She thought she knew something which even he could not answer. She would have her own questions put in her own way. That is what every earnest inquirer must insist upon. No man can ask another man's questions. Every man must put his inquiries, his doubts, and his desires, precisely in his own tone, and must himself listen to the replies which are returned. The inquiry is never the same; in substance it may be identical, but in spirit, in tone, in quality, there is always a critical point and measure of difference, which every man realises for himself, and must insist upon making clear to the person to whom his inquiries are addressed. The queen of Sheba was herein a model inquirer. She said in effect: I will go and state my case, and see this man face to face, and talk over all the great problems which make life so painful—so little, yet so great, so glorious and so full of hope. She came a long way to see Solomon. She travelled northward, mile by mile, day by day; and the miles seemed nothing, and the days flew away, because her heart was full of a great hope that at last she would receive solutions to problems which had filled her with the spirit of unrest. She put herself to trouble on her own spiritual account. Therefore she became a prepared listener. Persons who do not put themselves to trouble in order to have their case stated and considered are not in a fit position to receive communications from heaven. We must not be mere receivers; we must be suppliants intensely interested in our own prayers, and so enriched with patience and with the grace of rational expectation, that God may see us in a waiting posture, and know that we are tarrying until the door open, or the answer in some way come. There would be more Solomons if there were more queens Sheba: there would be greater preachers if there were greater hearers. A great revival must now take place in the pew. The pulpit was never so occupied as it is in every communion this day: never had it such learning, such spirituality, such power and force of every quality and degree. But the pew is a divided quantity: it seems to be listening to a thousand voices all at once, and therefore not listening to any of them. The pew requires intensity of attention, consciousness of deep spiritual necessity, and requires to have, as it were, written upon it the demand that whosoever addresses it should speak as under a baptism of fire.
The queen of Sheba represented the common desire of the world. The interview with the king was long-continued and marked by supreme confidence.—"She communed with him of all that was in her heart" (1Kings 10:2). How then could he but answer her questions? She half-answered them herself by her way of putting them. He sowed the seed on a prepared soil. He felt that he was in vital communication with a living soul—a listener who heard not only every word but every tone, and knew the spiritual value of the music which was being poured into the listening ear. We nowadays cannot get at people's hearts. Civilisation has lent new resources to hypocrisy. We now put questions merely for the sake of putting them, and to such questions kind heaven is dumb. Jesus Christ answered some people "never a word." He looked dumb. They were not speaking of what was in their hearts. Given a hearer who will tell the speaker all that is in his heart, and behold Jesus himself will draw nigh, and, beginning at Moses, he will pursue his way through prophets and minstrels and all writers, until the listening heart glows with a warmth hitherto unknown. Ye have not, because ye ask not. Ask, and receive! Is asking an exercise of the lips, a mere putting of phrases into an interrogative form? Asking is crying, demanding, beseeching, supplicating, weeping. Who has asked? We ask not until we reach the point of sacrifice. It is when the heart is in high agony that it prays; at other times it merely mutters to itself. What we want, then, is heart to heart communication. The great questions are in the heart. We have falsely supposed that great inquiries concerned the intellect alone, but when we come into a completer and truer analysis, we shall find that the great questions lie within the moral region, and are really affairs of the heart. Let the heart speak its doubts and fears, tell its tale of perverseness, selfishness, littleness, relate all that is in its secret places, and force itself to put into words things that shame the heavens; then we shall see whether the gospel leaves unanswered the great questions of the soul. But the gospel will not be trifled with. It will not be turned into a plaything. It will not condescend to be consulted as an oracle, to be used as a convenience for the gratification of intellectual desire or anxiety; it has a message to the heart: it stands at the heart, and knocks. Ye have not, because ye ask not! Your prayer was swift, shallow, an effort in words; you sweltered not in blood when you spake the poor prayer.
The queen of Sheba saw with a trained eye that the accessories were in keeping with the central dignity: "And 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 unto the house of the Lord------" (1Kings 10:4-5). This was fair reasoning. We may reason from within, and say: Given such a spiritual state, and such and such accessories may reasonably be looked for. Or we may reason from without, and say: If God so cared for oxen, what will he do for men? If God so paint the lily, how will he beautify the soul? If God has lavished infinite wisdom and strength on the grass blade, what can he have done for all heaven? Men are at liberty to begin their reasoning from either of these points—namely, the inward, or the outward. Some cannot begin from the point that is within: for they have no experience that would warrant their assuming the right to reason from such an origin; but the open Bible is accessible to all men—namely, the open bible of nature, life, and the whole scheme of providence. Jesus Christ often trained his disciples to reason from the point that was external. When their faith was going down, he did not deliver long metaphysical lectures upon faith and upon the culture of the soul, because his scholars could not follow him in such high argument, but he said, "Behold the fowls of the air: consider the lilies: are not ye better than they? Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field------" and from that point he reasoned inward, until those who understood his reasoning felt themselves clothed upon with their house from heaven. The reasoning remains the same today in all its broadest effects. In some cases we are struck by the spiritual wisdom of men. They have intellectual penetration, moral sagacity—that keen, swift sympathy which understands without being told, which sees the prodigal whilst he is "yet a great way off;" they are seers and prophets, and men whose very voice may be an inspiration, and whose very touch may be the beginning of recreated strength. Others, again, can only judge the gospel by providence. Jesus Christ takes care to assure those who are concerned in his kingdom that God does not forget the outward. He says, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things"—lumping them, reducing them to a contemptible "etc."—"all these things shall be added unto you. Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things." So we reason from the care of the body to the care of the soul; and we are entitled to reason from his making of the world, and his governing thereof, to what he will do in all spiritual spaces, liberties, and processes. Take his world, and make that the beginning of your reasoning, and you will be compelled by a gracious necessity to acknowledge that he who has made even this little world we call the earth, must have made something larger and better: for there is enough in the very beginning to force the conclusion that it is but a beginning. Has God lavished all his strength upon the grass-blade, upon the daisy of the field, upon the fowl of the air? or has he made these but points of beginning, seizing which, we are struck with amazement, and the amazement becomes another point of ascent, and every new wonder is turned into a new question, and so the soul is cultured by gracious and gradual processes.
How very vividly the queen of Sheba represented faith as over-taxed—"Howbeit I believed not the words" (1Kings 10:7)—"I loved to hear them, but they were too much for me; it seemed to me impossible that any man should have reached this height of wisdom, or realised this extent of excellence; I tell thee, Solomon, the reports staggered my reason and simply overwhelmed my faith." No wonder. And herein we should be gentle to those who on hearing the gospel, say, "How can these things be? Whence hath this man this wisdom? Never man spake like this Man!" The gospel must stagger men before it really lays hold of their deepest confidence, and turns them heavenward—Godward. If we have delivered the gospel so as to produce the impression that it is very simple, easy, superficial, a message which any child might have conceived, or which a person who is half awake might deliver, what wonder if the age has said: We have no time for gospels of that quality: give us fire, life! When the gospel is preached, credulity should arise and say, No: I can believe much, but I cannot believe that on first hearing: that God should die, that life should come through death, that sin can only be obliterated by blood; that God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life—nay, the whole world is not worth it; it is a little mean world, and God never loved it so. There is a passion of unbelief which is not to be resented. Men who deliver themselves in this strain of doubt are at least earnest men, and therefore may be talked to, reasoned with, prayed over. Have faith in men who are staggered by the greatness of the gospel. It is well they should be so. If we could see the heavens as they are at night, who dare go out? Should we not be driven mad by splendour so infinite? Thus God concealeth matters. It is the glory of God to conceal things, or to reveal them little by little, as we are able to hear them; it is his own method, and it is suited to the naked eye. God hath made his universe for the naked eye. So things are atmosphered, attempered, measured as to proportion and relation, and all the while he keeps the whole matter in his own hand, giving as we are able to receive it. The queen of Sheba, with sweet and gracious simplicity, frankly exclaimed, "I believe not;" and will Christ be angry with us if we say to him sometimes, "Lord Jesus, I believed not; the glory was so great, the revelation so grand, that my faith simply reeled and was of no use to me; that thou didst bleed and die for men—Lord, I did not believe; I said, 'Would he devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?' Lord, I did not believe"? Will he not in reply to that confession rather look upon us benignantly and say, No wonder, into these things the angels desire to look; no wonder, all heaven was surprised when the revelation was made there; no wonder, for the first archangel cannot touch this mystery of love. There is a nonbelief which may hereafter throw into glorious contrast the faith by which we are saved.
But the queen of Sheba also showed that imagination was overborne by fact: "Behold," said she, "the half was not told me: thy wisdom and prosperity exceedeth the fame which I heard" (1Kings 10:7.) Here is truth again. This woman is true from the beginning of the interview unto the end. And all that Christ asks of us is to be true, and in our own way to say what we have seen him do, and especially what we have seen him do for ourselves. "He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think." "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." Interpret these words as we may—of distant heaven, or of spiritual revelation and communion—there remains the fact that they represent? quantity, a light, a marvel beyond the ken of human wisdom, far away from the line that is beaten by imagination's strongest wing. We must acknowledge all these things plainly, and tell men that religion, instead of being less than we supposed it to be, is, in Christ Jesus, the supreme marvel, without beginning and without end. There is no searching of Christ's understanding; his riches are unsearchable: the more he gives, the more he seems to have to give. It is a great mystery, and must be acknowledged as such, and proclaimed as such with unfaltering tongue.
Nor could the queen of Sheba limit her commendation and ecstasy to the king himself. Said she, "Happy are thy men, happy are these thy servants, which stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom" (1Kings 10:8). O to be a servant of thine, king Solomon; to be permitted sometimes to overhear thy conversation, to catch even a stray word now and then!" Happy are these thy servants;" they must often listen when they do not seem to be listening; they must serve thee with both hands earnestly, because they get back from thee such gleams of light, such words of revelation and soothing as men never heard before. And is the servant of Christ unblessed? Are they who are humblest and lowliest in all the Church without benefaction? Nay, do they not all live in the sunshine and eat at the hospitable table of God's own summer? Is there a servant of Christ who has not a heaven of his own? We should be happier if we knew our privileges more. It is an awful thing to have outlived Christian privilege. It is a sad thing to imagine that we have outgrown our teachers, and have no further need of their assistance: then indeed the teachers can do no mighty works, because of the unbelief of the learners. Who would not give much to have one long day with the Apostle Paul? Yet he was stoned whilst he lived; he was persecuted unto the death. Who would not wish to have one long day with Martin Luther? Yet the men of his age did not understand him, nor care for his great messages. Who would not love to have one whole summer day, the longest in the year, with Frederick William Robertson, of Brighton, the greatest teacher of his day, the child-man, the man all but angel, with so little of the body and so much of the spirit, who interpreted the Bible in the very act of reading it? Yet who knew him or cared for him beyond a limited circle of devotees who felt that his speech was music, and that his sentences were fountains of living water? Who knows but the very lowliest in the Church may be those who derive most benefit from the privileges of the sanctuary? There are privileges even yet in the house of God. It is a privilege to hear some men pray, to hear some men read the Scriptures, to hear some men unfold the sacred message; and yet they may be listened to without attention, and their message may seem to have upon it no brightness other than earthly. The time shall come when men will know that a prophet hath been amongst them.
What use did Jesus Christ make of this incident of the visit of the queen of Sheba? We find an answer in Matthew 12:42 :—"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." She was drawn by a strange magnetism. The queen of Sheba was of the Semitic race, and was not therefore wholly alien from the seed of Abraham: and who can tell how the principle of heredity works in souls, and draws them in this direction or in that, and enables them to sustain great cost of time and strength and money in order to reach the culmination of their spiritual desires? "A greater than Solomon": he answers greater questions, he distributes greater blessings, he reigns in more glorious state. When he sees Solomon in all his grandeur—sees the man who made of the almug trees pillars for the house of the Lord, and for the king's house, harps also and psalteries for singers—when he beholds this great Solomon, he takes up a blade of grass, and plucks a flower of the field, and says, "Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." When a man can so interpret nature, he never can be poor, and he never can be alone.