The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon, she came to prove Solomon with hard questions at Jerusalem, with a very great company, and camels that bare spices, and gold in abundance, and precious stones: and when she was come to Solomon, she communed with him of all that was in her heart.2Chronicles 9:1-4
1. And when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon, she came to prove Solomon with hard questions [or, riddles. A very pointed sentence, indicating a deeper truth and leading to thought. (Comp. Ezekiel 17:2.) This wisdom, couched in apothegms and riddles, in which Solomon not only distinguished himself, but had an encounter with Hiram of Tyre, was quite a familiar exercise with the Arabs] at Jerusalem, with a very great company, and camels [bearing the products of her land] that bare spices [the spices of Arabia were famous in all ages. Sheba is mentioned in Ezekiel 27:22 as trafficking with Tyre "in chief of all spices, and precious stones, and gold "], and gold in abundance, and precious stones: and when she was come to Solomon, she communed with him of all that was in her heart.
2. And Solomon told her all her questions: and there was nothing hid from Solomon which he told her not ["not of the mysteries of religion and of the worship of God, but only of questions, the meaning of which lay not on the surface, but was deeply hidden; for it was not Solomon's religious character, but his wisdom, that brought her to Jerusalem."—Keil].
3. And when the queen of Sheba had seen the wisdom of Solomon, and the house that he had built,
4. And the meat of his table, and the sitting [Heb. standing] of his servants, and the attendance of his ministers, and their apparel; his cupbearers [or, butlers] also, and their apparel; and his ascent by which he went up into the house of the Lord; there was no more spirit in her.
The Queen of Sheba
"The queen of Sheba... came to prove Solomon with hard questions" (2Chronicles 9:1).
SOLOMON grows in influence, in glory. As we had already said, whether he may yet play the fool remains to be seen. Praise no man until he is dead. In the meantime we can only speak in modified compliments even when treating the case of Solomon. But he certainly advanced in social status of a moral kind. He was visited by the queen of Sheba.
The queen of Sheba is a model to all inquirers. It was not enough for her to have heard of the fame of Solomon and to have admired him at a distance as a unique genius; her admiration excited her interest, and even her suspicion, and being a woman of penetrating mind she desired to put riddles and enigmas whereby she could test the proverbial wisdom of Solomon. This is what the Bible itself asks for; in effect the Bible says, Prove me, put me to the test, under all circumstances of triumph, joy, need, fear, and see if I have not within me a better answer than can be found in any other book. This is the criticism to which Jesus Christ is always willing to submit himself. It is his complaint that we do not ask him questions enough, the assumption of course being that all inquiries are put in a reverent and faithful spirit. There is a question-asking to which the Bible will pay no heed, and there is a question-asking which Christ will regard as impious and frivolous. Whatever we really want to know with our hearts, whatever is necessary for us to know, Jesus Christ is willing to answer. When we bring our riddles and enigmas to Christ, they must be riddles and enigmas that express the very agony of desire. To our speculation or curiosity Christ may have nothing to say, or if he condescend to speak to us it may be in tones of rebuke and repulse. Do not be afraid to put hard questions to Christ. The queen of Sheba did not put any flippant questions to Solomon; she rather sought out the most difficult inquiries which it was possible to propound. The meaning of this is that we are to ask the very hardest questions which our soul wishes to have answered, always remembering that there are some questions which need not be answered in time, and which indeed could not be answered to our present incomplete or depraved capacity and power. It is on the literary record of the world that Jesus Christ has had more hard questions put to him than any other teacher ever had. Properly considered, it may be impossible to put any easy questions to Christ within the range of the scope which his mission fills. Even were we to put what appears to us a simple question, he would show us that there are no simplicities in human thought and human education; he would instantly take up the filament and thread of our inquiries and connect these with the very centre and life of the universe. The simplest flower is rooted on the earth, and the earth is rooted in the sun, and the sun and his whole system are rooted in some higher relations of things. Thus all processes and organisations go back to the eternal throne; so the violet in its retirement and modesty may claim to be part of the household and treasure of God. Let it never be supposed that hard questions are to be put only outside the Bible, that profound, exciting discussion is not possible within the four corners of revelation; the contrary is the fact: outside the Bible, the Church, outside everything that is involved and signified by the name of Christ, there is nothing but superficiality, evanescence, and the merest trifling. The Church of God should be full of the brightest minds, of the very greatest intellects, that ever led the civilisation of the world. No man need go out of the Bible or out of the Church to find the best food for the mind, or to discover problems most worthy of human intellect and genius. It is recorded that Solomon told the queen all her questions, and there was nothing hid from Solomon which he told her not. The queen was astounded by what she heard and what she saw. She declared that the half had not been told her. This is precisely the result of gospel inquiry. When men enter into the purpose of Christ, and begin to comprehend what it is that Christ wants to do in the world, they are filled with holy amazement, acknowledging at once not only the tenderness of his pity, but the vastness of his mind, and the comprehensive range of his outlook. Statesmen have been more astounded by his propositions than any other men; great warriors and conquerors have stood in simple astonishment before the revealed policy and purpose of the Son of God; the greater the minds the greater the tributes which have been paid to Jesus Christ. Without going into what may be called the piety or the sentiment of his claim, the mere idea that he purposes the sovereignty of the world, the government of all men, through all time, and through all the generations, is a conception which invests his mind with claims to be considered as amongst the greatest statesmen, leaders, and rulers of the world. There was about Solomon something indicative of greatness: his palace was great, the temple was great, the service of which he was the centre was elaborate and costly; the meat of his table, the sitting of his servants, the attendance of his ministers, and their apparel; his cupbearers also, and their apparel; and his ascent by which he went up into the house of the Lord; all indicated great pomp and splendour. So surrounded, Solomon required to be mentally gifted, intellectually brilliant, in order to preserve in any suitable degree the harmony between himself and his kingly state. It was different with Jesus Christ; he had not where to lay his head; in his environment there was nothing but bareness, poverty, simplicity; this also was in exquisite harmony with the fitness of things, for Jesus Christ set up claims with which nothing could compare that is of an earthly kind. It was better that no attention should be attracted by his surroundings, that he should stand forth in an almost naked simplicity before the ages, and that, dispensing with all accessories, he should fix the attention of the world upon his mind, his purpose, his love. In a palace education we should expect refinement and intellectual resources of many kinds; but in the cottage at Nazareth, and in all the homes of Christ, if we had found anything to account for his greatness, it would have by so much detracted from our religious amazement; the background of his material poverty seemed but to show in greater vividness the wealth of his spiritual nature. Bring all your questions to the Son of God. Go and tell Jesus everything, and ask him everything; in a childlike, tender, loving, patient spirit, put all your inquiries to the condescending Son of man, and you will find when he replies to you that you will be constrained to exclaim, "Behold, the one half of the greatness of thy wisdom was not told me: for thou exceedest the fame that I heard."
And she said to the king, It was a true report which I heard in mine own land of thine acts, and of thy wisdom:2Chronicles 9:5-9
5. And she said to the king, It was a true report which I heard in mine own land of thine acts, and of thy wisdom:
6. Howbeit I believed not their words, until I came, and mine eyes had seen it: and, behold, the one half of the greatness of thy wisdom was not told me: for thou exceedest the fame that I heard.
7. Happy are thy men, and happy are these thy servants, which stand continually before thee, and hear thy wisdom.
8. Blessed be the Lord thy God, which delighted in thee to set thee on his throne, to be king for the Lord thy God: because thy God loved Israel, to establish them for ever, therefore made he thee king over them, to do judgment and justice.
9. And she gave the king an hundred and twenty talents of gold, and of spices great abundance, and precious stones: neither was there any such spice as the queen of Sheba gave king Solomon.
["These words," says Canon Barry, "are clearly from some contemporary document. 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. It is worth notice that they touch but lightly on external magnificence and prosperity, and go on to dwell emphatically on the wisdom of Solomon as a wisdom enabling him to do judgment and justice, and as a gift from Jehovah, his God. The acknowledgment of Jehovah, of course, does not imply acceptance of the religion of Israel. 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 the nation" (see 1Kings 5:7)].
That is an honest verdict; that is a fair, magnanimous judgment. The utility of it is in the fact that this would be the verdict of every other religion that came, so to say, to visit Christianity. Change the term from Solomon to Christ, from the queen of Sheba to the heart of the pagan world; and that heart come honestly to see for itself, to listen to Christ,—not to contend with him or to interrupt him, but simply to yield itself to the spell of his eloquence,—what would the verdict be? Precisely the verdict of the queen of Sheba in reference to the wisdom of Solomon. Other religions would say, We have our greatness, we have our wisdom, we have our morality, we are thankful for what our religion has done for our nation, we are not ashamed of it. India has no occasion to be ashamed of its religion. There are teachings in Confucius, the great philosopher of China, which any man might be proud to quote and to apply to his own daily conduct. Yet when they came to visit Christ they would listen, they would say, He does not look like what he claims to be; there is no beauty that we should desire him; he is a root out of a dry ground; he is without form or comeliness; his face is marred more than any man's: yet he talks wondrously:—Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the poor in spirit: for their's is the kingdom of heaven. Except a man be converted and become as a little child he cannot see the kingdom of God. He took up little children in his arms and blessed them, and said, Of such is the kingdom of heaven. He said he gave his flesh for the hunger of the world, and his blood for its thirst. He said he came not to destroy men's lives, but to save them. He took the bearded Pharisees and shook them all with moral indignation, and called them hypocrites. He went with sinners, and sat down with them, and made their houses sanctuaries. He said to the lost, Go, and sin no more: begin again tomorrow morning, and nothing shall be said about yesterday. Never man spake like this man! Buddha, Confucius, and all the Oriental writers, and all the dreamers of ethics, would say, He is a wondrous man: his words are gracious; not only are his words gracious, but his tone—for the tone is the man, not the word—his tone is a mystery of wisdom and love.
"And king Solomon passed all the kings of the earth in riches and wisdom" (2Chronicles 9:22).
We are not to understand by "all the earth" what is signified by that definition now: we are to understand rather that in relation to all the known kings of his time, Solomon was head and chief. What was meant by "the earth" is defined in 2Chronicles 9:26—"And he reigned over all the kings from the river unto the land of the Philistines, and to the border of Egypt." That Solomon should have been elevated to this supremacy is in fulfilment of the divine promise. When God sets his mind upon a man that he may give to that man elevation, dignity, honour and dominion, who can set bounds to the divine appointment? If the passage had read, "King Solomon passed all the kings of the earth in riches," it would have been a poor display of vanity. What is it that one man should have ten thousand horses more than another man? What is it that one kingly crown should weigh many ounces of gold more than another kingly crown? All this is external, ostentatious, and transitory. The passage, however, proceeds to add wisdom to riches, and therein the honour of Solomon is complete. Solomon was not only a man of knowledge,—which any man may be by careful reading and patient inquiry and study; Solomon's was a wealth of wisdom, knowledge, made practical and available, knowledge turned to account; a kind of intellectual seed coming to bud and blossom and ample fruitfulness. Wisdom is better than knowledge. The wise man takes in all circumstances, constructs events so as to make of them an edifice that should lead him correctly to infer the ability, character and purpose of the Architect of history. Many a man has knowledge who has not wisdom. Some have knowledge who cannot communicate it, so it becomes a mere selfish luxury; others have knowledge that is so imperfect as to be worse than ignorance, hence such men deal in half truths which are no better than sophisms and even falsehoods. True wisdom is large, comprehensive in its outlook; at once microscopic and telescopic, seeing the small and near, the vast and distant. The wise man cannot always move at a very eager or violent pace; he has many things to look at which fools or superficial thinkers do not see; he has a thousand calculations to make which do not enter into the reckoning of the popular mind; he is therefore obliged to refer his judgments to time, and to reap his honours after he has passed through this scene of life. In this matter many wise men have suffered; they have been misunderstood, they have been imperfectly represented, and in not a few instances they have been unable adequately to explain themselves, for they seemed to have passed beyond the immediate currency of words, and to have required a special language for the utterance and illustration of their thought and meaning. If Solomon was so great, what should be said of him who described himself as "One greater than Solomon"? Jesus Christ did not hesitate to use these words, and we know that he never threw words away, or used them in any false or vicious sense. It would seem as if we must first understand Solomon before we can understand Christ. As the queen of Sheba was overpowered and overwhelmed by what she saw, so we are to estimate all previous history, especially as that history culminates in its brightest characters, its noblest heroes, its wisest Solomons; then advancing to Christ we hear him distinctly say that he is greater than all that went before. This very claim would seem to involve his right to be worshipped as the Son of God. When a teacher declares himself to be greater than Jonah, greater than Solomon, greater than Moses, who can he be? Is it enough to look upon him simply as a good man? Does it satisfy the religious imagination to give him a place by himself and offer to him unique distinctions? Does it not rather seem to be right to acknowledge that he proceeded forth and came from God, and that he brought with him glory from a state of existence immeasurably older than earth and time and the limitations by which we are bounded and defined? Without saying in so many words that he was God, Jesus Christ so affected the mind and the imagination of men as to throw them into a state of bewilderment which could only be cleared away by the distinct acknowledgment that in him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
"And Solomon slept with his fathers, and he was buried in the city of David his father: and Rehoboam his son reigned in his stead" (2Chronicles 9:31).
This seems to be a lame and impotent conclusion. Yet it distinctly sets forth the common humanity of this most extraordinary and brilliant king. Literally the passage means, Solomon lay down with his fathers. He might hardly be recognised from the humblest of them. The sun dies at evening with scarcely a reminder of the glory which shone from him at mid-day. On the last day of his life, Solomon in weakness and decrepitude was hardly to be discriminated from the humblest of the kings that had gone before him. A marvellous difference is discovered in the case of Jesus Christ. We might not at first understand what he meant when he said he was greater than Solomon, but if we follow him to his cross, and his grave, and afterwards to his resurrection, we shall find that this King of kings did not sleep with his fathers, for fathers in the ordinary sense he had none; he rose from the dead, he vanquished the grave, he led captivity captive; and as he went up into heaven, we might have heard him say, Behold, a greater than Solomon is here. A mournful and pensive thing it is to read through all the history of kings: that they came, and reigned, and slept. And so the splendid monotony rolls on—they came, they reigned, they slept. The mightiest and most brilliant of the host of the kings of the earth came, and reigned, and slept; but of the King of kings, and Lord of lords, we read that he rose again the third day from the dead, and went up into glory that he might sit on the right hand of God. If this be a piece of mere imagination it is the sublimest effort of the human mind. It was no ordinary genius that could begin at Bethlehem, and work its way through all the political, social, educational, theological differences and difficulties, and yet not leave its hero until he died upon the cross, and was buried in the tomb; and should go on the third day to find the grave empty, and should see the descending cloud coming to receive him as into a chariot that he might be conveyed into heaven. If it was a dream it was the grandest dream that ever entranced the brain of man. We believe that it was an historical fact, a distinct revelation of the purpose of eternity, a blessed manifestation of the thought and love of God, and, therefore as we watch the amazing scene, with all its light and shadow, its beauty, its grief, its joy, its tragedy, its triumph, we say concerning him who is the central figure in it all, "My Lord and my God."
Almighty God, how can we praise thee when thy mercy is our theme? Our song cannot rise to the height of that great appeal. Thy mercy endureth for ever: how can we with the voice of a moment praise the gifts of an eternity? Whatever thou doest is done as from the unbeginning time; thou doest nothing at the moment to be measured by the moment, to end within the moment; thou dost always work from the centre of eternity: so every touch of thine is an infinite contact, every word of thine holds every other word thou didst ever speak: how can we praise thee with sufficiency of music, elevation of soul, or power of expression? We fail, but failing modestly we succeed, for then our weakness is our strength, and what we would do if we could is taken as if we had done it all: and thus again thy mercy repeats itself and glorifies its own tenderness. We know that thou dost live, we need not any man to testify of God, for our own lives are witnesses, our recollections are prophecies, psalms, histories, our whole life is the Old Testament written over again, and the New Testament written once more, so that when we read thy book in the light of our own life we read in a light that is double, the descending light and the internal light, and we see light in thy light, and are filled with a marvellous glory. Let thy book be unto us its own witness; we would that no man should defend it, but that it should be left to speak its own word, in its own way, at its own time; then shall the end be a more thankful and grateful acceptance of the benefaction of God. We constantly yearn after the living One; we have tasted life, and therefore we cannot die: why didst thou give us this longing for immortality? It was that thou mightest satisfy us with the thing we long for. We can never go back to death; we have touched Christ, we have seen the cross. We have felt the power of the Son of God within our hearts, and n6w in great triumph we exclaim, Christ hath abolished death: O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Whether death come to us in one form or another, whether it be the grave of the body, or the grave of fortunes and ambitions, it is all one, an overthrown and humiliated foe. We give ourselves into thy hands; let us not die a dishonourable death; we are prepared for a death in poverty, but not in shame; we are ready, if it be thy will, to carry the cross, but not the cross of the thief or the felon, but the cross of one who would die with his Lord. Grant unto us such vision of thyself, and of the wholeness and meaning of thy providence, as shall give us calmness when the mountains are carried into the midst of the sea. They are mountains we have trusted to, we have often climbed their sunny slopes, and rejoiced in their nobleness; but if it be thy will to pluck them up by the roots and waste them in the sea, God's will be done: there is nothing of eternity in them, there is no loss really in such a forfeiture: give us the heart that clings to God, and let all buildings go if they will. As for our time upon the earth, it is a handful of days, a little curling vapour in the air; our days are swifter than a post, yea, they are like a weaver's shuttle, there is no abiding in them: why are they inspired with this spirit of haste and urgency? It is because they want to take us quickly into the better time, the larger world, the completer life. Here men become infidels, unbelievers, atheists, mockers, because the day is so short there is no time to do anything in; we are interrupted, and broken in upon, and our purposes are shattered, and so we let our faith go; and the little, hurrying eager days would take us swiftly into the eternal state, where we shall have the opportunity to see God on his own scale, and to study God with the advantage of an infinite calmness. Teach us that all things are in thy hands: why should we fret or murmur, or weep hot tears? The Lord gave, and if the Lord hath taken away, he will bring back again a greater abundance; thou canst grow a thousand harvests in the year, we can hope but for one. We fall into thy hands, King, Lord, Father, Saviour; and there we are in heaven. This and all other prayers we say in the sweet name of Christ, the name to sinners dear. Amen.