THE VISIT OF THE QUEEN OF SHEBA (1 Kings 10) has often been spiced up in books and films until it has become a royal love story. Not a hint of love interest or sex scandal peeps out of the biblical text. The function of the queen of Sheba is to demonstrate by a concrete example that Solomon’s reputation had extended far and wide, and that that reputation was grounded in reality. Some observations on the encounter:
First, at a rather superficial level, this account provides an opportunity to say something about the nature of truth in the Old Testament. Some have argued that the Hebrew word for “truth,” ‘emet, really means “faithfulness” or “reliability,” and that it has to do with relationships and not propositions. Indeed, some argue, Old Testament writers simply do not have a category for true propositions. Like most errors, this one has a modicum of truth (if I may use the word) to it. Certainly ‘emet has a broader range of meaning than the English word truth, and can refer to faithfulness. But words can display faithfulness, too. The queen of Sheba tells Solomon that the report she heard in her own country about his achievements and wisdom was ‘emet: it was “true” (1 Kings 10:6, NIV); more literally, because the report was faithful, i.e., because the propositions conformed to the reality, the report was the truth. Away, then, with a reductionistic analysis of what ancient Hebrews could or could not have known.
Second, much of the chapter provides succinct descriptions of Solomon’s wealth, military muscle, successful trading expeditions in seagoing vessels, musical instruments, and more. Yet space is reserved for several explicitly theological themes. Royalty visited Solomon to listen to his wisdom—and this wisdom God himself had put in his heart (1 Kings 10:24). Indeed, Solomon enjoyed an extraordinary reputation for maintaining justice and righteousness in his kingdom, so much so that the queen of Sheba thought his achievements in this regard demonstrated “the LORD’s eternal love for Israel” (1 Kings 10:9).
But third, all of this is in some ways a setup for the next chapter. Despite all the blessings, wisdom, power, wealth, prestige, and honor that Solomon enjoyed, all received from the hand of God, the sad fact of the matter is that his own conduct was paving the way for judgment and the undoing of the Davidic dynasty. These convoluted developments await tomorrow’s meditation. Here it is enough to reflect on the fact that extraordinary blessings do not necessarily signal faithfulness. Because God is so slow to anger (surely a good thing!), the judgments that our corruptions deserve are often long delayed. Do not be hasty to assume that present blessings signal present fidelity: the terrible fruit of faithlessness may take a long time in coming.