Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament1 KINGS 10
THE GLORY OF SOLOMON
This chapter appears to have been intended by the narrator to enhance in the fullest degree possible the glory and splendor of the reign of king Solomon. From an earthly viewpoint only did he succeed. Solomon's reign was a climax of sensuality and materialism. The gaudy ostentation of Solomon's court exhibits a false glitter, and, "One finds it easy to understand the judgment of Jesus Christ,"F1 who singled out the humble flowers of the meadow and declared that, "Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these" (Matthew 6:28-29).
THE VISIT OF THE QUEEN OF SHEBA
And when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of Jehovah, she came to prove him with hard questions. And she came to Jerusalem with a very great train, with camels that bare spices, and very much gold, and precious stones; and when she was come to Solomon, she communed with him of all that was in her heart. And Solomon told her all her questions: there was not anything hid from the king which he told her not. And when the queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, and the house that he had built, and the food 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 Jehovah; there was no more spirit in her. And she said to the king, It was a true report that I heard in mine own land of thine acts, and of thy wisdom. 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 exceed the fame which I heard. Happy are thy men, happy are these thy servants, that stand continually before thee, [and] that hear thy wisdom. Blessed be Jehovah thy God, who delighted in thee, to set thee on the throne of Israel: because Jehovah loved Israel for ever, therefore made he thee king, to do justice and righteousness. And she gave the king a 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 queen of Sheba
(1 Kings 10:1). All of the scholars we have consulted identify the realm over which this queen ruled as being in southwestern Arabia. We are to understand Sheba as being the southern kingdom of Arabia (Yemen).F2 Despite the unanimous voice among present-day scholars who support this viewpoint, it seems to this writer that some doubt should rest upon that conclusion.
Josephus flatly declared that the "Queen of Sheba was a princess who ruled over Ethiopia and Egypt."F3 How do we know that Josephus was wrong about this? His statement is strongly supported by the very titles claimed by the present-day rulers of Ethiopia. Halle Selassie I became Emperor of Ethiopia Nov. 7, 1928, with the title: "King of the Kings of Ethiopia, Lion of Judah, Elect of God."F4 The explanation that Haile Selassie himself gave regarding that title, "Lion of Judah," when he was in Washington during this century was that his ancestors were descended from Solomon via the Queen of Sheba. What other explanation could possibly justify such a title? Furthermore, the Jewish historians, as quoted by Montgomery, "Interpreted this visit of the Queen of Sheba as a desire upon her part to have offspring by Solomon."F5
Whiston disagreed with Josephus on the basis that Jesus' statement that, "She (the queen of the south) came from the ends of the earth," (Matthew 12:42) "Agrees better with Arabia than with Egypt and Ethiopia."F6 However, a glance at a map of Africa reveals that Halle Selassie's Ethiopia is very near the same location as southwestern Arabia, the two places being separated only by the very narrow strait of Perim that connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden. Thus, Jesus' words apply just as well to Ethiopia as they do to the portion of Arabia just across the strait of Perim.
Another factor that strongly supports the Ethiopian claim of descending from Solomon and the Queen of Sheba is the character of Solomon himself, who apparently never met any woman with whom he was not willing to cohabit!
Many have commented upon the feminine viewpoint that is discernible in the queen's remarks. Such things as the food on the table, the sitting of the servants, and even the apparel of Solomon's retainers are the things to which women would have paid strict attention.
Before going on from this account of the visit of the queen of Sheba, we should remember that the critical denial of the story as "merely a legend"F7 is now completely discredited. "Scholars now agree that the account of the visit is probably historical."F8 This writer goes far beyond the notion of the probable historicity of this event. Christ himself said that, "The queen of the south ... came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon" (Matthew 12:42), and one statement from Our Lord on a question of this nature is worth more than a ship load of contrary opinions.
Happy are thy men
(1 Kings 10:8). Martin noted that the RSV, the The New International Version, and the Jerusalem Bible follow the Septuagint (LXX) here and read Happy are thy wives.F9 We cannot see that it makes any difference.
Blessed be Jehovah thy God
(1 Kings 10:9). This does not imply that the queen accepted Jehovah as the supreme and only God. It is merely an indication that she recognized him as the God of Israel, on a parity with the gods of other lands.
SOLOMON'S NAVY BRINGS SUPPLIES FROM OPHIR
Verses 11, 12
And the navy also of Hiram, that brought gold from Ophir, brought in from Ophir great plenty of almug-trees and precious stones. And the king made of the almug-trees pillars for the house of Jehovah, and for the king's house, harps also and psalteries for the singers: there came no such almug-trees, nor were seen, unto this day.
(1 Kings 10:11). These remain a mystery both as to their origin and their use.F10
SOLOMON GAVE TO THE QUEEN WHATEVER SHE WANTED
And king Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba all her desire, whatsoever she asked, besides that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty. So she turned, and went to her own land, she and her servants.
This is the verse that supports the Jewish tradition that the queen desired a child by Solomon. The words are ambiguous, but they do not deny the possibility of its truth. It is evident from what is said here that Solomon gave her something besides money.
SOLOMON'S EXCEEDINGLY GREAT WEALTH; THE DESIGN OF HIS THRONE
Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was six hundred threescore and six talents of gold, besides [that which] the traders [brought], and the traffic of the merchants, and of all the kings of the mingled people, and of the governors of the country. And king Solomon made two hundred bucklers of beaten gold; six hundred [shekels] of gold went to one buckler. And [he made] three hundred shields of beaten gold; three pounds of gold went to one shield: and the king put them in the house of the forest of Lebanon. Moreover the king made a great throne of ivory, and overlaid it with the finest gold. There were six steps to the throne, and the top of the throne was round behind; and there were stays on either side by the place of the seat, and two lions standing beside the stays. And twelve lions stood there on the one side and on the other upon the six steps: there was not the like made in any kingdom. And all king Solomon's drinking vessels were of gold, and all the vessels of the house of the forest of Lebanon were of pure gold: none were of silver; it was nothing accounted of in the days of Solomon. For the king had at sea a navy of Tarshish with the navy of Hiram: once every three years came the navy of Tarshish, bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks.
No particular comment on all this is necessary. Montgomery declared that the 666 talents of gold and the solid gold drinking vessels were, "late exaggerations,"F11 but this writer remains unconvinced that he had any good reason for such an assertion. He certainly gave none. By whatever standards one may estimate Solomon's wealth, it must be judged as incredibly great. It is pointless to calculate the weight of the shields, the bucklers, the drinking vessels, etc. Even if we knew what they weighed, the price of gold has moved from $16.00 a troy ounce a few years ago to about $350.00 an ounce today, and nobody knows what it was worth in the times of Solomon!
The images of the lions that decorated Solomon's throne were made in violation of the Second Commandment of the Decalogue (Exodus 20:4), a fact recognized even by the Jewish historian Josephus.F12 Furthermore, we do not allow for one moment the validity of scholarly efforts to justify Solomon's sins in this matter with their assertion that, "It was necessary for him to put himself on an equality in this respect with neighboring powers"!F13 All such excuses for Solomon's actions in this chapter are worthless.
The throne was round behind
(1 Kings 10:19). The Hebrew word for round (formed only of consonants) is also the word for calf.F14 This means that there may have been the figure of a bull calfs head above and over the head of Solomon; and if this was the case, we may see the ugly figure of calf-worship casting its shadow over the theism of Israel.F15
A SUMMARY OF SOLOMON'S RICHES
So king Solomon exceeded all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. And all the earth sought the presence of Solomon, to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart. And they brought every man his tribute, vessels of silver, and vessels of gold, and raiment, and armor, and spices, horses, and mules, a rate year by year.
A rate year by year
(1 Kings 10:25). The RSV reads this phrase, so much year by year, indicating that the tribute Solomon exacted from all the people was a yearly tax.
SOLOMON'S VIOLATION OF GOD'S COMMANDMENT REGARDING HORSES
And Solomon gathered together chariots and horsemen: and he had a thousand and four hundred chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen, that he bestowed in the chariot cities, and with the king at Jerusalem. And the king made silver to be in Jerusalem as stones, and cedars made he to be as the sycomore-trees that are in the lowland, for abundance. And the horses which Solomon had were brought out of Egypt; and the king's merchants received them in droves, each drove at a price. And a chariot came up and went out of Egypt for six hundred [shekels] of silver, and a horse for a hundred and fifty; and so for all the kings of the Hittites, and for the kings of Syria, did they bring them out by their means.
The RSV makes Solomon's horse business a little clearer. Through the king's traders they (the horses) were exported to all the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Syria (1 Kings 10:29).
Here we are confronted with another of Solomon's shameful violations of God's specific word. With regard to Israel's king, which was prophesied through Moses, and concerning whom the Lord said, "He shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt that he might multiply horses ... he shall not multiply wives to himself ... neither shall he multiply to himself silver and gold" (Deuteronomy 17:16-17). In the italicized portion of this passage in Deuteronomy, Matheney found, "A dark hint that Solomon may have sold some Israelites into slavery in Egypt in order to obtain his horses and chariots."F16
In the next chapter, we shall see the shameful end of Solomon's so-called glorious reign.
Footnotes for 1 Kings 10
1: The Layman's Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, p. 42
2: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 5a, p. 202.
3: Flavius Josephus, Antiquities, p. 252.
4: Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 14, p. 701.
5: International Critical Commentary, Kings, p. 218.
6: Flavius Josephus, Antiquities, p. 252, footnote.
7: International Critical Commentary, Kings, p. 215.
8: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 334.
9: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 439.
10: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 218.
11: Ibid., p. 219.
12: Flavius Josephus, Antiquities, p. 255.
13: Albert Barnes, Kings, p. 177.
14: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 321.
16: Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 3, p. 189.