The story of the queen of Sheba is one of the famous stories of the Bible. Here is a queen who travels a great distance to see king Solomon at the peak of his golden era. She comes to see if the stories she has heard are really true. She comes to hear of his great wisdom.
But what do we make of such an account? Stories like this one are great for flannel graph boards in Sunday school, but how do we apply them to our lives?
Sometimes we can find a New Testament text that helps us understand how to understand an Old Testament story. Such is the case here with the Queen of Sheba.
Some scribes and Pharisees had asked Jesus for a sign. Jesus knew their hearts—he knew that they really didn’t want to believe in him. They only wanted their own ideas of a messiah fulfilled. So Jesus told them the only sign that they’d get was the sign of Jonah, and then he said:
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. (Matthew 12:42)
Jesus was saying that the Gentile queen of Sheba responded in a right way to the wisdom of Solomon.
Now, there they were—God’s people, not the ungodly Gentiles—and they were not responding correctly when someone greater than Solomon appeared (that someone being Jesus Christ).
Because Jesus made a comparison here with the queen of Sheba and seeking himself, we can look at her and discover insights into how we should seek Christ.
First of all, we find that the queen of Sheba was…
1 Kings 10:1 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.
Sheba was a country located where Yemen is today—that thin strip of a nation on the southern border of Saudi Arabia. A journey to Israel would have been between 1,000 and 1,500 miles over desert lands. It was not the kind of journey that a noble person would have taken in those days. Kings and queens usually stayed close to home.
Somehow, she “heard of the fame of Solomon.” In the days before the Internet and email, before telephones, and even a postal service, the one way to hear news from faraway lands was through traders.
Towards the end of the queen’s account here, there are two verses that appear misplaced—they seem to have nothing to do with the queen.
1 Kings 10:11 And the navy also of Hiram, that brought gold from Ophir, brought in from Ophir great plenty of almug trees, and precious stones.
1 Kings 10:12 And the king made of the almug trees pillars for the house of the LORD, and for the king’s house, harps also and psalteries for singers: there came no such almug trees, nor were seen unto this day.
Some say that these verses should come after 1 Kings 9:28, since they are talking about the trade that Solomon and Hiram where conducting on the high seas.
It could be that this is telling about the effects of a trade agreement that the queen made with Solomon. Ophir is thought to have located in the Arabia peninsula, just to the northwest of Sheba. The nation of Sheba could have had control of this Ophir at the time, which is why there is a connection with the queen of Sheba here.
At any rate, you can easily imagine that ships of trade, including those that Hiram and Solomon were sending out, stopped in the ports of her land and told stories about the glory of Israel and of king Solomon. Sailors could be known for the stories that they told, of sea monsters and waves that were ten times bigger than they really were. But when the queen of Sheba heard these stories, she couldn’t brush them off as fairytales. She showed an interest in them that could not be satisfied except that she investigate them herself.
This is the first step that a sinner must make in coming to Jesus. He or she must show an interest in Jesus. It’s actually a bigger deal than it first sounds. Most people have no interest whatsoever in Jesus. The 19th century preacher, Charles Spurgeon, bemoaned this lack of interest in the Savior. He said:
Plenty of people will read the newspaper through from the first word of the title to the last advertisement, but they will scarcely deign to look at a gracious treatise, or tract, or their Bibles; there is nothing there to interest them. Anything about war, or the wreck of a ship, or an accident in a coal mine; or, worse still, the story of some foul crime, or the details with which the Divorce Court is familiar;—there are many who are quite sure to read all that through; but as to that which concerns the soul, eternity, heaven, hell, the Christ of God—all this appears to be a matter of perfect indifference to a large mass of our fellow-creatures.
“Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by,
Is it nothing to you that Jesus should die?”
(Spurgeon, vol. 48, 207)
The queen of Sheba took an interest in Solomon and now, Jesus said, one who is “greater than Solomon is here.” We will find ourselves condemned by the queen of Sheba if we don’t taken an interest in someone who is far greater than Solomon.
Have you taken an interest in Christ?
Do you still take an interest in Christ today?
The queen of Sheba not only took an interest in Solomon, she…
1 Kings 10:1 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.
1 Kings 10:2 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.
1 Kings 10:3 And Solomon told her all her questions: there was not any thing hid from the king, which he told her not.
Were these questions the kinds of riddles that ancients pondered about, like, if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make a sound? Or, can God make a rock so big that he can’t lift it?
Or were the questions more practical—what’s the best way to get maximum profit from a small fleet of ships? How can I keep the people of my nation happy and obedient?
Or, since she came to “prove him with hard questions,” where these questions that she had her own answers to, but wanted to see what he would say? Was she simply seeking a trustworthy business partner?
She launched her own investigation of Solomon to find out if the stories she had heard was true. She investigated to find out if Solomon would be a worthy person to join herself and her nation with in trade.
James Warner Wallace is former detective who investigated the claims of Christ and came to faith as a result. He says,
I was thirty-five years old before I first paid attention to a pastor’s sermon. A fellow officer had been inviting me to church for many months, and while I was able to put him off for some time, I eventually acquiesced and attended a Sunday-morning service with my family.
I managed to ignore most of what the pastor talked about until he began to paint a picture of Jesus that caught my attention. He characterized Jesus as a really smart guy who had some remarkably wise things to say about life, family, relationships, and work. I began to believe that this might be true.
While I was uninterested in bowing my knee to Jesus as God, I was at least willing to listen to Jesus as a teacher. A week later I purchased my first Bible.
My friends knew me as an angry atheist, a skeptic who thoughtfully dissected Christians and the Christian worldview, yet I suddenly found myself reading the Gospels to hear what Jesus had to say. Something about the Gospels caught my attention, more as an investigator than as someone interested in the ancient philosophy of an imaginary sage.
By this time in my life… I had interviewed hundreds (if not thousands) of eyewitnesses and suspects. I had become familiar with the nature of eyewitness statements, and I understood how testimony was evaluated in a court of law. Something about the Gospels struck me as more than mythological storytelling. The Gospels actually appeared to be ancient eyewitness accounts.
…I was eventually trained in Forensic Statement Analysis (FSA). By carefully employing this methodology and scrutinizing a suspect’s choice of pronouns, use of tensed language, compression or expansion of time (along with many other linguistic tendencies), I was typically able to determine if he or she committed the crime, and I could often establish the time of day when the crime actually occurred!
If this technique could provide me with such incredible insight into the statements of suspects and witnesses, why couldn’t it be used to investigate the claims of the Gospels? I began to use FSA as I studied the gospel of Mark. Within a month, and in spite of my deep skepticism and hesitation, I concluded that Mark’s gospel was the eyewitness account of the apostle Peter. I was beginning to move from a belief that Jesus was a wise teacher to a belief in what He said about Himself. I began a journey from casual assent to committed trust… (Wallace)
This is what we all need to do with the claims of Jesus—perhaps not to the depth that Wallace did—but we need to show an interest in Christ and investigate in some way, his claim to be the Son of God.
The queen of Sheba showed interest in Solomon, she investigated the stories of his wealth and wisdom, leading her to be…
1 Kings 10:4 And when the queen of Sheba had seen all Solomon’s wisdom, and the house that he had built,
1 Kings 10:5 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; there was no more spirit in her.
1 Kings 10:6 And she said to the king, It was a true report that I heard in mine own land of thy acts and of thy wisdom.
1 Kings 10:7 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.
1 Kings 10:8 Happy are thy men, happy are these thy servants, which stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom.
The phrase “there was no more spirit in her” could be translated, “it took her breath away” because the word for “spirit” (ruach) is wind or breath. So she was overwhelmed, and that’s pretty amazing considering that she was familiar with the riches of royalty.
She goes as far to say that “the half was not told me”! The queen was so impressed that she confessed…
1 Kings 10:9 Blessed be the LORD thy God, which delighted in thee, to set thee on the throne of Israel: because the LORD loved Israel for ever, therefore made he thee king, to do judgment and justice.
Of course, we’re interested to know if the queen of Sheba made a proper confession of faith here.
On the one hand, we ought to be cautious about declaring her saved at this point, because her praise is not exactly personal—“Blessed be the LORD thy God.” She was still distancing herself from the Lord. He wasn’t her God.
On the other hand, Jesus said that, “The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it.” What if the “rise up” refers to rising up in resurrection?
Whether or not she was saved, and I tend to think she was, we can’t deny that she recognized God’s power and wisdom. She was in awe and she confessed that truth to Solomon.
When was the last time you’ve been impressed by a work of the Lord? When was the last time that you confessed something about his greatness to another person?
Maybe it was an answered prayer or maybe it was just a wonderful sunset, with rays of light shooting out from red and purple clouds.
The Lord loves to see people recognize his handiwork and give praise to him for it. To not give the Lord praise for his works is wrong.
This is one reason why Jesus said that the queen of Sheba would “rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it:” They failed to recognize God’s work in sending a them a Messiah. They ought to have been like Peter in John 6—
68 Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. 69 And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God. (John 6:68–69)
Are you impressed with Christ? Do you confess him as your Lord and Savior? Do you proclaim him as the Son of the living God?
Once the queen of Sheba had been impressed Solomon’s wisdom and confessed that it was from the Lord, she…
1. The Investment She Made
1 Kings 10:10 And she gave the king an hundred and twenty talents of gold [about 4 tons], 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 gave Solomon a lot of her treasure. She invested herself (and her nation in him). We are reminded that Jesus deserves all the treasure we can give, whether it be money or our lives.
Jesus explained that the salvation that he offered, while free, is a treasure worth anything we have.
44 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. 45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: 46 Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it. (Matthew 13:44–46)
This does not mean that we can buy our salvation. But it does show us the value of our salvation.
It does show us that there is one “greater than Solomon” who is here now and that he is worth infinitely more than all of Solomon’s gold a billion times over. It does show us that we ought to invest our lives in Jesus.
The queen’s investment did not go unrewarded, we see now…
2. The Return On Her Investment
1 Kings 10:13 And king Solomon gave unto the queen of Sheba all her desire, whatsoever she asked, beside that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty. So she turned and went to her own country, she and her servants.
The great thing about coming to Christ is that, by forsaking ourselves, we end up gaining everything. Jesus said,
25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. (Matthew 16:25)
When we do, we’ll find ourselves feeling the same way that Moses felt, that our investment in Christ is worth more than all the world’s wealth and pleasure. Moses, according to Hebrews 11, considered “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt” (Hebrews 11:26)
Jesus’s words in Matthew 12:42 are words of warning to any generation. If people will not give Christ the attention that the queen of Sheba gave to a man that was only a dim reflection of Christ’s glory, then they stand condemned.
Are you interested in Christ?
Have you investigated Christ?
Are you impressed with Christ?
Have you invested in Christ?
NOTES AND WORKS CITED
Spurgeon, C. H. The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons. Vol. 48. London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1902.
Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. Colorado Springs, CO: DavidCCook, 2013.