Tag Archives: Gold

1 Kings 10 The Queen of Sheba and the Golden King

Edward Poynter, The Visit of the Queen of Shebe to King Solomon (1890)

1 Kings 10: 1-10 The Queen of Sheba and Solomon

1 When the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon (fame due to the name of the LORD), she came to test him with hard questions. 2 She came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices, and very much gold, and precious stones; and when she came to Solomon, she told him all that was on her mind. 3 Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from the king that he could not explain to her. 4 When the queen of Sheba had observed all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, 5 the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, their clothing, his valets, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the LORD, there was no more spirit in her.

6 So she said to the king, “The report was true that I heard in my own land of your accomplishments and of your wisdom, 7 but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. Not even half had been told me; your wisdom and prosperity far surpass the report that I had heard. 8 Happy are your wives! Happy are these your servants, who continually attend you and hear your wisdom!

 9 Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the LORD loved Israel forever, he has made you king to execute justice and righteousness.” 10 Then she gave the king one hundred twenty talents of gold, a great quantity of spices, and precious stones; never again did spices come in such quantity as that which the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.

There has been a long running dialogue among scholars about the location of Sheba. One common thought was Ethiopia and there is a long existent tradition in the church of Ethiopia which traces their royal line back to a liaison between the queen of Sheba and Solomon. Others looked to the Northern Arabian deserts and others to the southwestern part of the Arabian Peninsula (modern day Yemen). Late biblical texts regularly associate Sheba with gold, spices, and other luxury trading items.[1] Perhaps Sheba was an ancient and wealthy kingdom, like Tyre, that was based around walled cities and palaces but for the purpose of our narrative it could also be a people who lived off trade. A traveling queen who brings with her numerous camels and a large retinue (typically an armed force)[2] does not indicate the type of medieval kingdoms with palaces and walled cities many often imagine. At this time there are many groups that live a nomadic existence of traveling both for trade and with flocks of animals and if Sheba is in one of the proposed desert locations they would need places to stop, but much of their existence would be in motion.

This worldly traveled queen comes to Solomon and observes this newly constructed capital of Israel and hears the wisdom of Solomon and is left breathless[3]. Solomon has been aggressively engaged in building projects and trading and has acquired significant displays of wealth. He has also welcomed the entourage of Sheba to enjoy his hospitality as he answers the questions of the queen. Perhaps she views Solomon as a worthy and wise partner to trade ideas with, but she certainly views Solomon as a trading partner worthy of cultivation. Yet her vision of Solomon’s reign is probably centered around the palace complex and the city that Solomon has worked to build. Yet, with the prosperity that Solomon has surrounded himself with he seems to this worldly queen to be blessed.[4]

Something has changed in Solomon’s reign. Early in his reign a conflict between two prostitutes was brought before him but now he spends his time with royalty and trading partners. Solomon continues to acquire gold, precious stones and spices but these precious items are likely traded on the agricultural produce of the land. While I am not opposed to luxury nor do I expect kings to live like peasants, the continual focus on gold and precious items in these chapters about Solomon likely indicate a focus on gathering together and displaying the wealth that has been accumulated. Throughout the past seven chapters there has been very little focus on the condition of the people of Israel and whether they are sharing in this prosperity with their golden king.

1 Kings 10: 11-29 The Golden King

11 Moreover, the fleet of Hiram, which carried gold from Ophir, brought from Ophir a great quantity of almug wood and precious stones. 12 From the almug wood the king made supports for the house of the LORD, and for the king’s house, lyres also and harps for the singers; no such almug wood has come or been seen to this day.

13 Meanwhile King Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba every desire that she expressed, as well as what he gave her out of Solomon’s royal bounty. Then she returned to her own land, with her servants.

14 The weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was six hundred sixty-six talents of gold, 15 besides that which came from the traders and from the business of the merchants, and from all the kings of Arabia and the governors of the land. 16 King Solomon made two hundred large shields of beaten gold; six hundred shekels of gold went into each large shield. 17 He made three hundred shields of beaten gold; three minas of gold went into each shield; and the king put them in the House of the Forest of Lebanon. 18 The king also made a great ivory throne, and overlaid it with the finest gold. 19 The throne had six steps. The top of the throne was rounded in the back, and on each side of the seat were arm rests and two lions standing beside the arm rests, 20 while twelve lions were standing, one on each end of a step on the six steps. Nothing like it was ever made in any kingdom. 21 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 not considered as anything in the days of Solomon. 22 For the king had a fleet of ships of Tarshish at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the fleet of ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks.

23 Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. 24 The whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind.25 Every one of them brought a present, objects of silver and gold, garments, weaponry, spices, horses, and mules, so much year by year.

26 Solomon gathered together chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses, which he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem. 27 The king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones, and he made cedars as numerous as the sycamores of the Shephelah. 28 Solomon’s import of horses was from Egypt and Kue, and the king’s traders received them from Kue at a price. 29 A chariot could be imported from Egypt for six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse for one hundred fifty; so through the king’s traders they were exported to all the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Aram.

Solomon has become a trading partner with Sheba, Tyre, and Egypt. The accumulation of six hundred sixty-six talents (over 25 tons) of gold in a single year is an incredible amount to comprehend. It is possible that the text wants us to understand this as an annual income of gold, but it also may represent one year at the height of the gold trade for Solomon. The number 666 here has no connection with the use of the number in Revelation, but there are many ways where Solomon’s reign begins to look like the portrayal of Babylon in that book from centuries later. As Walter Brueggeman can state, “the impression is given that all roads and all gold leads to Jerusalem.” (Brueggemann, 2000, p. 134)

Solomon’s wisdom, as represented by 1 Kings, has been primarily applied to trading and construction of luxurious buildings. Solomon’s great ivory throne may be lifted up by the text as unique, but it displays the type of ostentatious use of resources expected by kings of the surrounding kingdoms. Everything is gold, even silver is considered of little value. Golden shields which only serve the purpose of display (both the full-length shields and the bucklers) rather than being practical for defense are much like the apes and peacocks (or baboons)[5] which are brought into the royal menagerie. Everything Solomon touches seems to turn to gold like the legend of King Midas. Yet, the golden king seems to be emulating Pharaoh, Hiram of Tyre, and the Queen of Sheba more than his father King David.

Solomon has also become an arms trader. Solomon’s downfall is narrated in the following chapter and the listing of Solomon’s acquisition and trading of horses and chariots from Egypt and Kue as well as his amassing of vast quantities of gold and other precious resources and the taking of many wives in the following chapter is the opposite of the ideal king imagined in Deuteronomy 17: 16-17. The forty year reign of Solomon is a time where much seems to be gained in Jerusalem, but one also has to wonder if there was also something lost. The wisdom of Solomon seems to have left the law of God behind in pursuit of the wealth of the world. As we prepare to enter the final chapter of 1 Kings which covers King Solomon’s reign we may wonder if this golden king has gained the wealth of the whole world but lost his soul[6] and the soul of the nation he is chosen to reign over.

[1] Isaiah 60: 6, Jeremiah 6:20, Ezekiel 27:22

[2] The Hebrew hayil behind entourage typically refers to a military force. (Cogan, 2001, p. 311)

[3] The Hebrew ruach means both spirit and breath and so having no more spirit can also mean being breathless.

[4] The Hebrew ‘asre can be translated ‘blessed’ or ‘happy’ and is very common in the book of Psalms and throughout wisdom literature.

[5] Translators have struggled with the Hebrew tukki for years. It may be a word from Tamil (tokai) indicating trade with India (hence peacocks) but others have suggested baboons from African trade. Translation of rarely used words is often very challenging.

[6] The idea of soul (nephesh) in Hebrew is not an immortal portion of being separate from the earthly body, it is closer to the essence of life itself. Soul and life are often interchangeable in Hebrew thought.