5.49 1 Kings -- The Queen of Sheba
The visit of the mysterious Queen of Sheba was the pinnacle of Solomon's fame. This woman has captured the imaginations of many nations and historians, even more than "the daughter of Pharaoh" whom Solomon married. There are many legends about her, all of which are extra-Biblical. The most famous tradition is that she was an African queen named Makeda, who had a son, Menelik, with Solomon. Menelik became the founder of the kingdom of Ethiopia. His successors were even known as the Solomonic Dynasty.
But other civilizations lay claim to her as well, including Nubia and Arabia. The country of Sheba is believed to have been located in the Horn of Africa, or on the southern coast of the Arabian peninsula -- or both. This is the same problem we encountered earlier in trying to locate the land of Cush. Part of the confusion is that the original Sheba in the Bible was a man, actually two men, with two different ancestors. Gen 10:7 lists Sheba as a grandson of Cush, a son of Ham. In Gen 10:28, there is a Sheba son of Joktan, a descendant of Shem. These were two entirely different lines of Noah's offspring, and settled in different regions.
Reference is sometimes made to the Song of Solomon: surely, some scholars said, the Queen of Sheba was the subject of this romantic poem. But that is just as much conjecture as identifying the lover as Pharaoh's daughter, and the same objections apply here. In addition, the Queen's visit to Solomon was fairly short compared to the stay of the Egyptian princess, meaning there was less time for a romantic relationship to develop. The Book of Kings itself gives no hint of any love interest between Solomon and the Queen.
This visit represents a "type" of one of the two possible destinies of Israel. Israel could be a "city on a hill," proclaiming to the world the wisdom of God's ways and the prosperity that comes from obedience to Him. In this view, the Queen's admiration of Solomon pre-figures the eventual submission of the Gentiles to the one true God. The other possibility, which actually occurred, was that Israel could become a byword, a "heap of ruins" (RSV), a "hissing" (KJV), because she disobeyed God and He punished her. In either case, she has a universal significance, she proclaims a message to the entire world.
The remainder of chapter 10 continues to extol the wealth and wisdom of Solomon. It details the amount of gold imported, the gold shields he made, his ivory throne, his gold drinking cups, his trading ships which sailed with those of Hiram (1 Kings 10:22), his 1400 chariots. In sum,
King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth (1 Kings 10:23).
We also note the extent of the trade that Israel carried on with foreign countries: Tarshish, Egypt, Hittites, and Syria. This made Israel a "buckle" of the trade belt that stretched from modern Turkey to north Africa and southeast into Arabia. It was not only Solomon that prospered, but all of Israel -- merchants, craftsmen, and producers of agricultural goods:
The king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones (1 Kings 10:27).