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Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 10

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary



In 1 Kings 10:1-18, the visit of the queen of Sheba is described graphically and with some detail; the remainder of the chapter returns to a series of brief notes on the government and wealth of Solomon.

Verse 1

(1) The queen of Sheba.—The name “Sheba” must be distinguished from Seba, or Saba (which begins with a different Hebrew letter), (a) The name Seba denotes a Cushite race (Genesis 10:7), connected, in Isaiah 43:3; Isaiah 45:14, with Egypt and Cush, and named with Sheba (“the kings of Sheba and Seba”)in the Psalm of Solomon (Psalms 72:10). Seba is, indeed, with great probability identified (see Jos. Ant. ii. 10, 2) with the Ethiopian city and island of Meroë. It is probably from confusion between Sheba and Saba that Josephus (Ant. viii. 6, 5) represents the queen of Sheba as a “queen of Egypt and Ethiopia.” (b) The name “Sheba” is found in the ethnological lists of Genesis 10:7, among the descendants of Cush of the Hamite race, in Genesis 10:28, among the Semitic Joktanites, and in Genesis 25:3, among the Abrahamic children of Keturah. The kingdom of Sheba referred to in this passage must certainly be placed in Arabia Felix, the habitation of the Joktanite race (in which the Keturahites appear to have been merged), for the Cushite Sheba is probably to be found elsewhere on the Persian Gulf. The queen of Sheba would therefore be of Semitic race, not wholly an alien from the stock of Abraham.

The fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord.—If the reading of the text be correct, the phrase “concerning: the name of the Lord” (to which there is nothing to correspond in 2 Chronicles 9:1) must refer to the constant connection of the fame of Solomon—especially in relation to his wisdom, which is here mainly referred to—with the name of Jehovah, as the God to whom, in the erection of the Temple, he devoted both his treasure and himself.

Hard questions—or, riddles. The Arabian legends preserved in the Koran enumerate a list of questions and puzzles, propounded by the queen and answered by Solomon, too puerile to be worth mention. The “hard questions” (in which Solomon is said by Josephus to have had a contest with Hiram also) must surely have been rather those enigmatic and metaphorical sayings, so familiar to Eastern philosophy, in which the results of speculation, metaphysical or religious, are tersely embodied. The writings representing the age of Solomon—Job, Proverbs, and (whatever be its actual date) Ecclesiastes—are all concerned with these great problems, moral and speculative, which belong to humanity as such, especially in its relation to God. In solving these problems, rather than the merely fantastic ingenuity of what we call riddles, the wisdom of Solomon would be worthily employed.

Verse 2

(2) Spices.—The “spices” of Arabia were famous in all ages. Sheba is mentioned in Ezekiel 27:22 as trafficking with Tyre “in chief of all spices, and precious stones, and gold.” The spices of “the incensebearing sands” of Arabia are constantly dwelt upon both in Greek and Roman literature. Frankincense especially was imported from Arabia into Palestine (see Isaiah 60:6; Jeremiah 6:20), although now it comes chiefly from India. Myrrh also was in ancient times drawn chiefly from Arabia. Cassia is a product of Arabia and India. Of all spices, the frankincense for sacrifice and the myrrh for embalming the dead would be most in request.

Gold, and precious stones.—These may have been native products of Sheba, or have been brought from the farther East. Gold is not now known to exist in Arabia, nor any precious stones except the onyx and the emerald. But in ancient times it was commonly believed to produce both gold and precious stones largely.

Verses 4-5

(4, 5) And when the queen of Sheba had seen.—There is something curiously inartificial and true to nature in the accumulation of different impressions as made upon the imagination of the queen. First of all comes the primary impression of Solomon’s wisdom, known by his answering all her questions, and “seen” in the various ordinances of his court and his government. Then the magnificence of the palace and all the arrangements of its service are referred to in detail, as especially likely to tell on one whose own splendour was probably of a simpler and more barbaric sort. Lastly, if our translation be correct, the record singles out the ascent or viaduct crossing the valley from the palace to Mount Moriah, and forming the royal entrance into the Temple (see 1 Chronicles 26:16;2 Kings 16:18), evidently a unique and remarkable structure. But it must be noticed that the LXX. and Vulgate and other versions render here, “the burnt offerings, which he offered in the house of the Lord,” and Josephus has the same interpretation. The magnificent scale of his sacrifices is illustrated in 1 Kings 8:63, and it is certainly natural that this point should not be left unmentioned in the description of the wonders of his court. This rendering, therefore, which the Hebrew will well bear, has much probability to recommend it.

Verses 6-9

(6-9) And she said.—These words (repeated almost word for word in 2 Chronicles 9:5-8) are clearly from some contemporary document. They breathe at once the spirit of Oriental compliment, and a certain seriousness of tone, as of a mind stirred by unusual wonder and admiration. It is worth notice that they touch but lightly on external magnificence and prosperity, and go on to dwell emphatically on the wisdom of Solomon, as a wisdom enabling him to do judgment and justice, and as a gift from Jehovah, his God. The acknowledgment of Jehovah, of course, does not imply acceptance of the religion of Israel. It expresses the belief that He, as the tutelary God of Israel, is to be held in reverence, proportionate to the extraordinary glory which He has given to His nation. (See 1 Kings 5:7.)

Verses 11-12

(11, 12) Gold from Ophir.—The insertion of this notice is obviously suggested by the mention of the gold and precious stones brought from Sheba. The wood of the “almug” tree, called (apparently more properly) the “algum” tree in 2 Chronicles 9:10, is (see Note on 1 Kings 9:25) the red sandal-wood found in China and the Indian Archipelago, and still used for precious utensils in India. The “pillars for the house of the Lord” could not have been any of the larger supports of the Temple. They are usually supposed to have been (see margin) “rails” or “balustrades” for stairs. (See 2 Chronicles 9:11.) For the harps and the “psalteries” (which appear to have been like our guitars) the beauty and hardness of the word would be especially appropriate. These represent the stringed instruments chiefly in use in the service of the Temple. The harp (kinnor) is the more ancient, traced (see Genesis 4:21) even to antediluvian times. The psaltery (nebel) is first mentioned (generally with the harp) in the Psalms. Both seem to have been played either with the hand, or with a plectrum or quill.

Verse 13

(13) All her desire.—The terms here employed indicate a position of inferiority, although well graced and honoured, in the queen of Sheba. Her present is of the nature of tribute. Solomon gives her of “his bounty,” both what she asked for (probably by praising it) and what else he would.

Verse 14

(14) Talents.—The word properly signifies a “circle,” or “globe,” and the talent (among the Hebrews and other Orientals, as among the Greeks) denoted properly a certain weight. (a) The ordinary talent of gold contained 100 “manehs,” or “portions” (the Greek mna, or mina), and each maneh (as is seen by comparing 1 Kings 10:17 with 2 Chronicles 9:16) contained 100 shekels of gold. According to Josephus (Ant. xiv. 7, 1), each maneh contained 2½ Roman pounds, and the talent, therefore, 250 Roman pounds, or 1,262,500 grains; and this agrees fairly with his computation elsewhere (Ant. iii. 8, 10), that the gold shekel was equivalent to the daric, which is about 129 grains. (See Dictionary of the Bible: “WEIGHTS AND MEASURES.”) According to this calculation, 666 talents would give a weight of gold now worth £7,780,000. (b) On the other hand, the talent of silver is expressly given (by comparison of Exodus 30:13-15; Exodus 38:25-28) at 3,000 “shekels of the sanctuary,” and such a shekel appears, by the extant Maccabæan coins, to be about 220 grains. Of such talents, 666 would give a little more than half the former weight; hence, if the talent of gold here be supposed to be in weight the same as the talent of silver, the whole would give a weight of gold now worth about £4,000,000. Considering that this is expressly stated to be independent of certain customs and tributes, the smaller sum seems more probable; in any case, the amount is surprisingly large. But it should be remembered that at certain times and places accumulations of gold have taken place, so great as practically to reduce its value, and lead to its employment, not as a currency, but as a precious ornament. Making all allowance for exaggeration, this must have been the case among the Mexicans and Peruvians before the Spanish conquests. It is not improbable that the same may have occurred in the time of Solomon.

Verse 15

(15) The governors of the country.—The word “governor” (pechah) is supposed to be of foreign origin—possibly cognate to the Sanscrit word paksha “friend.” It is used constantly of foreign officers, or satraps: as in 1 Kings 20:24, of the Syrian officers; in 2 Kings 18:24 and Isaiah 36:9, of the Assyrians; in Jeremiah 51:23, of the Babylonians; in Esther 8:9, Nehemiah 5:14; Nehemiah 5:18; Nehemiah 12:26, &c., of the Persians. Hence it would seem to be used here, not for the officers in the land of Israel described in 1 Kings 4:0, but for governors (Israelite or foreign) in tributary countries: and it may possibly be a word of later origin than the age of Solomon, introduced by the compiler of the book.

Verses 16-17

(16, 17) The shields overlaid with gold—the larger called “targets,” and the lesser called “shields”—were evidently used for ornamenting the king’s palace, and (as we may gather from the notice in 2 Chronicles 12:11, of the brazen shields which superseded them) taken down and borne before the king on solemn occasions, as “when he went to the house of the Lord.” We have notices of shields of gold among the Syrians of Zobah (2 Samuel 8:7; 1 Chronicles 18:7), and of shields hung on the walls of Tyre (Ezekiel 27:10-11). The use of such ornaments argues a plethora of gold, too great to be absorbed either in currency or in personal and architectural decorations.

Verse 17

(17) Pound—that is, maneh, equal (see 2 Chronicles 10:16) to one hundred shekels.

Verse 18

(18) Ivory.—This seems to have been brought in by the Tyrians (1 Kings 10:22), and it may be noted that the only other notice of ivory in the history is in the “ivory house” of Ahab (1 Kings 22:39), who was allied with Tyre. In Psalms 45:8 (presumably of the age of Solomon) we find mention of “ivory palaces,” or possibly “caskets.” The Tyrians are described in Ezekiel 27:15 as receiving it through Dedan in Arabia, whither, no doubt, it came from India. But the Egyptians used ivory largely, drawing it from Africa; and there was, in later times, a port on the Red Sea which was a mart for ivory. The Tyrians may, therefore, have imported it both from India and from Africa. The throne of Solomon was probably inlaid with ivory and gold. Traces of such inlaying are found in Assyrian and Egyptian monuments. It is probable that, like his other architectural and decorative work, it was executed by Tyrian workmen, and the detailed description of it shows how greatly it impressed the imagination of Israel. The lion was the emblem of the house of Judah; the number twelve corresponded to the twelve tribes; and the exaltation of the throne—specially remarkable in a country where men sat commonly on the ground or on cushions—was the emblem of majesty. In the Dictionary of the Bible (“THRONE”) is given a sketch of an Assyrian throne, from a Nineveh bas-relief, which has horses in the position, supporting “the stays,” or arms of the throne, here ascribed to the lions.

Verse 21

(21) None were of silver . . .—See 2 Chronicles 9:27, “The king made silver in Jerusalem as stones.” The importation of silver (see 1 Kings 10:22) was by the navy of Tarshish; and the mention of the plentifulness of silver seems the reason for noticing the existence of this navy.

Verse 22

(22) A navy of Tharshish.—There seems little doubt that the Tarshish of Scripture is properly Tartessus in Spain, which name, indeed, is drawn from an Aramaic form of Tarshish. For (a) Tarshish is first noted in Genesis 10:4 as among the descendants of Javan, the son of Japhet, which probably points to a European position; (b) in some other places (Isaiah 23:1; Isaiah 23:6; Isaiah 23:10; Isaiah 23:14; Ezekiel 27:12-13) as here, and in 23:48, it is closely connected with Tyre, of which Tartessus is expressly said by Arrian to have been a colony: (c) from Jonah 1:3; Jonah 4:2, we gather that it was on the Mediterranean Sea; (d) the silver, which was evidently the chief import by this navy of Tarshish, was in ancient times found in large quantities in Spain, as also “the iron, lead, and tin,” mentioned with the silver in Ezekiel 27:12. But the phrase “ships of Tarshish” appears to have become a technical phrase for ships of large size (see Isaiah 2:17; Jeremiah 10:9; Psalms 48:8); hence a “navy of Tarshish” would not necessarily mean a navy going to Tarshish.

Now, the fleet of Solomon here named is not in the text identified with the navy of Ophir, starting from Ezion-geber. Its imports (except gold, which is not distinctive) are not the same, and the separate mention of it seems rather to argue its distinctness. “The sea,” moreover, unless otherwise determined by the context, would most likely mean the Great, or Mediterranean Sea; and in 2 Chronicles 9:21 (as also afterwards, in 2 Chronicles 20:36) it is expressly said that the fleet “went to Tarshish.” But the difficulty of this view lies in this—that the imports of the fleet, except the silver (which, indeed, is chiefly dwelt upon), point to an Eastern, and probably an Indian origin. Not only do the “peacocks” expressly indicate India, which may be called their native country; but of the names used, koph, for “ape,” is not a Hebrew word, but closely resembles the Sanscrit kapi; and tukki, for “peacock,” is similarly a foreign word, closely resembling the Tamil tôka. (If the ordinary reading, shen habbîm, for “ivory,” stands, this, which is an unusual word for ivory (generally simply shen, “a tooth”), bears resemblance again in its second member to ibha, the Sanscrit name for “elephant.” But it is generally thought that the correction, shen habnîm, “ivory [and] ebony,” should be accepted, especially as we find those two words used together in Ezekiel 28:15.) The only solution of this serious difficulty seems to be the supposition of a circumnavigation of Africa by fleets from Tyre to Ezion-geber, touching in Africa and India. This view also accounts for the emphatic mention of the “three years” voyage, which could not be necessary for going only to Tartessus and its neighbourhood. There is, indeed, something startling in the idea of so daring an enterprise in this early age. But there is a well-known passage in Herodotus (Book iv. 42) which records exactly such a voyage in the days of Pharaoh-Necho, not apparently as a new thing—to say nothing of the celebrated record of the Periplus of Hanno; and it seems clear that the Tyrian seamanship and maritime enterprise were at their height in the days of Solomon.

Verses 23-25

(23-25) All the kings.—These verses indicate the character of the empire of Solomon, as a loosely-compacted group of tributary states round the dominant kingdom of Israel, kept to their allegiance mainly by the ascendency of his personal wisdom and ability, partly by the ties of commercial intercourse and the attractions of his wealth and splendour, and to some degree (though in his case to a less extent than usual) by an imposing military force. It rose rapidly in the comparative abeyance of the great neighbouring empires of Egypt and Assyria, and fell as rapidly on the death of Solomon and the disruption of the kingdom. In the grand description of it in Psalms 72:0, we observe that while its wealth and prosperity are painted in bright colours, the chief stress is laid on its moral greatness, as a kingdom of righteousness and peace: “All kings shall fall down before him; all nations shall serve him. For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth . . . He shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with judgment.” Here, with the same general idea, but with a characteristic difference of expression, the chief emphasis is laid on the wisdom of Solomon, acknowledged as the gift of God (see Note on 1 Kings 4:29), and being a moral and religious at least as much as an intellectual power. In this higher character it was the type of the kingdom of the true Son of David. In this, rather than in wealth and power, lay its true glory; and the falling away from this in the later days of Solomon brought at once decay and ruin.

Verse 26

(26) Gathered together chariots.—See above, 1 Kings 4:26. This gathering of chariots—the sign of military conquest and extended empire—is evidently noticed here in connection with the growth of commerce and wealth, as one of the powers which held Solomon’s kingdom together. Josephus (Ant. viii. 7, 4), in mentioning them, gives a vivid description of the use of these chariots and horsemen for progresses of royal magnificence and pleasure. But their chief use was. no doubt, military. The “chariot cities” would be the fortified posts, in the various parts of Solomon’s own dominions and in the tributary countries.

Verse 27

(27) Made silver . . . as stones.—This influx of wealth is specially noted as enriching Jerusalem, probably without preventing the imposition of heavy burdens on the provinces. Hence the division of interest and allegiance manifested at the accession of Rehoboam. In the earlier years of the reign its prosperity is described as extending to all “Judah and Israel” (1 Kings 4:20). But the wealth gathered by tribute, and by a commerce entirely in the hands of the king, would enrich only the Court and the capital; and much Oriental history, both ancient and modern, shows that such enrichment might leave the general population impoverished and oppressed

Verse 28

(28) Linen yarn.—The introduction of this seems to be an error. If the reading of the Hebrew text is to stand, the sense appears to be, “And Solomon’s horses were brought from Egypt; a troop of the king’s merchants obtained a troop (of horses) at a fixed price.” The horses were brought up (that is) in caravans from the plains of Egypt, where they abounded (see Genesis 47:17; Exodus 9:3; Exodus 14:9; Deuteronomy 17:17; Isaiah 31:1; Isaiah 36:9), although from their not being represented on the monuments before the eighteenth dynasty it is thought they were introduced from abroad, perhaps by the Hyksos, or shepherd kings. But the LXX. has a remarkable various reading “and from Tekoa” (from which the Vulg. et de Coa, probably comes), according to which the passage runs very simply: “And Solomon’s horses were brought from Egypt; and from Tekoa the king’s merchants,” &c. Tekoa lay on the hills to the east of Hebron, not far from Bethlehem, and might well be an emporium for caravans from Egypt. The parallel passages of 2 Chronicles 1:16-17; 2 Chronicles 9:28, give us no help, for the former is exactly the same as this, and the latter runs thus: “And they brought unto Solomon horses out of Egypt and out of all lands.”

Verse 29

(29) A chariot.—This is the chariot and its team of two or three horses; the “horse” is the charger. The price (though so far considerable as to indicate a large expenditure on the whole) shows that the supply was large, and the commerce regular.

The kings of the Hittites, and the kings of Syria—evidently allies or tributaries of Solomon, who were allowed, or compelled, to purchase their horses and chariots through his merchants. Of all the earlier inhabitants of Palestine the Hittites alone are mentioned as having existed in power after the conquest (as here and in 2 Kings 7:6); and this statement is curiously confirmed by both Egyptian and Assyrian inscriptions, describing a powerful confederacy of Hittites in the valley of the Orontes in Syria, not far from Phœnicia, with whom both empires waged war. The possession of horses and chariots by the northern confederacy round Hazor is especially noted in the history of the Conquest (Joshua 11:4-6).

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 Kings 10". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/1-kings-10.html. 1905.
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