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Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 10

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verse 1

1. Sheba Not the Cushite kingdom of this name in Ethiopia, as Josephus and others hold, but the region in Southern Arabia originally settled by Sheba the son of Joktan, (Genesis 10:28,) and comprising what is now known as Yemen, or Arabia-Felix. Hence our Lord called the queen of this region “the queen of the south,” and spoke of her as coming from the ends ( των περατων ) of the earth, that is, the uttermost part of the land to the south. The Arabs call the name of this queen Balkis.

Concerning the name of the Lord לשׁם יהוה , to the name, that is, in relation to the name of Jehovah. Solomon’s fame was great because of its most intimate relation to, and association with, the name of Jehovah. From him had he received the gift of superior wisdom; and the distant lands that brought their sons from far, and their silver and gold to Solomon, brought them at the same time to the name of the Lord his God, because he had thus signally glorified him. Compare Isaiah 60:9.

To prove him with hard questions Such as riddles. A common custom among the Arabs of ancient and modern times, to test the sagacity and wisdom of distinguished persons. Josephus relates that Hiram, king of Tyre, and Solomon also, tried to puzzle each other with riddles and enigmatical sayings. “The spirit of this asking of questions and solving of dark riddles is of the very nature of the Socratic wisdom itself. ‘To ask questions rightly,’ says Lord Bacon, ‘is the half of knowledge.’ ‘Life without cross-examination is no life at all,’ said Socrates. And of this stimulating process, of this eager inquiry, of this cross-examining of our thoughts, bringing new meanings out of old words, Solomon is the first example. When we inquire, when we question, when we are restless in our search after truth, when we seek it from unexpected quarters, we are but following in the steps of the wise king of Judah and the wise queen of Sheba.” Stanley.

Verses 1-13

THE QUEEN OF SHEBA, 1 Kings 10:1-13.

This account of the queen of Sheba’s visit to Solomon seems to be inserted here because of its association with his commerce with Ophir. The traders at Ophir spread the fame of the great king of Israel in all that land, (see note on 1 Kings 9:28;) and the queen, eager to acquire wisdom, and curious to test the truth of the reports she heard, made a long journey to visit him. We see in her the laudable desire to acquire wisdom, and the custom, so common in the ancient time, of making long journeys to visit noted seats of learning, and to converse with men noted for their wisdom. Her example condemns many of this generation, who, having even better opportunities than hers, and a greater than Solomon to consult, neglect to acquire the heavenly wisdom which is more precious than rubies, and a tree of life to them that lay hold on her. Compare Matthew 12:42.

Verse 2

2. With a very great train Such as corresponded with her position and power.

Spices… gold… precious stones The products of her land.

Verse 4

4. The house that he had built His royal palace, not the Lord’s house, which, it would seem, she was not permitted to enter, but only saw the ascent to it by which the king went up.

Verse 5

5. Meat of his table The vast quantity and variety of his provisions.

See 1 Kings 4:22-23.

The sitting of his servants Rather, the seats, or dwelling-places, of his servants. The apartments in the royal palace where they kept themselves ready at any moment to obey the orders of the king.

The attendance Or, the standing-places. The serving posts or positions of duty assigned to the ministers. All of these were doubtless arranged and adorned in a splendid style.

His ministers משׁרתיו , a higher order of servants than those whose sitting-places have just been mentioned. They were attendants on the king’s person, stood in his presence, and all their duties brought them more or less into immediate proximity to Solomon.

Cup-bearers Or butlers; whose office it was to take charge of the royal plate, and to pour out and bring wine to the king. See note on Nehemiah 1:11. Some understand the word of the drinking-vessels which he used.

His ascent Not the king’s gravity and pious demeanour as he went up to worship in the temple, ( Henry,) nor the burnt offering which he offered in the house of the Lord, as the older versions and many commentators thought, but the private entrance or passage-way, magnificently wrought, by which he ascended to the temple from some part of his own house. Compare 2 Kings 16:18; 1 Chronicles 26:16. From this it appears that the palace was at a lower elevation than the temple, and probably on the southern slope of Moriah. See note at the beginning of chap. 7.

No more spirit in her She was completely overwhelmed with wonder and astonishment.

Verse 9

9. Blessed be the Lord thy God The queen had learned much of Jehovah and of the history of Israel, and here expresses her reverence; but we have no credible evidence that she became a convert to the true worship of Jehovah. Her case in this respect was much like that of Hiram. See note on 1 Kings 5:7.

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Verse 11

11. Of almug trees Josephus describes them as a sort of pine; Shaw understands the cypress to be meant; but most moderns identify this tree with the sandal-wood, which was celebrated in the East from very early times as a fine-grained and fragrant tree. The reference to the navy of Hiram, and the mention of Ophir, seem to have been because the navy brought therefrom so many products similar to those which the queen of Sheba presented to him.

Verse 12

12. Pillars Rather, a balustrade to fend the side of some elevated passage or stairway. 2 Chronicles 9:11 reads מסלות , which may mean either an elevated walkingplace or a staircase. The latter meaning is here the more probable. The balustrades of the stairways in the temple and in the palace were made of this celebrated wood.

Harps… psalteries See note on 1 Samuel 10:5.

No such almug trees Those supplied by Hiram (2 Chronicles 2:8) were of an inferior quality. Compare note at chap. 1 Kings 5:8.

Verse 13

13. All her desire Whatever of a portable nature she desired to carry home with her as mementos of Solomon’s greatness and glory.

Besides that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty Or, as the margin has it, gave her according to the land of king Solomon. That is, besides giving her the things she asked for, he gave her presents becoming his vast wealth. As she had brought him presents of such great value, it was but a matter of kingly courtesy for him to respond by similar gifts.

Verse 14

SOLOMON’S VAST REVENUES, 1 Kings 10:14-29.

14. Six hundred threescore and six talents of gold There is no settled agreement as to the value of the Hebrew talent, but at the least calculation this was not less than fifteen millions of dollars of our currency. In thus greatly multiplying gold and silver to himself, Solomon transgressed the law of God. Deuteronomy 17:17.

Verse 15

15. Merchantmen… spice merchants The difference between the two is difficult to determine. The rendering, spice merchant is unauthorized by any thing in the original word. But here, perhaps, the two words are used in the general sense of wholesale and retail traffickers.

All the kings of Arabia Whose provinces bordered upon the south of Palestine, and were tributary to the kingdom of Israel. Compare 2 Chronicles 17:11 and Jeremiah 25:25, where kings of Arabia and kings of the mingled people are associated, and designated by the same word.

Governors Prefects; another name for the officers described at chap. 1 Kings 4:7. On the origin of the word, see note on 2 Kings 18:34.

Verse 16

16. Targets Large oblong shields, to cover or defend the whole body.

Six hundred shekels About eighteen pounds.

Verse 17

17. Shields Ordinary shields, such as were carried on the arm.

Three pounds Three mina. 2 Chronicles 9:16 reads three hundred shekels; according to which these shields were half the weight of the targets or long shields described in the previous verse; that is, about nine pounds. Both the greater and smaller shields were probably made of wood and overlaid with gold, and were designed more for ornament than for use. They were hung up in one of the great halls of Solomon’s palace, (see note on 1 Kings 7:2,) whence they were subsequently carried away by Shishak king of Egypt. 1 Kings 14:25-26.

Verse 18

18. Throne of ivory Like Ahab’s ivory house, (1 Kings 22:39,) and the ivory palaces and beds mentioned Psalms 45:8, Amos 6:4, this throne was not made entirely of ivory, but was so set with ivory, and so much of this material was used in its construction, that it naturally received this name. Ivory was an important article of ancient commerce, as Assyrian monuments show.

Verse 19

19. Top of the throne was round behind That is, it had a curved, or rounded back.

Stays The arms, as those of an easy chair, on which the king, when seated, might rest his hands or arms. This throne, with all its imposing surroundings, was set in the porch described at 1 Kings 7:7.

Verse 20

20. Twelve lions One lion at each end of each of the six steps by which the king ascended the throne. They were symbolic figures, and in that position might teach that resolute and determined courage and firmness should characterize all the actions of the king.

Verse 22

22. Once in three years came the navy of Tarshish This navy need not be identified with that which was built at Ezion-geber, (1 Kings 9:26,) for Solomon probably had many fleets that sailed on many seas. And yet it must not be supposed that the navy of Tarshish never went to Ophir, or that ships designed to carry on commerce with Tarshish might not be built at Ezion-geber. The contrary is clearly indicated at 1 Kings 22:48 and 2 Chronicles 20:36. Scholars are now quite generally agreed that Tarshish, which figures so largely in Scripture in connexion with Phenician commerce, is to be identified with Tartessus of classic history, a city and district in southwestern Spain not far from the Straits of Gibraltar. But Solomon’s navy certainly would not require three years to go to Spain and back; and though gold and silver abounded in that country, it would hardly be the place to go for ivory, apes, and peacocks. These latter abound in India and its neighbouring isles. Hence some have been disposed to look for another Tarshish in India. But why may not the fleets of Solomon and Hiram have passed on from Spain through the Straits of Gibraltar round the Cape of Good Hope, and thus to Southern Asia? This might well have taken three years; but an enterprise of lesser magnitude could hardly have required so long a time. This supposition is rendered exceedingly plausible by the statement of Herodotus, (iv, 42,) that Necho, king of Egypt, once sent out a fleet under charge of Phenicians, who started from the Red Sea and came round through the pillars of Hercules (Gibraltar) back to Egypt again. This seems clearly to show that Africa had been circumnavigated in Herodotus’s time, and Necho’s putting the enterprise in charge of the Phenicians may have been because those far-famed navigators had accomplished such a voyage before. In short, I can see nothing impossible or improbable in the supposition that the enterprising seamen of Tyre had already, in Solomon’s time, discovered the route to India by circumnavigating Africa, and that Solomon’s fleet was wont with them to make the voyage once in three years. That this line of commerce afterwards ceased, and the route became unknown, is not to be wondered at in view of the divisions and wars that prevailed immediately after Solomon’s death, both in the land of Israel and also in all the neighbouring nations wars that resulted, in the course of a few hundred years, in the total destruction of Tyre and all her glory.

Apes קפים , kopim, some species of the monkey tribe, still called in some parts of India kapi. They are represented on the Egyptian and Assyrian monuments as an article of traffic.

Peacocks תכיים , tukiyim. Some suppose the parrot and some the Guinea fowl to be meant; but several of the better versions and some eminent critics interpret the expression of the peacock, whose natural home is India. It is said by some authorities that these Hebrew words for ivory, apes, and peacocks are identical with the Tamil names by which they are known in Ceylon at the present day. “It has long since been decided that India was the cradle of the peacock. It is in the countries of Southern Asia, and the vast archipelago of the Eastern Ocean, that this bird appears to have fixed its dwelling, and to live in a state of freedom. All travellers who have visited these countries make mention of these birds. Thevenot encountered great numbers of them in the province of Guzzerat; Tavernier, throughout all India; and Payrard in the neighbourhood of Calcutta. La Billardiere tells us that peacocks are common in the Island of Java.” CUVIER’S Animal Kingdom. Wordsworth sees a sort of irony and sarcasm in the mention of apes and peacocks as “the climax of the produce of the commerce of Solomon. Apes and peacocks to Solomon, the wise king at Jerusalem! To gratify curiosity; to amuse the people; and perhaps to while away the time of the strange women to whom Solomon clave in love instead of cleaving to the Lord.” Here he sees one of the causes of Solomon’s fall.

Verse 24

24. All the earth Inquirers after wisdom, like Sheba’s queen, came from far and near, wherever the fame of Solomon had spread. These expressions of universality, so common in the Hebrew writers, are not to be taken in the widest possible sense.

Verse 27

27. Cedars made he to be as the sycamore That is, he imported so much of this valuable wood for building purposes that it lost its rarity in the eyes of the people, and became as common to sight as the sycamore trees that grew so abundantly in the lowlands and valleys.

Verse 28

28. Solomon had horses brought More literally, As to the bringing of the horses of Solomon out of Egypt. In importing horses from Egypt Solomon further broke the Divine commandment. Deuteronomy 17:16.

And linen yarn This translation of מקוה must be given up as unsupported by any sufficient reason or authority. Gesenius renders the word a troop or company: And a company of the king’s merchants brought (from Egypt) a company (of horses) at a price. But the old versions and many critics take the word as the name of a place, Koa, or Coa, somewhere “in the neighbourhood of Egypt, where Israelite traders abode for the sake of the traffic in horses.” Furst. The whole verse would then read: As to the bringing of the horses of Solomon from Egypt, and from Coa, the traders of the king received them from Coa at a price. This, on the whole, seems to be the best explanation of this passage.

Verse 29

29. Six hundred shekels of silver According to Keil about thirty-five pounds sterling, or one hundred and seventy-five dollars.

A hundred and fifty About forty-five dollars. The object of the writer was to show that horses and chariots were so multiplied in Solomon’s day as to be obtained at a very small price.

And so for all the kings of the Hittites, and… of Syria That is, the Canaanitish and Syrian kings, who were tributary to Solomon, received the same advantage from this extensive traffic in horses and chariots that the great king himself did. They too had opportunity to purchase horses and chariots of Solomon’s traders at the same low price. But this commerce with Egypt, though for a time seeming to aggrandize the empire of Solomon, was helping to lay the foundation of its fall.

By their means That is, by means of Solomon’s horse-merchants. Literally, by their hand they brought them forth. The traders brought them (horses and chariots) out of Egypt for the vassal kings of Palestine and Syria.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Kings 10". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/1-kings-10.html. 1874-1909.
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