the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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The Queen of Sheba
Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters
THE QUEEN OF THE SOUTH SHALL RISE UP IN THE JUDGMENT WITH THE MEN OF THIS GENERATION, AND CONDEMN THEM
I SHALL take up somewhat high ground with you concerning the Queen of Sheba. For, so far as I have seen, that wonderful woman has never had adequate justice done to her. As I see her, the Queen of Sheba came to Jerusalem on the very highest of errands. She was moved to undertake her journey by the very strongest and the very loftiest of motives. And she saw and heard and took home in her heart far more than her very highest expectations. And while the sacred writer has told us her story in his very best manner, at the same time, it is our Lord's acknowledgment and confession of her in the judgment-it is this that lifts her up in my eyes till I see her among the foremost of those who shall come from the east, and the west, and the north, and the south, and who shall hear the wisdom, and taste the grace, and share the glory of a greater than Solomon in the Jerusalem which is above, and which is the mother of us all.
The first thing that is told us concerning the Queen of Sheba is this, that she had heard in Sheba concerning the Name of the Lord. It may very well be that this has bribed my eyes and perverted my judgment in the matter of the Queen of Sheba. The Name of the Lord so construes and so glorifies the whole of the Old Testament to me that the more I read the Old Testament the more I find nothing else in it worth its ink but the Name of the Lord. If I once find the Name of the Lord in the life of any Old Testament man or woman, I can never again forget that man or that woman. And, on the other hand, however great, and good, and wise, and famous any man is, if the Name of the Lord is not his strong tower, I fear I do not do that man full justice. If this sacred writer means nothing more by it but a sonorous and a stately turn of expression when he mentions the Name of the Lord as the motive of the Queen of Sheba's mission to Jerusalem; if he means as little by it as the run of the commentators say that he means, then, all I can say is that he has set a trap for my feet in the text. You all know the Name of the Lord, and I hope you all feel about that Name with me. You remember it, and never an hour of any day can you forget it. The Name of the Lord is written all over Moses and David and Isaiah in letters of gold, a finger deep. For the Name of the Lord is 'The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.'
Well, it had all come about under the good hand of God somewhat in this way. It simply must have all come about somewhat in this way. Some of those merchantmen who went down to the Red Sea in ships, and did business for Solomon all along its shores in gold, and silver, and ivory, and apes, and peacocks, and almug-trees, and what not, one of their ships on one occasion was driven in for want of fresh water near the summer palace of the Queen of Sheba. And as the seamen of Israel filled their water-pots, it was an ordinance that they should sing, saying, Spring up, O well; in the Name of the Lord, spring up! When, who should pass by but the Queen of Sheba herself with her maidens with her? Sing still another of the songs of Zion, she said to Solomon's sailors. At which they sang a psalm that a prophet who was in their ship had taught them to sing on the occasion of a great tempest they had just passed through. 'These see,' they sang, 'the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. For He commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths; their soul is melted because of trouble. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and He bringeth them out of their distresses. Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!' And, then, at the Name of the Lord, and without being told to do it, all the seamen standing on the shore lifted up their hands to heaven and proclaimed the Name of the Lord, and worshipped, saying, 'The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious.' And ever after that day the Queen of Sheba watched at her window for the ships of Solomon, till, above all else, the Name of the Lord took entire hold of her heart. The Queen of Sheba had lords many and gods many of her own. She and her people had their gods of the sea and their gods of the land; their gods of war and their gods of wine; their gods of the night and their gods of the day, and many more. But there was no name of any god given in Sheba that took such hold of the Queen of Sheba's heart as did the Name of the God of Israel. Till she took a very great train, with camels that bare spices, and very much gold, and precious stones, there came no such abundance of spices as these which the Queen of Sheba brought to Jerusalem, because of the Name of the Lord.
Even Homer himself was sometimes seen to nod. And that is the explanation of Matthew Henry's unaccountable slander that some of the Queen of Sheba's questions that she put to Solomon, some were frivolous, some were captious, and some were over-curious. I do not see what business the best of commentators has to say that, unless it be to teach us always to read our Bible with our own eyes and with our own hearts for ourselves. And when I read with my own eyes all I can find about the Queen of Sheba, I see neither caption, nor frivolity, nor idle curiosity about her. And I cannot think there could have been, since our Lord sets His seal upon her, and takes her and her questions as His accusation and condemnation of the Pharisees of His day. The sacred writer knew far more about the Queen of Sheba than the minister of Chester did; and what he says about her questions is this, that they were hard to Solomon to answer; especially when she went deep down into her heart for her questions. 'All that was in her heart.' I suppose the sacred writer means all matters, or, at least, very many matters connected with the throne and the state of Sheba. Affairs of state, as we would say: her anxieties about her treaties of war and peace; her seat of judgment and justice over her own people; royal-family matters also, no doubt; and matters, maybe, still nearer her heart. The Queen of Sheba had heard in the south country all about Solomon's dream at Gibeon. She had it all read to her when her royal cares would not let her sleep. And, ever since, she had kept all these things in her heart against her long-intended visit to Jerusalem. But from the day when she first heard the Name of the Lord, from that day her heart had grown every day and every night deeper and fuller of hard questions; questions so hard that I doubt if she broke them all even to Solomon. At the same time, her heart in Sheba at its fullest of hard questions was not a New Testament heart, and could not in Sheba be. Of no New Testament heart does the New Testament ever say that its owner ever told to any man all that was in her heart; unless it was to our New Testament Solomon. And, then, He is such a Solomon that He does not need that communication to be made to Him. For He is wiser in men's hearts than all men; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman and Chalcol and Darda, the sons of Mahol; and His fame is now in all the nations round about. Only, in His wisdom He will have it that we come, if it is from the uttermost part of the earth, and tell Him as if He did not already know all the hard questions of our hearts; and then there will not be anything hid from the King that He will not tell us. Oh no, sacred writer! you do not really mean us to understand that the Queen of Sheba told to any man all that was in her heart. We quite well understand what you mean. She told Solomon so much about herself and about her people, and got so much help and advice from Solomon, that 'all that was in her heart' is just your hyperbolical and impressive way of putting her before us in your great regard for her, and in your great admiration of him.
Matthew Henry is more like himself when he goes on to say that we may be sure that Solomon gave the inquiring Queen a rationale of the temple and all its offices and all its services. That is a handsome retractation and apology for what he had said so rashly and so censoriously about the frivolity and the captiousness of the Queen's questions. You could not possibly give a rationale of the communion services of this house on a communion Sabbath-day to a frivolous and captious-minded man. Now, the temple was just the Lord's Supper already in type and prophecy. And when you try it, there is no subject in heaven or earth more impossible to rationalise to a frivolous or a captious mind than just what lies behind the Lord's Supper the substitution and the propitiation made for sinners by the blood of Christ. The Queen of Sheba was like one of those children in Israel who asked their fathers at every passover supper, What mean ye by this service? Only, she was not a child, but a woman of a strong understanding and a deep heart, and both Solomon and the high priest and the prophet, all three together, were at their wits' end; it took them all their might to open up all the parts of the temple and its sacrifices to her satisfaction: the reason of this, and the reason of that; the use of this, and the use of that; the antitype of this, and the antitype of that-she both hearing them and asking them questions. Till, when they had taken her through it all, there was no more spirit left in her to ask any more. I can believe it. For to this day nothing more completely subdues the spirit than the hard questions of the heart when they are honestly put and fully met and answered in the house of the Lord, and at His table. Nothing satisfies and silences the heart like the rationale, that is to say, the revelation of the truth and the grace of God to the heart that is hungry both for His truth as it is in Jesus, and for His grace as it is in Jesus also, and in Jesus alone.
No; there was neither captiousness nor frivolity in the Queen of Sheba when she came out of her own country, and neither was there detraction, nor depreciation, nor envy when she returned home. What say you? Had I been in her place, I do not feel guilty that I would have been either captious or frivolous in the house of God or in Solomon's own house. But I would have had things in my heart worse than captiousness or frivolousness; things that I would never have told to Solomon, or to Nathan, or even to the high priest over the scapegoat. Had I been a king, and had I been shown through Solomon's temple, and through his palace, and through all that the Queen of Sheba saw in Jerusalem, I know only too well what would have been in my heart. Ay, even when I was being taken over the Lord's house and was being instructed in its sacrifices. Bishop Lancelot Andrewes has no more private devotion than that is where we come upon him praying to God to be delivered from his envy of another man's grace. Oh, where will that sin of sins, that so besetting sin, not intrude itself! If all this good queen's appreciation, and admiration, and congratulation was absolutely sincere and without offence in the sight of God who seeth the heart, well does she deserve all the honour that both the Old Testament and our Lord bestow upon her. Only, Blessed be His name, even if you are sick till you have no spirit left in you at the sight of other men's great houses, and great riches, and wise words, and fame, and great happiness-even so, Blessed be his name, He will not despise you nor spit upon you. He will only take you all that the more and all that the deeper into His temple, and will show you all that the more the riches of His grace, till He has given to you all you desire. And, Lord Jesus, all our desire in this matter is before Thee and is not hidden from Thee. It was a true report, she said, that I heard in mine own land, of thy acts and thy wisdom. Happy are thy men, happy are these thy servants, which stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom. Only, had she known it, and seen the end of it, she was far more happy herself; as much more happy as it is to be faithful over a few things, and to admire rather than to be admired, and to bless than to be blessed, and to give than to receive.
Returning toward the same south a thousand years after the Queen of Sheba, the Ethiopian eunuch sat in his chariot and read Esaias the prophet. Esaias had not yet risen in the day of the Queen of Sheba; but she had the best reading of her day in her hand as she rode south. She had Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the temple in her hand. And the place in the prayer which she reads and prays all the way from Jerusalem to the south is this-'Moreover, concerning a stranger, that is not of Thy people Israel, but cometh out of a far country for Thy Name's sake. For they shall hear of Thy great Name, and of Thy strong hand, and of Thy stretched-out hand. When the stranger shall come and pray toward this house, hear Thou in heaven Thy dwelling-place, and do according to all that the stranger calleth to Thee for, that all people of the earth may know Thy Name, to fear Thee, as do Thy people Israel.' All Ethiopia and all the south has not yet been explored. And who can tell but that the foundations of a long-lost temple may yet be laid bare in that ancient and honourable land; a temple, too, with no middle wall of partition with its excluding inscription engraven upon it; but in room of that an open door with this evangelical writing in gold of Ophir over it: 'Doubtless Thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and though Israel acknowledge us not. Thou art our Father. Thou, O Lord, art our Redeemer. Thy Name is from everlasting.' And then this beside it in the same gold from a Psalm for Solomon: 'The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. And He shall live, and to Him shall be given of the gold of Sheba: and blessed be His glorious Name for ever; and let the whole earth be filled with His glory.'
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Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'The Queen of Sheba'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wbc/​t/the-queen-of-sheba.html. 1901.