Solomon has finished building the temple and the palace complex in Jerusalem, where he lived and did his work. When he dedicated the temple to the Lord, the Lord’s glory-cloud came and filled the temple to signify that the Lord had moved into his new home which Solomon had built for him; and that he would dwell among his people in that place.
And last week we read how the Lord appeared to Solomon and warned him about what could go wrong. What could go wrong? The people of Israel could turn away from the Lord and go after other gods to serve and worship them. If they did that, if they turned away from the Lord, then he will cut them off from the land by sending them into exile; and the temple will be destroyed; and whoever passes-by and sees what had become of Jerusalem will be appalled. And they will know that it happened because the people forsook the Lord and embraced other gods. And, as I said last week, the Lord was not only describing what could go wrong, but he was describing what did go wrong, because the people of Israel did turn from the Lord and they went after other gods to serve and worship them. And the Lord sent them into exile; and the city of Jerusalem with its temple was destroyed.
But that hasn’t happened yet. And it won’t happen for many generations. For now, everything is going well in Israel. And that’s certainly the message we receive from chapter 10 where we read how the Queen of Sheba visited Solomon and she was overwhelmed by all she saw and heard. ‘How happy your men must be!’ she said. How happy your officials must be who get to stand in your presence every day and hear your wisdom! And then in the second half of chapter 10, it’s as if the writer is saying to us: ‘And there’s more!’ The Queen of Sheba was impressed, but she didn’t see the half of it and there’s so much more that is wonderful and impressive about Solomon’s reign. But before we get to chapter 10, there’s the rest of chapter 9 which we didn’t study last week.
The NIV gives this section the title ‘Solomon’s Other Activities’. And that’s an accurate title, because this is a kind of list of the things he did. And it’s a mixed bag of things; and it’s not clear how we’re meant to take some of these things. As I’ve said before, some of the commentators are very critical of Solomon and they’re ready to complain about almost everything he did. Others are more positive about him. However, even the most positive commentators raise an eyebrow about some of the things we read here.
For instance, take verses 10 to 15 where we read that Solomon gave twenty towns in Galilee to Hiram king of Tyre. This was as payment for all that Hiram had given to Solomon, because Hiram had sent all the cedar and pine Solomon needed for his building projects. And according to verse 11 Hiram also supplied Solomon with gold. And if you glance down to verse 14 you’ll see that it says that Hiram sent Solomon 120 talents of gold, which is about 4 tons of gold. That’s a massive amount!
And in return for all the timber and gold, Solomon offered to give Hiram these twenty towns in Galilee. And you should raise an eyebrow when you read that, because he’s giving away part of the Promised Land! The land of Israel was God’s gift to the people of Israel. It was their inheritance which they received from the Lord. It was the land God promised to give to them and to their children. So, what was Solomon thinking when he decided to give part of it away to a foreign king? It makes no sense.
Furthermore, Hiram was not impressed with the towns. He said: ‘What kind of towns are these you have given me, my brother?’ And he named them Cabul. The little footnote beside the word Cabul tells you that the word sounds like the Hebrew for ‘good for nothing’. These twenty towns were good for nothing. And so, you can raise another eyebrow because this is no way to treat a friendly neighbour. A few weeks ago we were praising Solomon for the way he was able to maintain a good working relationship with Hiram. But now he’s giving Hiram his leftovers: towns he doesn’t want and won’t miss. That’s no way to treat a friend.
And let’s think about his building projects, which we read about in verseds 15 to 24. It mentions the temple, his own palace complex, the supporting terraces, the wall of Jerusalem, and various cities which he built, including towns to keep his chariots and horses. He managed to build whatever he wanted to build in Jerusalem and in Lebanon and throughout all his kingdom. And that’s all impressive and it’s a sign of how prosperous and successful he had become. And it’s evidence of how God had blessed him and made Israel a happy place to be. And, as one of the commentators (Davis) puts it: this is what kings do.
However, back in Deuteronomy 17 the Lord said through Moses that the kings of Israel must not acquire great numbers of horses for themselves. So, why does Solomon have so many chariots and horses that he needs to build towns to store them? And so, you should raise an eyebrow about that.
Some of the commentators complain about Solomon’s use of forced labour. We read about forced labour in verse 15 and also in verses 20 to 23. However, our narrator is careful to point out in verse 22 that Solomon did not make slaves of any of the Israelites. Instead, the Israelites were employed as his fighting men and government officials and so on. The slaves who were forced to work for him were, according to verse 20, all the people left from the Amorites, Hittes, Perizzites and so on. These were the Canaanites, the people who lived in the land of Canaan before God gave the land to the Israelites. And you might recall that Joshua was told to kill them all. None of them should be allowed to remain on the land, otherwise they’ll lead the Israelites astray. And you might remember that killing the Canaanites was not an act of terrorism or of genocide. It was an act of judgment. God was using the Israelites to punish the Canaanites for their great wickedness.
However, Joshua and his men were not able to kill them all; and some survived. King David was able to remove some of them in his day, but again it seems that some survived. But instead of killing them, Solomon made them his slaves and set them to work on his building sites. And so, while we might be tempted to raise an eyebrow because Solomon enslaved these people, nevertheless enslaving them was part of God’s judgment on them for their wickedness over many generations.
And while there are some things which Solomon did which we might question, we can’t help but notice his devotion to the Lord. According to verse 25 he sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowships offerings on the altar three times each year. The narrator is probably referring to the three great feasts which were held each year: the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover; the Feast of Weeks; and the Feast of Tabernacles. Burnt offerings were for forgiveness; and fellowship offerings were to celebrate that they have peace with God. And Solomon also burned incence. And so, he fulfilled the temple obligations. He did not fail to worship the Lord, but offered the necessary sacrifices.
And verses 26 to 28 tell us how he built a fleet of ships and the ships went back and forth between Israel and Ophir. No one now knows where Ophir was. Some have suggested it was in India, or the Arabian Peninsula or in East Africa. Wherever it was, Solomon sent his ships there and they came back with lots and lots of gold. Notice that the narrator mentions Hiram. And so, it seems that he and Solomon did not fall out over the twenty good-for-nothing towns. And since they were able to bring back all this gold, then I’m sure Hiram was glad of his partnership with Solomon.
And so, what are we to make of Solomon’s other activities? Some of what we read raises an eyebrow or two. However, what we read about him also matches the impression we got in previous chapters that Israel was a happy place to be. God had blessed Solomon’s reign so that the nation was prosperous and everyone had plenty. And so, perhaps we can say that the things that raise an eyebrow are helpful because they make clear that while Solomon was a great king, he was not the greatest king. Though he was king of kings in his lifetime, he was not king of kings forever. The kings of kings forever is the Lord Jesus Christ who rules with righteousness and justice and who never ever does anything wrong, because everything he does is right and good and perfect, because the king of kings is the Eternal Son of God who in infinitely and eternally and unchangeably wise and powerful and holy and just and good and true.
And that takes us to chapter 10 and to the visit of the Queen of Sheba. No one knows where Sheba was located, but we think it was on the Arabian Peninsula around modern day Yeman, which is around thirteen hundred miles from Jerusalem. So, the queen travelled a long way to meet Solomon.
We’re told in verse 1 that she heard about Solomon’s fame. Perhaps some of Solomon’s ships travelled to Sheba and people there heard about Solomon’s wisdom and wealth and the glory of Israel. And notice that it says in verse 1 that she heard about Solomon’s fame and about the name of the Lord. So, she didn’t just hear stories about Solomon, but she heard stories about the Lord. You can’t hear about one without hearing about the other, because the secret of Solomon’s success was the Lord, who had blessed him. And anyone who heard about the Lord would also end up hearing about the Lord’s great king, Solomon.
And the queen travelled all the way from Sheba to test Solomon with hard questions. She had obviously heard about his wisdom and his knowledge of the natural world. And so, she wanted to see if it was true. And when she arrived, she talked with Solomon about all that she had on her mind. And look at verse 3: Solomon was able to answer all of her questions. Nothing was too hard for him to explain to her. And so, when she saw his wisdom and the palace he had built, and the food on his table, and all the rest, she was overwhelmed. It left her breathless. Speechless. She was overwhelmed because of his wisdom and his wealth.
And so, we have her testimony in verses 6 to 9. What did she say about him? She said: The report I heard about you was true! How often are we disappointed? We hear about someone or something. You should go and meet him. You should go and see it. You should read this book. You should see this movie. You should eat at this restaurant. But when we go, it’s only a disappointment. But Sheba was not disappointed at all by Solomon. In fact, she says that she didn’t really believe what she had heard about him. It seemed to be too good to be true. And yet, now that she had met him, and had seen his kingdom with her own eyes, and tested his wisdom, she realised that the report she heard about him wasn’t even half as good as the reality. She said: In wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard! And she went on to say that his men must be so happy and his officials must be so happy to be able to stand in his presence every day and hear his wisdom. Many people come home from work and they’re frustrated because the people at work annoy them and say foolish and stupid things. But what a delight for Solomon’s men to go into work each day to hear Solomon’s wisdom.
And Sheba went on to praise God who has delighted in Solomon and has placed him on the throne. So, the Lord was under no obligation to Solomon. He did not owe Solomon anything. He was not required to bless Solomon. No one was forcing him to bless Solomon. This was something God himself delighted to do. He was pleased to do it. He chose to do it freely and graciously. And it was also because of God’s eternal love for Israel that he made Solomon king. What a joy and delight for Israel to have a king who would rule over them with justice and righteousness so that everthing he did and all his decisions were just and right.
That was the queen’s testimony. And she gave the king lots of gifts. And the king gave her whatever she desired and asked for plus other gifts which he gave her from out of his royal bounty. And so, loaded down with gifts, she returned home.
And the chapter could have ended there and we could go away, amazed because of Solomon’s wisdom and wealth. But, as I said at the beginning, we also have the second half of chapter 10. And it’s as if the writer is saying to us: ‘And there’s more! The Queen of Sheba was impressed, but she didn’t see the half of it and there’s so much more that is wonderful and impressive about Solomon’s reign.’
Look at verse 14. The weight of gold that Solomon received yearly was 666 talents. That’s about 22 and a half tons. That’s what he received each year. And that doesn’t include the revenues he received from merchants and traders and from others including kings as taxation and tribute. And so, he was able to make 200 large shields of gold as well as 300 small shields of gold. And these were placed in the Palace of the Forest in his palace complex.
And he was able to make a great throne which was inlaid with ivory and gold. And there were steps going up to it and there were statues of lions on each step. And all his goblets were made of gold and all the household articles in the palace were gold too. And look at the end of verse 21 where it says that nothing was made of silver, because silver was considered of little value. Why use silver, when you can have gold!
And then our narrator tells us again about the fleet of ships which crossed the sea and every three years the fleet returned with more gold and silver and ivory as well as apes and baboons. All kinds of treasures and precious things from around the world are being brought to Solomon in Jerusalem. The wealth of the nation was coming to him.
And just as we have Sheba’s testimony in verses 6 to 9, now in verses 23 to 25 we have the narrator’s testimony. King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth. And the whole world sought audience with him to hear the wisdom God had given him. Year after year, everyone who came to meet him brought a gift; and so his wealth kept growing year by year. There was no other king like him. He was the king of kings. He was wealthier than every other king. He was wiser than every other king. No one could compare with him.
And so, he accumulated chariots and horses. And silver was as common as stones; and cedar was as common as sycamore-fig trees. He imported his horses and chariots from far away places and exported them as well.
We’re left almost breathless, aren’t we? We’re like the Queen of Sheba, because we’re overwhelmed by Solomon’s wealth and wisdom. How happy his people must be to have a king like him who rules with justice and righteousness. It all seems too good to be true.
And yet, as I said last week, in due course it was all gone. The kings who came after Solomon did not measure up to him; and while some were good, none were as great as Solomon; and many were wicked. And the people turned away from the Lord and they went after false gods and served and worshipped them. And therefore the Lord sent them into exile and the city of Jerusalem with its temple was destroyed. And all the gold was taken away.
But then, we have the prophet Isaiah who prophesied in Isaiah 11 about the coming of a new king on whom the Spirit of the Lord would rest: the Spirit of wisdom and understanding and counsel and power. A king who would rule with righteousness and justice. And the nations of the world will rally to him.
And in Isaiah 60, he spoke of a time when the glory of the Lord will rise on Jerusalem and the wealth on the seas will be brought to it and the riches of the nations will come. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord. The gates of the city will stand open and will never be shut, even at night, so that men may bring the wealth of the nations into it.
After the glory of the days of Solomon had passed, Isaiah announced that those days would return and the nations will come once again because of the new king who will be born who will rule with righteousness and justice. Isaiah was anticipating the coming of Christ the King. And the nations are coming to him in the sense that all over the world men and women and boys and girls are coming to him and they’re putting their faith in him in order to receive forgiveness and the free gift of eternal life. And they’re submitting to him as their king; and in their daily lives they want to obey him and to do his will and to honour him in all they do and say.
When Isaiah spoke about the new king, he was speaking about Christ the King. When he spoke about people coming to Jerusalem, he was speaking about people, coming into the church. And so, Isaiah was foretelling how people from every nation will come and put their faith in Christ the king, who is the King of kings forever. And how happy his people are, because he blesses them with one spiritual blessing after another, because he gives them justification so that they are pardoned and accepted by God; and he gives them adoption so that they’re added to God’s family; and he gives them sanctification so that they become more and more willing and able to do God’s will here on earth; and he gives them assurance of God’s love and peace of conscience and joy in the Holy Spirit and growth in grace and perseverance to stand firm in the faith. And he gives them the hope of the resurrection and eternal life in God’s presence. Christ the king has gifts to give to all who come to him; and he gives them one spiritual blessing after another; and he also promises to give them all the other things they need for life in this world. And how happy they are, because of all the good gifts he gives to them. And nothing he does will ever cause us to raise an eyebrow, because everything he does is good, because he is good.
And Christ the King invites the weak and the weary to come to him for rest and peace. And he promises that he will never drive away anyone who comes to him.
But he also warns us, doesn’t he? Do you remember in the gospels how he warned the people that the Queen of the South, or the Queen of Sheba, will rise up on the day of judgment and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom. She travelled so far to see Solomon. But — said the Lord Jesus — one greater than Solomon is here. He was referring to himself. He was saying: I’m greater than Solomon. And I’m here. But you’re not listening to me; and you don’t believe in me. And if you continue in your unbelief and if you never put your faith in me, then you will be condemned.
But for those who come, there’s the promise of forgiveness. And there’s the promise of eternal life. And he’s able to give us forgiveness and eternal life and all the rest of his blessings because he paid the cost for our forgiveness when his body was broken and his blood was shed and he gave up his life on the cross to pay for all that we have done wrong. And because he has paid the cost for us, all who believe in him receive forgiveness and the hope of eternal life in his everlasting kingdom.
And so, as we take part in the Lord’s Supper today, we’re reminded of the cost he has paid for our forgiveness. How happy we are to have such a great king over us! And the life we have now because of him will continue on and on and on, beyond the grave and beyond the resurrection and into eternity. And so, how happy we will be forever, standing before Christ our King.