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Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, and the Pathos of Kings
From Solomon to Babylon
When the great King David, a man of faith, grew old and died, there was a question of who ever could fill his shoes and become king over the ancient Hebrew people. David's son, Solomon was chosen. These were ancient times, more than a thousand years before Jesus.
The "Old Testament," or so it's called by Christians, is a collection of writings of Hebrew authors that includes the first five books, telling the story of creation and the life of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, as the Hebrew people finally became settled in the Promised Land of Israel, from which approximate location they seem to have stemmed in the first place when Adam and Eve were created. Those first five books are followed by the Jewish religion today and are known as the Torah, which in addition to many volumes of wise sayings collected in what's called the Talmud, are enough to provide most people with a lifetime of reading, pondering, and meditating.
The Books of Kings (there are two, parts one and two) come long after the first five books of Moses and are part of the Christian Bible, but not really central or directly a part of the Jewish religion today except by way of historical religious writings. Other than the first five books of the "Old Testament" (itself a Christian term for what came before Jesus) the Jewish people do not incorporate the Books of Kings or the New Testament into their religion perhaps because their religion is much older than Christianity or Islam, the two most populous faiths stemming from the Torah (beginning books of the Bible). This remainder of the Bible, after those first five books, is part of the Christian Bible, but all of it was written by Hebrew people. Thus they originated the faiths followed by about three-fourths of the people on earth, a hard act to follow and an even harder reputation to live up to.
As the first Book of Kings starts with the most famous king of all, other than David himself, David's son, King Solomon, is introduced as an exceptionally gifted man. He married the daughter of the ruler of Egypt. One famous story of the "wisdom of Solomon" is when he decided a legal case between two women who claimed the same child. He did so, by threatening to cut the child in half and split it between the two. When one relented and said to let the other have the child, because she did not want to see the child die, Solomon knew the child had to be hers.
In those days, Judah and Israel were separate places, although both were inhabited by the Hebrews. Judah contained the city of Jerusalem along with its temple. This was the heart of the Hebrew, later to be called Jewish, world. It still seems to be today.
Solomon brought the "cedars of Lebanon" by sea and then over land, in order to build a magnificent temple in Jerusalem. Much gold was put into the structure of the temple. The art work of the temple was beautifully described in the First Book of Kings. The "ark of the Covenant," which held the stone tablets on which God wrote the Ten Commandments, was placed in the temple. It was there that people prayed to the Lord God of Israel in heaven, and offered sacrifices.
Solomon reigned 480 years after Moses took the Hebrew people out of Egypt in search of the Promised Land. It's all ancient history. It all teaches a lesson about faith in God. The Lord sometimes came to Solomon himself, as He or She did to Moses, to provide guidance in times of trouble when decisions had to be made affecting the Hebrew nation.
The "Queen of Sheba" visited Solomon and brought him gifts of tremendous weight, pure gold and riches. She admired him greatly for his wisdom. But Solomon had at least one too many wives and other women in his life, if you would consider upwards of a thousand "one too many." He had 700 wives and 300 concubines plus a few princesses. Some of his wives were non-Hebrews, who were a bad influence on Solomon, turning his attention away from the God of Israel and toward foreign gods and goddesses. The Lord God raised up adversaries against Solomon. He lost battles and lost most of his territory.
In the Books of Kings, the unknown Hebrew authors often write, as the death of any king approaches, a short, standard statement that the "rest of the acts" of that king and "all that he did, are they not written in the book of the acts of the kings?" or words to that effect. Where that book is, to which the authors refer, is unknown. Apparently it was a more lengthy history of these times. It should be mentioned also that many historians have grave doubts whether much of what is related in the Bible, including the Books of Kings, could be absolutely true.
Typical also of the authors' style in the Books of Kings is to say that the king "rested with his fathers, and was buried in the City of David" (Jerusalem). Today the archeologists dig under the ancient sector of modern Jerusalem, seeking some remnant connected with the stories of the Bible, seeking some proof that there really was such a person as King David or King Solomon.
Another consistent item of information the authors supply about each of the many kings mentioned is to give the number of years that king reigned, or who was the corresponding king at that time of the other region, Israel or Judah. And so with Solomon, it is said he reigned in Jerusalem (capital of Judah) "over all Israel" for 40 years. Therefore, his reign extended to both Judah and Israel.
Next, Jeroboam reigned for 22 years. He was an assistant of Solomon, who had rebelled against him and fled for his life, but later became the king after Solomon died.
A lot was said in those days about where people offered sacrifices (which normally consisted of food). If it was done in the House of the Lord (the temple) that was fine, but if it was done in the "high places" (apparently hill tops where people worshiped gods other than the Lord God of Israel) that meant trouble for the Hebrews because their God, the same God most people still worship today, would punish them.
Miracles occurred in the Books of Kings. Jeroboam stretched out his hand to have a Man of God arrested for protesting against an unauthorized altar the king had built, and God "withered" Jeroboam's hand. But the Man of God later was disobedient himself and the Lord delivered him to a lion, which tore him apart.
Jeroboam disobeyed God and encouraged worshiping other gods in the high places. For this, tragedy and disaster came to him, as it did to anyone in the Bible who lost faith in the God of Israel (an invisible power that requires faith before good can come to anyone). After his death, another king, Nadab, his son, reigned over Israel. Meanwhile, Rehoboam, a son of Solomon reigned in Judah. But more evil was done. The two kings fought. Israel and Judah were rival kingdoms during most of the time of the Books of Kings, although at times they united against common foes.
If a king did not walk in the "way" of the Lord, evil occurred. Provoking God by worshiping false gods was the worst evil. This was true all the way back to when Moses became angry at the Hebrews for worshiping a golden calf. Walking in the "ways of Jeroboam," for example, meant following in the footsteps of a bad king who did not heed the word of God but instead wandered into dangerous territory by worshiping other gods. The God of Israel is the same God who banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.
Many kings are mentioned in the Books of Kings. Ahab was king of Israel while Asa was king of Judah. The vast majority of all kings mentioned in both Books of Kings "did evil in the sight of the Lord." There was no end to the anger of God. The Hebrew people, although finally situated in the Promised Land, were having hard times because their kings led them astray. Very little, practically nothing, is said about the lives of the common ordinary Hebrew people at this time. They are depicted as sheep-like, just following along with whatever their kings wanted. It seemed that only the kings mattered to the authors of the Bible's two Books of Kings. It is almost like Shakespearean plays that center on the lives of various kings, or like historical novels incorporating famous people.
Elijah, the great prophet often mentioned in Christian circles because of Gospel references, appears in the Books of Kings. Elijah is a great and wonderful man who heeds the word of God. When people come to him for advice, he meditates then tells them what God wants, usually starting with the words, "Thus says the Lord God of Israel..." Elijah is 100% accurate as a prophet.
We should remember where some terms came from. The word "Israel" is simply a nickname given to someone whose real name was Jacob. He and his twelve sons went to live in Egypt. At first they were prominent there, but as generations passed, the Hebrews in Egypt became slaves. After 400 years in Egypt, Moses led them out and to the Promised Land, which we now know as vicinity of the country of Israel.
King Ahab's wife, "Jezebel" is a woman who lives on in infamy. She induced him to worship the non-Hebrew God "Baal" who generally was the God worshiped by people who lived in the land of Canaan, also known as the Promised Land. "Baal" was primarily a fertility god, who was at odds with the evil god "Mot," who stood for death and sterility. "Jezebel" today is a word meaning a prostitute or painted lady. In the Book of Kings she also lived up to that image. Eventually she was assassinated by being thrown out a window onto the ground where she was eaten by dogs.
Syria, known then as Assyria, often waged war with Israel in the time of the Books of Kings (about 1,000 BC). One primary king of those days was Jehoshaphat, King of Judah. He teamed up with the king of Israel, Ahab, to fight against Syria. But Ahab was deceitful. He went into battle not dressed as a king. Jehoshaphat dressed as a king, however the Syrian soldiers realized Jehoshaphat wasn't the King of Israel, whom they hated. They left him alone. Then by luck, an archer shot Ahab with an arrow. He bled to death and dogs, as with Jezebel, licked the blood. This episode illustrated God's punishment of Ahab and showed the difference between a man of God, Jehoshaphat, and a misguided man, Ahab.
As the second Book of Kings begins, Moab, another arch-rival nation, began hostilities toward Israel. Ahab's son, Ahaziah, was King of Israel. One day he was injured accidentally in his home and made inquiries of the god Baal as to whether he'd recover. Elijah learned of this and asked the rhetorical question,"Is it because there is no God in Israel, that you inquired of Baal?" Elijah predicted the king would not recover. The king didn't recover. He died.
Elijah and his assistant, Elisha, traveled together. After Elijah died, Elisha became the main prophet of the land. At that time, Ahab's son, Jehoram, was King of Israel, which lay north of Judah where Jehoshaphat still was king. The two kings went to fight against the Moabites. Jehoshaphat recommended consulting a prophet. Elisha was available and gave advice that tricked the Moabites into thinking ditches filled with water were filled with blood, so they didn't attack. Israel and Judah later defeated Moab.
Elisha continued to be a helpful prophet. His miraculous powers were similar to those mentioned in the Gospels of the "New" Testament. But at this point in the second Book of Kings, the authors' stories start to become less coherent and organized, as too many episodes are placed together in the same chapter. Many miracles happen. Elisha is almost like Jesus in restoring people to life and feeding the hungry masses. But in the world of the kings, the killings and murders continue, along with sacrifices in the high places to the wrong gods. Turmoil, assassinations and wars continue throughout the long succession of many kings, none of whom can hold a candle to the great David and other good kings who walked in the ways of the Lord.
The Lord was angry with the Hebrews. One good king, however, was Hezekiah, King of Judah. It seemed that the good kings were mainly in southern kingdom of Judah, which included the City of David, Jerusalem. What it took to be a good king was to trust in the Lord God of Israel. But how exactly did that God differ from the gods of the Canaanites, such as Baal? It seemed that the God of Israel was just as we usually define God today--good to those who place faith in God, but violent toward those who don't. The god Baal, similarly, gave good things to those who worshiped Baal. He or she usually was not angry with people. Instead, it was was a different god, an evil one, who brought famine, drought, and infertility.
One wonders if the definition of God among various nations and religions is a distinction without a real difference and whether semantics are at the heart of religious arguments. As the ancient nation-empire of Assyria stood poised to attack Israel, it posed these same questions and issues concerning religion to the Hebrew messengers, who related these things to King Hezekiah.
The tearing of one's clothes, and covering oneself with sack cloth prior to praying was, in ancient times, a Hebrew reaction to bad news or blasphemy. When King Hezekiah heard of the Assyrians' argumentative sophistry, mitigating the importance of faith in the God of Israel, and equating the god Baal to the Hebrew's God, he tore clothes and used sack cloth to pray. In modern times some rabbis, priests, or ministers might be equally troubled by liberal challenges to doctrines and beliefs.
The great prophet Isaiah, revered by Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike, came to the king and told him not to worry, because God would take care of the Assyrians. The Assyrian camp of 185,000 were all killed by the "angel of the Lord," the same angel who killed the first-borns in Egypt the night the Hebrews escaped with Moses more than 500 years earlier. Then the Assyrian king was killed, not by Hebrew soldiers but by his own sons.
Josiah, one of the final kings, was a great King of Judah who "did what was right in the sight of the Lord and walked in all the ways of his forefather David." He totally purged Jerusalem of the evil worship of gods other than the Lord God of Israel, even killing all the priests of such worshipers. The Lord God of Israel loved him for this.
But after King Josiah's death around 600 BC, things worsened again. The God of Israel was angry because the Hebrews had turned their backs on Him. Finally, about 20 years after Josiah died, the kingdom of Babylon, east of Jerusalem, under their King Nebuchadnezzar, totally destroyed Judah, Jerusalem, and the temple, and carried the people off, captive, to Babylon. This was the start of the period known as the Babylonian Captivity and was deemed a punishment for failing to worship the God of Israel.
The Queen of Sheba
Sheba, Queen of Ethiopia
A contemporary of Solomon, the Queen of Sheba lived about one thousand years before Jesus. She is reputed to have reigned in the city of Sheba, located in what is today the country of Yemen. Her domain was the ancient nation of Ethiopia. Both Jews and Muslims know of the Queen, as do Africans. She is legendary, like Cleopatra.
The name "Sheba" traces back to the beginnings of biblical times and appears in the Bible's first book, Genesis. But the most well-known use of the word is within the Book of Kings. The Queen of Sheba was highly impressed by the stories of Solomon's wisdom and wealth. When visiting him, she brought over 4 tons of gold.
The Bible alludes indirectly to a possible love affair. Most likely, due to Solomon's promiscuity in general, the love affair did take place. There was a standing offer to give her everything she desired. But there is no direct statement regarding love between the two, therefore it's only conjecture.
The Qur'an of the Islamic religion, like the Bible, makes reference to the Queen of Sheba. But there, the story is more religious. The Queen of Sheba used to worship several gods, including the sun, but Solomon converted her to what most religious people today consider "God," that is, the invisible single God of the Bible.
Today's Ethiopian royalty claim to have descended directly from the Queen of Sheba. The ancient Ethiopian writings concerning Sheba tell a more non-religious story. They say she visited Solomon for sure, but that the two definitely had an affair. Sheba had promised not to "take" anything from Solomon as long as Solomon would be a gentleman and not try any hanky panky with her. When Sheba reached for a drink of water, Solomon used this as evidence of her "taking" something, and the rest was history.
Christians like to think of the legend of Sheba and Solomon as being an ancient version of the similar thing that happened when Christianity was spread from Israel across the Roman Empire to the Gentiles. Sheba was converted to Judaism by Solomon. But to the Christians, Sheba was a good woman, almost like the Virgin Mary.
In modern parlance, "The Queen of Sheba" is an expression often used as a sarcastic exaggeration, meaning a very prodigious or authoritative woman. It conjures up images of luxury. One pictures a woman lying on a soft bed, dressed in finery, and being waited on by numerous servants. An example of sarcasm might be when a harassed waiter in a restaurant returns a dinner plate to the kitchen, telling the chef, "The Queen of Sheba sitting at Table Four wants her fish turned the other way."