A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas on Easter Sunday, May 19, 2019.
Now when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the LORD, she came to test him with hard questions. She came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices and very much gold and precious stones. And when she came to Solomon, she told him all that was on her mind. And Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from the king that he could not explain to her. And when the queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, their clothing, his cupbearers, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the LORD, there was no more breath in her. And she said to the king, “The report was true that I heard in my own land of your words and of your wisdom, but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard. Happy are your men! Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the LORD loved Israel forever, he has made you king, that you may execute justice and righteousness.” Then she gave the king 120 talents of gold, and a very great quantity of spices and precious stones. Never again came such an abundance of spices as these that the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon. Moreover, the fleet of Hiram, which brought gold from Ophir, brought from Ophir a very great amount of almug wood and precious stones. And the king made of the almug wood supports for the house of the LORD and for the king’s house, also lyres and harps for the singers. No such almug wood has come or been seen to this day. And King Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba all that she desired, whatever she asked besides what was given her by the bounty of King Solomon. So she turned and went back to her own land with her servants (1 Kings 10:1–13).
The historical account of the fame of Solomon’s wealth and wisdom is difficult for an age of political correctness. He is extraordinarily wealthy and is world-famous for his wisdom. The gold standard of his economy rendered silver superfluous and the impart of luxury goods is exceeded only by the talents of gold. The Word of God states that “King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom” (1 Kings 10:23).
To make Solomon more “PC,” some would have us immediately dismiss his fame and fortune by emphasizing his demise. Indeed, the latter part of Solomon’s story is a tragedy. His many wives led him into a wicked syncretism and the sin of idolatry. His son who reigned after him did not have his father’s wisdom. The problem with this perspective is, however, that many unknown, impoverished, and unwise people practice the same sins. Sin is no respecter of persons.
How then are we to understand famous, wealthy, and wise Solomon? First, let us take him as we find him. He is extravagantly rich. If that bothers you, too bad. He uses his wealth and power extravagantly. If that troubles you, sorry. He is a celebrity before social media, and the whole world knows his name. (He is…the most interesting man in the world). The Scriptures tell us that “the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon…” (I Kings 10:24). Second, as we take him as we find him, let us look more closely at his substance. He is not famous for being famous. No, the whole world knows and wants to meet him for his wisdom. Imagine that today: Can you imagine a world famous celebrity being known exclusively for his wisdom? It’s telling of our superficial age, isn’t it? Not so with Solomon: He is the wisest man alive and the world knows it. Third, as we take him as we find and consider the substance of his wisdom, let us acknowledge God’s favor upon him and seek to understand its purpose. What is the purpose of God’s favor upon King Solomon?
That God’s favor rests upon Solomon is undeniable. From birth, the Scriptures say that “the LORD loved him,” and he was called “Jedidiah,” which means “beloved of the LORD” (2 Sam. 12:24-25). His kingdom was promised and firmly established (2 Sam. 7:12-13). His prayer for discernment in governing Israel was answered with the promise of “a wise and discerning mind…riches and honor” (1 Kings 3:9-13). Solomon’s wealth and wisdom were not earned but God-given. God’s favor was upon Solomon, for He promised, “no other king shall compare with you, all your days” (1 Kings 3:13). But, why was God’s favor upon Solomon, literally from birth? Is it to encourage Solomon’s own material self-indulgence? Is it to serve as a prototype of God’s favor, as the Pharisees of Jesus’ day deduced? Is it a barometer of individual faith, as some today presume?
What is the purpose of God’s favor upon King Solomon? I want us to consider several themes in our passage today to answer this question: The proclamation of God’s favor; the proof of God’s favor and, the praise of God’s favor. Let’s consider these three themes to get at this question of the purpose of God’s favor.
The proclamation of God’s favor
God’s favor upon King Solomon radiates as a beacon of light to the nations. In an age of social media self-promotion, it may surprise us that Solomon’s fame is unsolicited. He is not marketing his brand; he is serving his calling. So widespread is Solomon’s fame that the queen of Sheba (a nation likely in southern Arabia) travels to meet him. But what is the basis of his fame? It is “concerning the name of the LORD” (vs. 1). This phrase is the key to understanding Solomon’s fame: “concerning the name of the LORD,” as it is translated in the ESV, or we might also translate it as “in relation to the name of the LORD.”
The fame of Solomon’s wealth and wisdom is directly attributed to Solomon’s God. Why is Solomon world famous? It is the LORD’s doing. In fact, note that the Hebrew word translated “God” is not used here. Rather, the covenant name of God, given exclusively to Israel, is used: Yahweh. The queen comes to meet Israel’s king who is famously established by Israel’s God, Yahweh. Why does this foreign queen come to the land the LORD had given to the king the LORD had established? She came needy, “to test [Solomon] with hard questions,” but we should not assume this was a game of Trivial Pursuit. The context of her visit and questions is spiritual. In fact, she concludes her trip with these words: “Blessed be [Yahweh] your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel!”
The proclamation of Solomon’s fame is in reality, as John Piper puts it, the fame of God’s name. Such a proclamation to the nations should not surprise us. Israel was never intended to be an inclusive nation. God promised the Patriarch Abraham, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). And, the psalmist leads Israel in singing in Psalm 67: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!” (Psalm 67:1–5).
The fame of Solomon’s wealth and wisdom is a partial and imperfect proclamation of God’s favor to the nations. Yet, as we know all too well in our age, you can be famous and be famously inept; one’s fame may be exceeded only by one’s ignorance. What was it that the queen of Sheba witnessed that proved God’s favor?
The Proof of God’s Favor
The writer of Kings does not delay in telling us what the queen witnessed: She first witnesses the God-given wisdom of Solomon: “And when she came to Solomon, she told him all that was on her mind. And Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from the king that he could not explain to her.” We may assume her questions were multitudinous and far-reaching, but whatever the case she was overwhelmed by Solomon’s wisdom. So, first she witnesses Solomon’s verbal wisdom.
Second, the queen witnesses the visible wisdom of Solomon’s house and household. We know that Solomon’s palace took thirteen years to build, including the House of the Forest of Lebanon, the Hall of Pillars, the Hall of the Throne, the Hall of Judgment, and a hall for his first wife, the daughter of Pharaoh. As impressive as his palace was, apparently so was the menu, and the seating arrangements, and the service. Even the clothing worn by the attendants exemplified the God-given wisdom of Israel’s king. There is within his kingdom a sense of what Anthony Esolen refers to as a “tranquility of order” as opposed to “the restlessness of disorder.” It is no wonder that the Apostle Paul instructs the Church that “all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). A tranquility of order is a gift from God.
Third, the queen witnesses Solomon’s wise worship. As the temple had been completed and dedicated in Solomon’s reign, the designated place of worship was established. Part of the ritual practice of Old Covenant worship included various sacrifices. This is not hidden from the queen of Sheba but served as a visible testimony of faithful worship according to God’s Word. God is glorified when we worship Him as He has prescribed in His Word.
If all of this sounds too good to be true, from the Q & A time with Solomon to the tranquil order to the high worship, then you are in good (royal) company. It left the queen breathless. Having witnessed the proof, she confesses, “The report was true that I heard in my own land of your words and of your wisdom, but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard. Happy are your men! Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!” (vs. 6-8). Without witnessing it first-hand, she was skeptical but after witnessing the proof of God’s favor she was breathless. But, more importantly, once she can breathe again, whom does she praise? She praises the LORD.
The Praise of God’s Favor
The queen of Sheba, not the queen of Israel, confesses, “Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the LORD loved Israel forever, he has made you king, that you may execute justice and righteousness” (vs. 9). She does not disregard Solomon; he sits on the throne as king of Israel. She does not dispute his authority; he judges Israel in wisdom. But her regard for Solomon is directed in praise for the God of the king of Israel. The Prophet Daniel declared to the pagan king of Babylon, “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding” (Dan. 2:20-21).
The queen translates the fame of Solomon’s wealth and wisdom as God’s steadfast love for His beloved Israel. In His covenant love for His chosen people He has raised up one wise king and blessed him. Furthermore, Israel is blessed in Solomon as a wise king executing two essential qualities every nation under God needs: justice and righteousness. Solomon’s fame is not fleeting, because it is a fame with glorious purpose, which returns us to our original question: What is the purpose of God’s favor upon King Solomon?
The Purpose of God’s Favor
The purpose of God’s favor is ultimately His glory, the fame of His name! The queen of Sheba “heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the LORD,” yet Jesus said, “she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here” (Matt. 12:42). God’s favor rested upon Solomon, the son of David, fame that was known internationally. Yet, despite his wisdom and wealth, he could not remain faithful.
A greater king was to come, and in the fullness of time did come. Born not in a palace but a manger yet worshiped by wisemen. Raised not in Jerusalem but in Nazareth yet always about His Father’s business. He ministered not from the throne room of Solomon “but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:7-8). Solomon was exalted to the nations yet he fell in sin. Our Lord Jesus was humbled to save sinners like Solomon, and you and me.
Just as God drew the queen of Sheba to Israel to witness God’s favor upon Solomon, so God has bestowed His favor in the gospel of Jesus Christ” in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). While the queen of the South came to behold the favor of God in the son of David, the faithful Son of David, the eternal Son of God commands His Church: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20). No longer does God’s favor rest upon one earthly king in one city in one country but His favor has been bestowed through His Holy Spirit upon all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
In Christ, men and women, boys and girls, from every tribe, tongue, and nation are joint-heirs with King Jesus. The queen of Sheba traveled to Jerusalem to behold the king of Israel, but in Christ “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Therefore, just as the queen was breathless from beholding God’s favor, let us join in praising the LORD for the excellencies of Christ our King: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).