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This chapter contains an account of the queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon to her great satisfaction, ( 1 Kings 10:1-13), of Solomon’s merchandise and riches, and the magnificence of his court, ( 1 Kings 10:14-23), of the rich presents sent to him, and of the purchase of chariots and horses, and other things, he made, ( 1 Kings 10:24-29).
Ver. 1 . And when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon , etc.] Josephus calls her a queen of Egypt and Ethiopia; but Sheba was in the southern part of Arabia Felix; her name with the Ethiopians is Maqueda f201 , and with the Arabic geographer Belequis. Some think that Sheba, or Saba, is not the name of a country, but of the queen herself; and that she is the same with Sabbe the sibyl mentioned by Pausanias f204 ; but no doubt Sheba or Saba, the metropolis of Arabia Felix, as Philostorgius calls it, is here meant; which Benjamin of Tudela says is called the country of Al Yeman, or the south; and the name of Queen Teiman, given to this queen by an Arabic writer f207 , seems to be the same as the queen of the south, (see Gill on “ Matthew 12:42”). The fame of Solomon’s greatness and goodness, of his wealth and riches, and especially of his wisdom, had reached her ears; perhaps by means of the ambassadors of princes that had been at Solomon’s court, and attended her’s. According to an Ethiopic writer it was by Tamerinus, a merchant of her’s, she came to hear of him: particularly she heard of his fame concerning the name of the Lord ; his knowledge of the true God, the favour he was in with him, the excellent wisdom he had received from him, and what he had done for his honour and glory: she came to prove him with hard questions ; in things natural, civil, and divine; to try whether he had such a share of knowledge and wisdom it was said he had, she posed him with enigmas, riddles, dark and intricate sayings, to unravel and tell the meaning of. She might be an emblem of the Gentiles, seeking unto Christ, having heard of him, ( Isaiah 11:10 John 12:20,21). In ( Matthew 12:42) she is said to come from the “uttermost parts of the earth”; wherefore some fetch her from Sumatra in the East Indies, where in an old map no other name is put but Sheba f209 .
Ver. 2 . And she came to Jerusalem with a very great train , etc.] With many of her courtiers and principal men, as well as with a large retinue of servants: with camels that bare spices ; her country abounded both with camels and spices; (see Gill on “ Isaiah 60:6”), (see Gill on “ Jeremiah 6:20”), and as Pliny observes, who says their spices used to be carried on camels, particularly frankincense, for which Sheba was famous, and is therefore called by him “regio thurifera”, the frankincense country f211 , being to be had nowhere else; and Strabo speaks of “cinamon, cassia”, and other spices here in such plenty, that the inhabitants burnt the wood of them for fuel; and Diodorus Siculus represents this country as exceeding odoriferous, and as having besides the above spices, balsam, myrrh, calamus, costus, and others, in such abundance that they heated their ovens with them: and very much gold ; (see 1 Kings 10:10), the gold of Sheba is spoken of in ( Psalm 72:15) and Pliny observes, that the Sabeans are exceeding rich, as in other things, so in gold; and Diodorus Siculus and Strabo speak of gold found here in large lumps, very pure, and of a fine colour: and precious stones ; as crystals, emeralds, beryls, and chrysolites, mentioned by Diodorus as in those parts; and a late traveller says f218 , that Arabia Felix abounds with balsam, myrrh, cassia, manna, dates, gold, frankincense, and pearl: and when she was come to Solomon ; unto his palace, and admitted into his presence: she communed with him of all that was in her heart ; which she had in her mind to discourse with him about, and which she had laid up in her memory for that purpose; and some things which she had kept to herself, and had never imparted to any before, as some think; all which she had full liberty from Solomon to propound unto him.
Ver. 3 . And Solomon told her all her questions , etc.] Answered them, told her the meaning of everything she inquired about, expounded her riddles, solved her objections, and gave her satisfaction in all things she proposed unto him: there was not anything hid from the king, which he told her not ; there was not anything, though ever so abstruse and difficult, but what he understood, and gave her a clear and plain solution of.
Ver. 4 . And when the queen of Sheba had seen all Solomon’s wisdom , etc.] Which she perceived by his answers to things relative to all sorts of science, natural, civil, and divine: and the house that he had built ; the singular for the plural, “house for houses”; the house of the Lord, his own house, that for Pharaoh’s daughter, and the house of the forest of Lebanon; in all which there appeared not only surprising grandeur and magnificence, but exquisite art and skill; there was a great display of his wisdom in the form and contrivance of them. Josephus says, what exceedingly surprised her, and raised her admiration, was the house of the forest of Lebanon.
Ver. 5 . And the meat of his table , etc.] The various sorts of it, the different dishes, and the multitude of them; (see 1 Kings 4:22,23) and the sitting of his servants ; at table, either with him, or at tables by themselves, yet in his presence; for these were his nobles and courtiers, who were placed in order, according to their rank and degree, which showed wisdom: and the attendance of his ministers ; or the “standing” of those that waited, both at the king’s table, and the tables of the lords, who each had their proper place and business assigned; so that the utmost decorum was observed, and no confusion or disorder to be seen: and their apparel : their several liveries, which were distinct according to the posts and offices in which they were, and which no doubt were rich and splendid, as well as various: and his cup bearers ; to serve him and his nobles with wine when called for; though the word signifies liquors f221 , and may design the various sorts of wines, and other drinkables, used by him, of which there was great plenty: and his ascent by which he went up unto the house of the Lord ; the steps which he had made to go up from his palace to the temple; which were so curiously devised, and so artificially wrought, that it gave the queen, among other things, a sensible proof of his great wisdom, as well as of his religion and piety. The Septuagint, Vulgate Latin, Syriac, and Arabic versions, and some others, render the words, “and the burnt offerings which he offered in the house of the Lord”; and so Josephus understood them; she was shown the service of the house of the Lord, as much as could be admitted, and perhaps was told the meaning of it; all which she saw, both in his own house, and in the house of God, and greatly surprised her: so that there was no more spirit in her ; she was quite astonished; like one in an ecstasy, she had no power for a time to speak, what she saw and heard so affected her.
Ver. 6 . And she said to the king , etc.] When she was a little come to herself: it was a true report that I heard in mine own land of thy acts and of thy wisdom ; which she was ready to call in question when she first heard it; at least she thought it was greatly exaggerated, but now she found it was strictly true.
Ver. 7 . Howbeit I believed not the words, until I came, and mine eyes had seen it , etc.] That is, she did not believe the whole of what was related to her; somewhat of it she credited, and supposed there was something grand and extraordinary in it, or she would never have taken such a journey; but she did not believe that all could be true; she thought things were too much magnified: and, behold, the half was not told me ; of what she now saw and heard: thy wisdom and prosperity exceedeth the fame which I heard ; the inward endowments of his mind, and the outward magnificence of his court, exceeded the relation of them to her; they were beyond expression, they were so great that reporters could not hyperbolize upon them, nor even come up to them in their account of them, and in which yet men are apt to exceed.
Ver. 8 . Happy are thy men , etc.] The men of Israel, that had a king over them so wise, so great, so good: happy are these thy servants, which stand continually before thee, and hear thy wisdom ; who were now present, and to whom she pointed, and may respect not his nobles and courtiers only, but his menial servants, who had an opportunity of often hearing the wise sayings which dropped from his lips; and which no doubt were means of greatly improving their knowledge and understanding in things natural and divine.
Ver. 9 . Blessed be the Lord thy God , etc.] Of whom she might have better notions than when she came out of her own country: which delighted in thee, to set thee on the throne of Israel ; loved him with a love of complacency and delight, was Jedidiah, as he called him, beloved of the Lord, and therefore he chose him and preferred him to be king before his elder brother: because the Lord loved Israel for ever ; to establish them as a kingdom for ever as they were, so long as obedient to him; (see 2 Chronicles 9:8), therefore made he thee king, to do judgment and justice ; not merely for the sake of honour and glory, much less to indulge to pleasure and luxury, and still less to oppression and tyranny; but to administer justice and judgment to the people, which is the principal end of government; (see Psalm 72:1,2).
Ver. 10 . And she gave the king one hundred and twenty talents of gold , etc.] The same sum that Hiram sent him, (see Gill on “ 1 Kings 9:14”) this fulfilled the prophecy, so far as it respected Solomon, ( Psalm 72:15) and of spices very great store, and precious stones ; (see 1 Kings 10:2) there came no more such abundance of spices as these which the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon; that is, into Judea. Josephus reports f223 , that some say that the balsamic plant, which Judea was afterwards so famous for, was brought by this queen, and a gift of hers to Solomon; and Diodorus Siculus speaks of it as in Arabia, and not to be found in any other part of the world.
Ver. 11 . And the navy also of Hiram that brought gold from Ophir , etc.] This perhaps was before Solomon was concerned with Hiram in navigation and merchandise; though in ( 2 Chronicles 9:10) both their servants are said to bring it; and it is here inserted perhaps to show that Solomon had not his gold, at least all of it, from the queen of Sheba; but much from Hiram, who fetched it from Ophir; and as this was in India, as observed on ( 1 Kings 9:28), many writers make mention of gold in that part of the world, as Diodorus Siculus f225 , Strabo f2226 , Dionysius f227 , Curtius f228 , Pliny f229 , and others: and this navy also brought in from Ophir great plenty of almug trees : or algum trees, by transposition of letters, ( 2 Chronicles 9:10,11), which some of the Jewish writers take to be coral, which is not likely; others Brasil, rather ebony, which was peculiar to India, as both Solinus and Virgil say; Strabo makes mention of strange trees in India: and precious stones ; of which there is great variety and plenty in that country, as related by Dionysius f234 , as diamonds, beryls, jaspers, topazes, and amethysts, and by Curtius f235 , Solinus f236 , and others.
Ver. 12 . And the king made of the almug trees pillars for the house of the Lord, and for the king’s house , etc.] Or terraces, as in ( 2 Chronicles 9:11), causeways; and means the ascent or causeway he made from his own house to the temple; the pavement of which, as Jarchi interprets the word here, was made of the wood of these trees; or the supports of it, or rather the rails on each side, on which men might stay themselves as they passed along, as Ben Gersom; and since this ascent was admired by the queen of Sheba, it is particularly observed what wood it was made of, and from whence it came: harps also, and psalteries for singers ; these musical instruments were made of the same wood; Josephus says of amber, and that their number was 400,000: there came no such almug trees, nor were seen unto this day ; not in the land of Israel, neither before nor since, (see 2 Chronicles 9:11).
Ver. 13 . And King Solomon gave unto the queen of Sheba all her desire , whatsoever she asked , etc.] Some curious things she saw, and was desirous of, she asked for, and had them: besides that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty ; of his own good will and pleasure, without asking: so she turned and went to her own country : the country of Sheba in Arabia Felix: she and her sergeants : the train or retinue she brought with her, which was large, ( 1 Kings 10:2). Ver. 14 . Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was six hundred and sixty and six talents of gold .] From Ophir and Tarshish, and wherever he traded; which was of our money, according to Berewood f238 , 2,997,000 pounds; or as another learned man f239 , who makes it equal to 5,138,520 ducats of gold.
Ver. 15 . Besides that he had of the merchantmen, and of the traffic of the spice merchants , etc.] What they paid him as a duty or custom for the importation of their goods: and of all the kings of Arabia ; who were subject to him, and paid him a yearly tribute, or at least made presents, (see 1 Kings 4:21,24) and of the governors of the country ; who were viceroys or deputy governors of countries conquered by his father, and who collected tribute from the people, and paid it to him.
Ver. 16 . And King Solomon made two hundred targets of beaten gold , etc.] Which were a larger sort of shields, which covered the whole body; and these were made of gold beaten with the hammer, or drawn into plates, being melted like wax; so the Poeni or Carthaginians made shields of gold f240 : six hundred shekels of gold went to one target ; which is to be understood not of the weight, but of the price or value of them, which amounted to four hundred and fifty pounds of our money; so Brerewood f241 .
Ver. 17 . And he made three hundred shields of beaten gold , etc.] Which were a lesser sort: three pounds of gold went to one shield ; or three hundred shekels, as in ( 2 Chronicles 9:16) a hundred shekels made one pound; so that these were but half the value of the former, and one of them was worth but two hundred and twenty five pounds: Eupolemus f242 , an Heathen writer, makes mention of those golden shields Solomon made, and which were made for show, and not for war, as follows: and the king put them in the house of the forest of Lebanon ; one part of which was made an armoury of, (see Song of Solomon 4:4).
Ver. 18 . Moreover, the king made a great throne of ivory , etc.] To sit on and judge his people; and ivory being white, may denote the purity, justice, and equity with which he judged; the white throne in ( Revelation 20:11) may be an allusion to this; the ivory he had from Tarshish, ( 1 Kings 10:22) and overlaid it with the best gold ; for the greater splendour and majesty of it; not that he covered it all over, for then the ivory would not be seen, but interlined it, or studded it with it, whereby it appeared the more beautiful and magnificent. Such a throne of gold and ivory was decreed to Caesar by the Romans f243 .
Ver. 19 . The throne had six steps , etc.] Up to the footstool of the throne, which was of gold, ( 2 Chronicles 9:18) and was high, that everyone in court might see him, and the better hear the sentence he gave: and the top of the throne was round behind ; had a semicircle at the top of it, like an alcove: and there were stays on either side on the place of the seat ; or “hands” f244 , such as the arms of a chair, to lean and rest upon: and two lions stood beside the stays ; which were not only ornamental, and for support of the stays, but expressive of majesty, and of undaunted courage and resolution to do justice, and of the danger such expose themselves to, who oppose magistrates in the discharge of their office; and in which Solomon was a type of Christ, the lion of the tribe of Judah; and for the same reasons were the like portraits on the steps, as follows.
Ver. 20 . And twelve lions stood there on the one side and on the other upon the six steps , etc.] There was a lion on each side of every step, a symbol of royal power, as before observed; so the Egyptians placed lions under the throne of Orus f245 : there was not the like made in any kingdom ; for the matter and form of it, for its grandeur and magnificence; there was none at least at that time, whatever has been since; for this is the first throne of ivory we read of.
Ver. 21 . And all King Solomon’s drinking vessels were of gold , etc.] Such quantities of it were brought to him from Ophir, and paid to him in tribute, and given him as presents: and all the vessels of the forest of Lebanon were of pure gold ; not only what were used in his palace at Jerusalem, but in his country house at some little distance: none were of silver; it was nothing accounted of in the days of Solomon ; to make plate of; or silver plate was but little esteemed, and scarce any use of it made in Solomon’s palace, if at all: though doubtless it was elsewhere, and especially silver as money.
Ver. 22 . For the king had at sea a navy of Tharshish, with the navy of Hiram , etc.] Tharshish was not the place the navy went from, but whither it went to, as appears from ( 2 Chronicles 9:21 20:36) and designs not Tarsus in Cilicia; nor Tartessus in Spain, or Gades, or which was however near it; though it appears from Strabo and Mela that the Phoenicians were acquainted with those parts, and were possessed of them; and particularly, according to Velleius Paterculus f248 , the navy of Tyre traded thither before the days of Solomen; and Vitringa is clear in it, that these were ships that traded to Tartessus, with the ships of Tyre; and it is more likely that that place is meant than Carthage, now called Tunis, in Africa; though the Targum here calls it the navy, the navy of Africa; but as Tharshish is sometimes used for the sea in general, here it may signify a particular sea, so called: and which Josephus names the Tarsic sea, the same with the Indian sea; and points to the same country where Ophir was, which was washed by it, and to which the two fleets joined were bound.
This is observed, to account for it how Solomon came by so much gold: once in three years came the navy of Tharshish ; it returned in such a space of time; navigation not being improved as now, and sailing by coasts, and what with their stay abroad to sell and purchase goods, and to refit their ships, as well as sometimes contrary winds, they were so long in performing this voyage, which is now done in a few months: bringing gold and silver ; so that silver was accounted of, and used for some purposes, though not for the king’s plate: ivory, and apes, and peacocks ; ivory is the elephant’s tooth, as the word signifies; some of those are of an almost incredible size; some are said to be of ninety, others one hundred and twenty five pounds weight; Vartomannus says, he saw in Sumatra, where some place Ophir, one that weighed three hundred and thirty pounds; though, according to the Ethiopians the ivory is from the horns; and so say Pausanias and others, (see Ezekiel 27:15) but it is commonly supposed to be of the two teeth in the upper jaw that stands out; and whether they are called horns or teeth, they are the same of which ivory is: of elephants there were large numbers in India, bigger and stronger than those in Africa; which latter were afraid of the former, as Diodorus Siculus f254 , Curtius f255 , and Pliny relate; so Virgil speaks of ivory as fetched from India and Horace also, which must be East India, for there are no ivory nor apes in the West Indies f259 : “apes” or “monkeys” were then, as now, brought from those parts.
Strabo reports, that when the Macedonians under Alexander were there, such a vast number of them came out of the woods, and placed themselves on the open hills, that they took them for an army of men set in battle array to fight them. Vartomannus speaks of monkeys in the country of Calecut, of a very small price: near Surat apes are in great esteem, nor will they suffer them to be killed on any account f262 . There are various sorts of apes, some more like to goats, others to dogs, others to lions, and some to other animals, as Philostorgius relates; and who also says the sphinx is one sort of them, and which he describes on his own sight of it as resembling mankind in many things, and as a very subtle animal; and so Solinus reckons such among apes; but what come nearest in name and sound to the “kuphim” of Solomon here are those Pliny calls “cephi”, whose fore feet he says are like the hands of men, and their hinder feet like the feet and thighs of men; and Strabo f266 describes a creature found in Ethiopia, called by him “ceipus” or “cepus”, which has a face like a satyr, and the rest of it is between a dog and a bear.
There is a creature called “cebus” by Aristotle f267 , and is described as having a tail, and all the rest like a man; according to Ludolf f268 , “cephus” is the “orangoutang” of the Indians. The word for peacocks should rather be rendered “parrots”, so Junius; which are well known to come from India f269 , and from thence only, according to Pausanias f270 ; Vartomannus f271 says, that at Calecut there are parrots of sundry colours, as green and purple, and others of mixed colours, and such a multitude of them, that men are appointed to keep them from the rice in the fields, as we keep crows from corn; and that they are of a small price, one is sold for two pence, or half a souse; and the number of them may be accounted for, because the Brachmans, the priests, reckon them sacred, and therefore the Indians eat them not f272 . Curtius designs these, when he says, in India are birds, which are taught to imitate man’s voice; and Solinus says, that India only produces the green parrot, that is, the East Indies, the West Indies not being then discovered; though some think they were, and that it was thither Solomon’s navy went: certain it is there are parrots of various colours in the West Indies, which P. Martyr of Angleria frequently makes mention of in his Decades. Huetius derives the Hebrew word here used from hkt , which he says signifies to “join” or “adhere” to anything, as these birds will; cling to, and hang by their bills and nails on a branch of a tree, etc. so that they are not easily separated from it; the word is used in ( Deuteronomy 33:3) and, according to some, in this sense.
But, after all, if it should be insisted on, as it is by many, that “peacocks” are meant, these also are found in India. Alexander the great first saw them in this country, which so amazed him, that he threatened to punish those severely that should kill any of them f277 . Vartomannus makes mention of them as in great numbers in some parts of India; and they are caught and sold at an easy rate at Surat f279 , and make part both of their game, and of their grand entertainments f280 ; Aeianus often speaks of them as in India in great numbers, and in great esteem.
Ver. 24 . And all the earth sought to Solomon, to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart .] For it was all of God, a peculiar gift of his; by “all the earth” is meant the inhabitants of it, and only them, and those the more principal; who came from the several parts of it, hearing the fame of his wisdom, to know the truth of it, and to improve themselves by it.
Ver. 25 . And they brought every man his present , etc.] To recommend them, and introduce them into his presence: vessels of silver, and vessels of gold, and garments, and armour, and spices, and horses, and mules, a rate year by year ; everyone brought according to the commodities of his country; and they did yearly, out of great respect to him, and in veneration of him for his wisdom, and for the advantages they received by his wise counsels and instructions; besides, it was the custom of the eastern countries not to pay a visit, especially to great personages, without carrying a present.
Ver. 26 . And Solomon gathered together chariots and horsemen , etc.] Both for war; for though it was a time of peace, he provided against the worst, lest an enemy should come upon him suddenly, and when unprepared: and he had one thousand and four hundred chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen ; of the latter (see Gill on “ 1 Kings 4:26”) whom he bestowed in the cities for chariots, and with the king at Jerusalem ; some of the horsemen were quartered in the cities where the chariots were placed, and some of them in Jerusalem, to be near the king’s person, and to be a guard to him on occasion. Josephus says, half of them were in Jerusalem about the king, and the rest were dispersed through the king’s villages.
Ver. 27 . And the king made silver to be in Jerusalem as stones , etc.] By the vast quantity he received from Tarshish; this is an hyperbolical expression: and cedars made he to be as the sycamore trees that are the vale for abundance ; not by the growth of them, but by the importation of them from the dominion of Hiram; this is said in the same figurative way; of the sycamore trees, Rauwolff says f283 , they are what the Moors and Arabians calls “mumeitz”; which he describes to be as large and as high as white mulberry trees, and having almost the same leaves, but rounder, and their fruit not unlike our figs, only sweeter, and no little seeds within, and not so good; and are therefore not esteemed, and are commonly sold to the poorer sort, and that they grow in all fields and grounds; of which (see Gill on “ Amos 7:14”).
Ver. 28 . And Solomon had horses brought out of Egypt , etc.] To mount his horsemen with, and draw his chariots; which seems contrary to the command in ( Deuteronomy 17:16) and linen yarn; the king’s merchants received the linen yarn at a price ; or rather linen itself; or linen garments, as Ben Gersom; linen being the staple commodity of Egypt, (see Isaiah 19:9), but no mention is made of yarn in ( 2 Chronicles 9:28), and the word rendered “linen yarn” signifies a confluence or collection of waters and other things; and the words may be rendered, “as for the collection, the king’s merchants received the collection at a price”; that is, the collection of horses, a large number of them got together for sale; these they took at a price set upon them f284 , which is as follows.
Ver. 29 . And a chariot came up and went out of Egypt for six hundred shekels of silver , etc.] Which, reckoning at two shillings and six pence a shekel, amounted to seventy five pounds; but a shekel was not worth more than two shillings and four pence farthing: and an horse for one hundred and fifty ; and this being the fourth part of the above sum, the Jews gather from hence that there were four horses in a chariot; the horses must be reckoned one with another, the whole collection of them, or otherwise no doubt but one horse was better than another; and it was a pretty large price to give for a horse in those times; which, taking a shekel at the lowest rate, must be upwards of ten pounds; and which is too great a sum still for a custom or tribute to be paid for them, whether to Pharaoh or Solomon, as some understand it: and so for all the kings of the Hittites ; perhaps the same with the kings of Arabia, ( 1 Kings 10:15) and for the kings of Syria; those of Damascus, Zobah, etc. did they bring them out by their means ; that is, by the means of Solomon’s merchants, who bought them out of Egypt, and sold them to these kings.