Bible Commentary: 1 Kings 10 and Related

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1 Kings 10 and Related

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Solomon’s Wisdom and Wealth

Here we have the famous visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon’s court. Sheba was located in what is today the southwestern corner of Saudi Arabia, roughly in the region occupied by Yemen, but also possibly occupying territory on the adjacent African coast in Ethiopia as reported in Ethiopian tradition. The ancients called the area of Yemen Arabia Felix, “Happy Arabia,” because of its healthful climate and its riches in gold, incense, precious stones and spices. That the Queen of Sheba would hear of Solomon is evidence of the briskness of trade between Sheba and Israel, much of which was doubtless carried on through Solomon’s southern fleet. Mention of the “ships of Hiram, which brought gold from Ophir” (1 Kings 10:11 1 Kings 10:11And the navy also of Hiram, that brought gold from Ophir, brought in from Ophir great plenty of almug trees, and precious stones.
American King James Version×
), has been taken to indicate that the fabled land was located on Africa’s eastern coast. There is a phonetic similarity between Ophir and Africa. Others have speculated that it was further south—in southern Africa—while still others have identified it with India or even the Americas (in the latter case noting a similarity between the words Ophir and Pirua, the first Incan dynasty from which the country of Peru ultimately derives its name).

The vast wealth of Solomon is attributed to his far-flung trading empire. Not only did wealth pour in from the eastern desert traders, the Arabian traders and the governors of subject satellite nations, but on top of that Solomon’s annual inflow of gold bullion was 666 talents (more than 125,000 pounds, with a current value of more than U.S. $500 million). Where did Solomon get all this gold? Ophir was a major source, but so was Tarshish, a Phoenician port in southern Spain. It was to this western port that Jonah was trying to escape when he set sail on a ship from Joppa.

This section of Scripture also notes that Solomon obtained horses and chariots from Egypt and other places. Again, this fact points to an amicable if not military alliance between Egypt and Israel, for chariots were the high-tech weaponry of the day. No doubt the alliance with Israel provided Egypt with a strong and secure ally to the north, well able to prevent incursions into Egypt from Syria and Mesopotamia. But militarizing Israel in this way was contrary to God’s will—for, as He decreed through Moses in Deuteronomy 17:16-17 Deuteronomy 17:16-17 [16] But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: for as much as the LORD has said to you, You shall from now on return no more that way. [17] Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.
American King James Version×
, Israel’s king was not to multiply horses (i.e., an army) nor wives (i.e., a harem, the tokens of alliances with foreign nations), nor silver and gold to himself. Though Solomon did all three, God was patient and gave him space to repent. The repentance, however, never came—unless the book of Ecclesiastes was written after a very late repentance, as many speculate.

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