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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1And when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the LORD, she came to prove him with hard questions.
Doubt has arisen whether the "queen of Sheba" was an Ethiopian or an Arabian princess. Both countries profess to have traditions on the subject connecting the queen of Sheba with their history; and in both countries, curiously enough, government by queens was common. But the claims of Arabia decidedly preponderate. The Arabian Sheba was the great spice country of the ancient world; whereas Ethiopia furnished no spices. The Arabian Sheba was an important kingdom. Sheba in Ethiopia was a mere town, subject to Meroe. And it may be doubted whether the Cushite Sheba of Scripture Genesis 10:7 is not rather to be sought on the shores of the Persian Gulf (Genesis 10:7 note), from where no one supposes "the queen of Sheba" to have come. If Ophir be placed in Arabia, there will be an additional reason for regarding Sheba as in the same quarter, because then Solomon's trade with that place will account for his fame having reached the Sabaean princess.
"The fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord," has been variously explained, and is confessedly very obscure. May it not mean what we should call "his religious fame," as distinct from his artistic, literary, military, or political fame - "his fame with respect to God and the things of God" - or, in other words, "his moral and religious wisdom?" (compare 1 Kings 10:6).
Hard questions - Or "riddles" Judges 14:12, though not exactly riddles in our sense. The Orientals have always been fond of playing with words and testing each other's wit and intelligence by verbal puzzles of various kinds. This spirit seems to have been particularly rife in Solomon's time, for Josephus records other encounters with Hiram of Tyre and another Tyrian called Abdemonus.
2And she came to Jerusalem with a very great train, with camels that bare spices, and very much gold, and precious stones: and when she was come to Solomon, she communed with him of all that was in her heart.
See 1 Kings 10:10 note.
3And Solomon told her all her questions: there was not any thing hid from the king, which he told her not.
4And when the queen of Sheba had seen all Solomon's wisdom, and the house that he had built,
5And the meat of his table, and the sitting of his servants, and the attendance of his ministers, and their apparel, and his cupbearers, and his ascent by which he went up unto the house of the LORD; there was no more spirit in her.
And the meat of his table - Compare 1 Kings 4:22-23. The scene here described receives very apt illustration from the Assyrian banquet scenes, where we have numerous guests sitting, dressed handsomely in fringed robes, with armlets upon their arms, and bracelets round their wrists, attendants standing behind them, and magnificent drinking-cups, evidently of a costly metal, in the hands of the guests, which are filled from a great wine-bowl at one end of the chamber.
And his ascent by which he went up - A rendering preferable to "the burnt-offering which he cffered in." The "ascent" was probably a private way by which the king passed from his palace on the western hill, across the ravine (Tyropoeum) and up the eastern hill, to the west side of the temple area (compare the marginal reference).
6And she said to the king, It was a true report that I heard in mine own land of thy acts and of thy wisdom.
7Howbeit I believed not the words, until I came, and mine eyes had seen it: and, behold, the half was not told me: thy wisdom and prosperity exceedeth the fame which I heard.
8Happy are thy men, happy are these thy servants, which stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom.
9Blessed be the LORD thy God, which delighted in thee, to set thee on the throne of Israel: because the LORD loved Israel for ever, therefore made he thee king, to do judgment and justice.
Blessed be the Lord thy God - This acknowledgment of Yahweh falls below the confessions of Hiram 2 Chronicles 2:12 and Cyrus Ezra 1:3. It does not imply more than an admission of His power as a local deity; namely, that He is the God of the Jews and of their country.
10And she gave the king an hundred and twenty talents of gold, and of spices very great store, and precious stones: there came no more such abundance of spices as these which the queen of Sheba gave to king Solomon.
Strabo relates that the Sabaeans were enormously wealthy, and used gold and silver in a most lavish manner in their furniture, their utensils, and even on the walls, doors, and roofs of their houses. That the gold of Sheba should be given to Solomon was prophesied by the writer of Psalm 72 (see the marginal reference). The immense abundance of spices in Arabia, and especially in the Yemen or Sabaean country, is noted by many writers. According to Strabo, the spice-trade of Arabia was in the hands of two nations, the Sabaeans and the Gerrhaeans. The spices in which they dealt seem to have been only in part the produce of Arabia itself; some of the most important kinds, as the cinnamon and the cassia, must have been imported from India, since Arabia does not yield them. The chief precious stones which Arabia now yields are the onyx and the emerald. Anciently she is said to have produced other gems. Pearls, too, were readily procurable in Arabia from the Persian Gulf fishery.
11And the navy also of Hiram, that brought gold from Ophir, brought in from Ophir great plenty of almug trees, and precious stones.
The navy of Hiram - i. e., Solomon's navy in the Red Sea, which was chiefly manned by subjects of Hiram. (see the marginal reference).
Almug-trees - Probably the sandal-wood tree (pterocarpus santalinus). The wood is very heavy, hard, and fine grained, and of a beautiful garnet color, which, according to the rabbinical writers, was the color of the algum. One of the names of the red sandal-wood, in its own native country (India) is "valguka," a word of which "algum" is a natural corruption.
12And the king made of the almug trees pillars for the house of the LORD, and for the king's house, harps also and psalteries for singers: there came no such almug trees, nor were seen unto this day.
Pillars - The Hebrew word signifies ordinarily a "prop" (margin). It is generally supposed to mean in this place a "railing," or "balustrade," a sense which connects and harmonises the present passage with the parallel passage in Chronicles (marginal reference), where Solomon is said to have made of the almug-wood "stairs" for the temple and for his own house.
Harps - The Jewish harp כנור kı̂nnôr was of a triangular shape, and had ordinarily ten strings. It probably resembled the more ancient harp of the Assyrians, which was played with a plectrum, as was (ordinarily) the "kinnor."
Psalteries - The psaltery, or viol. Hebrew: נבל nebel; Greek: νάβλα nabla, was a stringed instrument played with the hand; perhaps a lyre, like those on Hebrew coins, the sounding-board of which is shaped like a jug; or, perhaps, a sort of guitar, with a hollow jug-shaped body at the lower end.
13And king Solomon gave unto the queen of Sheba all her desire, whatsoever she asked, beside that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty. So she turned and went to her own country, she and her servants.
14Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was six hundred threescore and six talents of gold,
Six hundred threescore and six talents of gold - About 3,646, 350 of our money. Solomon's annual revenue exceeded that of Oriental empires very much greater in extent than his, and must have made him one of the richest, if not the very richest, of the monarchs of his time.
15Beside that he had of the merchantmen, and of the traffick of the spice merchants, and of all the kings of Arabia, and of the governors of the country.
There is no mention in the original of "spice merchants." Two classes of traders are spoken of; but both expressions are general.
Kings of Arabia - Rather, "kings of the mingled people" (compare Jeremiah 25:24). These were probably tribes half Jewish, half Arabian, on the borders of the western desert. They are regarded as Arabs by the author of Chronicles (marginal reference).
Governors - The word used here is thought to be of Aryan origin. It appears to have been a title given by the Persians to petty governors, inferior to the great satraps of provinces. We find it borne by, among others, Tatnai Ezra 5:6, Zerubbabel Haggai 1:1, and Nehemiah Neh 5:14. It can scarcely have been in use among the Jews so early as Solomon, and we must therefore suppose it to have been substituted by the writer of Kings for some corresponding Semitic title. The empire of Solomon was not a state governed from a single center by an organisation of satrapies or provinces (1 Kings 4:21 note). But exceptionally, in some parts of the empire, the kings had been superseded by "governors" (compare 1 Kings 20:24).
16And king Solomon made two hundred targets of beaten gold: six hundred shekels of gold went to one target.
The "targets" seem to have been long shields protecting the whole body, while the "shields" of the next verse were bucklers of a smaller size, probably round, and much lighter. They may be compared with the Assyrian long shield, and the ordinary Assyrian round shield. As the amount of gold used in each of the larger shields was only 600 shekels - worth from 650 to 700 of our money - and that used in the smaller ones was only half as much it is evident that the metal did not form the substance of the shields, but was laid as a coating or plating over them.
17And he made three hundred shields of beaten gold; three pound of gold went to one shield: and the king put them in the house of the forest of Lebanon.
These shields, together with the 500 taken by David from Hadadezer 2 Samuel 8:7 were hung round the outer walls of a building, reckoned as belonging to the "house of the Forest of Lebanon," but separate from it, and called sometimes "the Tower of David" Sol 4:4, or from its use "the armoury" Sol 4:4; Isaiah 22:8. The practice of hanging shields outside walls for ornamentation seems to have existed at Tyre Ezekiel 27:10-11, Rome, Athens, and elsewhere. Traces of it are thought to be found in the Assyrian sculptures.
18Moreover the king made a great throne of ivory, and overlaid it with the best gold.
It is, on the whole, probable that the substance of the throne was wood, and that the ivory, cut into thin slabs, and probably carved in patterns, was applied externally as a veneer. This is found to have been the practice in Assyria. The gold was probably not placed over the ivory, but covered other parts of the throne.
19The throne had six steps, and the top of the throne was round behind: and there were stays on either side on the place of the seat, and two lions stood beside the stays.
Representations of thrones are frequent in the Egyptian and Assyrian sculptures. They have no steps up to them, but frequently stand upon square bases. The back appears to be flat at the top, not rounded. Assyrian thrones have "stays" or arms on either side, and they stand generally upon lion's feet. They are always accompanied by a footstool.
Lions stood beside the stays - The arms of Assyrian thrones are occasionally supported by figures of animals. The throne of Rameses II at Medinet Abou has a sphinx at the side and a lion below the sphinx. The figure of the lion is naturally adopted by any imaginative race as an emblem of sovereignty. In the present case its adoption seems to have grown directly out of the poetic imagery of inspired prophets, who, living before the time of Solomon, had compared Israel Numbers 23:24; Numbers 24:9, and more particularly Judah Genesis 49:9, to a lion. The "twelve lions" of 1 Kings 10:20 were probably intended to be emblematic of the twelve tribes. Josephus adds to the description of Solomon's throne here given, that the seat was supported by a golden ox or bull, with its head turned over its shoulder. As the lion was especially emblematic of Judah, so was the ox or bull of Ephraim. (Hosea 4:16; Hosea 10:11; Jeremiah 31:18, etc.)
20And twelve lions stood there on the one side and on the other upon the six steps: there was not the like made in any kingdom.
Solomon's throne, as described, is certainly grander than any of which we have a representation, either in Assyria or Egypt. Much more, then, would it transcend the thrones in inferior kingdoms.
21And all king Solomon's drinking vessels were of gold, and all the vessels of the house of the forest of Lebanon were of pure gold; none were of silver: it was nothing accounted of in the days of Solomon.
22For the king had at sea a navy of Tharshish with the navy of Hiram: once in three years came the navy of Tharshish, bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks.
This is given as the reason of the great plentifulness of silver in the time of Solomon. The "navy of Tharshish" (not the same as the navy of Ophir, 1 Kings 9:26) must therefore have imported very large quantities of that metal. Tharshish, or Tartessus, in Spain, had the richest silver mines known in the ancient world, and had a good deal of gold also; apes and ivory were produced by the opposite coast of Africa; and, if north Africa did not produce "peacocks," which is uncertain, she may have produced the birds called here "tukkiyim," which some translate "parrots," others "guinea-fowl" - the latter being a purely African bird. The etymology of the Hebrew words here rendered "ivory," "apes," and "peacocks," is uncertain; but even if of Indian origin, the Jews may have derived their first knowledge of ivory, apes, and peacocks, through nations which traded with India, and may thus have got the words into their language long before the time of Solomon. The names once fixed would be retained, whatever the quarter from where the things were procured afterward.
23So king Solomon exceeded all the kings of the earth for riches and for wisdom.
See the marginal references. By "all the earth" we are, of course, only to understand the kings or people of neighboring nations.
24And all the earth sought to Solomon, to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart.
25And they brought every man his present, vessels of silver, and vessels of gold, and garments, and armour, and spices, horses, and mules, a rate year by year.
His present - i. e., his tribute (1 Kings 4:21 note). A statement illustrated by Egyptian and Assyrian sculptures on slabs and obelisks. Tribute-bearers from the subject kings, bring not only the fixed rate of bullion, but a tribute in kind besides, consisting of the most precious products of their respective countries.
26And Solomon gathered together chariots and horsemen: and he had a thousand and four hundred chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen, whom he bestowed in the cities for chariots, and with the king at Jerusalem.
See 1 Kings 4:26 note. Until the time of Solomon, war-chariots had not been in use among the Jews, except to a very small extent 1 Chronicles 18:4. Hence, it was necessary for him to put himself on an equality in this respect with neighboring powers.
Cities for chariots - They were probably fortresses upon the borders of his territory, in which he maintained the standing army necessary for the support of his dominion.
27And the king made silver to be in Jerusalem as stones, and cedars made he to be as the sycomore trees that are in the vale, for abundance.
Made silver as stones - This strong hyperbole marks in the most striking way the great wealth and prosperity of the capital during Solomon's reign. The lavish expenditure which impoverished the provinces, and produced, or helped to produce, the general discontent that led to the outbreak under Jeroboam, enriched the metropolis, which must have profited greatly by the residence of the court, the constant influx of opulent strangers, and the periodical visits of all Israelites not hindered by some urgent reason at the great festivals.
The "sycomore-trees in the vale" (Shephelah) are mentioned also in 1 Chronicles 27:28. Like the olives and the vines, they were placed by David under a special overseer, on account of their value. The tree meant seems to be the sycomore proper, or "fig-mulberry," which is still common in Palestine, and is highly esteemed both on account of its fruit and its timber.
28And Solomon had horses brought out of Egypt, and linen yarn: the king's merchants received the linen yarn at a price.
The word translated "linen yarn" is thought now by Hebraists to mean "a troop" or "company." If the present reading is retained, they would translate the passage - "As for the bringing up of Solomon's horses out of Egypt, a band of the king's merchants fetched a band (or troop) of horses at a price." But the reading is very uncertain. The Septuagint had before them a different one, which they render "and from Tekoa." Tekoa, the home of Amos Amo 1:1, was a small town on the route from Egypt to Jerusalem, through which the horses would have naturally passed. The monuments of the 18th and of later dynasties make it clear that the horse, though introduced from abroad, became very abundant in Egypt. During the whole period of Egyptian prosperity the corps of chariots constituted a large and effective portion of the army. That horses were abundant in Egypt at the time of the Exodus is evident from Exodus 9:3; Exodus 14:9, Exodus 14:23, Exodus 14:28; Deuteronomy 17:16. That they continued numerous in later times appears from frequent allusions, both in the Historical Books of Scripture and in the prophets, as 2 Kings 7:6; 2 Kings 18:24; Isaiah 36:9; Ezekiel 17:15, etc. The monuments show that the horse was employed by the Egyptians in peace no less than in war, private persons being often represented as paying visits to their friends in chariots.
29And a chariot came up and went out of Egypt for six hundred shekels of silver, and an horse for an hundred and fifty: and so for all the kings of the Hittites, and for the kings of Syria, did they bring them out by their means.
Taking the shekel at about three shillings of our money, six hundred silver shekels would be equal to about 90; and 150 shekels to 22 British pounds and 10 shillings. "Average" price seems to be in each case intended; and we may account for the comparatively high price of the chariot by supposing that by "chariot" is intended the entire equipage, including car, harness, and trained horses, of which there would be two at least, if not three. The "horses" mentioned separately from the chariots are not chariot-horses, but chargers for the cavalry.
The kings of the Hittites - See 2 Kings 7:6 note. The kings intended were probably Solomon's vassals, whose armies were at his disposal if he required their aid.