Solomon And The Queen Of Sheba
( Originally Published 1921 )
What fun it is to travel and see strange sights and queer people ! There is so much bustle and stir at the station—engines puffing, bells ringing, men calling trains, while people scramble up the steep steps of the cars, holding fast to tickets which tell the conductor how far they are to go. Watching from car windows it surely seems not we, but the telegraph poles, that are moving so rapidly down the track. We seem to be sitting still while fences hurry by in their effort to keep step with the poles. Even the trees appear to be running a race; those in the distance saunter along in a very dignified manner, while those nearer us give a toss to their branches as they rush past with a how-do-you-do and good-by.
Suppose we take a journey today. But it will not be by train, for we are going to fly. Does that strike you as being odd? Well, what will you say when I tell you that we are going to sit still in our chairs at home and at the same time go on a long journey?
"That is impossible," some of you are saying. "No one can be traveling while staying at home."
We can easily do it, for our flight is to be only a flight of the imagination, and our journey is to carry us not over miles of land, but over many years of time. You boys and girls who have studied history will best enjoy the journey, but when we arrive at our destination even the little tots will like it.
Now we are off. Take a good look at every-thing before we start, and leave the comfortable things of to-day and go back into the past. We shall pass the years in which Washington and his brave soldiers fought for America's independence, and go beyond the time when three tiny ships landed Columbus and his men on the shores of San Salvador. We shall see the char-ter of England's freedom hidden in the old oak. And as we pass by the years we shall leave behind us thousands of children marching across Europe in their crusade to rescue the Holy Sepulcher from heathen hands. Rome will burn to ashes, Christianity will not have been born, Europe will be only a bleak wilderness at the time we arrive at our journey's end; for we are going, not three thousand miles, but three thousand years back in time. It is best not to make too many stops along the way, for our errand is important and we wish to be in time to see the queen of Sheba enter Jerusalem when she makes her visit to King Solomon of Israel. We have not been invited and so cannot join in the festivities, but we can look on, and after a three thousand years' flight I am sure we shall all be content to rest and watch the gay city entertain its royal guest.
You will remember Jacob and his lonely journey across the wilderness, and the promise God made him there that he should become the father of a great people. This promise had been fulfilled when our story opens, and Israel had become a powerful nation. Solomon, her king, was very wise—so wise and wealthy that the queen of Sheba had left her country far in the south to visit him. His fame had spread abroad to all countries, and the queen, not able to believe all that she had heard about him, determined to find out for herself whether the reports were true.
We have arrived just in the nick of time. We find Jerusalem all excitement, expectantly awaiting the coming of the queen.
"How new everything looks ! " some little girl is saying.
Yes, it does. It is really an old, old city, but Solomon, the son of David, has made so many improvements that to us it seems new. The streets lately paved with black stone, the strong wall with its great towers, the wonderful golden temple, and Solomon's magnificent palace have all been built by him.
"And, oh, there is a summer garden out-side the walls of the city!" cries a small boy delightedly.
It may look like a summer garden to you, and I will admit that the description of Paradise—the name Solomon gave his garden—is very much like a description of our modern amusement parks. But there is a difference. Our gardens are for everybody, while Solomon's were only for himself and his nobles and royal guests. Later we shall stop at the garden and see all its attractions, but now we must hurry up the steep slopes to the city gates if we are to be there when the queen and her royal train enter.
It was Jerusalem's most prosperous era, and she gloried in it. Was not Solomon, her king, the wisest of all men? So far no one had been able to ask him a question that he could not answer. Stop for a moment and glance at the stately temple. You may have to shield your eyes, for its golden beauty dazzles in the sunshine. To this day no more costly or magnificent temple or church has ever been built. Seven years it was in building, and when it was dedicated so many sheep and oxen were sacrificed that blood ran in streams down the temple courts. While we are looking at the temple let us examine the "molten sea" in one of the temple courts. This is a massive bowl of copper holding thousands of gallons of water. Here the priests washed their hands and feet before killing the animals to be burned on the altar. You wonder why the priests washed before, instead of after, sacrificing? Perhaps you think, as I thought for many years, the cleaner way would have been to wash after the slaughter was over. But we must remember that, the people of olden times often talked in symbols; that is, what they did had as much meaning as though they had spoken.
Only in a condition of holiness—that is, of purity—would anything offered to God be acceptable to Him. For this reason when the priests sacrificed—that is, made Him an offering—they first cleansed themselves. The "molten sea" is a mammoth bowl, but the twelve great copper oxen on whose backs the "sea" rests are well able to hold it.
Do you wish to mount the steps of the brazen altar? It is large, and the steps high, but as they are arranged in three tiers like terraces, we can stop at each landing. At the top is the blazing square where the animals are burned. There are channels in which the blood of the victims is carried away from the altar. But, even at that, the smell of burning flesh and scorching blood is not pleasant, and we shall hurry on until we reach the city streets so thronged with people. Old and young, big and little, are scurrying along to reach the city walls in time to see the queen as she passes through the gates to Solomon's palace. We shall follow the crowd and halt with them, for they will know best where we can see most.
There they come, the queen and her long train of camels, servants, slaves, and soldiers. Those patient camels plod along slowly, chewing their cuds as they enter the gates. They have crossed a desert carrying on their backs great packs of costly spices and precious jewels to be given to King Solomon. They have come from a long distance and brought with them vats of water and stores of food, for when people traveled in those days they had to carry everything they needed with them. Day after day and night after night the queen and her train have been traveling. There have been days when all of them lay flat on the sands of the desert to be safe as a sand storm swept over them. The peril of roving bands of robbers, and wild animals snarling about the fires at night, the queen has braved in order to greet the wisest of all men, King Solomon of Israel. The train of camels as it passes through the gates leaves behind it sweet-smelling odors. It is because the enormous packs the camels carry are filled with spices, the rich, sweet-smelling plants and perfumes of the Orient. The Bible says: "There came no more such abundance of spices as these which the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon."
We will go with the queen and her train as they move toward the palace. Let us slip inside and watch as Solomon waits for his royal visitor. There he sits on his gorgeous ivory and gold throne. To us it looks like a mammoth chair at the head of a flight of steps of ivory and gold. The king's arms are outstretched upon the arms of his wonderful throne. The arms of this throne rest upon twelve ivory and gold lions seated upon the steps. David, his father, was of the tribe of Judah, and these lions represent "the lion of the tribe of Judah."
At last the queen and her train of servants and soldiers enter and sweep down the aisles of the immense audience hall. It is called "The house of the forest of Lebanon" because of the forty-five massive cedar pillars from Lebanon which decorate it. The blare of horns and the clash of cymbals will not let us hear the greeting Solomon gives the queen. But that it was kindly we know because the queen begins at once to offer him her priceless gifts. Diamonds, rubies, and pearls she must have brought him by the bushel, as we are told there was no counting them for their number. She brought him rare spices—that is, oils, ointment, and perfumes—such as his kingdom, rich as it was, had never seen. Of gold she gave him one hundred and twenty talents, a sum equal to about four million of our dollars.
Then followed days of luxurious entertainment. The king spared neither money nor time to make the queen's visit one to be remembered. Together they must have visited his summer home. Paradise he called it. In this paradise were great gardens filled with plants, trees, and flowers brought from many lands. There were pools of water in abundance, and vineyards. Men and women singers delighted his visitors, and dancing girls wound in and out amongst the trees and shrubbery. Deer drank by the pools of water. In fact, everything to please the fancy of his guests abounded in this garden.
The chariots of the queen and Solomon must have moved side by side as they went from Jerusalem to his paradise at Etham. The queen was all astonishment as Solomon in his glistening white garments mounted his chariot of cedar and gold. The fiery Egyptian horses were driven by a handsome youth clad in expensive Tyrian purple, with his long black hair freshly sprinkled with powdered gold. None but young men, the tallest and handsomest of Israel, were allowed to be Solomon's bodyguard, and when they went with him to Paradise they were obliged to wear expensive Tyrian purple and had daily to dust their hair with powdered gold.
The queen watched in silent amazement as Solomon passed from the judgment hall to the temple between two lines of soldiers each carrying a shield of gold.
" Golden shields!" says some boy. " Of what use could they be? Gold is too soft a metal to be used for shields."
They were not for use, only for show, and to add to the glory of Solomon as he went from palace to temple. You remember he only had a few hundred made, not nearly enough to fit out an army.
From their visit to the temple let us go to the hall where the king's table is ready for his guests and his household. It will not be a table like ours. Neither will they sit down to it, for Orientals recline while they eat, with their heads turned towards the low table. We cannot stop to sample all of the dishes, for we have been told by the Bible that in one day only, the king and his household ate three hundred bushels of fine flour, six hundred bushels of meal, ten fat oxen, and twenty of the leaner field oxen, one hundred sheep, besides plenty of wild game such as fowl and deer, and other delicacies.
" It seems as though they ate mostly meat," says some little girl.
Yes, the people of long ago had many fancy ways of serving meats. They were expensive and foolish, but the kings and nobles of those days enjoyed wasting both food and money while the poorer people went hungry.
Let us follow the king and queen as they visit the royal stables where Solomon has his forty thousand stalls of horses and shelters his thousand and four hundred chariots. Every boy and girl will enjoy looking at these beautiful Egyptian steeds. How restless and impatient they are, confined in their stalls ! Their glossy coats and long manes are daily groomed by men appointed for that special purpose. These horses cost too much to be neglected. Solomon loved his horses, but did not love the stranger that was within his gates.
Why do I say that? Because when he built his temple he had made slaves of the foreigners dwelling in Jerusalem, compelling them to cut stone and hew wood for it.. In order that their cries and groans should not disturb the ears of the dwellers in the city, these enslaved Caananites were forced to work outside the walls of Jerusalem. They were compelled to finish every stone, beam, and pillar used in building before it was brought inside the city walls, and this is the reason "there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building."
"And why," some boy asks, "did Solomon have horses and chariots when a king of Israel was forbidden to multiply horses, and was told not to deal with Egypt?"
Yes, and he was also told that he should not multiply silver and gold. But in spite of that, Solomon had even the dishes for his table made of gold ; and as for silver, he made it so common that it was of no more value than the stones of the street.
" Didn't Solomon pray for wisdom?" inquires a little girl.
"Yes, and he asked God to punish wickedness and to reward righteousness," replies another child.
"He said more than that," a boy adds, "he asked God to condemn the wicked and to bring his way upon his own head."
You are right, children. Solomon prayed for wisdom which he did not use for good. He asked to be given the power to " discern between good and evil, and then he chose to do evil. No doubt some of you will remember that the Bible says,
" Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help, and rely on horses, and trust in chariots because they are many, and in horsemen because they are very strong, but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek Jehovah!"
"I don't think Solomon really trusted in God as much as he did in his chariots," all of you are saying.
He surely did not, and I am afraid he had already forgotten his father, David, who slew the powerful giant, Goliath, with only a small stone in a sling, and who said, " Jehovah saveth not with sword and spear." God is unchanging and could have saved Israel and Solomon as easily as he had saved David. Because he is unchanging we can safely trust God at all times. Remember, God has said through the mouth of one of his prophets, "For I, Jehovah, change not; therefore ye, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed."
But let us go back in our story and listen to the queen of Sheba as she tests Solomon with hard questions. He has a ready answer for all of them; nothing that she can ask is too hard for him. And why should it be? He who was able to write three thousand proverbs and one thousand and five songs, and had built costly temples and palaces, who had studied the habits of plants, fishes, birds, and beasts, and who had built a navy and encouraged learning, certainly could answer any question that a person could ask. But there are some questions the smallest tot among you could ask him which he could not answer.
Solomon, why did you pray for good and then do evil? Why did you say Jehovah was the only God in earth or in heaven and then erect temples to Moloch and Chemosh, the horrible firegods of the heathen? And why did you ask to keep all Jehovah's laws and precepts and immediately begin to break every one of them?
What do you think he would have answered to these questions?
"Nothing," say some of you, and I think myself that silence would have been the best answer.
But the queen was satisfied. All that she desired had been given her. Solomon's glory and his magnificence had so awed her that, as the Bible expresses it, " there was no more spirit in her," and she said to the king: "Thy wisdom and prosperity exceed the fame which I heard."
The sun's rays fall upon glistening gold and polished ivory. In some corners of the narrow streets the night shadows are already gathering when the queen of Sheba and her train again pass through Jerusalem's gates and slowly wind down the steep slopes leading to the valley. The camel boys and servants are chanting the weird songs of the desert as they go. As she rides away the queen turns to cast a last look at the splendor of Jerusalem, and as she does so breathes a prayer; it is for Solomon.
"Happy are thy men, happy . . . thy servants, that stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom. Blessed be Jehovah thy God, who delighted in thee, to set thee on the throne of Israel . . . to do justice and righteousness."
We turn back to the city as darkness hides the queen and her train from view. Life and love seem to have gone with her. Instead of songs of joy there come to our ears the curses and cries of a suffering people, the slaves that were doing Solomon's hard labor. Their voices in the night are crying for relief from their misery.
"Will they get it?" you ask.
Think for a moment. Don't you remember that when Solomon dedicated his wonderful temple he asked God to bless the strangers dwelling among Israel, and also to hear them when they cried unto Jehovah to avenge their wrongs?
Was it the night the queen turned again and went to her own country that Solomon remembered what she had said to him about being made a king to do righteousness, and heard again the voice of Jehovah, this time not in commendation?
" Jehovah was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned away from Jehovah, the God of Israel . . . . wherefore Jehovah said unto Solomon, Forasmuch as this is done of thee, and thou hast not kept my covenant and my statutes . . I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant."
Poor king ! Poor unhappy wise man ! His wisdom became to him a tonnent. He tells us so himself, saying, "In much wisdom is much grief ; and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow."
Wisdom misused, as Solomon misused his, does become a torment, as he said. You have read of the curious weapon called a boomerang thrown by the Australian natives. If not hurled aright it can do the thrower injury, as it always returns to the hand that hurls it. So everything we have and do not use aright comes back to us and does us harm.
Solomon prayed for wisdom, received it, and did not use it rightly. His wisdom, which should have been a blessing, became a curse to him and to his country. During his life-time Israel was enriched, but when his son succeeded him the glory of the kingdom faded and it became two petty principalities warring always with each other and with surrounding nations.
Solomon the wise saw, before he died, the results of his cruelty and extravagance. The people were already rebelling against the unjust taxes he imposed upon them and refusing to be his slaves. Do you wonder that, in the bitterness of his disappointment at having ruined instead of establishing Israel, he said, "I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind."
Let us not be too severe upon the king. It is wise to remember that ,we, too, may have gifts, advantages, and opportunities that we are not using rightly. Perhaps we have prayed for the desire of our hearts as Solomon prayed for his wisdom, and been as ignorant as he was in the use of it. But of one thing we can be certain: Whatever we do not handle aright, no matter what it may be, is sure to return to us, or, as Ezekiel the prophet declares, "There-fore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: As I live, surely mine oath that he hath despised, and my covenant that he bath broken, I will even bring it upon his own head."