Turning God’s Blessings Into Burdens

1 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.” 10 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.

11 Moreover, the fleet of Hiram, which brought gold from Ophir, brought from Ophir a very great amount of almug wood and precious stones. 12 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.

13 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 ESV

In the two decades that Solomon had served as king of Israel, the news of his incomparable wisdom, vast wealth, and rapidly expanding kingdom had begun to spread throughout the known world (1 Kings 4:31). News of his skills as a composer, author, horticulturist, and biologist further enhanced his already mythical reputation as the wisest man who ever lived. Intrigued by what they heard, kings and dignitaries from other nations sent their emissaries to Jerusalem to see if all the rumors about him were true.

…kings from every nation sent their ambassadors to listen to the wisdom of Solomon. – 1 Kings 4:34 NLT

And the author of 1 Kings provides an extended example of one such visit. On this occasion, the Queen of Sheba undertook the long and arduous journey to Jerusalem in order to witness the wisdom of Solomon firsthand. The kingdom of Sheba was located 1200 miles away, on the southwest corner of the Arabian Peninsula, in the region that is now known as Yemen. The queen traveled with a large royal retinue and brought with her a vast amount of spices, gold, and precious stones. And it would seem that the real purpose for her trip was to secure an alliance between her nation and the rapidly expanding kingdom of Solomon. From its location at the confluence of the Sea of Aden and the Red Sea, the kingdom of Sheba had been able to expand its dominance of the spice and incense trade in that region of the world. And a peaceful alliance with a powerful nation like Israel would only further enhance and protect their future prospects.

Upon her arrival, the queen was given a personal appointment with Solomon, where she was able to satisfy her curiosity about his wisdom and wealth. This interrogation was most likely meant to assess the validity of Solomon’s reputation but was also intended to assure the queen whether a treaty with Israel would be beneficial. In the end, she was left breathless by her encounter with Solomon.

…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. – 1 Kings 10:4-5 ESV

She was blown away by what she saw and heard. And she confessed that the reality of Solomon’s wisdom and the greatness of his kingdom far exceeded the rumors and her own expectations.

“Everything I heard in my country about your achievements and wisdom is true! I didn’t believe what was said until I arrived here and saw it with my own eyes. In fact, I had not heard the half of it! Your wisdom and prosperity are far beyond what I was told. – 1 Kings 10:6-7 NLT

The inclusion of this personal, third-party assessment of Solomon’s greatness was meant to validate all that the author had written up to this point. Her testimony was intended to prove that all the descriptions concerning Solomon’s wisdom and the wealth of his kingdom were far from rhetorical flourishes or hyperbole. It was all true.

And this pagan queen affirmed the divine nature of Solomon’s reign, deeming the people of Israel as the fortunate recipients of their God’s love because He had chosen to make this just and righteous man their king.

“Praise the Lord your God, who delights in you and has placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king so you can rule with justice and righteousness.” – 1 Kings 10:9 NLT

In a way, this statement is meant to remind the Hebrew readers of this book that their nation indeed been blessed by God. His sovereign decision to anoint Solomon as  David’s successor had been a divine act of love and mercy. He had given them a wise, just, and righteous king to rule over them. After decades spent conquering the nations of Canaan and fighting ongoing battles with the Philistines, God had blessed the people of Israel with a time of peace and prosperity. Saul’s reign had ended in failure and disappointment. David’s reign had been marked by war and bloodshed. Now Solomon was leading them into a period of unprecedented growth and success. This was meant to be a golden age for the nation of Israel.

And, almost as further proof of God’s blessing on the nation, the author records that the queen of Sheba gifted Solomon with “9,000 pounds of gold, great quantities of spices, and precious jewels” (1 Kings 10:10 NLT). The blessings just kept coming. Solomon’s great wealth continued to grow. And all of this was in keeping with the promise that God had made to Solomon.

“Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies—I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have! And I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and fame! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life!” – 1 Kings 3:11-13 NLT

But it’s important to remember that God’s promise had come with a condition.

“…if you follow me and obey my decrees and my commands as your father, David, did, I will give you a long life.” – 1 Kings 3:14 NLT

That important caveat must not be overlooked. And its presence constantly lingers behind the scene portrayed in chapter 10. God was faithfully keeping the promise He had made to Solomon, blessing him with riches and fame beyond belief. But the unspoken question that looms over this entire narrative is whether Solomon, in the midst of his growing wealth and notoriety, will manage to remain faithful to God. Or will he allow the blessings of God to become substitutes for God, distracting his attention and diverting his love.

Almost as an aside, the author reveals another example of God’s blessings on Solomon. He notes that Hiram, the king of Tyre, continued to shower Solomon with incredible gifts of great value.

Hiram’s ships brought gold from Ophir, and they also brought rich cargoes of red sandalwood and precious jewels. – 1 Kings 10:11 NLT

Without having to lift a finger, Solomon’s immense wealth was growing by the minute. God was using these pagan potentates to expand Solomon’s already extensive net worth. But would Solomon view these gifts as the gracious provision of God, meant to underwrite the divine initiatives He had in mind for the nation of Israel? Or would Solomon allow his growing wealth to fund a lifestyle of excess and dissipation? The answer to those questions can be found in the writings of Solomon himself.

Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness! The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it. So what good is wealth—except perhaps to watch it slip through your fingers! – Ecclesiastes 5:10-11 NLT

Solomon would eventually discover that even the blessings of God become disappointing and disillusioning when they are allowed to take His place. He had allowed his fame and riches, graciously given to him by God, to distract him from his worship of and commitment to God.

I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere. – Ecclesiastes 2:9-11 NLT

But at this point in the story, Solomon is enjoying the blessings of God. And having been exposed to the visual evidence of God’s goodness, the queen of Sheba returned to her kingdom, home more convinced than ever of Solomon’s greatness.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson