I Kings 10: What Is Wisdom?

I just finished my study of I Kings 10 here at home.  I suppose I could’ve gone to the library today, since there’s no snow on the ground.  But I’m in an introverted, be-by-myself sort of mood.

What can I say about I Kings 10?  Well, the Queen of Sheba visits Solomon because of his reputation “to the name of the LORD” (v 1).  I’m not sure what that means exactly.  I did a search on BibleWorks, and the Hebrew for “to the name of the LORD” often occurs in the context of Solomon building a house for God’s name, the temple.  In Joshua 9:9, the Gibeonites come “to the name of the LORD,” which various English translations render as “because of the name of the LORD,” meaning the Gibeonites came because they heard of God’s reputation concerning the Exodus and the Conquest (up to that point).  Consequently, there are commentators who assert that I Kings 10:1 means the Queen of Sheba visited Solomon on account of his reputation, which was “because of the name of the LORD,” indicating it was due to the LORD himself—his blessing of Solomon with wisdom and prosperity.  The Septuagint doesn’t translate the Hebrew literally (assuming it was even using the MT in this case), for it says that the Queen of Sheba heard the name of Solomon and the name of the LORD: she came because of the reputations of two great figures, Solomon and his God.  The Septuagint seems to rewrite the verse so that it makes a little more sense.

The Queen visits Solomon to ask him some hard questions, or riddles.  It’s the same word used for Samson’s riddle in Judges 14.  To see what rabbinic literature thinks her riddles were, check out the “Jewish Legends” section of the Jewish Encyclopedia article, SHEBA, QUEEN OF.

Why did the Queen of Sheba visit Solomon?  The Anchor Bible Dictionary article on the “Queen of Sheba” offered a political/economic reason.  As I said in last week’s post, I Kings 9: At Home, Solomon controlled Ezion-geber, which was at the top tip of the Red Sea.  And he had also fortified cities along Israel’s trading routes, which connected Egypt with northern areas, such as Syria and Mesopotamia.  To accomplish lucrative trade, one had to enter Israel via the Red Sea and go through it to reach the North.  And so the Queen of Sheba felt that she’d better make friends with Solomon if she were to get Sheba’s goods traded off!  Makes sense.  The Bible doesn’t mention that, though!

Jesus refers to the story of the Queen of Sheba in Matthew 12:42 and Luke 11:31.  He states that the Queen of Sheba came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, so she’ll stand at the Judgment and condemn the generation of Israelites that rejected Jesus, who is greater than Solomon (though, as James McGrath pointed out as he needled the inerrancy doctrine, God told Solomon in I Kings 3:12 that there would never be anyone as wise as Solomon—see Who is the Wisest? Jesus, Solomon or Pat Robertson? (Biblioblogging and the Haitian Earthquake)).  Wisdom.  Is that what wisdom is—solving riddles?  I mean, that’s what Solomon did for the Queen of Sheba.  His ability to solve them was what convinced the Queen that Solomon was wise—that, along with the beautiful temple and Solomon’s multitude of servants.  Maybe, in those days, having a high IQ meant being an effective and righteous ruler.  The Queen refers to Solomon doing judgment and justice.  Intelligence can help a ruler do that!  Consider the story in I Kings 3, in which Solomon rules justly in a case involving two prostitutes, who were claiming to be the mother of a child.  Solomon treated this as a riddle for him to solve, and the result was that he made a just decision: the baby was restored to its rightful mother.

Yet, one can be smart with riddles or dark sayings, and still be bad.  When I did a search on the Hebrew word for “riddle,” which is used in I Kings 10:1, I came across Daniel 8:23: a fierce king who understands “riddles” will rise up and persecute God’s people.  So the Antichrist (according to Christians) will be smart, yet unrighteous!  My impression of biblical wisdom literature is that it equates wisdom with righteousness, since behaving righteously is a wise path, which brings life and prosperity.  Daniel 8:23 appears to have a different understanding!

I thought about America’s Presidents.  Jimmy Carter was smart, yet he was a bad President.  Reagan may not have been as smart, but he was good.  At the same time, in his first term, he had advisors who were politically savy and able to get his agenda passed.  Clinton was smart.  I guess he was a fairly decent President, but his personal blunders weren’t particularly wise, since they gave his opposition the ammunition to impeach him.  Bush II isn’t considered a brain, but he had some brains serving under him (e.g., Cheney, Condi).  Still, some of his decisions (e.g., his short-sighted war strategy) were pretty bad.  And Obama is smart, but he doesn’t seem all that competent!  So maybe there are different kinds of intelligences: book-smart, the ability to get one’s agenda passed, etc. 

Where’s righteousness in this?  Well, certainly, being unrighteous can have bad consequences, showing that it’s not wise!  If we’ve bred resentment among many nations of the world through our greed and insensitivity, that encourages America’s enemies.  If we don’t regulate bad business practices, then an economic collapse is no surprise.   

What’s my point in all this?  I’m not sure.  But I’m edified after exploring the definition of wisdom.  Sometimes, the journey itself can be a reward, even if I don’t arrive at a definitive answer!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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