Our next woman is well-known, but the detail in the Bible is actually rather scant. Most of what we know about her is taken from legend, poetry, art and myth. In Ethiopian tradition she is called Makeda, and in Islamic and Yemeni tradition she is Bilquis.
The Queen of Sheba is the most exotic and enigmatic woman of this lent series and is markedly different to all the other women: she is a female ruler from a far-flung land, she is wealthy, and she seems to be totally independent of any man or of any particular social group. But what really sets her apart is that her journey is one of intellectual curiosity over and above anything else. She is a woman who loved wisdom and was willing to travel the world to seek it out.
She was the queen of a land situated to the south of the Arabian desert, believed to have been the kingdom of Sheba, or Saba (which is in modern day Yemen). She had heard reports that King Solomon was the wisest man in the East and so set off on the long journey (some say it may have taken several years) to find out for herself.
When the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon, she came to Jerusalem to test him with hard questions2 Chronicles 9.1
She was fabulously wealthy and arrived in Jerusalem with a huge entourage that included camels, spices, precious stones, and gold. These were gifts for the king and would have been expected of a Royal visit. Her main interest does not seem to have been his wealth or huge palace, for her the audience with the King was a meeting of minds:
She came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind. Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too hard for the King to explain to her.1 Kings 10.3
She was impressed by Solomon’s intellect, wisdom and wealth and this led her to turn to praise God at all that she saw:
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 to execute justice and righteousness.1 Kings 10.9
Gifts of gold, spices and precious stones were handed over and then the Queen, having asked all the questions that she had on her mind, and learned all that she could from King Solomon, set off back to her home land.
Reflection and Prayer
Wisdom cries out in the street;
in the squares she raises her voice.
21 At the busiest corner she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
Proverbs 1. 20-22
One of the many reasons I love my job as a university chaplain is being in the midst of so many people who are thirsty for knowledge and who are dedicating their lives to learning and seeking understanding. Like the Queen of Sheba they travel from around the globe in hope to find some of their questions answered.
There is difference between knowledge and wisdom though isn’t there? * Knowledge can be gained through reading, research and gathering information, but wisdom uses discernment, judgement and understanding to take this information and to use it for good. I often marvel at how the cleverest of people can make the most foolish decisions at times!
One of the great things about getting older is knowing that wisdom often come with maturity, especially if we are willing to learn from our mistakes and to change
In the Book of Proverbs ‘wisdom’ is personified as a woman,’lady wisdom’, who cries out on the streets calling men and women to the knowledge of God. Let us pray for wisdom, for ourselves and for our leaders at this time of global emergency.
Most Gracious and Holy Father,
give us wisdom to perceive you;
intelligence to understand you;
diligence to seek you,
patience to wait for you;
eyes to behold you,
a heart to meditate on you:
and a life to proclaim you,
through the power of the Holy Spirit
and the love of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen
Frank Topping, 1994
* John (my husband) says ‘knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad’!