The “Queen of the South” is mentioned only once in the Bible, in Matthew 12:42 and Luke 11:31. Jesus refers to her when speaking to the crowds about the sign of Jonah:
“The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed something greater than Solomon is here.” (Matthew 12:42, NKJV)
This queen traveled a great distance to visit King Solomon in Jerusalem and listen to his wisdom. But Jesus said someone greater than Solomon was present – meaning Himself.
So who exactly was this unnamed queen who Jesus compared to the wise King Solomon? Let’s explore the possible identities of the Queen of the South and what lessons we can learn from her story.
- The Queen of the South was likely the Queen of Sheba, from the kingdom of Saba in southern Arabia.
- She traveled to Jerusalem to visit King Solomon, having heard of his great wisdom and splendor.
- The Queen was impressed by Solomon’s wisdom, wealth, palace, food, court, and sacrifices to God.
- She pronounced blessings on Solomon’s God and gave generous gifts to the king.
- Solomon also gave gifts to the Queen of Sheba in return.
- Jesus contrasted the Queen’s seeking of wisdom to the disbelief of His generation.
- Like the Queen, we should earnestly seek wisdom, especially the wisdom of Christ.
The Visit of the Queen of Sheba
The most commonly held view is that the Queen of the South refers to the Queen of Sheba. Though unnamed in the Gospels, she is described in more detail in 1 Kings 10:1-13 and 2 Chronicles 9:1-12. Here she is called “the queen of Sheba” and said to have heard of Solomon’s fame and traveled to Jerusalem to test him with difficult questions.
The queen brought a large retinue, camels, spices, gold, and precious stones. She spoke with Solomon about all that was on her mind and Solomon answered all her questions with great wisdom. The Queen of Sheba was greatly impressed:
And when the queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food on his table, the seating of his servants, the service of his waiters and their apparel, his cupbearers, and his entryway by which he went up to the house of the Lord, there was no more spirit in her. (1 Kings 10:4-5)
She pronounced blessings on Solomon’s servants and on the Lord who delighted in Solomon to make him king. She gave the king 120 talents of gold (about 4.5 tons), great quantities of spices, and precious stones (1 Kings 10:10). King Solomon also gave gifts to the Queen of Sheba from his royal bounty.
This ancient royal visit likely took place around 950 BC, during the united kingdom under Solomon’s rule. The kingdom of Saba was located in the southwestern part of the Arabian peninsula, in modern-day Yemen. It was known for its trade in frankincense, myrrh, and spices. The Queen of Sheba ruled the Sabean kingdom as a wealthy and powerful monarch. Her visit to Solomon underscored the importance of the Israelite kingdom at the time.
The Location of Sheba
There is some debate over where exactly Sheba was located. The church father Josephus identified Sheba with Saba, or Sabaʾ, of southern Arabia (modern Yemen). This is supported by the geographic descriptions of Sheba in Isaiah 60:6, Jeremiah 6:20, and Job 1:15. However, there are scholars who have argued for identifications of Sheba in either Ethiopia or on the southwestern Arabian shore.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has a longstanding tradition that the Queen of Sheba came from Ethiopia and had a son with Solomon named Menelik I. However, most biblical scholars favor an Arabian location for the kingdom of Sheba based on descriptions of the queen’s caravan route. Saba was an oasis kingdom that grew wealthy from the Red Sea trade in incense, spices, and precious stones. Given the 1,200 mile round trip the queen undertook, it seems most plausible her kingdom was located in southern Arabia.
The Nature of the Queen’s Visit
The Queen of Sheba apparently heard rumors of Solomon’s great wisdom and wealth and wanted to find out if they were true for herself. Her visit amounted to intelligence gathering through an exchange of riddles, observation, and gift giving. She came with a caravan of valuable goods to trade, tested Solomon’s wisdom, then ended up bestowing gifts on him.
The king likely hosted her and reciprocated with gifts to build good relations, given Sheba’s control of valuable trade routes. Her visit was an act of diplomacy between neighboring kingdoms. Some see the visit as initiating commercial ties, while others argue the queen was famed for her wisdom and journeyed to learn from Solomon. In any case, the visit showed Jerusalem’s prestige under Solomon’s rule.
Lessons from the Queen of Sheba
While the Queen of Sheba sought out Solomon’s wisdom, Jesus said someone greater than Solomon was there among the crowds – Himself. He rebuked those who were rejecting His teaching and not seeking wisdom from Him:
The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed something greater than Solomon is here. (Matthew 12:42)
Jesus was offering divine wisdom, yet people were missing it. What lessons can we learn from the Queen of Sheba about pursuing wisdom?
1. Be earnest in seeking wisdom. The Queen of Sheba undertook a difficult 1,200 mile journey through the desert to seek wisdom from Solomon. Do we pursue God’s wisdom with similar eagerness today? We must be zealous in studying Scripture, learning from godly people, and growing in our faith and knowledge of Christ.
2. Prepare to be challenged and changed. The Queen risked being stumped by Solomon’s questions. We too must humbly open ourselves to correction and new perspectives that challenge our thinking as we seek God’s wisdom. Wisdom should lead to transformation.
3. Discern truth from deception. The Queen asked Solomon tough questions to test his wisdom. We need to be discerning as we learn, not blindly accepting what we hear without measuring it against the truth of the Bible.
4. Persevere in seeking wisdom. The long journey required endurance from the Queen. We too must persistently pursue wisdom from God, making it a lifelong effort that requires patience and commitment. The rewards are eternal.
5. Value wisdom above riches. The Queen was more impressed by Solomon’s wisdom than any of his possessions or wealth. How often we chase after riches but neglect the pursuit of godly wisdom! This should be our priority.
6. Respond with humility and praise. The humble Queen responded by praising God and gifting Solomon. As we encounter God’s wisdom in His Word and creation, we should respond with awe, gratitude, and obedience.
7. Share wisdom generously with others. Solomon shared his wisdom freely with the Queen. Likewise, as we grow in godly wisdom, we should pass it on to others rather than hoarding it for ourselves. Discipleship develops wisdom.
The Queen of Sheba sought the wisdom of Solomon, but Christ is the ultimate divine source of wisdom. May we pursue the wisdom of God in Christ wholeheartedly, applying these lessons from the Queen’s example.
The Greater Wisdom of Christ
Jesus used the Queen of Sheba’s visit to implicitly compare and contrast Himself with King Solomon. Solomon was incredibly wise and renowned. When the Queen heard of his wisdom, she traveled far to experience it firsthand and ended up pronouncing God’s blessing on Solomon.
Yet Jesus states “something greater than Solomon is here.” As the Son of God, Jesus possesses divine wisdom and knowledge. He knows the thoughts of all men and nothing is hidden from Him (John 2:24-25). Jesus is described as “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).
While Solomon was limited in wisdom, Christ has “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” according to His divine nature. What are some of the key aspects of the unparalleled wisdom found in Christ?
1. Wisdom about eternity. Solomon had great earthly wisdom, but Christ teaches us wisdom about eternal life, our reason for existence. He shows us how to store up treasures in heaven.
2. Wisdom about the human condition. Christ teaches accurately about the state of the fallen human heart and our need for redemption. His wisdom addresses our deepest spiritual needs.
3. Wisdom to change lives. Christ’s wisdom has power to redeem and transform even the most sinful hearts, giving new life. This surpasses human wisdom.
4. Wisdom through relationship. While the Queen only heard Solomon’s wisdom secondhand, Christ invites us into a direct teacher-disciple relationship and His Spirit teaches us.
5. Divine wisdom. The wisdom of Christ is pure and perfect, free from any limitations of human wisdom that is tainted by sin and finiteness. His wisdom comes directly from the mind of God.
6. Wisdom about God. Jesus reveals the nature and character of God the Father, helping us know Him personally. No human wisdom could attain to this knowledge of the Creator.
7. Eternal wisdom. Christ was with the Father from the beginning (John 1:1) and His wisdom stands forever, unlike fading human wisdom that changes from generation to generation.
Following Christ goes beyond seeking wisdom – it is pursuing the Source of all wisdom Himself. As the Son of God, He is the greatest and wisest teacher of all. We should eagerly seek Jesus just like the Queen of Sheba sought Solomon.
But even more than seeking Him, we receive Christ’s wisdom by faith as a free gift of His grace since He gave His life for us. As we abide in Christ and obey Him, His Spirit will continue revealing divine wisdom to us for daily living. Christ is not just a wise teacher from the past – He wants to be our living Lord, imparting wisdom everyday through a relationship with Him.
The intriguing story of the Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon provides a great example of earnestly pursuing wisdom. Though Solomon was renowned for wisdom, Jesus states that His wisdom is far greater as the Son of God. When we seek Jesus, we gain divine wisdom directly from the Source.
Rather than just listening to Christ’s wisdom secondhand, we are invited into a disciple-teacher relationship with Him. As the Spirit makes Christ’s wisdom known to us through God’s Word, we are transformed. The Queen of Sheba crossed a desert to gain earthly wisdom from a man, but we gain spiritual and eternal wisdom from Christ Himself. May we wholeheartedly pursue wisdom in Christ.