The Breathless Queen
The Queen of Sheba is definitely a character of interest.
Have you ever heard the expression, “Who do you think you are? The Queen of Sheba?” That might be a little old for some of you, but it’s an expression I’ve heard in movies and from older family members over the years. You would basically say it to young ladies who thought a little too highly of themselves.
I think my daughters would say a girl like that is being a little “extra.” (But what do I know?)
The Queen of Sheba is definitely a character of interest. The first place she was ever mentioned is in the Hebrew Bible. Since then she’s featured in many religious texts, medieval paintings and works of art, and most recently in film and television as early as 1921 and late as 2017.
So much has been said about her, yet so little is actually revealed in the story. I am aware of the extra-biblical stories about her and Solomon having a son together, and her alleged conversion to the worship of Yahweh, but none of that is clearly substantiated in the Word. It’s from Ethiopian literature which attempts to show that they possess the Ark of the Covenant and a pure Solomonic Dynasty (read about the Kebra Nagast).
There’s usually something between the lines when you read narrative.
But as I read and prayed, the Lord actually showed me something from the story. There’s usually something between the lines when you read narrative. It started with noticing the Queen’s reaction to Solomon’s wisdom.
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. (1 Kings 10:4-5)
I read this in several translations, looked it up in the Hebrew, and the phrase there was no more breath in her comes across the same way. She was astounded to the point of being breathless. All of Solomon’s wisdom and splendor took her breath away! Then the next thing that caught my attention is what she said when she regained her breath. She praised his wealth and wisdom, but then ended her praise with this.
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. (1 Kings 10:9)
She blesses the Lord for putting Solomon as king over Israel. She recognized the hand of God in Solomon’s reign, she saw how Israel was benefiting, and gave the Lord praise for his wisdom at work through Solomon.
But I was convicted of something here. There’s nothing here to suggest that she converted to Solomon’s faith. If she had, surely the Scripture would have made mention. The Word makes clear mention of General Naaman’s conversion when Elisha healed his leprosy (2 Kings 5:17). If the Queen of Sheba converted here then it has been conspicuously omitted from the story.
Follow me. From here on this is a flow of thought more than an explanation of the passage.
If she had this incredible experience, perhaps even an ecstatic one since she found herself breathless, and even praised Yahweh for his wisdom in making Solomon king, why would she leave Jerusalem still worshiping the gods of Sheba? That question made me think about how we respond to revelation. There are moments in my life where God has left me breathless, speechless, or just reduced to tears, and the question I had to ask myself is this. Did those ecstatic experiences produce any change in my life? And I had to reluctantly admit that they seldom have. Reluctantly because they probably should have, but they didn’t. And that brought me to this thought.
Ecstatic experiences don’t transform us.
In fact, I don’t think they’re meant to be transformative. Think about it. When Jesus transfigured in front of Peter, James, and John, that was an ecstatic experience (Luke 9:28-43). The Word shows us that Peter was maybe the most affected of the three by that experience. Yet, just a few months later, Peter denies that he even knows Jesus three times in one night! Now that doesn’t mean that his experience was useless, it just wasn’t transformative. That leads to this thought.
I believe ecstatic experiences are given to us for our encouragement, not growth. Now encouragement is a good thing for growth, but it’s more of a fertilizer than water and good soil. In Colorado, where I had to grow and maintain my own grass in sandy soil, I learned that fertilizer is a good thing until you use too much of it, then you burn your grass. But just the right amounts at the right times makes the grass greener and more lush. Ecstatic experiences are no substitute for Word, prayer, and community. The pure emotionalism of the ecstatic will ruin you if that’s all you ever pursue. It would be like forgoing water and soil and just planting your grass in a bag of fertilizer.
Emotions enrich our lives, but they are not the fertile soil where life flourishes.
I’m not against emotions. I love emotions. In fact, I think emotions get a bad rep in a lot of churches. Emotions enrich our lives, but they are not the fertile soil where life flourishes. The journey of the Christian life is about becoming more like Jesus, not chasing after things that Jesus can make us feel.
How did the Queen of Sheba take me to these thoughts? Well, it appears that the Queen of Sheba essentially had her experience, got her “blessing” and went home. She experienced and tasted of God’s goodness in Solomon’s court, then left. Is that not what the author of Hebrews warns against (Hebrews 6:4-6)? If you taste of God’s goodness, benefit from his generosity, witness his glorious majesty in others, and yet still refuse to worship him, you’re treading on dangerous ground!
Maybe the lesson from the Queen of Sheba is this: don’t be satisfied with ecstatic moments that leave you breathless. Those are the teasers that lead you into a deeper pursuit of Jesus which satisfies far deeper, far better than the mountaintop highs we occasionally experience. Don’t just get your blessing and go. Stay, be blessed, and share the wealth of Christ’s riches that you discover on the journey with others.