New Light

1 Kings 10:1–13 When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the LORD, she came to test Solomon with hard questions. 2 Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan—with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones—she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind. 3 Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her. 4 When the queen of Sheba saw all the wisdom of Solomon and the palace he had built, 5 the food on his table, the seating of his officials, the attending servants in their robes, his cupbearers, and the burnt offerings he made at the temple of the LORD, she was overwhelmed. 6 She said to the king, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. 7 But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard. 8 How happy your people must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! 9 Praise be to the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the LORD’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king to maintain justice and righteousness.” 10 And she gave the king 120 talents of gold, large quantities of spices, and precious stones. Never again were so many spices brought in as those the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon. 11 (Hiram’s ships brought gold from Ophir; and from there they brought great cargoes of almugwood and precious stones. 12 The king used the almugwood to make supports for the temple of the LORD and for the royal palace, and to make harps and lyres for the musicians. So much almugwood has never been imported or seen since that day.) 13 King Solomon gave the queen of Sheba all she desired and asked for, besides what he had given her out of his royal bounty. Then she left and returned with her retinue to her own country.

I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it before in my studies. The Queen of Sheba is sort of like the moon. Everybody is in a race to stick their flag in her to claim her. Everybody. It’s not just us here in 1 Kings. The Muslims claim her too. Did you know that? They’re so eager to claim her that millennia later they tried to coop her in their sacred text, the Koran. The Ethiopians want her too. Historians say that actually their whole national consciousness is based on the claim that she was their queen. And as if that weren’t enough the people across the Red Sea over in Yemen claim her too. Everybody wants her legacy, her power, and wisdom as their own. Even people in our culture want to claim her. I read a blog just this week called the Fatal Feminist claiming her as well. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it before in my studies. The Queen of Sheba is like the moon. Everybody wants to stick their own flag in her to claim her.

It’s not hard to understand why. She an absolute unicorn in history. She’s stunning, wise, and powerful. First of all, she’s a queen regnate, which means she doesn’t owe her throne to anybody. She’s queen under her own power, which for a woman of those times is totally unheard of. And, obviously, that increases her legend greatly. Here is a woman who sweeps into history under her own power and seems to own the world like no queen did before and arguably no queen has since. And just so you don’t think this is my own private opinion of her please know that the History Channel in a documentary about her said she, “is the most famous queen in the world.” In other words, sit down Queen Nefertiti and take a back seat Queen Elizabeth because the Queen of Sheba is in the house. More than that though, did you notice how much culture, power and wealth this woman oozes? It’s sort of other worldly to think about. In fact, the Spirit even credits her here with the greatest collection of expensive spices ever to be gathered into one place. Did you catch that? “Never again were so many spices brought in.” (v. 10) And as if that weren’t enough she’s also credited with the greatest import of an exotic and important wood called almugwood in world history as well. The Scriptures say, “So much almugwood has never been imported or seen since that day.” (v. 12) See what I mean? She’s a unicorn in world history. Stunning. Powerful. One of a kind.

But then again don’t take my word for it. Take the word of a guy who shows up on the scene ten millennia later and talks about her again. Take the word of a guy like that and begin to think about how amazing his comments about her truly are. When he talks about her he takes this entire account and condenses the whole thing down into a single title that he gives her. You know what Jesus himself calls her? Jesus gives her the title, “the Queen of the South.” (Luke 11:31) Like people 1000 years later would know exactly who he’s talking about with just by mentioning the title. Like for another 1000 years nobody had shown up in history quite as compelling or quite as mind-blowing as her. And did you catch how important Jesus says that she was? I mean, honestly, she was so important that Jesus nicknames her with one of the four cardinal points of the map. He simply calls her the Queen of the South. Not the Queen of Sheba. Not Queen of the Sabeans. Jesus simply calls her the Queen of the South. Like she owned half the world. Like she had half its wealth. Like she possessed half its power and half its people were under the influence of her rule. That’s what he’s saying when he nicknames her the Queen of the South.

And I suppose we could talk about how this historical unicorn had obviously conquered culture and had unimaginable wealth, etc., etc., etc. I suppose we could even do the historical analysis to try to understand what kind of perfect storm happened to cause this unicorn to arise. We could talk about the trades routes, the climate, the engineering problems she solved, etc., etc., etc., but we’d be missing the point if we did. There is a reason why everybody and especially Jesus wants to claim the Queen of Sheba. It’s for what she as a unicorn in history represents. Here is a most stunning person in world history who has everything. She has power and influence and it’s not just because of her gender. She has trade and, therefore, goods coming out of her ears. She has the world’s philosophies and ideas right on her doorstep as they come in from China, Africa, and Arabia right on and through her kingdom. Quite literally the world, its ideas, and its life were hers to do with as she pleased. And yet even though she clearly has the world she still seeks. And specifically she seeks Solomon because of, “his relationship to the Lord.” (v. 1) She came to Solomon and to his God given wisdom with her, “hard questions,” (v. 1) because quite simply there was a lot, “she had on her mind.” (v. 3)

Do you see it now? Do you see her now for what this very real historical figure is meant to teach us? She is a woman who owns philosophy, worldview, power, culture, music and the arts. She is a woman who owns the whole world, but she walks five hundred miles times two in arid, desert, sand-storm country (One without a company called Delta!) in search of something –  she didn’t know what –  but in search of something that she had heard that maybe the Lord, Solomon’s God, could give her. In other words, she had all of the world’s best ideas, but she felt there was something missing so profoundly that she was willing to traipse somewhat humiliatingly to another kingdom to another person on a wing and a prayer that maybe just maybe the rumors were true. And yes, she had believed it was a wing and a prayer. She said herself, “I did not believe these things.” (v. 7) She was so desperate for light that on the off chance that Solomon could offer real answers to life’s greatest questions she headed his way.

And it’s not just her. Seriously, it’s not. Everybody feels this to a degree. Everybody. We all sense deep down there’s something very dark about ourselves and our world. Take a look at the world’s top ideas and stories this year. It’s not a fluke that one of the biggest words of 2015 was “self-identifying.” Our world is honestly so dark that we’re not even sure how to self-identify; we’re not even sure who we are at our core. Am I black? Am I straight? Am I gay? Am I a woman or am I a man? Who am I? Bruce Jenner is probably the perfect example of this. What he and everybody on both sides of that issue can agree on is that this is a person who is struggling with an immense amount of torturous personal darkness. Truthfully, you can’t even watch Tangled without understanding this about the world. You have this heroine stuck in her tower knowing so little about herself and her world. And you know what she sings so hopefully when she first has contact with something outside her tower? “Now I have seen the light.” We all want light. We all want truth. We all want something that’s going to help us make sense of ourselves, what we feel, and where we’re going. We all want epiphany.

And that’s where this account of the Queen of Sheba comes in. Do you see what it is? It’s a condemnation of attempting to find that light in the wrong place. And by the way, that’s not my interpretation of the story. That’s Jesus’ interpretation of it. “She condemns them.” (Luke 11:31) He’s, of course, right. She does. She is the queen of world culture. She is the queen of philosophy and religion and ideas. She is the world’s unicorn in that way. And as Jesus so perfectly points out, her trip to Solomon is a rejection of all of it. It’s a condemnation of anything people call wisdom here. That’s why she took her trip. She was saying, “You can’t and you won’t find light here. Believe me I tried. Light isn’t naturally in us. If you want light; if you want to have a true epiphany about your identity and your sexuality; if you want to have a clear worldview, you’re never going to find it down here.” And, honestly, that’s what I want for you. I want you to give up on trendy books like Eat, Pray, Love. I want you to quit listening so closely to what the talking heads are saying about the hottest philosophical, gender, political, and sexual topics of the day. I actually want you despair of them. I want you to see them for who they are people grappling in darkness (compassionately for sure!), but I also want you to see them the way the Queen of Sheba so clearly did – as a bunch of people struggling for light and not having it. The Queen of Sheba visited Solomon three thousand years ago. Let me say that again. The Queen of Sheba visited Solomon three thousand years ago and in 2015 one of the hottest words was self-identify. Do you see what that says? The world’s hot new ideas, new innovative philosophies, and supposedly wonderful new truths have not advanced us spiritually or emotionally at all. It’s time to see them all for what they are: darkness remixed.

And that’s why we have this amazing unicorn called the Queen of Sheba in the Scriptures. And that’s why Jesus hauls her out once again 10 millennia later. She’s an absolute tour de force. That’s the phrase I kept seeing in my mind as I was thinking about this Scripture. She’s a tour de force to draw us to Solomon, to his wisdom, and to his light. It’s a tour de force to say to us, “Neither you, nor anybody with their own wisdom can make the lights come on. Only someone with special access to God and his wisdom can do that. Only then you’ll see. Only then you’ll know as you should know. Only then you’ll be able to make sense of your world, yourself, your feelings, your life. You need Solomon.” Well - sort of. Truth is. You need way more than Solomon. This is his life’s peak. That much is clear in the Scriptures. He gains the throne. He builds a magnificent palace and a stunning Temple for the Lord. And then the Queen of Sheba shows up for his wisdom, but then he backslides when he doesn’t apply God’s wisdom to himself. Idolatry, womanizing – darkness grabs a hold of him. Even Solomon. Even the world’s wisest man had darkness invade. We need someone greater than Solomon. Someone wiser. Someone so close to God that no darkness can ever cloud his thinking or his actions. And by now I’ve given away the whole thing. We need Jesus.

And you have him. He said himself about himself, “Now something greater than Solomon is here.” (Luke 11:31) He’s here. He’s enlightening. He’s doing what nobody else can do on earth. He’s giving real epiphanies. He’s the one who has special access to the wisdom of God to turn the lights on for us all. That’s the real tour de force here. The Queen of Sheba wants you to know as someone who’s experienced the entire world of ideas that the Greater Solomon isn’t some poor man’s philosopher. He’s the only true one. She wants you to see that he doesn’t hand you a weird and inferior way of understanding yourself and the world. He’s the only one who can help you see yourself and your world clearly. She wants you to understand that the Greater Solomon isn’t some wanna-be therapist. He’s the only one who will offer you the only true therapy for your life known as the gospel. She wants you to agree that he’s not some moral prude or just another male chauvinist. He’s the only one with a moral code and with ideas about human relationships that make people to quote the Queen of Sheba herself, “happy.” (v. 8) But more than that. Far more than that. He’s the only one who can speak a wisdom in the gospel that forgives your sins and gives you eternal life. He’s Jesus, the Greater Solomon, who came to usher us into an enlightenment so complete that it will push out all the darkness so that when we arrive to his presence we will stand there just like the Queen of Sheba, “with no breath,” (v. 5) and with our eyes bugging out of heads mumble, “I did not believe these things until I came and saw my own eyes.” (v. 7) I heard the gospel, but I had no idea the light it described was this good.  

In the meantime, let me make a suggestion. Don’t be just another person that sticks a flag in the Queen of Sheba to make a claim on her. I have a better idea. Be her. Be the guy who sees that cultural trends are just that: cultural trends. They won’t take you anywhere except to the next cultural trend – the next wave of ideas that promise so much, but deliver only more darkness. Be the guy who gets that. Be the lady who would walk 500 miles times two to get to listen to the wisdom and answers of someone so close to God that he actually is God. Be the person who wants the Greater Solomon to enlightens them Sunday after Sunday after Sunday not because you have an obligation to him, but because all the life and culture and ideas worth having are found only in him and the wisdom he gives us in the gospel. Yes, he has enlightenment on gender issues. Yes, he teaches us about how to deal with our sexuality. But he’s more. He’s our forgiveness. He’s our life. He’s the way all of us Christians self-identify – as his. He’s the one who makes All Things New giving new light (real epiphanies!) to our hearts and minds. Amen.

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