King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth.
1 Kings 10:23 (NIV)
Solomon is one of the most intriguing characters in the Great Story. He inherited a kingdom from his father that stretched far enough in every direction to exploit trade routes from Africa to Asia. Solomon obviously had a head for business, diplomacy, and trade and he made the most of it. The description of his wealth and power in today’s chapter is impressive enough to make an oligarch envious, and it has led some to dismiss all of it as an exaggeration.
I thought I might take this chapter-a-day journey on a bit of a trivial rabbit trail this morning. Beyond the Biblical account, Solomon’s legend has ripple effects that are still felt today, though few people know about it. The story of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba in today’s chapter has impacted the nation of Ethiopia for centuries, as well as having ripple effects in our popular culture to this day.
Scholars debate who the Queen of Sheba really was, but centuries-old tradition in Ethiopia holds that she was a queen from a tribe in that region. According to their tradition, the Queen of Sheba slept with Solomon and became pregnant by him. This notion is would not be a stretch of the imagination. Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines, so a one-night stand with a visiting female dignitary was certainly not out of the question for Sol. She purportedly gave birth to a son who became King Menelik. The “Solomonic Dynasty” in Ethiopia ruled for centuries until 1974.
But the tradition gets even more strange. The Ethiopian tradition goes on to report that Menelik returned to Jerusalem to meet his father and that Solomon taught his son many things, sending him home with riches including the Ark of the Covenant. To this day, Ethiopians believe that the Ark and the tablets of the tablets with the 10 Commandments are secretly held and maintained by priests in a church there.
And we’re not done yet. The final Emporer of the Solomonic dynasty was Haile Selassie. Rastafarians in Jamaica, notably reggae legend Bob Marley, believed that Selassie was God incarnate, not only the descendant of Solomon but the reincarnation of Jesus; A messiah who would lead African peoples of the African diaspora to freedom.
As I sit in the quiet this morning, I ponder once again this intriguing man named Solomon whose legend still resonates in fascinating ways to this very day. As I look back at historical figures, it’s easy to want to place them in binary camps of being a “good” person or a “bad” person. My experience with Solomon in church tradition is that he’s revered as a “good” person for his wisdom and wealth. As I’ve observed in recent posts, I find Solomon to have had major flaws and blind spots. Does that make him “bad?” I think it makes him human. He was obviously gifted in many ways, and those gifts led to legendary earthly success revered by people to this day. His blind spots and his flaws doomed his kingdom to fall immediately after his death and his country to splinter into a bloody civil war.
Isn’t that true of me? I have my gifts and abilities that have led to a relative measure of earthly success. I also have my flaws and my blind spots which have led to foolish choices and a relative measure of human failures. As a follower of Jesus, I’m called to use wisdom in investing the former in growing an increasing measure of spiritual maturity and a legacy of love, while using the same wisdom in minimizing the latter and the destructive fallout that follows.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.