Apocalyptic Wisdom

Sheba comes to Jerusalem to test Solomon. He passes the test. He can answer everything she asks.

2 Chronicles 9:2 describes the encounter with a neat chiasm:

A. Reported (nagad) to her

B. Solomon

C. all her words.

D. Not-hidden

C’. a word

B’. from Solomon

A’. which he did not report (nagad) to her.

The text hides the verb “hide” (‘alam) at the center of the text, then negates it. All that is hidden is made known.

We can tease out several conclusions from this. For starters, Solomon tells/reports to Sheba “all her words.” Her words are not hidden from him.

That may seem a rather odd way to describe the interview. Isn’t Sheba coming to make Solomon speak, to get him to report his words? Part of the solution to the puzzle is in verse 1: She tests him with “riddles” (chidah), dark or hidden sayings. She poses a riddle, and he tells her what it means.

But there may be another dimension to this: Verse 2 makes it sound as if Solomon is telling Sheba what she really means. She doesn’t grasp what her own words mean until Solomon reports them to her. Solomon reveals something to Sheba about Sheba that Sheba wouldn’t have known without Solomon.

If that’s what’s happening, it points to a radically interpersonal, social understanding of meaning. Say what you mean, says the philosophical Fox in Lewis’s Till We Have Faces. Orual eventually learns that it is a “glib saying.” We don’t know what we mean. We have words lodged in us, and we need someone else to dislodge them.

Solomon’s wisdom, in short, is apocalyptic in the original sense – it unveils, uncovers. In this, Solomon’s wisdom is truly divine. Like Yahweh’s, his eyes behold and test. Like Yahweh, his sight penetrates past the surface to the heart of things – in this case, to the heart of Sheba (v. 1).

Finally, the verb that frames verse 2 is surprising. It doesn’t mean either “answer” or “explain” (as the NASB translates, removing all possibility that English readers can spot the verbal repetition). It means “announce.” The LXX got it right by translating it with ‘aneggeilen, from the same root at ‘aggelos and related to euaggelion.

This is, after all, a gospel account. Sheba “hears a hearing” (v. 1) about a wise king in Jerusalem. Skeptical, she comes to see for herself (v. 6) and finds it’s better than she imagined. There’s good news of a divinely wise king, and this king “announces” hidden mysteries. He provides the keys to the riddles of life, and Sheba ends up not only recognizing the blessing enjoyed by Solomon’s entourage but confessing Yahweh the God of Israel (v. 8).

No wonder this scene became archetypal for prophetic visions of the pilgrimage of nations (Isaiah 60), which stretch through to the gospel (3 kings in Matthew 2) and on to the Apocalypse (kings bring treasures to new Jerusalem, Revelation 21).

The gospel is simply this: One greater than Solomon has come, ready to unveil secrets and share the Wisdom that He is with queens and kings.

 

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