Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Monday, September 04, 2006

Visiting Queen: Bible Comment on II Chronicles 8:17-9:31 with poem by Robert Browning, Solomon and Balkis

Daily Readings
Psalm 119:161-176, I Kings 10, II Chronicles 8:17-9:31, Jeremiah 9

Daily Text: II Chronicles 8:17-9:31

Visiting Queen
The visiting queen was quite impressed with Solomon. Likely, she was motivated to make the visit because one of Solomon’s trading routes passed through or near her nation in South West Arabia on the Red Sea. Ophir, the fabled source of Solomon’s gold, was likely adjacent, or, if not, nearby her homeland of Saba. There is a link through this Queen to Ethiopia. Legend has it that she and Solomon produced a son who became the founder of a royal dynasty in Ethiopia, just across the Red Sea from the Sabeans. Whether or not this is accurate, somehow a link was forged with Ethiopia that led to converts. In the New Testament in Acts 7, Philip met an Ethiopian eunuch, treasurer to Queen Candace, who was obviously a God-fearer, having visited Israel for religious reasons. Already worshipping Israel’s God, he reflects this traditional connection, and was very open to Philip’s message about Jesus.

Solomon and Balkis
Robert Browning


Solomon King of the Jews and the Queen of Sheba Balkis
Talk on the ivory throne, and we well may conjecture their talk is
Solely of things sublime: why else has she sought Mount Zion,
Climbed the six golden steps, and sat betwixt lion and lion?

She proves him with hard questions: before she has reached the middle
He smiling supplies the end, straight solves them riddle by riddle;
Until, dead-beaten at last, there is left no spirit in her,
And thus would she close the game whereof she was first beginner:

“O wisest thou of the wise, world’s marvel and well-nigh monster,
One crabbed question more to construe or vulgo conster!
Who are those, of all mankind, a monarch of perfect wisdom
Should open to, when they knock at spheteron do—that’s his dome?”

The King makes tart reply: “Whom else but the wise, his equals
Should he welcome with heart and voice?—since, king though he be, such weak walls
Of circumstance—power and pomp—divide souls each from other
That whoso proves kingly in craft I needs must acknowledge my brother.

“Come poet, come painter, come sculptor, come builder—whate’er his condition,
Is he prime in his art? We are peers! My insight has pierced the partition
And hails—for the poem, the picture, the statue, the building—my fellow!
Gold’s gold though dim in the dust: court-polish soon turns it yellow.

“But tell me in turn, O thou to thy weakling sex superior,
That for knowledge has traveled so far yet seemest no whit the wearier,--
Who are those, of all mankind, a queen like thyself, consummate
In wisdom, should call to her side with an affable ‘Up hither, come, mate!’”

“The Good are my mates—how else? Why doubt it?” the Queen upbridled:
“Sure even above the Wise,--or in travel my eyes have idled,--
I see the Good stand plain; be they rich, poor, shrewd or simple,
If Good they only are. . . .Permit me to drop my wimple!”

And, in that bashful jerk of her body, she—peace, thou scoffer!—
Jostled the King’s right-hand stretched courteously help to proffer.
And so disclosed a portent: all unaware the Prince eyed
The Ring which bore the Name—turned outside now from inside!

The truth-compelling Name!—and at once “I greet the Wise—Oh,
Certainly welcome such to my court—with this proviso:
The building must be my temple, my person stand forth the statue,
The picture my portrait prove, and the poem my praise—you cat, you!”

But Solomon nonplussed? Nay! “be truthful in turn!” so bade he:
“See the Name, obey its hest!” and at once subjoins the lady
--“Provided the Good are the young, men strong and tall and proper,
Such servants I straightway enlist,--which means. . .” but the blushes stop her.

“Ah, Soul,” the Monarch sighed, “that wouldst soar yet ever crawlest,
How comes it thou canst discern the greatest yet choose the smallest,
Unless because heaven is far, where wings find fit expansion,
While creeping on all-fours suits, suffices the earthly mansion?

“Aspire to the Best! But which? There are Bests and Bests so many,
With a habitat each for each, earth’s Best as much Best as any!
On Lebanon roots the cedar—soil lofty, yet stony and sandy—
While hyssop, of worth in its way, on the wall grows low but handy.

“Above may the Soul spread wing, spurn body and sense beneath her;
Below she must condescend to plodding unbuoyed by æther.
In heaven I yearn for knowledge, account all else inanity;
On earth I confess an itch for the praise of fools—that’s Vanity.

“It is nought, it will go, it can never presume above to trouble me;
But here,--why, it toys and tickles and teases, howe’er I redouble me
In a doggedest of endeavours to play the indifferent. Therefore,
Suppose we resume discourse? Thou hast travelled thus far: but wherefore?

“Solely for Solomon’s sake, to see whom earth styles Sagest?
Through her blushes laughed the Queen. “For the sake of a Sage? The gay jest!
On high, be communion with Mind—there, Body concerns not Balkis:
Down here,--do I make too bold? Sage Solomon,--one fool’s small kiss!”

Collect for the Day
As of old, O Lord our God, you gave commandments to make one nation just and true, so by your incarnate Word you make all peoples one in grace and in the perfect freedom of your service. We give thanks to you through Jesus Christ our Lord.

[476:881:119 Psalm prayer]


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