“Happy are your men!” It was the high point of her praise for the king, at the very height of his kingdom.
This was the moment when the stars all aligned, and the nation shone with her greatest earthly splendor. It had been an arduous and lengthy ascent to such glory. And, as we now know on the other side, it would only be down from here.
The Queen of Sheba had heard that King Solomon had a kingdom to behold, that he was a wise and extraordinary ruler. She had to see it — and see him — for herself. She journeyed to the land of Israel with her great retinue, and after touring his realm, she was so impressed that she was out of breath (1 Kings 10:5).
Once she had gathered herself and regained enough wind to speak, praise spilled out:
The report was true that I heard in my own land of your words and of your wisdom, but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard.
Happy are your men! Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! (1 Kings 10:6–8)
She could have praised his buildings, his palace, the efficiency and order of his kingdom, and its prosperity, and not have gone this far: “Happy are your men!” Many despots, from Herod to Hitler to Saddam Hussein, could impress their guests with bells, whistles, and entertainment beyond imagining. But happy people? No heavy-handed monarch can coerce that.
Limitless finances and force can build an impressive kingdom, but they cannot make the people happy, not for long. The highest praise for a king is the happiness of his subjects.
We know it’s true from everyday life. The happiness of a wife is the glory of her husband. The flourishing of a child is an honor to his parents. The collective joy of a local church is a tribute to her elders (Hebrews 13:17).
The height of a leader’s glory is the happiness of those in his care.
Joy Deeper Than Sorrow
Don’t mistake “happy” for light and thin, as if “happiness” is something merely external and circumstantial, while “joy” is deep and enduring. There is no biblical distinction between happiness and joy. The Bible is lavish in its pleasure-language. The queen just as well could have declared, “Joyful are your people!” Or, “Satisfied are your subjects!”
“The height of a leader’s glory is the happiness of those in his care.”
The queen’s praise is genuine; Solomon’s subjects are truly, deeply, impressively happy under his wise and gracious rule. That doesn’t mean they are only happy. There is space for dynamism in this delight. Genuine happiness has room for sorrow — for the ups and downs of life in a fallen world, even in a safe and secure kingdom.
The queen praises a happiness in Solomon’s subjects that is real, consistent, and reliable. It is a settled and stable satisfaction of heart and mind, and flourishing of life, under Solomon’s wise and trusted leadership.
Fissures in the Foundation
And so this visit from the Queen of Sheba, and the praise she lavishes on Solomon, marks the pinnacle of Israel’s earthly kingdom. The rest of 1 Kings 10 will celebrate Solomon’s great wealth.
Then follows these dreadful words:
Now King Solomon loved many foreign women . . . from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love . . . and his wives turned away his heart. (1 Kings 11:1–3)
Even at the height of Israel’s earthly kingdom, there were fissures in the foundation. As soon as his reign had been established, he married Pharaoh’s daughter (1 Kings 2:46–3:1). Then he spent almost twice as long building his own house as the Lord’s (1 Kings 6:38). When 2 Chronicles 9 tells the story of the Queen of Sheba’s praise, we hear, “Happy are your wives!” (2 Chronicles 9:7).
Greater Than Solomon
The wisdom of Solomon and the prosperity of his kingdom were great, and his people’s satisfaction in him was his great honor, but the clock was ticking.
Soon his kingdom would decline, and split in two, and in time the people would be carted off into exile. Eventually, they returned, but remained subjected to foreign rule. It would be then, at the low point of the people’s despair and dissatisfaction, that one of Solomon’s distant descendants would point to an even greater day to come, under the wise rule of an even greater king.
The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. (Matthew 12:42)
Solomon may have built the Lord’s house, but his greater descendant would be the Lord’s House, the very place of God’s dwelling with man. And if Solomon’s wisdom and sovereignty made for happy subjects, how much more will the one who is greater than Solomon?
In this greater kingdom, the deep and enduring joy of the redeemed is the glory of their Redeemer. And so, for the honor of our King, it is profoundly important that we pursue as much happiness as possible — in him.
There is space for sorrow in this kingdom. We weep with those who weep. We mourn. We suffer. We even find ourselves slandered and opposed and persecuted for his name. But we are a profoundly happy people. We are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). Beneath all the pain, we have a deeper pleasure, and we unapologetically pursue such happiness.
Because our King is most honored in his subjects when we are most happy in him.
We Want You to Be a Christian Hedonist (article)
How to Explain Christian Hedonism over Lunch (interview)
“Our King is most honored in his subjects when we are most happy in him.”