At the height of Solomon’s empire, the Queen of Sheba makes a state visit to Israel (I Kings 10:1-13). She arrives in style. The King James Version (KJV) says she entered “with a very great train” (I Kings 10:2, KJV).
And she came to Jerusalem with a very great train, with camels that bare spices, and very much gold, and precious stones: and when she was come to Solomon, she communed with him of all that was in her heart. (I Kings 10:2, KJV)Train is not meant in the modern sense as the steam powered vehicles presently associated with the term were not invented until 1804, long after the KJV was first published in 1611.
The word the KJV renders “train” is chayil, meaning “strength, might, efficiency, wealth, army”. “Retinue” is the most common translation (ESV, HCSB, NASB, NKJV, NRSV, RSV) of this word in this text. Other readings are “caravan” (NIV), “group of attendants” (NLT), “several of her officials” (CEV), and the aforementioned “train” (ASV, KJV).
The Queen of Sheba brought an entourage. This is still done in modern state visits where a ceremonial welcome is customary.
Why does the Queen of Sheba bring attendants? Why is there so much pageantry associated with state visits, then and now?
There is a practical reason behind bringing a staff on state visits. In addition to strengthening diplomatic relationships with other countries, another purpose of state visits is to improve bilateral economic relations. Delegations from trade organizations often travel with the visiting head of state in hopes of networking with industry leaders in the visited nation.
The retinue is also evidence of the Queen’s identity and status. She approaches Solomon as a fellow monarch, not a subject. Like the Hebrew chayil indicates, the queen approached the king from a position of “strength”.
She did not travel lightly. In addition to her entourage, she also brought “camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones” (I Kings 10:2, NASB). The Queen of Sheba knew how to make an entrance and a first impression.
How would you prepare to meet a king? What was you bring him? How would you approach him?
“The Queen of the South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. “ - Jesus, Matthew 12:42 (NASB)
Given Matthew 12:42, a better question might be, how are you preparing to meet a king?