Stories Jesus told with women in them
The Queen of the South (Luke 11:31)
Here’s what Jesus said, “The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom; and now something greater than Solomon is here.”
At first pass, we can at least gather Jesus was pointing out the superior wisdom of the Queen of the South (whoever she was) because, though not Jewish, and not even living anywhere near Israel, she had caught wind of the wisdom of God, and had presumably traveled a great distance, at great risk, and at great expense, so she could learn more of God. Now, Jesus was saying, here I AM! If the wisdom of God through Solomon was legendary, and if Solomon was one of the truly great kings from the line of Judah, the great Davidic Covenant, then I AM orders of magnitude more! I AM Messiah. I AM GOD HIMSELF.
Pretty earth shattering statement, when you think about it.
So, let’s get the context of Jesus’ statements, then let’s figure out who this Queen of the South is.
Chapter 11 in Luke’s Gospel starts out with Jesus teaching His disciples the famous “Lord’s Prayer.” Jesus then told a parable (which I won’t go into here) about what giving daily bread means. Then, He talked about how available God is. All you have to do is ask, and He’ll answer; seek, Him and He’ll be there; knock, and He’ll open the door. Then Jesus told a couple of epigrams (again, won’t go into it) to sort of wrap up His reassurance that prayer is worth it.
Right after that, Luke recorded one of the many occasions Jesus freed people from the grip of dark spiritual forces. And here’s what we’ve got to pay attention to with this part:
- The whole crowd was amazed.
- Some of the crowd accused Jesus of being allied with those dark forces.
- Others demanded Jesus refute that accusation by coming up with a “sign from heaven.”
All of this was not actually directed at Jesus Himself. It was a crowd. They all were talking to each other, and some weren’t saying anything, but they were thinking it. But Jesus knew what they were thinking!! So, Jesus called them out on all of it.
- Allied with dark forces? Basically, Jesus pointed out how illogical that was.
- Sign from heaven? Jesus explained that, since He had driven out demons by “the finger of God,” then not only did they already have their sign, the Kingdom of God had now “come upon” them.
After this, Jesus went into depth explaining the ins and outs of demon possession, and the importance of intentionally standing with Jesus.
Now we get to the nitty gritty. Some people were not too keen on Jesus. They had their suspicions. Jesus was a bit too “out there” for them, a bit too edgy, a bit too nontraditional, a bit too irreligious for their taste. So they wanted more verification, a clear sign from heaven that Jesus was actually Messiah, or at least a prophet sent from God. Luke doesn’t say so, here, but Matthew, in his gospel, made it crystal clear these skeptics were the Pharisees, and the religious intelligentsia back in Jerusalem.
The real problem, as Jesus pointed out throughout all four gospels, was not the lack of signs. The Pharisees wanted to shift the focus from Jesus’ message to some sort of irrefutable physical evidence of Jesus’ veracity. But no amount of miracles, or supernatural signs, would ever convince them, because they were morally, spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually opposed to everything Jesus. As one author put it, “All the signs from heaven would not have supplied the deep sense of sin and of the need for a mighty spiritual deliverance, which alone would lead to the reception of the Savior Jesus Christ.”
Then Jesus talked about the most stupendous sign God was going to give them, that would authenticate Jesus and His message.
The Sign of Jonah
And tucked right in the middle of the sign of Jonah is the Queen of the South, sort of like a non sequitur. So, here are a few bullet points to pull them together:
- Jonah spent three days and nights in the belly of a fish, then miraculously emerged alive—this would tie in with Jesus’ death on the cross, three days in a tomb, then resurrection to new life.
- Jonah’s arrival to Ninevah was somewhat unusual, and that must have made a dramatic impression on them. It at least got their attention, just as Jesus’ miracles got the people’s attention.
- Jonah’s message was simple: Repent or Die, and Jesus’ message was similarly simple.
- This is the super important part: the Ninevites wholeheartedly believed Jonah and repented. They did not ask for extra signs, they did not tend their options, they did not run to their own gods for help, etcetera, etcetera. They believed Jonah, they repented, they put their faith in God, and God spared them.
This little example would have caused every head in that crowd to catch on fire, full five alarm blaze of fury. They knew Jonah’s story very, very well.
Jonah, along with every Jew, had hated the Assyrians. During Jonah’s life time Israel had been under regular threat of Assyria, an empire located to the north on the Tigris River. Hosea, Amos, and Elisha all prophesied that if Israel did not repent God would send Assyria as His judgement to take them captive from the promised land.
If you are squeamish or sensitive, you probably just need the summary version of the next few paragraphs. The Ninevites were horrible enemies of God. That’s all you need to know. If you have a stronger constitution, I explain just how horrible they were, below. Think ISIS.
Assyria was noted for ruthless battle tactics and horrifying treatment of their captives. To avoid resistance, the Assyrian army intimidated their enemies by inflicting terrible suffering on the people they conquered. Only individuals with special skills and abilities were spared. The rest were put to death—often in very gruesome ways.
Assyrian kings were proud of their cruelty and violence, and had detailed pictorial accounts of their brutalities inscribed on clay tablets and their palace walls. After setting an entire city to blaze, all the grown men would have their hands, their feet, their ears, and their noses severed, as well as their manhood. With their bare hands, Assyrian soldiers would tear out their victims’ tongues and gouge out their eyes. Then they would heap them in living piles and allow them to die from exposure to the sun, blood loss, and carrion eaters. Babies and children would be burned alive.
For the king’s amusement, some captives—including the ruler of the conquered people—would be brought into Ninevah to be chained, thrown to the ground, and flayed: cutting skin into strips and pulling it off a living victim. Then they were beheaded or impaled alive on a sharpened stake allowing the victim to slowly slip down the stake and die.
Squeamish people, start reading again, here à Jesus provoked the crowds’ unbelieving hearts when He said, “Those people are going to judge you, and condemn you, for your lack of faith.”
The Queen of the South was like the Ninevites in these few key ways:
- She was also a non-Israelite.
- She also believed without needing extra "signs from heaven.”
- She valued God’s word more highly than the words of her own gods.
More on the Queen of the South in the next blog.
All passages taken from the New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.