When I travel the highlight is always the people I meet and what I see and hear of God’s work and ways. Cairo has millions of immigrants and refugees from Middle Eastern and African countries, many from Yemen and Sudan. War, famine and economic collapse at home have caused a surge of migration across the globe. Many displaced individuals and families have travelled hundreds of miles and remain unregistered; some through their suffering and hardship have begun searching for truth.
The stories I heard reminded me of the Queen of Sheba who came from this region. According to the Old Testament Scriptures, (I Kings 10:1-13, 2 Chronicles 9:1-12), she journeyed from the ends of the known world to visit King Solomon after hearing of his great wisdom in connection with the Lord his God.
Queen of Sheba
However, the Bible doesn’t make clear the location of Sheba. Two people named in the Table of Nations (Genesis 10:7), seem connected to this place name. “Seba” is a grandson of Noah’s son Ham by Cush, and “Sheba” is mentioned as a grandson of Cush by Raamah. The empire of Kush/Cush is associated with modern day Sudan.
Later legends elaborate on the biblical account and connect her to opposite sides of the Red Sea. Arab sources name her Bilqis and locate her kingdom in today’s Yemen. Africa names her Makeda and claims she ruled the Axumite Empire based in northern Ethiopia.
Psalm 72:10 distinguishes Sheba, the Yemenite Sabaeans, from Seba, the African Sabaeans, but mentions them together: “the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts.” Archaeologists reckon that as early as the 10th century BC, about the time the Queen of Sheba lived, Ethiopia and Yemen were part of the same dynasty, based in Yemen and later in the Ethiopian city of Axum. Cultural and political ties between these kingdoms were strong, and it could be that the Queen of Sheba ruled over both.
Arabian and African
So, I’m still not sure where the Queen of Sheba was from, but this I do know. She travelled from the ends of the earth to seek out the wisdom of Solomon and was so impressed by his kingly splendour and his answers to her ‘hard questions’ that she turned from paganism and blessed the Living God. Jesus said the Queen of the South would rise up on Judgement Day and condemn those who have access to himself, the One who is greater than Solomon, yet reject him (Matthew 10:42).
During my recent visit to Egypt, I found what I know is also happening across Europe. The flight from violent unrest in Middle Eastern countries like Syria and Yemen and African countries like Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia has caused many to ask deep questions: why is this happening to me? Where is God? How can I please God? What must I do to be saved?
The plight of refugees has been exacerbated by COVID-19. Those living hand to mouth through day labouring or cleaning jobs became destitute through the lockdowns. It was encouraging to hear how Christians in Cairo had responded and risked infection by visiting homes with food and hygiene parcels. This expression of God’s love has resulted in Bible study groups multiplying in the city.
Queen of the South Warning
Like this courageous queen, Yemenis and Sudanese have travelled hundreds of miles. Though they have lost everything, some are counting it joy because they’ve found Jesus – the very Wisdom of God. The Queen of Sheba brought her ‘hard questions’ to Solomon. The Bible encourages us to love God with our mind as well as our heart and strength. Those who come to faith in Jesus from other religions find the encouragement to think very refreshing. Questions are good, not signs of rebellion as they have been taught.
What will it take to bring revival to Scotland? We Scots who were once known as ‘People of the Book’ have become biblically illiterate as we reject our rich heritage of Christian faith. I had hoped our period of suffering through these months of pandemic might have had a purifying effect on our priorities and behaviour, but I fear there has been no lasting change.
Let’s pray that we, Christ’s followers, can lead the way for our nation. Let’s encourage the asking of questions, wrestling with doubts and seeking truth. May we get back into the Bible and understand our salvation deeper and deeper. May the love of God fill us and spill over to those in need around us.
Let it not be that the Queen of the South, together with Yemeni and Sudanese believers, will rise up on Judgement Day and condemn us as a prodigal nation with a cold hearted, apathetic church.