- To see the importance of the Queen Mother in the Davidic kingdom of the Old Testament.
- To understand the duties and privileges that came with the position of Queen Mother.
- To see how Mary fills the position of Queen Mother in the kingdom of Christ.
IV. Study Questions
I. Mothers and Sons
A. A Mother’s Advice
“A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars…She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and his throne” (see Revelation 12:1, 12:5).
This strange and beautiful vision from Revelation is the image millions of Christians across the world see when they think of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
But what exactly does it mean? It seems literally to depict Christ as a newborn King, destined to rule on a throne. Why, however, is the woman depicted as a heavenly Queen, crowned with stars and arrayed in glory.
The answer is in a long tradition that runs right through the Old Testament into the New.
The image of Mary in glory “clothed with the sun” is yet another way the New Testament writers tell us the truth about who Jesus Christ is. But to understand what Revelation reveals, we need to go hundreds of years back into the Old Testament.
In fact, a good place to start is right at the end of the book of Proverbs.
The Bible tells us only one thing about a certain King Lemuel: that he got some very good advice.
“Open your mouth in behalf of the dumb,
and for the rights of the destitute;
Open your mouth, decree what is just,
defend the needy and poor!” (see Proverbs 31:9).
Now, a king always has people trying to tell him what he should do. Usually the advice is aimed at creating some benefit for the adviser. Often what sounds like advice is just flattery.
But here is someone advising the king to take care of the poor and the meek – the people who have no other defense. Who could speak freely enough to the king to give him that kind of advice?
The first verse of King Lemuel’s chapter in Proverbs gives us the answer: “The words of Lemuel, king of Massa. The advice which his mother gave him” (see Proverbs 31:1).
Only the king’s own mother could speak to him that way. As a king, he might be her ruler, but by the law of nature he was still her son.
This chapter is full of the kind of advice any good mother would give to her son: don’t fall in with loose women, don’t drink too much, and above all find a good wife.
But because the son happens to be a king, his mother also has to remind him of his duties as a ruler. He must be the voice of the defenseless, a power for the powerless. His kingdom must be for the poor and the meek.
A flattering courtier could never say things like that to a king. It’s not surprising, then, that the queen mother in Near Eastern kingdoms was traditionally looked on as the friend of the poor, the intercessor between the people and the king.
And when we see that the book of Proverbs ends with a queen mother’s advice, we know how important the inspired writers considered the wisdom of the queen mother. A ruler who had Proverbs read to him would be left with the queen mother’s words ringing in his ears.
B. The Mother as Teacher
The mother’s authority over her children – even if they happen to be kings – is part of nature. Lemuel is never mentioned anywhere else in Scripture. One ancient Jewish tradition, however, said that Lemuel was a pseudonym for the great Solomon himself, the king whose name is still synonymous with wisdom.
Solomon was the second son of David and Bathsheba. Their first son had died shortly after birth – a judgment on David for his adultery with Bathsheba, who had been the wife of one of David’s most trusted officers until David sent him off on a suicide mission (see 2 Samuel 11).
As David’s heir, Solomon was the prototypical Son of David, inheriting all those promises of a glorious kingdom that God had made for David’s line (see 2 Samuel 7:8-16).
He had one other famous gift: the gift of wisdom. But he still listened to his mother’s advice.
II. The Mother of the King
A. Solomon Bows to his Mother
In fact, one of the first things we hear about Solomon’s reign is the important part his mother played in it.
When Bathsheba enters the newly crowned King Solomon’s court, Solomon bows before her. Then he has her seated on a throne at his right hand (see 1 Kings 2:19). No other subject ever earned that honor – not during the reign of Solomon, and not under any other king in the Old Testament.
Then she asks him a favor, a request that Adonijah had given her. She acts in her traditional role as intercessor for the people – which is a bit surprising, considering who Adonijah was.
Adonijah, an older son of David, had been Solomon’s rival for the succession. David had promised Bathsheba that her son Solomon would be king, but Adonijah took advantage of his old father’s weakness to make a grab for the kingdom himself (see 1 Kings 1:5). It was only Bathsheba’s quick action that saved the kingdom for her son (see 1 Kings 1:16-21).
Now Adonijah asks for something extraordinary: he wants his father’s concubine Abishag as his wife. In Middle Eastern cultures, taking the king’s wife or concubine was a way of publicly declaring yourself king.
This time, Solomon doesn’t take his mother’s advice. He had very magnanimously spared Adonijah after the failed coup, but this was just too much (see the whole story in 1 Kings 2:13-25).
But even Solomon acknowledges, by placing her in such an exalted position, that she has a right to give him advice and to present Adonijah’s cause to him. The Queen Mother can intercede, but the king is the final judge.
The influence of the queen mother was one of the distinctive features of \the government of Judah, the kingdom that David’s descendants ruled after the northern tribes broke away. (Solomon’s son Rehoboam was not as wise as Solomon: in his pride, he alienated more than half his kingdom. See the story in 1 Kings 12:1-20.)
We don’t hear about the queen mother very often, but every time we do, it is clear that she has great influence in the kingdom.
Even when the kingdom was near its end, the Queen Mother’s influence was still powerful.
“Say to the king and the queen mother,” God’s instructions to Jeremiah begin in Jeremiah 13:18. The prophecy of doom that follows would not have been addressed to the Queen Mother as well as to the king unless they both were powerful leaders in the kingdom.
Jeremiah’s prophecy came true. Judah was finally destroyed by the Babylonians, and Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian emperor, took away all the important people of Jerusalem.
“He deported Jehoiachin [the king] to Babylon, and also led captive from Jerusalem to Babylon the king’s mother and wives, his functionaries, and the chief men of the land” (see 2 Kings 24:15).
The king’s mother is next in importance after the king, and more important than his wives.
All through the history of the kingdom, the Queen Mother occupied that place, second only to the king in the kingdom. There was a special word for the Queen Mother in Hebrew: she was called Gebirah,or “Great Lady.”
B. The Place of the Gebirah
The story about Solomon and his mother points out one of the chief duties of the Queen Mother in the government of David’s kingdom.
In the story, she comes to Solomon with a request from Adonijah, one of his subjects. In other words, she acts as intercessor for the people before the king.
Bathsheba was hardly the first Queen Mother to act that way. As far back as the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the most ancient literary works we know of, the Queen Mother in near-eastern courts had filled the role of intercessor for the people.
The reason for her special position is found as much in nature as in tradition. The king had absolute authority, and in the government of the state, his mother was subject to him.
But in the primary relationship of the family, she was still his mother, and had a mother’s authority over him. She was the only subject who could in any way expect the king’s obedience.
In times when polygamy was common, the Queen Mother’s position was usually more important than the position of any of the king’s wives. There were many wives, but only one mother.
From a practical point of view, the Queen Mother’s position in itself was a kind of proof of her political wisdom. A king like Solomon, who had seven hundred wives, must have had too many sons to count. But only one of them could be king – and that one probably by the influence of his mother.
Bathsheba’s case shows us that the wife whose son was chosen as heir must already have navigated some very tricky political waters. She would make a fine political strategist when her son was king.
So we see that the Queen Mother had several important functions in the government of the Davidic kingdom – functions that made her position not just a family relationship, but also a political office.
- “She was a visible sign of the king’s legitimate rule.
- “She gave the king practical advice.
- “She interceded for the people with the king.
These are the things that made the Queen Mother uniquely important among all the subjects in the kingdom, and that gave her an essential place in the government of the Davidic kingdom.
C. She Who Is to Give Birth
Had God gone back on His promise? Clearly that was impossible. The promise was unconditional, and God is faithful to His promises.
So the faithful people of God looked forward to a time when the kingdom of David would be restored. They clung to the words of the prophets, who promised that a king of David’s line would one day bring back all the lost sheep of Israel.
The prophets even made the king’s mother a key to their prophesies.
Isaiah, for instance, in a time of great distress told Israel’s King Ahaz to look for “this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” (see Isaiah 7:14).
Micah even more explicitly prophesied a coming ruler from the house of David.
He would be born in the city of David, Bethlehem and, like David, would be a shepherd. Micah, too, mentions the future ruler’s mother, referring to “she who is to give birth” (seeMicah 5:1-3).
Once again, the sign of salvation is a future king to be born of a woman.
Notice that Isaiah and Micah say nothing about the fathers of these children. Usually, in the Bible it is the father of a prominent person who is mentioned, often to the exclusion of the mother.
III. Kingdom of the Son of David
A. David’s Kingdom and Christ’s
Now, the reason we have looked so hard at the kingdom of David is this: the kingdom of David is the key to understanding the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.
All the New Testament authors show us clearly that Jesus – born of a virgin in Bethlehem, as the prophets foretold – is the Son of David, and his Kingdom is the promised restoration of the kingdom of David.
From the beginning, the Christians’ most persuasive argument was how perfectly Jesus fulfilled the prophets’ promises of the Son of David (see, for example, Acts 2:25-36).
It was the kingdom of David – with its capital at Jerusalem, the Holy City – that the prophets had foretold would be restored when God brought the scattered Israelites back together, united again as they had been when David ruled.
B. Mother of the King of Kings
But if Jesus is the promised King from David’s line, and if His Kingdom is David’s kingdom restored, then Mary must be the Queen Mother. That is exactly what the very beginning of the New Testament shows us.
The Gospel according to Matthew begins with a genealogy of Jesus Christ. It’s a fascinating passage to study: what seems at first glance to be merely a list turns out to be a masterpiece of literary craft.
For example, Matthew divides the whole genealogy into three groups of fourteen generations (see Matthew 1:17). Three is a number that symbolizes perfection. In Hebrew numerals, which (like Greek and Roman numerals) use letters for numbers, the name David adds up to 14. Just by the numbers, Matthew shows that Jesus is the perfect Son of David.
The genealogy ends with “Joseph, the husband of Mary.” Then Matthew tells us, “Of her was born Jesus who is called the Messiah,” which recalls the language of both Micah and Isaiah (see Matthew 1:16).
There’s another interesting feature of Matthew’s genealogy. Four of the ancestors listed arewomen – which is unheard-of in respectable Jewish genealogies. The last of the women mentioned is Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon. She was the prototype of the Queen Mother, as Solomon was the prototypical Son of David.
C. The Infant Jesus Holds Court
When Jesus is still a tiny child, born to all appearances into an ordinary working family, three distinguished visitors from the East come to pay their respects (see Matthew 2:1-12).
They have traveled all this way to see “the newborn king of the Jews” (see Matthew 2:2).
When they finally arrive at Bethlehem, the Magi see “the child with Mary his mother” (seeMatthew 2:11). The King of the Jews, as we saw with Solomon, properly appears in state with his mother by his side.
The only other times in Scripture when myrrh and frankincense are mentioned together are in the Song of Songs, when they are part of the pageantry of Solomon’s wedding day (seeSong of Songs 3:6-7) – a day when Solomon’s own mother places the crown on his head (see Song of Songs 3:11).
Matthew paints a picture of the child Jesus, the perfect Son of David, holding court in the same way as Solomon, the original Son of David.
D. Queen of Heaven
The symbols of Revelation are sometimes hard to interpret. And there have been various interpretations of who this great “woman clothed with the sun” is.
In the Catholic understanding the woman is a sign of both Mary and of the Church. For our purposes here, we will explore the connection with Mary.
The “great sign” is a woman giving birth, just as in Isaiah’s prophecy the sign that the kingdom would be restored would be a woman giving birth.
The child to be born is described as one who will “rule all the nations with an iron rod”– which is how the Messiah is described (see Psalm 2:7-9).
The Queen Mother of the Old Testament wore a crown, and the “woman clothed with the sun” wears a crown of twelve stars, representing the twelve tribes of Israel.
Here we see Mary crowned and enthroned as Queen Mother, just as Solomon’s mother had been crowned and enthroned, and just as every mother of every son of David had been crowned and enthroned.
Revelation shows us the Queen Mother enthroned in heaven, enthroned with her Son, in perfect fulfillment of the promise of the Davidic kingdom.
The Queen Mother’s place in the heavenly kingdom does not detract from the glory of the King.
On the contrary, it is because the King is glorious that His Mother is also glorious. Just like the queen mothers all through the long history of the Davidic kingdom, she points the way to the King, speaking for the people – for us – before Him.
IV. Study Questions
- According to one Jewish tradition, who was the Lemuel mentioned in Proverbs 31?
- What important natural duties of mothers are reflected in the place of the Queen Mother in the court of Israel?
- Why is it significant that Mary is mentioned as being by Jesus’ side in the visit of the Magi?
- Why was David seen as the ideal king by the writers of Scripture?
For Personal Reflection
How does our devotion to Mary lead us closer to her Son?