Cyprus is an ideal location for a late season holiday, and the temperatures were still in the mid-twenties at the end of November when we visited Paphos last year. There is a relaxing feel to this area, and a crime rate only 6% of that in Britain. There are only about 750,000 inhabitants in the whole island which measures 148 by 40 miles. The biblical links to Cyprus are fascinating.
Although Cyprus is not mentioned by this name in the Old Testament, we can trace the origins of the earliest settlers to two of the great-grandsons of Noah — Elishah and Kittim (Genesis 10:4).
Elishah (Javan’s eldest son) probably gave his name to Enkomi-Alasia (or Egkomi), situated between Famagusta and Salamis on the east coast of Cyprus. This was an important trading centre and exported copper in the Late Bronze Age.
The descendants of Kittim (or Chittim) also settled on Cyprus, where their name was given to the ancient capital of Kition (modern Larnaka) on the south-east coast. Museum exhibits there date back to 3000 BC. They had an early (ca. 1250 BC) involvement in sea trading: ‘and ships will come from the shores of Kittim’ (Numbers 24:24).
The discovery of copper in the third millennium BC marked a turning point in the island’s history, and its more powerful neighbours sought to gain control of this wealth. The name given to the element was first cyprium in Early Latin, then cuprum in the Late Latin — from which derives the elemental symbol Cu. The Greek term is kupros, which is the same as Cyprus.
Later (ca. 1000 BC), the Phoenicians were in power, having settled on the mainland of Canaan around Tyre and Sidon. They succeeded the Mycenaeans and built a temple in Kition to a fertility goddess, whom the Phoenicians identified with their goddess Astarte (equivalent to the Canaanite Ashtaroth, the Greek Artemis, and later the Roman Diana).
Another temple, that of Aphrodite in Paphos (equivalent to the Roman Venus), was later established by Phoenicians from Askalon (Ashkelon) on the Palestinian coast between Jaffa and Gaza. They were expert sea traders, as is reflected by the images of ships carved into the temple’s south wall.
The Phoenicians were governed by Hiram, King of Tyre, with whom Kings David and Solomon had a mutually beneficial relationship: ‘he had always been on friendly terms with David’ (1 Kings 5:1). This was in spite of the former’s predilection for building temples to various deities, including Baal, the weather-god.
Building the temple
When Solomon was resourcing the labour and materials for the construction of the temple in Jerusalem, he asked Hiram to supply skilled workmen and materials such as cedar wood from Lebanon: ‘You know that we have no one so skilled in felling timber as the Sidonians’ (1 Kings 5:6).
In return, Hiram received plentiful supplies of wheat and olive oil for his royal household. Solomon also went into the shipbuilding business, so ‘Hiram sent his men — sailors who knew the sea — to serve in the fleet with Solomon’s men’ (1 Kings 9:27).
The Queen of Sheba employed ships from Hiram’s fleet to convey her gifts of 4.5 tons of gold, precious stones, spices, and more almug-wood than had ever been seen before or since (1 Kings 10:11-12).
To complete the story, the name ‘Kittim’ seems to have been applied to the whole island of Cyprus by the time of Isaiah (Isaiah 23:1,12 — written about 715 BC, 800 years after Moses). When Daniel was prophesying around 534 BC concerning the failure of the Hellenistic dynast Antiochus Epiphanes (d.164 BC) to conquer Egypt due to the intervention of Rome (Daniel 11:30), the ‘ships of Kittim’ (or ‘the western coastlands’) are said to represent the Roman Empire.
Although Cyprus did not become a Roman province until 58 BC, the Roman galleys probably called there en route to confront Antiochus in Alexandria.
Living in God’s world
Returning to Solomon and Sheba, there are lessons here about being in the world yet not of it. We may, and indeed must, use the things of this world, but not be engrossed by them, for this world is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:31). We need, however, the wisdom of Solomon — or rather of Christ whom he typified — in applying this in our lives.
Paul wrote clearly about the need to avoid being yoked with unbelievers, especially idolaters (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Although Solomon entered a trading and bartering agreement (and later a peace treaty) with Hiram, he was not yoked to him.
He maintained his independence and stated at the beginning that he was building a temple for the name of the Lord his God (1 Kings 5:5). Hiram replied ‘Praise be to the Lord today’ — a response which Christian employees should hope for from their unbelieving colleagues as they seek to work with them as useful members of staff!
These golden years under Solomon were not to last, however, and Hiram’s successor Ethbaal had a daughter called Jezebel who married Ahab, King of Israel. This was indeed being yoked to a consummate idolatress, and the people were led astray, which invoked the judgement of God upon the land.
Above all, though, we should appreciate that God uses all his creation — people, animals, means of transport, plants, weather, suffering, even angels, to achieve his purposes. He uses unbelievers as well as believers to carry out his plans.
I have sometimes been in a predicament and in need of a helping hand — perhaps to move a heavy object, push a stalled car, or sort out a computer problem. After praying, perhaps an ‘arrow prayer’, it is amazing how help has suddenly come to hand in the form of someone just turning up at the right moment to give the required assistance. As we become aware of the way God calls on all sorts of people and resources, our faith in him will increase all the more.
Solomon needed expertise in areas that were new to him, and God provided Hiram’s craftsmen who were near at hand, just beyond Galilee. The Shekinah cloud of God’s glory filled the temple at its dedication after the ark had been installed, giving divine approval to all the arrangements for its construction (1 Kings 8:11).
A thousand years later, God had caused the Greek language to be widespread around the Mediterranean as a means of propagating the gospel to the Gentile nations. This is often the way God fulfils his purposes in Christ. And one day, ‘when the times will have reached their fulfilment, he will bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ’ (Ephesians 1:9-10; emphasis added).