This word represents two distinct people, who, in accordance with the original Hebrew, might have been more properly called Sebaeans and Shebaeans.
1. The first denotes the inhabitants of the country called SEBA. This appears to have been the great island, or rather peninsula of Meroe, in northern Ethiopia, or Nubia, formed between the Nile and the Astaboras, now Atbara. Upon this peninsula lay a city of the like name, the ruins of which are still visible a few mile north of the modern Shendy. Meroe was a city of priests, whose origin is lost in the highest antiquity. The monarch was chosen by the priests from among themselves; and the government was being theocratic, being managed by the priest according to the oracle of Jupiter Ammon. This was the Seba of the Hebrews, according to Josephus, who mentions at the same time that it was conquered by Cambyses, and received from him the name Meroe, after his sister. With this representation accord the notices of Seba and its inhabitants in Scripture. In Ge 10:7, their ancestor is said to be a son of Cush, the progenitor of the Ethiopians. In Isa 43:3 and Ps 72:10, Seba is mentioned as a distant and wealthy country; in the former passage, it is connected with Egypt and Ethiopia; and Meroe was one of the most important commercial cities of interior Africa. These Sabeans are described by Herodotus as men of uncommon size. Compare Isa 45:14. A branch of this family, it is thought, located themselves near the head of the Persian Gulf; and the Sabeans mentioned in Job 1:15 were probably Cushites. See CUSH and RAAMAH.
2. The inhabitants of the country called SHEBA. The Sheba of Scripture appears to be the Saba of Strabo, situated towards the southern part of Arabia, at a short distance from the coast of the Red Sea, the capital of which was Mariaba, or Mareb. This region, called also Yemen, was probably settled by Sheba the son of Joktan, of the race of Shem, Ge 10:28; 1Ch 1:22.
The queen of Sheba, who visited Solomon, 1Ki 10; 2Ch 9; Mt 12:42, and made him presents of gold, ivory, and costly spices, was probably the mistress of this region; indeed, the Sabeans were celebrated, on account of their important commerce in these very products, among the Greeks also, Job 6:19; Isa 60:6; Jer 6:20; Eze 27:22; 38:13; Ps 72:10,15; Joe 3:8. The tradition of this visit of the queen of Sheba to Solomon has maintained itself among the Arabs, who call her Balkis, and affirm that she became the wife of Solomon.
Besides the Joktanite Sabaeans, two others of the same name are mentioned in the Bible. 1. A son of Jokshan, and grandson of Abraham and Keturah, Ge 10:28. 2. A grandson of Cush. It is possible that these descendants of the Ethiopian Sheba may have had their residence in Africa; but the question of these two Shebas is obscure and difficult to determine. The Sebaeans and Shebaeans are both mentioned in the same prophecy, Ps 72:10, as coming to lay their offerings at the feet of Christ.
descendants of Seba (Ge 10:7); Africans (Isa 43:3). They were "men of stature," and engaged in merchandise (Isa 45:14). Their conversion to the Lord was predicted (Ps 72:10). This word, in Eze 23:42, should be read, as in the margin of the Authorized Version, and in the Revised Version, "drunkards." Another tribe, apparently given to war, is mentioned in Job 1:15.
There are four persons who have been regarded as progenitors of the Sabeans.
1. Seba, son of Cush. Ge 10:7.
2. Sheba, grandson of Cush. Ge 10:7.
3. Sheba, descendant of Joktan. Ge 10:28.
4. Sheba, son of Jokshan. Ge 25:3.
The first two are descendants of Ham, and the last two descendants of Shem. For their localities see SEBA and SHEBA. Some were marauders who swept away the oxen and asses of Job. Job 1:15. In Isa 45:14 they were travelling merchants. In Joe 3:8 they are represented as a people 'far off,' to whom Judah will sell their enemies. These passages may not all refer to the same people. In Eze 23:42 the chethib reads 'drunkards,' as in the margin of the A.V. and the text of the R.V.
See Sheba (2)
SABEANS, or "men of stature," Isa 45:14. These men were probably the Sabeans of Arabia Felix, or of Asia. They submitted to Cyrus. The Sabeans of Arabia were descended from Saba; but as there are several of this name, who were all heads of peoples, or of tribes, we must distinguish several kinds of Sabeans.
1. Those Sabeans who seized the flocks of Job 1:15, were, probably, a people of Arabia Deserta, about Bozra; or, perhaps, a flying troop of Sabeans which infested that country.
2. Sabeans, descendants from Sheba, son of Cush. Ge 10:7, are probably of Arabia Felix: they were famous for spices; the poets gave them the epithet of soft and effeminate, and say they were governed by women:
Medis, levibusque Sabaeis Imperat hic sexus.
[This sex governs the Medes, and the gentle Sabeans.]
Several are of opinion, that from them came the queen of Sheba, 1Ki 10:1-2; and that of these Sabeans the psalmist speaks, Ps 72:10, "The kings of Arabia and Sheba shall give gifts;" and Jer 6:20: "What are the perfumes of Sheba to me?" and Isa 60:6: "All who come from Sheba shall offer gold and perfumes."
3. Sabeans, sons of Shebah, son of Reumah. Ge 10:7, probably dwelt in Arabia Felix. Probably it is of these Ezekiel speaks, 27:22, who came with their merchandise to the fairs of Tyre: and Joe 3:8: "I will deliver up your children to the tribe of Judah, who shall sell them to the Sabeans, a very distant nation."
4. Sabeans, descendants from Joktan, may very well be those mentioned by Eze 27:23: "Saba, Assur, and Chelmad, thy dealers." They are thought to have inhabited beyond the Euphrates; whence they are connected with Asshur and Chilmad, Ge 10:28; 1Ch 1:22.
5. Sabeans are also placed in Africa, in the isle of Meroe. Josephus brings the queen of Sheba from thence, and pretends that it had the name of Sheba, or Saba, before that of Meroe.