Encounters with Foreign Leaders


There are a number of stories in Tanakh which describe friendly encounters with foreign dignitaries:


A comparison of these stories reveals some common motifs – click on the accompanying Comparison Table to see the relevant verses:

  • The backdrop for the encounters is Israelite success (Malkizedek, Avimelekh, Yitro, Hiram, Toi) or fame (Queen of Sheba, Na'aman, Berodakh Baladan).
  • The Gentile leader initiates contact, via a personal meeting (Malkizedek, Avimelekh, Yitro, Queen of Sheba, Na'aman) or through messengers (Hiram, Toi, Berodakh Baladan).
  • The foreign personality declares his belief in Hashem (most explicitly by Yitro and Na'aman), and blesses Hashem (ברוך ה') (Malkizedek, Yitro, Hiram, Queen of Sheba) or His nation (Malkizedek, Avimelekh, Cf. Toi).
  • An explicit covenant (Avimelekh, Hiram) or elements indicative of a treaty such as sacrifices (Yitro), eating a meal (Malkizedek, Avimelekh, Yitro), and gifts (Malkizedek, Avimelekh, Yitro – see Bemidbar 10:32, Hiram, Toi, Queen of Sheba, Na'aman, Berodakh Baladan).


The following are some of the implications for understanding the individual stories:

  • Malkizedek – The literary paradigm and the shared elements may lend support to the notion that Avram and Malkizedek are establishing an alliance recognizing Avram's territorial dominion.
  • Yitro – Y. Avishur in Studies in Biblical Narrative (Tel Aviv, 1999): 159-172 notes that postulating a treaty between Moshe and Yitro fits well within the broader array of parallels between the Moshe-Yitro and Shelomo-Hiram stories (hearing the news, rejoicing (ויחד/וישמח), and blessing of Hashem). See also Yitro's Purpose and Yitro's Sacrifices.
  • Na'aman – Na'aman does not offer sacrifices, but he does request earth to build an altar so that from that point onwards he can offer sacrifices exclusively to Hashem. The gift motif takes center stage as Elisha refuses the offer only to have it pursued by Geichazi.
  • Merodakh Baladan – Viewing this in light of the other cases lend credence to the theory that Hizkiyahu and Merodakh Baladan are forming a political alliance against Assyria. This is also the only story in which the blessing element is absent, and Yeshayahu's prophetic premonition explains that this incident heralds the nation's exile.

Yitro and Rachav

Although Rachav is not a foreign leader, her story (Yehoshua 2) also contains the elements of hearing an account of the success of the Children of Israel (2:10), a profession of belief in Hashem (2:11), and some form of covenant (2:12-14). Numerous Rabbinic Midrashim2 group her with Yitro (and Na'aman).