Category Archives: 1 Kings

1 Kings 2 Bloody Beginnings

King David Presenting the Scepter to Solomon By Cornelis de Vos – (1601-1651)

1 Kings 2: 1-12 Final Words and Death of David

1 When David’s time to die drew near, he charged his son Solomon, saying: 2 “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, be courageous, 3 and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn. 4 Then the LORD will establish his word that he spoke concerning me: ‘If your heirs take heed to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail you a successor on the throne of Israel.’

5 “Moreover you know also what Joab son of Zeruiah did to me, how he dealt with the two commanders of the armies of Israel, Abner son of Ner, and Amasa son of Jether, whom he murdered, retaliating in time of peace for blood that had been shed in war, and putting the blood of war on the belt around his waist, and on the sandals on his feet. 6 Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to Sheol in peace. 7 Deal loyally, however, with the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and let them be among those who eat at your table; for with such loyalty they met me when I fled from your brother Absalom. 8 There is also with you Shimei son of Gera, the Benjaminite from Bahurim, who cursed me with a terrible curse on the day when I went to Mahanaim; but when he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the LORD, ‘I will not put you to death with the sword.’ 9 Therefore do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man; you will know what you ought to do to him, and you must bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.”

 10 Then David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David. 11 The time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. 12 So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established.

Many people when they were growing up were taught a romanticized version of King David and King Solomon, almost like a pre-medieval King Arthur. Yet, the narratives of the bible are often far less romantic than the Sunday school stories that were taught to children. It would be problematic to attempt to use this period at the end of David’s life and the beginning of the reign of King Solomon to teach some type of moralistic lesson. Perhaps it is helpful to remember that woven in with the assumption of the need for a king to provide leadership for the people is the prophetic critique of the places where that leadership does not keep the statues, commandments, ordinances, and testimonies as outlined in the law of Moses. Yet, even in this chapter where the requirements of the law are met and the reactions of Solomon are coherent within the cultural expectations of his time, his actions would not be viewed as acceptable in our very different cultural space.

The final words of David begin in a manner that highlights that this is a narration of history from the perspective of the law and David’s final words can be read in a similar way to Moses’ and Joshua’s final charges to the people. They all are concerned with obedience to the law of God, presumably similar in form to Deuteronomy. David’s charge to Solomon echoes to the recurring words at the beginning of Joshua where the LORD and the people charge Joshua to, “Only be strong and courageous.” (Joshua 1:6,7, 9, 18). Solomon is charged to walk in the way of wisdom, a way that conforms to the vision of God’s commandments and is promised that the reward for that fidelity will be God’s continual provision and protection of the line of Solomon.

Yet, the world that David and Solomon navigate is morally ambiguous. David was a warrior king who consolidated his reign through military might and political maneuvering. As Brueggemann deftly states, “It is enough to recognize that David on his deathbed is a person of deep contradiction and incongruity, caught between the clear claims of faith and the obvious requirements of raw power.” (Brueggemann, 2000, p. 39) A cynical reading of this passage hears David asking Solomon to enact the revenge for political reasons he may have been unable to enact. A more favorable reading hears David alerting Solomon to potential dangers to power early in his reign. The truth may lie somewhere between these perspectives.

Joab son of Zeruiah is a frequent player in David’s narrative as a fierce fighter and commander of the forces of David. Yet, Joab has previously aligned himself with Solomon’s rival Adonijah and although he has always been a supporter of David he has often exercised his own judgment, often neglecting David’s stated desires. Joab was a man of bloodshed and the two incidents listed in David’s final words are times when Joab counteracted David’s negotiations to bring peace after conflict. The narrative of Abner and Joab takes place in 2 Samuel 2-3 where Abner, as the commander of the Saul’s army remains a significant opponent who ends up killing Joab’s brother Asahel. As David becomes stronger and the house of Saul becomes weaker there is a loss of trust between Ishbaal, Saul’s heir, and Abner. Abner’s action to make a covenant with David allows for David to consolidate control over Israel. Yet, when Joab learns of this peace he seeks Abner out and executes him. Amasa son of Jether was appointed over the army of Israel by Absalom when he rebels against his father David and seizes the kingdom for a time. Yet, after the death of Absalom, Amasa is still given a position in the military until Joab kills him. Joab was a man of war and David may have believed that without his removal Solomon would not have known peace. Yet, it is morally ambiguous at best for David to leave this vengeance to his son to enact on a military ally from throughout his lifetime.

Shimei son of Gera may have represented the continued threat of the kingdom splitting apart from loyalists to King Saul, David’s predecessor. This is another instance where David in a moment of military and political vulnerability is forced to make an uneasy peace rather than enact revenge. During the time of Absalom’s rebellion while David and those loyal to him flee Jerusalem, Shimei curses David and throws stones at him. Yet, David at this moment believes this curse may be from the LORD (2: Samuel 16: 10-11). After the death of Absalom, Shimei comes with a thousand men from Benjamin and appeals to the king for forgiveness. David promises Shimei he shall not die, but the presence of one thousand Benjaminites prompts the reader to question if this forgiveness is an act of political necessity which David feels compelled to keep throughout his lifetime. Upon the death of David a cynical reader sees this as revenge delayed where a more compassionate reader might see David pointing out a potential political threat to Solomon’s new rule. Regardless the advice to eliminate two political enemies and the identification of one who Solomon should bestow loyalty to sets the stage for a consolidation of power that is bloody. The peaceful death of King David will not lead to a peaceful beginning for the reign of Solomon.

1 Kings 2: 13-25 The Elimination of Adonijah

13 Then Adonijah son of Haggith came to Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother. She asked, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably.” 14 Then he said, “May I have a word with you?” She said, “Go on.” 15 He said, “You know that the kingdom was mine, and that all Israel expected me to reign; however, the kingdom has turned about and become my brother’s, for it was his from the LORD. 16 And now I have one request to make of you; do not refuse me.” She said to him, “Go on.” 17 He said, “Please ask King Solomon — he will not refuse you — to give me Abishag the Shunammite as my wife.” 18 Bathsheba said, “Very well; I will speak to the king on your behalf.”

19 So Bathsheba went to King Solomon, to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. The king rose to meet her, and bowed down to her; then he sat on his throne, and had a throne brought for the king’s mother, and she sat on his right. 20 Then she said, “I have one small request to make of you; do not refuse me.” And the king said to her, “Make your request, my mother; for I will not refuse you.” 21 She said, “Let Abishag the Shunammite be given to your brother Adonijah as his wife.” 22 King Solomon answered his mother, “And why do you ask Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? Ask for him the kingdom as well! For he is my elder brother; ask not only for him but also for the priest Abiathar and for Joab son of Zeruiah!” 23 Then King Solomon swore by the LORD, “So may God do to me, and more also, for Adonijah has devised this scheme at the risk of his life! 24 Now therefore as the LORD lives, who has established me and placed me on the throne of my father David, and who has made me a house as he promised, today Adonijah shall be put to death.” 25 So King Solomon sent Benaiah son of Jehoiada; he struck him down, and he died.

Adonijah escaped death in the first chapter when he, Abiathar, and Joab along with the other royal sons and many of the people of standing in Judah proclaimed him king by paying obeisance. He is still a person who is a potential threat to the reign of Solomon. This short political drama between Adonijah, Bathsheba, and Solomon sets in motion a chain of events which removes the participants in the earlier plot to declare Adonijah king while David was still alive. Perhaps the placing of this event after the death of David makes it easier for Solomon to act in a manner that is more ruthless, but it is also a point in Solomon’s reign where his power has not been consolidated and he may be viewed as vulnerable.

Adonijah’s request for Abishag the Shunammite would not be heard primarily in this culture as a man wanting a beautiful woman as a consolation prize for losing the crown. Marriages were economic and political transactions. Although there is perhaps some difference between Abishag’s position and concubines there is still the reality that Abishag was brought in to lay with the king. There are a number of parallels between Adonijah and Absalom as mentioned in the previous chapter, but one of the actions that Absalom did to consolidate his power was to demonstrate his virility by laying with his father’s concubines. Absalom’s act of sexual politics was an act of claiming all that was his father’s. Adonijah’s request may not be as blatant as Absalom’s action but it is an act which would be viewed symbolically as claiming the beautiful woman that belonged to his father, and by extension his father’s household.

Bathsheba’s actions are shrewder in Hebrew than they are often portrayed in English. When approached by Adonijah with this bold request she does not promise to relay the petition, but only that she will speak to the king about you (‘aleyka). The NRSV’s translation that she will speak on Adonijah’s behalf gives a positive spin to her answer, but the Hebrew is more neutral. Bathsheba has already demonstrated in the previous chapter the ability to navigate the political world of the court of King David, and now as the queen mother she is likely shrewd enough to see the implications of Adonijah’s request. It is plausible that her action of making Adonijah’s one request into ‘one small request’ that she is speaking ironically (NIB III: 32). Unfortunately, the ironic tone is not something that the scriptures often communicate in their telling of a narrative. Regardless of how it is communicated Solomon immediately sees the danger in this position and the political import of the requested act.

Solomon understands that his claim is still challenged, and that there are still those with power who are invested in Adonijah’s bid for the crown. Solomon acts quickly and dispatches his commander to kill Adonijah for his audacious request. Solomon’s wisdom is used for power politics as he acts in a bloody matter to consolidate his power. In Solomon’s view Adonijah’s request has proven that he is not a worthy man, but a wicked agitator and his response is without mercy.

The ancient world was violent. This is not the Solomon you may have encountered in the Sunday school lessons at your church, but the scriptures are written in a world of wars, assassinations, and threats. Solomons name is derived from the Hebrew Shalom, and while his reign would be more peaceful than his father David’s it does not begin in a peaceful manner. Solomon claims power by eliminating his potential rivals. Even though modern readers may have idealized the reign of Solomon, there is a prophetic critique written into the narrative of 1 Kings. The narrator of 1 Kings does not indicate either approval or disapproval of these individual acts and this is probably viewed as the narration of the reality into which Solomon entered. Yet, its presence in the scriptures does not indicate that this should be a normative practice for those who still claim this story as a part of their scriptures.

1 Kings 2: 26-27 The Removal of Abiathar the Priest

26 The king said to the priest Abiathar, “Go to Anathoth, to your estate; for you deserve death. But I will not at this time put you to death, because you carried the ark of the Lord GOD before my father David, and because you shared in all the hardships my father endured.” 27 So Solomon banished Abiathar from being priest to the LORD, thus fulfilling the word of the LORD that he had spoken concerning the house of Eli in Shiloh.

Abiathar the priest was a loyal servant of King David but he also had aligned himself with Adonijah in his attempt to seize the crown while David was alive. Abiathar is the sole survivor of the murder of the priests at Nob by King Saul and Doeg the Edomite (1 Samuel 22: 6-23) in retribution for giving David the sword of Goliath and the altar bread when he flees. David takes Abiathar into his household and he is loyal to David, even during the rebellion of Absalom. At the same time Abiathar has backed the wrong contender and in light of Adonijah’s recent request King Solomon probably sees Abiathar and Joab continuing to advise Adonijah. In King Solomon’s view Abiathar is deserving of death, but in recognition of his role as priest and his previous allegiance to his father he exiles him to his house in Anathoth. The banishment of Abiathar is also linked to the prophecies against the household of Eli by the man of God in 1 Samuel 2: 27-36 and through Samuel in 1 Samuel 3: 10-14. The removal of Abiathar is the last of the old guard of priests from Shiloh who minister before the LORD in Jerusalem.

1 Kings 2: 28-35 The Elimination of Joab

28 When the news came to Joab — for Joab had supported Adonijah though he had not supported Absalom — Joab fled to the tent of the LORD and grasped the horns of the altar. 29 When it was told King Solomon, “Joab has fled to the tent of the LORD and now is beside the altar,” Solomon sent Benaiah son of Jehoiada, saying, “Go, strike him down.” 30 So Benaiah came to the tent of the LORD and said to him, “The king commands, ‘Come out.'” But he said, “No, I will die here.” Then Benaiah brought the king word again, saying, “Thus said Joab, and thus he answered me.” 31 The king replied to him, “Do as he has said, strike him down and bury him; and thus take away from me and from my father’s house the guilt for the blood that Joab shed without cause. 32 The LORD will bring back his bloody deeds on his own head, because, without the knowledge of my father David, he attacked and killed with the sword two men more righteous and better than himself, Abner son of Ner, commander of the army of Israel, and Amasa son of Jether, commander of the army of Judah. 33 So shall their blood come back on the head of Joab and on the head of his descendants forever; but to David, and to his descendants, and to his house, and to his throne, there shall be peace from the LORD forevermore.” 34 Then Benaiah son of Jehoiada went up and struck him down and killed him; and he was buried at his own house near the wilderness. 35 The king put Benaiah son of Jehoiada over the army in his place, and the king put the priest Zadok in the place of Abiathar.

Previously King David encouraged his son to use his wisdom to eliminate Joab. Joab, on seeing the elimination of Adonijah and the exile of Abiathar knows that he is probably the next target of Solomon’s regime. Solomon commands the striking down of Joab even though he has fled to the tent of the LORD seeking sanctuary. Benaiah, on Solomon’s orders, goes to the tent of the LORD to confront Joab but when Joab refuses to emerge Beniah seeks the king’s instructions before entering the tent of God and killing Joab.

There is provision in the law for a person to flee to a place of refuge (in Deuteronomy 19: 1-13 and Joshua 20 there are cities designated as places of refuge) in the event of an accidental death to allow the tribal elders or judges to discern the viability of the case. Yet, Solomon, as instructed by David, knows that Joab is guilty of the murder of Abner son of Ner, and Amasa son of Jether. Although Solomon’s immediate issue is probably with his support of Adonijah (and perhaps continued advisement of Adonijah until Solomon has him executed) the knowledge of his being a killer enables Solomon to order Benaiah to strike Joab down while still conforming to the letter of the law as stated in Exodus 21: 12-14:

 12 Whoever strikes a person mortally shall be put to death. 13 If it was not premeditated, but came about by an act of God, then I will appoint for you a place to which the killer may flee. 14 But if someone willfully attacks and kills another by treachery, you shall take the killer from my altar for execution.

With the central figures that supported Adonijah now dealt with Solomon is able to place his allies Benaiah and Zadok over the military and the priesthood respectively. We can acknowledge the cultural conditions and the reading of the law that make this execution of a bloody justice possible without endorsing this as the type of actions we would want our leaders to take in our own cultural conditions.

1 Kings 2: 36-46 The Confinement and Death of Shimei

36 Then the king sent and summoned Shimei, and said to him, “Build yourself a house in Jerusalem, and live there, and do not go out from there to any place whatever. 37 For on the day you go out, and cross the Wadi Kidron, know for certain that you shall die; your blood shall be on your own head.” 38 And Shimei said to the king, “The sentence is fair; as my lord the king has said, so will your servant do.” So Shimei lived in Jerusalem many days.

39 But it happened at the end of three years that two of Shimei’s slaves ran away to King Achish son of Maacah of Gath. When it was told Shimei, “Your slaves are in Gath,” 40 Shimei arose and saddled a donkey, and went to Achish in Gath, to search for his slaves; Shimei went and brought his slaves from Gath. 41 When Solomon was told that Shimei had gone from Jerusalem to Gath and returned, 42 the king sent and summoned Shimei, and said to him, “Did I not make you swear by the LORD, and solemnly adjure you, saying, ‘Know for certain that on the day you go out and go to any place whatever, you shall die’? And you said to me, ‘The sentence is fair; I accept.’ 43 Why then have you not kept your oath to the LORD and the commandment with which I charged you?” 44 The king also said to Shimei, “You know in your own heart all the evil that you did to my father David; so the LORD will bring back your evil on your own head. 45 But King Solomon shall be blessed, and the throne of David shall be established before the LORD forever.” 46 Then the king commanded Benaiah son of Jehoiada; and he went out and struck him down, and he died.

So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon.

Shimei was the second person that King David told Solomon to use his wisdom to bring about his death. Solomon confines Shimei to his property in Jerusalem and Shimei assents to this house arrest. Shimei remains alive for three years while Solomon reigns but departs to capture two slaves who fled his household. The mention of Achish the King of Gath who Shimei goes to in the search of his slaves may suggest that there is some larger political play in Shimei’s plans, and that may be a part of Solomon’s harsh enforcement of his threat, but it is also possible that Solomon uses this transgression as a way to eliminate one final opponent to his rule. 1 Kings 2 remains a story of Solomon eliminating his rivals. In our modern world we may debate if based upon the witness of 1 Kings 2 whether the situations Solomon uses to eliminate these potential threats is dubious or justified. Either way this chapter is a “fairly sordid story of power politics” (Cogan, 2001, p. 180). Although the actions of Solomon may be permissible under the law of Moses I doubt many modern readers would want to apply this type of ethics to modern politics.

1 Kings 1 An Uneasy Transition from David to Solomon

David, Bathsheba, and Abishag by Fredrick Goodall (1888)

1 Kings 1

1 Kings 1: 1-4 A Feeble King

1 King David was old and advanced in years; and although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm. 2 So his servants said to him, “Let a young virgin be sought for my lord the king, and let her wait on the king, and be his attendant; let her lie in your bosom, so that my lord the king may be warm.” 3 So they searched for a beautiful girl throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king. 4 The girl was very beautiful. She became the king’s attendant and served him, but the king did not know her sexually.

The initial chapter of 1 Kings serves as a bridge between the stories of 1 and 2 Samuel which culminates with the reign of King David and the transition to the narrative of the kings that come after David. People in the United States have generally taken for granted a peaceful transition of power and the political machinations of an election and swearing in of new leaders has, with one notable exception recently, been accepted as a matter-of-fact occurrence. The transition of power in the ancient world was often a matter of life and death for those who would claim the power to reign. King David was a warrior king who had forged a unified Israel by both his military prowess and his ability to forge alliances with various religious and tribal authorities.

1 Kings begins with “an enfeebled king, a mere shadow of the robust leader he once was,” (Cogan, 2001, p. 164) and in the absence of a robust leader coalitions are forming. The servants of the king have attempted to keep the king able to maintain power, but his health is failing him. The solution is to bring another young, beautiful woman into the king’s bed to keep him warm and to for her to lie in his bosom. The language of Abishag lying in the king’s bosom may intentionally echo the prophet Nathan’s parable to David after the affair with Bathsheba where the poor man’s ewe lamb “used to lie in his bosom” (2 Samuel 12:3) and if this echo is intentional it may help prepare us for the awkward conversation between David and Bathsheba while Abishag is warming the king’s bed.

David as a roughly seventy-year-old man is no longer physically able to hold the kingdom together and his physical frailty and lack of clear succession sets the stage for the conflict of the chapter. The chapter is a political narrative about the effective and ineffective use of symbols and alliances to gain power. It also lives in the shadows of the sins of the past which have weakened David’s house and the central presence of Nathan and Bathsheba throughout this episode as well as the parallels between Adonijah and Absalom bring us to the place where an enfeebled king is no longer able to effectively hold his broken house together. David remains passive as the conflict between those who see Adonijah and Solomon as the next king begins.

1 Kings 1: 5-10 Adonijah’s Bold Claim to Power

5 Now Adonijah son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king”; he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. 6 His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, “Why have you done thus and so?” He was also a very handsome man, and he was born next after Absalom. 7 He conferred with Joab son of Zeruiah and with the priest Abiathar, and they supported Adonijah. 8 But the priest Zadok, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and the prophet Nathan, and Shimei, and Rei, and David’s own warriors did not side with Adonijah.

9 Adonijah sacrificed sheep, oxen, and fatted cattle by the stone Zoheleth, which is beside En-rogel, and he invited all his brothers, the king’s sons, and all the royal officials of Judah, 10 but he did not invite the prophet Nathan or Benaiah or the warriors or his brother Solomon.

The perspective of 1 Kings is a complicated question, but in this initial chapter it frames the person and actions of Adonijah in a way that is parallel to Absalom (Israel, 2013, pp. 18-19). Both Absalom and Adonijah are described as being attractive men (2 Samuel 14:25) and this physical attraction is a part of their appeal as the future king (and a reason for David’s failure to correct his sons). Both Absalom and Adonijah attempt to secure the crown by their own machinations while David still lives, and each is the next in line by birth order. Both sons will have chariots and runners to demonstrate their power in the city (2 Samuel 15:1) and the presence of both chariots (the military technology of the day) and runners who were often counted on as loyal bodyguards indicate the military strength to defend his claim. Adonijah has developed a power base of both religious and military leaders and is actively excluding those who he feels may pose a challenge to his ascension as the next king. The act of sacrificing and dining with the royal sons (sans Solomon) the royal officials of Judah is a political action designed to further his aspirations of ruling in his father’s stead. One powerful claimant to the throne has been introduced and the enfeebled king has done nothing to oppose the actions of his attractive son and may be unaware of the machinations occurring in his kingdom.

1 Kings: 1: 11-37 Nathan and Bathsheba Rouse King David to Action

11 Then Nathan said to Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, “Have you not heard that Adonijah son of Haggith has become king and our lord David does not know it?

 12 Now therefore come, let me give you advice, so that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. 13 Go in at once to King David, and say to him, ‘Did you not, my lord the king, swear to your servant, saying: Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne? Why then is Adonijah king?’ 14 Then while you are still there speaking with the king, I will come in after you and confirm your words.”

15 So Bathsheba went to the king in his room. The king was very old; Abishag the Shunammite was attending the king. 16 Bathsheba bowed and did obeisance to the king, and the king said, “What do you wish?” 17 She said to him, “My lord, you swore to your servant by the LORD your God, saying: Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne. 18 But now suddenly Adonijah has become king, though you, my lord the king, do not know it. 19 He has sacrificed oxen, fatted cattle, and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the children of the king, the priest Abiathar, and Joab the commander of the army; but your servant Solomon he has not invited. 20 But you, my lord the king — the eyes of all Israel are on you to tell them who shall sit on the throne of my lord the king after him. 21 Otherwise it will come to pass, when my lord the king sleeps with his ancestors, that my son Solomon and I will be counted offenders.”

22 While she was still speaking with the king, the prophet Nathan came in. 23 The king was told, “Here is the prophet Nathan.” When he came in before the king, he did obeisance to the king, with his face to the ground. 24 Nathan said, “My lord the king, have you said, ‘Adonijah shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne’? 25 For today he has gone down and has sacrificed oxen, fatted cattle, and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the king’s children, Joab the commander of the army, and the priest Abiathar, who are now eating and drinking before him, and saying, ‘Long live King Adonijah!’ 26 But he did not invite me, your servant, and the priest Zadok, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and your servant Solomon. 27 Has this thing been brought about by my lord the king and you have not let your servants know who should sit on the throne of my lord the king after him?”

28 King David answered, “Summon Bathsheba to me.” So she came into the king’s presence, and stood before the king. 29 The king swore, saying, “As the LORD lives, who has saved my life from every adversity, 30 as I swore to you by the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne in my place,’ so will I do this day.” 31 Then Bathsheba bowed with her face to the ground, and did obeisance to the king, and said, “May my lord King David live forever!”

32 King David said, “Summon to me the priest Zadok, the prophet Nathan, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada.” When they came before the king, 33 the king said to them, “Take with you the servants of your lord, and have my son Solomon ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon. 34 There let the priest Zadok and the prophet Nathan anoint him king over Israel; then blow the trumpet, and say, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ 35 You shall go up following him. Let him enter and sit on my throne; he shall be king in my place; for I have appointed him to be ruler over Israel and over Judah.” 36 Benaiah son of Jehoiada answered the king, “Amen! May the LORD, the God of my lord the king, so ordain. 37 As the LORD has been with my lord the king, so may he be with Solomon, and make his throne greater than the throne of my lord King David.”

The prophet Nathan and Bathsheba act to attempt to undercut the ambitions of Adonijah and to forward Bathsheba’s son Solomon as the next king of Israel. Together they come up with a plan to approach David and remind the king of his previous oath that Solomon would reign. Some commentators are dubious about this oath since it is not mentioned in 2 Samuel and believe that the prophet and Solomon’s mother are taking advantage of the king’s weakened mental faculties. While that is a possible interpretation, the David presented in the text will respond decisively and order a set of actions that are both clear and significant to ensure that Solomon is recognized by the people as the new king. David may have withdrawn from the administration of the kingdom due to his health, but when confronted by Nathan and Bathsheba he acts quickly.

Bathsheba enters the bedroom of the king while Abishag is attending to him. Bathsheba comes and does obeisance to the king and is granted the space to make her plea. Bathsheba’s plea comes from the perspective that the king is unaware of the actions of his son Adonijah that contradict his promises to her under oath. Bathsheba makes the reasonable claim that if Adonijah ascends to the throne she and Solomon will be perceived as ‘offenders’ or enemies of the throne and their lives will be at risk. As Nathan indicated while Bathsheba makes her appeal he also approaches the room of the king and is announced. The prophet Nathan confronts the king questioning his knowledge and at least tacit approval of Adonijah’s actions and lists several of the major political players who are now declaring that Adonijah is king. The acclamation, “long live Adonijah” (rendered by the NRSV king Adonijah) is the typical acclamation of a person who has been declared king. Apparently Bathsheba has left the room while the prophet Nathan has reported to the king, but King David summons her back and affirms his previous oath and declares that he will make it official this day.

David is apparently aware enough to summon the officials who are loyal to Solomon and who are not with Adonijah. The action of Solomon riding on King David’s mule is symbolic but also sends a different image than the chariots and runners of Adonijah. This is image of a king of peace riding on a mule or donkey will become an important prophetic image and will shape the action of Jesus in his approach to Jerusalem. Yet, Solomon is surrounded by those of religious and military power. They anoint him at Gihon, the central water source of the city so that it may be seen by many in the city. This is a very public action that King David decrees and then the symbolism is increased by having Solomon take his seat upon David’s throne. David, who has never acted to displease his son Adonijah in the past, now acts decisively and quickly once he is confronted by Bathsheba and Nathan.

Bathsheba and Nathan in this scene make their decisive reemergence after a long period of silence in the story of David. Both are central figures in a story where David’s actions to sleep with Bathsheba and ordering the death in combat of her husband Uriah to cover his actions bring about a judgment delivered by the prophet Nathan of both the death of their first son and the future unrest in David’s household. Yet, Nathan also delivers a message that God favors Solomon (2 Samuel 12:25) before he, Bathsheba, and Solomon recede into the background of the story as David struggles with the discord in his household and unrest in his reign. Yet, as David’s reign reaches its twilight Nathan and Bathsheba reemerge in the story to prepare for the ascension of Solomon.

1 Kings 1: 38-40 The Anointing of Solomon

38 So the priest Zadok, the prophet Nathan, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites, went down and had Solomon ride on King David’s mule, and led him to Gihon. 39 There the priest Zadok took the horn of oil from the tent and anointed Solomon. Then they blew the trumpet, and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!” 40 And all the people went up following him, playing on pipes and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth quaked at their noise.

Adonijah had initiated an act of political theater to rally support for his claim to reign in David’s stead, but now the allies of Solomon, on King David’s instructions, have their own set of symbolically significant actions in the presence of the people to place Solomon on the throne. The priest and the prophet, the military leader and the servants of David place Solomon on David’s mule and lead him to Gihon. The Cherethites and the Pelethites are likely David’s own warriors indicated in 1:8 but they may also be mercenaries who provide “muscle for the throne a popular support ebbs.” (Brueggemann, 2000, p. 18) Solomon may symbolically be riding a mule instead of a chariot, but he is not without the military might to uphold his claim. In contrast to the action of Adonijah which takes place with the leaders outside of the city, this is done in the midst of the people of Jerusalem and the anointment and blowing of the trumpet to signal Solomon’s appointment as the new king is met with the declaration of the people declaring Solomon king and breaking into a spontaneous celebration. The city erupts into celebration and this joyous noise disrupts the gathering outside of town.

1 Kings 1: 41-53 Adonijah Concedes to Solomon

41 Adonijah and all the guests who were with him heard it as they finished feasting. When Joab heard the sound of the trumpet, he said, “Why is the city in an uproar?” 42 While he was still speaking, Jonathan son of the priest Abiathar arrived. Adonijah said, “Come in, for you are a worthy man and surely you bring good news.” 43 Jonathan answered Adonijah, “No, for our lord King David has made Solomon king; 44 the king has sent with him the priest Zadok, the prophet Nathan, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites; and they had him ride on the king’s mule; 45 the priest Zadok and the prophet Nathan have anointed him king at Gihon; and they have gone up from there rejoicing, so that the city is in an uproar. This is the noise that you heard. 46 Solomon now sits on the royal throne. 47 Moreover the king’s servants came to congratulate our lord King David, saying, ‘May God make the name of Solomon more famous than yours, and make his throne greater than your throne.’ The king bowed in worship on the bed 48 and went on to pray thus, ‘Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who today has granted one of my offspring to sit on my throne and permitted me to witness it.'”

49 Then all the guests of Adonijah got up trembling and went their own ways. 50 Adonijah, fearing Solomon, got up and went to grasp the horns of the altar. 51 Solomon was informed, “Adonijah is afraid of King Solomon; see, he has laid hold of the horns of the altar, saying, ‘Let King Solomon swear to me first that he will not kill his servant with the sword.'” 52 So Solomon responded, “If he proves to be a worthy man, not one of his hairs shall fall to the ground; but if wickedness is found in him, he shall die.” 53 Then King Solomon sent to have him brought down from the altar. He came to do obeisance to King Solomon; and Solomon said to him, “Go home.”

Adonijah has been playing a dangerous game and he was outmaneuvered politically by Nathan and Bathsheba. Adonijah likely saw King David’s lack of previous condemnation as a tacit approval of his actions or signs of the king’s lack of awareness of power. David’s instructions carried out publicly by Nathan the prophet, Zadok the priest, Benaiah and with the physical presence of the Cherethites and the Pelethites is met with public acclamation. When Jonathan, a man of worth,[1] reports in detail the proceedings in the city. The repetition of the details in the story reinforces the significance of the actions but Jonathan is also aware of the words of King David to affirm this from his bed. King David may be physically weak, but his position still holds power over the people and his blessing of the LORD for allowing Solomon to sit upon his throne adds the intimation of divine approval.

The actions on behalf of Solomon sends shockwaves through the assembled allies of Adonijah. Realizing that they have been outmaneuvered they retreat from the gathering and try to distance themselves from Adonijah. Adonijah recognizes the precarious nature of his position and flees to the temple for sanctuary, clinging to the horns of the altar. Solomon will either have to grant him clemency or spill blood on the altar. Solomon grants him an opportunity to prove himself loyal but the cost of any perceived action that would be harmful to Solomon’s authority will result in Adonijah’s death. Adonijah comes and bows down before Solomon before being sent home. The narrative is not concluded yet and Solomon will have to make choices in the future to secure his position, but the first chapter has moved us from the reign of King David to the new era under King Solomon in an initially bloodless transition.

 

[1] The Hebrew ‘is hayil is a person of economic and social status.

Transitioning into First Kings

Isaak Asknaziy, Vanita vanitatum et omnia vanitas (19th Century)

Like the book of Judges, which is the most recent book I completed my work through, the narrative of First Kings is a part of what scholars call the Deuteronomic History since it views the story of Israel through the perspective of the covenantal vision of the book of Deuteronomy. First and Second Kings were initially a common book, the book of Kings, which was later divided into two books in our current divisions. The book of Kings as a whole narrates the story beginning with the reign of King Solomon, to the division of the kingdom into Judah and Israel, or the northern Kingdom of Israel, and then the recurring pattern of unfaithful rulers, with a few good rulers who attempt to reform the people, which eventually lead to the northern kingdom’s destruction by the Assyrian empire in 721 BCE and the Babylonian empire’s conquering of Judah in roughly 587 BCE. First Kings, which covers roughly half of the original combined book, begins with Solomon, narrates the secession of the northern tribes when Rehoboam fails to listen to the cries of the people and continues through the kings of Judah and Israel until the Omri dynasty in the north and the emergence of the prophet Elijah to challenge the unfaithfulness of King Ahab.

In the Jewish division of the Hebrew Scriptures the Deuteronomic History (Joshua, Judges, 1&2 Samuel, and 1&2 Kings) are all grouped with the prophets. They are history viewed through a theological lens and with the intention of looking backwards to understand the situation of the people in exile. There is a tradition of associating these books with Jeremiah, and they do share a common worldview. It is a helpful process of looking backward upon the history of a people critically to attempt to bring meaning to the present crisis.

I do these reflections in a semi-random order and so I have skipped the narratives of Samuel, Saul, and David in first and second Samuel. I may at some point go back and walk through these narratives, but the time period of the kings after Solomon is also a time period I am less familiar with. The perspective of First Kings is somewhat difficult to discern. On the one hand it is a part of a collection of books that specifically deals with the dynasty of kings and understands those kings as an integral part of the story of Israel. The presence of a Davidic king in Judah maintains a symbolically important place throughout the books. At the same time the book includes several critiques of the kings, even kings that would be viewed as successful in many other respects. Solomon begins well, but eventually abandons the wisdom of God for accumulation and adopts the practices of his many wives in worshipping other gods. The assessment of individual kings is often summarized by phrases like, “He committed all the sins that his father did before him; his heart was not true to the LORD his God like the heart of his father David.” (1 Kings 15:3 referring to Abijam, son of Rehoboam, son of Solomon).

I grew up with the stories in First Kings, but I have not ever spent any sustained reflection upon this book. I would assume this is true of most Christian pastors, and more broadly most Christians. I am not sure what this journey will uncover, but I enter it with humility and interest. I do trust that there is wisdom to be found in this reflection upon this time of kings and prophets, of struggle and division, of unfaithful leaders and a God who desires a faithful people.