The David Saga, Episode 13 – The King is Dead, Long Live the King

For this week, please read 1 Kings 1-2. In our final episode, David dies peacefully in his bed and Solomon violently ascends the throne.  

LAST WEEK:

In episode 12, we saw King David put down Sheba’s Rebellion. We had a flashback to the massacre of Saul’s remaining sons to quell God’s anger against the land resulting from Saul’s previous genocidal campaign against the Gibeonites. This massacre conveniently secured David his throne after his victory over the Israelite forces under Ishbosheth. We also had a flashback to David’s campaign against the Philistines soon after David took Jerusalem. We learned about the deeds of David’s Three Great Warriors and Thirty Mighty Men. Last week’s episode ends with a plague throughout the land that stopped just outside of Jerusalem. There David saw the destroying angel and built an altar to God. This location will become the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple.

THIS WEEK:

The Scene: (Ch.1:1-4)

The Book of Kings begins with the statement “Now King David was old and advanced in years; and although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm.” The great warrior who slew the giant, united all of Israel, conquered kingdoms, and saw off rebellions, has now finally met his match. For “no man (not even a king) has the power to retain his breath, nor authority over the day of death” (Eccl. 8:8). To keep him warm, a young maiden, named Abishag the Shunammite, is brought to him, but David does not (and cannot) have sex with her.  The king who has innumerable wives and concubines is impotent. The jockeying for succession between David’s eldest living son Adonijah and Bathsheba’s second son Solomon begins.

Adonijah: (Ch. 1:5-10)

Adonijah is David’s fourth and oldest living son. (2 Sam. 3:4). He is the heir apparent. Like Absalom before him, Adonijah begins to look and act like a king. He has chariots, horsemen, and a retinue of fifty men who run before him. He also brings within his circle of supporters, Joab, David’s military commander, and Abiathar, the priest. As with Absalom, David never admonishes Adonijah for his actions. And like Absalom, Adonijah’s arrogance will contribute to his demise. 

Adonijah holds a great feast and sacrifice at the Serpent’s Stone in En-Rogal. (En-Rogal is the spring outside of Jerusalem where the sons of the priests obtained intelligence on Absalom during his rebellion in episode 11.) To this great feast, Adonijah invites his brothers, the elders of Judah, and many others. Adonijah does not invite Nathan the prophet, Benaiah one of the mighty men and the leader of David’s court mercenaries (2 Sam. 23:202 Sam. 20:23), the other mighty men, Solomon, David’s son by Bathsheba, and Zadok, the other priest. Scripture does not tell us why these men were not invited. We can hypothesize that Adonijah already knew that these men did not support his succession.

Nathan and Bathsheba: (Ch. 1:11-27)

Nathan and Bathsheba have been absent from our story since Nathan’s condemnation of David for raping Bathsheba and having her husband Uriah killed in episode 8. (2 Samuel 12). We do not know if Nathan knew Bathsheba at the time of his confrontation with David, but we do know that in the interim, Nathan and Bathsheba had grown close. As a prophet, Nathan also probably saw that Adonijah, with his narcissism and arrogance, would be an unsuitable king to succeed David. In Solomon, Nathan would have seen a young man who walked with God and sought out wisdom. (1 Kings 3:3-9). Solomon would be a suitable king for all of Israel.

The immediate problem confronting Nathan is that Adonijah has raised himself up to be the next king. He has cultivated the loyalty of Joab, Abiathar, and the Judean elders. Adonijah, however, has not yet obtained the blessing of the current king, and that is the opening that Nathan will exploit.

Nathan hatches a plan with Bathsheba. He tells Bathsheba to go to David and to “remind” David that although he promised his throne to Solomon, Adonijah is about to make himself king. Nathan will then follow-up with David and instruct David on what to do next. The Scriptures have not even mentioned Solomon since his birth in episode 8. (2 Sam. 12:24). Prior to this verse (1:13), the only indication that David ever made such a promise to Bathsheba, is that Adonijah did not seek David’s blessing, but there is no direct evidence of the alleged promise. However, the alleged promise allows Nathan to place the better son on the throne.

We can see Bathsheba walking assuredly into the King’s chamber. She confidently enters the chamber, bows to the king, and pushes her way past Abishag. She then tells her story. She “reminds” the aged king that he promised the throne to her son. She tells him about the great feast Adonijah is throwing and that Joab and Abiathar are honored guests. She tells King David how Solomon was not invited. She then tells him that this means that as soon as the king dies, she and Solomon will too.

While she is still speaking, Nathan enters the room on cue. Nathan inquires of David as to whether David has actually named Adonijah his successor. Nathan tells David that the 0guests at En-Rogal have already declared Adonijah king, and Nathan wants to know why David never told his court that Adonijah would be the next king. He goads David: “You are still the sovereign, and yet Adonijah is being anointed without your permission. Are you still the king or not?”   

Solomon’s Anointing: (Ch. 1: 32-37)

Nathan gets the reaction he desires from David. David will assert his authority one last time. David commands the presence of Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the head of the guard. He instructs them to put Solomon on the King’s own donkey and to take Solomon to the spring of Gihon just outside of the city gates. (Gihon is separated from En-Rogal by a small ridge and so cannot be seen from En-Rogal but can be heard.) There, the priest and the prophet are to anoint Solomon as king and Solomon will ride back into Jerusalem on David’s donkey and sit on the king’s throne.

The men do as they are told. Solomon is placed on David’s donkey and taken by Nathan, Zadok, and the entire royal household to Gihon. Zadok has the horn of holy oil from the Tent of Meeting (where the Ark of Covenant is) and anoints Solomon as king. At the anointing, the trumpets sound and everyone shouts: “Long Live King Solomon.” More instruments sound, the singing commences, and the earth shakes with all of the noise.

Adonijah’s Reaction: (Ch 1:41-53)

Adonijah and his revelers did not see the anointing of Solomon, but they heard the celebration. Soon, Abiathar’s son, Jonathan (the same son that was a messenger to David during Absalom’s rebellion (2 Sam. 17:21)) comes and tells the gathering what just occurred. He recounts how Solomon rode the king’s donkey accompanied by Zadok, Nathan, and Benaiah. He also tells them that Solomon sits on the royal throne and that David bowed to Solomon and proclaimed the Lord’s good fortune that he was able to see one of his sons become king.

Everyone in attendance knows that Adonijah will not become king and that anyone showing support for Adonijah will be considered a traitor and be killed. Everyone in attendance scurries back home. For himself, Adonijah flees to the Tent of Meeting and takes hold of the horns of the altar. The “horns” of the altar are protrusions extending up from each corner of the altar where the blood of the sacrifice is given to God. Ex. 29:12. There is no place nearer to God in the ancient Israelite religion than the horns of the altar. The horns are a place of refuge.

Like his father, Solomon has good political instincts. At this time, he makes peace with Adonijah so long as his brother recognizes him as the true successor to their father. Adonijah does obeisance to King Solomon, and the king permits him to go home unharmed.

David’s Advice: (Ch. 2:1-9)

Chapter 2 opens with the words: “David is dying.” David is no longer referred to as “king,” for Solomon is now on the throne. However, David knows that Solomon is not yet astute enough to survive as king. There is the palace intrigue of Adonijah and Joab and also would-be rebels such as Shimei. David’s advice begins with him telling Solomon to be a man and to live into being a king. He tells him to follow the Lord and to trust in the promise that God gave to David regarding his descendants.   

To be secure on his throne, however, David also tells Solomon he must deal with those whom David leaves behind. David instructs Solomon that Joab must die. As David relates, whenever Joab’s position is in danger, Joab strikes out. Joab killed Abner and Amasa when they took his position. Since Joab supported Adonijah for the throne, Joab knows that Solomon will not make him his commander and therefore Joab presents a clear and present danger to Solomon’s life.

David also instructs Solomon to keep a close eye on Shimei. If a rebellion from the northern tribes will come, Shimei will be their leader. David tells Solomon to not be afraid to do what ought to be done to him. David wants Solomon to understand that he must do what is necessary to remain king and to keep his kingdom united.

Death of David: (Ch 2:10-12)

The old man and former king, the very apple of God’s eye, breathes his last and dies. The great warrior peacefully passes away in his own bed. He is buried not with his family in Bethlehem, but in his city of Jerusalem.

Consolidation of Solomon’s Rule: (Ch. 2:13-46)

In The Godfather, Mario Puzo borrows from the David saga in ending his novel and movie. Like the baptism scene, the end of David’s story is the settling of old scores and the slaying of those who present a danger to the rule of the successor.

Adonijah: Adonijah comes to Bathsheba, the king-mother, and asks to have Abishag as his wife. As we have seen before, to take a king’s concubine is to proclaim one is the king. Adonijah’s motives are uncertain. Maybe he is testing Solomon to see if Solomon is weak, or maybe Adonijah simply desires Abishag. Regardless of the motive, Solomon sees the request as a threat. Like his father, Solomon does not kill his rivals by his own hand. Instead, he sends Benaiah, the captain of the guard, to slay Adonijah. Benaiah dutifully complies and dispatches Solomon’s rival and older brother.

Abiathar: Solomon then goes to Abiathar, the priest. Solomon tells the priest that he deserves to die, but because he had carried the Ark of the Covenant and had been with David since the very beginning (remember, Abiathar was the sole surviving priest from Saul’s massacre of the city of Nob in episode 4), Solomon would spare his life. However, Solomon strips Abiathar of his priesthood and forcibly retires Abiathar to his estate.

Joab: Joab hears of Adonijah’s death and knows that he is next. Like Abiathar previously, Joab flees into the Tent of Meeting and takes hold of the horns of the altar. Solomon once more sends Benaiah to kill Joab. Benaiah commands Joab to let go of the altar and to leave the Tent of Meeting. Joab knows his compliance is a death sentence. He refuses the command stating, “No. I will die here.” Benaiah tells this to Solomon. The king instructs Benaiah to give Joab his wish. Benaiah returns to the Tent and strikes Joab dead while he is still grasping the horns. Justice for the murder of Abner and Amasa is finally given on the altar of God.

Shimei: As for Shimei, Solomon confines him to the city of Jerusalem. Shimei gladly consents since the alternative is death. Three years thereafter, two slaves of Shimei run away, and Shimei goes after them. With the terms of the stay of execution having been violated, Solomon instructs Benaiah to go and to kill Shimei. Once again, Benaiah complies and strikes down a threat to Solomon’s rule.

Our saga ends with the words “So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon.” Like the last scene of The Godfather, we can imagine that once Solomon’s reign is secured all the elders of Judah and Israel and all the surrounding kingdoms come, kiss his ring, bow before him, and do obeisance to the new King of Israel.

THE END

In his time shall the righteous flourish; *
   there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more.

Give the King your justice, O God, *
   and your righteousness to the King’s Son;

That he may rule your people righteously *
   and the poor with justice;

That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, *
   and the little hills bring righteousness.

He shall defend the needy among the people; *
   he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.

He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure, *
   from one generation to another.

He shall come down like rain upon the mown field, *
   like showers that water the earth.

Psalm 76: 1-7 (A Psalm of Solomon)

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