David, in our reading today, is at the end of his life and reign, but that doesn’t mean that the excitement is over. The transition from David to the next king turns out to have a few bumps.
As David grows older, his health declines, including difficulty even staying warm. His staff’s solution was a beautiful new wife, who would serve him as a nurse. You might wonder at first why this relatively insignificant detail, taking up only 4 verses, was included in the biblical text; but it does become a key fact by the end of chapter 2.
Adonijah wants to be king, and as in many other arenas of life, he who gets there first wins. Adonijah appears to have known that David’s official selection of a successor to the throne was Solomon; so knowing that David is nearing death, He has to move preemptively to gain the throne. He consulted with Joab (David’s general) and Abiathar (one of the priests acting as high priest) and put together a coronation feast at En-Rogel (just a few hundred yards southeast of the city of David). And to try to make it look official, he invited David’s other sons (with the exception of Solomon) and the leaders of Judah.
This came to the attention of Nathan the prophet who quickly consulted with Bathsheba, Zadok, and David. David quickly orders a separate coronation ceremony that is made to look much more official:
“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. Let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anoint him there as king over Israel, and blow the trumpet and say, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ “Then you shall come up after him, and he shall come and sit on my throne and be king in my place; for I have appointed him to be ruler over Israel and Judah.”” 1 Kings 1:33-35, NAS95.
When Adonijah’s guests heard that David had officially appointed Solomon king, they scattered like cockroaches, when the light is turned on — they understood that attending Adonijah’s shin-dig could easily be seen as treason. Adonijah, realizing that he had lost his bid for the throne, ran to grad hold of the horns of the altar, a traditional way to ask for clemency, which Solomon granted — until Adonijah’s next false move.
Isn’t there a lesson here? Everybody wants to be top dog, but if everybody IS top dog, society and civilization devolves into chaos and anarchy. Usurping authority is not approved by God, whether it is in Adonijah’s case, a children-over-parents case, a wife-over-a-husband case, or a religious leader exceeding his proper limits of authority. Sometimes humility and learning how to follow and obey is where our real duty and the right thing for us lies.
Moving further into the reading today, we don’t know how long Solomon served as king before David finally died, but it was long enough for David to assess the situation and give his son, the king, some sage advice about what was going to be necessary to establish his rule as king. David, quite rightly began with having the right character: “Be strong, show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the LORD.” Many of us might have skipped directly to the politics of things, but David had gained a lot of wisdom of 40 years as king. Don’t neglect the spiritual matters; they are the real guardians of success — if only we’d do it now….
But he also pointed out to Solomon the political necessities to establish himself as king — i.e., effectively cleaning house of those with grudges, divided loyalties, and tendency to be loose cannons. Cleaning house is not easy and usually not pleasant, but it is important — in the world of politics and even in the midst of God’s modern people, the church.
But cleaning house didn’t just drop out of the clear blue sky; Adonijah’s subtle play for the throne, “just” asking for Abishag as a wife, triggered a need for Solomon to definitively put down the treason. As I noted in the story of Absalom and David’s concubines, to have sex with a king’s wife was to claim his throne, and that’s why Solomon’s response to Bathsheba’s naive request to give Abishag to Adonijah was so seemingly abrupt — essentially, “And why not just give him my throne?” This was Adonijah’s attempt to trick a young and inexperienced king our of his throne. It failed miserably and set off a series of events that firmly established Solomon as undisputed king of Israel. By the time the house cleaning was over, Joab had been executed, Abiathar had been fired as high priest and banished from Jerusalem, Shimei son of Gera had been executed, and loyal supporters of put in places of power and support.
The issue of Solomon at Gibeon’s high place — Humans being social beings are often greatly susceptible to popular influence — not that we should be, but it’s the way we’re built. King Saul stopped short of complete obedience, because of popular opinion; and even Solomon was influenced by the popular belief that offering sacrifices just anywhere would be fine, as long as they were offered to the LORD. So, he offered sacrifices to the LORD at Gibeon (recognized widely as “the great high place”). We’ve noted before that the Bible really does tell its stories “fair and balanced”, and this is yet one more example of it.
During the sacrificial ceremonies (he offered 1000 offerings!) Solomon had a dream from the LORD. In this dream God offered to give Solomon anything he wanted — wealth, power, long life, the life of his enemies — and Solomon chose wisdom. God was pleased with this choice and gave him what he asked for and all the rest, too.
We shouldn’t take this gift from God as being tacit approval of his sacrifices — it is specified as a sin in Deut. 12:5ff and Lev. 17:3,5 and is one of the reasons given for Israel’s and Judah’s later exile. An interesting affirmation that Solomon knew this in his heart of hearts is the fact that after this great gift, Solomon returned directly to Jerusalem, where the Tabernacle and the authorized altar of the Lord was located, and made an offering to the LORD there. This clearly demonstrates that Solomon perceived that he needed to repent of his previous sacrifice — that what he had done, popular or not, wasn’t pleasing to the LORD. This has application to popular modern worship, too. Worship is not about polls, not about what everybody else is doing, not about what we think is good or beautiful. Worship is about what pleases the LORD.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.