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David’s Condition In Old Age (1 Kings 1:1-4 ).
The importance of this initial passage lies in the fact, firstly that it indicates the king’s poor state of health, and secondly that it introduces Abishag who will play an important part in what follows. It makes clear exactly what her position was. She was there mainly to keep the king warm, and to look after him, but did not have sexual relations with him. She was, however, seen as his concubine (common wife) as is evident from 1 Kings 2:22. She would probably not have been expected to take up the position otherwise, for her later position would have been untenable.
a Now king David was old and stricken in years, and they covered him with clothes, but he generated no warmth (1 Kings 1:1).
b For which reason his servants said to him, “Let there be sought for my lord the king a young woman, and let her stand before the king, and cherish him” (1 Kings 1:2 a).
c “And let her lie in your bosom, that my lord the king may obtain warmth” (1 Kings 1:2 b).
b So they sought for a beautiful young maiden throughout all the borders of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king (1 Kings 1:3).
a And the damsel was very beautiful, and she cherished the king, and ministered to him, but the king knew her not (had no sexual relations with her) (1 Kings 1:4).
Note that in ‘a’ David needed to be ‘cherished’ (made warm), and in the parallel Abishag did cherish him. In ‘b’ they stated their intent to seek out a young unmarried woman, and in the parallel they sought her out and that young unmarried woman is described. Centrally in ‘c’ her duties are laid out.
1 Kings 1:1
‘ Now king David was old and coming in of days (reaching the end of his life, stricken in years), and they covered him with clothes (or ‘covers, sheets, blankets’), but he generated no warmth.’
The sad state to which David had come is made clear, and while partly due to old age, must surely also have resulted from some illness. For him to have been feeling cold when we consider the heat of the climate must have had some medical condition at the back of it as its cause. He was after all only about seventy years of age. His state, and no doubt his shivering, naturally perturbed his faithful ‘servants’.
1 Kings 1:2
‘ For which reason his servants said to him, “Let there be sought for my lord the king a young woman, and let her stand before the king, and cherish him, and let her lie in your bosom, that my lord the king may obtain warmth.’
His ‘servants’ therefore determined to find for him a young woman to lie close to him and warm him. ‘Bethulah’ does not technically mean a virgin, and for that reason often need to be qualified by the phrase ‘and had not known a man’ where virginity is in mind. (Anath, the sister of Baal, was a bethulah, but could by no means be seen as a virgin. She was a fertility goddess. Compare also the ‘virgin daughter of Babylon’ who was also a widow (Isaiah 47:1; Isaiah 47:9) and see Joel 1:8). Here no doubt a young unmarried woman is indicated, one who was therefore reputedly a virgin as any reputable young unmarried woman in Israel would be expected to be. Her purpose was to be to be in the king’s presence, to serve his needs, and to lie with him in order to warm him. She was thus more than an attendant. She was a concubine wife.
To ‘obtain warmth’ may well have included the thought of sexual relations if the king wished for it (the Old Testament regularly uses similar euphemisms), but a more physical warmth was undoubtedly the main factor in mind. The king simply could not get warm. This was probably seen as a standard method of keeping the wealthy, who could afford another ‘wife’, warm when they grew old. It is testified to elsewhere, and was experimented with by the famous physician Galen. In fact the poor also no doubt regularly ‘cuddled up’ with other members of the family so as to keep warm on cold nights, while preserving decency. It was only more unusual for kings, for they usually had other means of keeping warm.
“His servants.” This is a term which can have a wide variety of meaning from signifying high court officials, to signifying king’s physicians, personal servants, the common people, or bondslaves, depending on the context All were servants to the king. Here it is probably high court officials who are in mind, although the king’s personal servants may be included.
1 Kings 1:3
‘ So they sought for a beautiful young maiden throughout all the borders of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king.’
They sought throughout the kingdom for a suitable beautiful young woman, and chose a Shunammite named Abishag. There is no indication anywhere that she was connected with the Shunammite in the Song of Solomon, but the parallel may suggest that the Shunammites were well known for their beauty, as well as being the kind who could keep a king warm. Shunem was eleven kilometres (seven miles) south east of Nazareth in the territory of Issachar.
1 Kings 1:4
‘ And the damsel was very beautiful, and she cherished the king, and ministered to him, but the king knew her not (had no sexual relations with her).’
Note how the beauty of the young woman is stressed, which appears to be in contrast to the fact that ‘the king knew her not’ (had no sexual relations with her). It certainly stresses how ill the king was, and some have suggested that it was a virility test in order to indicate his state of health. In other countries failure in such a test could result in the king being deposed, or replaced by a regent, but there is no hint of that in this case. There is no suggestion that Solomon was crowned because David had failed a virility test. He was crowned in order to counteract Adonijah’s attempted coup. Thus his lack of sexual activity was simply an indication of his failing condition. But it does possibly explain why Adonijah saw Abishag as still available to be his wife on the grounds that David had not had sexual relations with her (although David’s sons do not appear to have been too fussy about such things).
The main importance of all this was firstly in order to emphasise the king’s poor health, and secondly in order to prepare for Abishag’s part in what was coming. But it is also a reminder to us that even in such a situation God looks after His own servants in His own way and makes provision for each of them according to their need.
SECTION 1. The Last Days Of David (1:1-2:12).
The ‘and’ with which the book begins is clearly intended to link the book to the earlier books. The writer wanted it to be seen that he was carrying on the sacred history of YHWH. And he commenced his narrative by describing the events which established the kingship of Solomon, the one whom God especially loved (2 Samuel 12:24-25), as David’s life was coming to its close. But there is no direct continuation of any previous incident in Samuel. The ‘and’ is very general. What he was about to describe were the necessary events that would lead up to Solomon’s coronation. There are no real grounds for suggesting that 2 Samuel 11-20 were specifically a ‘succession narrative’ which is being rounded off here, even though what they describe may possibly, at least theoretically, have affected the succession. For the writer of Samuel the stories of Amnon and Absalom had more to do with the consequences of David’s gross sins being reflected in his sons than with explaining a succession which was already clear in his mind, although undoubtedly any death of a king’s son would appear to some extent to affect the succession. But the chapters certainly do not read like a succession narrative might be expected to read, while they do very much read like a judgment on David’s sins, and in fact the Book of Samuel almost certainly saw Solomon as YHWH’s appointed heir from the time of his birth, something which comes out from 2 Samuel 7:12 with 2 Samuel 12:24-25. YHWH could have given no broader hint to David, as David (and probably Absalom and Adonijah) recognised. (A succession narrative may, of course, have been one of his sources, but if so he has carefully selected his material).
a David’s Condition In Old Age And His Association With Abishag (1 Kings 1:1-4).
b Adonijah’s Attempt To Seize The Kingship (1 Kings 1:5-28).
c David Arranges For The Crowning Of Solomon (1 Kings 1:29-40).
b The Conspirators Disperse And Adonijah Obtains Mercy (1 Kings 1:41-53).
a David’s Final Dying Exhortation (1 Kings 2:1-12).
Note that in ‘a’ David is clearly dying, and in the parallel we have hid dying exhortation. In ‘b’ Adonijah seeks to seize the kingship, and in the parallel he obtains mercy from the true king. Centrally in ‘c’ we have the crowning of YHWH’s chosen king.
The chapter begins with the delineation of the king’s sad situation, and what was done about it, and continues by describing Adonijah’s attempt at a pre-emptive coup carried out in a way which makes quite clear that he knew in his heart that Solomon was destined to be king, something which resulted in Solomon himself being crowned at David’s command. Adonijah then sought, and was granted, Solomon’s pardon.
Adonijah’s Attempted Coup About Which Nathan The Prophet Warns David (1 Kings 1:5-28 ).
There can be no doubt that Adonijah was here making an attempt to become king, knowing perfectly well that it would not meet with David’s initial approval, and aware that David really saw Solomon as his heir. His hope was presumably that once it had become an accomplished fact and had gained the approval of the people David would become reconciled to it. All this is brought out when we peruse the names of those who were not invited to his feast, for those who were excluded were those who were closest to the king and would want to see that his will was done, while the only one who was excluded of the king’s sons was Solomon, a significant fact in itself. It was a pre-emptive strike which was being attempted in view of the king’s illness, but it was mainly nipped in the bud as a result of Nathan’s astuteness.
Adonijah had no real grounds for thinking that he was especially due to inherit the throne, apart possibly from considering the example of nations round about. There was no established tradition in Israel’s history which could have caused him to expect it. And it is significant that at no stage is he said to have sought the will of YHWH about it. It was simply that, as often happened in the Ancient Near East, he considered that there was a vacancy and was determined to make a push in order to obtain it, and this because no official declaration had been made. And he did it even though he knew what the king’s real intentions were.
It will be noted that he was supported in his endeavour by Joab, commander of the armies of all Israel (but not of David’s bodyguard and of the mighty men in Jerusalem), Abiathar, who was probably High Priest at the Tabernacle at Hebron/Gibeon in contrast with Zadok who presided at the Sacred Tent in Jerusalem, and the leading people of Judah, who were seen as separate from the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Jerusalem being David’s private possession. His support was thus from outside Jerusalem. Within a certain area he was the popular candidate, and we may note that it was the people of Judah who had initially supported Absalom, who now supported Adonijah.
It will be noted that the people invited were all ones whose absence would not necessarily be noticed by the king. The king’s close attendants were excluded.
In contrast Solomon was supported by Nathan, the prophet of YHWH in Jerusalem, Zadok, the High Priest in Jerusalem, Benaiah the commander of the king’s bodyguard, and the mighty men who lived in Jerusalem. It would have required huge popular support from all Israel (which Adonijah may have felt that he could obtain) to supplant such a powerful combination.
a Then Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king,” and he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him (1 Kings 1:5).
b And his father had not crossed him at any time in saying, “Why have you done so?”, and he was also a very goodly (well built and handsome) man, and he was born after Absalom (1 Kings 1:6).
c And he conferred with Joab the son of Zeruiah, and with Abiathar the priest, and they, following Adonijah, helped him. But Zadok the priest, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and Nathan the prophet, and Shimei, and Rei, and the mighty men who belonged to David, were not with Adonijah (1 Kings 1:7-8).
d And Adonijah slew sheep and oxen and fatlings by the stone of Zoheleth, which is beside En-rogel, and he called all his brothers, the king’s sons, and all the men of Judah, the king’s servants, but Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah, and the mighty men, and Solomon his brother, he did not call (1 Kings 1:9-10).
e Then Nathan spoke to Bath-sheba the mother of Solomon, saying, “Have you not heard that Adonijah the son of Haggith reigns, and David our lord does not know it? Now therefore come, let me, I pray you, give you counsel, that you may save your own life, and the life of your son Solomon (1 Kings 1:11-12).
f “Go and get yourself in to king David, and say to him, “Did not you, my lord, O king, swear to your handmaid, saying, “Assuredly Solomon your son will reign after me, and he will sit upon my throne? Why then does Adonijah reign? Look, while you are yet talking there with the king, I also will come in after you, and confirm your words.” And Bath-sheba went in to the king into the inner chamber, and the king was very old, and Abishag the Shunammite was ministering to the king. And Bath-sheba bowed, and did obeisance to the king. And the king said, “What is your desire?”
g And she said to him, “My lord, you swore by YHWH your God to your handmaid, saying, “Assuredly Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he will sit upon my throne” (1 Kings 1:15-17).
h “And now, see, Adonijah reigns, and you, my lord the king, do not know it, and he has slain oxen and fatlings and sheep in abundance, and has called all the sons of the king, and Abiathar the priest, and Joab the captain of the host, but Solomon your servant he has not called” (1 Kings 1:18-19).
g “And as for you, my lord the king, the eyes of all Israel are on you, that you might tell them who will sit on the throne of my lord the king after him, otherwise it will be that, when my lord the king shall sleep with his fathers, I and my son Solomon shall be counted offenders (1 Kings 1:20-21).
f And, lo, while she yet talked with the king, Nathan the prophet came in. And they told the king, saying, “See, Nathan the prophet.” And when he was come in before the king, he bowed himself before the king with his face to the ground” (1 Kings 1:22-23)
e And Nathan said, “My lord, O king, have you said, ‘Adonijah shall reign after me, and he shall sit upon my throne?’ ” (1 Kings 1:24).
d “For he is gone down this day, and has slain oxen and fatlings and sheep in abundance, and has called all the king’s sons, and the captains of the host, and Abiathar the priest, and, behold, they are eating and drinking before him, and say, ‘Long live king Adonijah’.” (1 Kings 1:25).
c “But me, even me your servant, and Zadok the priest, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and your servant Solomon, has he not called” (1 Kings 1:26).
b “Is this thing done by my lord the king, and you have not shown it to your servants who should sit on the throne of my lord the king after him?” (1 Kings 1:27).
a Then king David answered and said, “Call to me Bath-sheba.” And she came into the king’s presence, and stood before the king (1 Kings 1:28).
Note that in ‘a’ Adonijah made a great open display, and declared publicly that he would be king, while in the parallel it was Bathsheba who was privately called into the king’s presence by the king. In ‘b’ David was too easy about his son’s behaviour, and in the parallel Nathan questioned whether all this meant that David has acted on his son’s behalf behind his servants’ backs. In ‘c’ Nathan, Benaiah and Zadok were not invited to Adonijah’s feast, and in the parallel Nathan gives precisely this information to the king. In ‘d’ the details of the feast are described and the details given of those who were not called, and in the parallel the details of the feast are described and the details of those who were called. In ‘e’ Nathan declared that ‘Adonijah reigns’, and in the parallel asked David if he had said that Adonijah should reign. In ‘f’ Nathan said that while Bathsheba was with the king telling him about the situation he would come in, and Bathsheba then went in and did obeisance to the king, and in the parallel he did come in, and he also did obeisance to the king. In ‘g’ Bathsheba reminded David that he had sworn that her son Solomon would reign and would sit on the throne, and in the parallel she called on him to tell Israel who was to sit on the throne, and pointed out that she and Solomon were in danger of becoming seen as ‘offenders’ (traitors). Centrally in ‘g’ the whole current situation is described.
1 Kings 1:5
‘ Then Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king,” and he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him.’
Having determined to become king, Adonijah’s first step towards obtaining the kingship was to improve on what Absalom had done before him and prepare for himself chariots (in the plural) and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him (compare 2 Samuel 15:1). This should in itself have been seen as a danger signal to all concerned. He was seeking to win the people of Jerusalem over by his magnificence and open authority. The ‘fifty’ men (a small military unit) would also act as his bodyguard, and be the foundation for his attempt on the kingdom.
1 Kings 1:6
‘ And his father had not crossed him at any time in saying, “Why have you done so?”, and he was also a very goodly (well built and handsome) man, and he was born after Absalom.’
The fact that David had foolishly not questioned his intentions when he had done this had probably encouraged him. A wise word from David might well have nipped his action in the bud. But David seems to have been unable to bring himself to discipline his sons. And Adonijah was further encouraged in his ambitions by his good looks, and by the fact that he was now the eldest son (Chileab (2 Samuel 3:3) had probably died in childhood as he is never again mentioned), even though there was no precedent in Israel for the eldest son becoming king. Notice the likeness to the case of Absalom who had also depended on his good looks and had been the eldest surviving son (2 Samuel 14:25; compare 1 Samuel 16:7).
1 Kings 1:7
‘ And he conferred with Joab the son of Zeruiah, and with Abiathar the priest, and they, following Adonijah, helped him.’
So he began to sound out what support he could raise, and was no doubt delighted to discover that both Joab, the commander-in-chief of the army of Israel, and Abiathar, one of the High Priests, were prepared to support him. Joab was probably aware that he was out of favour with David over the affairs of Abner and Amasa, and was also not in Solomon’s favour, and was as ever trying to establish his own position. Abiathar was possibly won over by Adonijah’s grandeur, or even by the promise that he would be given precedence over Zadok, the other High Priest. He was probably aware that Solomon favoured Zadok, the High Priest in Jerusalem (compare 2 Samuel 15:24). Note how Zadok is always named before Abiathar (2 Samuel 8:17; 2 Samuel 15:24; 2 Samuel 20:25). Both Joab and Abiathar had their main spheres of influence outside Jerusalem, Joab being over the host of Israel/|Judah and Abiathar being Priest at the Tabernacle.
1 Kings 1:8
‘ But Zadok the priest, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and Nathan the prophet, and Shimei, and Rei, and the mighty men who belonged to David, were not with Adonijah.’
However, Zadok the other High Priest, Benaiah the captain of the king’s bodyguard, Nathan the prophet who had been so faithful to David, Shimei (probably the son of Elah mentioned in 1 Kings 4:18, who would later be one of Solomon’s twelve administrators), Rei (unknown, but apparently important) and the mighty men did not support him. Elah and Rei were clearly important officials in Jerusalem. Had Adonijah known it, this was the death knell to his hopes. Benaiah, over the king’s bodyguard, and the mighty men, who were the main officers over the standing army, represented the power base present in Jerusalem which had always upheld David. They were a formidable combination. With this in mind Adonijah’s only hope was to speedily win the confidence and support of the people outside Jerusalem by a coup. This was now what he attempted to do.
Nathan the prophet followed in the line of prophets who in Israel had great influence (Deuteronomy 18:15-22; Judges 6:8-10; 1Sa 3:20 ; 1 Samuel 19:24; 1 Samuel 22:5; 1Sa 28:6 ; 2 Samuel 7:2; 2 Samuel 12:25; 2 Samuel 24:11). They were the spokesmen of YHWH and the king’s conscience, and even ‘evil’ kings listened to them, although they did not always do what they said. Other nations had ‘prophets’ but they did not have the same status as those in Israel. This sidelining of Nathan by Adonijah was a clear indication that Adonijah was not seeking the will of YHWH. He was thus minimising the importance of the covenant. And it is this fact that underlies this first chapter of Kings, that YHWH finally ensured that the man of His choice became king.
In spite of the feelings of some there are no firm grounds for suggesting that Zadok was connected with the Canaanite priesthood that had previously been operative in Jerusalem, an idea fostered on the grounds that zdk appeared in such names as Melchi-zedek (Genesis 14:0). But the word zdk (‘righteousness’) was in common use in Israel, and the names Zadok and Zedekiah were common Hebrew names. Furthermore Zadok is only ever (and continually) connected with the ancient priesthood of Israel (see 1 Samuel 2:35; 2Sa 8:17 ; 1 Chronicles 6:12; 1 Chronicles 6:53; 1 Chronicles 18:16; Ezra 7:2; Nehemiah 11:11; Ezekiel 40:46). In fact, if anyone was to take over the Canaanite high priesthood of Jerusalem it would have been David as the king-priest, and he probably did in fact take the title of ‘priest after the order of Melchizedek’ (Psalms 110:4), as well as also appointing his sons as ‘priests’ (2 Samuel 8:18 - probably official ‘intercessory priests’). In view of the indications apparent from David’s inability to make the Tent in Jerusalem the Central Sanctuary in spite of the presence within it of the Ark (for the Central Sanctuary continued to be maintained first at Hebron and then at Gibeon), it is clear that there must have been a strong current of feeling among the people outside Jerusalem against seeing Jerusalem as the Central Sanctuary (many consider that Solomon composed the Song of Solomon in order to try to legitimise it among countryfolk). They would certainly not, therefore, at this stage have countenanced a High Priest who was not a true Israelite and descendant from Aaron, and there is no hint of it anywhere in the narrative.
1 Kings 1:9-10
‘ And Adonijah slew sheep and oxen and fatlings by the stone of Zoheleth, which is beside En-rogel, and he called all his brothers, the king’s sons, and all the men of Judah, the king’s servants, but Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah, and the mighty men, and Solomon his brother, he did not call.’
With the intention of pre-empting the matter of the kingship Adonijah held a great feast at the stone of Zoheleth (‘the serpent’s stone’, or ‘stone of slipping’), which was at En-rogel (‘the spy’s fountain’ or ‘the fuller’s fountain’ or ‘the spring of the stream’), to which he invited all the king’s sons (who thus appear to have favoured his becoming king) apart from Solomon, and all the prominent men (the king’s servants) of Judah (or possibly the Judean military leaders). He was clearly aware that Solomon was the heir apparent, and that Solomon was supported by the mighty men and the establishment in Jerusalem because he was David’s choice. Adonijah’s idea would appear to have been the obtaining of the kingship by popular acclamation in Judah while David was out of action without any thought as to whether it was the will of YHWH. If he could turn the tide in his favour it would be difficult for a sick David to repudiate it.
The purpose of the feast was in order that men might demonstrate their loyalty to Adonijah, and their oneness with him in his endeavour, by eating together, so cementing their union. The hope then being that all Israel would hear and respond. It was not necessarily a sacrificial meal. The slaughter of sheep and oxen could take place without their being sacrificed as long as the proper ritual was observed (compare Deuteronomy 12:20-25; 1 Samuel 14:33-34). The exclusion of Solomon was an act of open hostility, and a declaration of the fact that he was not seeking to make peace with him. Refusal of hospitality had great significance in the Ancient Near East. There is thus no doubt that he saw Solomon as his only rival.
En-rogel was just outside Jerusalem, some 200 metres (650 yards) south of where the Valleys of Hinnom and Kidron met (Joshua 15:7-8). It was on the borders of Judah and Benjamin from where he clearly hoped to gain his main support. It is known today as Job’s well.
1 Kings 1:11
‘ Then Nathan spoke to Bath-sheba the mother of Solomon, saying, “Have you not heard that Adonijah the son of Haggith reigns, and David our lord does not know it?”
Meanwhile news of what Adonijah was attempting to do inevitably arrived in Jerusalem, but it took a brave man to do something about it, for if Adonijah succeeded in his attempt to become king such a person knew that he would be a marked man. And that brave man was Nathan, the prophet of YHWH. He was apparently aware of the sworn promises that David had made to Bathsheba that Solomon was to be the heir (1 Kings 1:13), and himself knew of YHWH’s special seal put on Solomon at his birth (2 Samuel 12:25). Furthermore when YHWH had declared His covenant to David it had been in respect of a son yet to be born (1 Chronicles 22:7-10). Nathan also knew that David never broke his sworn oath. Thus he would see himself as, by his action, seeking to bring about the will of YHWH. That is why he approached Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, and asked her if she had heard that Adonijah had pronounced himself as prospective king without the knowledge of David. His pointed description of Adonijah as ‘the son of Haggith’ (Bathsheba would know very well whose son he was) may indicate that there was a certain antagonistic rivalry between Haggith and Bathsheba. Note the reference to Bathsheba’s possible prospective death in 1 Kings 1:12.
1 Kings 1:12
‘ Now therefore come, let me, I pray you, give you counsel, that you may save your own life, and the life of your son Solomon.’
He then urged her to listen to his advice if she was to avoid certain death for herself and Solomon at the hands of Adonijah. He knew that Adonijah could never allow Solomon to live once he had taken the throne simply because so many knew that Solomon was David’s choice as heir, and Adonijah had in fact indicated his hostile intentions by excluding Solomon from his list of invited guests. While Solomon was alive Adonijah would know that his throne could never be secure, and it was common practise among ancient kings to liquidate their near rivals once they had become king.
1 Kings 1:13
‘ Go and get yourself in to king David, and say to him, “Did not you, my lord, O king, swear to your handmaid, saying, “Assuredly Solomon your son will reign after me, and he will sit upon my throne? Why then does Adonijah reign?” ’
Nathan then urged Bathsheba to go to the sick king and point out that David had sworn that Solomon would be his heir and would reign after him and sit on the throne, and to ask him if he was aware of Adonijah’s attempt on the throne.
“ Look, while you are yet talking there with the king, I also will come in after you, and confirm your words.”
Then he promised that while she was thus speaking with the king, he himself would enter and confirm her words. Thus would the king know that these were not just the hysterical fears of a woman and mother. It is apparent that Nathan was acting in order that the king might be crowned whom he knew to have been appointed by YHWH (2 Samuel 12:24-25), but that he recognised that the reminder to the king about his oath came best from the person to whom he had made it and who could thus vouch for it.
1 Kings 1:15
‘ And Bath-sheba went in to the king into the inner chamber, and the king was very old, and Abishag the Shunammite was ministering to the king.’
So Bathsheba approached the inner chambers of the sick king. She would be one of the few who had easy access. We are then reminded that the king was very old, and that he was being ministered to by Abishag. It is noteworthy that Abishag was permitted to be present at all the audiences sought with the king, even though, when Nathan arrived, Bathsheba was excluded. Abishag’s relationship with the king was clearly very close, with the result that she was therefore privy to all the state’s secrets. All would see her as one of his wife-concubines, and we can therefore see why later Solomon took Adonijah’s attempt to marry her as a political move. He had after all good reason to be suspicious of Adonijah.
1 Kings 1:16
‘ And Bath-sheba bowed, and did obeisance to the king. And the king said, “What is your desire?” ’
In spite of her position Bathsheba had to make a formal approach. And when she entered the inner chamber she bowed and did obeisance. It was thus more than a curtsey, but possibly not the full length obeisance required from others. The king then asked her what it was that she wanted.
1 Kings 1:17
‘ And she said to him, “My lord, you swore by YHWH your God to your handmaid, saying, “Assuredly Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he will sit upon my throne.” ’
Bathsheba then reminded the king that he had sworn by YHWH his God that Solomon would rule after him, and would sit on his throne. The serious form of the oath excludes the idea that Bathsheba was making it up. To have suggested this, had it not been true, would have been high treason.
1 Kings 1:18-19
‘ And now, see, Adonijah reigns, and you, my lord the king, do not know it, and he has slain oxen and fatlings and sheep in abundance, and has called all the sons of the king, and Abiathar the priest, and Joab the captain of the host, but Solomon your servant he has not called.”
She then explained why she was disturbed. It was because Adonijah was basically taking the co-regency for himself, without the king’s knowledge, and had made clear his intentions by a special feast to which he had called all those who were supporting his cause, including all the sons of the king apart from Solomon. This latter fact was pregnant with significance, as David would immediately realise. He was not senile. The special mention of Abiathar and Joab would also make clear who was not supporting him (Nathan, Zadok and Benaiah).
1 Kings 1:20
‘ And as for you, my lord the king, the eyes of all Israel are on you, that you might tell them who will sit on the throne of my lord the king after him.’
Then she urged him to make the true position about who was to succeed him crystal clear, in view of the fact that all Israel were awaiting his instruction as to who should be his heir, and be king after him.
1 Kings 1:21
‘ Otherwise it will come about that, when my lord the king shall sleep with his fathers, I and my son Solomon shall be counted offenders.’
And she drew attention to Adonijah’s clear indication that once he became king, and David was dead, Solomon, and therefore his mother, would be liquidated as ‘offenders, lawbreakers, sinners’ (those who missed the mark). In other words some technicality would be utilised so as to put them to death. She was thus playing on the affection and loyalty that she knew that David had for her, and for all his sons, including Solomon. We must not play down the situation. She was fully aware that she and Solomon (the one whom YHWH loved and to whom He had given a special, unique name - 2 Samuel 12:24-25) undoubtedly faced elimination if Adonijah became king.
The description of death as ‘sleeping with his fathers’ theoretically meant being placed in the family tomb. But it had become just a loose way of describing death. David would not in fact be placed in his family tomb, any more than Ahab would be, of whom the same thing could be said (1 Kings 22:37).
1 Kings 1:22-23
‘ And, lo, while she yet talked with the king, Nathan the prophet came in. And they told the king, saying, “See, Nathan the prophet.” And when he was come in before the king, he bowed himself before the king with his face to the ground.”
While Bathsheba was talking with David he was informed that Nathan had come to see him. Such an important visitor had to be given preference and at this point Bathsheba was required to leave (1 Kings 1:28), prior to Nathan being invited in to David’s inner chamber. David recognised the right of Nathan to both precedence and privacy (apart that is from the presence of Abishag). And when Nathan came in he bowed himself before the king with his face to the ground. Even prophets had to abase themselves before the king when on normal visits.
1 Kings 1:24
‘ And Nathan said, “My lord, O king, have you said, ‘Adonijah shall reign after me, and he shall sit upon my throne?’ ”
Nathan then asked the king to confirm whether it was genuinely his intention that Adonijah would reign after him, and sit on his throne, and whether he had actually stated the fact?
“ For he is gone down this day, and has slain oxen and fatlings and sheep in abundance, and has called all the king’s sons, and the captains of the host, and Abiathar the priest, and, behold, they are eating and drinking before him, and say, ‘Long live king Adonijah.’.”
Then he explained that Adonijah was giving precisely that impression. Did David know that ‘this day’ he had gone down and had slain oxen, fatlings and sheep, and had invited the king’s sons, the captains of the host of Israel, and Abiathar the Priest, to a feast. And they were eating and drinking in his presence and saying, ‘Let king Adonijah live’, which was a regular way of acclaiming a new king. The idea of ‘live’ was of a full and successful life, not simply of a long life.
“ But me, even me your servant, and Zadok the priest, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and your servant Solomon, has he not called.”
He also explained that as well as Solomon, he, Zadok and Benaiah had not been called to the feast. Was this also of the king?
“ Is this thing done by my lord the king, and you have not shown it to your servants who should sit on the throne of my lord the king after him?”
Then he politely asked the king whether this thing had been done by the king himself. Was it that he had simply omitted to tell his servants what he was doing, and had failed to inform them who it was who was to sit on his throne after him? The implication was, ‘or was there more to it than that?’ He was probably perfectly well satisfied in his own mind that David knew nothing about it, but that was not for him to say. That was for the king to say.
1 Kings 1:28
‘ Then king David answered and said, “Call to me Bath-sheba.” And she came into the king’s presence, and stood before the king.’
David’s reply was quick and firm. Let his servants call Bathsheba to come back into his presence. And the result was that Bathsheba came back into his presence and stood before the king.
A major lesson behind this story lies in the warning it gives against the dangers of prevarication. If David had only made his intentions known earlier all this might never have happened. But while he himself knew that Solomon was YHWH’s choice as king he had failed to make that clear to His people or establish him as his heir. (Like many powerful men he did not want to appear unable to fulfil his responsibilities, and did not therefore wish to delegate supreme power to anyone else). And where a vacuum is left, someone or something will always come in to fill it. We should therefore learn from this that, once we know the will of God, we should put it into effect and make sure that all know about it. For if we delay we can be certain that something that is not the will of God will take its place. And that will cause problems for everyone.
David Repeats His Oath To Bathsheba And Arranges For The Anointing And Crowning Of Solomon (1 Kings 1:29-40 ).
What David has learned had got the adrenalin flowing in his old body and had awoken him out of his lethargic state with the result that he confirmed his vow to Bathsheba and then called on his faithful servants Zadok the Priest, Nathan the Prophet, and Benaiah, commander of the king’s bodyguard, to arrange for the anointing and coronation of Solomon in all splendour. Such short term stirrings can often happen in old or sick people when something particular arouses their interest or concern. They then shortly lapse back into their old lethargic state. But it was enough to ensure that YHWH’s will was done, and that Solomon became king after David.
a And the king swore, and said, “As YHWH lives, who has redeemed my soul out of all adversity, truly as I swore to you by YHWH, the God of Israel, saying, “Assuredly Solomon your son will reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne in my stead, truly so will I do this day” (1 Kings 1:29-30).
b Then Bath-sheba bowed with her face to the earth, and did obeisance to the king, and said, “Let my lord king David live for ever.” And king David said,” Call to me Zadok the priest, and Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada.” And they came before the king (1 Kings 1:31-32).
c And the king said to them, “Take with you the servants of your lord, and cause Solomon my son to ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon, and let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anoint him there king over Israel, and blow you the ram’s horn, and say, “Long live king Solomon” (1 Kings 1:33-34).
d “Then you shall come up after him, and he will come and sit on my throne, for he will be king in my place, and I have appointed him to be prince over Israel and over Judah” (1 Kings 1:35).
c And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada answered the king, and said, “Amen, YHWH, the God of my lord the king, say so too. As YHWH has been with my lord the king, even so may he be with Solomon, and make his throne greater than the throne of my lord king David” (1 Kings 1:36-37).
b So Zadok the priest, and Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites, went down, and caused Solomon to ride on king David’s mule, and brought him to Gihon (1 Kings 1:38).
a And Zadok the priest took the horn of oil out of the Tent, and anointed Solomon. And they blew the ram’s horn, and all the people said, “Let king Solomon live.” And all the people came up after him, and the people piped with pipes, and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth rent with the sound of them” (1 Kings 1:39-40).
Note than in ‘a’ David’s assertion was that Solomon would reign, and in the parallel Solomon was anointed and announced as king. In ‘b’ Zadok, Nathan and Abiathar were called for with a view to the coronation, and in the parallel it was they who caused Solomon to ride on the king’s mule and brought him to Gihon. In ‘c’ Solomon was to be made to ride on the king’s mule, and was to be anointed and hailed as king, and in the parallel Benaiah prayed that Solomon as king would be even greater than David. Centrally in ‘d’ Solomon was to sit on the throne in David’s place and was to be prince (nagid) over Israel and Judah.
1 Kings 1:29-30
‘ And the king swore, and said, “As YHWH lives, who has redeemed my life (soul) out of all adversity, truly as I swore to you by YHWH, the God of Israel, saying, “Assuredly Solomon your son will reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne in my stead, truly so will I do this day.” ’
Once Bathsheba came back into David’s presence he swore to her by the living vitality of YHWH that what he had sworn to her would be done. The oath was strengthened by his indication that YHWH was the One Who had redeemed his life out of all adversity, and was thus of prime significance to him. The idea of ‘redemption’ always involves some ‘cost’ being involved. The idea was that YHWH had expended His energy on David’s behalf, as against others, at some cost to Himself, and in spite of David’s unworthiness and undeserving.
And he confirmed that what he had sworn was that Solomon would reign after him, and would sit on his throne in his place, and that he would ensure that it would happen that very day.
1 Kings 1:31
‘ Then Bath-sheba bowed with her face, to the earth, and did obeisance to the king, and said, “Let my lord king David live for ever.”
At his words Bathsheba, no doubt both grateful and relieved, bowed with her face to the earth and did obeisance to the king, crying, “Let my lord king David live for ever.” In view of his advanced age and medical condition her words may well simply be seen as the kind of platitude expected by the king, but she may have also been intending to convey her hope for the everlasting continuance of his house (initially through her son) as a reminder of YHWH’s covenant with him.
1 Kings 1:32
‘ And king David said,” Call to me Zadok the priest, and Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada.” And they came before the king.’
Then David told her to call to him the powers in Jerusalem, Zadok, the Priest in Jerusalem, serving at the Tent containing the Ark, Nathan the prophet who was the king’s close adviser and conscience, and Benaiah, the son of Jehoiada, who commanded David’s large bodyguard and his standing army. And they came in before the king.
1 Kings 1:33-34
‘ And the king said to them, “Take with you the servants of your lord, and cause Solomon my son to ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon, and let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anoint him there king over Israel, and blow you the ram’s horn, and say, “Long live king Solomon.” ’
Then he gave instructions that they were to take with them the high officials of the court and his own personal bodyguard (‘the servants of your lord’), and were to cause Solomon to ride on his own mule. This last would in itself indicate the favour of the king. No one could ride the king’s mule without the king’s express permission. The mule was the favourite peace time mount of the king and his sons (compare Judges 5:10; Jdg 10:4 ; 2 Samuel 13:29; 2 Samuel 18:9; Zechariah 9:9), and indeed riding on horseback was probably still not practised in Israel at this time. Horses were seen as for pulling chariots. (It was Solomon who would introduce cavalry - 1 Kings 10:26).
Then, mounted on the king’s mule, they were to bring Solomon to the spring Gihon (‘gusher’, and thus an intermittent spring), and there he was to be anointed as king over Israel by the two prime representatives of YHWH, at which point the ram’s horn would be blown and the cry go out, “Let King Solomon live”. In other words let him enjoy fullness of life. The High Priest would perform the actual anointing, but the involvement of the combination of High Priest and acknowledged Prophet in the anointing by YHWH would confirm to the people that here was YHWH’s choice for the kingship. The blowing of a ram’s horn would indicate that a significant official event was taking place.
The main idea behind anointing was of being totally separated to YHWH and set apart for Him. Both the priests (Exodus 29:7; Exodus 29:21) and the Tabernacle furniture and instruments (Exodus 30:30) were anointed. The king thus by this became ‘the Anointed of YHWH’ and therefore sacrosanct. It signified that he was a vassal of YHWH, and therefore under His protection. The Pharaohs are known to have anointed vassal kings, as did all Great Kings, but they themselves were not anointed. Thus Solomon was being seen as a vassal king of YHWH.
There are no real grounds for thinking that it necessarily indicated an enduement with power, although such an enduement would be expected to accompany it in certain circumstances, simply because if the anointing was done at the command of God in preparation for some special duty, any power required would necessarily be provided (thus we find such a combination in 1 Samuel 16:13). Where God sets men apart to a task requiring such power He would also endue where necessary, but it will be noted that God’s special gift to Solomon of wisdom comes well after his anointing. It was not given at his anointing.
The spring Gihon was in the upper part of the Kidron valley under the northern section of the Jebusite fortress of Jerusalem. It is also mentioned in 2 Chronicles 32:30; 2 Chronicles 33:14 and was the spring the water from which was carried within the fortress by the tunnel which was probably excavated by Hezekiah’s men in preparation for the siege by Assyria (2 Kings 20:20). ‘Running water’ (literally ‘everflowing stream’) was seen as important in Israel (compare Deuteronomy 21:4). It indicated a place of life, and of fruitfulness from YHWH. It was also important that the anointing took place in a public place with many witnesses so as to ensure public acclamation, and that could always be guaranteed at a prominent spring.
“ Then you shall come up after him, and he will come and sit on my throne, for he will be king in my place, and I have appointed him to be prince over Israel and over Judah.”
Once the anointing was completed they were to come up with Solomon to the throne room, and there Solomon was to sit on his throne, indicating that he was king in David’s place, i.e. acting initially as his co-regent. This would indicate to all that David had appointed him as Nagid (war-leader, prince) over Israel and Judah. Nagid was the term that had been applied to both Saul and David. It was a title that indicated that the true king (melek) was YHWH, and that they were His servants. Once this enthronement had taken place at the king’s command the matter would be settled. If Adonijah now continued with his attempt to gain the throne, what had initially been a bold but not illegal attempt to assert his position would become high treason.
1 Kings 1:36-37
‘ And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada answered the king, and said, “Amen, YHWH, the God of my lord the king, say so too. As YHWH has been with my lord the king, even so may he be with Solomon, and make his throne greater than the throne of my lord king David.”
Benaiah then made clear his agreement with the king, and expressed his desire that YHWH would see things in the same way as David did, and conjoin His voice with David’s, adding to it his desire that YHWH would be with Solomon as He had been with David, and would make him even greater than his father had been.
“Amen.” Compare Deuteronomy 27:15 ff. This was expressing an oath of loyalty on behalf of his men. A similar word was used by Hittite soldiers when they swore their oath of loyalty.
1 Kings 1:38-39
‘ So Zadok the priest, and Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites, went down, and caused Solomon to ride on king David’s mule, and brought him to Gihon. And Zadok the priest took the horn of oil out of the Tent, and anointed Solomon. And they blew the ram’s horn, and all the people said, “Let king Solomon live.” ’
David’s commands were carried out exactly as David had demanded. The writer repeats the details in order to indicate that this was so. The continual repetitions that will have been noted in this chapter are, however, typical of ancient literature, much of which was designed to be read out in public.
Zadok, the High Priest in Jerusalem, Nathan, the Prophet, and Benaiah and the king’s bodyguard made a powerful combination and they did precisely what David asked. They caused Solomon to ride on the king’s own mule, brought him to Gihon, arranged for Zadok as YHWH’s High Priest to anoint him with a horn of oil taken from the sacred Tent in Jerusalem, (a horn which would be reserved for anointings), and blew the ram’s horn, the indication that an important official event was taking place. Solomon’s coronation was now official and public. And at the sounding of the ram’s horn all the people cried out, “Let king Solomon live.” The indication from all this was that YHWH’s will was being done.
The ‘Cherethi and Pelethi’ may simply indicate ‘David’s men’ who had been with him in Gath, (as supplemented by their successors who may well have been their sons), and who had lived for some time in ‘the Negev of the Cherethi’ (compare 1 Samuel 30:14), thus being seen as Cherethites. Some see the terms as indicating Philistine mercenaries, but if that is so what happened to David’s own faithful men, his ‘six hundred’? Some consider that the term Cherethi may indicate those who had come from Crete (although not necessarily native Cretans) but if so the term had clearly become connected with the land of Canaan as the above indicates. The derivation of the term Pelethites is uncertain. Some have argued that the philisti were made into the pelethi in order to rhyme with cherethi, but this does not sound very convincing. However, cherethi and pelethi may in fact simply indicate the ‘executioners and runners (i.e. messengers)’ (of the king), thus emphasising two of the main functions of his bodyguard. This is the last mention of them in Kings. Under this description they appear to have had a personal loyalty to David.
“All the people.” Word would soon pass around about what was happening and the result was that the local people quickly gathered, leaving their work in order to join in with such important celebrations.
“ And all the people came up after him, and the people piped with pipes, and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth shook (rent) with the sound of them.”
Then they all went back up into Jerusalem, and the people came up after them, and the people played on their pipes, no doubt hastily collected from their houses, and they greatly rejoiced to such an extent that the earth shook (‘rent’, i.e. behaved as though there was an earthquake). This very fact indicated the large number of people who had come together from Jerusalem and its surrounds. It indicated that there could be no doubt about ‘the people’s choice’. This confirmation by the popular voice of the people was a feature of kingship in Israel/Judah (compare 1 Samuel 10:24; 2 Kings 11:12 and the constant connection of ‘the people of the land’ with matters affecting the kingship).
The first thing that we learn from this passage is God’s faithfulness to His promises. What God had promised in 2 Samuel 7:0 had now begun to come about. God’s Kingly Rule was being established in the person of Solomon, and this brought with it the assurance that his line would go on as God had promised, until that glorious day when the everlasting King would come and take His throne. Solomon’s enthronement was a preview of the anointing of the Coming King.
The second lesson that we learn is that if, once we know God’s will, we do it, we will not only bring blessing to ourselves but to everyone connected with us as well.
The third lesson is that nothing can thwart the will of God. Adonijah had tried his best with a view to his own self interest, but in the end God had ensured that, in what mattered most, His will was done. Thus we learn that whatever happens we can rest in the will of God, while at the same time ensuring that we ourselves do all that we can to bring it about. (It would humanly speaking not have happened if David had not stirred himself to action)
The Rebels Learn Of Solomon’s Coronation And Disperse Quietly While Adonijah Seeks Sanctuary At The Altar And Finally Receives Mercy (1 Kings 1:41-53 ).
In view of the silence about the succession those who had gone with Adonijah had not as yet committed any specific offence. They had simply been guilty of presumption. (It was not an attempt to dethrone David, but to make clear who was suitable to be his co-regent). But now that Solomon had been officially anointed as king with the clear confirmation of David himself any further proceedings would have been seen as high treason. Thus on hearing the celebrations from the city, and learning what their significance was, the party broke up. No one wanted to be seen as a traitor. Adonijah, however, no doubt feeling guilty about what he had intended to do to Solomon, fled for sanctuary at the altar, presumably at the Tabernacle (probably by now in Gibeon), for he would not have wanted to take the risk of entering Jerusalem. But Solomon was not seeking vengeance and assured him that as long as he remained fully loyal in the future no harm would come to him.
a And Adonijah and all the guests who were with him heard it as they had made an end of eating. And when Joab heard the sound of the ram’s horn, he said, “What is the cause of this noise of the citadel being in an uproar?” (1 Kings 1:41).
b While he yet spoke, behold, Jonathan the son of Abiathar the priest came, and Adonijah said, “Come in, for you are a worthy man, and bring good tidings” (1 Kings 1:42).
c And Jonathan answered and said to Adonijah, “Truly our lord king David has made Solomon king, and the king has sent with him Zadok the priest, and Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites, and they have caused him to ride on the king’s mule, and Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet have anointed him king in Gihon, and they are come up from there rejoicing, so that the city rang again. This is the noise that you have heard” (1 Kings 1:43-46 a).
d “And also Solomon sits on the throne of the kingdom, and what is more the king’s servants came to bless our lord king David, saying, “Your God make the name of Solomon better than your name, and make his throne greater than your throne” (1 Kings 1:46-47 a).
e And the king bowed himself on the bed (1 Kings 1:47 b).
d And also thus said the king, “Blessed be YHWH, the God of Israel, who has given one to sit on my throne this day, my eyes even seeing it” (1 Kings 1:48).
c And all the guests of Adonijah were afraid, and rose up, and went every man his way. And Adonijah was afraid because of Solomon, and he arose, and went, and caught hold on the horns of the altar (1 Kings 1:49-50).
b And it was told to Solomon, saying, “Behold, Adonijah is afraid king Solomon, for, lo, he has laid hold on the horns of the altar, saying, “Let king Solomon swear to me first that he will not slay his servant with the sword.” And Solomon said, “If he shall show himself a worthy man, there will not a hair of him fall to the earth, but if wickedness be found in him, he shall die” (1 Kings 1:51-52).
a So king Solomon sent, and they brought him down from the altar. And he came and did obeisance to king Solomon, and Solomon said to him, “Go to your house” (1 Kings 1:53).
Note that in ‘a’ Adonijah was supping confidently with his friends and wondered what the uproar in the city was, and in the parallel Adonijah was brought cravenly before the king, having discovered what the uproar was all about. In ‘b’ Jonathan was welcomed by Adonijah as a worthy man, and in the parallel Adonijah learned that as long as he himself was a worthy man he would be allowed to live. In ‘c’ the news of the coronation and of Solomon’s success was announced to the rebels in detail, and in the parallel the result was that the rebels slipped away and Adonijah sought sanctuary at the altar. In ‘d’ the servants of David blessed David because Solomon was now seated on the throne and in the parallel David blessed YHWH because he has lived to ‘see’ one of his house sitting on the throne. Centrally in ‘e’ David on his sick bed had bowed himself before YHWH at the great news, acknowledging that the will of YHWH had been done.
1 Kings 1:41
‘ And Adonijah and all the guests who were with him heard it as they had made an end of eating. And when Joab heard the sound of the ram’s horn, he said, “What is the cause of this noise of the citadel being in an uproar?” ’
The noise being caused by the celebrations was so loud that it reached the ears of Adonijah and his guests as they were coming towards the end of their period of feasting, a period which may have lasted some days. Joab’s trained ear, however, picked out the sound of the ram’s horn. This caused him to make a general query as to what might be going on. Why should the ram’s horn be sounding in the citadel? And why should there be such an uproar there? It was a question to which they all wanted an answer. The word for ‘citadel’ is a rare one, but it was an ancient word for it was also attested at Ugarit.
1 Kings 1:42
‘ While he yet spoke, behold, Jonathan the son of Abiathar the priest came, and Adonijah said, “Come in, for you are a worthy man, and bring good tidings.” ’
But then at that very moment they received the answer to their questions, for Jonathan, Abiathar’s son, arrived, bringing news. The fact that, as Abiathar’s son, he had not been at the feasting suggests either that he had been on duty with the king and unable to get away, or that he had been asked to remain in Jerusalem as a kind of spy in order to keep his ear open to what was happening. He had fulfilled a similar function for David (2 Samuel 15:27; 2 Samuel 17:17). The latter seems more likely as, had he been on official duty, absenting himself from the celebrations would have been heavily frowned on. This in itself would suggest some apprehension on Adonijah’s part right from the start.
The fact that he arrived himself rather than sending a servant suggested to Adonijah that he brought good news. People usually only delivered news in person when it was good. Compare 2 Samuel 18:27. ‘Worthy’ indicates a man of property, a man whose word was trustworthy and reliable, and who was a freeman and not a servant. Such a man would not want to destroy his reputation by bringing bad news.
1 Kings 1:43-46
‘ And Jonathan answered and said to Adonijah, “Truly our lord king David has made Solomon king, and the king has sent with him Zadok the priest, and Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites, and they have caused him to ride on the king’s mule, and Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet have anointed him king in Gihon, and they are come up from there rejoicing, so that the city rang again. This is the noise that you have heard. And also Solomon sits on the throne of the kingdom.” ’
But Jonathan had probably taken into account the fact that suggesting that his news was bad by using a servant could have been taken as treasonable. For strictly the news should have been seen as good news. It was purportedly indicating that David had ensured the peaceful continuation of the kingship.
He described in some detail the essential elements of his news, and of the reason for the noise. The make-up of the powerful group who had been involved, combined with the fact that Solomon had ridden on the king’s own mule, and had been anointed by Zadok the Priest and Nathan the Prophet (Zadok would of course have done the anointing, but Nathan was there as adding prophetic authority), said all that needed to be said. Solomon’s was not an attempt at a counter-coup carried out at his own instigation (as Adonijah’s had been) but was something carried out on the personal orders of the king. ‘Rang again’ may have been looking back to when the Ark had been brought into the citadel which had rung with joyous cries and the sound of a ram’s horn (2 Samuel 6:15), or to when David had returned after defeating Absalom, when no doubt the same thing had happened. Both were momentous royal occasions.
That then was the reason for the noise that they had heard. And its consequence was that Solomon now sat on the throne of the kingdom (as co-regent with David).
1 Kings 1:47
‘ And what is more the king’s servants came to bless our lord king David, saying, “Your God make the name of Solomon better than your name, and make his throne greater than your throne,” and the king bowed himself on the bed.’
And what was more, when the king’s servants (Zadok, Nathan, Benaiah and all the court officials) had arrived back in the citadel, they had entered the king’s presence in order to bring blessing on David by praying that God would make the name of Solomon (his position and reputation, and recognition of his person) even greater than David’s, and Solomon’s throne even greater than David’s throne. This was an expression of approval of David’s choice, but deliberately going over the top and not intended to be taken too literally, except in the fact that it would lead on to the everlasting kingdom. And then at their words David had bowed himself before YHWH on his bed and had added his praise and prayer to theirs. All were clear that it was YHWH Who was at work.
1 Kings 1:48
‘ And also thus said the king, “Blessed be YHWH, the God of Israel, who has given one to sit on my throne this day, my eyes even seeing it.” ’
For the king himself had praised YHWH, the God of Israel, because He had Himself provided someone to sit on David’s throne while David was alive to see it. He had fulfilled His promise to David of a trueborn seed who would follow after him (2 Samuel 7:12), thus establishing a dynasty. Note that all were acknowledging that the choice was of YHWH. It is the fact that YHWH’s will was being accomplished in spite of the activities of man that lies at the heart of this narrative.
1 Kings 1:49
‘ And all the guests of Adonijah were afraid, and rose up, and went every man his way.’
The news shattered the party spirit, and filled the guests with apprehension. What they were now doing had taken on a new perspective. And they all with one accord left the feast and slunk away. They no longer wanted to be seen as involved with Adonijah.
1 Kings 1:50
‘ And Adonijah was afraid because of Solomon, and he arose, and went, and caught hold on the horns of the altar.’
Meanwhile Adonijah was terrified. He was fully aware of what he had intended to do with Solomon, and now it would be open to Solomon to do the same to him. For what he had been doing could now be given the appearance of being high treason. Everything would depend on how Solomon looked at it. Consequently he arose and went to the Tabernacle at Gibeon and took hold of the horns of the altar in order to claim ‘sanctuary’. (It was not likely that he would venture into Jerusalem in order to do this. He would consider in his panic-stricken condition that Solomon might well already have had men out on the watch for him).
The right to sanctuary as a result of being in physical touch with a holy object was a widely recognised one. The idea was probably, in Israel’s case, that the person became holy to YHWH as a result of the contact and therefore untouchable, unless and until his guilt was proved (see Exodus 21:12-14. Compare Numbers 35:6). He was thereby claiming the protection of the Deity as one who was innocent. Proof of his guilt would, however, nullify his status and turn him into a blasphemer in that he would then be seen as obtaining YHWH’s protection under false pretences.
The ‘horns’ of the altar were the four projections on the altar going upwards from each corner. Such horned altars have been discovered at Beersheba, Gezer, Megiddo, and Dan. It was to these projections that sacrifices were tied (Exodus 27:2). Later the breaking off of such ‘horns’ from the altar at Bethel would be an indication to Israel that they no longer enjoyed the deity’s protection (Amos 3:14).
1 Kings 1:51
‘ And it was told to Solomon, saying, “Behold, Adonijah is afraid king Solomon, for, lo, he has laid hold on the horns of the altar, saying, “Let king Solomon swear to me first that he will not slay his servant with the sword.” ’
The news of what Adonijah had done was brought to Solomon along with Adonijah’s assertion that he would not leave his place of sanctuary until ‘king Solomon’ had sworn that he would not have him executed. Note the reference to Solomon as ‘king Solomon’. He was thereby acknowledging Solomon as his liege lord.
1 Kings 1:52
‘ And Solomon said, “If he shall show himself a worthy man, there will not a hair of him fall to the earth, but if wickedness be found in him, he shall die.” ’
Solomon’s reply was to the effect that he would be given a pardon with a sting in its tail. While he showed himself loyal and behaved honourably as a ‘worthy and free man’ he would be safe from harm. Should he, however, at any stage act dishonourably or prove disloyal he could be sure that he would die.
1 Kings 1:53
‘ So king Solomon sent, and they brought him down from the altar. And he came and did obeisance to king Solomon, and Solomon said to him, “Go to your house.” ’
With these words Solomon sent escorts and had Adonijah brought to the palace, presumably in all honour as a son of David, where Adonijah made obeisance to the king. Peace was restored between them and Solomon then sent him ‘to his house’. It will, however, be noted that he did not add the words ‘in peace’ (see 2 Kings 5:19; Judges 18:6; 1Sa 1:17 ; 1 Samuel 20:42; 1 Samuel 29:7). That was a reminder that questions still hung in the air. He was on probation. Adonijah was being restored to his former position, conditionally on good behaviour, but he would from now on have to avoid even a whiff of treachery. That he was fully restored comes out in that he was later easily able to approach Bathsheba and receive a comparatively friendly welcome (1 Kings 2:13-18).
Solomon’s magnanimity was in line with the previous practise of kings of Israel on their being enthroned or restored to the throne through the goodness of YHWH. Compare the example of Saul in 1 Samuel 11:13; and of David in 2 Samuel 19:22. General amnesties were often given at coronations, although not to those who actively continued to oppose the king.
One obvious lesson from this passage is, ‘be sure your sin will find you out’. It is a reminder that if we involve ourselves in things that are chancy we must not be surprised if we get our fingers burnt. And this is especially so if they are contrary to the will of God. If only Adonijah and his friends had sought to ascertain God’s will before acting in the first place, they would not have found themselves in this situation.
A second lesson is that God ever provides for us a place of sanctuary where we can flee when we have sinned. In our case we do not cling to the horns of an altar, but to our Lord Jesus Christ Who is our Altar, and our Sacrifice (Hebrews 13:10; Hebrews 13:12). In Him we can find a perfect refuge, and find cleansing from all our sins (1 John 1:7).
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Kings 1". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany