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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
1 Kings 1

 

 

Verses 1-53

Usurpation

1 Kings 1

DAVID is "old and stricken in years." Round about him there are certain proceedings which are almost always associated with the death of great men. There are persons who are wondering who will succeed to the throne. One man has made up his mind that he will be the king. Could we understand all that is going on in the minds of our friends when we ourselves are approaching the hour and article of death, we should be surprised by some revelations of character which we had little suspected. Even now, when there is no sign of immediate dissolution upon us, there are some who are appropriating what possessions we may have to bequeath: they have already laid out our estate in new figures; they have in imagination sold part of it, and given a new direction to many things which we thought permanently established; and they have sometimes ventured to forecast the time, or thereabouts, when we may die. Not a word of this do they say to us: they wish us well; they desire for us on each birthday "Many happy returns." Oh! but human nature is a puzzle, a problem, a mystery all darkness. Sometimes we think it is better to have nothing to leave; then there will be more honesty in our contemporaries. Expectation of property seems to destroy real affection. But it is singular altogether, so mixed and involved and unworkable. The Lord grant us sincerity all round, that we may speak to one another more frankly, and truthfully, and so make human intercourse into a Christian sacrament.

Adonijah said, "I will be king" ( 1 Kings 1:5). How certainly, then, he will not! "Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself." He did not hear the voice sounding far away in the coming time which said, "Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased" always; by a sweet necessity. May we hearken unto this doctrine, and pray God to incline our hearts to keep the law which it represents. Adonijah was the fourth son of David born in Hebron, but probably he had become the eldest son by the death of his three senior brothers. Even then there was a charm about primogeniture, as there is about many long words. Adonijah said: I am the eldest, therefore I ought to be the richest; Solomon is comparatively young: surely he ought not to stand in the way; I will be king. Did he spring into this self-conceit all at once, or is there a story behind it explaining this development of mischief? Certainly; there always is such a story if we could find it out. You will find that Adonijah was a spoiled child, for "his father had not displeased him at any time in saying, Why hast thou done so?" ( 1 Kings 1:6). That is the explanation. Every will has to be. broken, and it ought to be broken as soon as possible; it is not as if the will could go on always having its own way, marching from conquering to conquer, going on from throne to throne; it is the law of life, and it is the most solemn fact in personal history, that the will must be broken, in the sense of being subdued, chastened, made to feel that there are other wills in creation, and that peace can only come by mutual understanding and concession. How cruel, then, are parents! They think they are kind, but their kindness is the worst form of cruelty. How would it be in physical matters? You say that a man"s hand is out of action, and the doctor says that hand might have been as good as the other if the infirmity or accident had been attended to when the child was young. That we call reason. A child does not see straightly; its eye is somewhat askance; and the doctor again says that eye could have been made perfectly right if it had been attended to when the child was young. When the doctor says that, everybody looks upon him as a wise man. So many things ought to have been done when we were young! Yet we ourselves will not do them to those who are young, and who depend upon us for discipline, education, and general training. When the preacher says, this will, so urgent, so self-regarding, so selfish, might have been made better if the child had been taken in hand in time, the preacher is thought to be a sentimentalist. The doctor was right about the hand, and most learned about the eye; but when the preacher says the same thing about the will he is smiled upon as a man who has certain nostrums by which he thinks the world can be cured; and he knows of course how everybody"s children ought to be trained; and generally he is a kind of decent and well-meaning gentleman who ought to be borne with. It is in vain that he points to history. It goes for nothing that he says, You are killing your children. David seems to have been the murderer of all his children: a great public Prayer of Manasseh , but of no use at home; one of those men who could fight a battle, but never broke the will of his own children; a great man on the public rostrum; doing good upon a great scale, but neglecting the details of domestic life. Adonijah, whose will had never been broken, said, "I will be king." What more natural? This is the fruit of the tree which David planted. We wonder that the harvest should not be of a different quality from the seed that was sown! Be not deceived; nature is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. The logic sometimes takes abrupt and terrible forms, but it is logic still. Our surprise is either a display of ignorance or a display of affectation. We can tell perfectly well what the child will turn out. We know precisely whether we are on the right-hand of God or on the left. These revelations are not matters of futurity: they are in the essence of things which are now ruling us and directing our course. When Adonijah said, "I will be king," he carried to its logical issue the training which he had received, or lacked, at home.

How will he set about this business? Exactly like a spoiled child. There is a striking consistency in all the parts of his character and action. If you ask for his programme, you may yourself write it for him; there is no need to make inquiry as to what he will do. Spoiled children can only do one thing. They are absolutely destitute of originality. What, then, does Adonijah do? Just what Absalom did. He copied Absalom whom in some degree he resembled, being also "a very goodly man." That is to say, a well-favoured man physically; good to look upon, a handsome, noble figure. What will Adonijah do? The answer is in the fifth verse:—"He prepared him chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him." What a spoiled baby must do! It looked so pleasing, so striking; the popular imagination would instantly take fire when such a display of chariots and horses and forerunners was discovered. But the popular imagination is a more solid thing than it is often accounted to be. We shall see that presently. Adonijah thought that if he put on his best things he would be king by virtue of his garments. He thought that fine binding makes fine books. He supposed that noble houses make noble tenants. The abiding sophism: the continual mistake! Yet this was precisely in the line of his training. What have not spoiled children at home? what wooden horses, and banners, and drums, and toys of every kind! and they have only to cry long enough in order to multiply what they have got by ten. They need not resort to reason: it is enough that they resort to tears.

How will Adonijah proceed? quite consistently. In the seventh verse we find him still pursuing the same level of thought and purpose:—"And he conferred with Joab the son of Zeruiah, and with Abiathar the priest." What was Abiathar the priest? the priest of the tent in which the ark of God was kept? or was he but some subordinate, good and honest in his own way, but a little tempted to believe in chariots and horses and forerunners and outriders? Alas! it is possible for a priest even to be so demented. This was the bound of Adonijah"s counsel: the crafty Joab and Abiathar. Not the people. Not a word was said to the people. The people were to be taken by a storm of music. That was Adonijah"s great plan for taking the nation! Slay sheep and oxen, create a great festival: at a given moment sound the trumpet, make a display, and let the people come in under such glittering circumstances. But the people are wiser than they are often thought to be. Have faith in the people. You cannot easily measure them. Taken one by one, they do not seem to amount to much; but when they touch one another, and feel the contagion of sympathy and the inspiration of common interests; when they listen as one man to the voice of the declaimer or the charmer, the reasoner and the statesman, they know who is right and who is wrong. We shall see the lamentable position of Adonijah better when we ask concerning the absences which mark his limited counsel. We have seen who was there: now ask who was absent. The eighth verse is a melancholy answer:—"But Zadok the priest, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and Nathan the prophet, and Shimei, and Rei [probably brothers of David] and the mighty men which belonged to David were not with Adonijah." "Nathan the prophet,"—we read in the tenth verse—"and Benaiah, and the mighty men, and Solomon his brother, he called not" The absence was not fortuitous, but calculated. There are some men whom we cannot invite to certain counsels of our life. And our wish is to be estimated quite as much by the men who are not there as by the men who are present. Conceive the possibility of entering into some scheme or venture that is not wholly of the nature of daylight, that has in it flaws, breaks, bruises; and you dare not ask your wife to hear the plan before you put it into action; you dare not ask your most honest friend to review the case for you before you proceed any further. You make a noise in your head, you slay sheep and oxen, and blow trumpets, and get up a great excitement, hoping that the thing will turn out a success, and then you may invite your friends to look upon it, and praise you for a longheaded man. There are some conversations at which we dare not allow children to be present: suspect them—close them! Sometimes a straightforward honest soul is as terrible to us as God Almighty. If he only had kept out of the way, we might have perfected our plan and realised the satisfaction of perdition. But the honest man spoiled everything! he came in at the wrong moment. He came in blithely as the morning; his voice was pure music; there was the resonance of a soldier"s heartiness in every tone. But he knew not that his very voice was a judgment upon our hidden iniquity. Suspect any plan to which you cannot invite Nathan and Zadok and Song of Solomon , taking these names typically. We do not always want the minister to be present. We have many laymen"s parties. The minister, poor soul, would spoil this game! so we have a side-room in which we will go through it, and when all is over we will come in and look upon the minister as if nothing out of the common had occurred. We will leave the minister: we will withdraw: it is a bad scheme you are up to if he cannot join it. If he is a man at all, a truly human soul, he will join any game that will bear investigation. The very fact that you dare not have him present is a sign that you are going to snatch thievishly at a crown or throne or joy which does not belong to you.

Why these signs of masonry? Why this desire to get away from the society of pure women and frank children, question-asking youth, and unsuspecting love? Why did you not call Zadok and Nathan and Solomon? Out of thine own mouth I condemn thee. The honest man would have said, Let all come; this thing shall not be done in a corner; it is right, sound, clear-hearted, through and through,—come one, come all, and guide me if I am wrong. The right man need not be in any hurry. He will be sent for in due time. Solomon need not discompose himself; the prophet will see after him—that marvellous man who has a prophetic instinct, who reads the reality of things, who knows God"s purpose and works out God"s harmonies. "He that believeth shall not make haste." When the right man came, "all the people came up after him, and the people piped with pipes, and rejoiced with great joy," so that the earth, as if a sympathetic listener, vibrated, and was rent with the sound of a festival. If nature will take no part with us, it is a poor coronation. If every little flower on the wayside does not as it were leap as we pass by, saying in its allegorical manner, God bless you: go on to your feast, for the victuals are honestly bought; if every star that twinkles does not send us a message of light amounting to a benediction, then depend upon it we are upon a wrong road, and we are forcing ourselves to a wrong issue. All the people came up after Solomon. Then Solomon must be king sooner or later; the other man must go down, whoever he Isaiah , however many chariots and horses and outrunners he has. There is a popular instinct. But was not the popular instinct wrong in the case of Christ when it cried out Crucify him! Crucify him!"? No; certainly not. Nor need we be surprised. The idea which prevailed in the popular mind was that Christ was going to be what he was not going to be; the purpose of Christ was not seized; a totally false conception had got abroad concerning him, for want of instruction and illumination. The popular instinct with regard to Christ is pledged. When the angel of the Lord covers the earth as the waters cover the great deep, then all men shall call him their desire, and he shall be fairest among ten thousand, and altogether lovely; because then he will be understood: his kingdom will be seen to be not of this world; he is no small king, no petty monarch; he rules in the spirit, he rules over the heart, he conquers the will, he reigns over all the forgiven life: so spread the knowledge of his name; show how this man receiveth sinners and eateth with them, and that he is a shepherd seeking the lost; and when that idea is really perceived and grasped there will come out of this great popular heart a grand acclaim, a burst of thankfulness, a shout which will rend the earth and make the heavens vibrate. The seer beheld the day in which all this took place. A prophet heard a voice as of many waters—a great multitude without number. Judge the popular instinct by that Revelation , and not by some intermediate and mistaken phases of passing events.

What became of Adonijah? He "feared because of Song of Solomon , and arose, and went, and caught hold on the horns of the altar"—the projecting pieces of wood overlaid with gold, to which the sacrifices were fastened with bands or ropes. Laying hold of these, he thought he had the right of asylum; and he feared Song of Solomon , "saying, Let king Solomon swear unto me today that he will not slay his servant with the sword" ( 1 Kings 1:50-51). "Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased." Adonijah, who began by saying, "I will be king," ended by saying, I am a servant. See the end of all vanity, foolish conceit, mistaken and selfish ambition; so Song of Solomon , being a king in very deed, said: He shall have a conditional pardon—"If he will shew himself a worthy Prayer of Manasseh , there shall not an hair of him fall to the earth: but if wickedness shall be found in him, he shall die" ( 1 Kings 1:52). So Adonijah became a ticket-of-leave man. What a fame! but right. Do not let us mistake this: for we are all ticket-of-leave men. Let there be no boasting. We are all out of hell conditionally. "The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God." We have no respectability. Our supposed respectability is a millstone round about our neck. Hear the word of the living God, and mistake not the exact position which every man occupies. He is spared on probation, he is watched; if he live as he ought to live, by the grace of God he will be saved; if he serve himself, if he live the earthly life, if he deny the Lord that bought him, if he endeavour to find some way of living without God, he will be lost. Do not let us boast as if we were free men. We are only temporarily free; we are living by permission; our breath is in our nostrils. Hear the word of the Lord: there is but a step between thee and death!

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Kings 1:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/1-kings-1.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, June 25th, 2019
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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