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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
1 Kings 1

 

 

Verses 1-4

DAVID’S DECREPITUDE

1 Kings 1:1-4.

"Praise a fair day at night."

THE old age of good men is often a beautiful spectacle. They show us the example of a mellower wisdom, a larger tolerance, a sweeter temper, a more unselfish sympathy, a clearer faith.

The setting sun of their bright day tinges even the clouds which gather round it with softer and more lovely hues.

We cannot say this of David’s age. After the oppressive splendor of his heroic youth and manhood there was no dewy twilight of honored peace. We see him in a somewhat pitiable decrepitude. He was not really old; the expression of our Authorized Version, "stricken in years," is literally "entered into days," but the Book of Chronicles calls him "old and full of days." {1 Chronicles 23:1} Josephus says that when he died he was only seventy years old. He had reigned seven years and a half in Hebron and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. {2 Samuel 5:5} At the age of seventy many men are still in full vigor of strength and intellect, but the conditions of that day were not favorable to longevity. Solomon does not seem to have survived his sixtieth year; and it is doubtful whether any one of the kings of Israel or Judah-excepting, strange to say, the wicked Manasseh-attained even that moderate age. Threescore years and ten have always been the allotted space of human life, and few who long survive that age find that their strength then is anything but labor and sorrow.

But the decrepitude of David was exceptional. He was drained of all his vital force. He took to his bed, but though they heaped clothes upon him he could get no warmth. "He remained cold amid the torrid heat of Jerusalem." Then his physicians recommended the only remedy they knew, to give heat to his chilled and withered frame. It was the primitive and not ineffectual remedy-which was suggested twenty-two centuries later to the great Frederic Barbarossa-of contact with the warmth of a youthful frame. So they sought out the fairest virgin in all the coasts of Israel to act as the king’s nurse, and their choice fell on Abishag, a maiden of Shunem in Issachar. There was no question of his taking another wife. He had already many wives and concubines, and what the bed-ridden invalid required was a strong and youthful nurse to cherish him. We are surprised at such total failure of life’s forces. But David had lived through a youth of toil and exposure, of fight and hardship, in the days when his only home had been the dark and dripping limestone caves, and he had been hunted like a partridge on the mountains by the furious jealousy of Saul. The sun had smitten him by day and the moon by night, and the chill dews had fallen on him in the midnight bivouacs among the crags of Engedi. Then had followed the burdens and cares of royalty with guilty anxieties and deeds which shook his pulses with wrath and fear. Coincident with these were the demoralizing luxuries and domestic sensualism of a polygamous palace. Worst of all he had sinned against God, and against light, and against his own conscience. For a time his moral sense had slumbered, and retribution had been delayed. But when he awoke from his sensual dream, the belated punishment burst over him in thunder and his conscience with outstretched finger and tones of menace must often have repeated to the murderous adulterer the doom of Nathan and the stern sentence, "Thou art the man!" Many a vulgar Eastern tyrant would hardly have regarded David’s sin as a sin at all; but when such a man as David sins, the fact that he has been admitted into a holier sanctuary adds deadliness to the guilt of his sacrilege. True he was forgiven, but he must have found it terribly hard to forgive himself. God gave back to him the clean heart, and renewed a right spirit within him; but the sense of forgiveness differs from the sweetness of innocence, and the remission of his sins did not bring with it the remission of their consequences. From that disastrous day David was a changed man. It might be said of him as of the Fallen Spirit:-

"His face Deep scars of thunder had entrenched, and care Sat on his faded cheek."

The Nemesis of sin’s normal consequences pursued him to the end. Dark spirits walked in his house. Joab knew his guilty secrets, and Joab became the tyrannous master of his destiny. Those guilty secrets leaked out, and he lost his charm, his influence, his popularity among his subjects. He was haunted by an ever-present sense of shame and humiliation. Joab was a murderer, and went unpunished; but was not he too an unpunished murderer? If his enemies cursed him, he sometimes felt with a sense of despair, "Let them curse. God hath said unto them, Curse David." His past carried with it the inevitable deterioration of his present. In the overwhelming shame and horror which rent his heart during the rebellion of Absalom, he must often have felt tempted to the fatalism of desperation, like that guilty king of Greek tragedy who, burdened with the curse of his race, was forced to exclaim, -Curses in his family, a curse upon his daughter, a curse upon his sons, a curse upon himself, a curse upon his people, -there was scarcely one ingredient in the cup of human woe which, in consequence of his own crimes, this unhappy king had not been forced to taste. Scourges of war, famine, and pestilence-of a three years’ famine, of a three years’ flight before his enemies, of a three days’ pestilence-he had known them all. He had suffered with the sufferings of his subjects, whose trials had been aggravated by his own transgressions. He had seen his sons following his own fatal example, and he had felt the worst of all sufferings in the serpent’s tooth of filial ingratitude agonizing a troubled heart and a weakened will. It is no wonder that David became decrepit before his time.

Yet what a picture does it present of the vanity of human wishes, of the emptiness of all that men desire, of the truth which Solon impressed on the Lydian king that we can call no man happy before his death! David’s youth had been a pastoral idyll; his manhood an epic of war and chivalry; his premature age becomes the chronicle of a nursery. What different pictures are presented to us by David in his sweet youth and glowing bloom, and David in his unloved and disgraced decline! We have seen him a beautiful ruddy boy, summoned from his sheepfolds, with the wind of the desert on his cheek and its sunlight in his hair, to kneel before the aged prophet and feel the hands of consecration laid upon his head. Swift and strong, his feet like hart’s feet, his arms able to bend a bow of steel, he fights like a good shepherd for his flock, and single-handed smites the lion and the bear. His harp and song drive the evil spirit from the tortured soul of the demoniac king. With a sling and a stone the boy slays the giant champion, and the maidens of Israel praise their deliverer with songs and dances. He becomes the armor-bearer of the king, the beloved comrade of the king’s son, the husband of the king’s daughter. Then indeed he is driven into imperiled outlawry by the king’s envy, and becomes the captain of a band of freebooters; but his influence over them, as in our English legends of Robin Hood, gives something of beneficence to his lawlessness, and even these wandering years of brigandage are brightened by tales of his splendid magnanimity. The young chieftain who had mingled a loyal tenderness and genial humor with all his wild adventures-who had so generously and almost playfully spared the life of Saul his enemy-who had protected the flocks and fields of the churlish Nabal-who, with the chivalry of a Sydney, had poured on the ground the bright drops of water from the well of Bethlehem for which he had thirsted, because they had been won by imperiled lives-sprang naturally into the idolized hero and poet of his people. Then God had taken him from the sheepfolds, from following the ewes great with young ones, that he might lead Jacob His people and Israel His inheritance. Generous to the sad memories of Saul and Jonathan, generous to the princely Abner, generous to the weak Ishbosheth, generous to poor lame Mephibosheth, he had knit all hearts like the heart of one man to himself, and in successful war had carried all before him, north and south, and east and west. He enlarged the borders of his kingdom, captured the City of Waters, and placed the Moloch crown of Rabbah on his head. Then in the mid-flush of his prosperity, in his pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness, "the tempting opportunity met the susceptible disposition," and David forgot God who had done so great things for him.

The people must have felt how deep was the debt of gratitude which they owed to him. He had given them a consciousness of power yet undeveloped; a sense of the unity of their national life perpetuated by the possession of a capital which has been famous to all succeeding ages. To David the nation owed the conquest of the stronghold of Jebus, and they would feel that "as the hills stand about Jerusalem, so standeth the Lord round about them that fear Him." {Psalms 122:3-5} The king who associates his name with a national capital-as Nebuchadnezzar built great Babylon, or Constantine chose Byzantium-secures the strongest claim to immortality. But the choice made by David for his capital showed an intuition as keen as that which had immortalized the fame of the Macedonian conqueror in the name of Alexandria. Jerusalem is a city which belongs to all time, and even under the curse of Turkish rule it has not lost its undying interest. But David had rendered a still higher service in giving stability to the national religion. The prestige of the Ark had been destroyed in the overwhelming defeat of Israel by the Philistines at Aphek, when it fell into the hands of the uncircumcised. After that it had been neglected and half forgotten until David brought it with songs and dances to God’s holy hill of Zion. Since then every pious Israelite might rejoice that, as in the Tabernacle of old, God was once more in the midst of His people. The merely superstitious might only regard the Ark as a fetish-the fated Palladium of the national existence. But to all thoughtful men the presence of the Ark had a deeper meaning, for it enshrined the Tables of the Moral Law; and those broken Tables, and the bending Cherubim which gazed down upon them, and the blood-sprinkled gold of the Mercy-Seat were a vivid emblem that God’s Will is the Rule of Righteousness, and that if it be broken the soul must be reconciled to Him by repentance and forgiveness. That meaning is beautifully brought out in the Psalm which says, "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord, or who shall rise up into the holy place? Even he that hath clean bands and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his mind into vanity, nor sworn to deceive his neighbor."

To David more than to any man that conviction of the supremacy of righteousness must have been keenly present, and for this reason his sin was the less pardonable. It "tore down the altar of confidence" in many hearts. It caused the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, and was therefore worthy of a sorer punishment. And God in His mercy smote, and did not spare.

He sinned: then came earthquake and eclipse. His earthly life was shipwrecked in that place where two seas meet-where the sea of calamity meets the sea of crime. Then followed the death of his infant child; the outrage of Amnon; the blood of the brutal ravisher shed by his brother’s hands; the flight of Absalom; his insolence, his rebellion, his deadly insult to his father’s household; the long day of flight and shame and weeping and curses, as David ascended the slope of Olivet and went down into the Valley of Jordan; the sanguinary battle; the cruel murder of the beloved rebel; the insolence of Joab; the heartrending cry. "O Absalom, my son, my son Absalom; would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!"

Not even then had David’s trials ended. He had to endure the fierce quarrel between Israel and Judah; the rebellion of Sheba; the murder of Amasa, which he dared not punish. He had to sink into the further sin of pride in numbering the people, and to see the Angel of the Plague standing with drawn sword over the threshing-floor of Araunah, while his people-those sheep who had not offended-died around him by thousands. After such a life he was made to feel that it was not for blood-stained hands like his to rear the Temple, though he had said, "I will not suffer mine eyes to sleep nor mine eyelids to slumber, neither the temples of my head to take any rest tilt I find a place for the tabernacle of the Lord, a habitation for the mighty God of Jacob." And now we see him surrounded by intrigues; alienated from the friends and advisers of his youth; shivering in his sickroom; attended by his nurse; feeble, apathetic, the ghost and wreck of all that he had been, with little left of his life but its "glimmerings and decays."

It is an oft-repeated story. Even so we see great Darius

"Deserted at his utmost need

By those his former bounty fed;

On the bare ground exposed he lies

Without a friend to close his eyes."

So we see glorious Alexander the Great, dying as a fool dieth, remorseful, drunken, disappointed, at Babylon. So we see our great Plantagenet:-

"Mighty victor, mighty lord,

Low on his funeral couch he lies!

No pitying heart, no eye afford

A tear to grace his obsequies."

So we see Louis XIV, le grand monarque, peevish, ennuye, fortunate no longer, an old man of seventy, seven left in his vast lonely palace with his great-grandson, a frivolous child of five, and saying to him, "J’ai trop aime la guerre; ne m’imitez point. "So we see the last great conqueror of modern times, embittering his dishonored island-exile by miserable disputes with Sir Hudson Lowe about etiquette and champagne. But among all the "sad stories of the deaths of kings" none ends a purer glory with a more pitiful decline than the poet-king of Israel, whose songs have been to so many thousands their delight in the house of their pilgrimage. Truly David’s experience no less than his own may have added bitterness to the traditional epitaph of his son on all human glory: "Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity."


Verses 1-53

AN EASTERN COURT AND HOME

1 Kings 1:1-53

"Pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness."

Ezekiel 16:49

A MAN does not choose his own destiny; it is ordained for higher ends than his own personal happiness. If David could have made his choice, he might, indeed, have been dazzled by the glittering lure of royalty; yet he would have been in all probability happier and nobler had he never risen above the simple life of his forefathers. Our saintly king in Shakespeare’s tragedy says:-

"My crown is in my heart, not on my head; Not decked with diamonds and Indian stones, Nor to be seen. My crown is called Content; And crown it is which seldom kings enjoy."

David assuredly did not enjoy that crown. After his establishment at Jerusalem it is doubtful whether he could count more happy days than Abderrahman the Magnificent, who recorded that amid a life honored in peace and victorious in war he could not number more than fourteen.

We admire the generous freebooter more than we admire the powerful king. As time went on he showed a certain deterioration of character, the inevitable result of the unnatural conditions to which he had succumbed. Saul was a king of a very simple type. No pompous ceremonials separated him from the simple intercourse of natural kindliness. He did not tower over the friends of his youth like a Colossus, and look down on his superiors from the artificial elevation of his inch-high dignity. "In himself was all his state," and there was something kinglier in his simple majesty when he stood under his pomegranate at Migron, with his huge javelin in his hand, than in

"The tedious pomp which waits On princes, when their rich retinue long Of horses led, and grooms besmeared with gold Dazzles the crowd and sets them all agape."

We should not have presumed beforehand that there was anything in David’s character which rendered external pomp and ceremony attractive to him. But the inherent flunkeyism of Eastern servility made his courtiers feed him with adulation, and approach him with genuflections. Apparently he could not rise superior to the slowly corrupting influences of autocracy which gradually assimilated the court of the once simple warrior to that of his vulgar compeers on the neighboring thrones. There is something startling to see what a chasm royalty has cleft between him and the comrades of his adversity, and even the partner of his guilt who had become his favorite queen. We see it throughout the story of the last scenes in which he plays a part. He can only be addressed with periphrases and in the third person. "Let there be sought for my lord the king a young virgin; and let her stand before the king, and let her lie in thy bosom that my lord the king may get heat. Bathsheba can only speak to him in such terms as, Didst not thou, my lord, O king, swear unto thy handmaid?" and even she, when she enters the sick-chamber of his decrepitude, prostrates herself and does obeisance. Every other word of her speech is interlarded with "my lord the king," and "my lord, O king"; and when she leaves "the presence" she again bows herself with her face to the earth, and does reverence to the king with the words, "May my lord, King David, live forever." The anointed dignity of the prophet who had once so boldly rebuked David’s worst crime does not exempt him from the same ceremonial, and he too goes into the inner chamber bowing his face before the king to the earth.

Insensibly David must have come to require it all, and to like it. Yet the unsophisticated instincts of his more natural youth would surely have revolted from it. He would have deprecated it as sternly as the Greek conqueror in the mighty tragedy who hates to walk to his throne on purple tapestries, and says to his queen:-

"Open not the mouth to me, nor cry amain

As at the footstool of a man of the East,

Prone on the ground: so stoop not thou to me";

or, as another has more literally rendered it:-

"Nor like some barbarous man

Gape thou upon me an earth-groveling howl."

But the royal position of David brought with it a surer curse than that which follows the extreme exaltation of a man above his fellows. It brought with it the permitted luxury or imaginary necessity for polygamy, and the man-enervating, woman-degrading paraphernalia of an Eastern harem. Jesse and Boaz, in their paternal fields at Bethlehem, had been content with one wife, and had known the true joys of love and home. But monogamy was thought unsuitable to the new grandeur of a despot, and under the curse of polygamy the joy of love, the peace of home, are inevitably blighted. In that condition man gives up the sweetest sources of earthly blessing for the meanest gratifications of animal sensuousness. Love, when it is pure and true, gilds the life of man with a joy of heaven, and fills it with a breath of Paradise. It renders life more perfect and more noble by the union of two souls, and fulfills the original purpose of creation. A home, blessed by life’s most natural sanctities, becomes a saving ark in days of storm, -

"Here Love his golden shafts employs, here lights His constant lamp, and waves his purple wings, Reigns here and revels."

But in a polygamous household a home is exchanged for a troubled establishment, and love is carnalized into a jaded appetite, The Eastern king becomes the slave of every wandering fancy, and can hardly fail to be a despiser of womanhood, which he sees only on its ignoblest side. His home is liable to be torn by mutual jealousies and subterranean intrigues, and many a foul and midnight murder has marked, and still marks, the secret history of Eastern seraglios. The women-idle, ignorant, uneducated, degraded, intriguing-with nothing to think of but gossip, scandal, spite, and animal passion; hating each other worst of all, and each engaged in the fierce attempt to reign supreme in the affection which she cannot monopolize-spend wasted lives of ennui and slavish degradation. Eunuchs, the vilest products of the most corrupted civilization, soon make their loathly appearance in such courts, and add the element of morbid and rancorous effeminacy to the general ferment of corruption. Polygamy, as it is a contravention of God’s original design, enfeebles the man, degrades the woman, corrupts the slave, and destroys the home. David introduced it into the Southern Kingdom, and Ahab into the Northern; -both with the most calamitous effects.

Polygamy produces results worse than all the others upon the children born in such families. Murderous rivalry often reigns between them, and fraternal affection is almost unknown. The children inherit the blood of deteriorated mothers, and the sons of different wives burn with the mutual animosities of the harem, under whose shadowing influence they have been brought up. When Napoleon was asked the greatest need of France, he answered in the one laconic word, "Mothers"; and when he was asked the best training ground for recruits, he said, "The nurseries, of course." Much of the manhood of the East shows the taint and blight which it has inherited from such mothers and such nurseries as seraglios alone can form.

The darkest elements of a polygamous household showed themselves in the unhappy family of David. The children of the various wives and concubines saw but little of their father during their childish years. David could only give them a scanty and much-divided attention when they were brought to him to display their beauty. They grew up as children, the spoiled and petted playthings of women and debased attendants, with nothing to curb their rebellious passions or check their imperious wills. The little influence over them which David exercised was unhappily not for good. He was a man of tender affections. He repeated the errors of which he might have been warned by the effects of foolish indulgence on Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli, and even on the sons of the guide of his youth, the prophet Samuel. The wild careers of David’s elder sons show that they had inherited his strong passion, and eager ambition, and that in their case, as well as Adonijah’s he had not displeased them at a time in saying, "Why hast thou done so?"

The consequences which followed had been frightful beyond precedent. David must have learnt by experience the truth of the exhortation "Desire not a multitude of unprofitable children neither delight in ungodly sons Though they multiply, rejoice not in them, except the fear of the Lord be with them: for one that is just is better than a thousand; and better it is to die without children, than to have those that are ungodly."

David’s eldest son was Amnon, the son of Ahinoam of Jezreel; his second Daniel or Chileab, son of Abigail, the wife of Nabal of Carmel; the third Absalom, son of Maacah, daughter of Talmal, King of Geshur; the fourth Adonijah, the son of Haggith. Shephatiah and Ithream were the sons of two other wives, and these six sons were born to David in Hebron. When he became king in Jerusalem he had four sons by Bathsheba, born after the one that died in his infancy, and at least nine other sons by various wives, besides his daughter Tamar, sister of Absalom. He had other sons by his concubines. Most of these sons are unknown to fame. Some of them probably died in childhood. He provided for others by making them priests. His line down to the days of Jeconiah, was continued in the descendants of Solomon, and afterwards in those of the otherwise unknown Nathan. The elder sons, born to him in the days of his more fervent youth, became the authors of the tragedies which laid waste his house. "They were youths of splendid beauty, and as they bore the proud title of the king’s sons," they were from their earliest years encircled by luxury and adulation.

Amnon regarded himself as the heir to the throne and his fierce passions brought the first infamy into the family of David. By the aid of his cousin Jonadab, the wily son of Shimmeah, the king’s brother, he brutally dishonored his half sister Tamar and then as brutally drove the unhappy princess from his presence. It was David’s duty to inflict punishment on his shameless heir, but he weakly condoned the crime. Absalom dissembled his vengeance for two whole years, and spoke to his brother neither good nor evil. At the end of that time he invited David and all the princes to a joyous sheep-shearing festival at Baal Hazor. David, as he anticipated, declined the invitation, on the plea that his presence would burden his son with needless expense. Then Absalom asked that, as the king could not honor his festival, at least his brother Amnon, as the heir to the throne, might be present. David’s heart misgave him, but he could refuse nothing to the youth whose magnificent and faultless beauty filled him with an almost doting pride, and Amnon and all the princes went to the feast. No sooner was Amnon’s heart inflamed with wine, than, at a preconcerted signal, Absalom’s servants fell on him and murdered him. The feast broke up in tumultuous horror, and in the wild cry and rumor which arose the heart of David was torn with the intelligence that Absalom had murdered all his brothers. He rent his clothes, and lay weeping in the dust surrounded by his weeping servants. But Jonadab assured him that only Amnon had been murdered in revenge for his unpunished outrage, and a rush of people along the road, among whom the princes were visible riding on their mules, confirmed his words. But the deed was still black enough. Bathed in tears, and raising the wild cries of Eastern grief, the band of youthful princes stood round the father whose incestuous firstborn had thus fallen by a brother’s hand, and the king also and all his servants "wept greatly with a great weeping."

Absalom fled to his grandfather the King of Geshur; but his purpose had been doubly accomplished. He had avenged the shame of his sister, and he was now himself the eldest son and heir to the throne. His claim was strengthened by the superb physique and beautiful hair of which he was so proud, and which won the hearts both of king and people. Capable, ambitious, secure of ultimate pardon, the son and the grandson of a king he lived for three years at the court of his grandfather. Then Joab, perceiving that David was consoled for the death of Amnon, and that his heart was yearning for his favorite son, obtained the intercession of the wise woman of Tekoah, and got permission for Absalom to return. But his offence had been terrible, and to his extreme mortification the king refused to admit him. Joab, though he had maneuvered for his return, did not come near him, and twice refused to visit him when summoned to do so. With characteristic insolence the young man obtained an interview by ordering his servants to set fire to Joab’s field of barley. By Joab’s request the king once more saw Absalom, and, as the youth felt sure would be the case, raised him from the ground, kissed, forgave, and restored him to favor.

For the favor of his weakly-fond father he cared little; what he wanted was the throne. His proud beauty, his royal descent on both sides, fired his ambition. Eastern peoples are always ready to concede pre-eminence to splendid men. This had helped to win the kingdom for stately Saul and ruddy David; for the Jews, like the Greeks, thought that "loveliness of person involves the blossoming promises of future excellence, and is, as it were, a prelude of riper beauty." It seemed intolerable to this prince in the zenith of glorious life that he should be kept out of his royal inheritance by one whom he described as a useless dotard. By his personal fascination, and by base intrigues against David, founded on the king’s imperfect fulfillment of his duties as judge, "he stole the hearts of the children of Israel." After four years, everything was ripe for revolt. He found that for some unexplained reason the tribe of Judah and the old capital of Hebron were disaffected to David’s rule. He got leave to visit Hebron in pretended fulfillment of a vow, and so successfully raised the standard of revolt that David, his family, and his followers had to fly hurriedly from Jerusalem with bare feet and cheeks bathed in tears along the road of the Perfumers. Of that long day of misery-to the description of which more space is given in Scripture than to that of any other day except that of the Crucifixion-we need not speak, nor of the defeat of the rebellion. David was saved by the adhesion of his warrior-corps (the Gibborim) and his mercenaries (the Krethi and Plethi). Absalom’s host was routed. He was in some strange way entangled in the branches of a tree as he fled on his mule through the forest of Rephaim. As he hung helpless there, Joab, with needless cruelty, drove three wooden staves through his body in revenge for his past insolence, leaving his armor-bearer to dispatch the miserable fugitive. To this day every Jewish child flings a contumelious stone at the pillar in the King’s Dale, which bears the traditional name of David’s Son, the beautiful and bad.

The days which followed were thickly strewn with calamities for the rapidly ageing and heartbroken king. His helpless decline was yet to be shaken by the attempted usurpation of another bad son.


Verses 5-53

ADONIJAH’S REBELLION

1 Kings 1:5-53

"The king’s word hath power; and who may say unto him, What doest thou?"- Ecclesiastes 8:4

THE fate of Amnon and of Absalom might have warned the son who was now the eldest, and who had succeeded to their claims.

Adonijah was the son of Haggith, "the dancer." His father had piously given him the name, which means "Jehovah is my Lord." He too, was "a very goodly man," treated by David with foolish indulgence, and humored in all his wishes. Although the rights of primogeniture were ill-defined, a king’s eldest son, endowed as Adonijah was, Would naturally be looked on as the heir; and Adonijah was impatient for the great prize. Following the example of Absalom "he exalted himself, saying, I will be king" and, as an unmistakable sign of his intentions, prepared for himself fifty runners with chariots and horsemen. David, unwarned by the past or perhaps too ill and secluded to be aware of what was going on put no obstacle in his way. The people in general were tired of David, though the spell of his name was still great. Adonijah’s cause seemed safe when he had won over Joab, the commander of the forces, and Abiathar, the chief priest. But the young man’s precipitancy spoiled everything. David lingered on. It was perhaps a palace-secret that a strong court-party was in favor of Solomon, and that David was inclined to leave his kingdom to this younger son by his favorite wife. So Adonijah, once more imitating the tactics of Absalom, prepared a great feast at the Dragon-stone by the Fullers’ Well in the valley below Jerusalem. He sacrificed sheep and fat oxen and cattle, and invited all the king’s fifteen sons, omitting Solomon, from whom alone he had any rivalry to fear. To this feast he also invited Joab and Abiathar, and all the men of Judah, the king’s servants, by which are probably intended "all the captains of the host" who formed the nucleus of the militia forces. {1 Kings 1:9-25} At this feast Adonijah threw off the mask. In open rebellion against David, his followers shouted, "God save king Adonijah!"

The watchful eye of one man-the old prophet-statesman, Nathan-saw the danger. Adonijah was thirty-five; Solomon was comparatively a child. "Solomon, my son," says David, "is young and tender." What his age was at the date of Adonijah’s rebellion we do not know, Josephus says that he was only twelve, and this would well accord with the fact that he seems to have taken no step on his own behalf, while Nathan and Bathsheba act for him. It accords less well with the calm magnanimity and regal decisiveness which he displayed from the first day that he was seated on the throne. The Greek proverb says, "Power shows the man." Perhaps Solomon, hitherto concealed in the seclusion of the harem, was, up to this time, ignorant of himself as well as unknown to the people. Being unaware of the boy’s capacity, many were taken in by the more showy gifts of the handsome Adonijah, whose age might seem to promise greater stability to the kingdom.

But Solomon from his birth upwards had been Nathan’s special charge. No sooner had he been born than David had entrusted the infant to the care of the man who had awakened his slumbering conscience to the heinousness of his offence, and had prophesied his punishment in the death of the child of adultery. An oracle had forbidden him to build the Temple because his hands were stained with blood, but had promised him a son who should be a man of rest, and in whose days Israel should have peace and quietness. {1 Chronicles 22:6-9} Long before, in Hebron, David, yearning for peace, had called his eldest son Absalom ("the father of peace"). To the second son of Bathsheba, whom he regarded as the heir of oracular promise, he gave the sounding name of Shelomoh ("the peaceful"). But Nathan, perhaps with reference to David’s own name of "the Beloved" had called the child Jedidiah ("the beloved of Jehovah").

The secret of his destiny was probably known to few, though it was evidently suspected by Adonijah. To have proclaimed it in a crowded harem would have been to expose the child to the perils of poison, and to have doomed him to certain death if one of his unruly brothers succeeded in seizing the royal authority. The oath to Bathsheba that her son should succeed must have been a secret known at the time to Nathan only. It is evident that David had never taken any step to secure its fulfillment.

The crisis was one of extreme peril. Nathan was now old. He had perhaps sunk into the courtly complaisance which, content with one bold rebuke, ceased to deal faithfully with David. He had at any rate left it to Gad the Seer to reprove him for numbering the people. Now, however, he rose to the occasion, and by a prompt coup d’etat caused the instant collapse of Adonijah’s conspiracy.

Adonijah had counted on the jealousy of the tribe of Judah, on the king’s seclusion and waning popularity, on the support of "all the captains of the host," on the acquiescence of all the other princes, and above all on the favor of the ecclesiastical and military power of the kingdom as represented by Abiathar and Joab. To Solomon himself, as yet a shadowy figure and so much younger, he attached no importance. He treated his aged father as a cipher, and Nathan as of no particular account. He overlooked the influence of Bathsheba, the prestige which attached to the nomination of a reigning king, and above all the resistance of the bodyguard of mercenaries and their captain Benaiah.

Nathan had no sooner received tidings of what was going on at Adonijah’s feast than he shook off his lethargy and hurried to Bathsheba. She seems to have retained the same sort of influence over David that Madame de Maintenon exercised over the aged Louis XIV "Had she heard," asked Nathan, "that Adonijah’s coronation was going on at that moment? Let her hurry to King David, and inquire whether he had given any sanction to proceedings which contravened the oath which he had given her that her son Solomon should be his heir." As soon as she had broken the intelligence to the king, he would come and confirm her words.

Bathsheba did not lose a moment. She knew that if Adonijah’s conspiracy succeeded her own life and that of her son might not be worth a day’s purchase. The helplessness of David’s condition is shown by the fact that she had to make her way into "the inner chamber" to visit him. In violation of the immemorial etiquette of an Eastern household, she spoke to him without being summoned, and in the presence of another woman, Abishag, his fair young nurse. With profound obeisances she entered, and told the poor old hero that Adonijah had practically usurped the throne, but that the eyes of all Israel were awaiting his decision as to who should be his successor. She asked whether he was really indifferent to the peril of herself and of Solomon, for Adonijah’s success would mean their doom.

While she yet spoke Nathan was announced, as had been concerted between them, and he repeated the story of what was going on at Adonijah’s feast. It is remarkable that he says nothing to David either about consulting the Urim, or in any way ascertaining the will of God. He and Bathsheba rely exclusively on four motives-David’s rights of nomination, his promise, the danger to Solomon, and the contempt shown in Adonijah’s proceedings. "The whole incident," says Reuss, "is swayed by the ordinary movements of passion and interest." The news woke in David a flash of his old energy. With instant decision he summoned Bathsheba, who, as custom required, had left the chamber when Nathan entered. Using his strong and favorite adjuration, "As the Lord liveth, that hath redeemed my soul out of all distress," {Comp. 2 Samuel 4:9, Psalms 19:14} he pledged himself to carry out that very day the oath that Solomon should be his heir. She bowed her face to the earth in adoration with the words, "Let my lord, King David, live forever." He then summoned Zadok, the second priest, Nathan, and Benaiah, and told them what to do. They were to take the body-guard which was under Benaiah’s command, to place Solomon on the king’s own she-mule {Genesis 41:43, 1 Kings 1:33, Ezra 6:8} (which was regarded as the highest honor of all honors), to conduct him down the Valley of Jehoshaphat to Gihon, where the pool would furnish the water for the customary ablutions, to anoint him king, and then to blow the consecrated ram’s horn (shophar) {2 Kings 9:13} with the shout, "God save King Solomon!" After this the boy was to be seated on the throne, and proclaimed ruler over Israel and Judah.

Benaiah was one of David’s twelve chosen captains, who was placed at the head of one of the monthly courses of 24,000 soldiers in the third month. The chronicler calls him a priest. His available forces made him master of the situation, and he joyfully accepted the commission with, "Amen! So may Jehovah say!" and with the prayer that the throne of Solomon might be even greater than the throne of David. Joab was commander-in-chief of the army, but his forces had not been summoned or mobilized. Accustomed to a bygone state of things he had failed to observe that Benaiah’s palace-regiment of six hundred picked men could strike a blow long before he was ready for action. These guards were the Krethi and Plethi, "executioners and runners," perhaps an alien body of faithful mercenaries originally composed of Cretans and Philistines. They formed a compact body of defenders, always prepared for action. They resemble the Germans of the Roman Emperors, the Turkish Janissaries, the Egyptian Mamelukes, the Byzantian Varangians, or the Swiss Guard of the Bourbons. Their one duty was to be ready at a moment’s notice to carry out the king’s behests. Such a picked regiment has often held in its hands the prerogative of Empire. They were, originally at any rate, identical with the Gibborim, and had been at first commanded by men who had earned rank by personal prowess. But for their intervention on this occasion Adonijah would have become king.

While Adonijah’s followers were wasting time over their turbulent banquet, the younger court-party were carrying out the unexpectedly vigorous suggestions of the aged king. While the eastern hills echoed with "Long live King Adonijah!" the western hills resounded with shouts of "Long live King Solomon!" The young Solomon had been ceremoniously mounted on the king’s mule, and the procession had gone down to Gihon. There, with the solemnity which is only mentioned in cases of disputed succession, Nathan the prophet and Zadok as priest anointed the son of Bathsheba with the horn of perfumed oil which the latter had taken from the sacred tent at Zion. These measures had been neglected by Adonijah’s party in the precipitation of their plot, and they were regarded as of the utmost importance, as they are in Persia to this day. Then the trumpets blew, and the vast crowd which had assembled shouted, "God save King Solomon!" The people broke into acclamations, and danced, and played on pipes, and the earth rang again with the mighty sound. Adonijah had fancied, and he subsequently asserted, that "all Israel set their faces on me that I should reign." But his vanity had misled him. Many of the people may have seen through his shallow character, and may have dreaded the rule of such a king. Others were still attached to David, and were prepared to accept his choice. Others were struck with the grave bearing and the youthful beauty of the son of Bathsheba. The multitude were probably opportunists ready to shout with the winner whoever he might be.

The old warrior Joab, perhaps less dazed with wine and enthusiasm than the other guests of Adonijah, was the first to catch the sound of the trumpet blasts and of the general rejoicing, and to portend its significance. As he started up in surprise the guests caught sight of Jonathan, son of Abiathar, a swift-footed priest who had acted as a spy for David in Jerusalem at Absalom’s rebellion, {2 Samuel 15:27, 2 Samuel 17:17} but who now, like his father Abiathar and so many of his betters, had gone over to Adonijah. The prince welcomed him as a "man of worth," one who was sure to bring tidings of good omen; but Jonathan burst out with, "Nay, but our Lord king David hath made Solomon king." He does not seem to have been in a hurry to bring this fatal intelligence; for he had not only waited until the entire ceremony at Gihon was over, but to the close of the enthronization of Solomon in Jerusalem. He had seen the young king seated on the throne of state in the midst of the jubilant people. David had been carried out upon his couch, and, bowing his head in worship before the multitude, had said, "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, which hath given one to sit on my throne this day, mine eyes even seeing it."

This intelligence fell like a thunderbolt among Adonijah’s unprepared adherents. A general flight took place, each man being only eager to save himself. The straw fire of their enthusiasm had already flared itself away.

Deserted by every one and fearing to pay the forfeit of his life, Adonijah fled to the nearest sanctuary, where the Ark stood on Mount Zion under the care of his supporter the high priest Abiathar. {1 Kings 1:50} There he caught hold of the horns of the altar-wooden projections at each of its corners, overlaid with brass. When a sacrifice was offered the animal was tied to these horns of the altar. {1 Kings 1:50, Psalms 118:27, Exodus 27:2 ff., Exodus 29:12, Exodus 30:10} Comp. Exodus 21:14, and they were smeared with the victim’s blood just as in after days the propitiatory was sprinkled with the blood of the bull and the goat on the Great Day of Atonement. The mercy-seat thus became a symbol of atonement, and an appeal to God that He would forgive the sinful priest and the sinful nation who came before Him with the blood of expiation. The mercy-seat would have furnished an inviolable sanctuary had it not been enclosed in the Holiest Place, unapproachable by any feet but that of the high priest once a year. The horns of the altar were, however, available for refuge to any offender, and their protection involved an appeal to the mercy of man as to the mercy of God.

There in wretched plight clung the fallen prince, hurled down in one day from the summit of his ambition. He refused to leave the spot; unless King Solomon would first of all swear that he would not slay his servant with the sword. Adonijah saw that all was over with his cause. "God," says the Portuguese proverb, "can write straight on crooked lines"; and as is so often the case, the crisis which brought about His will was the immediate result of an endeavor to defeat it.

Solomon was not one of those Eastern princes who

"Bear like the Turk no brother near the throne."

Many an Eastern king has begun his reign as Baasha, Jehu, and Athaliah did, by the exile, imprisonment, or execution of every possible rival. Adonijah, caught red-handed in an attempt at rebellion, might have been left with some show of justice to starve at the horns of the altar, or to leave his refuge and face the penalty due to crime. But Solomon, unregarded and unknown as he had hitherto been, rose at once to the requirements of his new position, and magnanimously promised his brother a complete amnesty so long as he remained faithful to his allegiance. Adonijah descended the steps of the altar, and having made sacred obeisance to his new sovereign was dismissed with the laconic order, "Go to thine house." If, as some have conjectured, Adonijah had once urged on his father the condign punishment of Absalom, he might well congratulate himself on receiving pardon.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 Kings 1:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/1-kings-1.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, June 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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