Studies in the Book of Kings 1 Kings 1:11-2:46


1 Kings 1:11-2:46

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We have an extended reading this evening and so I will limit my comments on the text to a minimum. There is really no place to break the account and in its entirety it serves to introduce the fundamental perspective of the book and the great message of the book of Kings as part of the entire Bible.

Text Comment

v.14

It does not speak well of David that Nathan, the Lord’s prophet, thought it necessary to devise a strategy to convince David to act on Solomon’s behalf. There is, by the way, no statement in Samuel to the effect that David had sworn that Solomon would be his successor, though there is no reason to think that he had not done precisely that and David will admit that he had in v. 29. But David is oblivious to what is going on in his own house and kingdom.

v.38

The Cherethites and the Pelethites were apparently David’s bodyguard.

v.40

David was still savvy enough to understand that a mere announcement would not suffice. A public ceremony appropriate for a coronation was required to silence all remaining enthusiasm for Adonijah and any doubts about Solomon’s assuming the throne.

v.50

According to the law of God (Exod. 21:14) laying hold of the horns of the altar was no guarantee of asylum in the case of someone who had committed a major crime, but Adonijah obviously thought he was more likely to receive clemency there than anywhere else.

2 v.6

Again, it does not speak well for David that in regard to Joab he asks his son to do for him what he had neither the courage nor stomach to do himself.

v.15

Is this simply Adonijah exaggerating to make his case more convincing or are we hearing here how close-run a thing Solomon’s succeeding his father actually was?

v.21

There is a debate in the commentaries as to Bathsheba’s role in making this request. Some have held that she wasn’t a particularly smart woman and didn’t realize what Adonijah’s request amounted to. Others, perhaps the more sexist among the scholars, have held that she was a sentimental romantic beguiled by what she saw as a court romance. “How sweet; Adonijah and Abishag are in love.” However, Bathsheba was a queen and had lived for years in the harem. If anyone knew what Adonijah’s request amounted to – marrying the king’s concubine was to lay claim to the throne – it was Bathsheba. She had witnessed Absolom’s sleeping with David’s concubines in a brazen effort to claim the throne for himself. Far more likely she knew precisely what she was doing taking Adonijah’s request to the king and knew precisely what its outcome was likely to be. Adonijah handed her a golden opportunity to secure her son’s throne and she took it.

v.27

In 1 Samuel 2 we read of the Lord’s promised judgment on the house of Eli the priest because of his failure to raise his sons to love and serve the Lord. Now, these many years later the prophecy reached its final fulfillment.

v.35

As so often in the Bible and as so often in life Joab suffers precisely the same fate he doled out to others. The army commander was killed as he had killed two army commanders and he was succeeded by the man who killed him as he had succeeded his victims, Abner and Amasa.

In studying other OT historical narratives we often noted that a narrator would signal his theme by the repeated use of a particular word or word group. In biblical scholarship this technique is referred to as leitwort, a German term meaning “key word,” a term coined by the famous Jewish scholar Martin Buber.

We have a leitwort in chapter 2, the Hebrew verb “to establish.” You find it first in v. 12 at the beginning of the latter section of this narrative. You find it again in the middle in v. 24, and you find it twice at the end, first in v. 45 and then again in v. 46. Clearly the author’s intention is to explain how it came to pass that the kingdom of Israel was established in Solomon’s hands. The book, remember, is Kings, that is, the kings of Israel descending from David, and it begins with the first king to succeed David and the first king of Israel to succeed to the throne in an orderly and peaceful manner. Here, in other words, begins the dynasty of David.

What is so significant about this is that it represents the fulfillment of the covenant that the Lord made with David. This is made the explicit emphasis of this narrative in David’s final instructions to Solomon. His encouragement to Solomon amounts to the repetition of the promise the Lord made to him in 2 Samuel 7 – a very important passage in the Bible as a whole – viz. that if David’s descendants proved themselves faithful to the Lord there would not fail to be a descendant of David on the throne of Israel. Solomon is the beginning of that succession. In the total revelation of Holy Scripture, of course, what is most important about this succession is that it led to David’s greatest descendant, Jesus Christ. All of the prophets, remember, present the hope of the salvation of the world in terms of this promise of a descendant who would sit on the throne of David and be the king that all the kings of Israel were simply pointers to, for better or for worse.

Let’s get this clear in our heads as we begin our studies in Kings. Why is this a political history? It is not a social history and it is not even primarily a religious history. If it were either of those it would contain a great deal of information it does not contain. Kings is a political history. Why is it an account of one reign after another, the career of one king after another? Because royalty, because a king is fundamental to the entire message of the Bible and lies at the very heart of the gospel. You know how fundamental to the history of the four Gospels is the concept of the Messiah. Well, the Messiah, everyone understood, was a king. “Messiah” means “anointed one,” that is, in the biblical context someone anointed to be king. And in Acts and in the Letters you know how significant is the concept “Lord.” What does it mean to be a Christian? It means to confess Jesus Christ “Lord.” Well in the context of the ANE “Lord” is another term for a royal figure or king. The book we are studying is all about kings because the Bible is all about a king! These kings are a foil for the king, the preparation for him, the background against which we will be shown who the King of Kings is and what he will do. In this respect, Kings reveals a fundamental perspective of biblical revelation. Royalty is never far away from any teaching of  the Bible because the Bible is the revelation of the King.

But the book in its account of these kings reveals another, a second fundamental perspective of biblical revelation, a perspective that every Christian probably understands at some level but which every Christian ought to have very clearly settled in his or her mind. Here again we meet one of the most basic of biblical tensions, that between the divine sovereignty and human responsibility or between the grace of God and the accountable action of men.

The fact is, as you know, Kings will be the tale of a succession of descendants of David, some faithful, some very unfaithful, until finally the unfaithfulness of the house of David is so fixed that it leads to the destruction of the Davidic dynasty and the exile of the Jews to Babylon. Looked at from that perspective the book is the melancholy demonstration of David’s final words to Solomon: if, but only if, his descendants proved faithful would the Davidic line continue. They didn’t and it didn’t. But, of course, it did. Jesus Christ was still to come and, as is made clear in a hundred ways in the Bible, there was never any doubt of that fulfillment. There would be a king sitting forever on David’s throne.

Jesus was the fulfillment of many prophecies made long before the Lord made any promise to David. He was the seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent; he was the descendant of Abraham through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed; he was the descendant of Judah who would bring prosperity to the people of God; he was the lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world; he was the prophet like Moses who would come; and, in addition to all of that, he would be the king who would sit on David’s throne.

What we have here, then, is a promise that is both unconditional and conditional at the same time. And we have that everywhere we look in the Bible; confusing as it may sometimes be it is something we must come to terms with. It is true of the Biblical revelation of the NT as surely as it is of the OT. The assertion, however obvious, is sometimes controversial and there have been many efforts made to resolve the tension between a promise with conditions and an unconditional promise with respect to the kingship by favoring one emphasis or the other. As so many times in the past people try to relieve the tension created by the Bible’s assertion of both divine sovereignty and human accountability.

Sometimes it is the conditional aspect that is denied. Obviously there are conditions attached to the covenant, such as David explicitly emphasizes here in 2:2-4 and as we read in a number of other texts. So some scholars have argued that the conditions were put in later, by some later editor, to explain what had happened. The original promise was unconditional: David would always have a descendant sitting on Israel’s throne. Period. But the dynasty, in fact, came to an end with Jehoiachin and the Babylonian exile; so the conditions were added by a later writer to account for the fact that there was no longer a throne is Israel, much less a throne occupied by a descendant of David. The conditions were, in other words, an explanation offered after the fact to explain why things didn’t turn out the way they were supposed to. In OT scholarship this opinion is very like what you find in some NT scholarship that argues that much of the Gospels was invented later to explain why the kingdom of God didn’t come immediately upon the death and resurrection of Jesus. He didn’t return when he said he would so the account of what he said would happen was changed after the fact to make it agree with the actual situation. Jesus never, in fact, told a parable about the king going away on a long journey and his servants waiting for his return. The church invented that story and put it into Jesus’ mouth to account for the fact that the Lord had still not returned decades after his ascension to heaven. And in the same way scholars have long argued that David never said anything about the continuation of his line depending upon the faithfulness of his descendants. That was added later to explain the end of the dynasty.

Others argue that some of the covenants were conditional and some were unconditional: usually the covenants with Abraham and David are thought to have been unconditional and the covenant with Israel at Sinai was conditional. That is the covenants with Abraham and David would be fulfilled no matter what men did, but the covenant with Israel would only continue if Israel proved faithful. But I hope you see and will always be ready to point out that that is not the way, it is never the way the Bible presents this material. Both the covenant with Abraham and the covenant with David can be broken. David says that explicitly here and in Genesis 17, for example, we read that anyone who fails to have his children circumcised will have broken the Lord’s covenant with Abraham and will be cut off. It is there called an everlasting covenant but it most assuredly can be broken by unbelief and disobedience. And when we come to the New Testament – as we have seen recently in our studies in Romans 9-11 – we find that the covenant God made with Israel is also unconditional and its fulfillment is certain no matter that generations of Israel were lost because of their unbelief. Those 12 tribes of Israel are listed as now in heaven in Revelation 7 and the name of each tribe is found on one of the twelve gates of the New Jerusalem. It is not a contradiction in Holy Scripture to say that all of God’s covenants with his people are everlasting and all of them can be broken.

There is no other way to read this material in faithfulness to Holy Scripture but to accept that there are ways in which the covenants God made with Abraham, with Israel, and with David are unconditional and absolutely certain of their fulfillment and there are ways in which they are suspended on conditions and can be forfeit if the covenant person or the covenant community is at anytime unfaithful and disobedient.

There was never any possibility that the promise made to David would not be fulfilled, that Christ, the anointed king and descendant of David, would not come and establish his eternal kingdom. But that fact and that certainty did Jeroboam and Ahab and Ahaz no good. They were kings of Israel but they were lost men and their kingdom, that is their people, were lost kingdoms because of their unbelief.

That is the second great perspective inculcated by the history of Kings: the absolute certainty of God’s promise and the absolute necessity of faith in him and obedience to his Word. We have both in this early narrative of the establishment of the Davidic dynasty in Solomon’s succession. God has kept his promise to David, on the one hand, and Solomon is laid under the solemn obligation to trust the Lord and to obey his commandments.

And that fundamental and double perspective is what we find in the NT. There is no doubt that Christ will come again, take his church to himself, and establish his eternal kingdom in glory. That is certain. But that prospect can be of no comfort to those in the church and the kingdom of God who do not trust the Lord. To know Christ is coming again and will certainly establish his kingdom is of no benefit to Judas or to Demas or to the apostates of the church addressed in Hebrews or the church in Laodicea if those men and women did not repent and follow Christ in faith. The promise is unconditional and conditional at one and the same time. It was from the beginning, it is now, and it shall be until Christ comes again. God will accomplish his gracious purpose in the salvation of his people and you and I must trust him and live by faith if we are to participate in that salvation. To be sure, only God’s elect can do so, but the only way you and I can know that we are numbered among the elect of God is to trust the Lord and to live by faith in him.

But, beyond these two perspectives that are fundamental to the book of Kings – the concentration on the office of king and the nature of God’s covenant as conditional and unconditional at the same time – there is a third perspective that is introduced in this early narrative of the establishment of Solomon’s reign and it too is a perspective that will be confirmed and illustrated throughout the book of Kings. And that is this: when the Lord requires his people to trust him and to obey him, he is merciful, he is very gracious in judging what constitutes true faith and true obedience.

David exhorted Solomon to keep the charge of the Lord and walk in his ways so that the Lord may establish his word to me that I would not lack a man on the throne of Israel.

Now David himself does not appear in this narrative in a very favorable light. Indeed, he makes a somewhat pathetic figure. He has wives but sleeps instead with a young virgin. Would any of you women like to grow old with David as your husband? He is still an intelligent man, so much so that he knows precisely what to do when Adonijah’s plot is reported to him, but until the report he was living in a daze, careless and clueless. He strikes us as living a selfish life, as a man in whom the fire of useful service had gone out. He no longer bothered with the great calling the Lord had given him. Indeed, from 2 Samuel 11 onward David doesn’t appear in a very favorable light. He was a miserable father, presiding ineffectively over a household full of rebellious sons. He was a half-hearted monarch allowing others to do most of his work for him. Even here in 1 Kings 1 he has to be stirred to action by Nathan and Bathsheba. Left to David the promise God had made to him would have been frittered away. And yet later, in 1 Kgs. 15:5, we will read:

“David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.”

Now that is a remarkable and a wonderful statement: “…except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite”? It is as if all of David’s other sins, all the rest of his disappointing behavior had been utterly forgotten. Such is the grace of God, sweeping away so much that is wanting in our lives and treating us as if we were so much more faithful than we are.

And, of course, we will get to the same dismal place with Solomon as well and with the rest of the so-called “good” kings. Solomon will fall into idolatry later in his life, a wise man whose wisdom is undone by his many wives. And we will discover that every other good king had feet of clay. Uzziah or Azariah did many good things and some very wicked things. Even Jehoshaphat will prove a disappointment in some respects. So will Hezekiah, perhaps Judah’s best king. These are men of faith but they were hardly as good, as faithful, or as obedient as they should have been. We will shake our heads at their folly again and again. And yet God regarded them as faithful for the purposes of the fulfillment of his promise to David and to his people. He will himself tell us that they were good kings, faithful kings, even as he reports their moral failures.

Add these perspectives together and we have the biblical perspective in sum: God will accomplish his purposes of grace but that does not mean that we are not absolutely required to trust him and to devote ourselves to a life of obedient service. That is the only way we are given to assure ourselves that we and our children will be part of the consummation of God’s salvation in the world.

But in calling us to faith and obedience, the Lord has not laid upon us a burden we cannot bear. His mercy and gentleness and grace are such that he is always taking our little for a lot and counting our lives as good when they are far from being as good as they ought to be. This is the practical effect of the forgiveness of our sins which is ours through the sacrificial death of David’s greatest descendant, the King of Kings, Jesus Christ our Lord.

In history and in literature heroes were often, if not usually the servants of some king. They sought to do the will of and advance the kingdom of their Lord and Master. Such were the medieval knights or Robin Hood and his band. Young people, you have a king and by his grace you are his servants and it is your calling and your privilege to serve him: a knight, a maiden of the court of the King of Kings!