1 Kings 2:13-3:28
The first two chapters of 1 Kings are devoted to the transition from the rule of King David to that of King Solomon. Chapters 3-11 are devoted to describing the reign of Solomon. The distribution of space in 1 Kings to the various subjects that the book deals with is significant. For example, all of lengthy chapters 6, 7, and 8 are devoted to the building of the temple. In terms of time and cost the construction of the temple was not the major agenda of Solomon's kingship. Yet the Bible gives more attention to that one part of Solomon's life than any other part.
This principle is that the number of verses or chapters devoted to a subject indicates its importance in the mind of the Bible writer. Given that principle, the fact that two chapters are devoted to the transition from David to Solomon is more important than we usually realize. One of the main thrusts of chapter 1 is that Solomon became king because of a promise that David had made to Bathsheba, a promise which he saw as the carrying out in real life of the promise God had made to him in 2 Samuel 7:16.
Thus 1 Kings begins by affirming that God makes use of the historical processes to accomplish His will. Many modern readers are not comfortable with the political intrigue and manipulation of 1 Kings 1, but God's promise ended up being fulfilled through the whole process in spite of the tensions that were present. That fact would have been an encouraging word to the first readers of 1 Kings. They were in captivity in Babylon. It seemed that there was no hope. They were the victims of political intrigue and manipulation. But God had fulfilled his promise to David before in those circumstances. Perhaps He could do it again.
Chapter 2 moves the process a step further. Though God is at work in human history, human obedience is still necessary. The natural chronological transition point is the death of David, described in 1 Kings 2:10. Some outlines of 1 Kings see a major new section of the book beginning then in 1 Kings 2:13. However, there is an almost harmonic balance that encompasses all of chapter 2. Verses 1-12 describe David's last words and his death. Verses 13-46 describe Solomon's obedience to those words of David and the establishment of his kingdom.
1 Kings 2:13-46 - Solomon Established As King
The first days of Solomon's reign were neither easy nor secure. Adonijah had been plotting to become the king in place of David. The fact that David had caused Solomon to be anointed as king did not mean the question was settled. Once David died, Solomon would have to make his own way as king. He could not live on his father's reputation or desires. It would be his job to establish the kingdom for himself. To do so would require that certain challenges be met head on. David had warned Solomon of some of those challenges in his last words in verses 2-9. Others Solomon would have to deal with out of his own intuition and wisdom.
1 Kings 2:13-25 - The Threat of Adonijah
The story of Adonijah's conversation with Bathsheba and her subsequent conversation with Solomon is full of contradictory information. Adonijah went to Bathsheba with a strange request. That he would have come to Bathsheba suggests that Adonijah has a plan that may contain some "evil" that Solomon feared (1 Kings 1:52). As queen mother Bathsheba was an extremely powerful figure in Israelite culture. She directed all domestic matters relating to the royal family. In particular she had "say-so" over every other woman in the palace. It is true that she would provide privileged access to Solomon, but only regarding matters of the royal household. Thus the fact that Adonijah came to Bathsheba shows that his intention is to either gain favor in or intrude into the royal family structure.
The opening exchange between Adonijah and Bathsheba is full of irony. "Do you come in peace?" she asks. "In peace," he replies. Bathsheba's question shows her suspicion. The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, describes the total circumstances that make for well being for a person. Does Adonijah come with the intention of establishing and preserving well being? His reply satisfies her, but ironically the rest of the story will suggest that it is Adonijah's peace, not Solomon's, that he has in mind.
Adonijah's opening statement shows that he is still completely convinced that his attempt to exalt himself and gain the kingship was right. You known that the kingdom was mine reveals an unrepentant spirit from Adonijah. He still believed that the throne should go to the oldest son. Further indication of Adonijah's rebellious attitude is his statement that all Israel had received him with favor.
The English versions translate this part of the sentence in various ways. The Hebrew literally speaks of all Israel showing or giving their face to Adonijah. This was a sign of approval and acceptance in Israelite culture. To turn one's face away from another - to avoid looking at them - was a sign of disapproval and rejection. Adonijah has not stopped exalting himself. To say that all Israel had approved of his kingship is drastic overstatement of the facts. Thus the first two comments of Adonijah clearly imply that he has not accepted Solomon's kingship. Adonijah is dangerous.
However, he quickly shifts ground to ease Bathsheba's growing suspicion. But now the kingdom has turned. It has come from Yahweh to my brother. Adonijah states that the Lord is the one who has brought about Solomon's power. It is very important for the narrator that Adonijah state that it was the will of God that Solomon be king. To have his chief rival affirm that God wanted Solomon as king is a powerful affirmation of Solomon's right to rule.
This important statement, however, should not blind us as to the dynamic of the conversation. Adonijah has said that the kingdom really belonged to him; it was only the intervention of the Lord that gave it to Solomon. It is clear that though he is giving lip service to the plan of God, Adonijah does not believe that it was right. His subsequent words will show that though he confessed that God had brought Solomon to the kingship his own heart was still pursuing his own agenda.
Too many of us share Adonijah's problem. The church is full of people (usually people who have grown up in the church) who affirm the will of God in their public statements, but whose hearts are not in it. The essence of sin is the exaltation of oneself to the place of God. Like Adonijah, who exalted himself, we acknowledge God's will with our mouths, but we are still planning and conniving to get our own way. Unfortunately for Adonijah, he did not adequately cover his hypocrisy and it cost him his life.
Adonijah makes his play on Bathsheba's sympathy. "Poor me, I should have been king, but God had another plan. Please give me something to make me feel better. Don't you rub my face in the dirt also." This is the thrust of his plea that Bathsheba not refuse his request. Bathsheba does not commit herself. She requires Adonijah to lay his request on the table before she will respond. At that point Adonijah asks to be given Abishag as his wife. Abishag was the young woman mentioned in the first few verses of 1 Kings who was brought in to try to restore some vigor to David. At this point a typical western reader often shifts to a romantic perspective and thinks how sweet it is that Adonijah wants Abishag and wouldn't it be nice if Bathsheba could convince Solomon to make this true love story come true.
Adonijah should have become suspicious when Bathsheba immediately agreed to present his request to Solomon. In Israelite culture the request for Abishag was not the least bit romantic. In that culture the possession of the previous king's property, especially his wives, was the sign of legitimate kingship. When Adonijah asked for Abishag he was asking Solomon to give him a sign of kingship. For him to have David's last wife (concubine) would establish a legal foothold for him to make a legitimate claim to the throne. Bathsheba would have known and understood that deeper agenda of Adonijah's request. She probably also knew how Solomon would respond. The fact that she quickly agreed raises the suspicion that she regards Adonijah as dangerous and is willing to play along with him in order to remove him.
There is no doubt how Solomon takes Adonijah's request. He sees it as an attempt plain and simple to usurp kingly authority. One can easily see how important the queen mother was by the way in which Solomon received her. When he had given appropriate honors and hospitality to her he promised to grant whatever she requested. However, as soon as the request was made Solomon's response was swift and decisive.
Verse 22 summarizes the matter quite well. To ask for Abishag was to ask for the kingdom. Solomon also saw the request as a plot that included Joab and Abiathar. Verses 23-24 reveal the interesting understanding of an oath in Israelite thought. Verse 23 essentially calls the punishment of God on Solomon himself if he fails to deal with Adonijah appropriately. Then verse 24 presents his oath that Adonijah would die that very day.
We tend to recoil from the murder of Adonijah. It seems too cruel and out of character with the picture of God we have received in Christ. To try to understand it we must notice first that Adonijah's request was an act of treason. Instead of being worthy as he had promised he would be when holding onto the horns of the altar, he was returning evil for the good Solomon had shown him that day.
Second, Solomon understood that God's will had been the guiding force of his becoming king. Verse 24 credits the Lord with establishing him on his throne. He understood that when God accomplished that part of His will, it was a promise to Solomon that the promises made to David would be fulfilled through him and his children. A rebellion led by Adonijah would have been an attack on God's will. It was important that such a rejection of the will of God be thwarted.
Finally, David had urged Solomon in verse 2 to be strong. Solomon's response to Adonijah's rebellion was decisive, strong, and swift. We would do well to be as quickly and powerfully obedient to God as Solomon was to David.
1 Kings 2:26-35 - The Threat of Abiathar and Joab
Verse 22 had made it clear that Solomon saw Adonijah, Joab, and Abiathar linked in the rebellion against him. Once Adonijah had been killed, Solomon responded to Abiathar and Joab with the same decisiveness and obedience to David that he had shown with Adonijah.
The exact nature of Solomon's problem with Abiathar is never stated. Obviously, Abiathar's support of Adonijah was seen as treason. Solomon's judgment is that Abiathar was worthy of death, but because of his service as priest the death penalty was commuted, and Abiathar was banished from Jerusalem to his hometown of Anathoth (also the hometown of Jeremiah 300 years later). As part of the banishment Abiathar was removed from the priesthood, and Zadok was made high priest in his stead. The writer of 1 Kings then adds the editorial note that Solomon's punishment of Abiathar fulfilled the word of the Lord that he had spoken earlier in a promise to punish the family (house) of Eli for their sins. 1 Samuel 3:12-14 provides the background promise that Abiathar's banishment fulfills.
The news of Solomon's swift and strong response to Adonijah and Abiathar reached Joab. He understood the dynamics of the situation well enough to know that he was next. He fled to the tabernacle to claim sanctuary by holding onto the horns of the altar. Joab assumed that Solomon's only concern was his association with Adonijah. Since Solomon had originally (1 Kings 1:51-53) granted Adonijah asylum when he grasped the horns of the altar, Joab thought he might gain such a reprieve also.
However, as verses 5 and 6 make clear, Solomon was also under orders from David to clear the blood guiltiness of Joab. According to 2 Samuel 3:17-27 Joab had killed Abner when Abner was under safe passage to make peace with David. Second Samuel 3:28-29 contains a curse by David against Joab and his descendants, and 2 Samuel 20:4-10 describes Joab's murder of Amasa. In both cases Joab murdered a person deemed innocent by David. Since David was king and responsible for law and order and to prevent innocent blood being shed, ultimate responsibility rested on David. For whatever reasons David had chosen not to punish Joab in his own lifetime. On his deathbed he recognized that Joab's support of Adonijah would provide Solomon the opportunity to avenge the guiltiness Joab had brought against David's house.
When Solomon learned that Joab had fled to the altar for sanctuary, he ordered Benaiah, his ranking military commander, to go and execute Joab. When Benaiah arrived at the tabernacle, he ordered Joab to come out. Joab refused, saying, "I will die here." This was a direct challenge to Benaiah to violate the policy of sanctuary. Benaiah was afraid to do so and reported back to Solomon. Solomon, however, took up the challenge. He argued that the right of sanctuary, which applied under certain circumstances, did not apply to premeditated murder (see Exodus 21:12-14).
Since Joab had said that he would die at the altar, Solomon ordered that it be done in that fashion. In his explanation Solomon argues that Joab was only getting what he deserved while he (Solomon) was acting on behalf of God. Given the cultural expectations of bloodguilt and vengeance, Solomon understood that the execution of Joab would bring "peace" (shalom) to the house of David.
While Joab's death seems rather senseless to many modern Americans, it restored a sense of justice, balance, and well orderedness to Israelite tribal society. This restoration of order and justice would allow the peace and blessing of God to flow without impediment. In fact, many of us miss out of some of God's blessings because we allow our lives to go on and on without establishing the sense of fairness, balance, and order that our society considers basic to fulfillment.
1 Kings 2:36-46 - Cancellation of Shimei's Curse
David had charged Solomon to take care to bring Joab to his deserved end, to show kindness to the family of Barzillai, and to deal with Shimei. The author of 1 Kings does not mention Solomon's response to the command to treat Barzillai's family well. Instead he proceeds to the matter of Shimei. According to 2 Samuel 16:5-8 Shimei had publicly cursed David while David was fleeing during the rebellion of Absalom.
For us a curse is considered bad primarily because of the language involved. In Israelite culture a word was considered effective when it was spoken. To curse someone actually began the process of bringing the harm mentioned to happen in that person's life. It had almost magical power that flowed from the curse, haunting the one cursed until it came true. Thus to curse a ruler was a capital offense according to Exodus 22:28.
David's bodyguard would have killed Shimei on the spot for his curse, but David was too preoccupied by the threat of Absalom's rebellion. He did not allow Shimei to be killed since he thought that Shimei might have been the voice of God describing what Absalom would do to him (David). After David survived Absalom's revolt, Shimei came and apologized profusely (2 Samuel 19:16-23) to David. David refused to have him killed at that point. However, in Israelite culture the curse remained and remained in effect. On his death bed David had ordered Solomon to see to it that the curse be nullified (verses 8-9).
Solomon first ordered Shimei to move to Jerusalem and to never leave the city again. He specifically told Shimei that if he crossed the Kidron Valley he would be executed. Shimei's home, Bahurim, was across the Kidron Valley and was a center of supporters of Saul. Perhaps Solomon feared that Shimei would become involved in a plot against him by people still wanting a descendant of Saul to rule the nation.
In Solomon's time Jerusalem was a small city of about 11 acres. To be confined to such a small area would have been difficult, but Shimei lived without problems for three years. However, two of Shimei's slaves ran away and he received word that they were in Gath - the opposite direction out of Jerusalem from the Kidron Valley.
Shimei went in pursuit of his runaway slaves. Whether he forgot Solomon's command to never leave the city or reasoned that he was meeting Solomon's intentions since he did not cross the Kidron or return to his hometown does not matter. Solomon took the occasion to have Shimei executed also since he had technically violated the king's command to never leave Jerusalem. The point for the author of 1 Kings is that Solomon obeyed the command of David his father to remove the threat of Shimei's curse. Solomon's comment in verses 45-46 was that Shimei was simply reaping the evil he had caused, while Solomon would be blessed and his throne established.
The author of 1 Kings made his final editorial comment on the ascension of Solomon in verse 46. Thus the kingdom was established in the hands of Solomon. The Hebrew text could also be translated, "Thus the kingdom was established by the hand of Solomon."
The question we struggle with is whether Solomon did what was right or what was expedient. In that culture what Solomon did was certainly acceptable and probably necessary. When we review David's kingdom and all the violence and rebellion that came from his children and the tension between Adonijah and Solomon, a different approach was needed. There is no further record of violence for the remaining forty years of Solomon's kingdom. By decisive action early on he resolved problems that had plagued his father for years. Solomon had three people executed and one person exiled. That was far fewer deaths and banishments than happened under David. As Gene Rice states, "There is a delicately balanced point in leadership between weakness and despotism where firmness and strength in the cause of justice and right may be exercised in submission to God and in obedience to his will. It is the task of leadership to find this vantage point and to act from it." May God help us find such leaders. May God help us become such leaders!
1 Kings 3:1-28 - Solomon Empowered to Rule
The style of 1 Kings changes at chapter 3. The lively, flowing story of the transition to Solomon's rule disappears and reports, lists, and facts appear. Chapter 4 portrays Solomon as an administrator; chapters 5-9 show Solomon the builder; chapters 9 and 10 present Solomon the trader. Chapter 11 turns to Solomon the sinner, but chapters 4-10 are full of the glorious marvelous exploits of King Solomon. Those great achievements are portrayed as the result of Solomon's encounter with God described in chapter 3. After three introductory notes in verses 1-3, Solomon's dream at Gibeon is the focus of verses 4-15. Then verses 16-28 begin illustrating the way in which God had met with and blessed Solomon in that spiritual encounter through the dream.
1 Kings 3:1-15 - Solomon's Encounter with God
Verse 1 states that Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh by marrying a daughter of that king of Egypt. This is immediate confirmation of the statement at the end of chapter 2, "the kingdom was established in (or by) the hands of Solomon." Egypt was usually the most powerful or second most powerful nation in the Middle East. That Solomon would be able to enter into a marriage alliance with the Pharaoh either indicates that Egyptian power was at an extremely low ebb or Israel was very powerful. In fact, both were true at that time in history.
Marriage alliances were political arrangements. Usually they included treaties assuring mutual defense (and thus peace between the parties), trade agreements, and interchange of cultural resources. As symbol of the new alliance a daughter of one king would be given to the other king to become a part of his harem.
It is an amazing change of circumstances that barely three hundred years earlier Israel had been slaves in Egypt. Now Israel's king was son-in-law to the Pharaoh. Truly there is no telling what exciting and fascinating surprises come to a people who are part of the plan of God! But in the midst of this heady good news is a quiet question mark. Verse 1 states that Solomon brought this new bride to Jerusalem until he had finished building his palace and the temple. He didn't take her somewhere else when he finished those building projects. Only later will we learn that he built a place of worship for her idols. However, that cannot be mentioned now; this is the time to celebrate Solomon's exploits.
Another somber note appears in verse 2. The temple has not yet been built so the people are still sacrificing on the high places - the places of Canaanite pagan worship. In fact, the tabernacle was near Jerusalem. There was a place Israel could sacrifice appropriately and obediently. But they were also caught up in the influence of the surrounding culture. The writer gives the excuse that the temple wasn't yet built. Unfortunately Solomon also sacrificed and burnt incense at the high places. The writer tries to smooth it over by pointing out that Solomon loved the Lord and followed the teaching of David.
Verses 1-3 have a powerful message. Solomon will become famous for his wealth, wisdom, and piety. He truly was a great king for Israel. But the close of his life is marred by God's judgment for his sins. Verses 1-3 point out that those sins were present at the very beginning of Solomon's reign. When God met with him and offered him wisdom Solomon should have taken care of these failings. He did not. He allowed these seeds of sin to remain until they sprouted and grew too large to be ignored.
The rationalizations that we use when we don't want to deal with sin also appear here. Verse 2 basically says, "Everybody is doing it." Verses 1 and 3 portray Solomon trying to have the best of the world and the surrounding culture and to also love the Lord. That is an illusion. One cannot follow God and refuse to obey His basic commands for total allegiance. As Gene Rice perceptively notes, "Silently, invisibly, like an incubating virus, sin was at work throughout Solomon's reign and in the end broke out in violent, destructive force. Such is the nature of sin." Such is always the nature of sin and we ignore that fact to our peril.
Amazing as it may seem, it was while Solomon was performing a sacrifice at Gibeon, one of those high places, that the Lord appeared to him in a dream. God's word was simple, "Ask for what I should give you." What an invitation! Some of us wish that God would make such an offer to us. In reality He usually does. The opportunities and choices of our lives offer to us the basic choice that is offered to Solomon in this paragraph. Essentially, Solomon has the opportunity to choose a life of kingship based on materialistic power, wealth, and manipulation or a life of kingship based on the instruction and wisdom of God (see Reflection Article on 1 Kings 3:7-15, 11:1-6.
Solomon did not ask for the trappings of glory and worldly success. Deuteronomy 17:16-17 and 1 Samuel 8:11-18 had warned against such a vision of kingship. As Richard Nelson notes, "These glories would be part of Solomon's kingship (chaps. 3-10), but only as God's gifts, rewards for Solomon's proper focus on an entirely different pattern for kingship. Riches and honor were granted, beyond what any other contemporary king could boast of (v. 13); long life would depend on continued fidelity (v. 14)."
Solomon began his response by reviewing God's relationship with David. God had shown great covenant love to David. The word translated "covenant love" is hesed. It has also been translated as mercy, loving kindness, covenant faithfulness, and steadfastness. It is one of the great words of the Old Testament. God had steadfastly been committed to David. Likewise David had responded in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart. Out of that relationship God had made a promise to David and had fulfilled it by placing Solomon on the throne.
Solomon acknowledged that he had no such rich history of relationship with God - he was like a little child. Furthermore, the responsibility was great. He was charged with leadership of God's people, the chosen people. There is no greater responsibility than leadership of God's people. Solomon understood that and so he asked for an understanding heart. The Hebrew expression is powerful. Literally it states that Solomon asked for a hearing heart.
Three great truths arise from Solomon's request. First, the idea of a hearing heart ("understanding mind," NRSV) tells us of Solomon's intention to listen before he spoke, to listen to God and to listen to his people. There is no greater wisdom than the decision to listen before one speaks.
Second, the word heart is important. In Hebrew thought the heart was not the seat of emotions, but the seat of the will, the point of decisions. The will of Solomon - his intentions - would be marked by hearing. He did not ask for perfect performance. He asked that his will be shaped by openness to God and to his people. When God controls our will, everything else falls into place. Finally, Hebrew had no word for obedience. It used the word hearing for obeying. Solomon not only asked for a listening heart. He asked for a will committed to obedience.
No wonder God responded with a promise to grant Solomon a wise and discerning heart. The promise for material blessing appears to have been frosting on the cake. However, it is possible that the riches and honor were given as a test to see how deep Solomon's commitment to obedience would run. That is often our experience.
1 Kings 3:16-28 - An Example of Solomon's Wisdom
The need of a wise and discerning heart almost immediately presented itself to Solomon. Two women who were prostitutes gave birth and were living together with their respective babies. They awoke one morning to find one baby dead. Each claimed that the live baby was hers and the dead baby belonged to the other. How do you resolve the dilemma? Solomon ordered the live baby cut in two and divided equally among the women. Naturally the true mother then volunteered to give up her claim to save her child's life. Her response made it quite clear that she was the mother, and Solomon awarded her the child.
Scholars have identified at least twenty-two different versions of similar stories in a wide variety of cultures. It is a common illustration of true parental love and of discernment of a true parent. Solomon's wisdom is not unique, but it is insightful.
The point of the story really appears in verse 28. All Israel respected Solomon because they recognized that God had given him the wisdom to accomplish justice. Solomon's prayer had been answered. He had received a wise and discerning heart from God. More importantly, he was willing to use that gift in resolving real life problems. When he did, he gained the trust of all Israel. What a powerful lesson in leadership. What an important reminder to pray that God raise up among us people with wise and discerning hearts who are not afraid to act with the insight God gives them.
Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion
These readings and study questions are in preparation for next week's lesson.
These are study and reflection questions to facilitate a weeklong devotional journey into the Books of Kings. As you begin each day pray that the Lord will speak to you through His Word and that the Holy Spirit will breathe spiritual life into your heart through your study and reflection.
First Day: Read the notes on 1 Kings 2:13-3:28. Look up the Scripture references.
1. Identify one or two new pieces of information that seemed important to you.
2. Select one or two spiritual insights that you would like to make a part of your own heart and life. Jot them down.
3. Write a brief prayer asking God to grant you a wise and discerning heart.
Second Day: Read 1 Kings 4:1-34. Now focus on 1 Kings 4:1-28.
1. Briefly describe what you understand of Solomon's administrative structure as verses 2-19 present it.
2. What do you think is the point of verse 20? What insight do you gain from Genesis 13:16 and 32:12?
3. What evidence do verses 21-28 provide for Solomon's success? What signs in our society indicate success? What do you consider success?
Third Day: Read 1 Kings 4:21-5:12. Focus in on 1 Kings 4:29-5:6.
1. What evidence do the focus verses provide to indicate Solomon's wisdom? Which of these indications of wisdom would you most like to have in your life? Why?
2. What did Solomon want from Hiram? Why?
3. Solomon refers to the promise made to David in 2 Samuel 7:12-13. Read 2 Samuel 7:12-16. What promises about Solomon seem most important? Why?
Fourth Day: Read 1 Kings 5:1-18. Turn your focus to 1 Kings 5:7-18.
1. What does Hiram promise Solomon? What does Solomon give Hiram? What does God provide in verses 7-12?
2. Read verses 13-16; then read 1 Samuel 8:10-20. What unpleasant prophecies of Samuel did Solomon fulfill? What is the price that Israel (or we) pays for wanting to be like other peoples?
3. Though the number of people working for Solomon was impressive, what human consequences will come from so much forced labor, so much time away from home, and such heavy work? What projects are worth such costs?
Fifth Day: Read 1 Kings 6:1-22. Focus in on 1 Kings 6:1-10.
1. Assuming a cubit equals 18 inches, what were the dimensions of the temple? How does that compare in size with your house?
2. What do you think is the point of verse 7? Does Deuteronomy 27:5 shed any light upon it? Why do you think God would have given such a command?
3. What does the fact that the temple was roofed with cedar beams and planks tell you? What quality should we put into God’s temple? Apply your answer to 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19.
Sixth Day: Read 1 Kings 6:1-22. Now focus in on 1 Kings 6:11-22.
1. What indications of value appear in verses 11-22?
2. What promises does God make to Solomon if he will build the temple as God commanded? What is the most important phrase in verses 11-22? Why?
3. What is the most important thing needed for worship? Why do you answer that way? How does your worship illustrate the truth of your answer?