1 Kings 1: Adonijah Sets Himself Up as King, David Makes Solomon King
1 Kings picks up where 2 Samuel left off, with King David quite old. So old, in fact, that he’s cold all the time, even when covered with blankets. So his attendants come up with an idea:
So his attendants said to him, “Let us look for a young virgin to serve the king and take care of him. She can lie beside him so that our lord the king may keep warm.”
Then they searched throughout Israel for a beautiful young woman and found Abishag, a Shunammite, and brought her to the king. The woman was very beautiful; she took care of the king and waited on him, but the king had no sexual relations with her. (verses 2–4)
Just in case it’s not clear, or the euphemisms are clouding the issue too much, yes, Abishag’s role is to make herself sexually available to David. Verse 2 is translated slightly differently in the ESV, saying, “Let a young woman be sought for my lord the king, and let her wait on the king and be in his service. Let her lie in your arms.” The ESV Study Notes confirm that our suspicions are correct:
The Hebrew expression for “wait” appears in Lev. 18:23 (as “give herself”), where it refers to availability for sexual intercourse; “be in his service” leaves the precise nature of the service unstated; and “in your arms” has sexual overtones in Gen. 16:5 (“your embrace”); 2 Sam. 12:8; and Mic. 7:5.
However, as stated above, whatever the intent, David doesn’t actually have sex with Abishag. We aren’t to read this as any kind of moral stand—David already had numerous wives and concubines—it’s a matter of impotence. He’s simply too old!
Apparently everyone knows that David is impotent, because his son Adonijah sees this as the time to crown himself king, since he’s next in line. He prepares chariots, horses and men to run in front of him, and then begins his preparations—though there are some who are not behind his claim to be king:
Adonijah conferred with Joab son of Zeruiah and with Abiathar the priest, and they gave him their support. But Zadok the priest, Benaiah son of Jehoiada, Nathan the prophet, Shimei and Rei and David’s special guard did not join Adonijah.
Adonijah then sacrificed sheep, cattle and fattened calves at the Stone of Zoheleth near En Rogel. He invited all his brothers, the king’s sons, and all the royal officials of Judah, but he did not invite Nathan the prophet or Benaiah or the special guard or his brother Solomon.
Not only is Nathan not in favour of Adonijah’s kingship, he also believes Solomon to be in danger; I’m assuming he believes that, at least in part, because Solomon wasn’t invited to the sacrifice. (And it is worrying that Adonijah would invite all of his brothers except one.) So Nathan hatches a plot: he finds Bathsheba (Solomon’s mother), and instructs her to go and fool David into thinking that he’d already decided Solomon was supposed to be king. Nathan promises that he’ll join them and confirm Bathsheba’s story.
This is what they do, and it works. David decides to make Solomon king, as he believes he promised to do so. It’s probably not a coincidence that the men David assigns to carry this out are the very ones that Adonijah had not invited to his sacrifices.
The anointing of Solomon as king involves quite a spectacle:
So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, Benaiah son of Jehoiada, the Kerethites and the Pelethites went down and had Solomon mount King David’s mule, and they escorted him to Gihon. Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the sacred tent and anointed Solomon. Then they sounded the trumpet and all the people shouted, “Long live King Solomon!” And all the people went up after him, playing pipes and rejoicing greatly, so that the ground shook with the sound. (verses 38–40)
It’s so loud, in fact, that Adonijah hears it in this midst of his feast! Jonathan arrives to inform Adonijah what has happened, and that, while Adonijah was still feasting, Solomon has not only been made king, he’s already sitting on the throne!
This is not good news for Adonijah:
At this, all Adonijah’s guests rose in alarm and dispersed. But Adonijah, in fear of Solomon, went and took hold of the horns of the altar. Then Solomon was told, “Adonijah is afraid of King Solomon and is clinging to the horns of the altar. He says, ‘Let King Solomon swear to me today that he will not put his servant to death with the sword.’”
Solomon replied, “If he shows himself to be worthy, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground; but if evil is found in him, he will die.” Then King Solomon sent men, and they brought him down from the altar. And Adonijah came and bowed down to King Solomon, and Solomon said, “Go to your home.”
Many of us in the 21st Century are so used to the idea that Solomon succeeded David as king of Israel that we might forget how he became king.
In fact, regardless of what takes place in the latter half of the chapter, it actually makes sense that Adonijah would become king after David. He would be next in line. We’re told in verse 6 that he was born after Absalom, who was David’s oldest son before his death, so, going by order of birth, Adonijah should be the next king of Israel.
We tend to think that Solomon had been chosen to be king—and in a sense he was, since this was all according to God’s plan—but nowhere in 2 Samuel does God instruct David to make Solomon his successor; when Adonijah sets himself up as king he is not, as far as he knows, going against God’s will, nor are any of his followers!
Does that mean Adonijah was blameless? I don’t think so; again, based on him inviting all of his brothers to the feast except for Solomon seems foreboding, to me. In that day and age (and for thousands of years later) it wasn’t uncommon for a new king to immediately kill anyone he thought might be a threat to his throne, which often meant all of his siblings. In this case Adonijah doesn’t seem to have been planning to kill all of his siblings, but if I read between the lines I think there was something between him and Solomon. It could very well be that there was a close enough relationship between David and Solomon that Adonijah was worried about it.
And so Nathan, the prophet, conspires to make Solomon king instead of Adonijah. Is Nathan doing anything wrong? I honestly don’t know. There seems to be a lot of stuff happening behind the scenes that the author didn’t record (e.g. why Adonijah had a problem with Solomon but not his other brothers), so we don’t have the full story. It was definitely God’s will to have Solomon be king, but was God working through Nathan’s faithful actions or working through Nathan’s sinful actions? (The text doesn’t seem to condemn Nathan, but I never know how much weight to put on that. The Scriptures—especially in the Old Testament—don’t always feel it’s necessary to spoon feed the reader by saying, “this thing that this person did was sinful.”)
David as Father
I spent a lot of time in 2 Samuel talking about problems with David as a father, and maybe the confusion about who is going to reign in his place is another example of it, but maybe not. There are lots of stories from the days of kings and queens in which the next in line for the throne was unclear, or there was some other kind of “messiness” about it, so it’s not necessarily the case that there are issues because David made a mistake in not assigning a next in line.
In fact, given how this story plays out, it’s quite possible that David didn’t feel he needed to do anything about it, because he simply assumed that his eldest would become king. Nathan and Bathsheba have to trick David into choosing anyone other than his eldest to be king!
That being said, verse 6 does indicate that David had never rebuked Adonijah for his behaviour, which indicates:
- Adonijah had not always behaved correctly, and
- As usual when it came to David’s sons, he did nothing about it
So regardless of how the main story plays out, there’s still one more opportunity here to put David’s fatherhood on display.
It’s not a major part of the plot, but I do find it amusing Joab is in the mix once again, on Adonijah’s side. As is so often the case with Joab, I can’t really fault him for what he’s doing; again, as far as most people are concerned Adonijah should be king.
Judah and Israel
In 2 Samuel we started to get some hints of a rift between the tribe of Judah and the rest of the nation of Israel; given that King David was from Judah, it caused some problems, with people assuming the tribe of Judah was going to get special treatment—including the tribe itself!
What I didn’t know until reading the ESV Study Bible notes for this passage was that that rift is playing into this event, too:
The events of chs. 1–2 are to be understood in light of the Judah/Israel tensions already evident in the books of Samuel and soon to reappear in 1 Kings 12 (cf. 2 Sam. 20:1; 1 Kings 12:16). Joab and Abiathar were men with deep roots in David’s Judean past (e.g., 1 Sam. 22:20–23; 2 Samuel 2–3). By contrast, only Benaiah and David’s mighty men (special guard) in the opposing group had such a long-standing association with David (see 2 Sam. 23:8–39). Note that it was the royal officials of Judah who were invited to Adonijah’s feast, not those of Israel. Shimei was an antagonist of David from the house of Saul (2 Sam. 16:5–14), while neither Nathan nor Zadok appear in the narrative before 2 Sam. 7:2 and 8:17, respectively (i.e., after David’s move from Hebron to Jerusalem in 2 Sam. 5:6–10).