Thursday, May 12, 2022

1 Kings 2:13-46

1 Kings 2:13–46: Solomon’s Throne Established

Before going into this passage, it’s worth remembering a couple of pieces of context, since this passage is tying off some loose ends:

  • In Chapter 1, when it looked like King David’s health was failing, his eldest son, Adonijah, made himself king, with the help of Joab and the priest Abiathar. Part of the reason Adonijah felt it was time to do so was that a girl named Abishag had been made sexually available to David—which would make her a concubine of his—but David hadn’t been able to perform with her, which Adonijah took as a sign of the end of David’s manhood. (The passage doesn’t spell things out that way, but it’s not hard to infer the meaning.) However, Adonijah hadn’t even made it to the throne before Solomon’s mother Bathsheba and the prophet Nathan conspired to have David make Solomon king, instead.
  • Then, in verses 1–12 of Chapter 2, David gave Solomon a number of instructions for dealing with various people, including Joab and Shimei.

Passage

The passage begins with Adonijah approaching Bathsheba with a request: he would like to marry Abishag, and is asking Bathsheba to obtain Solomon’s permission. She agrees to ask her son, and does, but Solomon doesn’t react well. Remember: a king’s son sleeping with the king’s wives—or concubines—is tantamount to declaring himself king. We shouldn’t view this as an innocent act of love between Adonijah and Abishag, this is a power grab, and Solomon sees it as such:

King Solomon answered his mother, “Why do you request Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? You might as well request the kingdom for him—after all, he is my older brother—yes, for him and for Abiathar the priest and Joab son of Zeruiah!”

Then King Solomon swore by the Lord: “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if Adonijah does not pay with his life for this request! And now, as surely as the Lord lives—he who has established me securely on the throne of my father David and has founded a dynasty for me as he promised—Adonijah shall be put to death today!” So King Solomon gave orders to Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and he struck down Adonijah and he died.

(verses 22–25)

He doesn’t put Abiathar, the priest, to death, noting that Abiathar had “shared [David’s] hardships” (verse 26), but he does remove him from the priesthood. Verse 27 tells us that this “fulfill[s] the word the Lord had spoken at Shiloh about the house of Eli,” and for that we have to go all the way back to 1 Samuel 2:27–36, where one of Abiathar’s ancestors, a man named Eli, had some bad sons who were not properly carrying out their duties as priests. God had promised to remove Eli’s line from the priesthood:

“Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that members of your family would minister before me forever.’ But now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me! Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained.” (1 Samuel 2:30)

But back to 1 Kings…

When Joab hears what’s happened he gets worried (for good reason). He immediately goes to the tent of the Lord—that is, the Tabernacle—and grabs hold of the horns of the altar, hoping people won’t kill him as long as he’s in there. It’s interesting, however, that the text calls something out for us:

When the news reached Joab, who had conspired with Adonijah though not with Absalom, he fled to the tent of the Lord and took hold of the horns of the altar. (verse 28, emphasis added)

The author is telling us that, yes, Joab was part of the conspiracy against Solomon, but that doesn’t mean he’s always been against God, or against the house of David, or on “the wrong side of history.”

Regardless, Benaiah goes to the Tabernacle and tells Joab to come out, but Joab refuses. When Solomon hears about it he instructs Benaiah to kill Joab anyway, so he does. Benaiah ends up replacing Joab as the head of the army, and Zadok replaces Abiathar as priest.

With all of this out of the way, it leaves only Shimei for Solomon to take care of. I’m not sure why he does it this way, but Solomon has Shimei brought to him, instructs him to build a house for himself in Jerusalem, and stay there. If Shimei ever leaves Jerusalem, he’ll be put to death, and it’ll be his own fault. Shimei agrees, and obeys Solomon for a while, but a few years later some of his slaves run away so he leaves Jerusalem to go find them and bring them back. Solomon hears about it and reminds him of the vow he’d made. He also rubs it in a little bit, telling Shimei that David’s throne will be secure forever:

The king also said to Shimei, “You know in your heart all the wrong you did to my father David. Now the Lord will repay you for your wrongdoing. But King Solomon will be blessed, and David’s throne will remain secure before the Lord forever.” (verses 44–45)

Remember that the main reason Shimei had been against King David is that Shimei was a relative of Saul, the man David replaced.

So Benaiah kills Shimei, and verse 46 says that, “The kingdom was now established in Solomon’s hands.”

Thoughts

Aside from anything else, this passage really got me thinking about promises and vows. Solomon is keeping some vows he’d made to his father; Solomon doesn’t keep a vow he made to his mother; we’re reminded of a vow God Himself had made and then taken away (because the other side didn’t keep their part of the deal); Shimei makes a vow and doesn’t keep it, and is punished. So a lot of my thoughts are on that topic (with a question about Bathsheba’s motivation and yet another bit of thinking about Joab thrown in for good measure).

Promises and Vows

I think it’s pretty clear to the modern-day Christian that we are supposed to be honest. If I make a promise I should keep that promise; if I give my word on something I should have such a reputation for honesty that people never need to doubt or question it.

However, the Bible makes another point about promises/vows that I’m not sure we fully take into account when having theoretical conversations on the topic: there are times when a promise or a vow shouldn’t be honoured.

Jephthah, in Judges 10–11

A memorable example of a vow that shouldn’t have been kept was in Judges 10:6–11:40, where we have the story of Jephthah, who, in the heat of battle, vows to the Lord that if He gives the Ammonites into Jephthah’s hands he will make a sacrifice of “whatever” comes out of the door of his house to meet him, when he returns home. Then, when he returns home, the first creature out the door is his daughter—whom Jephthah eventually sacrifices! Now, this was a dumb vow to make in the first place—the odds were that the first creature to come out the door upon Jephthah’s return would be a human member of his own family—but even setting that aside, once he returned home and it was his daughter who came out to greet him, the right thing to do would have been to not carry out the vow! Maybe he would have needed to ask God’s forgiveness for making such a vow in the first place, maybe he should have substituted another sacrifice in his daughter’s place! I’m almost positive I just read some rules in Leviticus or Numbers, shortly before writing this post, on substitutions in place of humans for the purposes of sacrifices, but I went back and couldn’t find it; whether I’m right or wrong on that point, however, there is still a passage in Leviticus that speaks to this exact situation:

… or if anyone thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil (in any matter one might carelessly swear about) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt—when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned. As a penalty for the sin they have committed, they must bring to the Lord a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for them for their sin. (Leviticus 5:4–6)

I think modern-day readers might sometimes forget our common sense when reading passages like the story of Jephthah in Judges, and when he sacrifices his daughter we might be thinking, “well, times were different back then!” Which… they were, but not to the point that sacrificing a human to God was ever acceptable, even to keep a vow! The problem wasn’t that times were different back then, the problem was that even then breaking the vow would have been the right thing to do, and if Jephthah had known the Scriptures maybe he would have done so.

The vow between God and the house of Eli

Coming back to this passage in 1 Kings, we are reminded of another vow, quoted above and re-quoted here:

“Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that members of your family would minister before me forever.’ But now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me! Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained.” (1 Samuel 2:30, emphasis added)

Yes, God had earlier made a promise that would have meant Eli’s descendents would minister before Him forever—but then Eli did such a bad job of keeping his end of the deal that God rescinded the promise.

Shimei’s deal with Solomon

Solomon decides not to kill Shimei as long as Shimei stays in Jerusalem, and Shimei agrees, but then he leaves Jerusalem and is executed. In this case, it really feels to me like Solomon trying to have it both ways: putting himself into a position where he can have Shimei executed, and have a “reason” for doing so. As the ESV Study Bible notes put it, “[Solomon] thus proves himself to be a ‘wise’ king (vv. 6, 9), but it is a dubious kind of wisdom.”

Solomon’s “vow” to Bathsheba

What struck me in this passage was the assumption, all the way along, that Solomon would not refuse to grant Bathsheba’s request. He even promises at one point not to refuse her! In fact, I’m sure the author is trying to make a point—or just going for irony—but it’s interesting to trace verses 13–22, and look for the word “refuse” in its various forms:

Verse Statement
16 Adonijah approaches Bathsheba with his request, and asks her “Do not refuse me”
17 He requests that she ask Solomon to give him Abishag as his wife, and interrupts himself with an aside to state that Solomon “will not refuse you”
20 Bathsheba says to Solomon that she has a “small request” and says “Do not refuse me”
20 Solomon tells her to make her request, and says that he won’t refuse her
21–22 Bathsheba passes on Adonijah’s request, and Solomon immediately refuses her

Those who haven’t thought critically about promises, vows, and what the Scriptures really say about them, might read this as Solomon breaking his word. However, given the circumstances, with the request actually being unreasonable, I don’t think that’s the case at all!

If someone comes to me and says, “I need a favour,” and I say, “Sure,” and that person requests that I go jump off a bridge, I can feel free to refuse that “favour,” even though I just said “sure” to it. When Solomon’s mother says she has a request, he says “I won’t refuse,” and the request turns out to be part of his brother’s plan to steal back the kingdom (that the Lord has just given him), Solomon can feel free to refuse that “request.”

Of course, that also brings me to another thought…

Why would Bathsheba make this request in the first place?

I think the strangest part of this passage is the fact that Bathsheba agrees to make this request on Adonijah’s behalf. Did she not realize what he was asking of her, or what was behind the request?

I can only think of three answers:

  1. She was naive, and really didn’t understand what Adonijah was actually asking for;
  2. She did understand, but suffered from the same problem that some modern-day Christians have: she felt that she’d made a promise and had to carry it out, even though it turned out to be a bad thing; or
  3. Adonijah had some kind of leverage over Bathsheba, such that she was afraid to refuse him.

The text doesn’t give any clue as to her motivation—and definitely doesn’t hint at any kind of leverage, that isn’t a theory supported by anything in the text—and my usual go-to source of the ESV Study Bible doesn’t have any thoughts on it either, so I don’t know. (I don’t think it’s important to the story, though, so I’m not worried about it.)

Yet more thoughts on Joab

When Solomon sends Benaiah into the Tabernacle to kill Joab he gives a little speech about it:

Then the king commanded Benaiah, “Do as he says. Strike him down and bury him, and so clear me and my whole family of the guilt of the innocent blood that Joab shed. The Lord will repay him for the blood he shed, because without my father David knowing it he attacked two men and killed them with the sword. Both of them—Abner son of Ner, commander of Israel’s army, and Amasa son of Jether, commander of Judah’s army—were better men and more upright than he. May the guilt of their blood rest on the head of Joab and his descendants forever. But on David and his descendants, his house and his throne, may there be the Lord’s peace forever.” (verses 31–33)

And I mention that because all along, up to this point, whenever David had a problem with Joab, I was typically on Joab’s side. Solomon, however, has no nuance in his approach to Joab: Joab is a bad man, and therefore deserves punishment. Given the oft-touted wisdom of Solomon, I have to really take that into account. (Yes, it’s true, God is going to grant Solomon wisdom in a later passage, so one could make the argument that Solomon might not be as wise now as he will be then, but I’m not assuming that he’s starting out with no wisdom, I read 1 Kings as saying that Solomon was a wise man whom God made even wiser.)

Does this mean I was wrong about David, and his treatment of Joab, however? No it doesn’t. 🙂 Even if Joab was fully in the wrong, all the way along, there is still the problem of David refusing to punish him for his crimes/sins, such that David could keep a good leader of his army and pass on the problem of executing him to his son.

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