1 Kings 2:1–12: David’s Charge to Solomon
In the last passage Solomon was set up as king of Israel, taking over for David who was near to his death. In this passage we get some final instructions from David to his son.
First, some general instructions that show that David was a man after God’s own heart right up to the end:
“I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, act like a man, and observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go and that the LORD may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’ (verses 2–4)
But then David gives Solomon a quick list of to-do items, that he wants his son to take care of:
|Take care of the Joab situation||Now you yourself know what Joab son of Zeruiah did to me—what he did to the two commanders of Israel’s armies, Abner son of Ner and Amasa son of Jether. He killed them, shedding their blood in peacetime as if in battle, and with that blood he stained the belt around his waist and the sandals on his feet. Deal with him according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to the grave in peace.||5–6|
|Be kind to Barzillai||But show kindness to the sons of Barzillai of Gilead and let them be among those who eat at your table. They stood by me when I fled from your brother Absalom.||7|
|Take care of the Shimei situation||And remember, you have with you Shimei son of Gera, the Benjamite from Bahurim, who called down bitter curses on me the day I went to Mahanaim. When he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the LORD: ‘I will not put you to death by the sword.’ But now, do not consider him innocent. You are a man of wisdom; you will know what to do to him. Bring his gray head down to the grave in blood.||8–9|
After this, David dies and is buried.
There are two pieces to this section: an initial set of general instructions around following the LORD, and then some specific action items Solomon is to take care of once David is gone.
Following God Faithfully
David’s initial instructions to Solomon are very much in line with our view of David as a man after God’s own heart. He wants Solomon to follow God as faithfully as David has done. In retrospect we know that Solomon wasn’t as faithful to God as David was—it’s an oversimplification, but God gifted David with faith, and gifted Solomon with wisdom—but he wasn’t a bad king, either. Not by a long shot. If we were to rank the kings of Israel and Judah according to their faith, we’d have David at the top, Solomon a little below him, and then all of the other kings way below that. (Maybe that’s not completely true; there were some faithful kings later on. But few who compare to David or even Solomon.)
And when he tells his son to be strong, and act like a man, I don’t think this indicates Solomon’s youth, I think it’s just a common figure of speech. The ESV Study Bible has some thoughts on that phrase:
1 Kings 2:2–3 Be strong, and show yourself a man. David’s parting words to Solomon echo God’s words to Joshua upon his “succession” to the leadership of Israel after Moses’ death (Josh. 1:6–9). This injunction begins by using the language of warriorship before moving on immediately to define the framework within which this strength must be exercised (obedience to God, in accordance with the Law of Moses). Particularly in view here (as in Joshua) is the law code of Deuteronomy, as the language of 1 Kings 2:3–4 indicates (cf. Deut. 4:29; 6:2; 8:6; 9:5; 11:1; 29:9). “Show yourself a man” seems to be an idiom that refers primarily to conducting oneself bravely (cf. 1 Sam. 4:9; 1 Cor. 16:13), as defined specifically here within the framework of faithful adherence to the Mosaic law; it will take bravery for Solomon to lead the people faithfully.
I’d initially intended to blog the entirety of Chapter 2, but realized I had too much to say about each of these action items David is giving to Solomon. I don’t have any issue with David’s instructions for Barzillai—he promised to be kind to the man, and wants Solomon to continue the kindness—but for the other two, David is just leaving his unfinished business with his son!
I’ll take them in order…
For context: The story of Joab is told all over 2 Samuel, but 2 Samuel 19:9–43 is the best example, and is probably the place I wrote about him (and his brother) the most.
I’m sure anything I say about Joab will be repeating myself from talking about him numerous times in 2 Samuel, but oh well. It just seems that every time I see Joab’s name in 2 Samuel—and now in 1 Kings—it’s a situation in which David has it out for him, but refuses to do anything about it. I’ve always thought that David might have been afraid to deal with Joab; he was, after all, a fantastic commander of David’s army, and surely the members of the army must have liked Joab, so maybe David was afraid to punish Joab for fear of losing his men. And yet… if that’s true, we have a man who’s afraid to do something, and leaving it for his son to do for him, which is even worse!
Even if it’s not fear, per se, it’s always felt like David is trying to have it both ways with Joab: he’s always talking about how the man has done wrong, and needs to be punished—but not doing it!
For context: Barzillai’s story can be found in 2 Samuel 17:24–18:18, 19:9–43, and 21. When David was fleeing Jerusalem because his son Absalom was trying to usurp the throne, Barzillai was kind to David and his men, providing food and supplies.
As I say, I don’t see anything wrong with David’s instructions around Barzillai. Reminding his son that he has promised to be kind to Barzillai, to ensure that Solomon carries that forward, shows that David continued to be loyal to his supporters right up until his death.
For context: Shimei’s story can be found in 2 Samuel 16:1–14 and 19:9–43. He was a relative of Saul—the previous king, who’d been replaced by David—and seems to have always had it out for the new king, up to and including the shouting of curses on David when he was fleeing Absalom. When Absalom was defeated, and David returned to Jerusalem, he promised not to put Shimei to death.
This kind of feels like an about-face to me. When David returned to Jerusalem and decided not to put Shimei to death in 2 Samuel 19 there wasn’t any indication that it was a temporary reprieve. He didn’t say, “I’m sparing Shimei for now, but I’ll be coming back for him later.” He harshly rebuked Abishai for even suggesting that Shimei should be killed—and yet now, from his deathbed, he’s ordering the man’s murder. (I don’t feel right about calling it a “punishment.”)
David might have just been playing politics in 2 Samuel 19; maybe he’d always intended to have Shimei put to death but felt it would cause problems to do so right at the moment he was returning to Jerusalem to resume kingship. (Things were already politically tricky at that time, between the tribe of Judah and the rest of the Israelites, so he had to be very careful.) But even if this is the case, ordering Shimei’s death from his own death bed feels petty to me; like David’s last act is to try to finish old feuds.