Kingship

1 Kings

Kingship

1 Kings 1:1–2:46

Main Idea: The writer recounts how Solomon succeeded David in coming to the throne and also provides David’s final instructions to his son.

I. Introduction

A. 1 Kings 1–2

II. Who Is the King (1:1-53)?

A. A suffering king (1:1-4)

B. A self-appointed king (1:5-10)

C. Servants of the king (1:11-27)

D. A sovereignly appointed king (1:24-53)

III. What Should the King Do (2:1-46)?

A. Keep the covenant (2:1-4).

B. Reign (2:5-46).

IV. Who Is Your King?

Introduction

What possible relevance does this antiquated book have for our lives? I mean, other than helping you win at Bible trivia or giving you some potential names for your kids, what benefit is there in examining the book of Kings?

As we shall see, Kings is relevant for our lives. Paul said, “For whatever was written in the past [in the Old Testament] was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures” (Rom 15:4). In Kings, as in other Old Testament books, we find instruction, encouragement, and hope. We need these blessings in order to endure faithfully.

Kings belongs to the history section of the Old Testament, a section referred to as the Former Prophets. It includes Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. In Joshua God’s people conquer the promised land as promised in the story of the patriarchs and the exodus. In Judges a number of interesting figures like Gideon, Deborah, and Samson lead the nation for a period of about 400 years. Judges, as a whole, shows the nation of Israel in a downward spiral, in need of a godly king. In 1 Samuel we find the account of the prophet Samuel and the beginning of the monarchy. The story of Saul, the first monarch, is found in 1 Samuel. David looms in the background of 1 Samuel as the king to come. Second Samuel is the story of David’s reign.

The books of 1 and 2 Kings (originally one book) cover about 370 years of history starting from the end of David’s reign. His successor is Solomon, the third larger-than-life king, about whom we read in the first eleven chapters of 1 Kings. After Solomon, there are a number of other kings. The final scene shows the kings in exile.

The message of 1 Kings is decline and 2 Kings is fall (Dever, The Message of the Old Testament). Seeds of decline appear in the beginning of 1 Kings and take on different appearances throughout (ibid.). The book opens like many books close (e.g., Genesis, Joshua), with the leading figure dying. This is fitting since Kings is about the decline of the kingdom—a decline that ends in a judgment.

We will make a number of applications in our study, but let me introduce three broad applications that appear throughout this story of decline. Kings is about worship, the word, and weakness. First, God’s people were called to worship God alone, but Kings tells the sad story of idolatry among God’s people. Though Solomon builds the great temple for worship, he falls prey to idolatry as well. Then the kingdom is divided because of idolatry (1 Kgs 11:33-35). We regularly read about what each king did with the “high places” or idols. Did he tear them down or not? The kings are judged based on this all-important matter. Since a more important question doesn’t exist than “Whom will you worship?” we see that Kings is most relevant for our lives.

Second, regarding the word, God previously told the people how to live. Much of the content in the first five books of the Bible (esp. Deuteronomy) is referred to in Kings. The people were supposed to live by God’s word, but the kings and their people failed to do so. In Kings God raises up prophets, most famously Elijah and Elisha, who perform great wonders and speak God’s word to the people. Later in the book Josiah recovers the word and leads a reformation. Since we too are a people of the book, we need to consider and apply this message of Kings.

Regarding weakness, the story of Kings shows us that every human leader has limitations. After the monarchy divides, all of Israel’s kings fail. Judah’s kingdom, however, is somewhat mixed. After Solomon (who appears to be continuing the power and the glory of Israel through his unparalleled wisdom, only to drift into folly and shame), two kings are exemplary: Hezekiah and Josiah. Six kings of Judah are praised, but with the caveat, “The high places were not taken away.” These are Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Amaziah, Azariah, and Jotham. The other kings are condemned. It’s obvious that another King is needed.

So Kings is a story that involves the sinfulness of kings and the people they represent, their persistent idolatry, and associated injustice. It’s a story of a sad decline and the need for another King, the ultimate Son of David. In Genesis a promise was made to Abraham: “I will make . . . kings come from you” (Gen 17:6; cf. 35:11). God kept His promise and in the fullness of time sent forth the King to end all kings, Jesus.

In addition we find various topics in Kings like political maneuvering, material prosperity, power plays between nations, alliances, violence, injustice, war, international trade, compromised worship, dying children, and many more familiar experiences (Olley, Message of Kings, 20). Through it all we meet God. Judging? Yes, but also dispensing mercy and providentially controlling human history. We meet the God of promise and salvation, who orchestrates a royal line that will ultimately culminate in David’s greater Son.

Kings speaks to everyone, every church, and every nation that might be going through turmoil. In the midst of turmoil, chaos, and confusion Jesus said the people were “weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36). He came to save a rebellious people. And eventually the God over history will “bring everything together in the Messiah, both things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10).

1 Kings 1–2

Due to space restrictions and the nature of this commentary, we’re going to cover a lot of ground in each chapter. I will look at the text historically, theologically, and practically, making appropriate Christ-centered, gospel-saturated connections. My plan is to give an overview of many sections. I call what I am going to do “sectional exposition” rather than verse-by-verse exposition, since we will not always treat every single verse, but we will cover every section. We will hit the major units of thought and try to cover the main theological emphases in each chapter. You will do well to read for yourself and discuss more of the pieces with others.

The dominant idea in chapter 1 is kingship. Olley says, “The seventy instances of the noun king or related verb is the most in any chapter of the Bible” (The Message of Kings, 39). Immediately King David is mentioned, then the big question is, “Who will replace David?” Will David act as king? Will Adonijah’s conspiracy to become king work? What will happen to Solomon? So consider two questions related to kingship: Who is the king? What is the king to do?

Who Is the King?

1 Kings 1:1-53

As we examine this first chapter, notice a suffering king, a self-appointed king, servants to the king, and a sovereignly appointed king.

A Suffering King (1:1-4)

The story begins with Israel’s famous king, David. But all isn’t well with him. He is old and cold. They cannot manage to get him warm, so they opt for another solution. They do a “Miss Israel Beauty Pageant” and select the stunning Abishag to care for him and increase his vitality. Later, Adonijah will attempt to take her for himself (for his own devious reasons).

Is Abishag’s beauty intended to excite David sexually? The passage does have several sensual overtones like “lie by your side” (cf. “in your arms” in Gen 16:5; 2 Sam 12:8; Mic 7:5) and “was not intimate with her” (cf. Gen 4:1). Olley reminds us, “This is to be read in the context of a court where the king has a number of wives and concubines (2 Sam 5:13; 15:16)” (Olley, Message of Kings, 41). Whatever their intentions, David doesn’t respond to her beauty.

Chapters 1–2 paint a picture of a suffering king who no longer has his previous physical or political power. David slew giants, killed lions with his hands, conquered kingdoms, and nurtured sheep. Now he is dying, feeble, and powerless. His declining life illustrates the declining nation itself. A few applications emerge.

We must face our frailty. At some point all of us will begin feeling the effects of aging and physical decline. Our bodies will not function properly, and many of us will find ourselves on a deathbed. We will die, like David, not accomplishing all that we set out to accomplish. What should you remember in those days? You should remember that your identity isn’t bound up in what you can do. Your identity is in who God has made you to be in Christ. You aren’t your gifts. Don’t let your abilities lead you to pride, and don’t let your inabilities lead you to despair. You aren’t your accomplishments.

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones is one of my heroes. He preached in London for several years, God used him in his generation mightily, and his work continues to impact people. When Lloyd-Jones was dying of cancer, he was unable to do all that he used to do. However, Lloyd-Jones knew that his joy and identity were not bound up in how he could perform. He reflected on the words of Jesus as he talked to his biographer, saying, “Don’t rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). He then said, “Our greatest danger is to live upon our activity. The ultimate test of a preacher is what he feels like when he cannot preach. Our relationship to God is to be the supreme cause of joy” (quoted in Iain H. Murray, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith 1939–1981, 738). What should give us great joy in our living, and in our dying, is our relationship to God through Christ (2 Cor 4:16-18). Don’t rejoice ultimately in what you look like, in what you have, or in what you can do, but in the fact that your name is written in heaven.

There is a need for transitional plans. I realize this may seem unnecessary and even unspiritual. But is it? We don’t see from David the type of training Jesus did with His disciples or Paul did with Timothy (2 Tim 2:2). In the next paragraph David doesn’t reprimand Adonijah. He never disciplined him, as a father must do. What about Solomon? Did David spend sufficient time with him? We don’t know all the details, but we do know that David is dying and things are shaky. Similarly, churches and organizations often fall apart because no one has trained future leaders. Let this text remind us of the importance of preparing the next generation of leaders, fathers, mothers, and missionaries. We must train and deploy faithful kingdom servants.

A Self-Appointed King (1:5-10)

Whenever succession is needed, emotions tend to rise. Sometimes war and violence occur, and many times manipulative conspiracies are at work. Here, in his pride, and in view of David’s weakness, Adonijah tries to make himself king. Of course, he was next in David’s line. He was the fourth-born son. Absalom (the third son) was put to death (2 Sam 18:9-17) after killing Amnon, the oldest son. No one knows what happened to the second son, Chileab (2 Sam 3:2). Perhaps he died young. On the other hand, David himself was the youngest son of his family. The oldest has not always had priority. At any rate, Adonijah should have been with his dying father; instead he was up to no good.

Adonijah had several problems, even though on the surface he looked like a king.

First, Adonijah exalted himself (v. 5). He has a lust for power and praise. He does the opposite of what the Scriptures teach, namely, to “humble yourself” (1 Pet 5:5-6) and put others ahead of yourself (Phil 2:3-4). God exalts the humble but opposes the proud (Prov 6:16-17). God will sometimes exalt the humble to positions in this life (Ps 75:6-7). Ultimately, in the next life, God will exalt those who have humbly served Him (Luke 14:11). Adonijah personifies Psalm 49:12 (ESV): “Man in his pomp will not remain” (cf. 49:20).

Adonijah had a “yearbook theology.” Do you remember getting a yearbook in high school? If you were like me, one of the first things you did was immediately look for your picture. That was not because you hadn’t already seen it. You probably picked it out! It was already framed and hanging in the family’s house. Still, I went straight to that picture. I made sure they spelled my name correctly. What’s next? Sports pictures. I flipped there, and then to the clubs, looking for my pictures. A yearbook theology is self-centered. It is an “it’s all about me” spirit. This view of life is lived out in the decisions we make, the way we spend our money, and even the way we read the Bible. We often go to the Bible for personal reasons, without any intent of seeing the nature and glory of God. We need a Yahweh-centered theology instead of a yearbook theology; we must desire to exalt God instead of self.

We see this spirit everywhere in pop culture. It’s a self-absorbed, self-addicted world. In reality TV, for example, many are famous for no good reason. They are stuck on themselves. The production team follows these individuals around and teenagers want to be like them, perpetuating a self-exalting culture. Find a better model: Jesus. He actually had something to boast in, yet made Himself nothing and served others. Then the Father exalted Him. He now gives us the power to live out an others-focused life. Adonijah should have been concerned about his dying father, but he was doing what he always did, thinking about himself.

Second, Adonijah sought his own pleasure. He had always gotten what he wanted; added to his spoiled nature was his handsome appearance (v. 6). Here is a spoiled, attractive, self-centered man—a recipe for disaster. Apparently, David never disciplined him because he was busy doing other things, or perhaps because he favored him to the point of not rebuking him. He never used the “purpose-driven paddle,” as one of my friends calls it. Let this serve as a warning to fathers: Children must be disciplined. We discipline them because we love them, just as the Father disciplines us (Prov 3:11-12; Heb 12:7).

Third, Adonijah sought the wrong counsel. Verses 7-10 describe how he confers with Joab and Abiathar instead of Zadok the priest, Benaiah, or Nathan the prophet. This reminds me of the proverb, “The one who walks with the wise will become wise, but a companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov 13:20). Adonijah accumulated supporters who wouldn’t contradict him. He turned away from the prophet because he wanted to do things his way. We commit this error when we fail to seek counsel from God’s Word. When people are considering marrying an unbeliever or pondering how to spend money without first studying God’s Word, they aren’t living under the authority of Scripture.

Fourth, Adonijah opposed God’s king. He acts as the serpent in this story. He represents the evil one. He tried to become king by the “Serpent’s Stone.” The word Zoheleth (v. 9) means “slithering” (Leithart, 1 and 2 Kings, 37). Because of his serpentine character, Solomon will put him to death. Solomon later said, “A king favors a wise servant, but his anger falls on a disgraceful one” (Prov 14:35). The enemy always opposes God’s plan. Adonijah is about to reap the harvest of shamefully opposing God’s king.

We can learn from Adonijah. He teaches us of our need to submit to God’s will and God’s Word instead of pursuing our own self-interest or listening to those who only tell us what we want to hear. Our purpose in life, as the Westminster Confession says, is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Adonijah has his own confession: “To glorify self, and pursue my own enjoyment.” Even though his name means “Yahweh is my Lord,” he doesn’t live like it.

We should be aware of Adonijah types in the church as we remember what true Christian leadership is. In the New Testament we read of a guy named Diotrephes who “loves to have first place among them, [and] does not receive us” (3 John 9). Here Adonijah puts himself first, doesn’t respect the leaders God has put in place, and doesn’t seek godly counsel.

Biblical leaders have a calling and are known for godly character. On the surface Adonijah is everything one might want. He’s gifted and attractive. But leadership isn’t about giftedness as much as it’s about Christlikeness. Let’s be careful in appointing people to leadership. We should put more stock in their true character than in their ability and external appearance (1 Tim 3:1-7).

Servants of the King (1:11-27)

In response to Adonijah’s power play, the first of many prophets in Kings appears: Nathan. He isn’t on the Adonijah bandwagon. In the following verses Nathan speaks to Bathsheba (vv. 11-14), Bathsheba speaks to David (vv. 15-21), and then Nathan speaks to David (vv. 22-27).

Nathan is very important in this story. He stirs David to action. He stands in the gap. His first appeal is to Bathsheba. He has spoken to David face-to-face, but now he takes an indirect approach. Some argue that he has bad motives here, and we certainly want to read Kings without rose-colored glasses, but it seems to me that he wants what’s best for the kingdom.

Bathsheba honors the king (v. 16) and reports the situation. We are reminded of what brought her to the court in the first place. David may have been Israel’s greatest king, but he was not perfect. Yet God used him despite his failures, just as he continues to use individuals today.

Bathsheba is concerned for the kingdom, and she understands that if David doesn’t appoint Solomon, then she and her son will be rivals to the throne. According to Chronicles, God promised that Solomon would sit on the throne (1 Chr 22:9-10; cf. 2 Sam 7:12-13). David himself had appointed him (1 Chr 23:1; 29:22) and charged him to build the temple (1 Chr 22:6). Thus Adonijah is attempting to overthrow Solomon, not fill a power vacuum (Leithart, 1 and Kings, 31).

Since Bathsheba is concerned for the kingdom, she ends by saying, “The eyes of all of Israel are on you” (v. 20). They were looking for an answer. It’s David’s responsibility to appoint a king.

While she speaks to David, Nathan directly addresses the king respectfully (vv. 22-27). Previously, Nathan had told David a parable to get a response, but now he asks a question.

Small acts have big consequences. Don’t ever underestimate one thing that you do for the kingdom of God. It might be simple conversations with a student or coworker about the gospel, spending time with a person going through a trial, inviting someone to a worship service or small group, caring for a single mom, opening up your home for others, forgiving a brother or sister, or supporting missionaries. Nothing is insignificant when it’s done for the glory of King Jesus. Whatever influence you have, you should use it for the advancement of the kingdom.

A Sovereignly Appointed King (1:28-53)

Following this conversation with Bathsheba and Nathan, David responds by making Solomon king (vv. 28-37). Though Adonijah may have looked more like a king than Solomon, Solomon comes to the throne by promise. He comes to the throne the way we come into the kingdom: by grace, not by performance or merit.

Olley says regarding Bathsheba, “She who initially had become the object of David’s lust, and whose husband had been a pawn to sacrifice, is now the recipient of the words that guaranteed her safety and the safety of her son” (Message of Kings, 45). We see grace here also. David is leading in his weakness. David acknowledges that while he is the Lord’s anointed, he himself isn’t the Lord. He invokes the name of the Lord, showing that he is submissive to the Lord. He also acknowledges that the Lord delivers from “difficulty” (v. 29), implying that God has intervened in this crisis.

Next we see the crowning of Solomon (vv. 32-40). David tells the trio, Zadok, Nathan, and Benaiah, to put Solomon on the king’s mule and bring him to Gihon. This was a symbol of kingship that marked Solomon as the favored son (cf. Zech 9:9, Matt 21:1-11). He also tells them to anoint Solomon as king and blow the trumpet. In verses 38-40 they fulfill the king’s commands, and a boisterous party results. The writer says, “The earth split open from the sound” (v. 40).

Once Solomon is declared king, Adonijah gets the news (vv. 41-45). Jonathan the priest quickly pledges allegiance to David, calling him “our lord.” He reports, “Solomon has even taken his seat on the royal throne” (vv. 46-48). As a result of the news, “all of Adonijah’s guests got up trembling and went their separate ways” (v. 49). Adonijah goes to the altar, as a holy place, believing it will protect him from Solomon (invoking Exod 21:12-14?). Solomon says that if he will show himself worthy, then he will not put him to death. Verse 53 says that Adonijah submits to Solomon, though one wonders if this is just outer expression. Is he truly paying homage to the king?

This account makes us think of David’s greater Son, Jesus. It calls to our attention Palm Sunday. Jesus would ride into the city on a donkey. The people would shout “Hosanna.” He was the rightful king who dispensed mercy, not to those who are worthy but to every unworthy person who bows the knee to His lordship. One day, Paul says, “every knee will bow—of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10-11). What a merciful King we have in Jesus! His throne is greater than the throne of David or Solomon. His name is more famous than that of David or Solomon. “Something greater than Solomon is here” (Matt 12:42; Luke 11:31).

Submit to Christ’s kingship with gladness. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom (1 Tim 1:17). Submit to His kingship sincerely. Don’t just mouth pious words. Jesus said that on the last day, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matt 7:21). He will say to them, “I never knew you” (Matt 7:23). Don’t just make a decision because others are doing it, and don’t trust in some ritual that is empty of meaning. Repent and turn to the King in surrender.

We have answered the question, “Who is the King?” and now we will answer the second question.

What Should the King Do?

1 Kings 2:1-46

Final words are important. In David’s final words he gives Solomon a “spiritual charge,” urging him to obey God’s word (2:1-4). These final words remind us of Moses’ instruction for Israel’s king (Deut 17:14-20) and remind us of his charge to Joshua (Josh 1:6-9). They are also reminiscent of the blessed man of Psalm 1. Solomon is to walk in the law of the Lord, mediate on it, and experience blessing.

David also gives Solomon a “political charge.” He tells Solomon what he should do with the threats to the kingdom (vv. 5-9). Solomon carries out this advice in verses 13-46. I will focus most of my attention on verses 1-4.

We might break down the spiritual charge and political charge by simply saying that the king is to keep the covenant and reign. With both of these, we see that Solomon is to be vigilant, not passive.

Keep the Covenant (2:1-4)

As David is dying, he issues his command to Solomon. Notice the writer’s choice of words: “As the time approached for David to die” (v. 1). It reminds us of the psalmist’s words, “My times are in your hands” (Ps 31:15 ESV). Dying David tells his son to “be strong and be courageous like a man” (v. 2; cf. 2 Tim 2:1; Eph 6:10; 1 Cor 16:13). We might expect a father to say something like David says. When I go out of town, sometimes I say to my oldest son, “Be the man of the house.”

But what makes a man “a man”? Physical strength? Career success? Sexual conquest? Political power? Belonging to the Million Miler club? Athletic dominance? No. If these are the only things we live for, then we are wasting our lives as men. David gives us a simple understanding of godly manhood: obedience to God’s Word. The Word makes the man.

David tells his son/king to walk in God’s ways, which are found in the statutes, commandments, judgments, and testimonies written in the law of Moses (2:3). These words emphasize the totality of God’s Word.

Nothing is wrong with having vocational ambition, but God’s Word puts these pursuits in proper perspective. It helps us understand them.

Solomon’s kingship was supposed to be founded on God’s Word. He was to rule differently from others. He was not supposed to lead as a law unto himself. He was to keep God’s law.

The benefit of following God’s Word is clear at the end of verse 3: “So that you will have success in everything you do and wherever you turn.” While God would continue to be faithful to David’s line because of His promise (2 Sam 7:14-16), Solomon wouldn’t enjoy the blessing if he didn’t follow God’s Word.

The same is true for us. We are blessed when we walk in God’s Word (Ps 1). This doesn’t mean we will never suffer. It means we will experience blessing in a variety of ways. Jesus said, “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock” (Matt 7:24). Jesus says those who know Him will bear fruit. Those individuals are wise. They enjoy the blessing of having a firm foundation, even when the floods come.

In verse 4 David mentions a double blessing for obeying God’s word. He says not only will Solomon have personal blessing but he will also have a perpetual dynasty. Solomon was David’s son, and God promised David an everlasting kingdom. The continuity of the dynasty depended on obedience to God’s word. On the one hand, this was clearly a conditional promise (cf. Ps 132:11-12).

However, God made other promises that were unconditional (2 Sam 7:16). So which kind of promise was this? Was it conditional or unconditional? This is a tension raised in the Old Testament that Jesus Christ resolves.

Solomon, like his father and the other kings, would fail. They couldn’t keep the law perfectly. Yet God would keep His promise of preserving the kingdom, and eventually one would keep the law perfectly: Jesus. Christ came down, keeping the law perfectly. God kept His promise; Christ the King kept the covenant.

God’s promises to David were both conditional and unconditional. Conditional in that the king had to live out the demands, but unconditional in that God stated that wrongdoing on the part of David’s successors would not lead to the end of the dynasty. The kingdom came on the king’s obedience and by God’s own promise. God’s promise never failed, and God’s ultimate King never failed. This is why we bow down to Jesus and why we call him “King of kings.”

Build your life on the Word of God and worship the hero of the Word: Jesus. What a King we have! Sin is our attempt to make ourselves king; salvation is in Christ, the King substituting Himself for His servants. He lived the life we could not live and died the death we should have died. Now He is the risen and reigning exalted Lord. Glorify and enjoy Him.

Reign (2:5-46)

After telling Solomon to keep the covenant, David gives him instructions about two enemies of the kingdom and one friend. Apparently, David thinks Joab is too dangerous to be allowed to live once David is gone, so he recommends for him to be eliminated. Joab had long served as the commander of David’s army, but he occasionally tried to pursue his own agenda, and he had blood on his hands from his actions against Abner (2 Sam 2:18-23; 3:1-39) and Amasa (2 Sam 20:1-10; 20:23). Joab was dangerous. One can only wonder why David never brought him to justice earlier (see 1 Chr 2:13-16).

David also gives orders regarding Shimei, the pro-Saul Benjaminite who cursed David and threw stones at him previously (2 Sam 16:5-14). Later Shimei regretted what he had done and asked for mercy, which the king granted, promising not to put him to death “today” (2 Sam 19:18-23). David admits that he swore he would not kill him on that day, yet he encourages Solomon to “bring his gray head down to Sheol with blood” (v. 9). Perhaps he was saying that Solomon was not bound to this promise of sparing Shimei, as David had been.Some wonder about David’s counsel. Was this brutal? Was David acting like “the Godfather” in the old movie, killing off all of the rivals to secure his own power? Is this an example of David’s failure? Shouldn’t he have already dealt with these guys? There are many questions here.

We have to remember that these were kings; it was their job to render justice. Further, they were divinely anointed kings, and any assault against his royal person was an attack against the kingdom of God (e.g., 1 Sam 24:6). Opposition was no small thing. We must realize the importance of securing the kingdom. All of these things must be considered as you make your judgments. David instructs Solomon to use wisdom in dealing with these individuals.

Twice David mentions Solomon’s “wisdom” (vv. 6,9). He will receive more wisdom in the following story (3:5-14), which is essential for leading people in a godly way.

In between these two calls for the death penalty is a story of kindness. David instructs Solomon to reward old friends. Barzillai had provided bread and supplies when David ran from Absalom (2 Sam 17:27-29). He was loyal to the king and made personal sacrifice for the kingdom.

Verses 10-12 report David’s death. His 40-year reign was the greatest of Israel’s history. He was buried in the city he built. Later, other kings will be judged in comparison to David. Verse 12 notes the succession: Solomon’s “kingship was firmly established.” It’s noted again at the end of the chapter: “So the kingdom was established in Solomon’s hand” (v. 46). God is keeping His promises.

On earth we have human rulers. But ultimately, the psalmist said, “The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all” (Ps 103:19). God is the Ruler of all, and He allows us the happy and holy privilege of embracing His rule.

David’s death points to the need for another king. Peter would preach at Pentecost that David was “buried, and his tomb is with us to this day,” but Jesus, the Holy One, would not see corruption (Acts 2:22-36). Jesus would rise from the dead as the ultimate King.

Let me summarize verses 13-46. Here Solomon acts according to David’s instructions. He deals with the enemies his father mentioned and with other threats. In verses 13-25 Adonijah is executed after he makes another play on the kingdom. Because he was with the king’s concubine, Abishag, it amounted to a claim on the throne (though she may not have technically been a concubine, she did attend to the king; 2 Sam 16:20-22). Solomon interprets it as a wicked conspiracy. After we read about Adonijah’s execution, we read about his associates. Abiathar is banished from office (vv. 26-27). Joab is executed because he is still conspiring with Adonijah and because David wanted him executed (vv. 31-34). In verse 35 Solomon then replaces Abiathar and Joab with Zadok and Benaiah. As for Shimei, he is confined to Jerusalem and threatened if he ever leaves (vv. 36-38). He didn’t abide by this warning and was put to death (v. 46).

In his depiction of the events, the writer simply tells this story without saying whether these actions were necessary or condoned. He doesn’t comment on motives either. He does say that Solomon is the king and these rivals have been eliminated. I think Solomon is acting justly, though I understand the concern over these actions. As mentioned, these threats were serious. Adonijah was told that he would not die if he didn’t act wickedly (1:52), but he did act wickedly. Joab should have been dealt with earlier. Shimei acted foolishly by not obeying orders.

One thing is certain: God knows. The writer of Proverbs said, “All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord evaluates the motives” (Prov 16:2). The King of all the earth will judge perfectly. Throughout the Psalms we read of God’s justice: “For Yahweh, the Most High, is awe-inspiring, a great King over all the earth” (Ps 47:2). “Your throne, God, is forever and ever; the scepter of Your kingdom is a scepter of justice” (Ps 45:6). “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne” (Ps 89:14).

Perhaps this is a story of mixed motives, much like the story of our lives. This doesn’t justify injustice, but it does highlight human weakness in leadership and the need for a perfectly just King and a better kingdom. Thankfully, God, by His grace, made good on His promise and gave us the Ruler we need in Christ.

Now, on this side of things, we understand that zeal for the kingdom today doesn’t mean taking lives but rather giving up our lives for the good of others and the glory of God. And we know that one day we will give an account to the King of kings.

Who Is Your King?

While we know the rest of Kings tells the story of decline, another King would eventually reign: Jesus. Is He your King? We have already noted the superiority of the kingship of Jesus. He is the perfectly righteous, infinitely wise King. He is majestic, merciful, and eternal. Paul exalted Christ, saying that He is “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, the only One who has immortality . . . to Him be honor and eternal might” (1 Tim 6:15-16). Bow to this One who has invited you to His table. Submit to Him. Love Him. Trust Him. For He has come, as Isaiah and others promised:

For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. The dominion will be vast, and its prosperity will never end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from now on and forever. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will accomplish this. (Isa 9:6-7)

Reflect and Discuss

  1. How can the prospect of death influence the way a person lives?
  2. What are some ways believers can spiritually invest in others so that, when they die, their influence lives on?
  3. What is the biblical picture of leadership?
  4. What does self-exaltation say about one’s beliefs?
  5. How might believers today attempt to exalt themselves?
  6. Describe how Jesus led others during His time on earth.
  7. Solomon was born of David and Bathsheba’s relationship, which began in sinfulness, yet Solomon was divinely appointed as king. What does this teach about God and His providence?
  8. Why did Adonijah ask for Abishag as his wife?
  9. Is Solomon merciful or harsh to his enemies? Why?
  10. How might believers today honor or undermine godly leaders?
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