posted on Nov, 14 2014 @ 05:02 PM
2 Samuel has a particular interest for students of history, as the only book of the Bible where it’s possible to follow the messy details of
This feature continues into the beginning of 1 Kings, which describes how Solomon came to the throne.
The narrative can be read around (and may have been written around) the career of David’s nephew Joab, the son of his sister Zeruiah.
He spent this period, apart from a brief interval, as the leader of David’s armies.
The kingdom was very new, in the time of David.
As he approached the end of his life, there were no agreed rules about who should succeed him.
David’s contribution to the problem was to make more than one heir available, without giving any clear decision on the subject.
There was the classic dilemma which polygamy tends to throw up, the choice between the strictly eldest son and the son of the favourite wife.
Adonijah, on the one hand, was the fourth son of David, and probably the eldest surviving son. We know about the deaths of two of his elder brothers,
Amnon and Absolom.
He resembled and possibly imitated Absolom; that is, he was handsome, he had never been rebuked by his father, and he wanted to be king. He, too, made
the public display of chariots and horsemen, with fifty men to run in front of him.
Solomon, on the other hand, was born of Bathsheba. David had pleased Bathsheba by promising the throne to her son, but he had not ventured to
displease Adonijah by making this preference public.
The uncertainty was dangerous. In the Ottoman Empire, at one point in history, the son who succeeded in gaining control was likely to kill off his
brothers, just to be on the safe side.
This meant that the death of the Sultan would set off a race for the throne which was also a desperate race for survival.
The sons of David would foresee the same danger.
In this kind of situation, much would depend on grasping the key levers of power.
The usual elements in the equation would be the military leadership, the religious establishment, and the palace bureaucracy.
There was also the question of timing.
The problem, for Adonijah, was the very narrow margin between moving too early and moving too late.
If he tried to claim the crown while David was alive, the king would fight back.
Yet if he waited until David’s death, the people around David would have first knowledge of the event and the first chance to react.
They could even postpone the announcement of his death until their arrangements were complete.
Adonijah would be left out in the cold.
At the beginning of 1 Kings, the king was failing fast.
Abishag the Shunammite was brought in to keep him warm in bed, which was probably not a euphemism but the literal truth.
Adonijah got excited, because he thought his time had come; “I will be king”.
He sounded out and won over two key figures, the leading priest Abiathar and the commander of the armies, his cousin Joab.
Then he made his throw.
He held a grand sacrifice and feast at En-rogel, just outside Jerusalem, inviting most of his brothers and all the royal officials.
This was meant to be the announcement and celebration of his accession.
So what went wrong?
This is the obvious question which any examiner would ask; what were the reasons for Adonijah’s failure to gain the throne?
I would suggest, in the first place, that his power-base was superficial, not deep-rooted.
He had the top men in the religious and military establishments, but only the top men.
In the religious world, he had not contacted the priestly house of Zadok, or Nathan the prophet.
He had the commander of the army, but he did not have the “mighty men” or the other professional units.
Joab’s elder brother Abishai, the former leader of the “mighty men”, is out of the picture, and might have died since his last appearance in the
If it came to a fight, the loyalty of Benaiah son of Jehoiada, leader of the king’s bodyguard, would carry more weight than the support of a
commander without any soldiers.
He had made no attempts to prepare the ground, as Absolom had done, by winning the affections of the people.
His greatest weakness was that he had no foothold in the Palace, no influence on the people surrounding David.
Then there was the matter of timing.
The outcome seems to show that he made his move just a whisker too soon, while David was still conscious and capable of making decisions.
While Adonijah and his people were feasting, Nathan and Bathsheba were alerting the king to what was happening.
Bathsheba claimed the promise which he had already given to Solomon, and she expressed her fear that if Adonijah became king she and her son would be
“counted offenders” (= “executed”).
Then David roused himself to action and ordered his faithful servants to proclaim Solomon as king.
Solomon was taken to Gihon, by the walls, escorted by Benaiah and the military units, the Cherethites and Pelethites. He was anointed by Zadok, the
trumpet was blown, and the people gave a great shout of joy.
The uproar could be heard at Adonijah’s feast, just across the Hinnom valley, and he soon learned that his plans had been forestalled.
He thought he held a couple of aces, but they had been trumped.
He panicked, of course, and took refuge at the altar, but he was promised his life, on condition of good behaviour.
After David’s death, Adonijah approached Bathsheba, asking her to use her influence with Solomon..
He wanted to be allowed to marry Abishag.
Bathsheba saw no harm in the request, and passed it on.
But Solomon found it menacing. Kings might announce their succession by taking over the wives of their predecessors, and Abishag had been, at least
technically, one of David’s concubines.
This was enough to seal Adonijah’s fate, and he brought down Joab with him.
When Joab could not be dragged away from the altar, he was killed on the spot by Benaiah, who took over his post as commander of the army.
Where is the theology in this story?
In the absence of any direct intervention by God, though the characters frequently appeal to his name, we can only learn about him indirectly.
In the first place, we can recognise real politics in the details of this narrative.
Gibbon described history as a record of the “crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind”.
“What it’s all about is the dirt”, as one of my tutors used to say.
We can see from the rough-and-tumble nature of these relationships, tinged with brutality and treachery, that events are taking place in the real
This is history, not legend.
And the implication is that the relation between the God of Israel and his people is embedded in the world of history, not restricted to the world of
In many cultures, stories about the gods belong only to the world of legend, and the gods are correspondingly distant.
This God maintains himself close to his people, in the middle of real-world events.
It’s obvious enough, in the second place, that the protagonists in these events are filled with flaws.
Even David has his weaknesses, and he ignores the spirit of at least one of the laws of Moses.
This is evidence that a good relationship with God does not depend on our own perfect righteousness, and that must be encouraging for the rest of
These are real people, in short, and God is prepared to work with them as real people.
Finally, if this is God promoting the kingdom of David and developing his own plans, he’s clearly working very indirectly, which says something
about his methods.