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Politics and Religion (4); The Succession Crisis

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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 politics.
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 story.
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 world.
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 legend.
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 us.
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.

posted on Nov, 14 2014 @ 05:03 PM
Source information

This story is told over 1 Kings chs. 1-2

The family connections are spelled out in 1 Chronicles ch2 vv13-16 and ch3 vv1-4. 2 Samuel tends to play them down, which will be partly a way of putting distance between David and the “bad guy” Joab.
I think Joab’s official responsibility as commander would have been leading the armed levies of Judah, what we might now call “the militia”. So if the levies had not been called out on campaign, he would have nobody on the scene under his direct command. In this crisis, he would also have been weakened by the absence of Abishai, for this family control over the “mighty men” would have been half the secret of his power at court. All this would have reduced his value as a political asset.

posted on Nov, 15 2014 @ 11:32 AM
David and the Law of Moses

On the subject of inheritance, the Law says;
“If a man has two wives… he may not treat the son of the loved wife as the firstborn in preference to the son if the disliked wife, who is the firstborn… He shall acknowledge the firstborn by giving him a double portion of all that he has”. Deuteronomy ch21 vv15-17

What happened in David’s case;
When David was on his deathbed, he made sure of being succeeded by Solomon.
But whatever Solomon’s merits, he was not the eldest son.
The eldest surviving son was probably Adonijah, who was in the middle of presenting his own claim.
This was a classic case of giving preferential treatment to the son of the favourite wife.

posted on Nov, 16 2014 @ 11:50 AM
The death of Joab

According to Solomon, the elimination of Joab was one of the instructions which David had left him.
“Moreover you know also what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me, how he dealt with the two commanders of the armies of Israel, Abner the son of Ner, and Amasa the son of Jether, whom he murdered, avenging in time of peace blood which had been shed in war, and putting innocent blood upon the girdle about my loins, and upon the sandals on my feet.
Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his grey head go down to Sheol in peace”. 1 Kings ch2 vv5-6
Part of the purpose of the detailed story in 2 Samuel would have been to provide the evidence for this indictment.

David had taken no action himself, because, as he complained once, “The sons of Zeruiah are too hard for me”.
He did not feel strong enough to assail their political and military power.
And in the latter part of his reign, Joab also knew the deadly secret about the death of Uriah the Hittite.
But Solomon would not have felt safe on his throne until Joab had been removed.

In the event, this meant seizing him while he was claiming the protection of the altar (which was kept, at that stage, “in the tent of the Lord”).
Technically, this could be legally justified by his record as a murderer.
“But if a man wilfully attacks another to kill him treacherously, you may take him from my altar, that he may die”. Exodus ch21 v14.
In Solomon’s view, what was happening in this execution was that Joab’s bloody deeds were “coming back upon his own head”.
So the fact that his death involved the violation of the altar was another reason why his “bloody deeds” needed to be publicised.

posted on Nov, 17 2014 @ 05:18 PM

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.

This is not just a theoretical possibility, because it has happened on many occasions.
A classic example is the Duke of Northumberland delaying public knowledge of the death of Edward VI of England, because he was trying to arrange for the succession of Lady Jane Gray.
Not that it did him much good, with Mary Tudor on the loose.
(This illustration was originally quoted in the OP, but had to be cut out for space reasons)

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