posted on Jun, 26 2020 @ 05:00 PM
David was coming to the end of his life and growing more feeble (1 Kings ch1).
One of the symptoms of aging was that he always felt cold, so a young woman called Abishag was brought in to nurse him, and to lie in his bosom to
keep him warm. That is not a euphemism, I think, but even so she was technically a concubine. This would be significant later.
Obviously the issue of succession to the throne would have to be confronted. Once again, polygamy would be a complicating factor. The old Ottoman
empire illustrates the problem; polygamy tends to produce too many candidates for the throne. Being born from different mothers reduces the sense of
kinship among the sons and heightens the sense of rivalry. In fact the competition for the throne becomes an anxious necessity, if they know that the
winner of the race is likely to kill his brothers afterwards.
Thus there is no security in the status of “eldest son”. Even their father’s preference may be diverted to a son of his favourite wife. The
candidate needs to find allies in the military leadership, the religious leadership, and the royal household. The household is important partly
because those close to the monarch will be the first to know about his death.
At first glance, the obvious heir to David’s throne was Adonijah, the fourth of his Hebron sons and probably the eldest surviving son. “His father
had never at any time displeased him by asking; Why have you done thus and so?” (v4) He was aware of David’s decline, and exalted himself, saying
“I will be king”. He prepared for himself chariots and horsemen and fifty men to run before him. In modern times, of course, this would have been
At the same time, there was also a “son of the favourite wife”. David had already sworn an oath to Bathsheba, that her son Solomon would reign
after him. Unfortunately the child was still too young to be a plausible war-leader, which may be one of the reasons why the decision had not been
announced publicly. I’m sure Adonijah would have guessed the secret, though.
Adonijah had secured the support of two leading figures. Joab, as commander of the host, and Abiathar, as priest-custodian of the ark, might be seen
as the heads of their respective “departments”. Yet this combination was not as strong as it looked. Adonijah’s party did not include Benaiah
the son of Jehoiada, captain of the king’s bodyguard. Nor did it include the rest of David’s “mighty men”. Where, then, was Abishai, Joab’s
elder brother, once “commander of the thirty”? Probably retired or dead, having been active since the very beginning of the reign. It’s likely
that the “thirty” had disappeared altogether. Joab and Abishai together had controlled the court. Without Abishai, and in the absence of the host
(which had not been called out for war), Joab was an old commander with immense prestige and no soldiers.
There were also other religious leaders besides Abiathar. Zadok, head of the rival priestly line, remained loyal to David, as did Nathan the prophet.
For that matter, there is no sign that Adonijah had been able to suborn anyone surrounding David, within the royal household. This was important,
because his prospects would depend upon his timing. If he tried to claim the throne while David was still conscious and capable of making decisions,
he would be crushed. If he waited for David’s death to be announced, the king’s chosen successor would be proclaimed at the same time. At the very
least he needed a spy, to tell him how quickly the king’s life was ebbing away. The key factor in one of the most fateful days in David’s reign
may have been that Adonijah made his move just a whisker too soon.
Adonijah “crossed the Rubicon” by arranging a great sacrifice and feast at En-rogel, just outside Jerusalem. The two things go together, because
the guests would be feasting on the sacrificed animals. He invited his brothers (apart from Solomon) and all the royal officials. Presumably the plan
was that Abiathar the priest would rise from the table at some point and anoint Adonijah as king. His guests would acclaim him and swear allegiance.
By this means, he would have taken over the kingdom. If nothing went wrong.
A feast planned on that scale could not be kept secret, so his purpose was transparent. While this was happening, Nathan the prophet was in the
king’s palace, alerting Bathsheba to the state of crisis. They needed to warn David. Nathan shrewdly managed the affair by telling Bathsheba to make
the first approach on her own. He would then follow, giving a second warning to reinforce the first. This would have more impact than a single message
given jointly. Between them , they would sting David into action.
In their separate audiences, Bathsheba and Nathan described what was happening across the valley and pleaded for action. “Otherwise it will come to
pass, when my lord the king sleeps with his fathers, that I and my son Solomon will be counted offenders [and executed]” (vv20-21).
After Nathan said his piece, David recalled Bathsheba to his presence and swore an oath to the Lord renewing his promise. Escorted by the king’s
bodyguard, Zadok, Nathan, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada took Solomon down to the spring of Gihon. Zadok collected the sacred horn of oil and
anointed Solomon. Then they blew the trumpet and all the people acclaimed Solomon as king.
The feasters at En-rogel could hear the trumpet and the clamour in the city, but did not know what it meant. It was Jonathan, son of Abiathar, who
came in to report the bad news of Solomon’s elevation to the throne. At that moment, Adonijah knew that his two aces, Joab and Abiathar, had been
trumped. The game was up. “Then all the guests of Adonijah trembled and rose and each went his own way.” Adonijah took refuge at the horns of the
altar, inside the tent, but Solomon promised him his life, on condition of good behaviour.
After David’s death, there was a wary conversation between Adonijah and Bathsheba; “You know that the kingdom was mine, and that all Israel fully
expected me to reign; however, the kingdom has turned about and become my brother’s, for it was his from the Lord” (v14). In compensation, would
she use her influence with Solomon, to enable him to take Abishag as his wife?
Solomon promised to give Bathsheba anything she wanted, but backtracked quickly when he realised what the request was. He asked bitterly why she did
not ask for the whole kingdom as well. Taking over the old king’s concubines was a known part of the symbolism of taking over a kingdom. In response
to Adonijah’s request, Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was ordered to strike him down.
Abiathar was protected by his services to David, but he was expelled from Jerusalem. Zadok, of the other priestly line, received his office; “Thus
fulfilling the word of the Lord which he had spoken concerning the house of Eli in Shiloh” (v27).
Joab fled to the horns of the altar. Solomon believed that the law allowed him to ignore this protection. Joab was a murderer, because he had killed
Abner and Amasa by treachery.“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). Joab could not be pulled away, preferring to die on the spot, so Benaiah killed him on the spot. Then Benaiah became the new
commander of the army.
“So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon.”