Beware of Improper Ambition


Sunday School Lesson for March 2, 2003


Background Passage: 1 Kings1:1-2:46


Focal Teaching Passages: 1 Kings 1:1-53; 2:1-25


An Aging King (1:1-4)


In this first section of the chapter the author reveals the declining health and vigor of King David and the attempt by his servants to revive and invigorate him. This action must be understood in light of the ancient belief that the “physical and sexual vigor of a king was a matter of national concern. It was believed that there was a definite link between his natural powers and the power and effectiveness of his rule” [Richard Nelson, First and Second Kings, Interpretation, 16]. It is easy to see how this sets the stage for the challenge to his throne that will occur in the verses that follow below.  


David’s health was such that he was unable to “keep warm,” apparently due to poor circulation (v.1).  His servants who attended him decided to bring in a “young virgin” to “lie beside him” in order to correct the problem (v. 2).  According to some authorities, this action was in keeping with an ancient medical practice for persons with similar conditions [Donald Wiseman, 1&2 Kings, TOTC, 67]. After an intense search “throughout Israel” the servants found a “beautiful girl” named “Abishag” who was brought to the side of the king in order to wait upon him (vv. 3, 4). The author makes it clear, however, that David “had no intimate relations with her” (v. 4). We are not told whether this was due to David’s moral strength or was simply a result of his physical condition. At any rate, his servants surely must have believed that if even a beautiful young woman was powerless to stir the aging king, “then he obviously [was] not long for the world” [Paul House, 1,2 Kings, NAC, 88-89].


An Ambitious Son (1:5-10)


With David’s health and vitality in question, the foundation is now set for a serious challenge to his throne by his own son “Adonijah.”  In verse 5 we learn that Adonijah “put himself forward” and arrogantly declared his intentions to be Israel’s next king. The mention of the “chariots and horses” and the entourage of “fifty men to run ahead of him” further reveals his presumption and the impropriety of his actions. Wiseman suggests that his claim to the throne was based upon the concept of primogeniture—the bestowal of royal rights to the eldest surviving son [68]. The text also indicates that Adonijah had endorsements from significant personalities in Israel including both “Joab” and “Abiathar the priest” who provided him with “their support” (v.7). The significance and effectiveness of this tactic should be clear enough to modern readers who “recognize the importance of an entourage of limousines and security personnel for a political celebrity” [Nelson, 16].


The sacrifice of the animals at “the Stone of Zoheleth” was done as an attempt to solidify his support, especially among “all his brothers” (v. 9).  Note also the mention of the “royal officials” of Judah who were being courted by the crafty Adonijah. This makes it clear that the sacrifices were purely for the purpose of winning their favor. 


A New King (1:11-53)


This section recounts the efforts of “Nathan” and “Bathsheba” to alert David to Adonijah’s plot to become king. The key phrase in this section is found in Nathan’s well-devised question to Bathsheba in verse 11—“Have you heard that Adonijah . . . has become king without our lord David’s knowing it?  This action prompts Bathsheba to go directly to the king in order to confront him with the facts of Adonijah’s intentions (vv. 15-21). In verse 17 she reminds her husband that he had made a solemn promise to place Solomon on the throne of Israel. As her encounter with David continues, Bathsheba employs a four-fold strategy in her attempt to stir the king to quick action [see House, 91-92]. First, she implies that David is no longer fully aware of the status of his kingdom (1:18). Second, she identifies those who have come forward in support of Adonijah (1:19). Third, she claims that “all Israel” waits to see whom David will chose as his successor (1:20). Finally, she states that upon David’s death, she and Solomon will “be treated as criminals” (1:21). 


Verse 24 continues the drama with Nathan approaching David himself to bring the news of Adonijah’s plot to him personally. Again Nathan employs a timely question to garner the king’s attention—“Have you, my lord the king, declared that Adonijah shall be king after you . . . ?  This is followed by another pointed and somewhat sarcastic query in verse 27—“Is this something my lord the king has done without letting his servants know. . . ? 


At this point David succumbs to the pressure placed upon him by Nathan and Bathsheba and quickly moves to have Solomon anointed as king (perhaps named coregent until David’s death) by Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet (1:28-40). With a simple declaration from the lips of David, Solomon is named “ruler over Israel and Judah” (v. 35). House observes that the nation of Israel had never secured a king in this manner. In previous times both Saul and David had been selected and identified by Samuel. Additionally, both men “had to prove themselves worthy in the people’s eyes, and neither Saul nor David began to rule all twelve tribes immediately. The placing of Solomon on the throne signals the beginning of the Davidic dynasty, a royal lineage that will eventually produce Jesus Christ” [93].


Verses 41-53 recount how Adonijah learned of Solomon’s anointing and immediately began to fear for his life.  This climaxed with an agreement between the two men that would allow Adonijah to live provided he “proves to be a worthy man” (1:52).





A Father’s Charge (2:1-9)


As David prepared himself to die, he took time to offer an earnest “charge” to Solomon that would ready him for service as king of Israel (v. 1).  Upon examination, one will find that David’s words contain both deeply spiritual advice as well as “cold-blooded political counsel” [House, 95].  His charge consists of two principle sections. Verses 2-4 contain David’s spiritual counsel to his son. Solomon is called to know and carefully obey all that is written in the “Law of Moses” (2:3). Note the key verbs “observe,” “walk,” and “keep” that form the essence of Solomon’s responsibilities before God (v. 3). In other words, Solomon is now responsible to keep the sacred obligations associated with the Mosaic covenant. By living in such a worthy and obedient manner, Solomon would be made to “prosper” in all things and his nation would never lack for “a man on the throne” (1:4). Far from being an unconditional promise of economic and material prosperity or a “magic” formula for guaranteed success, David’s words served as a call to absolute loyalty to the God who had so powerfully saved and blessed Israel. The many blessings associated with covenant loyalty were evidences of God’s infinite mercy and longsuffering faithfulness toward His people.  Wiseman reminds us that in Israel, “the king was never the source of law but rather under it, for the covenant law was imposed on king and people alike” [76]. In this regard, Solomon was obligated to act as the paradigm of covenant living in humble submission to each of Yahweh’s commands and precepts.


The second part of David’s charge to Solomon, verses 5-9, dealt with the elimination of any political enemies, especially “Joab” (2:5).  It was this man who represented the single “greatest threat to Solomon’s shaky hold on the throne” [House, 97].  While David encouraged Solomon to be wise in his dealings with Joab, he urged him to make certain that he would not be allowed to “go down to the grave in peace” (2:6).  David also warned Solomon about “Shimei” who had previously cursed the king (2:8). In regard to this slippery character the king bluntly orders his son to “Bring his gray head down to the grave in blood” (2:9). David’s ruthless counsel should be understood in light of the ancient belief that words, especially curses, had intrinsic power. Nelson explains the situation:


Even though David had pardoned Shimei for his crime (II Sam. 16:5-11; 19:21-23), his “grievous curse” (lit. the “sickening curse”) still hung suspended over David’s house. Since David’s own oath to Shimei was also irrevocable, he was unable to do anything about the problem. Solomon, however, was free to take action and arrange a violent death in order to disarm the curse. [24].



A Reign Established (2:10-46)


With the death of David the reign and rule of Solomon was “firmly established” (2:12). This provoked the determined Adonijah to make one final effort to undermine the authority of Solomon. Approaching Bathsheba, he made the ridiculous claim that all of Israel had wanted him to be king—“the kingdom was mine” (2:15).  He requested that Bathsheba approach king Solomon requesting that he grant permission for Abishag to become his wife (2:17). When Bathsheba brought this request to Solomon, however, he exploded in anger and gave the order to have Adonijah executed (2:25).  This violent response to Adonijah’s request makes sense when one understands that Abishag was the last of David’s concubines. In ancient days “whoever possessed the harem controlled the kingdom” [House, 99]. Thus, Solomon saw this as clear evidence that Adonijah had every intention of continuing his subversive quest for the throne.



Key Themes for Reflection and Application



One:  God’s faithfulness displayed in the fulfillment of His promises—God’s promise to David to place his descendant on the throne of Israel was fulfilled through Solomon, the divine choice (see 2 Sam. 7:5-16).  As we have already noted, this covenant faithfulness ultimately climaxes with the incarnation and redemptive ministry of Jesus Christ, the true King of Israel.




Two: God’s sovereignty displayed in the course of history—Solomon received the throne because he was God’s choice. God’s sovereignty and transcendent purposes “operated behind unworthy human motives and plots” [Nelson, 22]. This truth finds its ultimate expression in the cross where we see that God is fully in control of “the crooked plots of the politically powerful (Acts 4:27-28), working through human evil to save [His] people in the end” [Nelson, 22].




Three: The foolishness of pride and self-promotionThe behavior and violent demise of Adonijah should serve as ample warning regarding the sin of pride and self-advancement. We must remember that the Lord will humble those who selfishly seek personal exaltation (see Matt. 23:12).