The early reign of Solomon
These exhortations were given by me between 1999 and 2005. That was a long time ago, and I have grown a lot since then. They may not reflect my current beliefs.
Our readings for this week have taken us through the first seven chapters of First Kings, which detail the last days of David’s life and the early part of Solomon’s reign. This morning I want to look at three incidents from this era, and see what lessons they have for us today.
The incidents are Adonijah asking to be married to one of David’s wives, and his subsequent execution, the execution of Joab, and the execution of Shimei. Far from being morbid or bloodthirsty, these three executions show the wisdom and knowledge for which Solomon is famed, and they can teach us things about our walk towards the Kingdom today.
Let’s look at the first incident, Adonijah’s request, which is in 1 Kings chapter 2. I’ll be referring to that chapter frequently, so you might want to keep your finger in it. The background to this incident can be found in first Kings chapter 1, verses 1 to 4:
Now king David was old and stricken in years; and they covered him with clothes, but he gat no heat. Wherefore his servants said unto him, Let there be sought for my lord the king a young virgin: and let her stand before the king, and let her cherish him, and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat. So they sought for a fair damsel throughout all the coasts of Israel, and found Abishag a Shunammite, and brought her to the king. And the damsel was very fair, and cherished the king, and ministered to him: but the king knew her not.
Abishag was both a nurse and a wife to David.
It was at this time that Adonijah, one of David’s sons, decided that he was going to be the king of Israel. This wasn’t the way things were supposed to go, and one of David’s last acts was to formally appoint Solomon as his successor.
Quite naturally, Adonijah was somewhat frightened by this, and he fled to the temple where he knew he would be safe. Even at this stage in his life, Solomon was showing wisdom. He knew that Adonijah didn’t present a serious threat to him. Adonijah’s kingship collapsed as soon as news of Solomon’s appointment reached him. Adonijah begged for Solomon’s forgiveness.
First Kings chapter 1, verses 51 to 53:
And it was told Solomon, saying, Behold, Adonijah feareth king Solomon: for, lo, he hath caught hold on the horns of the altar, saying, Let king Solomon swear unto me today that he will not slay his servant with the sword. And Solomon said, If he will shew himself a worthy man, there shall not an hair of him fall to the earth: but if wickedness shall be found in him, he shall die. So king Solomon sent, and they brought him down from the altar. And he came and bowed himself to king Solomon: and Solomon said unto him, Go to thine house.
Adonijah begged for forgiveness, and Solomon forgave him. I think the nature of the forgiveness is interesting. Solomon did not say “I will not slay you ever, no matter what.” He said “If you are worthy you will not be harmed, but if you are not then you will die.” Solomon was not going to make any rash promises. If he promised that Adonijah would never be executed then he would have no was of stopping Adonijah in the future. Solomon took the right decision with respect to Adonijah. In First Kings chapter 2 Adonijah does something very wicked indeed.
First Kings chapter 2, verses 13 to 25:
And Adonijah the son of Haggith came to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon. And she said, Comest thou peaceably? And he said, Peaceably. He said moreover, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And she said, Say on. And he said, Thou knowest that the kingdom was mine, and that all Israel set their faces on me, that I should reign: howbeit the kingdom is turned about, and is become my brother’s: for it was his from the LORD. And now I ask one petition of thee, deny me not. And she said unto him, Say on. And he said, Speak, I pray thee, unto Solomon the king, (for he will not say thee nay,) that he give me Abishag the Shunammite to wife. And Bathsheba said, Well; I will speak for thee unto the king.
Jumping to verse 21:
And Bathsheba said [to Solomon], Let Abishag the Shunammite be given to Adonijah thy brother to wife.
Then king Solomon sware by the LORD, saying, God do so to me, and more also, if Adonijah have not spoken this word against his own life. Now therefore, as the LORD liveth, which hath established me, and set me on the throne of David my father, and who hath made me an house, as he promised, Adonijah shall be put to death this day. And king Solomon sent by the hand of Benaiah the son of Jehoiada; and he fell upon him that he died.
The Bible is not sensationalist literature. It’s not a tabloid newspaper. A superficial reading of 1 Kings Chapter 2 would perhaps suggest that Solomon wasn’t the forgiving king that he tried to be, and he took the first chance he could to execute Adonijah. That’s not the case. Adonijah’s request was a very wicked one.
You don’t need to turn this reference up, but in Deuteronomy 27 Moses gives a summary of the moral behaviour that the Israelites needed to display. In verse 20 is says: “Cursed be he that lieth with his father’s wife; because he uncovereth his father’s skirt.” Chapter 28 begins with “And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth:” and chapter 28 goes on to say at verse 15: “But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee:”
Marrying your father’s wife was one of the things that the Israelites were explicitly told not to do, on pain of losing the blessings on Israel. Despite the fact they didn’t have a sexual relationship. Abishag and David were husband and wife. Adonijah must have known this, and he must have known it was wrong.
Solomon promised “If he will shew himself a worthy man, there shall not an hair of him fall to the earth: but if wickedness shall be found in him, he shall die.” He was found to be wicked, and so Solomon had him executed. This was an action of a wise man, who knew the Law of Moses, and he knew what would happen to the kingdom entrusted to him if he allowed this sort of behaviour to continue.
What relevance does this particular incident have for us today? After all, today it is not common to marry someone who is so much younger than you that your children would want to marry her. The lesson for us today is that moral behaviour is still required of us. Despite being under grace and not law, we can’t just behave any old way. The Corinthian ecclesia had exactly this problem – a man marrying his father’s wife – along with general immoral behaviour.
There is another lesson as well. Suppose Solomon hadn’t been as familiar with the Law of Moses. He may have allowed the marriage to go ahead. Solomon knew the word of God. We must also know the word of God. The Bible should be our primary source of information on moral behaviour and ethics.
Let’s look at our next example, the execution of Joab. Joab had two brothers, Abishai, and Asahel. During the war between the house of David and the house of Saul, Abner, a senior member of the house of Saul, killed Asahel. The war eventually came to an end, and it was only after the end of the war that Joab caught up with Abner. Second Samuel 3, verses 22 to 27:
And, behold, the servants of David and Joab came from pursuing a troop, and brought in a great spoil with them: but Abner was not with David in Hebron; for he had sent him away, and he was gone in peace. When Joab and all the host that was with him were come, they told Joab, saying, Abner the son of Ner came to the king, and he hath sent him away, and he is gone in peace. Then Joab came to the king, and said, What hast thou done? behold, Abner came unto thee; why is it that thou hast sent him away, and he is quite gone? Thou knowest Abner the son of Ner, that he came to deceive thee, and to know thy going out and thy coming in, and to know all that thou doest. And when Joab was come out from David, he sent messengers after Abner, which brought him again from the well of Sirah: but David knew it not. And when Abner was returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside in the gate to speak with him quietly, and smote him there under the fifth rib, that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother.
That was a wicked thing that Joab did. The King sent Abner away in peace. All that had happened between them in war was forgiven. Joab wasn’t prepared to forgive in the same way. He took personal vengeance on a man for something that happened in the course of war. Can you imagine what it would be like if that was an acceptable way to behave? In the coarse of war Joab had killed many, either directly or indirectly. Can you imagine the havoc if their families then tried to kill Joab? And if Joab’s families then tried to kill them? And so on? War, terrible though it is, is much more terrible when it never stops. One of the reasons for having a leader, a king, was to regulate war like this. Once the kings said the war was over, it was over. You didn’t seek personal vengeance.
Joab was among those who followed Adonijah. Like Adonijah, he fled to the temple when Solomon became king. Unlike Adonijah, Joab did not seek the forgiveness of the King. First Kings chapter 2, verses 28 to 34:
Then tidings came to Joab: for Joab had turned after Adonijah, though he turned not after Absalom. And Joab fled unto the tabernacle of the LORD, and caught hold on the horns of the altar. And it was told king Solomon that Joab was fled unto the tabernacle of the LORD; and, behold, he is by the altar. Then Solomon sent Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, saying, Go, fall upon him. And Benaiah came to the tabernacle of the LORD, and said unto him, Thus saith the king, Come forth. And he said, Nay; but I will die here. And Benaiah brought the king word again, saying, Thus said Joab, and thus he answered me. And the king said unto him, Do as he hath said, and fall upon him, and bury him; that thou mayest take away the innocent blood, which Joab shed, from me, and from the house of my father. And the LORD shall return his blood upon his own head, who fell upon two men more righteous and better than he, and slew them with the sword, my father David not knowing thereof, to wit, Abner the son of Ner, captain of the host of Israel, and Amasa the son of Jether, captain of the host of Judah. Their blood shall therefore return upon the head of Joab, and upon the head of his seed for ever: but upon David, and upon his seed, and upon his house, and upon his throne, shall there be peace for ever from the LORD. So Benaiah the son of Jehoiada went up, and fell upon him, and slew him: and he was buried in his own house in the wilderness.
Joab’s actions came back to haunt him, didn’t they? Perhaps he couldn’t imagine that Solomon would forgive him, so he didn’t even plead for his life. Joab was not a man who could let go of a grudge, and so he couldn’t see why somebody else could. There is a lesson for us here. Be forgiving, because if you are not, then you cannot accept forgiveness for yourself. Paul expresses this in Romans chapter 12, verses 14 to 21:
Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
If Joab had been prepared to bless Abner, then he would have been able to ask Solomon for forgiveness. If Adonijah, the leader of the rebellion, could be spared, then surely a follower could have been too? Joab did not accept that God would repay Abner, if appropriate. He wanted personal vengeance, and he assumed that Solomon did too.
One of the reasons why we have to forgive readily is because if we don’t we can’t accept it. If we can never let go of some evil that was done to us, then it will be impossible for us to accept the forgiveness that our brothers and sisters offer us, and the forgiveness that our heavenly father gives us so readily and lovingly. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” We must forgive. If something is abhorrent in the eyes of God then he will deal with it in his own time and in his own way. And if it is not abhorrent in his eyes then we shouldn’t be seeking vengeance in the first place.
The final incident I want to look at today is the execution of Shimei the Benjamite. During David’s reign, Shimei showed that he was dangerous to the throne and house of David. As a member of the tribe of Benjamin he resented that the house of Saul had lost the throne. David encountered Shimei during Absalom’s rebellion. Second Samuel 16, verses 5 to 8:
And when king David came to Bahurim, behold, thence came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera: he came forth, and cursed still as he came. And he cast stones at David, and at all the servants of king David: and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. And thus said Shimei when he cursed, Come out, come out, thou bloody man, and thou man of Belial: The LORD hath returned upon thee all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose stead thou hast reigned; and the LORD hath delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom thy son: and, behold, thou art taken in thy mischief, because thou art a bloody man.
After Absalom’s rebellion was over, Shimei repented. Second Samuel chapter 19, verses 16 to 23:
And Shimei the son of Gera, a Benjamite, which was of Bahurim, hasted and came down with the men of Judah to meet king David. And there were a thousand men of Benjamin with him, and Ziba the servant of the house of Saul, and his fifteen sons and his twenty servants with him; and they went over Jordan before the king. And there went over a ferry boat to carry over the king’s household, and to do what he thought good. And Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king, as he was come over Jordan; And said unto the king, Let not my lord impute iniquity unto me, neither do thou remember that which thy servant did perversely the day that my lord the king went out of Jerusalem, that the king should take it to his heart. For thy servant doth know that I have sinned: therefore, behold, I am come the first this day of all the house of Joseph to go down to meet my lord the king. But Abishai the son of Zeruiah answered and said, Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the LORD’s anointed? And David said, What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah, that ye should this day be adversaries unto me? shall there any man be put to death this day in Israel? for do not I know that I am this day king over Israel? Therefore the king said unto Shimei, Thou shalt not die. And the king sware unto him.
Shimei wasn’t just a man who threw rocks at David, he was evidently a man who had some influence and led others. He knew that he had sinned, and he asked for David’s forgiveness. David, being Godly, forgave him.
The story of Shimei continues in First Kings, chapter 2 verses 36 to 46:
And the king sent and called for Shimei, and said unto him, Build thee an house in Jerusalem, and dwell there, and go not forth thence any whither. For it shall be, that on the day thou goest out, and passest over the brook Kidron, thou shalt know for certain that thou shalt surely die: thy blood shall be upon thine own head. And Shimei said unto the king, The saying is good: as my lord the king hath said, so will thy servant do. And Shimei dwelt in Jerusalem many days. And it came to pass at the end of three years, that two of the servants of Shimei ran away unto Achish son of Maachah king of Gath. And they told Shimei, saying, Behold, thy servants be in Gath. And Shimei arose, and saddled his ass, and went to Gath to Achish to seek his servants: and Shimei went, and brought his servants from Gath. And it was told Solomon that Shimei had gone from Jerusalem to Gath, and was come again. And the king sent and called for Shimei, and said unto him, Did I not make thee to swear by the LORD, and protested unto thee, saying, Know for a certain, on the day thou goest out, and walkest abroad any whither, that thou shalt surely die? and thou saidst unto me, The word that I have heard is good. Why then hast thou not kept the oath of the LORD, and the commandment that I have charged thee with? The king said moreover to Shimei, Thou knowest all the wickedness which thine heart is privy to, that thou didst to David my father: therefore the LORD shall return thy wickedness upon thine own head; And king Solomon shall be blessed, and the throne of David shall be established before the LORD for ever. So the king commanded Benaiah the son of Jehoiada; which went out, and fell upon him, that he died. And the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon.
Shimei had shown himself to be dangerous to the house of David. He knew what he did was wrong, but Solomon, understandably, wanted to keep an eye on him. Solomon wanted Shimei to remain in Jerusalem. All he had to do was stay there. He wasn’t cast into prison, he just had to remain in Jerusalem. Yet he didn’t. Shimei, in effect, rejected the conditions of his forgiveness, and he paid for that rejection with his life.
There is a simple message for us here too. We can’t just accept the forgiveness from God through Christ, and then go and do whatever we please. Action is required on our part. We must repent and be baptised, and we must keep in mind the things of God if we are to be saved. This is one of the things that Paul reminded the Corinthians of.
That thought, bothers and sisters, reminds us why we are here today. Before we share the bread and wine, we will have a final reading, from First Corinthians chapter 11, verses 23 to 26:
For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.