Now King David was old and advanced in years. And although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm. Therefore his servants said to him, “Let a young woman be sought for my lord the king, and let her wait on the king and be in his service. Let her lie in your arms, that my lord the king may be warm.” So they sought for a beautiful young woman throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king. The young woman was very beautiful, and she was of service to the king and attended to him, but the king knew her not.
Now Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king.” And he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, “Why have you done thus and so?” He was also a very handsome man, and he was born next after Absalom. He conferred with Joab the son of Zeruiah and with Abiathar the priest. And they followed Adonijah and helped him. But Zadok the priest and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada and Nathan the prophet and Shimei and Rei and David’s mighty men were not with Adonijah.
Adonijah sacrificed sheep, oxen, and fattened cattle by the Serpent’s Stone, which is beside En-rogel, and he invited all his brothers, the king’s sons, and all the royal officials of Judah, but he did not invite Nathan the prophet or Benaiah or the mighty men or Solomon his brother. – 1 Kings 1:1-10 ESV
In the Hebrew Bible, the books of 1 and 2 Kings were one book and were considered by the ancients to be a continuation of the books of 1 and 2 Samuel. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew text, compiled sometime around 250 B.C., the single book of the Kingdoms, as it was known, was divided into two books and called 3 Kingdoms and 4 Kingdoms. They considered our 1 and 2 Samuel to be 1 and 2 Kingdoms. Hundreds of years later, with Jerome’s Vulgate (Latin) translation of the Hebrews text, the books were changed to 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. But in spite of all the name changes, the common belief remained the same: The books of 1 and 2 Kings were closely clinked to the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, continuing the narrative that began with King Saul and ended with King David.
With the opening of 1 Kings, we fast-forward and find David advanced in years. He is in poor health and requires round-the-clock nursing care. Long gone are the days of battle. David would no longer accompany his mighty men as they faced the enemies of Israel. Like every other human being, David was facing the inevitable reality of old age and death. This once-great leader was now weak and coming to the end of his long and very fruitful life.
The author provides us with an interesting piece of information that, at first glance, seems superfluous and unnecessary.
…no matter how many blankets covered him, he could not keep warm. So his advisers told him, “Let us find a young virgin to wait on you and look after you, my lord. She will lie in your arms and keep you warm.” – 1 Kings 1:1-2 NLT
These seems like an odd treatment for David’s condition, but it was actually quite common in those days. To keep an elderly person warm, they would place a healthy person in bed with them. The body heat of the younger person, trapped under the blankets, would provide the warmth the elderly person’s body could no longer produce. So, we should not automatically see this as something odd or as an indication that something sexual was going on. In fact, the text tells us that, while the girl was very beautiful, “the king had no sexual relations with her” (1 King 1:4 NLT). But it is hard not to make the connection between this period of David’s life and the earlier years when his sexual drive had gotten him into trouble. We know well the story of David and Bathsheba. But we should also remember that David had many wives. His love for women would cause him great trouble throughout his lifetime. But now, at the end of his life, David spends his days lying in bed with a young, beautiful woman, receiving no pleasure from her, other than the warmth of her body.
But it is not only David’s physical powers that have diminished. As king, his old age and incapacity are going to weaken his ability to rule. Everyone knows that his days are numbered, and there will be those who see this as an opportunity to seize the throne for themselves. One such individual was Adonijah the son of Haggith. Adonijah, whose name means “Yahweh is Lord”, was David’s fourth son, born to him by Haggith, one of David’s many wives. Adonijah was not in line to be the natural successor to the throne, but that did not stop him from coveting the position and the power that came with it. Taking a page out of the playbook of his older, deceased brother, Absalom, Adonijah “provided himself with chariots and charioteers and recruited fifty men to run in front of him” (1 Kings 1:5 NLT). That is exactly what Absalom had done when he was preparing to take the kingship from David years earlier.
Absalom bought a chariot and horses, and he hired fifty bodyguards to run ahead of him. – 2 Samuel 15:1 NLT
Adonijah decided the best way to become the next king was to act like one. And like his former older sibling, Adonijah was handsome. He had seen how far Absalom had gotten on his good looks and kingly image, so he saw no reason not to try. And the text provides us an important insight into Adonijah’s upbringing. “Now his father, King David, had never disciplined him at any time, even by asking, ‘Why are you doing that?’” (1 Kings 1:6 NLT). Once again, we see David’s failure to discipline his children coming back to haunt him. David had been a great military ruler, but had neglected to lay down any laws at home. He was a reluctant disciplinarian who let his children get away with murder, both literally and figuratively. Adonijah had seen how David had dealt with Absalom’s murder of Amnon. David had done nothing. David had even allowed Absalom to return home from exile, refusing to discipline him in any way for what he had done. And David’s lack of discipline had led Absalom to rebel against him, forcing David to flee Jerusalem and give up his kingdom. David’s kingdom had been restored to him only when Joab had killed Absalom. So Adonijah, who had been raised in this atmosphere of unrestrained freedom and license, saw no reason not to take what he coveted. He was not used to being told no. He was accustomed to getting what he wanted. And he coveted the crown.
So, Adonijah began to gather together the group who would assist him in his coup. Among them would be Joab, David’s military commander, and Abiathar the priest. These two individuals probably saw this as an opportunity to secure their positions. Joab, who had disobeyed David and killed Absalom, knew he was not on David’s good side and would probably be demoted if Solomon became king. Abiathar had stood by and watched as David had given Zadok, another priest, increasing prominence in his administration. These two men, among others, cast their allegiance with Adonijah.
Adonijah held a banquet, inviting all his brothers, except Solomon, as well as all the royal officials of Judah. For obvious reasons, David’s mighty men were left off the invitation list. This banquet was designed to win over as many of David’s former allies as possible. Like Absalom, Adonijah was playing a carefully crafted public relations game, where he was gaining favor with all those who could help him gain the throne. And all of this should remind us of the warning given to David after his affair with Bathsheba.
The Lord, the God of Israel, says: I anointed you king of Israel and saved you from the power of Saul. I gave you your master’s house and his wives and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. And if that had not been enough, I would have given you much, much more. Why, then, have you despised the word of the Lord and done this horrible deed? For you have murdered Uriah the Hittite with the sword of the Ammonites and stolen his wife. From this time on, your family will live by the sword because you have despised me by taking Uriah’s wife to be your own. – 2 Samuel 12:7-10 NLT
Even in the closing days of David’s life, the prophecy would find itself being fulfilled. Yet another one of David’s sons would attempt to take the throne from him. Adonijah didn’t care that Solomon had been chosen by God to be the next king of Israel. He wanted the throne for himself. And all of David’s other sons, except for Solomon, would join Adonijah in his attempted coup. David, the man after God’s own heart, had raised a palace full of children who seemed to have no heart for God. Only Solomon would give evidence of having been raised in the fear and admonition of the Lord, and this was most likely due to his mother, Bathsheba, not his father. Like most men, who find themselves late in life, facing the prospect of their own death, David would long to leave a legacy of godly children. He would give his kingdom to know that his sons and daughters were godly and that his love for God would be carried on by his progeny. But David had already lost three sons due to sin and rebellion. Now he was facing the prospect of watching yet another son rebel against the expressed will of God and face the consequences. David would be remembered as a great king. But it isn’t hard to imagine that he would have preferred to have been remembered as a great father.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.