The Stage is Set

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, 10 but he did not invite Nathan the prophet or Benaiah or the mighty men or Solomon his brother. 1 Kings 1:5-10 ESV

The author of 1st Kings has established that David is old and nearing the end of his life. And, because he is king, his imminent death sets the stage for the selection of his successor to the throne of Israel. Under normal circumstances, the line of succession would fall to the eldest son. But in David’s case, things were a bit more complex because of his many wives and the number of sons they bore to him. Let’s just as that David had a complicated family situation.

His oldest son was Amnon, but he was dead. He had been murdered by his half-brother, Absalom, for the rape of Absalom’s sister, Tamar. When David had done nothing to punish Amnon for his crime, Absalom had taken matters into his own hands. Daniel was the second son of David, but he likely died early because, other than the record of his birth in 2 Samuel 3:3, he is never mentioned again. That leaves Absalom and Adonijah as the next two in line for the throne. But Absalom was also dead. After launching what appeared to be a successful coup for his father’s throne, Absalom was killed in battle against David’s forces (2 Samuel 18). This left Adonijah as next in line for ascension to the throne.

But God had other plans. David had been given clear instructions from God regarding his heir, and it was not going to be Adonijah. Even before Solomon had been born, God had visited David and given him a message concerning the identity of the son who would continue the Davidic dynasty.

“Behold, a son shall be born to you who shall be a man of rest. I will give him rest from all his surrounding enemies. For his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days. He shall build a house for my name. He shall be my son, and I will be his father, and I will establish his royal throne in Israel forever.” – 1 Chronicles 22:9-10 ESV

In a sense, Solomon had been a gift from God after David had been forced to suffer the loss of the son born through his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11). That child had been the byproduct of David’s immoral affair with a married woman. And to complicate matters further, when David had discovered that Bathsheba was pregnant, he had tried to cover up his indiscretion. When that failed, he ordered Bathsheba’s husband’s death and then took his widow to be one of his wives.

Then David comforted Bathsheba, his wife, and slept with her. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son, and David named him Solomon. The Lord loved the child and sent word through Nathan the prophet that they should name him Jedidiah (which means “beloved of the Lord”), as the Lord had commanded. – 2 Samuel 12:24-25 NLT

And this complicated and confusing background sets the stage for what happens in the opening chapter of 1st Kings. As the next-oldest living son, Adonijah assumed that he was the rightful heir to the throne, and he began to prepare for the transition of power.

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. – 1 Kings 1:5 ESV

It seems that Adonijah had taken notes from the playbook of his older brother Absalom. This arrogant display of pomp and circumstance was exactly what Absalom had done as part of his successful strategy to usurp David’s throne (2 Samuel 15:1). Adonijah believed he was entitled to be the next king of Israel, and it seems that he was used to getting his way. The author reveals that Adonijah had been spoiled by his father.

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

Whether Adonijah knew of God’s plan for Solomon to be David’s successor is unclear. But it is readily apparent that Adonijah was determined to do whatever was necessary to see that he was the next king. He began by building a network of important relationships with individuals of power and influence.

Adonijah took Joab son of Zeruiah and Abiathar the priest into his confidence, and they agreed to help him become king. – 1 Kings 1:7 NLT

This ambitious young man was building strategic alliances that he hoped would prove helpful in his quest for Israel’s throne. But he faced significant opposition. There were those who remained loyal to David and who would see to it that the wishes of the king were fulfilled. It is likely that they were already aware of God’s plan for Solomon to be the next king of Israel.

All of this is painfully reminiscent of Absalom’s actions when he began his carefully orchestrated coup to supplant his father as king. Adonijah was not willing to wait for David’s death. He was going to take the throne by force if necessary. But to ensure that he had all the support he would need, Adonijah planned a banquet in the nearby city of En-rogel. He had a carefully crafted invitation list that included all of his brothers and half-brothers, except for Solomon. He also extended invitations to all the royal officials through the land of Judah. Adonijah made a covenant commitment with his guests at this elaborate feast, sealing their agreement to assist him in his coup d’état with blood sacrifices. 

This opening chapter of the book lays the foundation for all that is to come. David is dying. He is weak and incapable of caring for himself. God has established a plan for his succession. But the nation is already showing signs of discord and dissension. Sadly, another one of David’s sons is leading an open rebellion against his own father and creating a potentially deadly situation that could end in bloodshed and division. You can almost feel the sense of foreboding coming off the pages as the author sets the stage for all that is to follow. Israel’s nation is about to enter a new era, one that will be marked by a slow and steady spiral toward unfaithfulness and spiritual infidelity. With David’s death, the man after God’s own heart, the people of Israel will find themselves suffering under a succession of shepherds whose spiritual integrity will slowly decline, leaving the nation in a progressively weakened state.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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