Today we begin the book of 1 Kings. Some of these early chapters crossover with what we saw at the end of 1 Chronicles, though this is more of a straight historical account that doesn’t have the narrow theological purpose that the Chronicler did. We begin with an older King David (70 years old – see 2 Sam 5:4) who has fallen ill (1:1). In order to keep David warm, a young woman (literally “virgin”) is sought to “lie in his arms” (v. 2). And they find an exceptionally beautiful virgin (v. 4). That David did not “know” her reveals the real reason she was sought.
In verse 5 Adonijah sets himself up as king. He was the oldest living son of David (v. 6 – Amnon and Absalom were both dead), so it wouldn’t be unreasonable to believe that he would be the heir. This is how it would work in every other nation. Except this isn’t any other nation. God will choose the king (Deut 17:15). We know from 1 Chronicles that by this point, God had already selected Solomon (1 Chr 21:9-10). This was pretty widely known considering all of the preparation David made for Solomon to build the Temple. But we see here that David did not discourage him (v. 6). In his advanced years, David was not “in the know” anymore (see v. 11).
We also see that Joab and Abiathar decide to follow Adonijah. This is likely because Solomon was so young and inexperienced (see 1 Chr 29:1 – Solomon was still only a teenager at this point). We have seen that Joab has always done what he thought was right for Israel and especially for David. And while this is commendable that he felt that way, he did what he thought was right. When what we think is right is not what God does, we are wrong. We also see that there were those who followed God on this (v. 8). In verse 9, we see that David’s sons are still acting as priests (see 2 Sam 8:18). In verse 10, we see that there is now a split in Israel over the rightful king.
So Nathan and Bathsheeba hatch a plan to remind David of God’s choice (vv. 11-14). They carry out their plan (vv. 15-27), and David confirms that Solomon is the rightful king (vv. 28-30). So David commands that Solomon be placed on his mule, symbolic of his inheritance of the kingship, and to anoint him publicly (vv. 33-34). In verse 37, those with Solomon pray that God would confirm His covenant through him. And David’s commands are obeyed (vv. 38-40).
When Adonijah and his camp find out what is happening (vv. 41-48), Adonijah and his camp realize they are in some serious trouble (v. 49). Adonijah’s first instinct is to run to the alter and hold the horns (v. 50). Why? Because it is a holy place, where Adonijah hoped he was safe while he explained himself to his brother.1 And Solomon agrees that this incident is not reason for death, but if Adonijah is found to be wicked, he would pay with his life (v. 52). Solomon is now king.
In chapter 2, David gives Solomon his charge and some advice. David knows he is about to die (2:2). He encourages the young man to be strong. Most of all, he commands obedience to YHWH his God (v. 3). It is how Solomon will prosper as king, and how his son will keep the throne (v. 4). But his son will not keep the throne of Israel. The kingdom will be divided during his reign. David then tells him to kill Joab (v. 6). But note that this is not for advocating for Adonijah’s kingship (note that Abiathar is not condemned, at least by David). It is because of his unwarranted and deceitful murders of Abner (see 2 Sam 3:26-30) and Amasa (see 2 Sam 20:4-10). It is likely also to protect Solomon from Joab’s rashness. Solomon is not as strong as David (as we will see). David also tells Solomon to get the revenge on Shimei that David himself swore he would not exact himself (vv. 8-9 – see 2 Sam 17:24, 19:23).
And with that, David dies (v. 10). Israel is left in Solomon’s hands.
In verses 13-25, we read of Adonijah’s request and Solomon putting him to death. There is more going on here than a cursory reading may indicate. Note that Adonijah comes to the king’s mother, not to the king (v. 13). Note also the spin that he puts on the whole “Adonijah vs. Solomon” incident (v. 15) – he is saying the kingdom was rightfully his, but that God took it from him. He’s been wronged by God! And he says that “all Israel” wanted to follow him. So he wants a consolation prize, as it were. And it may seem so insignificant at first blush. He asks for Abishag as his wife (see 1:3). Bathsheba doesn’t see anything wrong with his request, and agrees to ask the king (v. 18). And while Solomon’s reaction may seem a little over the top (v. 22), he is wise, indeed.
Let’s go back in history. When Absalom tried to seize the throne (2 Sam 15-18:15), he asked his adviser, Ahithophel, what his next steps were after chasing David out of Jerusalem (see 2 Sam 16:20). And Ahithophel’s advice? Absalom should have sex with his father’s concubines (2 Sam 16:21). He said that it would strengthen those that were with him. What is Adonijah trying to do here in 1 Kings? He is not asking for a wife. He is trying to steal the throne (in his mind, get it back from God!). And this is the wickedness that Solomon was talking about (v. 23 – see 1:52). So Adonijah is killed (v. 25).
Though David did not condemn Abiathar for following Adonijah, Solomon does (v. 26). While he does not kill him, Abiathar is relieved of his priestly duties (v. 27). When Joab hears of Adonijah’s death and Abiathar’s punishment, he runs to the altar like Adonijah did (v. 28). But Joab will receive no conditional stay of execution (v. 34). Note that Solomon is not doing this for Joab’s association with Adonijah, but for those murders of Abner and Amasa (v. 32 – see v. 5). But Solomon is not done yet. He banishes Shimei for his treatment of David (vv. 36-38). But Shimei violates the conditions of his stay of execution, and Solomon kills him (v. 46). Note that this is all so “the throne of David shall be established before YHWH forever” (v. 45). There may have been different reasons for Joab and Shimei being killed and Abiathar’s banishment, but this was to protect the throne. Solomon did away with the greatest threats to his reign.
Note in verse 45 the reference to the throne of David being “established before the Lord forever” (see 2 Sam 7:12-16). Whereas we have seen that David understood God’s promise to apply to a King beyond a merely human king, we see here that Solomon is seeing with earthly eyes.
And right off the bat, in chapter 3, we already see Solomon disobeying God. He marries an Egyptian (3:1). And we see that disobedience works from the top down, as people were sacrificing in the high places, acting like the pagan nations around them (v. 2). And Solomon joined them, though he loved YHWH (v. 3). We see that there is a difference between love and obedience.
Yet, God appears to Solomon in a dream and offers him whatever he wants (v. 5). Solomon, recognizing his youth and inexperience (v. 7) asks God for supernatural wisdom as a leader (v. 9). And God grants him this wisdom (v. 12). We will see that this wisdom is not absolute. And God, knowing this, will test Solomon. He will give him earthly riches (v. 13) to see if he will be obedient (v. 14). Matthew 6:19-24, anyone?
This wisdom is then put on display (vv. 16-27). The question before Solomon is who is the mother of the child (vv. 21-22). Solomon’s response (v. 24) has been lauded and mocked, used as an example and as a cliché throughout the years. But he is doing more than testing these women to see who is in the right. He is showing that he understands with supernatural wisdom what we all think we understand but struggle so mightily to really know: the human heart. God gave Solomon wisdom to understand human nature. And Israel gets it. They are in awe of the man who understands human nature (v. 28). And note that there is a purpose in God giving him this understanding: justice. The first responsibility of a righteous king.
Psalm 72, written by Solomon, shows that he understands what God did by granting him this wisdom. He knows it is about justice and righteousness (72:1-4). Solomon also prays for the fear of the Lord for his people forever (v. 5). He prays that he, the king, would be provision for the people and bring peace forever (vv. 6-7). He prays that his kingdom would expand for the sake of justice and righteousness (v. 8, 10-11) and that those who oppose this justice would be overcome (v. 9).
In verses 12-14, we see why Solomon wants his reign expanded: righteousness and justice. And he again prays for a great expansion of his kingdom (v. 15). He also covets the prayers of his people and prays for great provision for them (v. 16). Solomon seeks to be a blessing to all, and to be blessed (v. 17).2 He ends by blessing God, and praying for His reign to expand over the whole earth (v. 19). And with that, Solomon considers his prayer to be the final Psalm of his father, David (v. 20).
1 We saw yesterday that Christ fulfilled Psalm 118:27 through His sacrifice. Note here that the horns of the altar are mentioned there. Christ fulfilling that means that He is now our holy place and our place of refuge.
2 Note that Solomon, as the son of David, sees himself as the heir and continuation of not just the Davidic Covenant, but the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen 12:2-3). He is a type pointing forward to Christ, the Son of David the Son of Abraham (Matt 1:1).