April 13 Reading: I Kings 1-3 Commentary
“And Solomon said: ‘You have shown great mercy to Your servant David my father, because he walked before You in truth, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with You; You have continued this great kindness for him, and You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day.
Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted.
Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?'” ( I Kings 3:6-9)
The books of I and II Kings were originally one book covering the 400 years of Israel’s history after the death of David. It is unknown who wrote the book. Whoever did used multiple sources including The Book of Acts of Solomon (I Kings 11:41), The Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel (mentioned 17 times from I Kings 14:19–15:31) and The Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah (mentioned 15 times from I Kings 14:29 – II Kings 24:5). They would also have had information about the end of David’s life (I Kings 1:1-2:11) and the ministries of Elijah and Elisha (I Kings 16:29 – II Kings 9:37).
In general, the books give us the historical record of the kings of Israel. In them, are found godly kings and wicked kings, a very wicked queen (Jezebel), and powerful prophets in Elijah and Elisha. Special attention is given to the promises God made to David (the Davidic Covenant – see II Sam. 7), specifically to bless Israel if they obeyed him.
In the end though, the powerful and wealthy nation, will split into two separate kingdoms. The Northern Kingdom of Israel consisted of 10 tribes. At no point in their existence did they have a king that served the Lord. The Southern Kingdom of Judah consisted of 2 tribes (Judah and Benjamin) and did have some kings who served the Lord. Ultimately, each would be conquered by other kingdoms (Israel by the Assyrians in 722 BC and Judah by the Babylonians in 586 BC) and the people forced into exile.
I Kings 1 – A Presumptuous Claim to the Throne
King David’s last days were upon him. He was bedridden and, despite being covered with blankets, could not get warm (v. 1). So his servants found a lovely young virgin woman in the kingdom named Abishag the Shunammite to come and attend to the king and lie in his bed to keep him warm (vv. 2-3). So she did, but David did not know her intimately (v. 4).
Amnon and Absalom, David’s first and third sons, experienced violent deaths. Absalom had killed Amnon for raping his sister Tamar (II Sam. 13). Absalom was killed by Joab for leading a rebellion against David (II Sam. 18). And David’s second child, Chiliab must have died at an early age because he is not in the picture at this time.
So that left David’s next oldest son Adonijah in line to inherit the throne. However, that was not the plan, as it had already been decided that David’s son Solomon would reign. It appears Adonijah knew this because he did not invite those to his self-inauguration party that would oppose his rule (v. 10).
Regardless, Adonijah made plans to assume the throne. He prepared chariots and horsemen and fifty men to run before him (v. 5). He “conferred with Joab the son of Zeruiah and with Abiathar the priest, and they followed and helped Adonijah. But Zadok the priest, Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, Nathan the prophet, Shimei, Rei, and the mighty men who belonged to David were not with Adonijah” (v. 7).
All the conspirators with Adonijah went to “the stone of Zoheleth, which is by En Rogel” and sacrificed sheep and oxen and fattened cattle. He also “invited all his brothers, the king’s sons, and all the men of Judah, the king’s servants” (v. 9) to a special feast. But he did not invite Nathan the prophet, Solomon, Benaiah, or any of David’s might men (see II Sam. 23).
This was clearly a power grab that left out most of the important figures in the kingdom.
Nathan Hears of Adonijah’s Plot
When word reached Nathan the prophet about Adonijah, he rushed to David’s wife Bathsheba. He informed her of all that was happening and feared that the king did not know it (v. 11). They needed to act quickly or her life and that of Solomon’s would be in danger (v. 12).
Nathan advised her to go to the king and inform him of what Adonijah was doing and get reassurance that he indeed intended for Solomon to become king (vv. 11-13). Nathan said that he would soon follow her in and say the same things himself to David to confirm Bathsheba’s words were true (v. 14).
Their strategy proceeds as planned with Bathsheba confronting David (vv. 17-21) and with Nathan arriving shortly thereafter asking the same questions (v. 22-27). Nathan, as tactfully as he could, challenged David to act now because the people at Adonijah’s festival were saying, “Long live King Adonijah!” (v. 25).
David Declares Solomon to be King
After talking with Nathan, David called Bathsheba back in and swore to her in an oath that Solomon “your son shall be king after me…so I will certainly do this day” (v. 30). David knew that time was critical. So he asked for Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet and Benaiah the commander of David’s bodyguard to come for instructions (v. 32).
David told them to take Solomon and have him ride on his mule down to Gihon, a spring in the Kidron Valley that served as the main water supply for Jerusalem. There they were to anoint Solomon with oil (v. 39) in front of all the people and shout “Long live King Solomon” (v. 34). Then, they were to bring Solomon back and sit him on the throne so he would be king in David’s place (v. 35).
The three men did as David asked (v. 38-39). All the people who followed and saw the coronation “…played the flutes and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth seemed to split with their sound” (v. 40).
Adonijah’s Bad News
Meanwhile, Adonijah and his guests were celebrating his rise to power at near by En Rogel. They hear the uproar of noise and wonder what happened. Just at that time, Jonathan the son of Abiathar the priest, who is at the party, rushed in to tell Adonijah the bad news. David had just made Solomon king (vv. 41-48).
Needless to say, the party was over. All the guests were afraid of their association with Adonijah. So they arose and went their own way.
Adonijah was so afraid of Solomon that he went and took hold of the horns of the altar in the tabernacle. The Mosaic Law allowed this right for anyone who believed they had committed an unintentional sin (Ex. 21:12-14). Adonijah said, “Let King Solomon swear to me today that he will not put his servant to death with the sword” (v. 51).
When Solomon heard about this he said, “If he proves himself a worthy man, not one hair of him shall fall to the earth; but if wickedness is found in him, he shall die” (v. 52). So they brought Adonijah to Solomon who gave him a temporary reprieve from punishment and ordered him to return to his house (v. 53).
I Kings 2 – The Transition of Power
The transition to power continued to be messy for Solomon. David had some parting instructions for Solomon to execute once David died. Solomon had to deal with those who wanted power and who had treated his father poorly.
First off though, David challenged his son to follow the Lord saying,
“…keep the charge of the Lord your God: to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His judgments, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn“ (v. 3)
If Solomon did this, then the Lord would fulfill His promise to always have a man from the house of David sit on the throne (v. 4).
In regards to specific people, David told Solomon to “not let his [Joab] gray hair go down to the grave in peace” (v. 6). In some regard, Joab had served, protected and even counseled David while king. However, Joab also brought significant pain to David. He’d murdered two innocent generals in Abner (II Sam. 3:27) and Amasa (II Sam. 20:10). Most notably, he’d killed Absalom against David’s specific instructions (II Sam. 18:14). And he had just joined Adonijah’s failed attempt to grab the throne.
David also wanted Solomon to deal with Shimei. He had cursed David on route to Mahanaim as David fled Jerusalem during Absalom’s rebellion (II Sam. 16). When David returned to power, he’d promised Shimei that he would not die (II Sam. 19) that day. Now, he leaves Shimei’s fate to Solomon (vv. 8-9).
Finally, he instructed Solomon to show kindness to Barzillai the Gileadite who had provided for David during his battle with Absalom (v. 7).
Execution #1: Adonijah
After these instructions, David died. In total, he’d served Israel 40 years (v. 11). Solomon, firmly now in power, assumed the throne and set to work on his father’s instructions.
Even though Adonijah had been spared, he was still up to no good. He came (“peaceably” – v. 13) to Bathsheba and asked her for the hand of Abishag the Shunammite (vv. 13-18). She had been a part of David’s harem and cared for him in the last days of his life (I Kings 1).
When Solomon heard this request from his mother Bathsheba, he recognized it for what it was – another conspiracy to grab power (v. 22). He also believed that Joab and Abiathar had their fingerprints all over this (v. 22). So he had his commander Benaiah kill Adonijah (v. 25).
Execution #2: Joab
Of all the conspirators against David, only Abiathar the priest was spared. Solomon did not put him to death (even though he deserved it) out of respect for his role as priest. Solomon said, “I will not put you to death at this time, because you carried the ark of the Lord God before my father David, and because you were afflicted every time my father was afflicted” (v. 26). So Solomon removed him from being a priest (v. 27). And this fulfilled the word of the Lord concerning the house of Eli, that his descendants would be removed from serving the Lord (see I Sam. 2:30-33).
Joab though, was not so fortunate. When news reached him about Adonijah’s execution, he too went to the tabernacle to lay his hands on the horns of the altar for protection (v. 28). Solomon sent Benaiah to retrieve Joab for execution, but Joab refused to leave the tabernacle saying, “I will die here” (v. 30). So Solomon instructed Benaiah to “do as he has said, and strike him down and bury him” so that the Lord may “take away from me and from the house of my father the innocent blood which Joab shed” (v. 31).
After Joab’s death, Solomon put Benaiah in place over the army and Zadok became head priest in place of Abiathar (v. 34-35).
Execution #3: Shimei
Next in line for punishment is Shimei. In this case, Solomon spared Shimei’s life by putting him under house arrest. The condition was that Shimei build himself a house in Jerusalem and stay there. He told Shimei, “For it shall be, on the day you go out and cross the Brook Kidron, know for certain you shall surely die; your blood shall be on your own head” (v. 37).
Shimei agreed and “…dwelt in Jerusalem many days” (v. 38).
However, at the end of three years, Shimei had two slaves that ran away to Achish the king of Gath in Philistine territory (v. 39). For some reason, Shimei thought he needed to leave his house and lead the expedition to retrieve his slaves (v. 40). The slaves were retrieved, but word reached Solomon about Shimei’s departure from his house (vv. 40-41).
Solomon was not happy Shimei broke his oath and disobeyed Solomon’s instructed (v. 42-43). So he ordered Benaiah to strike him down (v. 46) because, “as your heart acknowledges, all the wickedness that you did to my father David; therefore the Lord will return your wickedness on your own head” (v. 44).
Finally, after removing all these conspirators, the “kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon” (v. 46).
I Kings 3 – Solomon’s Request of God
Solomon’s reign started well. He made a treaty with Pharaoh, king of Egypt and married his daughter to seal that relationship. But, most importantly, he “loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David…” (v. 3).
Solomon went to Gibeon about six miles northwest of Jerusalem to a special hill ceremonial high place. There, he offered one thousand burnt offerings on an altar to the Lord (v. 4). While doing so, God appeared to him in a dream at night.
The encounter resembled a classic “genie-in-the-bottle” wishes scenario. In the dream, God said to Solomon, “Ask! What shall I give you?” (v. 5). In other words, Solomon had his choice to ask for anything and God would grant it to him.
What did Solomon wish for above all else? He asked God for wisdom to rule wisely. He said:
“Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted.
Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” (vv. 7-9)
God was so impressed by this that he granted Solomon’s request. God said he would bless Solomon with great wisdom, so much so that there would be no one who ever lived that would be as wise and discerning as him (vv. 10-12).
And, as an added bonus, God granted Solomon those things he hadn’t asked for – riches and honor. These would come in such abundance that “…there shall not be anyone like you among the kings all your days” (v. 13).
Finally, God said if Solomon walked “…in My ways, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days” (v. 14).
Harlot’s With a Dispute
Solomon’s new found wisdom was put to the test in dramatic fashion shortly after his encounter with God. The complaint he heard came from two harlots who lived together and both gave birth to sons a few days apart (v. 16). One mother explained it this way:
“Then it happened, the third day after I had given birth, that this woman also gave birth. And we were together; no one was with us in the house, except the two of us in the house. And this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him. So she arose in the middle of the night and took my son from my side, while your maidservant slept, and laid him in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom. And when I rose in the morning to nurse my son, there he was, dead. But when I had examined him in the morning, indeed, he was not my son whom I had borne.” (vv. 18-21)
The two women quarreled in front of Solomon about who the living child belonged to (v. 22-23). At that point, it seemed impossible to determine who was telling the truth.
Solomon Demonstrates His Wisdom
How did Solomon decide this case? He reached his decision this way:
“Then the king said, ‘Bring me a sword.’ So they brought a sword before the king. And the king said, ‘Divide the living child in two, and give half to one, and half to the other'” (v. 24-25).
At this decree, the true mother of the child had compassion for her son. She pleaded with Solomon to give him to the other woman so that he would live. The other woman said, “Let him be neither mine nor yours, but divide him” (v. 26).
At that point, Solomon knew the identity of the true mother. No mother would willingly let her child be killed. So he said, “Give the first woman the living child, and by no means kill him; she is his mother” (v. 27).
This judgment left those who heard it in awe. As word spread, all Israel “feared the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice” (v. 28).
Questions to Consider:
Have you ever assumed you would be given something only to have it not come to be? How did that make you feel? Did any consequences result from your assumption?
If God said to you, “What shall I give you?” what would you say?
Transitions are never easy. Solomon faced a difficult one when he came to power. He was forced to deal with some bad characters that had been a thorn in his father David’s side. But in order to establish his kingdom, he had to root out the bad seeds. What bad habits or sin in your life needs to be dealt with today?
We all face tough decisions in life. Some seem to have no possible solution. It’s in those instances that we have to rely on the wisdom of the Lord to direct our path. What impossible decisions have you faced that God gave you wisdom to solve?
What other points would you want to know about in our I Kings 1-3 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.