A number of years ago, two of my friends and I were traveling in India. We were flying on a brand new Airbus from Delhi to Hyderabad, and while we were in mid-air an alarm went off. There was no indication from the performance of the aircraft that anything was wrong, but the crew was scurrying about in a way that struck me as funny. My sense was that nothing was really wrong, but that an alarm had been set off for some unexplained reason. No one seemed to know how to turn the alarm off, and eventually it was silenced, and we continued on to our destination without further incident.
It was several years later that I found out one of the men traveling with me had a very different perspective on that incident. My friend described what sounded like a near-death experience on an airplane. Then I realized he was talking about something that happened when I was with him, and I couldn’t imagine what it could be. He then explained his perspective of that same incident with the malfunctioning alarm on the Airbus headed for Hyderabad. While I was laughing, he was saying his last prayer.
People simply see things differently. That is part of the reason we have four Gospels in the New Testament with overlapping accounts of events in Israel’s history in the Old Testament. Sometimes it is not a difference in perspective, but a difference in the author’s purpose. For example, in 2 Samuel 1, David eulogizes Saul and Jonathan together, praising them as men who are great and courageous.2 A funeral is not the time to emphasize the failures and sins of the deceased. Indeed, David never seems to speak ill of Saul, except in his private conversations with Jonathan and in his prayers.3
We certainly see a significant difference in the account of 1 Kings 1from that recorded in the final chapters of 1 Chronicles.4 From the 1 Chronicles account, we might conclude that the transition from David’s reign as Israel’s king to Solomon’s was smooth and carefully orchestrated. When we come to our text in 1 Kings 1, the transition of power looks quite different. It appears that the scepter must be pried from David’s grasp and handed to Solomon. There is a good deal of intrigue in this account as well. We are saddened when we learn that Joab betrayed David and switched his allegiance to Adonijah, along with Abiathar the priest. We note the way in which Nathan and Bathsheba must “manage” David to get him to act. We wonder why we are told about the need for David to have a beautiful young virgin to warm him.
Speaking of different perspectives, our perspective in this lesson is quite different from that in our last lesson. Then we looked at David’s sin with Bathsheba as the result of David taking, as it were, an early retirement from his responsibilities as Israel’s king. This lesson approaches our text from a very different perspective. Here in 1 Kings 1, David resists retirement altogether, waiting until he has “one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel” to pass the scepter to his son, Solomon.
Our text is not only fascinating, it is crucial in its implications and applications to you and to me as individuals, and to us as a church. Let us listen well to these inspired words and ask God to use His Holy Spirit to communicate the message we need to hear.
1 King David was very old; even when they covered him with blankets, he could not get warm. 2 His servants advised him, “A young virgin must be found for our master, the king, to take care of the king’s needs and serve as his nurse. She can also sleep with you and keep our master, the king, warm.” 3 So they looked through all Israel for a beautiful young woman and found Abishag, a Shunammite, and brought her to the king. 4 The young woman was very beautiful; she became the king’s nurse and served him, but the king did not have sexual relations with her (1 Kings 1:1-4).
Before we look at our text, I would remind you of an earlier incident which prompted David’s men to insist that David no longer lead them into battle as he had once done:
15 Another battle was fought between the Philistines and Israel. So David went down with his soldiers and fought the Philistines. David became exhausted. 16 Now Ishbi-Benob, one of the descendants of Rapha, had a spear that weighed three hundred bronze shekels, and he was armed with a new weapon. He had said that he would kill David. 17 But Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to David’s aid, striking the Philistine down and killing him. Then David’s men took an oath saying, “You will not go out to battle with us again! You must not extinguish the lamp of Israel!” (2 Samuel 21:15-17)
As David grew older, some of his activities as a young man had to be set aside. One of these was leading his army in battle. The incident described above demonstrated that David should no longer take on “Goliath’s” in battle for two very good reasons. First, David was getting too old for this kind of strenuous activity. David became exhausted while fighting Ishbi-Benob, another Philistine giant. Abishai recognized what was happening and came to David’s aid, striking down the giant himself. David no longer had the strength for battle he once possessed. Second, there was no longer a need for David to take on giants because a number of his men did so with great success. It was one thing for David to take on Goliath when none of the Israelites had the courage or faith to do so. Now, a number of men have been inspired by David’s faith and courage, and they have taken over the “giant-killing” task.
This is not the kind of “retirement” we saw in our last lesson – David’s “early retirement” of staying in Jerusalem while Joab and the army of Israel fought the Ammonites. This “early retirement” was not due to David’s age or lack of strength; it was due to his lapse in character. Since then, David had grown older, and his strength had waned. It was not yet time for David to step down, but it was time for him to cut back in certain strenuous activities. (My wife has been telling me the same thing – no more swapping engines or transmissions.)
When we come upon David in 1 Kings 1, he is now at the end of his life. He is an old man now, and most of his strength is gone. What a pathetic sight this once vibrant man must have been as he lay shivering because he could not get warm. I am fascinated at the counsel the king’s “servants” gave.5 They concluded that the king needed a beautiful young virgin to care for his needs, which included lying beside the king. This beautiful young woman’s “ministry” to David was far from just that of a servant, or even a nurse. From what we know of David, and from what we now read in our text, it seems obvious that David’s servants expected this beautiful young woman to “get David’s motor going” once again. The reality is that David did not “know” Abishag because he could not.6
The thrust of these first four verses of 1 Kings 1 characterizes David’s overall condition, his capacity to lead if you would. What we see in our text is far from encouraging. Bluntly put, David is “over the hill,” not only unable to lead the army, or the nation, but even unable to live a normal life. David’s inability to “know” Abishag is but the first instance of David’s lack of knowledge in our text, as we will soon see. Up to this point, we should see that David lacks the capacity to lead the nation, and further events will only serve to prove this.
Adonijah was the fourth of David’s sons born to him while he reigned as king of Judah in Hebron:7
2 Now sons were born to David in Hebron. His firstborn was Amnon, born to Ahinoam the Jezreelite. 3 His second son was Kileab, born to Abigail the widow of Nabal the Carmelite. His third son was Absalom, the son of Maacah daughter of King Talmai of Geshur. 4 His fourth son was Adonijah, the son of Haggith. His fifth son was Shephatiah, the son of Abitail. 5 His sixth son was Ithream, born to David’s wife Eglah. These sons were all born to David in Hebron (2 Samuel 3:2-5).
Amnon, David’s firstborn son, raped his sister Tamar and was then killed by his brother Absalom. Absalom, David’s third son, is killed by Joab because he sought to take the kingdom from his father. No one knows what became of Kileab, the son of Abigail,8 so he is presumed by most to be dead.9 The fourth son, Adonijah, is thus first in line for the throne, if reckoned only by birth order. This is the new contender for the throne.
I am tempted to refer to Adonijah as “Absalom II,” because there are definite similarities between the two. Both are sons of David. Each, in his own time, was next in line for the throne when considered in terms of birth order. Both men were handsome,10 and both made a show of their royal status by riding about in a chariot with fifty men running before them.11 Both sought to take over the kingdom while their father was still living. Absalom seemed to make his appeal to the general populace, while Adonijah sought to win the favor of some of Israel’s leaders. Absalom would not hesitate to kill David and many others to grasp the throne; Adonijah may at least have been willing to kill any rivals or threats to his reign.12
David’s performance as a father has not been stellar. He foolishly sent Tamar to Amnon13 and thus facilitated her violation by her brother. He did not deal well with Absalom, either,14 thus contributing to Absalom’s revolt. Now, once again, we find David failing as a father:
(Now his father had never corrected him by saying, “Why do you do such things?” He was also very handsome and had been born right after Absalom.) (1 Kings 1:6)
We would probably say today that Adonijah was a royal brat. He had everything he wanted and was never called to account for his actions.
It seems as though Adonijah would have known that Solomon was the heir apparent. He certainly would have noted David’s reluctance to designate his successor and the degree to which David was out of touch and out of control of his kingdom. Waiting for David’s death would not be to his advantage. But if he could act decisively before David’s death, especially with the support of some of David’s most loyal officials, he could seize the throne. If need be, he could even eliminate Solomon and his mother, so that the designated heir to the throne would no longer pose a threat to his plans.
Somehow Adonijah succeeded in obtaining the support of some of David’s most devoted officials, specifically Joab and Abiathar. Joab was the commander of Israel’s armies, and this was crucial because successful coups require the support of the armed forces of the nation. If Joab could maintain the loyalty and support of his army, then Adonijah’s victory seemed almost certain. Abiathar shared the high priesthood with Zadok;15 Abiathar cast his lot with Adonijah, while Zadok remained faithful to David, and thus to Solomon. No doubt Adonijah planned to have Abiathar anoint him as Israel’s next king, thus giving the appearance of divine a.pproval
While Adonijah had managed to gain the support of some key leaders, he had not gained the support of all. Zadok, the other high priest, Benaiah (one of David’s top military commanders), Nathan the prophet, 16and David’s elite warriors (the Kerethites and Pelethites – see verse 38) remained loyal to their king.
Adonijah made his intentions clear – he definitely intended to be Israel’s next king. He sounds rather like some politicians today, announcing their candidacy for president. He acquired all of the trappings of royalty and flaunted them to buttress his intentions:
Now Adonijah, son of David and Haggith, was promoting himself, boasting, “I will be king!” He managed to acquire chariots and horsemen, as well as fifty men to serve as his royal guard (1 Kings 1:5).
When the time was right, Joab held a feast, a seemingly apt occasion to designate himself as David’s replacement.17 Things appeared to be going according to Adonijah’s plan.
11 Nathan said to Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, “Has it been reported to you that Haggith’s son Adonijah has become king behind our master David’s back? 12 Now let me give you some advice as to how you can save your life and your son Solomon’s life. 13 Visit King David and say to him, ‘My master, O king, did you not solemnly promise your servant, “Surely your son Solomon will be king after me; he will sit on my throne”? So why has Adonijah become king?’ 14 While you are still there speaking to the king, I will arrive and verify your report” (1 Kings 1:11-14).
This is really great drama. It would seem that Adonijah’s banquet has already begun, and it will not be long before this usurper is proclaimed king. (Perhaps the plan was for Abiathar to anoint him as king during the feast, and then Joab would lead a procession to Jerusalem, where Adonijah would take the throne.) Time was of the essence. Something had to be done, and done quickly.
Nathan knew what Adonijah was up to. It seems to me that Nathan was also clear on the fact that Solomon was God’s choice as David’s successor. This may have been made known to him shortly after Solomon’s birth, and perhaps this text is an indication of Solomon’s favored status before God:
24 So David comforted his wife Bathsheba. He went to her and had marital relations with her. She gave birth to a son, and David named him Solomon. Now the Lord loved the child 25 and sent word through Nathan the prophet that he should be named Jedidiah for the Lord’s sake (2 Samuel 12:24-25).
Nathan had played a very significant role in David’s life and his reign as king. Nathan was the prophet through whom God conveyed the Davidic Covenant, God’s promise to build David a “house” (a dynasty) as we find in 2 Samuel 7. It was also Nathan who confronted David regarding his sin with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah her husband (2 Samuel 12). As we can see from the text above, it was also Nathan who conveyed God’s favor toward Solomon. Now, it somehow seems fitting that Nathan would be the one to become aware of Adonijah’s scheme and to see to it that David is informed that he is in the process of declaring himself to be king of Israel. He does so by enlisting Bathsheba’s support.
Nathan not only informs Bathsheba of Adonijah’s plot but makes it clear to her that should he succeed in usurping the throne, both she and her son Solomon would likely be killed. When Adonijah seizes power, he will not leave any rivals, especially Solomon. Nathan instructs Bathsheba to approach David and remind him of his oath to her that Solomon would reign in his place. She is then to ask David if he intends to keep his oath. If so, then how is it that Adonijah has become king? (Granted, Adonijah is only in the process of achieving this, but asking her question as Nathan has instructed serves to underscore the urgency of the situation and thus the need for an immediate response from David.)
15 So Bathsheba visited the king in his private quarters. (The king was very old, and Abishag the Shunammite was serving the king.) 16 Bathsheba bowed down on the floor before the king. The king said, “What do you want?” 17 She replied to him, “My master, you swore an oath to your servant by the Lord your God, ‘Solomon your son will be king after me and he will sit on my throne.’ 18 But now, look, Adonijah has become king! But you, my master the king, are not even aware of it! 19 He has sacrificed many cattle, steers, and sheep and has invited all the king’s sons, Abiathar the priest, and Joab, the commander of the army, but he has not invited your servant Solomon. 20 Now, my master, O king, all Israel is watching anxiously to see who is named to succeed my master the king on the throne. 21 If a decision is not made, when my master the king is buried with his ancestors, my son Solomon and I will be considered state criminals” (1 Kings 1:15-21).
I can only imagine Bathsheba’s emotional response when she came to the king while he was being served by Abishag. Nevertheless, she bowed before the king and carried out Nathan’s instructions. She first reminded David of the oath he swore to give the throne to Solomon. Next, she informs David that Adonijah has seized the throne, and he does not even know18 it (verse 18). Bathsheba then tells David what Adonijah is doing at this very moment to finalize his coup. He is sacrificing many cattle for the feast to which he has invited all of David’s sons, except Solomon, along with Abiathar the priest and Joab the commander of the army. If David does not act promptly, the deed will already have been done, and Solomon and his mother will become criminals.
22 Just then, while she was still speaking to the king, Nathan the prophet arrived. 23 The king was told, “Nathan the prophet is here.” Nathan entered and bowed before the king with his face to the floor. 24 Nathan said, “My master, O king, did you announce, ‘Adonijah will be king after me; he will sit on my throne’? 25 For today he has gone down and sacrificed many cattle, steers, and sheep and has invited all the king’s sons, the army commanders, and Abiathar the priest. At this moment they are having a feast in his presence, and they have declared, ‘Long live King Adonijah!’ 26 But he did not invite me – your servant – or Zadok the priest, or Benaiah son of Jehoiada, or your servant Solomon. 27 Has my master the king authorized this without informing your servants who should succeed my master the king on his throne?” (1 Kings 1:22-27)
Nathan’s timing was perfect. He arrived while Bathsheba was still speaking, so that he was able to confirm all that she had said. It would appear that Bathsheba said her piece and then left.19 Nathan does not give a “Thus saith the Lord;” he simply asks David a question. Did David proclaim Adonijah to be his successor? That was certainly the appearance of the day’s events. He then told of the sacrifice, the feast, and those who were invited. Those at the feast were proclaiming Adonijah as the king, and all this was done without Nathan, Zadok, Benaiah, or Solomon, who had been deliberately excluded from these festivities. “Is it true,” Nathan asks David, “that you have authorized this without making it known to your most faithful servants?”
28 King David responded, “Summon Bathsheba!” She came and stood before the king. 29 The king swore an oath: “As certainly as the Lord lives (he who has rescued me from every danger), 30 I will keep today the oath I swore to you by the Lord God of Israel: ‘Surely Solomon your son will be king after me; he will sit in my place on my throne.’” 31 Bathsheba bowed down to the king with her face to the floor and said, “May my master, King David, live forever!” 32 King David said, “Summon Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada.” They came before the king, 33 and he told them, “Take your master’s servants with you, put my son Solomon on my mule, and lead him down to Gihon. 34 There Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet will anoint him king over Israel; then blow the trumpet and declare, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ 35 Then follow him up as he comes and sits on my throne. He will be king in my place; I have decreed that he will be ruler over Israel and Judah” (1 Kings 1:28-35).
For a few moments, David acts like the king he is supposed to be. If Abishag could not warm David up, the reports of Bathsheba and Nathan did. Can’t you just see him pushing Abishag out of his bed, setting up, and issuing orders? He first summoned Bathsheba, assuring her that he would keep his oath and that he would see to it that Solomon, her son, became king in his place. In gratitude and humility, Bathsheba bowed before David saying, “May my master, King David, live forever!” (verse 31). And so he would, thanks to his descendant, the Son of David, Messiah.
Then David summoned Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada. When they appeared before him, David gave the authorization and instructions whereby Solomon would be declared King of Israel that very day. They were to go with David’s servants and place Solomon on his mule, then lead him down to the valley just below Jerusalem to the Gihon spring20 and there anoint him king, blowing the trumpet to declare Solomon King of Israel. Benaiah responded, embracing Solomon as the one the Lord would bless, even as He had David.
38 So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, Benaiah son of Jehoiada, the Kerethites, and the Pelethites went down, put Solomon on King David’s mule, and led him to Gihon. 39 Zadok the priest took a horn filled with olive oil from the tent and poured it on Solomon; the trumpet was blown and all the people declared, “Long live King Solomon!” 40 All the people followed him up, playing flutes and celebrating so loudly they made the ground shake (1 Kings 1:38-40).
While Adonijah and his guests celebrated their feast, Solomon was being officially designated as David’s successor. Zadok the priest anointed Solomon, and Nathan the prophet gave evidence of God’s appointment. David’s mule provided another indication that Solomon was David’s choice for Israel’s king. While a few key leaders toasted Adonijah as king, the people of Jerusalem embraced Solomon as their king. Adonijah’s plan had failed as he is soon to discover.
41 Now Adonijah and all his guests heard the commotion just as they had finished eating. When Joab heard the sound of the trumpet, he asked, “Why is there such a noisy commotion in the city?” 42 As he was still speaking, Jonathan son of Abiathar the priest arrived. Adonijah said, “Come in, for an important man like you must be bringing good news.” 43 Jonathan replied to Adonijah: “No! Our master King David has made Solomon king. 44 The king sent with him Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, Benaiah son of Jehoiada, the Kerethites, and the Pelethites and they put him on the king’s mule. 45 Then Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anointed him king in Gihon. They went up from there rejoicing, and the city is in an uproar. That is the sound you hear. 46 Furthermore, Solomon has assumed the royal throne. 47 The king’s servants have even come to congratulate our master King David, saying, ‘May your God make Solomon more famous than you and make him an even greater king than you!’ Then the king leaned on the bed 48 and said this: ‘The Lord God of Israel is worthy of praise because today he has placed a successor on my throne and allowed me to see it’” (1 Kings 1:41-48).
Adonijah had been planning for this day for a long time, and now he appears to be basking in the glory of his self-proclaimed ascent to the throne. Those gathered around him are those who have assisted him in his rise to power. They have, in fact, staked their future on Adonijah’s success. From all appearances, it is a “done deal.” As someone has said, “It’s all over but the shouting.” In fact, the shouting has commenced (see verse 25). But in the midst of their celebration just outside the city of Jerusalem an even more thunderous celebration was heard coming from within Jerusalem. Joab heard the sound of the trumpet (I suppose a military commander would be especially alert for the sounding of a trumpet) and inquired about it just as Jonathan (the son of Abiathar the priest who supported Adonijah) arrived from the city. Adonijah assumed this must be a harbinger of good news, but it was quite the contrary, as Jonathan announced. David had just proclaimed Solomon to be the new king of Israel. And so he told Adonijah what had been going on back in Jerusalem, rendering all of this usurper’s efforts worthless.
49 All of Adonijah’s guests panicked; they jumped up and rushed off their separate ways. 50 Adonijah feared Solomon, so he got up and went and grabbed hold of the horns of the altar. 51 Solomon was told, “Look, Adonijah fears you; see, he has taken hold of the horns of the altar, saying, ‘May King Solomon solemnly promise me today that he will not kill his servant with the sword.’” 52 Solomon said, “If he is a loyal subject, not a hair of his head will be harmed, but if he is found to be a traitor, he will die.” 53 King Solomon sent men to bring him down from the altar. He came and bowed down to King Solomon, and Solomon told him, “Go home” (1 Kings 1:49-53).
When I read these words, I am reminded of those who were accusing the woman caught in the act of adultery in a way that would put Jesus at odds with the Law of Moses:
7 When they persisted in asking him, he stood up straight and replied, “Whoever among you is guiltless may be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Then he bent over again and wrote on the ground. 9 Now when they heard this, they began to drift away one at a time, starting with the older ones, until Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him (John 8:7-9).
Those who attended Adonijah’s feast had taken a certain risk when they chose to identify themselves with his cause of seizing the throne. If he had succeeded, they would have been given places of leadership as a part of his administration. But if he failed, they would go down with him. It is no wonder that folks couldn’t get away from this feast fast enough! Adonijah seized the horns of the altar, hoping that Solomon would have mercy on him. And he did, so long as Adonijah remained a loyal subject. So Adonijah was brought down from the altar to appear before Solomon, to whom he bowed down in submission (at least for the moment). Solomon then sent him to his home.
In some ways, the circumstances of this text are a far cry from anything we experience today, but having said this, there are a number of ways in which 1 Kings 1 does relate to us. I would like to suggest a few by way of application.
(1) The text is but one more example of the sovereignty of God. When I speak of the sovereignty of God, I am referring to God’s absolute control over this world, and in particular, His ability to bring to pass every plan and promise He has made. I love the way Nebuchadnezzar put it, many years later:
34 But at the end of the appointed time I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up toward heaven, and my sanity returned to me. I extolled the Most High, and I praised and glorified the one who lives forever. For his authority is an everlasting authority, and his kingdom extends from one generation to the next. 35 All the inhabitants of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he wishes with the army of heaven and with those who inhabit the earth. No one slaps his hand and says to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:34-35)
There are two ways in which the sovereignty of God is evident in our text. First, we see the sovereignty of God in the appointment of Solomon as David’s successor. Look at the intrigue on Adonijah’s part, along with his accomplices. There is a very well orchestrated plan to put Adonijah into power. When we look at David, we find an old man who is about to die and yet is unwilling to relinquish his control, totally unaware of the fact that Adonijah is seizing his kingdom as David lays shivering in his bed. Although God has purposed for Solomon to reign in David’s place, it would seem as though bringing this to pass were impossible. And yet, at the end of this chapter, Solomon is reigning as the King of Israel, while Adonijah is kneeling in submission at his feet. God’s purposes and promises are always fulfilled because God is in control, even when things seem to be in utter chaos.
There is a second evidence of God’s sovereignty, which is not revealed until 1 Kings 2:
Solomon dismissed Abiathar from his position as priest of the Lord, fulfilling the decree of judgment the Lord made in Shiloh against the family of Eli (1 Kings 2:27).
Years before David came to power, God had indicated to Eli that his priesthood would come to an end because of Eli’s unfaithfulness in refusing to discipline his sons for grave priestly misconduct:
27 A man of God came to Eli and said to him, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Did I not plainly reveal myself to your ancestor’s house when they were in Egypt in the house of Pharaoh? 28 I chose your ancestor from all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to offer sacrifice on my altar, to burn incense, and to bear the ephod before me. I gave to your ancestor’s house all the fire offerings made by the Israelites. 29 Why are you scorning my sacrifice and my offering that I commanded for my dwelling place? You have honored your sons more than you have me by having made yourselves fat from the best parts of all the offerings of my people Israel.’ 30 Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, says, ‘I really did say that your house and your ancestor’s house would serve me forever.’ But now the Lord says, ‘May it never be! For I will honor those who honor me, but those who despise me will be cursed! 31 In fact, days are coming when I will remove your strength and the strength of your father’s house. There will not be an old man in your house! 32 You will see trouble in my dwelling place! Israel will experience blessings, but there will not be an old man in your house for all time. 33 Any one of you that I do not cut off from my altar, I will cause your eyes to fail and will cause you grief. All of those born to your family will die in the prime of life. 34 This will be a confirming sign for you that will be fulfilled through your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas: in a single day they both will die! 35 Then I will raise up for myself a faithful priest. He will do what is in my heart and soul. I will build for him a secure dynasty and he will serve my chosen one for all time. 36 Everyone who remains in your house will come to bow before him for a little money and for a scrap of bread. Each will say, ‘Assign me to a priestly task so I can eat a scrap of bread’” (1 Samuel 2:27-36).21
Eli’s priestly dynasty was going to be terminated and replaced by another (not unlike the way Saul’s kingly dynasty was replaced by the line of David). His two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were killed on the same day by the Philistines, and when he heard the news, Eli died as well, just as God had said.22 When David went to Nob to seek help from Ahimelech the priest,23 he did not tell him that he was fleeing from Saul, and as a result when Saul learned that Ahimelech had (innocently, as we are informed) assisted David, he had Ahimelech and his household slaughtered.24 Only one descendant escaped and survived – Abiathar – who served David from then on.25
When David began to reign as king, Abiathar (a descendant of Ithamar), the sole survivor of Eli’s line, served jointly with Zadok (a descendant of Eleazar) as Israel’s high priests.26 But in 1 Kings 1, we read that Abiathar chose to side with Adonijah in his revolt; thus when Solomon became king, he dismissed him from the priesthood. This, we are told, was the fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken to Eli, which we have just seen in 1 Samuel 2. In the midst of all the intrigue and upheaval going on in relation to David, Solomon, Adonijah, Zadok and Abiathar, God fulfilled His words to Eli through Samuel many years before.
We live in a chaotic and unpredictable world. Yet it will be in the midst of such chaos that God will fulfill His promises, prophecies, and divine purposes just as He said, and just when He planned to do it. Isn’t it wonderful to know that if we are Christians, our lives are in His hands, and our future is secure? Only those who have rejected God have reason to fear.
(2) David and Messiah. David is often a prototype of the Messiah who (from an Old Testament perspective) was yet to come. For example, we find David’s sufferings, as described in Psalm 22 (and elsewhere), to be a picture of the suffering of Messiah on the cross.
One has to wonder why Joab and Abiathar chose to cast their lot with Adonijah, thereby forsaking their loyalty to David and to Solomon. These were men who spent years serving David in the most dangerous and difficult seasons of his life. Why did they forsake David now? I think it is because they perceived him to be old and incompetent, and at the same time, unwilling to surrender the throne to his successor.
I wonder if this is something like the way our Lord’s disciples felt when they forsook Jesus and fled (and Peter did more than this – he denied his Master). Jesus had been introduced by John the Baptist as the Promised Messiah. Jesus confirmed His identity as Messiah by His claims, His teaching, and His miraculous works. The disciples had grandiose visions of what this would mean for Israel and for them personally. They expected Jesus to overthrow Rome, to throw the Jewish rascals (the scribes and Pharisees and the Jewish officials) out, and then to immediately establish the kingdom. But as the time of His death drew near, the disciples began to realize that something very different was taking place. While Peter had drawn his sword and drawn first blood, Jesus rebuked him and then surrendered to those who came to arrest Him. Jesus was not performing according to the disciples’ expectations. As He stood before Pilate and Herod, mocked and abused by the Roman guards and others, He looked weak and powerless, not unlike the way David seemed powerless as he lay trembling in his bed.
David died, no more to reign. Jesus died, too, and His disciples drew the false conclusion that it was all over for them as well.27 All hope of reigning with Him in His kingdom seemed to have been lost. But what a contrast between David, whose body remained in Jerusalem,28 and Jesus, whose body was raised in power. We do not serve a powerless Savior; we serve a powerful Savior who will live forever, so that our hope in Him is sure:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5).
David did not know what was going on; our Lord Jesus knows all. David was unwilling to relinquish his throne, even though he was incapable of carrying out his duties. Our Lord was fully capable and worthy to reign at His Father’s side, but in submission to the will of the Father, and to save us, our Lord relinquished His heavenly splendor to take on human flesh and dwell among men, to suffer and to die to save guilty sinners:
5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, 6 who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. 8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)
When Jesus presented Himself to the Jewish nation as their long awaited Messiah, some followed Him as His disciples. Their expectations grew as they came to realize His wisdom and power. You can see by the kinds of questions the disciples privately debated among themselves that they had high hopes of positions and power in Messiah’s kingdom, a kingdom which they believed to be imminent. You can imagine their dismay when Jesus surrendered to those who came to arrest Him, when Jesus allowed Himself to be mocked and beaten, and then to be hung on a Roman cross. At this point in time, the disciples must have felt toward Jesus much the same as Joab and Abiathar felt toward David, in his weakened condition, soon to die.
But how different reality is from mere appearance! Jesus was not powerless at all. Jesus had not lost control. No one took His life from Him; He laid it down of His own volition.29 Jesus was raised in power from the dead, no more to die. He will reign forever; His kingdom will never end. David’s weakness was dealt with by the succession of power to Solomon. Our Lord’s “weakness” was dealt with by His resurrection. There will never be a point in time when we need to consider other options (as did Joab and Abiathar), because Jesus never fails. What a joy it is to know that when we trust in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, we commit ourselves to the all-powerful, all-loving, ever-living God.
(3) Lessons in leadership. David was a great man, a man with a heart for God. He became God’s standard for all subsequent kings. But for all of this, David was still just a man, a man who had feet of clay, just like you and me. David was a great leader, but he failed. He failed morally with Bathsheba and Uriah. He failed at fathering. He failed at making the succession of his reign a smooth transition.
Which leads me to this conclusion: All leaders fail, and some great leaders fail greatly. It is always a disappointment when a leader fails, but this should not take us completely by surprise, as though such things never happen, or as though leaders are exempt from the temptations and sins of others. We should not expect our leaders to be perfect; neither should we make excuses for their failures.
Children, if you haven’t already figured it out, your parents fail. They are not omniscient, and thus you may get the blame for something you didn’t do. Your punishment may be more than you think your sin deserves. The advice your parents give may not always be correct. What they permit or forbid may not always be flawless. And that is because they are human.
Church members, your church leaders are not perfect. Each one has weaknesses and predispositions toward some particular sin. Any leader who seeks to give you the impression that he lives a sinless life, above the temptations and trials of other men, is either self-deceived or a deceiver. This is why the Bible not only sets standards for church leaders, it also outlines the process for rebuke and correction when a man fails, including leaders. This is also why God has prescribed a form of church government that employs the principle of plurality. The church should be guided and governed by a plurality of men, each with different spiritual gifts and different perspectives. In this way, church leaders hold each other to account, just as they hold church members in general accountable.
(4) Success is dependent upon succession. I suspect that a good many sermons will be preached this Sunday on the subject of success. Who does not want to be successful? Our text teaches that in order for David to be successful, he must prepare for and promote succession. God promised to give David an eternal kingdom, but that did not mean that David would be king forever. Only the Messiah could fulfill this prophecy. God promised David a dynasty, and Solomon was the one who was to reign in his place. Yet, David seems to resist passing the torch. He does not appear to “disciple” Solomon in such a way as to prepare him for the task ahead. David is told that he cannot build the temple, but he does almost everything short of actually building the temple. His excuse is that Solomon is too young and inexperienced:
David said, “My son Solomon is just an inexperienced young man, and the temple to be built for the Lord must be especially magnificent so it will become famous and be considered splendid by all the nations. Therefore I will make preparations for its construction.” So David made extensive preparations before he died (1 Chronicles 22:5; see also 29:1-2).
Thanks to David, he will be “young and inexperienced” when it comes time for him to assume the throne.
5 One night in Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream. God said, “Tell me what I should give you.” 6 Solomon replied, “You demonstrated great loyalty to your servant, my father David, as he served you faithfully, properly, and sincerely. You have maintained this great loyalty to this day by allowing his son to sit on his throne. 7 Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in my father David’s place, even though I am only a young man and am inexperienced. 8 Your servant stands among your chosen people; they are a great nation that is too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning mind so he can make judicial decisions for your people and distinguish right from wrong. Otherwise no one is able to make judicial decisions for this great nation of yours” (1 Kings 3:5-9).
The fact is that no one is ever capable of leading the people of God. That is why God’s Spirit was bestowed on Israel’s king to empower him to rule. When Solomon became king, he knew that the job was bigger than he was, and so he asked God for wisdom. God solved Solomon’s problem of youth and lack of experience by giving him great wisdom through the Holy Spirit. But could David not have contributed to Solomon’s preparation for the throne by giving him instruction like that we find in the Book of Proverbs? Could David not have given Solomon some tasks to accomplish that would have prepared him for leadership in the future? Even pagan kings practiced co-regency, where both Father and son shared the throne, so that the son might carry on in the father’s absence.
I believe one of the great dangers of leadership is that we cease to view it as a stewardship, and we come to think of it in terms of ownership. If we think of ourselves as owners, we are very reluctant to step aside or to step down. We view future leaders as a threat, which is why dictators do not empower their subordinates, for fear they will seek to take over. This is why the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were so threatened by Jesus. He was a threat to their position and power:
47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees called the council together and said, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many miraculous signs. 48 If we allow him to go on in this way, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away our sanctuary and our nation” (John 11:47-48).
(5) I take our text and its implications personally. I am approaching my 64th birthday, and in the minds of many, that is just one year from “retirement.” I do not plan to retire from active ministry while my health and other circumstances allow it, but I do resolve not to cling to my position as David did, so that death is required to remove and replace me by those who are younger and more capable. I don’t want others to have to “prop me up” and seek to squeeze a few extra miles from my aged mind and body, as they did David.
My desire is to play an enthusiastic and active role in the process of succession. I am speaking not only in reference to my leadership role as a preacher, but also of my role as an elder. In churches like ours, which seek to follow New Testament principles, it is sometimes assumed that because the New Testament does not specify any term of office for either elders or deacons, these must be “lifetime” positions. That is an argument from silence, and thus it is like saying that because the New Testament does not mention Sunday school or church camps that these are unbiblical. I have heard of situations in which an elder was actually senile, and yet no one dared to ask him to step aside. What a tragic way to end a fruitful ministry.
Why not step down and let others take over? I can think of at least three reasons we refuse to step aside. The first is that our ego is too tied to a position and to the power it seems to afford us. We can’t conceive of ministry apart from an official position. The second reason is that we, like David, use the youth and inexperience of the next generation as a compelling reason for us to continue. No one can do it as well as we can, and so we can’t step down. The third reason is what I call “the founding father syndrome.” I am one of the founders of our church, and so I can at least understand how this mindset works. We worked hard to build the church, and we are reluctant to hand its leadership over to those who did not “pay the price” we paid. More than this, we fear that stepping aside and turning the leadership of the church over to others will mean that things will change. If “we did it right” and nothing needs changing, then change will be viewed as something undesirable, even evil.
At this point in time, I believe that existing leadership can fulfill a very vital function – transition. How much better transition is compared to revolution or, worse yet, a church split? As the founding generation of a church grows older, change is absolutely necessary. If nothing else, the founding generation will die off. But one way or the other, new leadership must be recognized, embraced, and supported. I want to be a constructive part of this process, and I believe that my fellow elders feel the same way. That is why we have in recent years added some younger elders, men who will lead us for many years to come. My desire is that more “next generation” elders will be added as we move forward. Succession is one key to success, not to mention survival. I want to be like Jonathan, Saul’s son, who recognized that God had chosen someone else to lead the nation, and then did everything he could to facilitate and support this change. I want to be like Barnabas, who sought out Paul and promoted his ministry, so that Paul eventually became the leader.
As I think about the men who have served as elders at Community Bible Chapel, I find some wonderful examples of men who have been committed to the importance of succession in leadership. I can well remember Lee,30 a friend and fellow elder, urging us to work harder at developing new leadership for our church. Several other men have served us well as elders, and for a variety of reasons, stepped aside from this office. They have continued to serve our church well in other capacities, and they have set a precedent for others to follow. One need not die or be found guilty of some serious sin to step down as an elder. Indeed, they may even make a greater contribution in their new avenues of service.
(6) Some broader implications of the principle of succession. As I have already indicated, this matter of succession applies much more broadly than just to men like me. It applies to all those who hold leadership offices or who fulfill leadership functions. The issue isn’t just one’s age or mental capacity. A leader may find that he has other responsibilities that may take precedence, perhaps only for a period of time. A leader may realize that he has become weary and needs to be refreshed. I have one friend who served as an elder in another church. When he began to serve, he resolved to serve for ten years and no more. I believe that this had a very beneficial impact on the church where he shared in leadership.
Parents must likewise come to terms with the necessity for succession. Parenting is not a lifetime job. We are to prepare our children for the challenges of adulthood. In the earliest days of a child’s life, parents must practice total leadership. We decide what the child eats and when. We decide when the child must take a nap or go to bed for the night. We choose how and where the child will be educated. But as time passes, we must begin the transitional process which prepares them for succession. Whether we like it or not, a day may come when they will become our “parents,” so to speak. They may decide when it is past time for us to live alone or to drive a car, and thus we have some strong incentives for preparing them well.
The principle of succession necessitates evangelism and discipleship. Even our Lord Jesus practiced the principle of succession. He knew that after His sacrificial death, bodily resurrection, and ascension, the work that He had begun was to be carried out by His apostles (initially) and then by the church.
1 I wrote the former account, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after he had given orders by the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen (Acts 1:1-2, emphasis mine).
Throughout His earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus was preparing His disciples to continue the work that He began. Today that work continues through the church. We are “His body,” the “body of Christ,” carrying out the work He commenced. We are to minister to those in need, as Jesus did when He was on the earth. We are to minister to one another in the power of the Spirit, as Jesus ministered to His disciples. We are to proclaim the gospel and make disciples of those from every nation. Humanly speaking, the church would die, and thus God’s purposes on this earth through the church will come to an end unless Christians are faithful to proclaim the good news of the gospel to lost sinners, and then to disciple those who come to faith in Jesus. Once again we see the importance of the principle of succession. It is a most serious failure (let’s just go ahead and call it sin) to enjoy the benefits of our salvation without sharing them with others. The Lord Jesus saved us and made us His disciples so that we would bear “much fruit.” In fact, bearing much fruit is one evidence that we are His disciples:
“My Father is honored by this, that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples” (John 15:8).
(7) The principle of succession is crucial to our survival and success as a church. When our church began over thirty years ago, we were all young. In fact, the “elders” were so young31 we jokingly referred to ourselves as the “youngers.” Nobody in their right mind calls us that any longer! There is nothing wrong with gray hair, but it does serve to remind us that we won’t be here forever. And I’m not just talking about the elders. Some of you folks are getting old as well. If we are going to see this church thrive in the future, then we must see church growth by evangelism. We must see those in the younger generation coming to faith. We must faithfully nurture these new believers so that they come to maturity.
The same fears that can hinder elders (new, younger, leadership will mean change) can also hinder the church as a whole. As God graciously works to save those in the next generation, the church will undergo a certain amount of change. Of course it must not change in its understanding and practice relative to the fundamental doctrines of the faith! But it will inevitably change in some of its cultural dimensions. We have seen some of this already. The older generation (of which I am a part) loves hymns, while the younger generation has its praise songs. The older generation loves the piano and organ; the younger generation loves its guitars and drums. We – the older generation – are going to need to adapt and to accommodate the younger generation in non-essential matters. If we refuse, the younger generation will go elsewhere, and we (our church) will eventually pass off the scene.
Let those of us who are more mature (okay, older) embrace the principle of succession. Let us recognize that we are soon to become a bygone generation, and that the next generation of leaders needs to be prepared for the task ahead. Let us commit ourselves to the task of passing the torch to those who are younger, and let us determine to make some of the adjustments necessary for this to happen. We who are passing the torch should expect that the next generation is going to do some things better than we did (just as Solomon did a number of things better than David did). We should also expect that they will make some mistakes in the process, just as we made our mistakes (and continue to do so). Our Lord Jesus informed Peter (and us) that his failure would be a part of the process He would use to make him a godly leader:
31 “Simon, Simon, pay attention! Satan has demanded to have you all, to sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).
Let those who are younger appreciate the wisdom, labor, and sacrifices of those who have gone before them. Let them show love, respect and consideration for the generation to which they owe so much. And let us all purpose to do this in unity. May we not find it expedient to “go our separate ways,” rather than to preserve and to practice the unity of the saints:
1 I, therefore, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live worthily of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:1-6).
It is not uniformity (“birds of a feather”) that demonstrates discipleship, but our unity in the midst of diversity. May God grant that we, as a church, may prove ourselves to be His disciples as we pass the torch to the next generation.
1 Copyright © 2007 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 1 in the Becoming a Leader after God’s Heart: Studies in the Life of David, a mini-series of Following Jesus in a Me-First World, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on April 29, 2007. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel.
3 If I were to identify one guiding principle for the inclusion or exclusion of information that might be found elsewhere, it would be the principle of edification, as found in 1 Corinthians 14:26, Ephesians 4:29, and Philippians 4:8. Many truths are not profitable. Information is included or excluded in Scripture based upon the whether it will or will not edify. This may vary from one book or from one text to another because of the author’s purpose in a particular text.
4 See especially chapters 22-23 and 28-29 of 1 Chronicles.
5 The counsel of these “servants,” whoever they were, is perplexing indeed. It seemed like a futile and foolish effort of some to squeeze a few more miles out of David, but they were simply not there.
6 Iain W. Provan includes an additional note in his commentary which convincingly shows that Abishag’s ministry was sexual, indeed even primarily sexual, in nature. See Iain W. Provan, (1 and 2 Kings, New International Biblical Commentary, Hendrickson Publishers, 1995), pp. 27-28.
16 Notice that Adonijah had a high priest, but not a prophet (as did David).
18 This is the same Hebrew word (meaning “to know”) found in verse 4. A beautiful young virgin is lying in bed next to David to “keep him warm” and yet David is not able to “know” her. Now, a self-seeking son of David has usurped the throne, and David does not even “know” it. What a way to underscore David’s age and diminished capacity, and the urgent need for him to designate his successor and step aside.
19 According to verse 28, after Nathan’s confirmation, David will summon Bathsheba to appear before him once again.
20 Note these words concerning Gihon in Easton’s Bible Dictionary:
The only natural spring of water in or near Jerusalem is the "Fountain of the Virgin" (q.v.), which rises outside the city walls on the west bank of the Kidron valley. On the occasion of the approach of the Assyrian army under Sennacherib, Hezekiah, in order to prevent the besiegers from finding water, "stopped the upper water course of Gihon, and brought it straight down to the west side of the city of David" (2 Chronicles 32:30; 33:14). This "fountain" or spring is therefore to be regarded as the "upper water course of Gihon." From this "fountain" a tunnel cut through the ridge which forms the south part of the temple hill conveys the water to the Pool of Siloam, which lies on the opposite side of this ridge at the head of the Tyropoeon ("cheesemakers'") valley, or valley of the son of Hinnom, now filled up by rubbish. The length of this tunnel is about 1,750 feet. (Easton Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, 1897 by M.G. Easton, M.A., D.D., ASCII edition, 1988 Ellis Enterprises, Inc. Public Domain.)
26 Aaron had four sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. Nadab and Abihu died before having any sons because they “offered strange fire” on the altar (Leviticus 10:1-2). This left Eleazar and Ithamar. Eli and his sons were descendants of Ithamar, while Zadok was a descendant of Eleazar. God told Eli that his line of priests would perish and be replaced by another (a descendant of Eleazar). When Saul slaughtered Ahimelech and his household, they were descendants of Ithamar, and the sole survivor was Abiathar. When Abiathar chose to side with Adonijah, Solomon removed him from his priesthood, leaving Zadok as the only high priest. Thus, the priesthood was removed from the line of Ithamar and his descendants just as God had told Eli. See 1 Chronicles 24:1-5.
30 Lee and his wife Barbara were with us almost from the beginning. Lee was a friend who faithfully served CBC in various capacities, including that of an elder. He went to be with the Lord several years ago.
31 We were all in our thirties at the time.