Adonijah then sacrificed sheep, cattle and fattened calves at the Stone of Zoheleth near En Rogel. 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 special guard or his brother Solomon.
Then Nathan asked Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, “Have you not heard that Adonijah, the son of Haggith, has become king, and our lord David knows nothing about it? Now then, let me advise you how you can save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. Go in to King David and say to him, ‘My lord the king, did you not swear to me your servant: “Surely Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne”? Why then has Adonijah become king?’ While you are still there talking to the king, I will come in and add my word to what you have said.” So Bathsheba went to see the aged king in his room, where Abishag the Shunammite was attending him. Bathsheba bowed down, prostrating herself before the king. “What is it you want?” the king asked. She said to him, “My lord, you yourself swore to me your servant by the Lord your God: ‘Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne.’ But now Adonijah has become king, and you, my lord the king, do not know about it. He has sacrificed great numbers of cattle, fattened calves, 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 Solomon your servant. My lord the king, the eyes of all Israel are on you, to learn from you who will sit on the throne of my lord the king after him. Otherwise, as soon as my lord the king is laid to rest with his ancestors, I and my son Solomon will be treated as criminals.”
While she was still speaking with the king, Nathan the prophet arrived. And the king was told, “Nathan the prophet is here.” So he went before the king and bowed with his face to the ground. Nathan said, “Have you, my lord the king, declared that Adonijah shall be king after you, and that he will sit on your throne? Today he has gone down and sacrificed great numbers of cattle, fattened calves, and sheep. He has invited all the king’s sons, the commanders of the army and Abiathar the priest. Right now they are eating and drinking with him and saying, ‘Long live King Adonijah!’ But me your servant, and Zadok the priest, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and your servant Solomon he did not invite. Is this something my lord the king has done without letting his servants know who should sit on the throne of my lord the king after him?”
Then King David said, “Call in Bathsheba.” So she came into the king’s presence and stood before him. The king then took an oath: “As surely as the Lord lives, who has delivered me out of every trouble, I will surely carry out this very day what I swore to you by the Lord, the God of Israel: Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne in my place.” Then Bathsheba bowed down with her face to the ground, prostrating herself before the king, and said, “May my lord King David live forever!”
This is a story of intrigue and manoeuvring for power.
Strong characters inhabit this text. Adonijah, never challenged by his father (as we read on Saturday) is David’s eldest surviving son and very handsome. He is thought to be the king-in-waiting by almost everyone who counts. They accept his invitation to an inaugural feast. Nathan the prophet disagrees and takes the initiative to scupper Adonijah’s succession attempt. He recruits Bathsheba as a willing ally. Solomon, interestingly, does not plead his case in person, nor is his opinion sought or stated. David is a very old man but still holds the reins of power, and it is his decision which holds sway.
How did the writers and editors of the book of Kings intend us to read this episode? I think the lesson they probably intended is along the lines of, “Do what you will humanly speaking, but God’s purpose will out.” But the attempts to secure power, not only by Adonijah but also by Nathan on behalf of Solomon, leave a nasty taste in my mouth. Then, as now, it is profoundly sad when a nation, a business, a family, or a church, are structured in such a way that people feel they have to vie for power and do others down in the process.
This being the season of Advent my mind turns to Matthew’s genealogy which spells out for us that David’s true successor, twenty eight generations down the line, lived differently. In all the Gospels Jesus emanates power, but never seeks it!
May our Advent journey strengthen that same characteristic in us as individual disciples and as church communities. May God’s Spirit sensitise us to any tendencies we have towards intrigue or manoeuvring for power, and cleanse us from it.
For the sake of your world, Lord, strengthen your Church in true humility and service. Root out from within us all hunger for power which lifts us up and damages others. Empower us to live differently in all spheres of life, from politics through to family relationships. May your kingdom come. Amen
The Rev’d Gwen Collins, member of Avenue St Andrews URC, retired minister