Solomon For King audio (4MB)
You probably heard this week that the Rudd government are delaying the introduction of Carbon trading as a result of the Global Financial Crisis. This is quite an about-face for a government that prided itself on its environmental policy, but of course it was forced on them by external circumstances, wasn’t it? In fact isn’t that always the reason given for a shift of policy that moves from the ideal to the practical? That’s just the nature of politics. Well today we see a similar example of the reality of politics, what a German philosopher of the 19th century called Realpolitik.
David is on his deathbed. He’s lived a long life. He’s seen various ups and downs. And because he’s been king in difficult times he’s had to make various decisions that he wasn’t particularly happy about, but that were necessary to maintain his rule. He’s also made some friends and some enemies. Many of his enemies have been defeated, but there are one or two who for one reason or another are still around. In a couple of cases he’s even had to make a truce with them to ensure peace.
But now as he nears the end of his life he wants to tie up all of these loose ends. The first loose end appears in chapter 1 where the question of the succession arises. Adonijah, one of his older sons decides to jump the gun. He thinks the succession is his by right but he doesn’t want to wait around for David to die and then have to argue his case. So he enlists the help of Abiathar the priest and Joab, the leader of David’s army, to set himself on the throne before any of the other contenders catch on. These two think he’s a good choice. He’s good looking, popular and obviously a good tactician. He makes all the right PR moves. He gets himself chariots and horsemen and an entourage of fifty runners, a rent-a-crowd, to go before him as he goes to make a sacrifice to God in preparation for his coronation. And he invites all his brothers except Solomon to celebrate with him.
Unfortunately for him, word gets out. Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet hear about this and report it to Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon. She goes to David to remind him that he’d promised that Solomon would succeed him as king and to tell him that Adonijah is trying to usurp him. Nathan has arranged to come in at this point and confirm everything that Bathsheba has said.
So David is faced with a challenge. This isn’t the first time one of his sons has tried to usurp the throne. The last time it was Absalom who started an armed uprising to depose him and David simply walked away from Jerusalem rather than fight, and possibly kill, his own son. But this time things are different. It isn’t his own rule that’s at issue, it’s that of Solomon. It’s also the issue of God’s choice of his successor. He believes God wants Solomon to be king and he means to make sure that it happens.
So he tells Nathan and Zadok that they’re to take Solomon out of the city, anoint him as king, then bring him into Jerusalem mounted on David’s own mule, to bring him into the palace and seat him on David’s throne.
This has an immediate effect. Adonijah’s supporters melt into the shadows rather than be identified with this usurper of the king’s authority. David has made a clear decisions and even on his deathbed people take notice.
But there are still more loose ends to be tidied up. So David calls Solomon to his bedside to give him some advice.
First he tells him to be strong and courageous; to walk in the ways of God; to keep his commandments. Then, he says, God will do as he’s promised: he’ll establish your kingdom. And if your heirs maintain their faith in God then there’ll never fail to be a successor to the throne.
Well, if only Solomon and his heirs had listened to David’s advice, or the advice of the prophets that God sent later to warn them. But that’s a story for another day.
Right now David has something else on his mind. For nearly forty years he’s been holding off on punishing Joab for an act of treachery in the first years of David’s reign; an act that put a question mark over David’s integrity, in fact. When David first began to reign, one of Saul’s sons set himself up as the king of the northern tribes, with a man named Abner as the commander of his army. But after losing a few battles against David, Abner realised that it would be better if David were king of the entire nation. In fact he’d worked out that the reason he’d done so well was that God had chosen him as the rightful king. So he came to make a treaty with David: to arrange for the northern tribes to make him king. The trouble was, Abner had earlier killed Joab’s brother during one of their battles. So Joab decided to avenge his brother by assassinating Abner, even though he’d come to David under a peace treaty.
Some years later David offered Amasa the command of his army instead of Joab and again Joab killed him in cold blood to get rid of him.
So David had a dilemma. Joab was hugely popular as a fighting man so David needed him to lead his army but he knew that his morals were severely lacking. He knew that his own integrity had been compromised by Joab’s bloodthirsty character. But what was he to do? He couldn’t lose him as his general but he knew he deserved to be punished for these murders. His answer was to bide his time. To wait until the time was right. But now time has run out so he gives Solomon clear instructions that the time has come to bring judgement on Joab for his godless behaviour. But notice how he puts it: He’s to act according to his wisdom. Solomon can’t just go out and kill Joab but David knows even at this stage that Solomon will be a wise king.
David then asks Solomon to look after the sons of Barzillai, a northerner who had looked after David when he was fleeing Absalom. This was a debt of gratitude that David owed to this man who’d helped him when he was at his lowest ebb and he’d promised to look after his sons for him.
Then there’s Shimei a relative of Saul. When David was fleeing Absalom Shimei had run alongside David cursing him and throwing stones. David had ignored him, saying that maybe he was just speaking the words of God who seemed to have cursed David already. When the battle with Absalom was over and David was king again, Shimei came to apologise and ask forgiveness and because it was a day of victory David said he wouldn’t punish him. But notice he never forgot what Shimei had done. And now he leaves Solomon with the task of dealing with Shimei in a just but final way.
When you live in the real world it can be very difficult to work out how much you should compromise your standards in order to bring about a greater end. It’s hard to determine when the ends justify a means that might have moral and ethical questions attached. We saw an example of that this week, with Mick Gatto, a well-known underworld character, offering to raise funds for the bushfire relief effort. Is a donation like that tainted because of the person who’s raised it? The beneficiaries of his gift didn’t seem to care, but the police force did.
Churches occasionally face the same sort of dilemma when we’re offered donations by people or organisations that we mightn’t necessarily agree with or be comfortable being associated with. How do you decide these sorts of questions? And is it possible to ensure a just outcome in the end even when the means of getting there raises questions?
Well, as I said, even at this stage Solomon has a wisdom given by God.
The first person he deals with is Adonijah. Adonijah hasn’t given up on the idea of taking over the kingship. He tries to manipulate his way to the throne. First he enlists Bathsheba’s help. He knows that she has the ear of the new king so he goes and asks her to beg the king to let him marry Abishag, a young woman whose job has been to look after David, to sleep in his bed to keep him warm. There’s been no sexual relationship between them but nevertheless he knows that their relationship is well known and if he marries her it will add to his credentials before the people. But Solomon sees right through this ploy. He says: “Why do you ask Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? Ask for him the kingdom as well! For he is my elder brother; ask not only for him but also for the priest Abiathar and for Joab son of Zeruiah!” He knows this is a plot to overthrow him and so he sentences Adonijah to death. If Adonijah had kept quiet he would have been OK but a new king can’t afford to have an older brother plotting his downfall.
There’s also Abiathar the priest who tried to anoint Adonijah as king who needs to be dealt with but he’s one of the priests who has carried the Ark of the Lord so he can’t just be executed. Instead Solomon banishes him to his estate.
Well at that Joab sees the writing on the wall. He runs to the tabernacle and holds on to the Altar - the place of sanctuary, and refuses to budge. So Solomon sends his executioner to get him but he still won’t move. He’d rather die where he is. Well, Solomon is already a wise king so he gives him his wish and he’s executed at the altar. This is the ironic twist to the story. Solomon says: “Do as he has said, strike him down and bury him; and thus take away from me and from my father's house the guilt for the blood that Joab shed without cause.” It seems appropriate that this death of Joab on the altar acts as an atonement for the murder that Joab had committed, apparently in David’s name.
Well, that just leaves Shimei. David’s given him immunity from punishment up until now, but the way he cursed David when he was in trouble still deserves to be punished. So what will Solomon do?
Well, Solomon comes up with a very wise and just solution. He tells Shimei that as long as he stays within the walls of Jerusalem he’ll be safe. It’s a bit like being under house arrest, but with a bit more freedom. What it stops Shimei from doing though, is watching over his own property. Perhaps Solomon knows that this will be too much for him. And so it is.
After a while Shimei’s slaves realise this is an opportunity for them. He isn’t allowed to leave the city so all they have to do is walk out the city gates and they’ll be free. So they do. Three years later they not only walk out the city gates, they run away to Gath, in the region of the Philistines, where Goliath came from. This is too much for Shimei. He can’t let them get away with it so off he goes in pursuit.
And that’s the end of Shimei. He’s broken the treaty with Solomon and Solomon is able to execute him. But again, there’s a sting in the tale. The real reason Shimei is being punished isn’t because he’s left Jerusalem. It’s because he chose to curse the one that God had blessed. See what Solomon says as he’s sentencing him: “45But King Solomon shall be blessed, and the throne of David shall be established before the LORD forever.” Shimei had cursed David but God had turned his curse back on him.
Sometimes we wonder how people can get away with saying the things they do about God, or about Jesus, or about his church. Some of us would like to see them stopped when that happens. But what we find here is that God is able to look after himself. Yes, he uses Solomon as his instrument of punishment in this case, but he’s had it all under control from the start, even when David was running away from Absalom. God was watching over David, and now he’s watching over Solomon. As we’ll see next week, God was preparing Solomon for a long reign. He was about to give him wisdom that would become legendary.
It isn’t easy to live in a fallen world is it? Sometimes we have to make difficult decisions. We might even need to do things that feel wrong, just as David did. But even when that happens we need to understand what we’re doing and resolve to do all we can to make it right in the end. And then we have to trust God to overrule. We have to continue to trust him to bring about his righteous plans for us and for those around us. God knows what we’re going through. He knows that sometimes there are no clean answers to the dilemmas we face. But he’s able to bring a just end from every situation.
As we think about this passage during the week perhaps we could remember how much our politicians need our prayers. Perhaps we might pray that God would give them his wisdom in dealing with the very complicated issues of government where ideal answers are often overridden by the practicalities of political life.