Sermon preached on 1 Kings 2:13-46 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 6/30/2019 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Kings 2:13-46
The Throne of David Shall Be Established Before the LORD Forever
Last week we looked at King David’s final charge to his son Solomon. There we saw how David called Solomon in general to establish his kingdom through carefully walking in the ways of the Lord and in administering justice and righteousness among God’s people. There we saw David also give King Solomon specific instructions on how to do this; that there were some matters of outstanding justice that needed to be addressed with regard to Joab and Shimei. All of these words from David were in the context of Solomon firmly establishing his kingdom. So then, that’s what we see worked out now in the rest of the chapter. Taking this counsel from his father, he uses wisdom and justice to not only deal with Joab and Shimei, but also applies these principles in dealing with these other threats to his kingdom, namely with Adonijah and Abiathar.
So then, today we’ll look at the way Solomon wisely and justly handles these internal threats to his kingdom. As we do this, I remind you of the conclusion we came to last week in that passage which really introduced today’s passage. We said that as Solomon looked to take care all these threats to his kingdom, that this points us to how Jesus promised to return and remove all the enemies to his kingdom. We also applied this to how the church right now administers church discipline through its elders. This same conclusion and application is pertinent for today. Note that each of the four people that Solomon deals with are people that were inside Israel. They weren’t Gentiles. They were part of the church and kingdom of God’s people. But they had made themselves a threat to that kingdom and therefore needed to be dealt with by Solomon. Likewise, as we go through each of the four people today, we’ll make application to the sort of similar threat that we can still find today in the church. Church discipline will need to address such threats in the church today, with the tools God gives us under the new covenant.
Let’s begin then today with Adonijah’s execution in verses 13-25. Remember that last chapter we saw Adonijah’s presumptuous ambition. He tried to steal the kingdom from his father David and from his brother Solomon. Remember that when his effort at a coup failed, he fled to the horns of the altar and pleaded for mercy from King Solomon. Adonijah recognized that his treason could result in his death. But Solomon graciously granted his plea for mercy, on the condition essentially that he behave himself; that he stop his treasonous efforts to take the throne away from Solomon. Well, here in these verses, Adonijah clearly is still desiring to find a way to take the kingdom for himself. His words to Bathsheba in verse 15 come across as still bitter for how he failed to obtain the kingdom. His words even seem to blame God for his outcome. And that’s when he makes this damning request to Bathsheba to bring to Solomon. He asks for permission to marry Abishag the Shunammite.
Solomon wisely realized that this showed that Adonijah was still seeking the throne. On a side note, some have assumed Bathsheba was naïve of Adonijah’s intentions here. Others, on the other hand, assume Bathsheba was not naïve but knew Solomon would respond this way and so she gladly brought the request to him in order to get Adonijah killed. But the text doesn’t answer that question. Instead the point is about how Solomon wisely and justly handles the matter to further secure his kingdom. But I digress. Understand the reasoning here. Abishag, though unconsummated by David, was essentially a concubine of his. Back then, a typical cultural practice by the world was for a new king to take and possess the previous king’s harem. We might remember how scandalously Absalom did that when he took his father’s harem in a very public way for all Israel to see (2 Samuel 16). And so, Solomon saw that Adonijah’s request was an effort to strengthen his claim on the throne. Look at verse 22 to see further of Solomon’s thinking. Solomon acknowledges that Adonijah was the older brother – that would have already been a reason for the people to support Adonijah over Solomon. And not only that, but Solomon references Abiathar and Joab. At this time, they were both not only still alive, but still in their official positions of authority. So, Solomon realizes that to give Abishag to Adonijah would only further strengthen his hand to try to take the throne. And so, Solomon determines that this request represents Adonijah failing to abide by the terms of his clemency. And so, Solomon orders his death and has him executed by Benaiah.
In terms of application, we see today that Adonijah represents fruitless repentance. There is a kind of person who feigns repentance but won’t actually let go of their ungodly agenda. Such a person might for a time outwardly act like they’ve changed their ways. But in their heart they are still saying “my will be done” instead of “thy will be done.” In time, they can become known by their ungodly fruit. This can be especially troublesome for the church if the person’s sinful ambitions are big enough. The church needs to be prepared to act swiftly in church discipline when such false repentance finally shows itself.
Let’s turn next to look at Abiathar’s exile here in verses 26-27. We remember that Abiathar was the high priest who last chapter sided with Adonijah and his quest for the throne. As one who conspired with such a traitor, Solomon justly declares here that Abiathar deserved the death penalty. However, Solomon also offers him clemency. That mercy is in light of the extensive history of faithful service that Abiathar had shown to David and his kingdom, as described in verse 26. And so, Solomon instead sends him to Anathoth. That was one of the cities of refuge, which Solomon applies to this circumstance as a fitting place of exile for Abiathar.
This seems both wise and just of Solomon, given all the circumstances. Certainly, Solomon would be wise to not have someone in such a top position of religious authority in the nation if he could no longer be trusted. And I love how this punishment on Abiathar really comes across as more of a chastening. He is not put to death. But he does have to remain in this city of refuge. More pointedly, he would no longer serve as the high priest among God’s people. And so, stepping back to the bigger picture, this not only makes sense for Solomon, but verse 27 points out how this fulfilled the word of the Lord from way back in 1 Samuel 2. That’s when the high priest Eli was rebuked by God for his failure to discipline his sons in their abuse of the priestly office. God said back then that he would remove the priesthood from Eli’s house and give it to another. Well, Abiathar was of Eli’s house, and here the priesthood is removed from him and given to different son of Aaron – Zadok. Of course, the biggest picture is to see how God ultimately puts the priesthood in Jesus, but I digress.
In terms of application, we can think of someone in the church who faithfully serves for so long but later in his career makes some critical mistake. Maybe it’s a pastor who tarnishes a long fruitful life of service by some egregious sin late in life. There is a personal reminder for all of us of the need of watchfulness and not to rest on past service and think we can’t fall. And we can think of how this sort of thing is especially problematic for the church when its someone in leadership or some official capacity. And so, in terms of church discipline, depending on the circumstances, the action and the history might not warrant excommunicating the person, particularly if the person is repentant. But surely it will require at least removing that person from his office in the church. For the good of the church, there are times when someone can remain in the church but not in their former position of leadership.
Let’s turn next to consider Joab’s execution in verses 28-34. In verse 28, news reaches Joab, probably of Adonijah’s execution and Abiathar’s exile. Shrewd Joab then flees to the tabernacle to take hold of the horns of the altar. That was a practice back then that functioned similar to the cities of refuge, where people would go there in hopes of being spared from death (cf. Exodus 21). Notice that Joab doesn’t seem to have any idea that the judgment that was about to fall upon him was chiefly due to his past murders of Abner and Amasa. Clearly what’s on Joab’s mind is his that he, like Abiathar, had conspired with Adonijah in his quest for the throne.
And yet, if it was just that conspiring, we might expect similar mercy shown to Joab as both Abiathar and at first Adonijah had received. Abiathar is really a foil here to Joab. Like Abiathar, Joab had a long history of service to David and his kingdom. Joab had long supported David. We see that briefly referenced in verse 28 that he had not sided with Absalom in his rebellion – though we might also remember how Joab also unnecessarily murdered Absalom too when King David had explicitly ordered that not to happen. But the point is that Joab could have been someone who was remembered and honored as a national hero, apart from this wrong choice to support Adonijah. Yet his long service to the kingdom was marred with certain ruthless evils he did in the midst of his service, particularly with regard to murdering both Abner and Amasa. He murdered them like it was wartime when really peace had already been negotiated in both instances. Yet, in both instances, Joab was threatened to lose his job as the army commander to both Abner and Amasa, and so Joab shrewdly murdered them while feigning peace and friendship. If he hadn’t done such evils in the past, then maybe his fate in this passage would have been the same as Abiathar – exile. But instead, Solomon puts him to death.
Solomon is very clear here in verses 31-33 that Joab was being executed for those murders. In other words, he’s not being executed for his siding with Adonijah, even though that was worthy of capital punishment too. He’s being executed because of these past murders. He’s put to death for crimes that Joab didn’t even have on his mind, as he surely thought he got away with them. But Solomon executes justice. It’s noteworthy that Solomon has no problem killing him at that altar in the tabernacle. If you think about it, it’s actually very fitting. The concern raised by David and Solomon in this chapter is that the blood guilt that Joab brought in these murders needed to be dealt with. By shedding his blood there on the altar, Joab himself literally is the sacrifice to expiate his own sin, and remove any burden of guilt from the kingdom as a whole.
For some application, we can think of the kind of person in the church who is a really devoted, powerful, and influential leader who isn’t actually consistently serving in God’s way. They’ll do things God’s way if it’s convenient, but one way or another they’ll just do what needs to be done to get the job done. This is a person who is pragmatic and shrewd in an in their service to the church, regardless if their actions are good or bad. To them, the end justifies the means, and they probably think everyone should be grateful to them that they get the job done when others won’t. Such a person might even be oblivious to their own evil ways of doing things. Probably most people don’t even know that’s what’s been going on with that person. But church leadership needs to be watchful for such. We can imagine why someone like David might let someone like Joab serve for so long without calling him to an account. Joab got things done for David. Joab was strong and powerful and probably intimidating to David. Joab also was related to David. We can imagine that David was not inclined to act against Joab. But David ultimately recognized that Joab had to be dealt with if his kingdom was to really flourish in justice and righteousness. Likewise, the church leadership may need to act in similar circumstances even if it’s a hard thing to do.
Last, we look at verses 36-46 and see Shimei’s sort of house arrest and ultimately his execution. The background here is that Shimei was not only of the tribe of Benjamin, he was part of the former King Saul’s family. Back in 2 Samuel 16, when David had to flee Jerusalem from Absalom, he repeatedly cursed David. He spoke against David saying, “The LORD has brought upon you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the LORD has delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom your son. So now you are caught in your own evil, because you are a bloodthirsty man!” But then afterwards, when the LORD delivered David from Absalom, Shimei changed his tone. On David’s return to Jerusalem, in 2 Samuel 19, Shimei came and begged David to spare his life. At that time David agreed and swore an oath to not put him to death. However, as we saw last time, David knew that Shimei was in fact truly guilty for what he had done. The law said in Exodus 22:28, “You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people.” David knew that justice required Shimei to be dealt with, but didn’t believe he could rightly do it because of his oath.
So, it’s an interesting approach Solomon takes with him. David had told Solomon to use wisdom. So, it seems Solomon puts a test to Shimei to see if he had truly changed or not. Solomon is willing to spare his life, but only if he remains in Jerusalem. According to verse 43, Solomon puts him under oath in the name of the LORD to these requirements. Let me mention that part of the wisdom of this is that this would keep Shimei from being able to go out and conspire with any of his tribe in the territory of Benjamin. It seems that was part of the concern behind everything with Shimei – that there was concern about an ongoing desire from certain people of Benjamin that thought the kingdom should still belong to their tribe, not to David. So, this test for Shimei is perfect. It gives him opportunity to show if he’s really changed or not. But it at the same time would keep Shimei away from any opportunity to conspire with Benajamin.
Well, as we see here, Shimei failed to keep this relatively simple condition. To be fair, Shimei isn’t recorded as going to Benjamin and conspiring with them. His leaving Jerusalem seems to be for a brief practical matter. There doesn’t seem to be any wicked motive attached to it. Yet, what I think ultimately comes through here is that this simple test shows Shimei’s ongoing sin problem. Shimei has a problem keeping the third commandment. Long ago with David he took the name of the LORD in vain when he cursed David in the name of the LORD. Now here, he broke an oath taken in the name of the LORD. We might be foolishly tempted to think this is not that serious of a sin. But we would do well to greatly honor God’s name and not think it lightly to take his name in vain. As the commandment says, “For the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” So then, when Solomon calls him to account, he places the blame on Shimei for both these sins.
For application, we can think of Shimei as someone who knows what to say at the right time to keep himself out of trouble. He told David what he wanted to hear when David was being restored as king. He told Solomon what Solomon wanted to hear when called to stay in Jerusalem. But just because someone says the right things when he has to, doesn’t necessarily mean their heart is truly in the right place. People often know what to say to save their skin. But what do they do when they don’t think anyone is watching? And what’s truly in their hearts? This is why wisdom and watchfulness are needed to be on guard against such a threat. For surely if Shimei had been allowed to go unwatched he might have indeed started a rebellion. That’s really the point of the oath test here – the whole point of an oath is to remind you that even if man doesn’t see or catch you in your evil, God will see and hold you accountable. Church elders must be on the watch for the more secretive threats to the church and act in wisdom when the time is right.
In conclusion, Solomon used wisdom and justice, along with mercy and grace, to deal with these issues and firmly establish his kingdom. Realize, this was not only good for Solomon, but good for God’s people. God’s people needed their king to found the kingdom on righteousness. So then, I remind us of where we started today. We started by saying that what Solomon does here is a picture of what Jesus Christ will ultimately do at his return. As Solomon systematically and decisively used wisdom and justice to deal with all these internal threats to his kingdom, so too will Jesus. He will come swiftly at the end of this age as a thief in the night. Then he will deal with all his and our enemies. That will include dealing with all those opposed to his kingdom, whether they are threats from within or without. But notice that this passage also shows Solomon rewarding his faithful servants. Like we recently saw in Obadiah where God took from Edom and gave to Israel, so too here. Solomon gives Abiathar’s job to Zadok and Joab’s job to Benaiah. As Solomon also rewards his faithful servants here, we know that this too will be what Christ does when he comes in the fullness of his kingdom and glory.
But realize that Jesus’s purging of all his enemies from his church is not something he only does at the end. Even now, Jesus, in greater wisdom than Solomon, with greater justice, and greater mercy and grace, deals with the wayward in the church. Whether it be through official church discipline or in more informal ways, Jesus disciplines those in the visible church through his Word and Spirit. It is a benefit and blessing to his people when he deals with wolves lurking in the church. It is also a benefit and blessing to us when he uses chastening to seek and save any of us sheep who are beginning to stray. We can either welcome his shepherding which brings us again to the altar of his grace where he gave his life to atone for our sins. Or we can buck against him and find ourselves ultimately having to bear his wrath of judgment. Let us not reject his fatherly chastening when we need it.
So then, may today’s passage be a call for renewed watchfulness and perseverance. Be reminded today of the sorts of temptations we considered. But in the midst of such, let us keep our eyes and ears fixed on our great Shepherd King who leads us and guides us until that day when his glorious kingdom is firmly established unto eternity.
Copyright © 2019 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.