1 Kings 1:1–2:46
Main Idea: The writer recounts how Solomon succeeded David in coming to the throne and also provides David’s final instructions to his son.
What possible relevance does this antiquated book have for our lives? I mean, other than helping you win at Bible trivia or giving you some potential names for your kids, what benefit is there in examining the book of Kings?
As we shall see, Kings is relevant for our lives. Paul said, “For whatever was written in the past [in the Old Testament] was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures” (Rom 15:4). In Kings, as in other Old Testament books, we find instruction, encouragement, and hope. We need these blessings in order to endure faithfully.
Kings belongs to the history section of the Old Testament, a section referred to as the Former Prophets. It includes Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. In Joshua God’s people conquer the promised land as promised in the story of the patriarchs and the exodus. In Judges a number of interesting figures like Gideon, Deborah, and Samson lead the nation for a period of about 400 years. Judges, as a whole, shows the nation of Israel in a downward spiral, in need of a godly king. In 1 Samuel we find the account of the prophet Samuel and the beginning of the monarchy. The story of Saul, the first monarch, is found in 1 Samuel. David looms in the background of 1 Samuel as the king to come. Second Samuel is the story of David’s reign.
The books of 1 and 2 Kings (originally one book) cover about 370 years of history starting from the end of David’s reign. His successor is Solomon, the third larger-than-life king, about whom we read in the first eleven chapters of 1 Kings. After Solomon, there are a number of other kings. The final scene shows the kings in exile.
The message of 1 Kings is decline and 2 Kings is fall (Dever, The Message of the Old Testament). Seeds of decline appear in the beginning of 1 Kings and take on different appearances throughout (ibid.). The book opens like many books close (e.g., Genesis, Joshua), with the leading figure dying. This is fitting since Kings is about the decline of the kingdom—a decline that ends in a judgment.
We will make a number of applications in our study, but let me introduce three broad applications that appear throughout this story of decline. Kings is about worship, the word, and weakness. First, God’s people were called to worship God alone, but Kings tells the sad story of idolatry among God’s people. Though Solomon builds the great temple for worship, he falls prey to idolatry as well. Then the kingdom is divided because of idolatry (1 Kgs 11:33-35). We regularly read about what each king did with the “high places” or idols. Did he tear them down or not? The kings are judged based on this all-important matter. Since a more important question doesn’t exist than “Whom will you worship?” we see that Kings is most relevant for our lives.
Second, regarding the word, God previously told the people how to live. Much of the content in the first five books of the Bible (esp. Deuteronomy) is referred to in Kings. The people were supposed to live by God’s word, but the kings and their people failed to do so. In Kings God raises up prophets, most famously Elijah and Elisha, who perform great wonders and speak God’s word to the people. Later in the book Josiah recovers the word and leads a reformation. Since we too are a people of the book, we need to consider and apply this message of Kings.
Regarding weakness, the story of Kings shows us that every human leader has limitations. After the monarchy divides, all of Israel’s kings fail. Judah’s kingdom, however, is somewhat mixed. After Solomon (who appears to be continuing the power and the glory of Israel through his unparalleled wisdom, only to drift into folly and shame), two kings are exemplary: Hezekiah and Josiah. Six kings of Judah are praised, but with the caveat, “The high places were not taken away.” These are Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Amaziah, Azariah, and Jotham. The other kings are condemned. It’s obvious that another King is needed.
So Kings is a story that involves the sinfulness of kings and the people they represent, their persistent idolatry, and associated injustice. It’s a story of a sad decline and the need for another King, the ultimate Son of David. In Genesis a promise was made to Abraham: “I will make . . . kings come from you” (Gen 17:6; cf. 35:11). God kept His promise and in the fullness of time sent forth the King to end all kings, Jesus.
In addition we find various topics in Kings like political maneuvering, material prosperity, power plays between nations, alliances, violence, injustice, war, international trade, compromised worship, dying children, and many more familiar experiences (Olley, Message of Kings, 20). Through it all we meet God. Judging? Yes, but also dispensing mercy and providentially controlling human history. We meet the God of promise and salvation, who orchestrates a royal line that will ultimately culminate in David’s greater Son.
Kings speaks to everyone, every church, and every nation that might be going through turmoil. In the midst of turmoil, chaos, and confusion Jesus said the people were “weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36). He came to save a rebellious people. And eventually the God over history will “bring everything together in the Messiah, both things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10).
Due to space restrictions and the nature of this commentary, we’re going to cover a lot of ground in each chapter. I will look at the text historically, theologically, and practically, making appropriate Christ-centered, gospel-saturated connections. My plan is to give an overview of many sections. I call what I am going to do “sectional exposition” rather than verse-by-verse exposition, since we will not always treat every single verse, but we will cover every section. We will hit the major units of thought and try to cover the main theological emphases in each chapter. You will do well to read for yourself and discuss more of the pieces with others.
The dominant idea in chapter 1 is kingship. Olley says, “The seventy instances of the noun king or related verb is the most in any chapter of the Bible” (The Message of Kings, 39). Immediately King David is mentioned, then the big question is, “Who will replace David?” Will David act as king? Will Adonijah’s conspiracy to become king work? What will happen to Solomon? So consider two questions related to kingship: Who is the king? What is the king to do?
1 Kings 1:1-53
As we examine this first chapter, notice a suffering king, a self-appointed king, servants to the king, and a sovereignly appointed king.
The story begins with Israel’s famous king, David. But all isn’t well with him. He is old and cold. They cannot manage to get him warm, so they opt for another solution. They do a “Miss Israel Beauty Pageant” and select the stunning Abishag to care for him and increase his vitality. Later, Adonijah will attempt to take her for himself (for his own devious reasons).
Is Abishag’s beauty intended to excite David sexually? The passage does have several sensual overtones like “lie by your side” (cf. “in your arms” in Gen 16:5; 2 Sam 12:8; Mic 7:5) and “was not intimate with her” (cf. Gen 4:1). Olley reminds us, “This is to be read in the context of a court where the king has a number of wives and concubines (2 Sam 5:13; 15:16)” (Olley, Message of Kings, 41). Whatever their intentions, David doesn’t respond to her beauty.
Chapters 1–2 paint a picture of a suffering king who no longer has his previous physical or political power. David slew giants, killed lions with his hands, conquered kingdoms, and nurtured sheep. Now he is dying, feeble, and powerless. His declining life illustrates the declining nation itself. A few applications emerge.
We must face our frailty. At some point all of us will begin feeling the effects of aging and physical decline. Our bodies will not function properly, and many of us will find ourselves on a deathbed. We will die, like David, not accomplishing all that we set out to accomplish. What should you remember in those days? You should remember that your identity isn’t bound up in what you can do. Your identity is in who God has made you to be in Christ. You aren’t your gifts. Don’t let your abilities lead you to pride, and don’t let your inabilities lead you to despair. You aren’t your accomplishments.
David Martyn Lloyd-Jones is one of my heroes. He preached in London for several years, God used him in his generation mightily, and his work continues to impact people. When Lloyd-Jones was dying of cancer, he was unable to do all that he used to do. However, Lloyd-Jones knew that his joy and identity were not bound up in how he could perform. He reflected on the words of Jesus as he talked to his biographer, saying, “Don’t rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). He then said, “Our greatest danger is to live upon our activity. The ultimate test of a preacher is what he feels like when he cannot preach. Our relationship to God is to be the supreme cause of joy” (quoted in Iain H. Murray, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith 1939–1981, 738). What should give us great joy in our living, and in our dying, is our relationship to God through Christ (2 Cor 4:16-18). Don’t rejoice ultimately in what you look like, in what you have, or in what you can do, but in the fact that your name is written in heaven.
There is a need for transitional plans. I realize this may seem unnecessary and even unspiritual. But is it? We don’t see from David the type of training Jesus did with His disciples or Paul did with Timothy (2 Tim 2:2). In the next paragraph David doesn’t reprimand Adonijah. He never disciplined him, as a father must do. What about Solomon? Did David spend sufficient time with him? We don’t know all the details, but we do know that David is dying and things are shaky. Similarly, churches and organizations often fall apart because no one has trained future leaders. Let this text remind us of the importance of preparing the next generation of leaders, fathers, mothers, and missionaries. We must train and deploy faithful kingdom servants.
Whenever succession is needed, emotions tend to rise. Sometimes war and violence occur, and many times manipulative conspiracies are at work. Here, in his pride, and in view of David’s weakness, Adonijah tries to make himself king. Of course, he was next in David’s line. He was the fourth-born son. Absalom (the third son) was put to death (2 Sam 18:9-17) after killing Amnon, the oldest son. No one knows what happened to the second son, Chileab (2 Sam 3:2). Perhaps he died young. On the other hand, David himself was the youngest son of his family. The oldest has not always had priority. At any rate, Adonijah should have been with his dying father; instead he was up to no good.
Adonijah had several problems, even though on the surface he looked like a king.
First, Adonijah exalted himself(v. 5). He has a lust for power and praise. He does the opposite of what the Scriptures teach, namely, to “humble yourself” (1 Pet 5:5-6) and put others ahead of yourself (Phil 2:3-4). God exalts the humble but opposes the proud (Prov 6:16-17). God will sometimes exalt the humble to positions in this life (Ps 75:6-7). Ultimately, in the next life, God will exalt those who have humbly served Him (Luke 14:11). Adonijah personifies Psalm 49:12 (ESV): “Man in his pomp will not remain” (cf. 49:20).
Adonijah had a “yearbook theology.” Do you remember getting a yearbook in high school? If you were like me, one of the first things you did was immediately look for your picture. That was not because you hadn’t already seen it. You probably picked it out! It was already framed and hanging in the family’s house. Still, I went straight to that picture. I made sure they spelled my name correctly. What’s next? Sports pictures. I flipped there, and then to the clubs, looking for my pictures. A yearbook theology is self-centered. It is an “it’s all about me” spirit. This view of life is lived out in the decisions we make, the way we spend our money, and even the way we read the Bible. We often go to the Bible for personal reasons, without any intent of seeing the nature and glory of God. We need a Yahweh-centered theology instead of a yearbook theology; we must desire to exalt God instead of self.
We see this spirit everywhere in pop culture. It’s a self-absorbed, self-addicted world. In reality TV, for example, many are famous for no good reason. They are stuck on themselves. The production team follows these individuals around and teenagers want to be like them, perpetuating a self-exalting culture. Find a better model: Jesus. He actually had something to boast in, yet made Himself nothing and served others. Then the Father exalted Him. He now gives us the power to live out an others-focused life. Adonijah should have been concerned about his dying father, but he was doing what he always did, thinking about himself.
Second, Adonijah sought his own pleasure. He had always gotten what he wanted; added to his spoiled nature was his handsome appearance (v. 6). Here is a spoiled, attractive, self-centered man—a recipe for disaster. Apparently, David never disciplined him because he was busy doing other things, or perhaps because he favored him to the point of not rebuking him. He never used the “purpose-driven paddle,” as one of my friends calls it. Let this serve as a warning to fathers: Children must be disciplined. We discipline them because we love them, just as the Father disciplines us (Prov 3:11-12; Heb 12:7).
Third, Adonijah sought the wrong counsel. Verses 7-10 describe how he confers with Joab and Abiathar instead of Zadok the priest, Benaiah, or Nathan the prophet. This reminds me of the proverb, “The one who walks with the wise will become wise, but a companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov 13:20). Adonijah accumulated supporters who wouldn’t contradict him. He turned away from the prophet because he wanted to do things his way. We commit this error when we fail to seek counsel from God’s Word. When people are considering marrying an unbeliever or pondering how to spend money without first studying God’s Word, they aren’t living under the authority of Scripture.
Fourth, Adonijah opposed God’s king. He acts as the serpent in this story. He represents the evil one. He tried to become king by the “Serpent’s Stone.” The word Zoheleth (v. 9) means “slithering” (Leithart, 1 and 2 Kings, 37). Because of his serpentine character, Solomon will put him to death. Solomon later said, “A king favors a wise servant, but his anger falls on a disgraceful one” (Prov 14:35). The enemy always opposes God’s plan. Adonijah is about to reap the harvest of shamefully opposing God’s king.
We can learn from Adonijah. He teaches us of our need to submit to God’s will and God’s Word instead of pursuing our own self-interest or listening to those who only tell us what we want to hear. Our purpose in life, as the Westminster Confession says, is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Adonijah has his own confession: “To glorify self, and pursue my own enjoyment.” Even though his name means “Yahweh is my Lord,” he doesn’t live like it.
We should be aware of Adonijah types in the church as we remember what true Christian leadership is. In the New Testament we read of a guy named Diotrephes who “loves to have first place among them, [and] does not receive us” (3 John 9). Here Adonijah puts himself first, doesn’t respect the leaders God has put in place, and doesn’t seek godly counsel.
Biblical leaders have a calling and are known for godly character. On the surface Adonijah is everything one might want. He’s gifted and attractive. But leadership isn’t about giftedness as much as it’s about Christlikeness. Let’s be careful in appointing people to leadership. We should put more stock in their true character than in their ability and external appearance (1 Tim 3:1-7).
In response to Adonijah’s power play, the first of many prophets in Kings appears: Nathan. He isn’t on the Adonijah bandwagon. In the following verses Nathan speaks to Bathsheba (vv. 11-14), Bathsheba speaks to David (vv. 15-21), and then Nathan speaks to David (vv. 22-27).
Nathan is very important in this story. He stirs David to action. He stands in the gap. His first appeal is to Bathsheba. He has spoken to David face-to-face, but now he takes an indirect approach. Some argue that he has bad motives here, and we certainly want to read Kings without rose-colored glasses, but it seems to me that he wants what’s best for the kingdom.
Bathsheba honors the king (v. 16) and reports the situation. We are reminded of what brought her to the court in the first place. David may have been Israel’s greatest king, but he was not perfect. Yet God used him despite his failures, just as he continues to use individuals today.
Bathsheba is concerned for the kingdom, and she understands that if David doesn’t appoint Solomon, then she and her son will be rivals to the throne. According to Chronicles, God promised that Solomon would sit on the throne (1 Chr 22:9-10; cf. 2 Sam 7:12-13). David himself had appointed him (1 Chr 23:1; 29:22) and charged him to build the temple (1 Chr 22:6). Thus Adonijah is attempting to overthrow Solomon, not fill a power vacuum (Leithart, 1 and Kings, 31).
Since Bathsheba is concerned for the kingdom, she ends by saying, “The eyes of all of Israel are on you” (v. 20). They were looking for an answer. It’s David’s responsibility to appoint a king.
While she speaks to David, Nathan directly addresses the king respectfully (vv. 22-27). Previously, Nathan had told David a parable to get a response, but now he asks a question.
Small acts have big consequences. Don’t ever underestimate one thing that you do for the kingdom of God. It might be simple conversations with a student or coworker about the gospel, spending time with a person going through a trial, inviting someone to a worship service or small group, caring for a single mom, opening up your home for others, forgiving a brother or sister, or supporting missionaries. Nothing is insignificant when it’s done for the glory of King Jesus. Whatever influence you have, you should use it for the advancement of the kingdom.
Following this conversation with Bathsheba and Nathan, David responds by making Solomon king (vv. 28-37). Though Adonijah may have looked more like a king than Solomon, Solomon comes to the throne by promise. He comes to the throne the way we come into the kingdom: by grace, not by performance or merit.
Olley says regarding Bathsheba, “She who initially had become the object of David’s lust, and whose husband had been a pawn to sacrifice, is now the recipient of the words that guaranteed her safety and the safety of her son” (Message of Kings, 45). We see grace here also. David is leading in his weakness. David acknowledges that while he is the Lord’s anointed, he himself isn’t the Lord. He invokes the name of the Lord, showing that he is submissive to the Lord. He also acknowledges that the Lord delivers from “difficulty” (v. 29), implying that God has intervened in this crisis.
Next we see the crowning of Solomon (vv. 32-40). David tells the trio, Zadok, Nathan, and Benaiah, to put Solomon on the king’s mule and bring him to Gihon. This was a symbol of kingship that marked Solomon as the favored son (cf. Zech 9:9, Matt 21:1-11). He also tells them to anoint Solomon as king and blow the trumpet. In verses 38-40 they fulfill the king’s commands, and a boisterous party results. The writer says, “The earth split open from the sound” (v. 40).
Once Solomon is declared king, Adonijah gets the news (vv. 41-45). Jonathan the priest quickly pledges allegiance to David, calling him “our lord.” He reports, “Solomon has even taken his seat on the royal throne” (vv. 46-48). As a result of the news, “all of Adonijah’s guests got up trembling and went their separate ways” (v. 49). Adonijah goes to the altar, as a holy place, believing it will protect him from Solomon (invoking Exod 21:12-14?). Solomon says that if he will show himself worthy, then he will not put him to death. Verse 53 says that Adonijah submits to Solomon, though one wonders if this is just outer expression. Is he truly paying homage to the king?
This account makes us think of David’s greater Son, Jesus. It calls to our attention Palm Sunday. Jesus would ride into the city on a donkey. The people would shout “Hosanna.” He was the rightful king who dispensed mercy, not to those who are worthy but to every unworthy person who bows the knee to His lordship. One day, Paul says, “every knee will bow—of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10-11). What a merciful King we have in Jesus! His throne is greater than the throne of David or Solomon. His name is more famous than that of David or Solomon. “Something greater than Solomon is here” (Matt 12:42; Luke 11:31).
Submit to Christ’s kingship with gladness. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom (1 Tim 1:17). Submit to His kingship sincerely. Don’t just mouth pious words. Jesus said that on the last day, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matt 7:21). He will say to them, “I never knew you” (Matt 7:23). Don’t just make a decision because others are doing it, and don’t trust in some ritual that is empty of meaning. Repent and turn to the King in surrender.
We have answered the question, “Who is the King?” and now we will answer the second question.
1 Kings 2:1-46
Final words are important. In David’s final words he gives Solomon a “spiritual charge,” urging him to obey God’s word (2:1-4). These final words remind us of Moses’ instruction for Israel’s king (Deut 17:14-20) and remind us of his charge to Joshua (Josh 1:6-9). They are also reminiscent of the blessed man of Psalm 1. Solomon is to walk in the law of the Lord, mediate on it, and experience blessing.
David also gives Solomon a “political charge.” He tells Solomon what he should do with the threats to the kingdom (vv. 5-9). Solomon carries out this advice in verses 13-46. I will focus most of my attention on verses 1-4.
We might break down the spiritual charge and political charge by simply saying that the king is to keep the covenant and reign. With both of these, we see that Solomon is to be vigilant, not passive.