Good morning! Today we begin the two-part book of First and Second Kings. 1 and 2 Samuel gave us the stories of Saul and David’s leadership, then 1 and 2 Kings takes up the narrative from there. In these two books we will read of David’s son Solomon in all his glory, the construction of the temple in Jerusalem, then the civil war that breaks Israel and Judah apart, followed by the military invasions by that swallow up each territory in turn. One other feature of this historic period is the rise of prophetic power—we’ll increasingly see the dynamic of prophets both advising and challenging their kings.
1 Kings 1 opens with an essential question: who will succeed David as king? David’s son Adonijah is next in line, so he assumes that it’ll be him. (We know that’s not usually how it works with this God of the Hebrews.) He gets the support of some powerful insiders, but not others. While Adonijah is off making sacrifices with some of the bigwigs to confirm his kingship, the prophet Nathan sets a plan in motion with Bathsheba to have David name Solomon the king instead. They essentially take advantage of David’s age and faulty memory, persuading him that earlier he declared Solomon his heir. David summons those who are still loyal to him, gives the command, and Solomon is anointed king. Apparently working off the principle that “possession is nine-tenths of the law”, David commands that all the proper visual confirmation of inheritance be used: David’s mule, throne, and advisors all communicate that Solomon is the rightful heir. The uproar of celebration reaches Adonijah’s coronation ceremony, and he finds out that he has been usurped. He clings to the altar for mercy from Solomon (who now has far more power), and is granted a return home after he bows down to the new king, his younger half-brother.
David’s final charge to Solomon just before his death in chapter 2 lays out whom to protect and whom to destroy when David and his earlier promises are dead in the grave. After David’s burial, displaced Adonijah asks for the hand in marriage of David’s last female companion. Even though the request comes through the favored queen mother Bathsheba, Solomon treats this as a ploy to regain a bit of influence over the kingdom, so he sends one of his military commanders and strikes down his rival. Solomon’s other first acts as a young king avenge his father’s decades-old grievances by killing those who had crossed David, including Joab in the sacred tent of the God’s presence. This bloodshed both secures the kingdom for Solomon and also reveals his ruthlessness—there is little to commend or recognize here as the will of God.
Not so in 1 Kings 3, which almost appears like it’s talking about a different ruler! Here, Solomon appears like a righteous man after David’s own heart (despite the caveat that he participated in forms of idol worship on “the high places”). The story of Solomon’s nighttime dream serves to highlight what he is most known for—wisdom—as a gift of God. Solomon’s conversation with God in a dream may have originally been the work of a scribe who wants to get in well with the new king, rather like the “puff pieces” that flatter Washington officials when a new administration moves into town. Indeed, some scholars suggest that this story of the dream could be official propaganda to persuade hearers that Solomon was a splendid ruler whose wisdom ought to be followed and emulated. It makes him look good, as do the later stories that people tell about his righteous judgments. The story of Solomon’s decision regarding the baby with two women claiming to be his mother may be one of the most well known stories of this time period.
So what are we to make of King Solomon so far? Is he a ruthless young ruler driven by political calculations and the pragmatism of protecting and wielding power? Or is he in over his head, crying out to God for wisdom in the middle of the night? How do we reconcile these versions of a man’s life? Is Solomon a saint or a sinner? I look forward to your responses. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is 1 Kings 4-5. Thanks for reading!