King David of Israel
The story of Israel's most famous king
15 - Sunset
He was only seventy years of age, but he was an old man. The vigour of earlier days had departed, the fires of youth had burned themselves out, and it was time to depart. The great king of Israel was secluded in his palace and more or less confined to his bed, dependent upon the ministrations of others. He must have known that the end was near; perhaps he thought of his predecessor Saul, meeting his end on the field of battle, and was content that he, unlike Saul, was leaving his kingdom powerful and independent, secure from enemies. The Lord had promised him that his seed would reign on his throne after him for just so many generations as they remained loyal to their God. In any case at the end of time there would arise one of his descendants who would reign over Israel in peace and righteousness through all eternity. With that he was content. In some unknown way he must have realised that he would be there to witness that wonderful climax to all God's ways with His people. In a dim and obscure fashion he glimpsed something of the Messianic hope which was to blossom into full flower in the days of the prophets still some two or three centuries later. So he rested, content in faith that God would certainly order the course of His people after he had gone to the grave.
But there was yet to be more trouble for David. He was not to be permitted to enjoy even the last years of his life in peace. The plots and intrigues that were always being devised in and around his court were as active as ever. Now they began to centre around the question as to who should be king after him, and the contestants, sensing the obviously imminent death of the king, began sparring for position.
Adonijah, fourth son of David, by his fourth wife Haggith during the stormy days at Hebron, was the expectant heir to the throne. He was the eldest surviving son and in the ordinary way would have succeeded his father. Amnon, David's firstborn, had been murdered. Chileab, his second born by his wife Abigail the Carmelitess, must have died young, for he is never mentioned again in the narratives. Absalom, the next, had also been murdered. There were fifteen more sons, by various wives, beside other sons by concubines, so that there could be a certain amount of competition should David die suddenly. Adonijah, now about thirty-six years, of age, sizing up the situation with a practised eye, decided it was about time to act.
The story is in 1 Kings 1. Following Absalom's example twelve years previously, he began to be seen in public riding in a convoy of chariots and footmen in order to ingratiate himself with the people. This was a subtle move to insinuate the thought in men's minds that the old king was no longer able to lead them in battle and direct the affairs of the nation. Here was an up and coming young man, virile and energetic, ready and willing to assume the burden. There must have been many in Israel who were beginning to concern themselves with the fate of the nation when the king came to his end. Adonijah hoped that he would be the answer appealing to them and acceptable to their hopes. David himself, confined to his palace, could be expected to have no idea what was afoot.
By this time Solomon was nineteen years of age and it was an open secret that David favoured him for the succession. There is no doubt that Bathsheba was David's favourite wife and this would be one reason for David's preference. There is also the fact that, according to David, the Lord had told him that Solomon was to ascend the throne after him (1 Chron.22.9). It is not possible to ascertain from the narrative just when he received this revelation, but it does seem from related circumstances that it must have been during the last four or five years of his reign. This coincided more or less with the time that he began to gather together the materials for the Temple which he knew, by the Lord's decree, was to be built, not by him, but by Solomon. Adonijah must have known all this and decided to risk everything in the attempt to gain control of the throne before his father issued the decree appointing his successor.
His first overt move was an astute one. He won over to his side that crafty old politician Joab. Joab had been a fiercely loyal supporter of David for more than forty years, right from the days of the wilderness when Saul was still king, and had served David loyally, unscrupulously and ruthlessly. But his every action was dictated by his intention to keep himself at the top. It looks very much as if Joab was conscious that the king was not going to last much longer and he had better look to his own future. The mild and peaceable Solomon was not likely to be much to the old soldier's liking and it is possible that he decided his interests were best served by allying himself with Adonijah right at the outset and becoming the power behind the throne as he had with David. With Joab on his side Adonijah could depend on the support of the army.
His next recruit was Abiathar the priest. Here again was a man who had been with David from the days of the wilderness. David had saved him from the vengeance of Saul when his father and brothers had been slain and he had been with David ever since. There is a fairly obvious reason for his defection to Adonijah. Abiathar, of the line of Ithamar, second son of Aaron, under Divine interdict since the days of Eli more than a century previously, was at present officiating as High Priest before the Ark of the Covenant at Jerusalem. But there was also a rival High Priest in the person of Zadok, of the legal line of Eleazar, son of Aaron, officiating at the Tabernacle of Moses which still stood at Gibeon, although without the Ark. (Why David installed the Ark of the Covenant at Jerusalem instead of restoring it to its rightful place in the Most Holy of the Tabernacle has never been explained). Both men knew perfectly well that when the new Temple for which David had now accumulated the material was erected and dedicated, the Ark of the Covenant would go into that Temple and there would be only one High Priest. One of them had to lose out. Abiathar, like Joab, probably reasoned that it was time to desert the old king and become well accepted by the new one. Adonijah probably congratulated himself in having the nation's principal political and military leader, and its principal ecclesiastical leader both on his side. So Adonijah organised a great feast, to which he invited the king's remaining sons, except Solomon, and such of the nobility of Judah as he felt would be sympathetic to his cause. During this feast his assumption of kingship could be announced and Joab's soldiers go out immediately to quell any resistance and set the new king firmly on the throne. It was what in our day is called a coup. By the time the common people heard about it the thing would be as good as done and resistance hopeless.
Of course the news was leaked. That sturdy and uncompromising champion of the Lord, Nathan the prophet, got to hear of the plot. Adonijah had taken care not to invite him to the feast; neither had he invited Zadok the High Priest at Gibeon, nor yet another noteworthy army general, Benaiah the son of Jehoiada. All of these were noted for their loyalty to David, and so were many of David's "mighty men", those who had adventured with him in the days of his exile in the wilderness and had been his staunch supporters ever since. And before long Nathan was taking action on his own account. He knew that the will of the Lord was that Solomon should be king and it was about time all Israel was apprised of the fact. Although there is no hint of it in the narrative, Nathan probably had perceived the reverence for God and His ways which later years would reveal was latent in Solomon's character and was determined that he should be king rather than the more or less irreligious Adonijah. It is rather a remarkable fact that of all David's nineteen sons there are only two whose names are recorded as making their mark on history. They are Solomon the wise and most magnificent king of Israel, and his younger brother Nathan, (not the prophet of that name), whose descendants Joseph and Mary a thousand years later were to become the reputed father and true mother of Jesus, the Son of David.
Queen Bathsheba, sitting quietly in her apartments at the palace, received a visitor. Nathan the prophet was announced. She received him graciously and waited for him to reveal the object of his visit. He told her of the plot, and the danger that threatened both her and her son Solomon if it succeeded. "Adonijah reigns" he said bluntly "and David our lord does not knows it". He knew that David, old and feeble, would need definite arousing to the seriousness of the situation if he was to be persuaded to take positive action. So he unfolded his scheme to Bathsheba. She was to go to the king and ask if it was true that he had appointed Adonijah king despite his promise to her that Solomon should reign. While she was still with the king Nathan himself would come in asking how it was that the king had authorised the proclamation of Adonijah as king without advising either he or Zadok the High Priest, or Benaiah, and they all had been excluded from the ceremonies. "Is this thing done by my lord the king, and you have not shown it to your servant, who should sit on the throne of my lord the king after him?"
David was roused to action. He called his three trusty supporters, Nathan, Zadok and Benaiah before him and instructed them to proceed immediately to the formal induction of his son Solomon as king. They were to set him upon the king's own mule and present him to the populace of Jerusalem in a public place. There Nathan and Zadok were ceremoniously to anoint him king in the name of the Lord, and Benaiah's men sound their trumpets and raise the cry "God save King Solomon". As the shout rose on the air, the spectators, seeing which way things were going, responded with considerable vigour "God save King Solomon". "And all the people came up after him, and the people piped with pipes, and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth rent with the sound of them". It would appear that the proclamation that Solomon was to be their new king met with general approbation. This young lad was perhaps more popular with the general public than was his older and probably more supercilious half-brother.
The noise of the rejoicing penetrated the banqueting chamber as the feast neared its close. By this time most of the guests were most likely in a condition where noises of any sort hardly registered. It was Joab who first noticed it. That hard-bitten old soldier would certainly be able to carry his liquor better than these men-about-court and his instinct told him there was trouble afoot. "Wherefore is this noise of the city being in an uproar?" he queried and rose from his seat to investigate. Before he could do so, there was an interruption. Jonathan the son of Abiathar the priest entered hurriedly and in an obvious state of agitation, which Adonijah evidently failed to perceive. The nature of his words gives some clue to his condition at the moment. "Come in" he cried "for you are a valiant man, and bring good tidings". Jonathan's reply soon sobered the would-be king. "Verily our lord King David has made Solomon king... and Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet have anointed him king in Gihon, and they are come up from thence rejoicing, so that the city rang again. This is the noise that you have heard. And also Solomon sits on the throne of the kingdom."
There was a deathly silence. Everyone was quite sober now. Men looked at each other and saw their own thoughts reflected in each other's eyes. They looked at Adonijah, ashen-faced. They looked at Joab: for once that old campaigner was at a loss for words. They looked again at each other. They had staked their future on Adonijah, and Adonijah had lost. "And all the guests that were with Adonijah were afraid, and rose up, and went every man his way".
The rebellion had collapsed almost before it had begun. What happened next to Joab and Abiathar is, not recorded. They too must have abandoned Adonijah, for the next incident in the narrative is the flight of Adonijah to the Tent in Jerusalem sheltering the Ark of the Covenant, with the altar before it, normally presided over by Abiathar as priest. Here, clutching the altar, he could claim sanctuary. Blood must not be shed on the altar of the Lord. But Solomon showed himself a wise and humane king at the outset. "If he show himself a worthy man" he said "there shall not a hair of him fall to the earth; but if wickedness shall be found in him, he shall die". So the rebel came into the presence of Solomon and did obeisance, and was, dismissed to his house. Although not mentioned, it is evident that the same leniency was extended to the other arch-rebels, Joab and Abiathar. It must have been at this time that David had his long talks with Solomon and made the detailed arrangements for the erection of the Temple which are recorded in 1 Chron. 22 to 27. He was now enormously wealthy. According to 1 Chron. 22.14 he had given out of his own resources a hundred thousand talents of gold and a million talents of silver. In today's terms that would have been three thousand tons of gold and thirty thousand of silver, well-nigh incredible figures. At today's prices the value of such a hoard would be so astronomical as to be meaningless. The 29th chapter gives another set of figures which imply that the ruling notabilities of the nation contributed 150 tons of gold, 300 of silver, over 500 of copper and 3,000 of iron. The chronicler may have exaggerated the figures but even so they do serve to indicate the enormous wealth of David's kingdom. Such riches could only have been accumulated by trade and the spoils of war but even so is an almost incredible achievement in the forty-year reign of David.
What were the old man's thoughts, as he lay quietly pondering the events of the past in which he had taken so prominent a place, and those of the future which he would never see. The great dream of his life, the magnificent Temple for the God of Israel, for which he had assiduously prepared, would be built one day but his eyes would not see it. His mind harked back to the days of his youth when he served Saul; he saw in vision the menacing figure of Goliath the Philistine and felt again the thrill of faith, that God would give him the victory over Israel's enemy. His memory traced the early conflicts when he led Israel's forces to battle and returned victorious with the praises of the young women in his ears "Saul has slain his thousands, but David his ten thousands". He would not slay any more ten thousands, he reflected; yet he had the satisfaction of knowing that he had established Israel secure among her neighbours, a nation to be treated with respect. He thought of the times he had failed God and fallen from his own high standard of rectitude, and of the reproofs and judgments that had come from the Lord in consequence; he felt the comfort of knowing that at the last he had fully repented of his baser deeds, and become reconciled to his God and that whatever the future beyond the grave held for him, it could only be well. He recalled the promise God had made to him that of his seed, One should come at the end of days to reign upon His throne over all the earth, dispensing mercy and righteousness toward all men everywhere. For him, it could only be well. He recalled the promise, a rule and a world that would never end; a kingdom of Messiah which should be the desire of all nations. The Lord had been very patient and very good to him; he could safely trust himself now to the hands of God.
King Solomon came with hasty steps into the bedchamber in response to an urgent summons. He bent over the bed and looked into the face of his father. David gazed at him straight in the eyes; his voice, though low, was clear and direct. Level and composed, it had the ring of confidence.
"I go the way of all the earth. Be thou strong therefore and show yourself a man. Keep the charge of the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do, and whither you turn yourself". Long and earnestly he talked, until the sun faded from the sky and the shades of evening began to gather
"Thus David the son of Jesse reigned over all Israel. And he died in a good old age, full of days, riches and honour. And Solomon his son reigned in his stead."