I Kings 1:1-16
1 When King David was very old, he could not keep warm even when they put covers over him. 2 So his attendants said to him, “Let us look for a young virgin to serve the king and take care of him. She can lie beside him so that our lord the king may keep warm.” 3 Then they searched throughout Israel for a beautiful young woman and found Abishag, a Shunammite, and brought her to the king. 4 The woman was very beautiful; she took care of the king and waited on him, but the king had no sexual relations with her. 5 Now Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, put himself forward and said, “I will be king.” So he got chariots and horses ready, with fifty men to run ahead of him.6 (His father had never rebuked him by asking, “Why do you behave as you do?” He was also very handsome and was born next after Absalom.) 7 Adonijah conferred with Joab son of Zeruiah and with Abiathar the priest, and they gave him their support. 8 But Zadok the priest, Benaiah son of Jehoiada, Nathan the prophet, Shimei and Rei and David’s special guard did not join Adonijah.9 Adonijah then sacrificed sheep, cattle and fattened calves at the Stone of Zoheleth near En Rogel. He invited all his brothers, the king’s sons, and all the royal officials of Judah, 10 but he did not invite Nathan the prophet or Benaiah or the special guard or his brother Solomon.11 Then Nathan asked Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, “Have you not heard that Adonijah, the son of Haggith, has become king, and our lord David knows nothing about it? 12 Now then, let me advise you how you can save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. 13 Go in to King David and say to him, ‘My lord the king, did you not swear to me your servant: “Surely Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne”? Why then has Adonijah become king?’ 14 While you are still there talking to the king, I will come in and add my word to what you have said.” 15 So Bathsheba went to see the aged king in his room, where Abishag the Shunammite was attending him. 16 Bathsheba bowed down, prostrating herself before the king. “What is it you want?” the king asked.
A smooth succession from one leader to the next is crucial if the growth, health and influence of a Christian organization is to continue into the next generation. It takes time to formulate plans for succession, but without them it is possible that much of what was gained by the former leader and his or her leadership team could be lost. A greater success is obtained when succession plans are well in place and others know about them. Then the work goes on even though a leader is called home to be with the Lord or to another place of ministry. This principle is illustrated in this lesson.
1. Abishag Served the King 1-4
By the great mercy of God, David escaped the sword of the destroying angel. God does deliver us from diseases and danger, but David was growing old as every candle will either be blown out or burn itself out. He had lived a full life and was now an old man, so old that he could not even keep himself warm. Verse 1 says, “When King David was very old, he could not keep warm even when they put covers over him.” The flame of life had burned hot and bright, but now his blood is cold and he is confined to his bed, and even there can get no heat. He was seventy years old and, though many are still healthy, lively, fit for business and vigorous at that age such as Moses or Barzillai, David was not.
“Let not . . . the strong boast of their strength” (Jer. 9:23). The Lord’s Word to Jeremiah has multiple possible applications. In this case, David had been strong and now was weak. He had glorified the Lord with his strength while he was youthful and could. Now, in a different season of life, even though his body was weak, his spirit and faith could still be energetic and forceful. David had served well while he was young and strong so he would have no regrets now that he was old and weak. Even before Solomon wrote these words of wisdom, David had obeyed this principle. Eccl 12:1-3 say, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them’—before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain; when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, when the grinders (teeth) cease because they are few, and those looking through the windows (eyes) grow dim;” What our hands find to do for God now in our generation, let us do with all our strength, because the night of old age, in which we will no longer be able to work, is coming and we will want to know then that we used today’s opportunities well while we could.
It might trouble one to see his physicians so weak and unable to help David other than to try to keep him warm. If that was all they could do, they did, at least, seek to serve his interests as well as they could. Clothes can keep warmth in, but there must first exist warmth that is to be kept. In another period of Israel’s history the prophet Haggai observes the lack of blessing on Israel because they were not as eager to rebuild the house of God as they should have been. He said of them, “You put on clothes, but are not warm” (1:6). In Haggai’s time God’s favor was lifted for a while to let Israel know they should be more active in service to God and his temple. In David’s case, his body was simply failing, but in our case, if we are still young and yet clothes do not keep us warm, perhaps God is speaking to us as He did to Israel in Haggai’s day.
As the day of David’s promotion to heaven grew nearer, there were other matters of great importance, that should have been undertaken. They were not addressed, decided or solved for lack of forethought or because of the preoccupation of the court with keeping David’s aging body warm and alive. We know from a later conversation between Bathsheba and Solomon, regarding a request for a wife for Adonijah, that David apparently actually married young Abishag before she got into his bed to warm his cold body. Even though they never physically consummated the marriage, David and Abishag were married—as though David needed another wife! We know this because, otherwise this conversation between Bathsheba and Solomon makes no sense. Here is the conversation that took place after Solomon became king. It enables us to see that the Abishag solution was not a truly wise solution to the more important matters that were at hand.
I Kings 1:20-23 says, “‘I have one small request to make of you,’ she said. ‘Do not refuse me.’ The king replied, ‘Make it, my mother; I will not refuse you.’ So she said, ‘Let Abishag the Shunammite be given in marriage to your brother Adonijah.’ King Solomon answered his mother, ‘Why do you request Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? You might as well request the kingdom for him—after all, he is my older brother—yes, for him and for Abiathar the priest and Joab son of Zeruiah!’ Then King Solomon swore by the Lord: ‘May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if Adonijah does not pay with his life for this request!’”
The Abishag “solution” was no solution to a much more important matter. It only addressed the temporary problem of David’s aging physical body. David would have been better off to be proactive, think ahead, consult his counselors and appoint Solomon to succeed himself. The whole confusing affair with Adonijah’s attempt to take the throne could have been avoided. David’s prophets should have been consulted as well as his physicians in an important affair of this nature. It was infinitely more important that Solomon be established on David’s throne than that Abishag be in his bed. Perhaps this part of David’s story can teach us that it is more important for a leader and his or her team to care for the details of succession—what will happen to his or her work after he or she is gone—than to be preoccupied with mere matters of physical comfort.
2. Adonijah Shows His Ambitions 5-6
David experienced a great deal of self-imposed affliction in his children. It could have been avoided and would have if David had observed and learned from Eli’s and Samuel’s failures to raise their sons to become godly and responsible adults. “Sons were born to David in Hebron: His firstborn was Amnon the son of Ahinoam of Jezreel; his second, Kileab the son of Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel; the third, Absalom the son of Maakah daughter of Talmai king of Geshur” (II Samuel 3:2-3). Amnon his first-born, and Absalom, his third, had both been his grief. About his third, by Abigail, we know nothing, and “the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith” (II Samuel 3:4) was one of those that were born in Hebron, about whom we have heard nothing until now. By now Adonijah was at least 33 years old and Verse 6 says, “(His father had never rebuked him by asking, 'Why do you behave as you do?'" He was also very handsome and was born next after Absalom.)” He was good-looking and next in age to Absalom and, unfortunately, he was evidently also close to Absalom in temperament, spirit and character. To make matters worse, because of David’s weakness in dealing with his sons as a responsible father, in David’s eyes he had been a jewel, but was now a thorn.
His father had made a pet of him, David had never confronted him at any time. Scripture does not say that he never displeased his father and it is actually probable that he had frequently. The narrative clearly leads us to understand that David spoiled him. Maybe he lamented his behavior, but never displeased, opposed, denied, called him to account or resisted him. David never taught him about responsibility and never reproved, rebuked or corrected him. This is a formula for disaster because, as Pr 22:15 says, “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” We might well ponder if Adonijah’s younger half-brother, Israel’s next king, didn’t arrive at this understanding by watching Adonijah’s unbridled behavior in their family.
If David did not correct Adonijah because Adonijah sulked or complained when he was disciplined, that does not remove any blame from either father or son. It was the son’s fault that he was displeased at reproof and took it for an affront and so he, himself, lost the benefit of correction. It was also the father’s fault that, just because he saw it displeased his son, he stopped, or never really started to train him well. Now he will soon very much regret his earlier failure. If this problem had happened only with Adonijah, we might have an easier or more lenient interpretation of David’s child-raising policy (actually a child-spoiling policy), but Adonijah is the third son to become a serious problem to David. And all three of these problems can be traced to the lack of correction of the child on the part of the father. Pity fathers who honor their sons more than they do God and the instruction God has given us in His Word to discipline our children. Parents who do not keep their children under firm and loving restraint forfeit the honor they might later receive from their children. Adonijah was certainly not fit to take David’s place of leadership.
3. Adonijah’s Following 7-10
Adonijah, in return, made a fool of his father. Verse 5 says, “Now Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, put himself forward and said, 'I will be king.’ So he got chariots and horses ready, with fifty men to run ahead of him.” Perhaps Adonijah thought because dad is old, confined to his bed and not paying attention to matters of state, “I will be king.” Children who are indulged learn to be proud and ambitious and this is the ruin of a great many young people. The way to keep them humble is to keep them under; not because we are mean, unkind or unloving or want to hold them back from fulfilling their potential, but, to the contrary, because we are responsible, and truly loving parents who want our children to succeed.
Let’s try to get inside Adonijah’s ambitious head and understand his timing, motivation and arrogance. 'Dad is going to die any time. Let me prepare to succeed him. On second thought, before he appoints my younger half-brother, Solomon to the throne, let me be proactive, think ahead and declare myself king before I would have to come against a newly appointed king Solomon. Let me do it now.' I Chron 22:9 says, “But you will have a son who will be a man of peace and rest, and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side. His name will be Solomon, and I will grant Israel peace and quiet during his reign.” Public announcements likely had been made that Solomon would be the next king. This meant that Adonijah’s attempt by force to cut Solomon off was done in contempt of God and his father.
He looked upon his father as antiquated, outmoded and good for nothing, and therefore wanted immediate possession of the throne. A little later, Bathsheba would report to David, as recorded in I Kings 1:25, “Today he has gone down and sacrificed great numbers of cattle, fattened calves, and sheep. He has invited all the king’s sons, the commanders of the army and Abiathar the priest. Right now they are eating and drinking with him and saying, ‘Long live King Adonijah!’” In his pride he not only felt that he alone was competent to rule, but took a dim view of others who, in actuality, were more capable than himself. His dad was old and not fit to rule and his kid brother, Solomon was not yet able to reign. I will take the reins of the government now. It is a very base and wicked mind for a child growing or grown to insult their parents because of some weakness due to their age.
To make his claim on the throne he gathered a group of followers to wait on and fight for him—50 of them as a matter of fact. He attracted even Joab, the general of the army, to his side and also Abiathar the high priest. “Adonijah conferred with Joab son of Zeruiah and with Abiathar the priest, and they gave him their support” (v 7). It is not surprising that he would attempt to gain their loyalty, but it is, indeed amazing that they would be so weak and willing. Both were old and had long been faithful to David. How is it that these experienced older men could be persuaded to join against David? Neither could find any advantage to themselves if they followed Adonijah, because they were already secure at the head of camp and congregation.
It appears that God left them to themselves. He allowed it. Perhaps there was some hidden—or not so hidden—sin in their hearts that God wanted to punish with a whip of their own making, perhaps to correct them for some former misconduct with a scourge they themselves made. Verse 8 says, “But Zadok the priest, Benaiah son of Jehoiada, Nathan the prophet, Shimei and Rei and David’s special guard did not join Adonijah.” So we also know who the loyal friends of David were. We are not told whether Adonijah tried to woo them or not. Maybe Adonijah did not even approach them because he knew these men were loyal to David. If so, that was a good reputation to have—so loyal that none need bother even trying to tempt them into the rebel’s camp. Even if they were approached by Adonijah, these faithful men had the courage to resist any temptation to join a new, seemingly popular, fad.
Adonijah prepared a great entertainment at En-rogel, not far from Jerusalem which would seem to argue that this was a well-planned event as opposed to being something merely spontaneous. His guests were the king’s sons and servants, whom he wined, dined and feasted to bring them over to his party. Solomon was not invited, neither because he despised nor despaired of him, but probably because he knew in his selfish and ambitious heart that Solomon was his father’s and God’s choice. “. . . but he did not invite Nathan the prophet or Benaiah or the special guard or his brother Solomon” (v 10).
Reasons guide thinking people’s decisions, but there is another class of persons on earth who are persuaded by simpler and more sinister means. “For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people” (Rom 16:18). Some people are misled by what you put in their mouths and other are deceived by what you put in their ears. We observe that, except for the three mentioned above whom he did not invite, he invited “all;” that is to say that “all” his brothers, the king’s sons and “all” the royal officials of Judah were invited. It would be a blessing not to be invited.
We do not know if the animals Adonijah sacrificed were offered to God as a sacrifice as Absalom had done, or not. Absalom had pretended to be fulfilling a vow he had made while in exile. It might look good in the eyes of men to begin a new enterprise with an act of devotion, but if the devotion is not true, it would be far better not to try to use religion and appearance as a compensation for lack of character, honesty and character. God is watching and He will not be mocked.
4. Coached by Nathan, Abigail Approaches the King 11-16
Nathan and Bathsheba worked together to receive from David the promised appointment of Solomon to the throne. If successful, this action would quickly squelch Adonijah’s plans to usurp the kingdom. David did not know what was happening. Children may think they are safe and free from punishment as long as their parents do not know about it. Actually, neither did Bathsheba know about it until Nathan told her. It is dangerous to hide away from news of the outside world. We need to know what is going on if we will protect our own interests and pray effectively for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done in every political, social, church-related or community-impacting development. Let us not get too comfortable in our ignorance of how the world goes.
Solomon, it is possible, did know of it, and we might wonder why he did not confer with his mother about it. It may be that he was willing to let God and his friends bring order. If so, that is amazing faith on his part—to watch a rebellion develop and know it was against his interests, but yet do nothing. Did he stay in his room and pray? We don’t know how he occupied himself. We do know, however, that in Psalm 127, which has Solomon’s name in the heading, that some in the world will rise early, stay up late, eat the bread of sorrows, but that it is done in vain because God gives sleep to those He loves. Psalm 127:1-2 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves.” Solomon’s God-given name, Jedidiah, means “beloved by God” and the Hebrew root of that word is the same as the root of “those he loves”—his darling(s) found in Psalm 127:2. God would watch out for Jedidiah even through the effort his brother, Adonijah was making to take his God-promised position from him.
Nathan told Bathsheba about the situation in verse 11, “Then Nathan asked Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, ‘Have you not heard that Adonijah, the son of Haggith, has become king, and our lord David knows nothing about it?’” And he also laid the ground-work for means to counter-act against it. Verses 12-14 say, “Now then, let me advise you how you can save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. Go in to King David and say to him, ‘My lord the king, did you not swear to me your servant: “Surely Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne”? Why then has Adonijah become king?’ While you are still there talking to the king, I will come in and add my word to what you have said.”
Nathan was concerned, because he knew God’s mind, and David’s and Israel’s interest. Also it was through Nathan that God had named Solomon Jedidiah, and therefore he would not sit still and see the throne usurped. He knew the throne was Solomon’s right by the will of the God from whom all promotions come. Nathan knew God’s plan and felt a responsibility to intervene in Solomon’s behalf. Nathan went to Bathsheba, she would have the greatest concern for Solomon and the easiest access to David. He informed her of Adonijah’s actions and that it was without David’s consent or knowledge. He suggested to her that Solomon was in danger of losing the crown and that he and she too could lose their lives if Adonijah succeeded. She could be humble and take no action, but the law of self-preservation, and the commandment not to murder, obligates us to use means to preserve our own life and the lives of others. He was correct. She must act. But how? He helped her with this question too.
Now, said Nathan, go see and speak to the king. Remind him of his promise, that Solomon should be his successor and to ask him in the most humble manner, “Why then has Adonijah become king?” He thought David was not so cold but that this would warm him. Conscience and a sense of honor, would revive life in him in a situation like this. Nathan further promised that he would join her and attest to the validity of her message and question. This was not a deceitful trick or a false claim; it was wisdom because God’s Word says that at the mouth of two witnesses something can be established.
Bathsheba, following Nathan’s advice lost no time, but immediately went to visit the king on a similar errand as Esther who came to king Ahasuerus, to intercede for her life and the lives of her people. Verses 15-16 say, “So Bathsheba went to see the aged king in his room, where Abishag the Shunammite was attending him. Bathsheba bowed down, prostrating herself before the king. ‘What is it you want?’ the king asked” Bathsheba did not need to wait for a call as Esther did, she knew she would be welcome at any time.
Even though Abishag was ministering to him—presumably warming his cold body, Bathsheba was not offended, neither toward him or her for it. Furthermore, in humility, she also “bowed down, prostrating herself before the king.” She followed Sarah’s example and honored her husband as her lord, bowed before her sovereign, and still showed respect after all these years for her lover. Those of us who would like to find favor with the superiors in our organizations, will accomplish that goal and reach that objective more readily if we show them reverence, respect and honor. We should be deferential toward those whom we expect to be kind to us.
Bathsheba’s conference with David was off to good beginning. David asked her, “What is it you want?” She was glad to hear those words. In our church organizations and meetings, as we team members struggle to work together for a noble cause and for God’s glory, these are welcome words: “What is it you want?” When in prayer we bow before the throne of the King of the universe, these words are even more gratifying, satisfying and appreciated when He asks us, “What is it you want?”
And so, even though the plan for the succession of the throne from David to Solomon was almost disrupted by Adonijah, God was at work and eventually Solomon would be on the throne. A great deal of confusion could have been avoided, however, if more detailed attention had been given to this matter by David before Adonijah thought he saw a power-vacuum and an opportunity for himself.