I Kings 2:1-11
2 When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son.
2 “I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, act like a man,3 and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go 4 and that the Lord may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’ 5 “Now you yourself know what Joab son of Zeruiah did to me—what he did to the two commanders of Israel’s armies, Abner son of Ner and Amasa son of Jether. He killed them, shedding their blood in peacetime as if in battle, and with that blood he stained the belt around his waist and the sandals on his feet. 6 Deal with him according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to the grave in peace. 7 “But show kindness to the sons of Barzillai of Gilead and let them be among those who eat at your table. They stood by me when I fled from your brother Absalom. 8 “And remember, you have with you Shimei son of Gera, the Benjamite from Bahurim, who called down bitter curses on me the day I went to Mahanaim. When he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the Lord: ‘I will not put you to death by the sword.’ 9 But now, do not consider him innocent. You are a man of wisdom; you will know what to do to him. Bring his gray head down to the grave in blood.” 10 Then David rested with his ancestors and was buried in the City of David. 11 He had reigned forty years over Israel—seven years in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem.
David, that great and good man, is a dying man in verse 1 and a dead man in verse 10. It is a unique blessing and feature of our faith that there is indeed another life after this. This life is not all we live for. It is merely the relatively small vestibule through which we pass on our way into the glories and spender of the large house where we will live forever. We make our preparations here, but we will live forever there. Our eternal condition there depends on the quality of our preparations here.
1. David’s General Charge to Solomon 1-4
David’s Charge to Solomon in general includes the kind of thing any father might well recommend to his son—be strong, act like a man, obey God and keep his commands with a particular emphasis on keeping the laws of God. Any parent could learn from this how to instruct his or her children. The last words of any parent preparing to die would have some special authority, but it is not as great as God’s authority. To point offspring and subsequent descendants to God’s Word is a noble gesture—the best gesture. We have great instructions, trusts and commandments with which we are charged by the Lord our God. We do well to keep them and to instruct our children to keep them.
Here is the heart of David’s teaching and guidance to Solomon: “So be strong, act like a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses.” (verse 2b-3a) It is our rule to keep carefully, the written Word—God’s decrees, commands, laws and regulations. Solomon himself must keep God’s Word, and also we who now seek God’s favor.
David encouraged Solomon to maintain a healthy courage and manliness— “be strong, act like a man.” Unfortunately, in the present generation, with its emphasis on gender neutrality and equality, we have lost something that Moses and David elude to in their instructions. A woman should not wear man’s clothes and a man should not wear woman’s clothes. There was a reason for this. God wants men to be manly and women to be lady-like. Joshua was told to be strong and to have good courage. Bravery and manliness are desirable attributes of men according to the Bible as Moses, and now also David, clearly accentuated.
It may seem strange to point out this particular concept from David’s charge, but David included it and it deserves to be affirmed and reiterated especially today. To be manly and resolute in the pursuit of godliness is a virtuous desire that will put men in good stead with God today. A pastor who is a man’s man will have men in his church. Women will also attend such a church. But a pastor who favors women will have mostly women in his or her church and few men. Pastor, be a manly man or a lady-like woman and, in either case, give attention to empowering manly men. You and your church will be stronger if you do this.
David also explained good reasons for all these instructions. “Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go and that the Lord may keep his promise to me: If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.” David wanted things to go well—to prosper—for Solomon and the kingdom. The word “prosperity” today, with the emphasis of contemporary materialistic societies, has taken on the meaning of mere “material and financial prosperity.” Material and financial prosperity are only one relatively small part of or factor in over-all prosperity the way the Bible intends for people to be prosperous. Real prosperity includes wise behavior, personal peace, happiness in one’s work, satisfaction in one’s career, marital happiness, hearty family life, good relationships with neighbors, healthy self-acceptance and many more aspects of the abundant life that God wants us to enjoy, and that do not necessarily have direct relationship to material and financial matters.
Our situation differs from Solomon’s in that we are not all a king or head of state like David and Solomon were. Our descendants will not inherit a throne like Solomon did, but we do have the hope that our descendants will follow in our pursuit of God and that our posterity would enjoy the blessings that accompany those who love Him and are watched over by Him. So we certainly can apply the spirit of David’s desire for Solomon to our own offspring and their offspring. “If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.” Those among our offspring that rightly value and treasure their spiritual heritage—as Jacob did in contrast to Esau who did not value his birthright—in succeeding generations, can continue to enjoy the benefits of knowing God and keeping His Word as we do. We can be very desirous that those who come after us may do nothing to cut themselves off from the blessings we enjoy. Let each, in his own age, successively, keep God’s charge, and then God is certain to continue to bless according to His Word. We want the promise so we keep the precept.
God had promised David that the Messiah should come from him, and that promise was absolute: but the promise that there should not fail to be successor was conditional, “if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel”—that is if his seed would behave themselves as they should. If Solomon, in his day, fulfill the condition, he would be doing his part towards the continuation of the promise. Don’t we all want to pass every spiritual blessing God has given to us on to our children? Yet each generation must make their own decision, David had made his and was encouraging Solomon to make his own good decision.
2. David’s Charge Regarding Joab 5-6
David gave Solomon specific directions concerning three persons, the first of whom is Joab. Verses 5-6 say, “Now you yourself know what Joab son of Zeruiah did to me—what he did to the two commanders of Israel’s armies, Abner son of Ner and Amasa son of Jether. He killed them, shedding their blood in peacetime as if in battle, and with that blood he stained the belt around his waist and the sandals on his feet.” David wanted to see justice brought to the commander of his army—his nephew—over whom he himself either did not or could not exercise the control which he seems to be admitting here he should have maintained. Apparently, David was now conscious that he had not done well to spare him twice when Joab had clearly broken the law. The murder of Abner first and later of Amasa, both of them great men, captains of the hosts of Israel, was treachery and was personally offensive, detrimental, disadvantageous, damaging and destructive to David himself.
The murder of a subject is a wrong to the king of that person; it is a loss to him. But these two men—Abner and Amasa—were not just ordinary citizens; they were appointed and important public figures in a kingdom. And since David was king, these murders were in a unique way against David, adversely affecting his reputation. They could have been serviceable to David. Magistrates (kings) represent the state and are the avengers of the blood of those over whom they have charge and responsibility. So David was responsible.
Joab’s crime was even more heinous in that he was neither ashamed of it nor afraid of punishment for it. He boldly, flagrantly and audaciously wore the belt and shoes that were stained with innocent blood. In doing so he defied the justice of God and the king. “Deal with him according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to the grave in peace.” Even though Joab was up in years and would die sometime anyway, David wanted justice to be served. Though time has passed, still Joab deserved to die; he should be reckoned with at last; time does not erase, obliterate or abolish the guilt of any sin.
3. David’s Charge Regarding the Sons of Barzillai 7
David instructed Solomon to be kind to Barzillai’s family for Barzillai’s sake. Barzillai was probably already dead by this time, but David could not forget the kindnesses Barzillai had done for him when he fled from Jerusalem and Absalom. Verse 7 says, “But show kindness to the sons of Barzillai of Gilead and let them be among those who eat at your table. They stood by me when I fled from your brother Absalom.” When David, upon his death-bed, was remembering injuries that had been done to him, he would not forget also the kindnesses that had been shown to him. He charged his son to return those kindnesses. Elsewhere in the Bible we are told not to carry a grudge or harbor ill-will. We are to release and dismiss those negative feelings, forgive to be forgiven, release to be released.
On the other side of this equation, kindnesses should be remembered. We learn this not only from David’s charge to Solomon and Solomon’s obedience to that charge, but also from Pr 27:10 which Solomon may have written because of this instruction from his father. It says, “Do not forsake your friend or a friend of your family,” More than once Paul reminds his readers to be kind to someone because of a previous kindness. For example Paul prayed for the house of Onesiphorus, who had often refreshed him. II Tim 1:16 says, “May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains.” Christian leaders—pastors, evangelists, missionaries, teachers and church leaders are well advised to remember and repay kindnesses. This is God’s way.
4. David’s Charge Regarding Shimei 8-9
David also wanted justice to be served to Shimei. Verses 8-9 say, “And remember, you have with you Shimei son of Gera, the Benjamite from Bahurim, who called down bitter curses on me the day I went to Mahanaim. When he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the Lord: ‘I will not put you to death by the sword.’ But now, do not consider him innocent. You are a man of wisdom; you will know what to do to him. Bring his gray head down to the grave in blood.” Curses are bitter any time, but these curses would have been more grievous than usual since they were not based on truth and were delivered at a time when David was already in great misery. Shimei poured vinegar or put salt into David’s wounds.
David did remember and here acknowledged that he had told Shimei that he would not put him to death. When Shimei met David on David’s return toward Jerusalem, he apologized to David and confessed his sin. David said then that he would not punish Shimei, but he did not say that his successor would not punish him. When David was returning to Jerusalem was not the appropriate time to punish Shimei, but he was an evil man and if his bad character rears its ugly head again, then you should use that opportunity to bring justice to him. David was not willing to spoil the celebrant atmosphere of his return to Jerusalem with a sentence of death, even on Shimei. There is a time for everything and that was not the time to hold court, but rather to rejoice in restoration. He would not use the sword of public justice to avenge himself.
David left the case with Solomon as to one that knew what to do. When David said, “do not consider him innocent,” he intimated to him that the pardon was not to be perpetual, but only a reprieve. Do not think him any true friend to you or your government. He is not to be trusted. He has no less malice now though he has more sense to hide it. His tempestuous spirit will soon give you an occasion to bring his grey head down to the grave in blood. This and David’s charge concerning Joab do not proceed from personal revenge, but wise and prudent zeal for the honor of the government. Honor accompanies the covenant God has made with his family and church and the violation of it ought not go unpunished. If a member of your worship team is morally misbehaving, he or she should not be allowed to continue to serve on the stage of the church in public. God loves justice. We must uphold the honor of God in His church.
5. David’s Death and Burial 10-11
Verses 10-11 say, “Then David rested with his ancestors and was buried in the City of David. He had reigned forty years over Israel—seven years in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem.” The historian here does not include the extra 6 months to the 7 years and 6 months that David ruled in Hebron. He simply reports 7 years in Hebron and 33 in Jerusalem for a total of 40 years of David’s leadership as king.
After serving, David rested. Life is difficult but at its end we can anticipate rest. We do not fear death because of the truth expressed in Ps 116:15 which says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants.” The account of David’s death is a success story. Furthermore, David had fulfilled God’s purpose for him in his generation; it was time to rest. Acts 13:36 says, “Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed.”
Yet the decay of the body is not something to be feared, lamented or regretted. We must remember the triumphant hope recorded in I Cor 15:54-55 which says, “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory.' 'Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?'" We can readily view David’s passing as a promotion and with a healthy and optimistic attitude anticipate and expectantly look forward to our own.
David was buried honorably in his own city. II Sam 23:1 records what was said of David when introducing his last words. We might borrow some of those words now to decorate David’s tomb: 'Here lies the body of David son of Jesse, the man exalted by the Most High, the man anointed by the God of Jacob, the hero of Israel’s songs.' David himself wrote in Ps 16: 8-11, “I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
We hold to the hope for the ultimate triumph of David’s son expressed in Acts 2:29-35. “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, ‘The Lord (God the father) said to my Lord (Jesus the Son): "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet."'” Jesus, the son of David will have all enemies under His feet forever.
So we arrive at the end of our study of 73 lessons for leaders from the life of David. All Christians can benefit from such an exercise, though, in this series, we have attempted to identify specifically the instructions particularly useful for Christian leaders. May the Lord grant to us the wisdom and discernment we need to be able to follow the good aspects of David’s example while simultaneously avoiding those flaws that might reduce our effectiveness.