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1 Kings 1:1-2:12

Roger Hahn

Solomon is the major character of 1 Kings 1-12. The author of 1 and 2 Kings provides more details of Solomon's life than of any other king who will be mentioned in these books. The picture that is drawn of Solomon is a confusing, mixed picture. Though he does many things right Solomon makes some very serious mistakes. His sins set the nation on a course of destruction. That painful reality of Solomon's failure is made all the worse because he had so much potential, so many resources available to him.

As 1 and 2 Kings is being written near the beginning of the Babylonian Captivity (after 586 BC), the Jewish people are discouraged and bitter. They feel God has betrayed them. They are impressed by the power and splendor of Babylon. "Think again," says the author to these people. "God has not betrayed you; He was patient for 400 years. He is only now meting out the punishment that should have come long ago. And don't be too impressed with the power and riches of the King of Babylon. Solomon had that going for him, and more. But his sins led to your downfall. Babylon will not do as well as Israel has done. God will intervene in history and punish Babylon for her sins, too."

First Kings 1 and 2 set the stage for this evaluation of Solomon. Many Bible scholars point out that 1 Kings 1 and 2 properly belong to an earlier document they call the Succession Narrative. The Succession Narrative includes 2 Samuel 9-20 and 1 Kings 1-2. It deals with the sons of David, and the rapes, murders, and rebellions involved in determining the king who will succeed David after he dies. Much of the Succession Narrative is devoted to Absalom and his revolt against David that led to his death. Second Samuel 21-24 interrupts the flow of the Succession Narrative and some scholars criticize the biblical authors for allowing the interruption. However, the author of 2 Samuel and 1 Kings (probably the same author) had a purpose in this division.

Second Samuel 21-24 interject a number of positive notes after the dismal stories of David's children and servants rebelling against him. These chapters enable 2 Samuel to close with a positive picture of David. That is important for us since God's mercy to Israel and the Southern Kingdom for 400 years is always based on his love for David. First and Second Kings, on the other hand, have the purpose of showing that the downfall of Israel and Judah began with the reign of Solomon. Though there are positive notes in 1 Kings 1 and 2, the general picture is one of violence, intrigue, and assassination. Thus the conclusion of what was earlier written as the Succession Narrative makes an excellent introduction to 1 and 2 Kings. We may not find it personally edifying; in fact, we should not. It is an ugly picture of the transition of power. However, that ugliness must be faced because it has consequences.

1 Kings 1-2 - The Transition From David To Solomon

First Kings 1 and 2 begin with a brief story showing that the time for David to rule as king had come to an end. First Kings 1:5-10 introduces Adonijah's effort to establish himself as the king who would succeed David. This sets the stage for verses 11-27 where Nathan and Bathsheba attempt to counter Adonijah's bid for power. Verses 28-40 describe the chain of events that led to Solomon being crowned as king in David's stead. Naturally, this development is devastating to Adonijah's plans. Verses 41-53 describe the way in which Adonijah learns of the failure of his bid to become king and the interchange that takes place between himself and Solomon.

First Kings 2:1-12 describes David's last words to Solomon and his death. However, Solomon is not secure on the throne and 1 Kings 2:13-46 describes the efforts Solomon takes to establish his kingship. Adonijah, Joab, and Shimei are assassinated and Abiathar is sent into exile. When these threats to Solomon were gone, the transition of power was completed and the story of Solomon's reign can begin with chapter 3.

1 Kings 1:1-4 - The Time for Transition

The first verses of 1 Kings can be very disconcerting to a modern Christian reader, especially in Western culture. Old King David cannot seem to get warm so a virgin is brought to sleep with him. Even though verse 4 assures us that David did not have sexual intercourse with the young lady, our moral standards are violated. Surely God could not have condoned such an action, let alone willed it! There is no hint in the text that God had anything to do with the use of Abishag. However, the original readers would have very easily understood the passage. It reflects the way in which David was a part of the culture of his time.

All the light of the gospel had not yet been revealed and God clearly accepted the people of the Old Testament where they were in their understanding of the way God's will and their culture intersected. Rather than condemning we should ponder the grace of God in waiting until people's understanding grows to the point of fuller obedience. Perhaps there are some (maybe many) areas in our lives where we are completely blind to the way the culture of our time causes us to miss all of God's will for our lives. Lord, help us to be sensitive and open to your Spirit's leading to help us rise above our culture's limited viewpoint.

In the time of David the king was seen as the connection between the divine and human worlds. Power, vitality, energy, and blessings flowed from God (or the gods for pagan nations) to the people through the king. The king embodied the people to God and God to the people. The king's health was absolutely necessary for the people to feel safe and connected to God. Verse 1 announces a crisis for the nation. King David was old and his inability to get warm showed how feeble he had become. It was time for a new king, but how could Israel be sure? God had done so much for them through David in the past.

David's attendants selected a young woman to come to live with David. If anything could revive him, surely this would. No mention is made in these verses of Abishag's legal status, but 1 Kings 2:13-25 make is clear that she was considered either another wife or another concubine for David. Thus, within the culture of that time there was no adultery involved. However, David's failure to consummate a sexual relationship with her confirmed that he no longer had what it took to be king. The crisis was confirmed. David must go; he was no longer capable of being the link by which the blessing of God (including sexual fertility) would pass from the Lord to Israel. A successor must be anointed.

The reader (both ancient and modern) is also left to ponder the irony of this sign of the end of David's reign. The mighty king who flaunted the Law of God by his adulterous union with Bathsheba finds himself nudged out of office by sexual impotence. David may have promised the kingdom to Solomon (see verse 13), but God is not mocked, not even by the king. The punishment of sexual sin eventually extended to David's own sexual prowess. Modern men should not be surprised that sexual dysfunction frequently follows sexual expression outside the will of God.

1 Kings 1:5-10 - Adonijah's Bid to Become King

Part of the national crisis was the fact that no mechanism was in place to determine the successor to the king. Samuel the prophet had anointed David to replace Saul. Would a prophet of God anoint David’s successor? Or would one of David's sons be appointed King? If so, which one? In the surrounding nations after which Israel modeled her monarchy (see 1 Samuel 8:5), the oldest son of the king became the next king. It is probable, though not completely certain, that the principle of the oldest son motivated Adonijah to try to establish himself as the future king.

David's first-born son had been Amnon. But he had raped his half sister, Tamar, and Tamar's full brother, Absalom, murdered Amnon in revenge (see 2 Samuel 13). David's second son was named Chileab, but he was never mentioned other than in a list of David's sons in 2 Samuel 3:3. Many scholars assume he died in childhood. David's third son was Absalom, who had died in his ill-fated military coup against David described in 2 Samuel 18. This left the fourth son, Adonijah, as the oldest surviving son.

Verse 5 states that Adonijah exalted himself in his attempt to become king. Then, as now, self-exaltation never wins God's blessing. Adonijah's strategy was to gain public support by riding through the city in a chariot with fifty men running in attendance. He also tried to win the support of the two most powerful segments of Israel, the military and the religious. He convinced Joab, David's commander-in-chief and Abiathar, David's high priest, to join his bid for the throne.

It is not clear that celebration of a sacrificial meal described in verse 9 was an enthronement ritual. Later, Solomon's supporter, the prophet Nathan, will imply that but it is possible that Adonijah was only trying to win support by throwing a big celebration. Regardless of its purpose the important fact is that Solomon was not invited nor were those who might support him as the next king.

1 Kings 1:11-27 - The Bid to Make Solomon King

The attempt of Adonijah to make himself king posed a serious danger to those who were not invited to his sacrificial meal. In the biblical world, a new king almost always eliminated any real or potential rivals to his power. The lives of Solomon, Nathan, and Benaiah were in jeopardy and Nathan understood that very well. He became the engineer of a counter plot to make Solomon the king.

The plan was simple. Apparently Bathsheba still had powerful influence over David. She would approach him, point out Adonijah's treasonous attempt to make himself king, remind him of his promise to make Solomon king, and attempt to force his hand. The strategy was to make Adonijah look as if he considered David dead already. Perhaps David could be roused to action in behalf of Solomon by pointing out what a crisis of leadership had come. To reinforce Bathsheba's presentation, Nathan would come in on her heels, confirm her story, and raise the question of David's loyalty to Bathsheba and himself, the loyal court prophet.

The plan proceeded just as Nathan had outlined. Bathsheba strongly emphasized David's promise to her that Solomon would be king. There is no evidence in 2 Samuel that David ever made such a promise, but there is no reason to doubt that David would have made it. It is possible that he made similar promises to other wives about other sons, but the Bible is silent on the matter. Both Bathsheba and Nathan interpret the sacrificial meal that Adonijah was hosting as a declaration of his kingship. If that were true Adonijah would have been guilty of treason like that of Absalom by declaring himself king while David was still alive.

Nathan raises the possibility that David had, in fact, decided that Adonijah would be his successor. Verse 27 asks if David is still in charge and has directed Adonijah to take the action of declaring himself king. If so, Nathan, asks, how could David have betrayed himself (Nathan), Zadok the priest, Benaiah from the military, and Solomon? David is forced to one of two conclusions. Either he has betrayed loyal subject and his son Solomon or he must admit that he is no longer in control of his own kingdom. Nathan can only hope David will be angry enough at Adonijah for putting him in such an awkward position that he will be motivated to appoint Solomon as his successor.

1 Kings 1:28-40 - Solomon Anointed King

David responded just as Nathan had hoped. He immediately is roused from his feeble lethargy and summons Bathsheba back into his presence. He is suddenly decisive and clear headed. He emphatically affirms his oath to Bathsheba that Solomon will be his successor and swears that it would be fulfilled that very day.

David affirmed his oath by a two-fold appeal to the Lord. "As the Lord lives" is the first expression of his faith. There was no more fundamental statement of Israel's faith than that they served a living God. The gods of the other nations might be powerless, lifeless objects of wood and stone, but Yahweh, the Lord of Israel, was alive. Because He was alive He was always active in the unfolding of Israel's history. David appealed to his faith that God was living and thus leading in the action he (David) was about to take. This affirmation of faith thus affirms that the coronation of Solomon was part of the plan of God for Israel.

The second part of David's affirmation in verse 29 was that the Lord had delivered David out of every adversity. The word "delivered" is often also translated "saved" or "redeemed." It was frequently used of the purchase of freedom for slaves and the ransom of captives. David's reference to God's deliverance in his life was probably to the many times that God delivered him from danger. It is another affirmation that God is active in our lives. God had kept David safe through all the dangers and threats to his life. God's will that David be king had not been thwarted by Saul, by foreign enemies, or even by David's own ambitious sons. If God was that reliable in David's life, the reader may be sure that God's purpose will not be thwarted by Adonijah's (or Solomon's) personal agenda.

Bathsheba responded to David's announcement with the traditional phrase, "May the . . . king live forever." Some commentators have thought that she was being either sarcastic or insensitive. David was on the verge of death. How cruel to wish him long life! However, such a reaction reveals our modern presuppositions. In Biblical culture one's life was continued through his descendants. Thus her exclamation in verse 31 is simply a hope that David's descendants would carry on the vitality and royal strength that David had demonstrated in his life. In fact, 1 and 2 Kings shows four hundred year in which David's descendants occupied the throne in Jerusalem. Bathsheba's wish was really a statement of what God would grant David in the days following his death.

The crowning of Solomon is described in three ways in the following verses. Verses 32-36 describe it through David's instructions that cause it to happen. Verses 37-40 describe the actual carrying of David's commands and of Solomon coronation. Then in verses 43-48 the report to Adonijah gives a third description of the event.

David's instructions in verses 32-36 provide the fullest description of the anointing of Solomon to be king. Solomon was to be mounted on David's own mule. This would provide solid evidence that David has chosen Solomon as his successor. Mules had only been introduced into Israel in the reign of David and they symbolized royal authority and status. The common riding animal was the donkey. Horses were only used for chariots at that time. The prohibition on cross-breeding found in the Law (Leviticus 19:19) was strong enough that all mules had to be imported which placed them under the control of the king. Thus Solomon's riding on David's mule would provide clear evidence that David was turning his authority over to Solomon.

The procession was to go to the Spring of Gihon. This was the major water supply for Jerusalem on the west edge of the Kidron Valley. Solomon would later build the temple on the hill rising to the north and west of the spring. Because it was the water supply there would be a significant number of people there. It would provide a ready made audience for Solomon's anointing.

David instructed both Nathan and Zadok to participate in the anointing ceremony. Much more than simply pouring oil over the person's head was involved. Israel understood that when a king was anointed he was brought into a special sonship relationship with the Lord (see Psalm 2 especially verse 7). That relationship made the king the special possession of the Lord and thus he could not be attacked without attacking God (1 Samuel 24:6).

The king then became the link between God and his people. On behalf of God he was to maintain justice, righteousness, and peace. His administrative decisions were expected to reflect the wisdom of God at work in the problems of the world. His military leadership was the means God would use to provide peace and security for the people. Thus, the act of anointing included the ideas of consecration to a holy task, authorization to represent God, and empowerment to fulfill this high calling.

It is significant that Adonijah exalted himself to become king, but there is no mention that he was ever anointed. The anointing was the sure sign of God's choice of and blessings on Solomon. This understanding of anointing is also important background to appreciate the meaning of Christ the Messiah. Christ is the Greek word and Messiah is the Hebrew word for the anointed one. Jesus understood that the coming of the Holy Spirit upon at his baptism was an anointing - a consecration, authorization, and empowerment for his ministry. Likewise the early church understood that when the Holy Spirit was poured out on a person's life the purpose was not for personal power. Rather, the gift of the Spirit consecrates, authorizes and empowers the believer to be channel through which the grace, love, and power of God flows into the lives of other people.

The ceremony climaxed by the blowing of the trumpet and the acclamation, "Long live King Solomon." The trumpet was not a musical instrument like modern trumpets. It was the ram's horn that was blown as a signal of major events. Declarations of war and peace, the beginning and ending of a Sabbath, the death of important people, and the coronation of a king were all announced by a blast on the ram's horn. It alerted the common people to find out what great event had happened. The shout going through the streets of Jerusalem, "Long live King Solomon," told them what had happened.

1 Kings 1:41-53 - The Response of Adonijah

The scene suddenly shifts from the anointing and acclamation of Solomon as king back to the sacrificial meal that Adonijah was hosting as part of his campaign to become king. When Joab, David's commander-in-chief heard the ram's horn he knew something significant was happening. Within moments Abiathar's son, Jonathan, arrived with the news. The author of 1 Kings ironically notes that Adonijah asked Jonathan for a report by saying, "You are a mighty hero and you bring good news. Speak." Jonathan's report was, in fact, good news for those who were praying for God's guidance in the transition to a new king. It was not good news for Adonijah.

The bad news for Adonijah was more than just the fact that Solomon had been anointed king. Jonathan proceeded to report in verses 47-48 that all the party loyal to David were gathering to congratulate David and praying for Solomon's reign to be even greater than David's. By means of this report the author of 1 Kings prophetically projects the greatness of Solomon's kingdom. The readers of this book would understand very well that this prayer of David's supporters was answered on the military and economic level.

The fact that David had chosen Solomon and that he had now been anointed totally changed Adonijah circumstances. In just a few moments he changed from being the leading candidate to re-place David to an outlaw sure to be the object of Solomon's wrath and vengeance. Suddenly all Adonijah's friends and supporters fled. They understood that it was now dangerous to be associated with him.

Adonijah, in turn, fled to the tabernacle and grabbed the horns of the altar. The "horns of the altar" were the four projections at each corner of the altar. In Biblical culture to take hold of the horns of the altar was a plea for sanctuary and safety. Because Israel understood the altar to be the place of meeting between God and Israel, God guaranteed the safety of one who would grasp the horns of the altar. Obviously, one could manipulate that custom, gain safety and buy time to return to treachery. Chapter 2 will reveal that that was Adonijah's plan. However, for now Solomon accepts Adonijah's plea for safety and releases him to go home and prove his loyalty.

1 Kings 2:1-12 - David's Final Words to Solomon

The final words of a great leader were an important part of Biblical culture. Genesis 49 provides the last words of Jacob, laying out the will of God for his sons. Deuteronomy 33 gives the final blessing of Moses on the tribes of Israel. Joshua 23 contains the charge that Joshua left with Israel. The spiritual last will and testament of Samuel is recorded in 1 Samuel 12.

David's final words to Solomon follow the basic Biblical pattern of pointing to the theological foundations of relationship with the Lord. 1 Kings 2:1-12 presents David's last words and marks the transition of power. Verse 1 begins with David as subject, charging Solomon with responsible leadership. Verse 12 ends the section with Solomon as the subject, sitting on David's throne and David has been buried.

David's last words fall into two sections. Verses 2-4 address foundational spiritual concerns. Verses 5-9 give practical (though brutal) political advice on the enemies with whom Solomon must deal. Solomon must be strong; that was an even more important element of leadership in the ancient world than it is today. In a world where physical violence is the accepted norm, weakness is an invitation for attack.

However, physical and political power is not all that David required of Solomon. Power must be exercised under the direction of God. In a beautiful Hebrew phrase David told Solomon, "Keep the charge of the Lord your God." Literally it might be translated, "Keep the things God has given you to keep." David then became more specific: Keep the things God has given you to keep by walking in His ways, and keeping the statutes, commandments, ordinances, and testimonies. All four of these words can be summed up as the Law. However, it was not "Law" as we think of it from western culture. The Hebrew understanding of "Law" (torah) was instruction or guidance. The Scripture is a sure guide to life. It will help one determine what things need to be kept and what can be safely discarded.

Solomon is also instructed to walk before the Lord in faithfulness (truth is the translation of the KJV and NASB). The Hebrew word (emeth) is a cognate of the word from which we get amen. It is most often used of God and speaks of how reliable and dependable He is. David's concern is not that Solomon will never obey the Lord's instructions. What he wants is for Solomon to develop consistency - dependability, reliability - faithfulness in his obedience to God. The Lord had promised David that if his descendants would live with such consistent faithfulness there would always be a descendant of his on the throne of Israel. If that promise was to be fulfilled Solomon would have to be first one to keep the conditions.

David then turns in verses 5-9 to pragmatic concerns for the survival of the kingdom. Joab, David's commander-in-chief had murdered Abner and Amasa. In Israelite culture David's kingdom was responsible for the murder. The responsibility must be returned to Joab. On the other hand, Barzillai had supported David during Absalom's rebellion, but he had never been appropriately rewarded. Solomon was also instructed in how to satisfy that debt. Finally, Shimei had cursed David during the Absalom revolt. His profuse apology had led David to promise to spare his life, but Israelite culture believed the curse was still in effect. After David's death Solomon could take appropriate action to counter Shimei's curse and David instructed him to do so.

Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion

These readings and study questions are in preparation for next week's lesson.

These are study and reflection questions to facilitate a weeklong devotional journey into the Books of Kings. As you begin each day pray that the Lord will speak to you through His Word and that the Holy Spirit will breathe spiritual life into your heart through your study and reflection.

First Day: Read the notes on 1 Kings 1:1-2:12. Look up the Scripture references given.

1. List one or two insights into the culture of Israel or the perspective of 1 Kings that seemed important to you.

2. Select a truth from the 1 Kings 1:1-2:12 that has a personal application to your life. Describe how it applies to you.

3. What spiritual growth would enable you to walk before God in faithfulness? Write a prayer asking God to bring that spiritual growth into your life.

Second Day: Read 1 Kings 2:13-46. Now focus in on verses 13-27.

1. How does Adonijah react to the fact that Solomon had become king instead of himself?

2. What helpful insights do these verses provide for the best way to respond to disappointment in your own life? What role does God play and what roles to people play in the unfolding of painful circumstances?

3. Why did Solomon believe Abiathar deserved to die? Why did he spare Abiathar's life? What principles should guide us in determining whether or not to be merciful to someone who threatens us?

Third Day: Read 1 Kings 2:13-46. Focus on verses 28-46.

1. What do you believe was Solomon's motivation in having Joab killed?

2. Read 2 Samuel 16:5-14; 2 Samuel 19:16-23; and 1 Kings 1:8. Do you think Solomon treated Shimei fairly or not? Why?

3. Why do you think verse 46 states that the kingdom was established in Solomon's hand? Do you think God could have established the kingdom in a different way than it was done? Why?

Fourth Day: Read 1 Kings 3:1-28. Now focus on 1 Kings 3:1-15.

1. Identify those actions of Solomon in verses 1-15 that seem to be positive actions and those that seem to be negative.

2. What conclusions do you draw about Solomon's heart from the description of the sacrifices which he made?

3. Summarize Solomon's understanding of the relationship between his father David and God. Write a brief prayer asking to the Lord to teach you the best parts of a personal relationship with Him.

Fifth Day: Read 1 Kings 3:1-28. Now return your focus to verses 1-15.

1. Describe in your own words what you believe Solomon was asking God to give to him.

2. What areas of your life need a wise and understanding mind. Read James 1:5-8 and write a prayer describing where you need wisdom from the Lord. Claim the promise of James 1:5.

3. What did God promise to Solomon? What conditions did he place upon Solomon? Are there any promises of God to you that are conditional on your obedience?

Sixth Day: Read 1 Kings 3:1-28. Turn your focus to verses 16-28.

1. What principle did Solomon draw upon in giving his decision to the two women in verse 25?

2. Reflect on how you have gained wisdom in your life. What was necessary for you to receive wisdom from the Lord?

3. What purpose did Solomon's wisdom accomplish according to these verses? What does that tell you about God and His interests? Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to help you share His concerns for people you know.

-Roger Hahn, Copyright 2013, Roger Hahn and the Christian Resource Institute
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