Now the days of David drew nigh that he should die; and he charged Solomon his son, saying, I go the way of all the earth: be thou strong therefore, and show thyself a man; And keep the charge of the LORD thy 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 thou mayest prosper in all that thou doest, and whithersoever thou turnest thyself That the LORD may continue his Word, which he spake concerning me, saying, If thy children take heed to their way, to walk before me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail thee (said he) a man on the throne of Israel.
Solomon was now king.
He was still young, very young, and the circumstances of his coronation were such as demanded the utmost of discretion.
Chief was the problem of Adonijah. Here was a matter to challenge the discernment of the most experienced of men.
Adonijah, the eldest of David’s living sons, had tried to intercept Solomon’s succession to the throne and to take it for himself. And his effort had been cleverly devised. He had obtained the backing of Joab, the captain of the army, and of Abiathar the priest, two of the most influential men in the whole nation. Already the meeting had been gathered, with all of the royal sons except Solomon present, for the purpose of announcing Adonijah’s succession to the throne of Israel. But two things Adonijah had overlooked, the will of Jehovah Israel’s God and the natural resilience of David the king.
Thus in the last crucial hours, Nathan the prophet exposed the purpose of Adonijah to the old king in his sick chamber. Immediately it had had its effect. It aroused in David a quick and strong response such as none had thought possible any longer. He ordered that without delay Solomon should be taken and made king with his royal approval. And it worked. The aged and weak king still held the love and respect of the people, and they received the successor he designated with enthusiasm.
For Adonijah the whole situation was suddenly a crisis. It was in the midst of the merriment of his banquet as he was preparing to announce his intentions to take over the kingdom that suddenly a great noise seemed to fill the city. Hardly had they had time to inquire as to its meaning before Jonathan the son of Abiathar entered with the announcement, “Verily our lord king David hath made Solomon king. And the king hath sent with him Zadok the priest, and Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites, and the Pelethites, and they have caused him to ride upon the king’s mule: 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 ye have heard. And also Solomon sitteth on the throne of the kingdom. And moreover the king’s servants came to bless our lord king David, saying, God make the name of Solomon better than thy name, and make his throne greater than thy throne. And the king bowed himself upon the bed. And also thus said the king, Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, which hath given one to sit on my throne this day, mine eyes even seeing it.”
There was no need for any explanation of the news brought by Jonathan. For a moment all of the merriment was over and the grip of cold fear held the whole hall in paralysis; but then it was over. As a man the whole crowd rose to their feet and fled without a backward look from the hall. Only Adonijah was left, alone, completely deserted by all of those which he had counted to be the friends who would put him upon the throne of the kingdom.
But even Adonijah could not afford to stay and reflect upon this sudden and unexpected reversal in his fortune. He who had but minutes before appeared to be the man of the hour was now the chief enemy of the king and his people. He was a traitor caught red-handed in his treachery. It was no wonder that everyone had fled him. No one’s life could be more worthless than his for the moment.
But Adonijah’s mind was quick, and he saw one possibility of saving himself. He knew that Solomon was a religious young man who took the service of Jehovah seriously. The last thing with which Solomon would want to begin his reign was with anything that might be taken as a desecration of the worship of Jehovah.
As quickly as he could, therefore, Adonijah too left the hall of banqueting and made his way to the tabernacle. There he threw himself upon the altar of burnt offerings and clung to its horns with all of the strength that was in him. Publicly it was an admission of guilt and a plea for mercy to God and in His name. But at the same time it was a challenge to the ruling king. He could not exert punishment upon Adonijah without introducing violence and the shedding of blood into the very tabernacle of God where such ought not to be. Accordingly also he informed any who inquired of him, “Let king Solomon swear unto me to day that he will not slay his servant with the sword.”
It was soon, of course, that the word about Adonijah was passed on to Solomon, for already the young king found himself surrounded by fawning people who thought that they could please him by passing on information concerning his enemy. But Solomon indeed had no desire to begin his reign with the shedding of blood. Neither did he feel either fear of or hatred for Adonijah. His only concern was to secure the well-being of his kingdom. Thus, the answer he gave back was this, “If he will show himself a worthy man, there shall not an hair of him fall to the earth: but if wickedness shall be found in him, he shall die.” Moreover, Solomon sent and had Adonijah brought into his presence so that the promise and the warning might be repeated in his own ears. And with that he dismissed him saying, “Go to thine house.”
To all appearances, Solomon’s position upon the throne of Israel was securely established. In fact, it was not long before David his father passed away too, but not without first calling Solomon to him and saying; “I go the way of all the earth: be thou strong therefore, and show thyself a man; and keep the charge of the LORD thy 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 thou mayest prosper in all that thou doest, and whithersoever thou turnest thyself: that the LORD may continue his word which he spake concerning me, saying, If thy children take heed to their way, to walk before me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail thee (said he) a man on the throne of Israel.”
The promise was extremely beautiful. A more fitting thought could hardly be passed on by a departing father to his son and royal successor. It was essentially the covenant promise, the promise of the son who some day would come to sit upon the throne of Israel forever. Nevertheless, the words of David also contained a warning. Solomon must be careful to live in obedience to God and according to the precepts of His law. Only in this way would God be with him and would he remain in the covenant line.
But Solomon’s troubles were not over, not even with Adonijah. The dream of grandeur does not die easily once it has found root within the human breast. Once Adonijah had nearly succeeded in supplanting Solomon, and in an amazingly short time he was ready to try again. His plan centered in Abishag the Shunammite, David’s last concubine.
It was the custom in that day that a new king arising to the throne would inherit the harem of his predecessor, as David had done with Saul’s (II Samuel 12:8), and Absalom had done briefly with David’s (II Samuel 16:22). It was one of the most emphatic indications of one’s authority in office.
Now Adonijah knew as a member of the royal family, and he knew that Solomon knew, that David had never actually been united to Abishag. Thus he thought it might well be possible that he might be able to talk Solomon into letting him take Abishag to himself as wife. It was a clever move. To the members of the royal family who knew the true situation it might appear quite innocent, but to the nation as a whole it would appear that Adonijah still had certain royal prerogatives within the nation. Thus he could slowly begin to establish himself anew within the eyes of the people.
Moreover, Adonijah did not go himself to Solomon. He was much more careful than that. He went first to Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother. Not only was she a simple and kindly woman in whom sympathy was easily aroused, but she was dearly loved by Solomon so that he would not easily deny her anything. In this way Adonijah was quite sure that he would be able to take advantage of Solomon’s youth and the tenderness of his feelings.
Bathsheba was indeed quite surprised by Adonijah’s approach to her so that her first inquiry was, “Comest thou peaceably?” To which he answered, “Peaceably,” and then went on to say, “Thou knowest that the kingdom was mine, and that all Israel set their faces on me, that I should reign: howbeit the kingdom is turned about, and is become my brother’s: for it was his from the LORD. And now I ask one petition of thee, deny me not . . . Speak, I pray thee, unto Solomon the king, (for he will not say thee nay,) that he give me Abishag the Shunammite to wife.” It was a daring approach to use his own failure to take over the kingdom as a means of gaining sympathy with the king’s mother; but with Bathsheba it worked. She suspected nothing.
Naively Bathsheba went immediately into the presence of Solomon. After the usual formalities in which a special seat was set for Bathsheba and during which Solomon promised, “Ask on, my mother: for I will not say thee nay,” Bathsheba went on to repeat Adonijah’s request, “Let Abishag the Shunammite be given to Adonijah thy brother to wife.”
Solomon at that time may well have been young and inexperienced, but he was not naive or foolish. He saw immediately through the plan and retorted with anger, “And why dost thou ask Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? ask for him the kingdom also; for he is mine elder brother; even for him, and for Abiathar the priest, and for Joab the son of Zeruiah . . . God do so to me, and more also, if Adonijah have not spoken this word against his own life. Now therefore as the Lord liveth which hath established me, and set me on the throne of David my father, and who hath made me an house, as he promised, Adonijah shall be put to death this day.” So Solomon ended the first great threat to his throne and his life.