Did you come from an incredible, all-everything family? Over the couple of generations before you, was it free of scandal and foolishness, confusion and infighting? If you can answer these questions with a “yes,” you are exceedingly rare.
Families can be messy things, and socio-economic or class status does not make for a definitive difference. Some of the wealthiest and most successful of people in terms of the ways that score is kept in the material world are either from or are trying to lead a dysfunctional home.
Over my years at the church, I (Randy writing) have been very open with you about the mixed background from which I’ve come. It is probably confusing to hear parts of the story here and there – talking of the great blessing of successful and godly parents and grandparents, yet also of an adoption due to some messiness that is so confusing that I sometimes have had to resort to drawing charts and graphs to explain this and that mother and father and grandmother and grandfather and how they intersect and overlap. It is a big pot full of blessing, yet also a kettle of dysfunction and crud both boiling on the stove at the same time.
This week we will look at the life of Solomon in our “Drift” series. Here too was a guy with great blessing, being the child of the king with a promise to inherit the kingdom. Yet his story begins in an illegitimate relationship and involves a crazy household with brothers and family that were dysfunctional and publically immoral in the most awful of ways. But in the big picture, the blessings of God outweighed the messes, particularly as Solomon humbly walked in light of those blessings.
Today, let us get some background on the ascendance of Solomon as the third and final of Israel’s three kings of the united kingdom, with Solomon following his father David, who had followed Saul. Let’s quickly work through 1 Kings chapter two …
2:1 – 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.’
We could just talk about this paragraph and make a week’s study out of it. It contains the most timeless big idea of them all: If anyone will trust and obey God and prioritize Him in their lives, they will prosper, and that blessing will transcend generations. But the Devil is in the details … he really is! It is doing this with consistency as a sinner in a sinful world that is the challenge. And it was exactly that, even for Solomon, the most materially blessed man of all time.
David now gives Solomon a charge to deal with some outstanding problems in the kingdom, to both execute justice and establish his rule as the next king in the land …
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. 12 So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David, and his rule was firmly established.
We will get back to Solomon’s fulfillment of his father’s wishes and decrees, but first comes another story that has some background in the previous chapter one. It relates to Solomon’s older brother Adonijah, who attempted (successfully for a brief time) to set himself up as the king to follow David; but a shrewd plan of David to establish Solomon instead quickly dissipated this errant rebellion. Solomon let it slide without immediate retribution, telling Adonijah there would be no retaliation so long as he proved himself to be a good boy, but …
13 Now Adonijah, the son of Haggith, went to Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother. Bathsheba asked him, “Do you come peacefully?”
He answered, “Yes, peacefully.” 14 Then he added, “I have something to say to you.”
“You may say it,” she replied.
15 “As you know,” he said, “the kingdom was mine. All Israel looked to me as their king. But things changed, and the kingdom has gone to my brother; for it has come to him from the Lord. 16 Now I have one request to make of you. Do not refuse me.”
“You may make it,” she said.
17 So he continued, “Please ask King Solomon—he will not refuse you—to give me Abishag the Shunammite as my wife.”
18 “Very well,” Bathsheba replied, “I will speak to the king for you.”
19 When Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him for Adonijah, the king stood up to meet her, bowed down to her and sat down on his throne. He had a throne brought for the king’s mother, and she sat down at his right hand.
20 “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.”
21 So she said, “Let Abishag the Shunammite be given in marriage to your brother Adonijah.”
22 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!”
23 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! 24 And now, as surely as the Lord lives—he who has established me securely on the throne of my father David and has founded a dynasty for me as he promised—Adonijah shall be put to death today!” 25 So King Solomon gave orders to Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and he struck down Adonijah and he died.
Wow, that seems like an overreaction on the part of Solomon. But the new king in his wisdom saw it for what it was, an underhanded attempt to gain the kingdom for himself. Abishag was a concubine of David, and having him as wife, along with being the older brother, would look to the eyes of the nation as the guy who should really be the king.
26 To Abiathar the priest the king said, “Go back to your fields in Anathoth. You deserve to die, but I will not put you to death now, because you carried the ark of the Sovereign Lord before my father David and shared all my father’s hardships.” 27 So Solomon removed Abiathar from the priesthood of the Lord, fulfilling the word the Lord had spoken at Shiloh about the house of Eli.
Joab was a mighty military man, but he had committed grave atrocities in his time for which justice cried out to be made right.
28 When the news reached Joab, who had conspired with Adonijah though not with Absalom, he fled to the tent of the Lord and took hold of the horns of the altar. 29 King Solomon was told that Joab had fled to the tent of the Lord and was beside the altar. Then Solomon ordered Benaiah son of Jehoiada, “Go, strike him down!”
30 So Benaiah entered the tent of the Lord and said to Joab, “The king says, ‘Come out!’”
But he answered, “No, I will die here.”
Benaiah reported to the king, “This is how Joab answered me.”
31 Then the king commanded Benaiah, “Do as he says. Strike him down and bury him, and so clear me and my whole family of the guilt of the innocent blood that Joab shed. 32 The Lord will repay him for the blood he shed, because without my father David knowing it he attacked two men and killed them with the sword. Both of them—Abner son of Ner, commander of Israel’s army, and Amasa son of Jether, commander of Judah’s army—were better men and more upright than he. 33 May the guilt of their blood rest on the head of Joab and his descendants forever. But on David and his descendants, his house and his throne, may there be the Lord’s peace forever.”
34 So Benaiah son of Jehoiada went up and struck down Joab and killed him, and he was buried at his home out in the country. 35 The king put Benaiah son of Jehoiada over the army in Joab’s position and replaced Abiathar with Zadok the priest.
It is a complicated story, but Abiathar being replaced here fulfilled an earlier word of the Lord that the priestly line of Eli would fade out, and it does so right here. Again, the issue was disobedience rather than following God’s word and prescriptive promises for blessing.
The next to be dealt with is Shimei, a man who mocked David terribly during the time when David was seeking to establish his legitimate reign following Saul. Remember that Saul was a Benjamite and that the line of kings coming from the tribe of Judah begins with David, descending ultimately to Jesus.
36 Then the king sent for Shimei and said to him, “Build yourself a house in Jerusalem and live there, but do not go anywhere else. 37 The day you leave and cross the Kidron Valley, you can be sure you will die; your blood will be on your own head.”
38 Shimei answered the king, “What you say is good. Your servant will do as my lord the king has said.” And Shimei stayed in Jerusalem for a long time.
39 But three years later, two of Shimei’s slaves ran off to Achish son of Maakah, king of Gath, and Shimei was told, “Your slaves are in Gath.” 40 At this, he saddled his donkey and went to Achish at Gath in search of his slaves. So Shimei went away and brought the slaves back from Gath.
41 When Solomon was told that Shimei had gone from Jerusalem to Gath and had returned, 42 the king summoned Shimei and said to him, “Did I not make you swear by the Lord and warn you, ‘On the day you leave to go anywhere else, you can be sure you will die’? At that time you said to me, ‘What you say is good. I will obey.’ 43 Why then did you not keep your oath to the Lord and obey the command I gave you?”
44 The king also said to Shimei, “You know in your heart all the wrong you did to my father David. Now the Lord will repay you for your wrongdoing. 45 But King Solomon will be blessed, and David’s throne will remain secure before the Lord forever.”
46 Then the king gave the order to Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and he went out and struck Shimei down and he died.
The kingdom was now established in Solomon’s hands.
It is all messy stuff, isn’t it? When we think of Solomon, we think immediately of the wisdom and riches, the greatness of his kingdom, and then only later of his “drift” from God and fidelity to truth. But we forget the messy beginning.
One of the most profound things I’ve ever heard came from Paul Bitner – a professional Christian counselor from our church family, who was on the Board of Elders some years ago. He said referencing the popular and famous feel-good book entitled “I’m OK, You’re OK” that the most truthful book title about the nature of man should be entitled, “I’m a Mess; You’re a Mess.”
Even at its best, our backgrounds are messy. And if you can’t find dreadful sinners in your immediate past, all you need to remember is that you have, like me, the ancestors of Adam and Eve. The curse of sin is that life is going to be hard in a sin-stained world, and our only hope is to follow the Lord closely in obedience.
But it is easy to drift away, and that is our theme in this series, and that is what we will look at in the life of Solomon this week.