Beware, My Son
If you ask me, the narrative of 1 Kings 2 pulls off a sneaky bait-and-switch on the reader. In the beginning, we have a lovely tender moment between father and son with the former on his deathbed. The mighty David, now brought low by old age, is giving a final charge to his son Solomon. In the first few verses, he encourages Solomon to walk in the way of the Lord as he leads Israel. In fact, much of David's language in 2:1-4 reminds us of Deuteronomy. But beginning in 2:5, the scene takes an ugly term. In a scene that fits better in a Godfather movie than a Hallmark film, David orders Solomon to eliminate two threats to his reign: Joab and Shimei. It is then that David dies, and the narrative goes on to describe how Solomon fulfills David's dying wishes.
Recently, as I have read multiple commentaries on this passage, it's become clear that scholars are divided into pro-Solomon and anti-Solomon camps. Some think that Solomon does wrong by carrying out his father's wishes, while others defend his actions. Living in a democratic republic in which there is (relatively speaking) a peaceful transfer of power every 4-8 years, Solomon's methods of "establishing" (a key word in the story) his throne seem a bit too violent.
As I have reflected on 1 Kings 2 and tried to grasp what application may exist for God's people today (no, we can't assassinate co-workers who threaten that job promotion we're after!), I've realized that the story reminds us of 3 types of people we should avoid at all costs if we want to be successful in life. In 2:9, David calls Solomon "a wise man" and is confident that Solomon will do what is necessary to establish his throne. As it turns out, Solomon indeed acts wisely in eliminating the threat posed by:
1. Anyone who does not respect authority.
In the immediate scene following David's death (2:13-25), David's son Adonijah, who had almost become king in the previous chapter, approaches Bathsheba and asks that she take a request to her son, Solomon. Bizarrely, he asks for Abishag's hand in marriage, the young woman who had been David's (non-sexual) concubine in the king's final days. In light of ancient practices, Adonijah's request (romantic as it may seem to us) was a power grab for the throne since the one who possessed the former king's concubines had a legitimate claim to the throne (cf. 2 Sam 3:6-7; 12:8; 16:21-22). In prefacing request, Adonijah has clearly had a hard time conceding the throne to his younger brother, though he tellingly admits that the throne "was [Solomon's] from the Lord" (2:15). Solomon is understandably enraged by Adonijah's request, correctly deducing that Adonijah still has fantasies of seizing the throne again, violently if necessary, so Solomon orders Adonijah's execution.
Plain and simple, Adonijah had no respect for authority. Once Solomon had been proclaimed king, especially with David's blessing, he should have accepted this decision. It is revealing of his hard heart that he acknowledged the event as being ordained by God. Nonetheless, Adonijah couldn't take it. He couldn't respect authority—Solomon's, God's, or even (apparently) David's (cf. 1 Kgs 1:5-6).
It seems to be an American birthright not to respect authority. Our country was forged in the crucible of a violent revolution in which we told crazy King George what to do and where to go. But to reject authority is a serious sin for the Christian. Paul commanded us to pray for our leaders (1 Tim 2:1-3) and Peter instructed Christians both to fear God and honor the emperor (1 Pet 2:17). Respecting authority does not mean we have to look the other way when they make an ungodly decision. It does mean, however, that we disagree with them (and even work against them when necessary) in an honorable way since authority figures exist over us by God's ordination.
2. Anyone with moral bloodguilt on their hands.
On his deathbed, David had instructed Solomon to execute Joab, the same man who had been David's military commander, right-man, and was even the king's nephew. But on two separate occasions (2 Sam 3:28-29; 20:4-10), Joab had murdered two men who were rivals and a threat to his favored position in David's cabinet. For whatever reason, David never disciplined Joab. But he gave instruction to Solomon to do so.
When he learned that Adonijah had been executed and Abiathar the priest had been exiled, Joab feared for his life and sought sanctuary in the Tabernacle. But unlike someone who might be guilty of manslaughter, a murderer had no right to claim this sanctuary. Even Benaiah, Solomon's new commander commissioned with executing Joab, expressed reservations about striking down Joab. But Solomon ordered the deed done anyway.
Joab's sins are eloquently expressed by David in 2:5. By committing murder in peacetime, Joab had donned war and bloodshed as a belt and as sandals on his feet. In Hebrew thought, the waist or gut (belt) was the seat of one's character. The feet (and by extension the idea of "walking") exhibited a way of life. In other words, Joab's character and way of life were soaked in bloody violence. Joab had sided against Solomon, and so David knew that he would be a dangerous enemy. He could not be allowed to live. It was time for Joab to pay for his sins.
Because we are a loving, forgiving people (and, at times, a little naive), Christians sometimes turn a blind eye towards people's sinful lifestyle, especially when that person also claims to be "one of us." Admit it, we have a bad habit of being hyper-critical of the sins of the world, but rather lax about the sins of those whom we consider to be brothers and sisters. However, this is exactly the opposite of what Paul instructed the Corinthians to do (1 Cor 5:12-13). Later, he warned that evil companions corrupt good morals (1 Cor. 15:33). Christians must be aware of being in close association with those who have blatant, immorality in their lives. David had never disciplined or executed Joab for his sins, and he had paid dearly for it. But David ordered Solomon not to make the same mistake. I pray we don't either.
3. Anyone who does not respect boundaries.
The final person David warned Solomon about is Shimei, the former estate manager of Saul, who had cursed David when he had been on the run from Absalom. David later forgave Shimei, presumably in a fit of bipartisanship. But here, he ordered Solomon to eliminate his threat. At the end of 1 Kgs 2, we find that Shimei agreed to live under house arrest in Jerusalem. I used to think this wasn't a bad sentence. But we must bear in mind that Jerusalem was still a small village at this point. It wasn't yet the thriving metropolis we often think of. If Jerusalem had been a West Texas town at this point, it might or might not have had a Dairy Queen, and certainly no Whataburger.
Shimei, on the other hand, was a wealthy businessman accustomed to traveling on a regular basis. Though he was able to stay at home for three years, he finally cracked when his slaves went missing. He went to Gath to fetch them, breaking his parole. Solomon summoned Shimei to the palace, reminded Shimei that he had broken his oath to the king, and ordered Shimei's execution.
Of the three executions in this chapter, it might seem as if Shimei got the rawest deal of all. But Shimei was a man who could not respect boundaries. He cursed David, and you don't curse the Lord's anointed. He left Jerusalem after the king told him not to. It might seem that Shimei's sin was that he did not respect authority, much like Adonijah. But while some express outright disdain for authority and try to usurp it actively, others rebel in a passive-aggressive way by quietly crossing lines that they shouldn't.
To be successful in our Christian walk, we must sometimes draw lines. "'All things are lawful,' but not all things are helpful. 'All things are lawful,' but not all things build up," Paul says in 1 Cor. 10:23. To avoid things that are unhelpful and do not build up, we must draw lines from time to time. We cannot bind these lines on anyone else. But at the same time, I think it's wise to avoid those who exhibit no reservations about crossing boundaries. Sometimes, boundaries act as guardrails, keeping us from plunging off the cliff and committing spiritual suicide.
Christians are called to be kind and gracious to everyone, but when it comes to choosing friends, spouses, and close associates, let us beware of those who do not respect authority, those with moral bloodguilt on their hands, and those who do not respect boundaries. Like Solomon, doing so will establish us as successful in the Kingdom of God and equip us for the work the Lord has for us to do.
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