God & Dirty Politics
The opening narrative of 1 Kings is one I never heard in Sunday school or VBS—or in any sermon, for that matter. It's ripe with all the things we tend to keep away from children: sleazy back room politics, royal family intrigue, threats of murder and assassination, and a national beauty pageant (the winner of which gets to sleep in the old king's bed). The opening scene depicts King David in a pathetic state; his once vigorous, battle-tested body can longer keep him warm. Winters in Israel had the tendency of turning stone palaces into cold refrigerators. But it seems there was a second motive for finding a young virgin to keep David warm. In the thinking of the day, if a king was no longer sexually virile, he wasn't fit to serve (we haven't come that far; few are surprised when our government leaders are ensnared in sex scandals). When Adonijah learned that the young virgin Abishag had failed to arouse his father, he set about seizing the kingdom himself, thinking it was his right as the next in line.
What follows is a sordid tale of political intrigue that has a happy ending: Solomon is made king, rather than the scheming Adonijah. Solomon went on to lead Israel into her glory years as a nation. One can only imagine what would have happened had Adonijah seized the throne.
But what lessons are in this story for God's people in the 21st century?
1. "Sin makes cowards of us all."
I'm not sure where I first heard that; it's not original to me. But whoever said it was right. Beginning with his sin with Bathsheba in 2 Sam 11, David's strong leadership (both in his family and in Israel) slowly erodes. The once-charismatic warrior-poet is no longer a loving shepherd of his people, but a borderline tyrant, more interested in counting his military and willing to see thousands murdered in a plague than continue to write timeless psalms (cf. 2 Sam 24). In 1 Kgs 1, David is indecisive at best. Only at the behest of Bathsheba and Nathan does he finally hit the "Go" button and proclaim Solomon his co-regent and successor.
Sin makes cowards of us all, and that is never truer than for leaders. The moral courage required to make tough, necessary decisions evaporates as we cede more of our souls to Satan. I believe with all my heart that any sin can be forgiven, and that people deserve second chances. But there's a reason persistent sin gives cause for concern about a leader's character. A leader who wishes to remain effective over the long haul needs to daily petition God to root out sin in his heart, lest persistent moral failure make him a coward like the aged David.
2. It requires an exceptionally strong leader to extend grace and forgiveness to enemies.
The end of 1 Kgs 1 finds Adonijah clinging to the horns of the altar at the tabernacle, seeking asylum or sanctuary, and begging his half-brother Solomon for clemency for his treason. No one in that age would have faulted Solomon for having Adonijah executed (horns of the altar or no horns of the altar). Adonijah was a rival to the throne, and such rivals had to be exterminated—so the thinking went. If this had been a Godfather movie, Adonijah should have awoken to a horse head in his bed.
But Solomon extended grace, so long as Adonijah promised to behave himself (this was short-lived, by the way).
Some leaders, even ecclesiastical ones, seem to think that strong leadership is exemplified by being punitive and harsh in punishment. But if God's discipline is always meant to correct and restore, what good do leaders achieve by simply being mean? I contend that extending grace and forgiveness to wayward followers and to enemies is the most difficult thing a person/leader can do. Grace and forgiveness are not signs of weakness, but of extraordinary strength. Solomon proved that.
3. God was at work in this story just as he is at work now.
As you read this sordid political tale of Adonijah’s downfall and Solomon's ascendency, you could be excused for asking, "Where is God in this?" But God was at work behind the scenes, using human sinfulness to achieve his purposes. It was not necessarily his will that Adonijah and others behaved the way they did. One can even make the case that Bathsheba and Nathan both act less-than-honorably. But God was at work through them as well. Amidst all the turmoil and uncertainty of the chapter, an Israelite could still trust that Yahweh was in control.
That may be the most relevant lesson of the chapter right now. A week ago, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in the Hobby Lobby case. I naturally had been following that case with great interest since it concerned religious liberty. I'm grateful for the way SCOTUS ruled, but I've wondered how I might have responded if they had ruled otherwise.
How do you react when the president announces a policy or signs an executive order that you know is contrary to biblical values?
How do you react when Congress votes or SCOTUS decides in a way that contradicts God's worldview?
I can name a few inappropriate responses: fear, worry, doubt, anxiety... The list can go on and on. When our country seems to take another step towards hell, it's easy to think that God has abandoned us, to cry about the sky falling. But God has sworn never to abandon his people, the church. We can always be confident that God will never allow anything to occur that he cannot work for his own glory and our good. God may not approve of every act, be he “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11).
If there is one thing I've learned in my study over the last few years, it's that God has no greater commitment to anything than the glory and exaltation of his own Name. And if God's glory is God's #1 priority, I can rest secure in the knowledge that anything that happens will end up bringing God glory.
Father, many of us are filled with fear and uncertainty about the challenges we face in our personal lives, in our churches, and in our nation. We ask that you bless us with wisdom to know whether to act, when to act, and how to act so as to be an instrument of your blessing and providence. But before we act, remind us always that success and revival begin with bowing before your throne and confessing your sovereignty over all things. Help us to always remember that you are in control, and that you cause even the wrath of your enemies to praise you. Help us to long for that day when every knee will bow... In Jesus' name.
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