Adonijah: Rebel without a clue

1 Kings 1, assorted verses

The historical books of 1 and 2 Kings continue the history of Israel began in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel.  The early chapters of 1 Kings give us details of Solomon’s reign, which after his father David’s, was the most significant period of peace, prosperity, and political unity in Israel’s checkered history.

The historical account in Kings begins with the very sad circumstances of Solomon’s ascension to the throne and the pathetic behavior of another son of David, Adonijah.   Like so many Jewish men of the time, Adonijah had been given a promising name by his father David in hopes that he might live up to it; “Adonijah” means my Lord is Jehovah, but as we will see, Adonijah’s heart was, in reality, full of himself.

1.  Setting the scene, verses 1—4

When King David was very old, he could not keep warm even when they put covers over him.  (verse 1)

David’s roller-coaster of a life was drawing to a close, and verse 1 indicates that he had grown feebler as he aged.  As the story opens, King David is around 70 and in very poor health, likely due to the years he spent in exile and the rigors of battle, not to mention the stresses that came with managing a massive kingdom as well as a highly dysfunctional family.  It is hard for us conceive of David as being a feeble, senile, and indecisive old man; we always picture him as either as a shepherd boy or as a handsome, vital King.  But the years had piled on David and they had not been kind.

In the New Testament, we read a verse that serves to sum up David’s life:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. People reap what they sow.  (Galatians 6:7)

This “rule of the universe” applies equally to every person, even David, who was so dearly loved by God and who returned that love in kind.  Despite that close relationship, David was a sinner, like us all, and like us all he suffered the consequences of a terrible decision he made.  Because of his disgraceful act of adultery and the indirect murder he committed to cover it up, a series of disasters was let loose on him and his family that, probably more than any other factor, caused the King to govern sloppily and indecisively in his declining years, contributed to his poor health, and led to the problems he was about have with his son, Adonijah.  This awful chain of events included Amnon’s rape of his half-sister Tamar; his subsequent murder by his half-brother Absalom, Tamar’s full brother; Absalom’s failed political coup which led to his death; David’s ill-conceived census which led to a terrible plague; and Shibni’s revolt.  All of these horrendous experiences, together with the knowledge of his sin—though forgiven by God and his people—robbed King David the mental, physical, and even spiritual prowess he possessed in his prime.

That brings us to the story of Adonijah, the young man who wanted to be king of Israel.  These verses give us a clue as to why Adonijah was the way he was:

Now Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, put himself forward and said, “I will be king.” So he got chariots and horses ready, with fifty men to run ahead of him. (His father had never rebuked him by asking, “Why do you behave as you do?” He was also very handsome and was born next after Absalom.)  (verses 5, 6)

2.  Adonijah exalted, verses 5—10

It seems as though Adonijah and many others in the court were well aware of God’s selection and David’s declaration of who the next king of Israel was to be.  Nevertheless, Adonijah, aided and abetted by David’s once-faithful military chief of staff Joab, and Abiathar, one of two high priests, conspired to take advantage of David’s ill health and seize the throne.   There is a great lesson here as we realize how utterly tragic it was that these two men, life-long loyal supporters and friends of David, would turn against him.  Joab had stuck with David for years, but now he sees David failing and, wanting to be on the winning side, chooses to support Adonijah.  Abiathar the priest had been the sole survivor of King Saul’s merciless massacre of Israel’s priests.  He had come to David while young David was in exile and had served faithfully as the King’s high priest for years.  This only serves to illustrate that the only One a person can truly depend on is God, not any man.  Man will always let you down.

These men, and especially the priest Abiathar, must have known that this coup was in direct opposition to God’s will and David’s explicit wishes.  But Adonijah, like Absalom before him, was self-willed, selfish, and full of himself.  He apparently was never properly disciplined by his father, which only added to this rebellious nature.

Adonijah then sacrificed sheep, cattle and fattened calves at the Stone of Zoheleth near En Rogel. He invited all his brothers, the king’s sons, and all the royal officials of Judah, but he did not invite Nathan the prophet or Benaiah or the special guard or his brother Solomon.  (verses 9, 10)

He followed Absalom’s pattern and exalted himself; he put forth himself as the natural successor and obvious successor to the throne.  There were, however, some influential men who did not support Adonijah.

  • Zadok, a warrior and priest who served alongside Abiathar.  Zadok was a descendant of Eleazar, the third son of Aaron, the high priest.
  • Benaiah, son of Jehoiada, was well-known as one of the greatest of David’s “Mighty Men.
  • Nathan, the prophet, who, though far behind the scenes, played such an important role in David’s reign.

These men would have nothing to do with Adonijah and were not part of Adonjah’s carefully crafted scheme to impress and bride other influential men.

What we see happening with Adonijah reminds us of what Jesus taught in Luke 18:14—

For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

3.  Adonijah ignored, 11—40

Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the sacred tent and anointed Solomon. Then they sounded the trumpet and all the people shouted, “Long live King Solomon!” And all the people went up after him, playing pipes and rejoicing greatly, so that the ground shook with the sound.  (verses 39, 40)

It was Nathan the prophet who took the lead in initiating a plan that stifled Adonijah’s political ambitions.  The wise prophet correctly understood that should Adonijah be successful, both Bathsheba and Solomon would be mortal danger.  As the favored wife of the King, Nathan knew that David would listen to her, so he urged her to speak to him about what Adonijah was doing and to remind him that Solomon was already chosen to be king.  Nathan would later follow Bathsheba by confirming what she said and tactfully urge the King to act.

The validity of Solomon’s claim to the throne was not the issue; David’s continued inaction was.  The King needed to be roused to action; the feeble old monarch needed to be pushed in making a decision; the future of the kingdom and of Bathsheba and Solomon, depended upon it.

My lord the king, the eyes of all Israel are on you, to learn from you who will sit on the throne of my lord the king after him.  (verse 20)

Act David did, and act quickly!

King David said, “Call in Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet and Benaiah son of Jehoiada.” When they came before the king, he said to them: “Take your lord’s servants with you and have Solomon my son mount my own mule and take him down to Gihon.  There have Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anoint him king over Israel. Blow the trumpet and shout, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ Then you are to go up with him, and he is to come and sit on my throne and reign in my place. I have appointed him ruler over Israel and Judah.”  (verses 32—35)

Even while Adonijah and his cohorts were celebrating, Solomon was being anointed the true king.  The people of the nation obviously saw that Solomon was the true successor to his father’s throne.  The fact that he was mounted on his father’s royal mule demonstrated to everybody who saw Solomon that this anointing had David’s complete blessing.  Had Nathan, Bathsheba, and Zadok not urged David to “do the right thing,” it is likely that the people would have supported Adonijah’s bogus claim to the throne.

Today many people continually exalt themselves above Jesus, who is our anointed King.  Does that offend you?  If you are a believer, it should.  But take heart!  Anybody who tries to exalt themselves at our Lord’s expense will find their feeble claims on His throne or our freedoms will find themselves completely ignored by the Lord.

No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the LORD.  (Isaiah 54:17)

4.  Adonijah confronted and saved, verses 42—49

At this, all Adonijah’s guests rose in alarm and dispersed.

Can you imagine the shock?  Right in the middle of their celebration, the real world invaded.  Notice that Jonathan, the messenger, held nothing back.  The truth has a way of hurting but it also has a way of setting one free.

The gospel is like that.  For those of us who love the Lord and are serving Him, the Word of God is a comfort; but at times, when we fail Him, it can hurt.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  (Hebrews 4:12)

In the case of Adonijah, the truth both hurt and freed.  What happened to Adonijah shows us something of God’s loving forgiveness.  Consider the following:

(a)  Adonijah was scared of Solomon, verse 50a.  And properly so!   Solomon was now king, finding favor in his father’s eyes, in the people’s sight and in the heart of God.  Poor Adonijah was on the exact wrong side of God’s will, and he knew it.  Adonijah was right to be afraid.  The fact is, when anybody sees how awful they truly is when compared to the perfection of God will, they will fear.  There is no living creature that can live out of God’s will without some measure of fear or anxiety.

Here is something a lot of preachers don’t want you to know:  Fear can be a wonderful motivating factor in a sinner’s salvation.  Not fear of man, of course, but fear of an all mighty, all powerful and holy God; this can move a sinner to confession and repentance.  The message of God’s love may move some to seek Him, but some people will only be moved by the fear of God.

(b)  Adonijah’s fear drove him to the altar of God, verse 50b.  It is interesting; the altar held no attraction for the would-be king until the fear of death seized him.  Brought face to face with the magnitude and humiliation of his brought Adonijah to the place of seeking God.  In grabbing the horns of the altar, he was literally binding himself to the altar; he was making a sacrifice of himself!

(c)  Adonijah’s whole life changed, verse 53.  Adonijah came and bowed down to King Solomon, and Solomon said, “Go to your home.” Back in verse 5, we see Adonijah exalting himself but now we see him bowing down before the king.  This rebellious man had been turned into a servant of the King.  Solomon, for his part, treated Adonijah far more fairly than he deserved to be treated!  Obviously Solomon didn’t read Machiavelli!

Adonijah expected to be severely punished by King Solomon because that is exactly how he would have treated Solomon if the roles had been reversed.  But Solomon was far more gracious than Adonijah could have imagined; he guaranteed Adonijah’s safety as long as he behaved himself.

“If he shows himself to be worthy, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground; but if evil is found in him, he will die.”  (verse 52)

To “be worthy” in the context of this verse means that Adonijah would have to renounce any claim he had to the throne and that he would become a supporter of King Solomon.   Solomon, co-regent with his father at this time, bids Adonijah to go home in peace.  The rebel had found peace through the altar of sacrifice.

What a marvelous picture of what our King, Jesus Christ, has done for each repentant sinner.

(c)  2010 Witzend

1 Response to “Adonijah: Rebel without a clue”

  1. 1 Cymo Banda July 20, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    Thanks for this work. It’s of great value

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