I Kings 2: Mentoring the Wise, A Fresh Start, God’s Plan B

For my weekly quiet time this week, I studied I Kings 2.  Here are four thoughts:

1.  David calls Solomon “wise” (vv 5, 9), even though Solomon later asks God for wisdom in I Kings 3.  Why would Solomon ask God for what he already had: wisdom?  Plus, David’s belief in Solomon’s wisdom does not prevent him from walking Solomon through what he should do.  In v 6, David tells Solomon to act according to his wisdom, right before he commands him to bring Joab’s hoary head to the grave.  In v 9, David tells Solomon that he (Solomon) is wise and knows how to handle Shimei, who cursed David years before (II Samuel 16).  Still, David feels a need to instruct Solomon to bring Shimei’s hoary head to the grave with blood.  If David thinks Solomon is wise, why’s he hold Solomon’s hand? 

Also, whatever wisdom David sees in Solomon, there are others who view Solomon as a big-time dunce.  Adonijah asks Bathsheba to request from Solomon that he give Adonijah David’s maidservant, Abishag, as a wife.  Because Abishag was technically in the harem of David (even though David didn’t sleep with her, I Kings 1:4), Adonijah was making a claim to the throne.  In the ancient Near East, kings inherited the harem of their predecessors (see II Samuel 3:8; 12:8; 16:20), so Adonijah was adding an item to his resume for the Israelite monarchy: “People of Israel, you should support me for king,” Adonijah was planning to say.  “After all, I’m David’s oldest son, and I have one of his concubines!”  For some reason, Adonijah thought Solomon wouldn’t recognize what he was trying to do, even though King Saul’s weak son Ishbosheth years before got upset when his general, Abner, was sleeping with Saul’s concubine (II Samuel 3:8)!  Sleeping with the king’s concubine was more often than not a claim to the throne, and Adonijah obviously didn’t think Solomon was politically astute enough to realize that.

But Solomon did recognize it, so, despite his youth and inexperience, he did have a degree of political wisdom.  David was right to notice wisdom in Solomon, but David wasn’t confident enough to let him figure out everything on his own.  For David, Solomon needed to be pointed in the right direction.  And, even though Solomon made some astute decisions in the first few days of his reign, he still felt that he was in over his head, so he asked God for wisdom in I Kings 3.  After all, one can be smart a few times, but a good king needs to be smart all of the time, for the sake of his people’s well-being.  There’s a lesson here, about how even smart and talented people need training from other people, as well as guidance from God.

2.  Commentaries like to point out the political ramifications of David’s advice to Solomon: David was advising Solomon to subordinate people who could potentially threaten his reign.  Joab and Abiathar were influential and had sided with Adonijah for the monarchy rather than Solomon.  They could be a threat to Solomon’s reign if Solomon did not deal with them, as Solomon appears to recognize in I Kings 2:22, 26.  Moreover, Shimei was a powerful and influential man from Benjamin, who could muster a thousand Benjamites to meet David when David returned to Jerusalem years earlier (II Samuel 19:17).  But Shimei was of the family of Saul, so he had a personal vendetta against David (II Samuel 16:8).  Would Shimei take advantage of Solomon’s inexperience and try to return the kingdom to the house of Saul?  In addition to David’s desire to avenge himself on Shimei for his cursing (see I Kings 2:9), David was probably thinking of Solomon’s political well-being.

But there was another issue as well: David wanted Solomon to have a fresh start spiritually.  In I Kings 2:31-33, Solomon says that Joab’s murder of two innocent people was on the house of David and Solomon.  In a sense, by allowing Joab to live, David and Solomon were partakers of his guilt, even though Joab killed the men without David’s knowledge.  Solomon put Joab to death, therefore, so that David and his house would be clear of guilt and have peace from the LORD. (David was most likely dead when Solomon executed Joab, so did he receive a posthumous peace?)  There may be a lesson here about dealing with the past in order to have a fresh start.

3.  In I Kings 2:28-31, Solomon’s hit-man (if you will) Benaiah kills Joab while Joab is clinging to the horns of the altar, which is within the tabernacle.  Benaiah does so in obedience to Solomon.  Was Solomon right to order this?  Leviticus 21 and Numbers 19 go out of their way to keep human death away from the sanctuary, mandating ritual purification for those who touch a human corpse; while animals were slaughtered for sacrifices in the tabernacle, human death could defile God’s holy place.  Exodus 21:14 may be sensitive to this belief, for it commands that a presumptuous killer be removed from the altar before his execution.  Yet, Solomon has Joab killed while Joab is still clinging to the altar, thereby defiling the sanctuary with a human corpse. 

Did Solomon want to appear decisive before Benaiah to gain his respect?  Did Solomon’s disrespect for God’s sanctuary in the early days of his reign desensitize him to God, making him the sort of person who later apostasized to please his foreign wives?  C.S. Lewis once said, “Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible” (see Randy Olds’ post, Good and Evil at Compound Interest).  God was giving David’s house a fresh start spiritually, a chance to get rid of a murderer who was bringing guilt on the monarchy of Israel.  Yet, Solomon failed to acknowledge and correct a character flaw that he had—a disrespect for the things of God—and this seed grew into a poisonous plant later on in his reign.

4.  Solomon removes Abiathar from the high priesthood.  Abiathar is from the house of Eli, which God cursed in I Samuel 2.  In fact, I Kings 2:27 states that Solomon’s removal of Abiathar fulfilled God’s curse on the house of Eli.  In I Samuel 2:30, a prophet tells Eli that God had promised that Eli’s house would serve God forever, but Eli’s sons pretty much blew that promise through their sins.

Abiathar’s replacement was Zadok, who, according to I Chronicles 6:4ff. and 24:3, was descended from Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron.  Phinehas had a special place in God’s heart, for Phinehas killed a couple of idolaters in his zeal for the LORD, prompting God to promise him an everlasting priesthood (Numbers 25:11; Psalm 106:30-31).  For a while, Phinehas had control of the sanctuary (Judges 20:28), but it somehow got removed from his family and fell to the family of Ithamar, another son of Aaron, from whom Eli was descended (I Chronicles 24:3).  Now that Abiathar has been removed by Solomon, the priesthood has returned to the house of God’s favored priest, Phinehas, since Zadok is a descendant of Phinehas.

This is kind of weird.  God promised Eli that his house would serve forever, but years before, God also promised Phinehas an everlasting priesthood.  Eli’s sons blew God’s promise to their house, so God got to go with his original promise, the one to Phinehas, depending on how you read that.  In Numbers 25, God technically didn’t say that Phinehas would be high priest, but that he’d have an everlasting priesthood.  Yet, where was the line of Phinehas when Eli was running the tabernacle?  It didn’t seem to be around!  What kind of priesthood is that?  In a sense, the house of Phinehas got back the priesthood when David appointed Zadok to be co-priest with Abiathar (II Samuel 8:7).   

It’s kind of like the deal with Saul.  In I Samuel 13, Saul disobeys Samuel’s instructions, and Samuel says that God would’ve given Saul an eternal dynasty had he simply obeyed; instead, God will seek out a replacement for Saul, a man after God’s own heart (vv 13-14).  David looks like God’s Plan B!  Yet, was he God’s Plan B?  God had promised years before that the scepter would not depart from Judah (Genesis 49:10), which was David’s tribe, whereas Saul’s was Benjamin.  Moreover, God evidently had a special concern for David’s family, for he was involved in the life of David’s ancestors, Ruth and Boaz.

Historical-critics would probably see different voice in the Hebrew Bible, and that’s a possibility.  But can there be a lesson here?  Tim Keller liked to teach that what appears to be God’s Plan B is actually his Plan A.  After Jacob disobeyed God and got sent away from his family to be with his relatives in a faraway place, he married Leah and became the ancestor of the Messiah.  Was Jesus Christ God’s Plan B, a result of Jacob’s mistake?  Tim Keller said that the lesson here is that nobody can ruin our life, not even us!  Even if we make a mistake, God can redeem that for his purposes.

That could be.  I don’t think that should be an excuse for carelessness, though, since mistakes can have serious consequences.  The sins of Eli’s sons had ripples on his descendant Abiathar decades later.  But God still has a plan, and his Plan B can be redemptive, like his Plan A.           

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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