In my last post I described Adonijah’s effort to become the king of Israel a few years before the death of his father David. After gathering a group of supporters, Adonijah and his party celebrated his coronation by making sacrifices on “the stone Zoheleth, which is beside En-rogel” (1 Kings 1:9). There the people proclaimed: “Long live King Adonijah!” (1 Kings 1:25).
The word “stone Zoheleth” means “the stone of the creeping one.” The stone was located near En-rogel and it was associated with a god whose symbol was a serpent. En-rogel was a spring located on the border between Judah and Benjamin. The selection of En-rogel as the place of Adonijah’s coronation carries an important symbolism. By selecting En-rogel Adonijah was declaring that his kingship had the support of the tribe of Benjamin, the birth place of Saul, Israel’s first king.
While Adonijah and his party were celebrating his coronation as king, Nathan was in the palace devising a plan to invalidate Adonijah’s kingship and crown Solomon as David’s successor. Although Nathan was not invited to Adonijah’s coronation, he was aware of what was happening and decided to take action to place Solomon on David’s throne. Nathan sent an urgent message to Bathsheba, David’s wife and the mother of Solomon. His purpose was to inform Bathsheba of Adonijah’s coronation and the danger she and Solomon faced if Adonijah’s kingship were to continue.
When Bathsheba came to Nathan, he asked her: “Have you not heard that Adonijah, the son of Haggith, has become king without our lord David’s knowing it? Now then, let me advise you how you can save your own life and the life of your son Solomon.” By identifying Bathsheba as Solomon’s mother and Adonijah as the son of Haggith (1 Kings 1:11), the writer emphasizes the rivalry that existed between the two women.
Nathan’s advice to Bathsheba was simple and direct: “Go in at once to King David, and say to him, ‘Did you not, my lord the king, swear to your servant, saying: Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne? Why then is Adonijah king?’” (1 Kings 1:13).
The meaning and implication of Nathan’s words have been debated by scholars. Marvin Sweeney, in his commentary I & II Kings (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), p. 56 concludes that Nathan is using “a combination of truth and deceit to persuade Bathsheba to take action.” There are several reasons to doubt the veracity of Nathan’s words.
First, Nathan warns Bathsheba that her life and the life of her son will be in danger if Adonijah becames king. Although a threat to Bathsheba and Solomon is never mentioned in the text, it is evident that their lives would be in danger because they represented a threat to Adonijah’s kingship.
Second, Nathan reminded Bathsheba that David had sworn to her that Solomon would succeed him on the throne: “Did you not, my lord the king, swear to your servant, saying: Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne?” (1 Kings 1:13).
There is a diversity of opinion among scholars about the nature of David’s promise to Bathsheba. Since David’s promise to Bathsheba is not mentioned anywhere in the text, Sweeney (p. 56) says that Nathan’s words are not true and that such a promise was never made. However, it is possible that David indeed made such a promise to Bathsheba at the time their first child died. If such a promise was made, then the promise was made in the secrecy of the bedroom as a way to console a grieving mother for the loss of her son.
It is also possible that Nathan’s true motive was political since the kingship of Adonijah probably would give Abiathar additional power and influence as the high priest because he had supported Adonijah while Nathan had supported Solomon. Whatever Nathan’s motives were, he convinced Bathsheba to follow his plan. According to the plan devised by the prophet, once Bathsheba pled her case to David, Nathan would come in and confirm what Bathsheba had spoken.
When Bathsheba came before David, she repeated the words Nathan had spoken to her. Bathsheba’s words in verses 20-21 demonstrate that David’s promise to her was unknown to the people of Israel since all Israel was waiting for David to announce who would become king after him (1 Kings 1:20).
While Bathsheba was speaking to David, the king was told that Nathan needed to talk to him (1:22-23). Bathsheba left the room, Nathan came before David and repeated Bathsheba’s words to David and then complained that he, Solomon, and a group of David’s supporters were left out of the celebration (v. 27). Nathan also emphasized the seriousness of the situation by saying that those who conspired against David were already acclaiming Adonijah as king.
David was unaware that Nathan and Bathsheba had devised this plan to convince him to select Solomon as his successor. Nathan’s words affirmed Bathsheba’s own words and served to dissipate any doubts David had about her claims.
As Burke O. Long, in his article “A Darkness Between Brothers: Solomon and Adonijah,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 19 (1981), p. 85, wrote:
“The king is now convinced of his earlier oath regarding a successor (he believes an apparent lie, or believes himself infirm enough to have forgotten), and he is now certain of the gravity of Adonijah’s challenge. Not only does David now realize the personal dangers to wife and son, who hold a special place in court (cf. 2 Samuel 11-12; 12:24-25), but he can identify both the loyalists and the rebels.”
Because of Nathan’s and Bathsheba’s words, David believed that Adonijah and his supporters were planning to kill his wife and his son Solomon. David came to the conclusion that Adonijah’s coup was a threat to his kingship. Faced with a serious political crisis that could undermine the future of his dynasty, David took decisive action and ordered that Solomon be placed on the royal mule and taken to the Gihon Spring in a procession and there be anointed as his successor.
In addition to Nathan, David commanded that Zadok the priest and Benaiah son of Jehoiada accompany Solomon to the Gihon Spring so that Zadok and Nathan could anoint Solomon as the new king. In addition, Benaiah took the Cherethites and the Pelethites, the foreign mercenaries that formed David’s personal guard. Solomon rode on King David’s mule and he and his party went to the Gihon. At the Gihon, Zadok took the horn of oil which was in the tent of the Lord and anointed Solomon as the new king. When the trumpet was blown, the people who came to the ceremony proclaimed in a great voice: “Long live King Solomon!” (1 Kings 1:38-39).
The presence of the Cherethites and the Pelethites at the anointing of Solomon was crucial to the success of Solomon’s kingship. Adonijah had the support of Joab and the regular army of Israel. Solomon had the support of Benaiah and the foreign mercenaries. Since Solomon had the better and stronger army on his side, his claim to the throne was affirmed by the support he received from his father and from David’s personal army.
When the news of Solomon’s anointing reached Adonijah and his guests, “all of Adonijah’s guests jumped up in panic from the banquet table and quickly scattered” (1 Kings 1:49 NLT). The hasty departure of Adonijah’s guests was justified because of their misplaced loyalty since they had supported Adonijah’s and not Solomon’s claim to the throne.
Adonijah also was afraid of Solomon (v. 50). Adonijah was afraid for his life because he expected retaliation from Solomon. In his panic, Adonijah sought asylum in the tent of worship and there “took hold of the horns of the altar” (1 Kings 1:50). The horns of the altar was the place where the blood of the sacrifices were poured. By taking refuge in a holy place, Adonijah was seeking God’s protection and the hope that Solomon would spare his life.
In my next post I will conclude my study of the struggle for David’s throne and discuss how Solomon was able to secure his claim for his father’s throne.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary