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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

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Commentary on 1 Kings

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The first major section of the two books, 1 Kings 1:1–11:41 , documents Solomon's reign over Judah and Israel.

Solomon's Accession to Power ( 1:1–2:46 )

( 1:1–4 ) David's Weakness and Old Age

The opening scene of Kings shows King David as an old and impotent man, shivering with cold. Such a depiction of a highly respected king is probably unique in ancient historiography. No man is deified by the Bible, not even David. Even the beautiful young Abishag cannot arouse him, though she later turns the wheel of history significantly without us ever learning of one word or feeling from her ( 2:17, 22 ).

( 1:5–10 ) The Parties in the Struggle for Succession to the Throne

The time for David's succession seems to have arrived. Adonijah, who is the oldest of David's sons following the death of his brothers Amnon and Absalom (2 Sam 13; 18; cf. 2 Sam 3:2–5 ) announces his ambitions. Unfortunately he does it in precisely the same manner as Absalom had once done and failed (2 Sam 15:1 ). The narrator qualifies this behaviour negatively (‘exalted himself’). David, whose motives are unclear, makes no comment on the activity. Is he simply too old? Adonijah seems to have understood the paternal silence as implied approval. He finds support with the leading personalities and classes in the land of Judah: with Joab, commander of the militia (cf. 2 Sam 20:23; 24:1–9 ), with Abiathar, a country priest and trusted old companion of David (cf. 1 Sam 22:20–3; 2 Sam 15:24–9 ), with Judean court civil servants and members of the royal family. Solomon, however, has ambitions of his own. Although he is only the tenth in the line of David's sons (cf. 2 Sam 3:2–5; 5:14–16 ) he has the political and military heavyweights of the city of Jerusalem on his side: the mercenary general Benaiah, with his élite troops stationed on the premises (2 Sam 20:23; 23:8–39 ), the high priest Zadok (2 Sam 15:24–9 ) and the prophet Nathan (2 Sam 7; 12 ). The situation is tense, particularly because Adonijah—as Absalom had once done (2 Sam 13:23–9; 15:7–12 )—invites members of his party to a great feast at a well, probably in the valley of Kidron. We do not discover what he has in mind.

( 1:11–37 ) David's Decision in Favour of Solomon

The story unfolds within the confines of the palace walls. The narrator reports as if he were there at the time. Two people are constantly in dialogue as the drama of the ensuing events escalates: Nathan talks to Bathsheba (Solomon's mother, cf. 2 Sam 11–12 ), Bathsheba talks to David, David to Nathan, David to Bathsheba; finally David gives a firm order to Zadok, Nathan, and Benaiah: Solomon should be anointed king. Two questions remain open until the end: whether Adonijah actually allows himself to be proclaimed king, and whether David had really sworn an oath in favour of Solomon in the past. One thing, however, is finally certain. David abdicates to make way for Solomon. Again his motives are unclear. Has he been manipulated? Is he bound to his word? Has he more affection for Solomon than for Adonijah? Is he in favour of centralized state government, more likely under Solomon and his Jerusalem party than under Adonijah and his Judeans?

( 1:38–53 ) Solomon's Accession to Power

The anointing of Solomon takes place at the well of Gihon, just below the palace grounds. The Cherethites and Pelethites are present: David's powerful and readily available mercenary troop (see 2 Sam 15:18 ). The holy oil is brought from the tent in which the ark of the covenant stands (2 Sam 6:17 ). Solomon's accession thus has heavenly blessing. The people (are only soldiers present or are these the people of Jerusalem?) cheer in celebration. The noise strikes fear into the festive society of Adonijah. A trusted messenger, Jonathan ben Abiathar (cf. 2 Sam 17:17–21 ) brings the shocking news of Solomon's accession to the throne. Adonijah capitulates before the turn of events. He flees to the altar, certainly standing in the tent: the holiness of the latter will offer him amnesty (cf. Ex 21:13–14 ). Solomon promises him protection, though only on probation.

( 2:1–12 ) David's Bequest to Solomon

It is the first and last time that David and Solomon speak to each other, or more precisely that David speaks to Solomon. He first gives him a spiritual warning. He must keep the laws of YHWH. In Israel everyone, even the king, falls under God and his laws. The question whether the Davidic covenant in 2 Sam 7:11–16 is fulfilled depends on the king's loyalty to the Torah. The expression ‘law of Moses’ hints probably at Deuteronomy. vv. 1–4 are unmistakably Deuteronomistic (cf. Deut 6:1–3; Josh 1:1–9 ). Then the tone changes: David complains to the ‘wise’ Solomon about his enemies Joab and Shimei (cf. 2 Sam 3:27; 20:9–10; 16:5–14 —but also 19:24 ) and incites him to murder. The ensuing wave of purges is thus clearly legitimized. Encouragement to reward the old Barzillai (v. 7, cf. 2 Sam 17:26–9; 19:32–9 ), can hardly brighten the bleak picture. David can now die in peace. He is buried in the ‘city of David’, i.e. the necropolis of the descendants of David on the Ophel Hill in Jerusalem, which is said to be visible still today in the form of some caves. David is reported to have reigned for forty years—a conspicuously round number. The seven years in Hebron (cf. 2 Sam 2–5 ) could be historically correct. The rest is probably an estimate.

( 2:13–25 ) The Elimination of Adonijah

Having remained quiet for some time, Adonijah begins to dig his own grave. He lusts after the beautiful Abishag of Shunam. This is dangerous, since she has, after all, lain in his father's bed. Proud and submissive at the same time, he first tells Bathsheba about his frustrated ambitions for the throne: now, all he wants is Abishag. Adonijah has correctly recognized the power and influence of the queen mother (as the ceremonial in v. 19 shows), but he fails to understand her intentions and character. She seems to champion Adonijah's cause, but by slipping in the phrase ‘your brother’, she rouses Solomon's guilty conscience and awakens his fears. The latter immediately orders Adonijah's execution and lets the unscrupulous Benaiah carry it out. To our consternation, Solomon refers to the Davidic covenant as justification: was it meant to be invoked in this way?

( 2:26–7 ) The Elimination of Abiathar

Solomon does not dare to harm David's trusted priest and successful minister. He does, however, relieve him of all his duties and send him into exile in Anathoth, a small country town about 5km north of Jerusalem. Jeremiah, who also originates from here (Jer 1:1; 32 ), could be his descendant. It is interesting that David mentions neither Abiathar nor Adonijah in his will. Their fate depends solely on Solomon.

( 2:28–35 ) The Elimination of Joab

Alarmed by the escalating purge, Joab flees to the holy tent. Even Benaiah is incapable of killing him at the altar. Joab cleverly refuses to leave the holy place. In irony, Solomon interprets the pathetic statement ‘I will die here’ literally. Benaiah murders Joab at the altar, following Solomon's explicit orders. This is a serious crime against Israel's religion and law. Even Solomon's justifying speech in vv. 31b–33 (which is attributable to the same author as 2:5–9, 24 ) cannot hide this fact. As a reward for his loyal service Benaiah takes over Joab's post as army chief, whilst Zadok (cf. 1:8, 10, 34, 39 ) becomes Abiathar's successor.

( 2:36–46 ) The Elimination of Shimei

Solomon plays a cruel game with Shimei, probably a former officer in the private guard who has switched sides from Solomon to Adonijah (cf. 1:8,10 ), but who is linked here with the Benjaminite leader of 2 Sam 16:5–14 and 19:17–24 . He places him under house-arrest only to sentence him to death when he is forced to leave his house. The author of vv. 44–5 , the pro-Solomon, prodynastic thinker already known to us, gives Solomon's cynical condemnation (vv. 42–3 ) a religious justification. Once again Benaiah is the willing accomplice. The reader cannot feel pleased about the outcome that the kingdom is now firmly in Solomon's hands.

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