After having Uriah killed in battle, the prophet Nathan told David that the sword would never leave his house. David had said, not realising he was talking about himself, that the person in Nathan’s story who had stolen the pet lamb of a neighbour should pay four times over. This is exactly what happened to David. He killed one person, taking the wife that he loved. He lost four of his own sons. The last didn’t die until after David’s death.
“When King David was very old, he could not keep warm even when they put covers over him. So his attendants said to him, ‘Let us look for a young virgin to serve the king and take care of him. She can lie beside him so that our lord the king may keep warm.’ Then they searched throughout Israel for a beautiful young woman and found Abishag, a Shunammite, and brought her to the king. The woman was very beautiful; she took care of the king and waited on him, but the king had no sexual relations with her.” (1 Kings 1:1-4 NIV)
This set the scene for what led to his fourth son’s death. The next eldest son, who felt he should have received the throne, was Adonijah. Even before David died he organised for one of the high priests, Abiathar, along with David’s army commander Joab to anoint him as the next king.
When word reached the royal family as to what was transpiring David had the other high priest, Zadok, along with Nathan the prophet and other loyal supporters anoint Solomon as the next king. This put Abiathar’s claim to the throne on hold, at least for a while.
“Now Adonijah, the son of Haggith, went to Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother. Bathsheba asked him, ‘Do you come peacefully?’ He answered, ‘Yes, peacefully.’ Then he added, ‘I have something to say to you.’ ‘You may say it,’ she replied. ‘As you know,’ he said, ‘the kingdom was mine. All Israel looked to me as their king. But things changed, and the kingdom has gone to my brother; for it has come to him from the Lord. Now I have one request to make of you. Do not refuse me.’ ‘You may make it,’ she said. So he continued, ‘Please ask King Solomon – he will not refuse you – to give me Abishag the Shunammite as my wife.’” (1 Kings 2:13-17)
Although this request might seem innocent enough, there is more to this than meets the eye. We can see in his request that Adonijah still had his eye on the throne.
When Solomon learned of this, his reaction was to execute his brother. That might seem a bit extreme to us – after all, he only asked to marry the girl who had slept beside his father to keep him warm. But that was the problem. For her to have been able to be with David, even though she was a virgin, she would in some way have had to become one of David’s ‘wives’. A marriage to a wife of the king would give the husband a claim to the throne. No wonder Solomon reacted the way he did because he realised what Adonijah was doing.
“King Solomon answered his mother, ‘Why do you request Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? You might as well request the kingdom for him – after all, he is my older brother…! ‘May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if Adonijah does not pay with his life for this request!…So King Solomon gave orders to Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and he struck down Adonijah and he died.” (1 Kings 2:22-25)
Although a sad end to David’s legacy it was the beginning of many year’s of peace and prosperity for the Kingdom of Israel.
What do we learn? The obvious lesson is that one sin, one moment’s indiscretion, can have a lasting impact on your life.
Photo by Jon Galloway: drawing of Jerusalem at the time of King David, The Citadel, Jerusalem
Readings for next week: 2 Samuel 24; 1 Kings 1-5