1 Kings 1 Explained: The Struggle for David’s Throne

1 Kings 1 Explained

1 Kings 1 narrates the story of King David in his old age, struggling with health and the looming question of his successor. As David’s ability to rule weakens, his son Adonijah self-proclaims his right to the throne, unaware of David’s promise to Bathsheba to crown their son Solomon.

This sets the stage for a strategic intervention by the prophet Nathan and Bathsheba, who remind David of his commitment.

The chapter details the swift actions taken by David to anoint Solomon as king, a decision that quells Adonijah’s aspirations and shapes the future of the Israelite monarchy.

1 Kings 1:1-4, King David’s Old Age and Abishag’s Care

The opening verses of 1 Kings 1 set the stage for the narrative by portraying King David in his old age.

David’s physical frailty and inability to keep warm, even with blankets, symbolize the diminishing of his strength and his waning influence as a leader.

Now King David was old and advanced in years. And although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm. Therefore his servants said to him, “Let a young woman be sought for my lord the king, and let her wait on the king and be in his service. Let her lie in your arms, that my lord the king may be warm.” So they sought for a beautiful young woman throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king. The young woman was very beautiful, and she was of service to the king and attended to him, but the king knew her not.

1 Kings 1:1-4, ESV

The introduction of Abishag, a young woman brought to care for David, highlights the king’s vulnerability. Her role is to serve and provide warmth to the aging king, reflecting a significant shift in David’s life – from a powerful, active ruler to a dependent, frail figure.

This transition not only marks the end of an era but also foreshadows the upcoming struggle for succession.

1 Kings 1:5-10, Adonijah’s Attempt to Become King

Adonijah, David’s son, takes advantage of his father’s weakened state to assert his claim to the throne. His self-exaltation, chariots, and fifty men running before him all symbolize his ambition and desire for power.

Now Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king.” And he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, “Why have you done thus and so?” He was also a very handsome man, and he was born next after Absalom.

1 Kings 1:5-6, ESV

Adonijah’s actions are contrasted with David’s passivity. The text notes that David never rebuked Adonijah, which may indicate either David’s approval, neglect, or inability to control his son’s ambitions.

This lack of paternal discipline sets the stage for the ensuing conflict over the royal succession.

He conferred with Joab the son of Zeruiah and with Abiathar the priest. And they followed Adonijah and helped him. But Zadok the priest and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada and Nathan the prophet and Shimei and Rei and David’s mighty men were not with Adonijah.

Adonijah sacrificed sheep, oxen, and fattened cattle by the Serpent’s Stone, which is beside En-rogel, and 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 mighty men or Solomon his brother.

1 Kings 1:7-10, ESV

In these verses, Adonijah aligns himself with influential figures like Joab and Abiathar. However, the notable absence of key figures like Nathan, Benaiah, and the mighty men suggests a division among David’s loyalists. This division is critical in understanding the political landscape and the ensuing struggle for power.

1 Kings 1:11-27, Nathan and Bathsheba’s Plan to Thwart Adonijah

The prophet Nathan and Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, devise a plan to counter Adonijah’s ambitions.

Nathan’s involvement is crucial, as prophets often played significant roles in anointing and legitimizing kings in Israel.

Then Nathan said to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon, “Have you not heard that Adonijah the son of Haggith has become king and David our lord does not know it? Now therefore come, let me give you advice, that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. Go in at once to King David, and say to him, ‘Did you not, my lord the king, swear to your servant, saying, “Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne”? Why then is Adonijah king?’ Then while you are still speaking with the king, I also will come in after you and confirm your words.”

1 Kings 1:11-14, ESV

Their strategy involves Bathsheba reminding David of his promise to make Solomon king, followed by Nathan’s confirmation of the situation. This plan not only aims to secure Solomon’s succession but also to remind David of his responsibilities and promises.

While she was still speaking with the king, Nathan the prophet came in. And they told the king, “Here is Nathan the prophet.” And when he came in before the king, he bowed before the king, with his face to the ground. And Nathan said, “My lord the king, have you said, ‘Adonijah shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne’? For he has gone down this day and has sacrificed oxen, fattened cattle, and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the king’s sons, the commanders of the army, and Abiathar the priest. And behold, they are eating and drinking before him, and saying, ‘Long live King Adonijah!’ But me, your servant, and Zadok the priest, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and your servant Solomon he has not invited. Has this thing been brought about by my lord the king and you have not told your servants who should sit on the throne of my lord the king after him?”

1 Kings 1:22-27, ESV

Nathan’s entry and confirmation of Adonijah’s actions put pressure on David. His approach, which is both strategic and respectful, highlights the gravity of the situation and the urgency of David’s decision.

1 Kings 1:28-37, David’s Declaration to Make Solomon King

David’s response to the situation is decisive.

He reaffirms his oath to Bathsheba, ensuring Solomon’s ascension to the throne. This moment is pivotal, as it represents David’s final significant act as king.

Then King David answered, “Call Bathsheba to me.” So she came into the king’s presence and stood before the king. And the king swore, saying, “As the Lord lives, who has redeemed my soul out of every adversity, as I swore to you by the Lord, the God of Israel, saying, ‘Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne in my place,’ even so will I do this day.”

1 Kings 1:28-30, ESV

David’s instructions to Zadok, Nathan, and Benaiah to anoint Solomon at Gihon symbolize the transfer of power and the legitimacy of Solomon’s kingship. The public nature of this event is crucial in establishing Solomon’s authority and countering Adonijah’s claims.

King David said, “Call to me Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada.” So they came before the king. And the king said to them, “Take with you the servants of your lord and have Solomon my son ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon. And let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet there anoint him king over Israel. Then blow the trumpet and say, ‘Long live King Solomon!’

1 Kings 1:32-34, ESV

David’s decision demonstrates his loyalty to God’s will and his commitment to the promises he made. It’s a moment of clarity and decisiveness that shapes the future of Israel.

1 Kings 1:38-40, Solomon Anointed King

Solomon’s anointing is marked by great celebration, signifying the people’s acceptance of his kingship. The public rejoicing contrasts sharply with Adonijah’s private feast and highlights the legitimacy of Solomon’s rule.

So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites went down and had Solomon ride on King David’s mule and brought him to Gihon. There Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the tent and anointed Solomon. Then they blew the trumpet, and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!” And all the people went up after him, playing on pipes, and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth was split by their noise.

1 Kings 1:38-40, ESV

The sound of the trumpet and the people’s joyous shouting underscore the significance of this moment.

Solomon’s anointing not only solidifies his position as king but also represents a new beginning for Israel.

1 Kings 1:41-49, Adonijah’s Guests React to Solomon’s Anointing

The news of Solomon’s anointing reaches Adonijah and his guests, causing fear and panic. Their reaction underscores the fragility of Adonijah’s claim and his lack of true support.

Adonijah and all the guests who were with him heard it as they finished feasting. And when Joab heard the sound of the trumpet, he said, “What does this uproar in the city mean?” While he was still speaking, behold, Jonathan the son of Abiathar the priest came. And Adonijah said, “Come in, for you are a worthy man and bring good news.”

1 Kings 1:41-42, ESV

The swift change in the situation reveals the political dynamics at play and the importance of legitimacy and public support in ancient Israel’s monarchical system. The guests’ quick departure from Adonijah signals their shifting allegiances and the precarious nature of his claim to the throne.

And the king also said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who has granted someone to sit on my throne this day, my own eyes seeing it.’”

Then all the guests of Adonijah trembled and rose, and each went his own way.

1 Kings 1:48-49, ESV

1 Kings 1:50-53, Adonijah Seeks Mercy from Solomon

In the final section, Adonijah, fearing for his life, seeks refuge at the altar.

This act is significant as the altar was a place of sanctuary and implied divine protection.

And Adonijah feared Solomon. So he arose and went and took hold of the horns of the altar. Then it was told Solomon, “Behold, Adonijah fears King Solomon, for behold, he has laid hold of the horns of the altar, saying, ‘Let King Solomon swear to me first that he will not put his servant to death with the sword.’”

1 Kings 1:50-51, ESV

Solomon’s response to Adonijah’s plea for mercy demonstrates his wisdom and political acumen. He spares Adonijah but puts him on notice, setting the tone for his reign as a king who values justice and mercy.

And Solomon said, “If he will show himself a worthy man, not one of his hairs shall fall to the earth, but if wickedness is found in him, he shall die.” So King Solomon sent, and they brought him down from the altar. And he came and paid homage to King Solomon, and Solomon said to him, “Go to your house.”

1 Kings 1:52-53, ESV