1 Kings 2 – “David’s Death; Solomon Takes Charge”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
David orders Solomon to exact vengeance on his enemies. David dies and Solomon kills Adonijah, Joab, and Shimei. He also exiles Abiathar.

II. Photo
Solomon banishes Abiathar: “To the priest Abiathar, the king said, ‘Go to your estate at Anathoth! You deserve to die, but I shall not put you to death at this time, because you carried the Ark of my Lord GOD before my father David and because you shared all the hardships that my father endured.’” (v. 26)

III. Important Verses
1-4: When David’s life was drawing to a close, he instructed his son Solomon as follows:  “I am going the way of all the earth; be strong and show yourself a man. Keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in His ways and following His laws, His commandments, His rules, and His admonitions as recorded in the Teaching of Moses, in order that you may succeed in whatever you undertake and wherever you turn. Then the LORD will fulfill the promise that He made concerning me: ‘If your descendants are scrupulous in their conduct, and walk before Me faithfully, with all their heart and soul, your line on the throne of Israel shall never end!’“
8-9: “You must also deal with Shimei son of Gera, the Benjaminite from Bahurim. He insulted me outrageously when I was on my way to Mahanaim; but he came down to meet me at the Jordan, and I swore to him by the LORD: ‘I will not put you to the sword.’ So do not let him go unpunished; for you are a wise man and you will know how to deal with him and send his gray hair down to Sheol in blood.”
22-25: The king replied to his mother, “Why request Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? Request the kingship for him! For he is my older brother, and the priest Abiathar and Joab son of Zeruiah are on his side.”  Thereupon, King Solomon swore by the LORD, saying, “So may God do to me and even more, if broaching this matter does not cost Adonijah his life!  Now, as the LORD lives, who has established me and set me on the throne of my father David and who has provided him with a house, as he promised, Adonijah shall be put to death this very day!” And Solomon instructed Benaiah son of Jehoiada, who struck Adonijah down; and so he died.

IV. Outline

1-9. David’s last words
    1. Introduction
    2-4. Obey God
    5-6. Punish Joab
    7. Reward Barzillai
    8-9. Punish Shimei
10. David’s death and burial
11. Summary statement
12. Solomon’s rule is established
13-18. Adonijah asks Bathsheba to help him marry David’s attendant
19-25. Solomon is infuriated; Adonijah is killed
26-27. Abiathar is exiled to Anathoth
28-34. Joab is executed at the altar
35. Solomon appoints Benaiah as general and Zadok as priest
36-38. Shimei is put under house arrest
39-46a. Shimei is killed for leaving his home
46b. Summary statement

V. Comment
Chapter 2 records David’s final speech and Solomon’s solidification of power. Solomon exiles Abiathar, kills Joab at the altar, and kills Shimei and Adonijah after having pardoned them. Although the chapter mentions Solomon’s famous “wisdom” (vv. 6, 9), the ruler is portrayed as being severe and iron-fisted.

Many scholars view this chapter as being apologetical in nature. For example, Collins writes: “The enthronement of a new king was often the occasion of a bloodbath in the ancient world, and indeed also in much later times. Solomon acts ruthlessly to eliminate anyone who might be considered a threat. Adonijah, the general Joab who had supported him, and Shimei, who had cursed David, all meet sudden death. The narrative provides an apology for Solomon’s actions by trying to forestall criticism. Solomon, we are told, became king because that was the will of David (although the king was evidently old and infirm). Moreover, David had specifically advised him to eliminate Joab and Shimei… Joab, we are told, deserved to die because of the way he had killed other generals, but he had suffered no consequences for these actions while he was of service to David. Adonijah would have been spared if he had refrained from further agitation, by asking for David’s concubine in marriage. Even Shimei would have been spared if he had abided by the terms offered him by Solomon. Nonetheless, the ruthlessness of Solomon’s actions comes through loud and clear. He takes both Adonijah and Joab from the altars where they had sought refuge. He promises Bathsheba that he will grant her request for Adonijah, but reverses himself when he hears what she asks.” (246-247)

When Joab fears death he flees to the altar: “When the news reached Joab, he fled to the Tent of the LORD and grasped the horns of the altar — for Joab had sided with Adonijah, though he had not sided with Absalom.” (v. 28) Although the altar is not used for sacrifices in this chapter, it is important to describe the function of the horns nevertheless. Milgrom writes: “The function of the altar horns is unknown. Because the name for the altar, mizbeah, literally means ‘the place of slaughter,’ it is likely that originally sacrificial animals were slaughtered on the altar itself, a supposition that is supported by the ancient stories of the binding of Isaac (Gen 22) and the field altar erected by King Saul (1 Sam 14:34). If this be the case, then the altar’s horns might have served as pegs to which the animal could be bound, and which would serve to explain the otherwise enigmatic verse: ‘Bind the festal offering to the horns of the altar with cords’ (Ps 118:27; cf. W. R. Smith 1927: 341 n. 2). Unfortunately, this attractive suggestion becomes snagged on the horns of the incense altar, attested in many Bronze Age finds… whose surface is too small to hold the tiniest sacrificial animal.” (249)

Milgrom suggests that the horns are a synecdoche of the entire altar, much like the extremities of the metzorah and the doorpost of the home. He writes: “The daubing of the horn of the sacrificial altar with the blood of purification offering implies that the entire altar is being purged, on the principle of pars pro toto (see at v 7). The choice of the horns to represent the altar is not arbitrary. The significance of this choice can be deduced through a series of analogies with other uses of sacrificial blood, such as the purification rite of a healed mesora ([Lev] 14:14-17, 25-28), the consecratory rite of new priests ([Lev] 8:23-24; Exod 29:20) and of the new altar (8:11; Exod 29:21), and the smearing of the lintel and doorposts with the blood of the paschal sacrifice (Exod 12:7, 22). The things that receive blood are extremities, the very points of an object, which a hostile force would strike first in attacking it.” (Jacob Milgrom, “Leviticus 1-16” Anchor Bible; New York: Doubleday, 1991)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Cogan, Mordechai. “1 Kings” Anchor Bible vol. 10 (New York: Doubleday, 2000).
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
De Vries, Simon John. “1 Kings” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 12 (Waco, Texas: Wordbooks, 1985).
Longe, Burke O. “1 Kings with an Introduction to Historical Literature” Forms of Old Testament Literature vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1984).
Milgrom, Jacob. “Leviticus 1-16” Anchor Bible vol. 3 (New York: Doubleday, 1991).
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