Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Son of David (I Kings 1-3)

We begin the book of Kings with the shift of power from King David to Bathsheba’s son Solomon. This is a precarious time for any kingdom, where the time is ripe for a new ruler to gain the throne. Civil war is a distinct possibility; the people hold their breath.

Thankfully, the body count turns out to be quite low. Adonijah, one of David’s sons, declares himself king, with the support of Joab the general and Abiathar the priest. But David isn’t dead. Nathan the prophet and Bathsheba the queen plead with him to publicly make Solomon his heir. David agrees. For his presumptuous ambition, Adonijah eventually pays with his life.

In yet another morally troublesome passage, David advises Solomon to kill Joab and Shimei – the former for murdering Abner, and the latter for cursing him. Joab’s case is troubling because David never did anything to him himself (presumably for political reasons) and because he had been loyal to David since then. The latter is troubling because David had seemingly forgiven him when he apologized. Joab is fair game now that he backed the wrong guy, but I prefer justice independent from politics. Shimei is executed for a subsequent crime rather than the one David forgave him for, but I prefer forgiveness to be full and genuine. I suppose they didn’t ask my opinion.

At any rate, Solomon does what he must to secure his kingdom, tying up some of his father’s loose ends in the process. After making a marriage alliance with Egypt, Solomon has a dream where the Lord promises to give him anything he asks. Solomon responds:
O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?
The Lord is pleased, and promises Solomon wisdom, with riches and honor thrown in for good measure. I can’t help but be intrigued by this request to “discern good and evil.” Was that not the tree forbidden to Adam and Eve? Why is the forbidden fruit now so freely and gladly given? Perhaps the Lord’s response holds a clue:
Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. … And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Obeying the Lord gives safe grounds for the pursuit of the knowledge of good and evil.

We are then treated to a case of Solomon using his wisdom to do justice for his people. It is the famous incident where two prostitutes claim to be the mother of a single child. The king orders the child sliced in two, and a half given to each. The true mother then screams for the baby to be given to her rival, and thus the king knows her for who she is. The people are amazed:
And all Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice.
Solomon is doing well.

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