This sermon is part of the sermon series "The King Takes His Throne: Solomon's Rise to Power". See series.
In an article entitled "A new kind of urban Christian," Tim Keller argues that "Christians should be a dynamic counterculture. It is not enough for Christians to simply live as individuals in the city. They must live as a particular kind of community. Christians are called to be an alternate city within every earthly city."
The kind of community Keller has in mind is one in which money, sex, and power are used for the glory of God—not selfishly, but sacrificially. Here is how he describes it:
Regarding sex, the alternate city … teaches its members to conform their bodily beings to the shape of the gospel—abstinence outside of marriage and fidelity within. Regarding money, the Christian counterculture encourages a radically generous commitment of time, money, relationships, and living space to social justice and the needs of the poor, the immigrant, and the economically and physically weak. Regarding power, Christian community is visibly committed to power-sharing and relationship-building between races and classes that are alienated outside of the body of Christ.
The Bible has a name for this alternative community: it is called the kingdom of God. One day soon, we will see this kingdom in all its glory, at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. But in the meantime, the struggle to establish his kingdom is fought in every human heart, with each decision we make about our money, our sexuality, and the things in life we want to bring under our control.
The same battle was fought when Solomon established his kingdom in Israel, and if we look carefully at the choices people made either for or against his kingship, we may be able to see ourselves and our own need for a Savior.
The prophecies were coming true. God had promised to "establish" the kingdom of David's son (2 Sam. 7:12). The way these promises came true was not by a divine and supernatural miracle, but by the swift execution of justice. Solomon established his kingdom by eliminating all his enemies.
We were introduced to these enemies even before we met Solomon. First Kings began with an attempted coup, in which David's eldest son Adonijah announced that he would be king (1 Kings 1:5). Once he took the throne, Solomon had to decide what to do with the men who had plotted against his kingdom. His father frankly had advised him to crush them. In his last words and final instructions, David told Solomon to execute vengeance against Joab (1 Kings 2:5-6), and also Shimei, who had cursed David with a mortal curse. This is exactly what Solomon did. The rest of 1 Kings 2 recounts how he executed Adonijah, put Joab to death, and struck down Shimei.
Many commentators are critical of the king for moving down this hit list. Terence Fretheim calls it "politics as usual, but with more than the usual complement of ruthlessness." Walter Brueggemann says that Solomon is guilty of "callous, systematic elimination of all threats." Others have compared Solomon's brutal methods to Machiavelli, or Karl Marx, who believed that every state was founded on violence.
Maybe there is truth to some of these criticisms, and 1 Kings 2 is mainly about power politics. Remember, however, that Solomon was the Lord's anointed king. He had been properly crowned, according to the promise of God. Therefore it was necessary for his kingdom to be established. This was necessary, in fact, for the salvation of the world, for God had promised that our Messiah would come from the line of David and Solomon. Furthermore, everyone in Israel owed their full allegiance to Solomon as the rightful king. This was not merely a matter of politics, but a question of obedient submission to the kingdom of God. If these men were Solomon's rivals, then they were enemies of the crown that God had placed on Solomon's head.
Adonijah and his henchmen thus were guilty of the sin of high treason, which has always rightly been regarded as a capital offense. We are not talking here about men who merely disagreed with Solomon's policies, but about men who wanted to take his very throne. The right and proper way for a king to punish such mortal enemies is not by giving them liberty, but by giving them death, or at least exile. As Dale Ralph Davis has written, "The security of the kingdom requires the elimination of its enemies. The kingdom must be preserved from those trying to destroy and undermine it." To disagree with this is to misunderstand what it means for a king to be the king. As the situation arises, therefore, or as circumstances dictate, Solomon must be wise to follow the counsel of David and establish his kingdom by getting rid of his enemies.
Adonijah's folly: sex and power
The first man Solomon had to deal with was Adonijah, who wanted sex and power more than he wanted the kingdom of God. Adonijah's lust for power had been obvious from the beginning of Kings, when he tried to crown himself the king. But at the very moment he was celebrating his own coronation, Adonijah heard that Solomon had become king over Jerusalem. This made the man fear for his very life. Yet Solomon gave him a second chance. If Adonijah proved himself worthy his life would be spared; but if he was wicked he would surely die (1 Kings 1:52).
At first, Adonijah honored the new and rightful king. Solomon told him to go home in peace, but the next thing we know, he is back at the palace to make an ungodly request that was based on an unholy desire: Adonijah asked Bathsheba, Solomon's mother, to ask King Solomon for Abishag the Shunammite to be his wife. He said, "You know that the kingdom was mine, and that all Israel fully expected me to reign. However, the kingdom has turned about and become my brother's, for it was his from the LORD." This was his new request.
The request may seem small; Adonijah is willing to give up the entire kingdom and even to acknowledge that Solomon's kingship is God's will. All he wants is Abishag's hand in marriage. But notice what a huge sense of entitlement Adonijah still has. Even when he acknowledges Solomon's kingship as the Lord's doing, we sense how bitterly he resents it.
How easy it is for us to take the same attitude when the disappointments of life get in the way of our plans for our kingdom. We suffer a financial setback, or a medical hardship, or a failed relationship. Then, rather than believing that the mercy of Jesus is enough for us, and trusting our King to know what he is doing, we demand something to make up for what we have lost. "I deserve this," we say, and then we take something for ourselves that God does not want us to have—some sinful pleasure, perhaps. Rather than letting go of what we want so that we can have what God wants to give us, we find a way to take what we want for ourselves.
What Adonijah wanted to take was Abishag, the beautiful young woman who attended David when he was on his deathbed. Doubtless his desire was partly sexual. After all, Abishag was the best looking woman in the entire country (see 1 Kings 1:3), and when Adonijah saw her, he wanted her. But he also wanted the power that she represented. Abishag was David's last concubine, and in those days having intercourse with the king's wives was a way to claim the throne. For example, when Absalom tried to take the kingdom away from his father David, he went out on the palace roof to sleep with the king's concubines (2 Sam. 16:21-22). So Adonijah had not abandoned his royal ambitions after all. It was not just Abishag that he wanted; he wanted the whole kingdom.
We are guilty of the same sin whenever we decide that there is even one thing we will not give up for the kingdom of God. Many people refuse to give up the very thing that Adonijah refused to give up: a sexual relationship, or perhaps a private sexual sin. Understand that when we insist on getting our own satisfaction—however we get it—we are saying no to the kingdom of God. We are saying that the mercy of Jesus is not enough for us; we still want to be the king (or the queen, as the case may be). What is the one thing that is keeping you from giving everything for the kingdom of God?
When Bathsheba went before Solomon to make Adonijah's request, the king responded with explosive anger: Now therefore as the LORD lives, who has established me and placed me on the throne of David my father, and who has made me a house, as he promised, Adonijah shall be put to death this day (1 Kings 2:22-25).
Some people may accuse Solomon of overreacting. After all, Adonijah didn't ask for the whole kingdom; he only asked for Abishag. But Solomon rightly perceived that his older brother's foolish request was really a power play. He also knew that Adonijah had influential allies (Joab and Abiathar) who would support his kingly pretensions. So Solomon swore a solemn oath to put Adonijah to death for high treason. Some scholars have called this death sentence a "self-righteous, self-serving decree." But in swearing this oath, the king acknowledged that his kingdom is really God's kingdom, and that therefore it must defended against all its mortal enemies.
Joab's folly: power and violence
The next man that Solomon dealt with was Joab, the general, who put power and violence ahead of the kingdom. David had charged Joab with murder (see 1 Kings 2:5-6). As we saw previously, in order to advance his own agenda and in direct contradiction to David, Joab viciously killed two men in cold blood: Abner and Amasa. Joab was among the men who had opposed Solomon's coronation, and when he heard what happened to Adonijah, he knew that he was a dead man: "When the news came to Joab—for Joab had supported Adonijah although he had not supported Absalom—Joab fled to the tent of the LORD and caught hold of the horns of the altar" (1 Kings 2:28).
Soon the news of what Joab had done reached the royal palace, where Solomon made a swift decision: "And when it was told King Solomon, 'Joab has fled to the tent of the LORD, and behold, he is beside the altar,' Solomon sent Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, saying, 'Go, strike him down' " (1 Kings 2:29). The man who lived by the sword would die by the sword: "So Benaiah came to the tent of the LORD and said to him, 'The king commands, 'Come out.' " But he said, 'No I will die here' " (1 Kings 2:30).
Joab's refusal created a serious dilemma for Benaiah, who did not want to carry out an execution in the courts of the holy tabernacle. So "Benaiah brought the king word again, saying, 'Thus said Joab, and thus he answered me' " (1 Kings 2:30). In response, the king repeated his orders and made it clear why Joab deserved to die. Here is what Solomon said:
Do as he said, strike him down and bury him, and thus take away from me and from my father's house the guilt for the blood that Joab shed without cause. The LORD will bring back his bloody deeds on his own head, because, without the knowledge of my father David, he attacked and killed with the sword two men more righteous and better than himself, Abner the son of Ner, commander of the army of Israel, and Amasa the son of Jether, commander of the army of Judah. So shall their blood come back on the head of Joab and on the head of his descendants forever (1 Kings 2:31-33).
God abhors wrongful violence, and Joab was a violent man. He was guilty of shedding innocent blood, and his bloodguilt for this sin had not yet been paid. It says in Genesis, "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed" (Gen. 9:6). If Solomon did not deal justly with Joab, giving him the punishment that his sins deserved, then he would become guilty himself, for it was his responsibility as king to see that justice was done. Only then could his kingdom be established in peace.
Benaiah did what Solomon said, and executed Joab. His unhappy demise reminds us never to excuse our own love for violence. To batter one's spouse, to strike someone in anger, to use hateful and threatening words, even to think murderous thoughts—these are sins against the peace of humanity and the holiness of God. If we do not repent of our violent hearts, but insist on abusing power to get what we want from other people, there is no place for us in the kingdom of God. Going to church will not save us, any more than going to the tabernacle saved Joab. The only thing that can save us is a blood offering to atone for our guilty souls.
Praise God, this is exactly the offering that Jesus made when he was crucified: a blood atonement for all our sins. It is not enough simply to be desperate for mercy, as Joab was; we must come to God in true repentance for our sins and genuine faith in Jesus Christ. If we hold on to his cross, we will be fully forgiven. As Charles Spurgeon said, in contrasting Joab's unhappy end with the mercy God has for us in Christ: "the Lord has appointed an altar in the person of his own dear Son, Jesus Christ, where there shall be shelter for the very vilest of sinners if they do but come and lay hold thereon."
Shimei's folly: money
The last man to suffer Solomon's wrath was Shimei, who was condemned for putting money ahead of the kingdom of God. We have heard part of his story before. Shimei was the man who threw stones at King David, cursing him and wrongfully accusing him of murder. David had vowed not to kill Shimei, but Solomon was not bound by his father's oath. So in his last words, David advised Solomon not to let Shimei live, but to send him to an early grave .
What Solomon decided to do instead was to place Shimei under house arrest: "Then the king sent and summoned Shimei and said to him, 'Build yourself a house in Jerusalem and dwell there, and do not go out from there to any place whatever. For on the day you go out and cross the brook Kidron, know for certain that you shall die. Your blood shall be on your own head' " (1 Kings 2:36-37). This would keep Shimei in Jerusalem—where Solomon could keep an eye on him—and away from his power basis with the tribe of Benjamin.
Shimei agreed to Solomon's gracious terms, posturing himself as a faithful servant of the king: "And Shimei said to the king, 'What you say is good; as my lord the king has said, so will your servant do.' So Shimei lived in Jerusalem many days" (1 Kings 2:38).Having given his word, all he had to do was stay in Jerusalem.
But Shimei wouldn't sit still, and eventually he violated his parole: "But it happened at the end of three years that two of Shimei's servants ran away to Achish, son of Maacah, king of Gath. And when it was told Shimei, 'Behold, your servants are in Gath,' Shimei arose and saddled a donkey and went to Gath to Achish to seek his servants. Shimei went and brought his servants from Gath" (1 Kings 2:39-40). By chasing his runaway slaves all the way to Philistia, Shimei violated the terms of his arrest. He also broke his promise to the king. He knew it was wrong, but he did it anyway because he wanted to get his property back.
Soon Solomon's spies came to tell him what Shimei had done:
And when Solomon was told that Shimei had gone from Jerusalem to Gath and returned, the king sent and summoned Shimei and said to him, "Did I not make you swear by the LORD and solemnly warn you, saying, 'Know for certain that on the day you go out and go to any place whatever, you shall die'? And you said to me, 'What you say is good; I will obey.' Why then have you not kept your oath to the LORD and the commandment with which I commanded you?" (1 Kings 2:41-43).
Shimei had no good answer to give and nothing he could say in his own defense. He had foolishly disregarded the direct command of his sovereign king, whom he had promised to obey with a solemn oath taken in the presence of God. Therefore Solomon proceeded to pronounce Shimei's doom: "You know in your own heart all the harm that you did to David my father. So the LORD will bring back your harm on your own head. But King Solomon shall be blessed, and the throne of David shall be established before the LORD forever" (1 Kings 2:44-45). Solomon rehearsed Shimei's crimes, both past and present. Then the sentence was quickly executed, as "the king commanded Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and he went out and struck him down, and he died" (1 Kings 2:46).
So Shimei was destroyed, and Solomon's kingdom was established. But was justice really done? Obviously it was stupid for Shimei to leave the city of Jerusalem, but was it sinful enough for him to be punished with death?
To answer this question, remember again that Solomon was the Lord's anointed king and that his dominion was the kingdom of God. The root of Shimei's crime was his refusal to put that kingdom first. His own financial prosperity was more important to him than obedience to the kingdom of God. He was like the rich young man that Jesus commanded to sell everything he had and give his money to the poor (Matt. 19:16-22). The man sadly refused because he loved his money more than he loved the kingdom of God. Shimei made the same ungodly calculation. He wanted to keep all his property for himself. He couldn't bear to let any of it go, even when that meant disobeying the king and breaking his promise to God.
The kingdom of Christ
Each of the men that Solomon executed had one thing that he refused to give up for the kingdom of God. Adonijah had to have Abishag. Joab wanted his revenge. Shimei wouldn't let go of his servants.
We all face similar temptations. Some of us are like Shimei: our temptation is what money can buy. So we are unwilling to walk away from a lucrative business deal that isn't entirely honest. Or we build our careers at the expense of our families. Or we shortchange God by skimping on our tithes and offerings. Other people are like Adonijah: we put sexual gratification ahead of our commitment to the kingdom. Or, like Joab, we are guilty of angry violence.
The question for each of us is: What is the one thing that is keeping me from giving everything to the kingdom of God? It is all or nothing with God, as it is for every self-respecting king. It is of the very nature of a king to demand total allegiance. If we only follow God when he gives us what we want, then we are not treating him like a king at all, but only as a servant. For God to come first for us, he has to come first in everything, including the one thing we really do not want to give up for his kingdom, whatever that one thing may be. Jesus said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matt. 6:33).
The trouble is, of course, that we often put what we want ahead of what God wants. We build our own kingdoms rather than seeking first the kingdom of God. This is evident every time we indulge a sinful pleasure, or speak an angry word, or make a selfish purchase. We need the mercy and forgiveness that God offers us in Jesus, the King who established God's forever kingdom by bleeding on the cross and then rising from the grave. Like Solomon, Jesus established his throne by eliminating all his enemies, only his enemies were the strongest enemies of all: sin, death, and the devil. Jesus defeated these enemies by suffering the deadly punishment that we deserve for our sins (the same punishment, in fact, that Solomon's enemies deserved), so that we would not die, but live.
To accomplish this saving work, Jesus had to put the kingdom first, and so he did. He did not come to do his own will, he said, but the will of his Father in heaven (John 6:38). This included renouncing all the temptations of money, sex and violence. Jesus could have claimed the wealth of the nations, but he chose instead to live in poverty, proving that money was not his master. Nor did Jesus give in to sexual temptation, sinfully gratifying his sexual desire, but lived instead with perfect purity and chastity. He did not seek power through wrongful violence, but patiently suffered the abuse of sinful men, even to the point of death. Jesus put the kingdom first, not letting money, or sex, or violence, or any other single thing get in the way of giving his life for our salvation and doing the work of the kingdom of God.
Now Jesus calls us to join him in putting the kingdom first: first in our minds and hearts, first with our bodies, and first with our bank accounts. It is only when we share our wealth for kingdom work, protect the purity of our sexuality, and give up any claim to rule our own destiny that we are able to stop using money, sex, and power for ourselves, but use them instead for the glory of God and the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
Philip Ryken is president of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.