This sermon is part of the sermon series "The King Takes His Throne: Solomon's Rise to Power". See series.
The right to rule as king has been the occasion of many bitter conflicts. Often brother has fought against brother to wear the crown, forcing members of the royal family and citizens of the realm to choose sides.
During the Third Crusade, King Richard 1—also known as the Lionheart—waged war against Muslim armies under the command of Saladin. But while Richard was fighting to regain Jerusalem, his brother Prince John was busily trying to crown himself the King of England. Richard hurriedly made a treaty with Saladin and raced home to protect his royal prerogatives. But as he made his way across Europe, the king was captured by Leopold V of Austria and held for a ransom two or three times the amount of his kingdom's annual income.
Everyone in England was forced to choose sides. John offered Leopold half as much money to keep Richard in prison for another couple of years, so he would have time to consolidate his power. Meanwhile, Richard's mother—Eleanor of Aquitane—tried (and eventually succeeded) to raise enough money to have her favorite son rescued and restored to his rightful throne. It was a conflict for the kingdom, which Richard eventually won. But while the throne was still in dispute, people had to decide which man they wanted to be king, and how much they would give to support his cause.
We face a similar choice when it comes to the kingdom of God. Will we honor God's true and rightful King, or will we try to seize the crown for ourselves? Which kingdom will we choose? And how much will we sacrifice to see it established?
Rivals for the throne
The people of God faced the same choice during the last days of David, when the king was on his deathbed and two of his sons, Adonijah and Solomon, were contesting for the crown. With the question of royal succession on everyone's mind, David's oldest living son Adonijah decided to take the throne. "I will be king," he declared, and then he gathered as many followers as he could. In truth, he did what many of us are tempted to do many times in life: he exalted his own honor, pursued his own pleasure, and grasped for the control of his own destiny. He had named himself the royal heir of David's house without having even one word with King David himself!
Adonijah's coup of a party was still in full swing when one man decided to take action: "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'" (1 Kings 1:11-12).
At this critical moment in the history of the people of God, one man understood exactly what was at stake. Nathan also knew what would happen if Adonijah proved to be successful: Bathsheba and Solomon would both be killed, for in ancient times it was customary for a king to put his rivals to death.
The whole situation was a royal crisis. By trying to usurp the throne, Adonijah was threatening the royal succession, and with it all the promises that God had made to the house of David. This was more than a power struggle; it was a life-and-death conflict for the kingdom of God. Everyone had to make a destiny-deciding choice: Which king will you serve?
Messengers to the King
Nathan and Bathsheba chose to serve Solomon, and in choosing to serve Solomon they were choosing to serve the kingdom of God. We learn some important lessons from their example, but first we need to hear their story, with all of its royal intrigue.
After sounding the alarm about Adonijah, Nathan told Bathsheba his clever plan: "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 1:13-14). It was a crafty plan. Nathan was the master strategist, skilled in the art of human persuasion. Bathsheba was the person with the most direct access to the king, so she would go to David first. Together they would act decisively for the kingdom of God.
The co-conspirators executed their plan to perfection. Bathsheba approached David deferentially, humbly bowing to give him honor. But she also approached him forthrightly, bluntly telling the king what he needed to hear. She reminded him what he had promised before God, namely, that her son Solomon would succeed him on the throne. Bathsheba also told David some things that he didn't know, but needed to know. He didn't know that his son Adonijah had crowned himself king. Nor did he know who was and who wasn't on Adonijah's coronation guest list. The king was totally out of touch with what was happening in his own kingdom.
Bathsheba then challenged David to take action. She appealed to his royal sense of duty. She said the whole nation was looking to him for leadership, waiting for him to declare the next king. Bathsheba also told her husband what was at stake: If David did not take action then she and her son would surely be killed, for the new king would regard them as traitors to his realm. By failing to invite Solomon to his coronation celebration, Adonijah was declaring that he was a dead man.
Like Eleaonor of Aquitane, Bathsheba was doing what she could to secure her son's claim to the royal throne. Before she had a chance to finish saying all this, the prophet Nathan approached the royal chamber to make his dramatic entrance, right on cue. Like Bathsheba, Nathan entered David's presence with all due respect, for "when he came in before the king, he bowed before the king, with his face to the ground" (1 Kings 1:23). With the king's permission, 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 1:24-27).
Nathan's questions confirmed everything that Bathsheba had been saying about Adonijah. He made it clear that people were acclaiming Adonijah as king, saying "Long live King Adonijah!" The prophet wanted to know whether any of this had been done under David's royal authority. If so, then why on earth wasn't his prophet informed? If not, then what was David going to do about it? Nathan was challenging David to disavow what Adonijah had done, knowing that a proper succession to the throne could only come about with the king's royal consent. Whereas Bathsheba appealed to David's pity as a husband and father, Nathan appealed to his authority as the king.
With reminders and reprimands, Nathan and Bathsheba motivated David to act. If only one person had come to warn him, perhaps David would have doubted the accuracy of the report he was given. But these messengers came one right after the other. With two witnesses—the biblical number for establishing any criminal matter in a court of law—the king was fully persuaded. Now he knew the truth, and he acted accordingly.
Honoring the kingdom's King
Some scholars have been critical of Nathan and Bathsheba for being manipulative or deceptive. Did David really swear that Solomon would be the next king, or was Bathsheba trying to pull a fast one on a man who was too old to remember what he had said to whom? Did the people at Adonijah's party really say, "Long live King Adonijah!" or was Nathan embellishing his story? Walter Brueggemann accuses the prophet of "crude politics" and calculated manipulation. Richard Nelson says that Nathan tricked David with half-truths, unsubstantiated allegations, and outright lies.
We should never be afraid to admit that God often uses sinful human beings to accomplish his sovereign purposes. Yet in this case, Nathan and Bathsheba deserve to be defended from any charge of wrongdoing. What they carried out was a holy conspiracy, in which they acted together for the kingdom of God in the most righteous and persuasive way they knew how. From their example, we learn at least three important lessons about keeping our own commitment to the kingdom of God.
First, we learn to honor the kingdom's king. From the beginning of this story, both Nathan and Bathsheba honored the true king of Israel. They honored David as king even though he was old and feeble. When they came into his royal presence, they bowed before him. Rather than acting on his behalf, they respected his right to give his own commands. They honored him right to the end saying, 'May my lord King David live forever!'" They recognized him as God's anointed king.
We keep the same commitment whenever we honor Jesus Christ as the true King of the kingdom of God. Whenever we see King David in the Scriptures, we should always have Jesus in mind, because he is the rightful heir to David's throne (Luke 2:4-5). According to the Gospel of Luke, God will give Jesus "the throne of his father David … and of his kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 1:32-33). The apostle Paul said that Jesus is "descended from David" (Rom. 1:3). Jesus himself claimed that he was not only David's son, but also David's Lord (Luke 20:31-44; cf. Ps. 110). And God the Father eventually honored Christ as King by exalting him to the everlasting throne of the universe.
Jesus sits on David's throne as the ruler of God's kingdom, and we should honor him as the King. We honor the King by giving Jesus Christ the homage of our worship—listening to his royal decrees in the preaching of his Word, bowing down before him in prayer, singing his praises with joyful songs, and bringing the tribute of our tithes and offerings. Every time we join in the public worship of God, we enter the throne room of Christ the King to give him the honor that he alone deserves. We also honor the kingdom's King by pledging our lives to his royal service. Whenever he calls, we will come; wherever he sends, we will go; whatever he commands, we will obey. Jesus is the King, and a king is honored whenever the people of his kingdom do his royal will.
Believing the kingdom's promise
Being committed to the kingdom also means believing the kingdom's promise—in this case the promise that Solomon would be the next king.
The prophet Nathan himself made the first promise that David would have a dynasty, when he delivered this message from God: "When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever" (2 Sam. 7:12).
Furthermore, we know from Chronicles that God had indicated which of David's sons would become his heir. According to David, this is what God said: "Behold, a son shall be born to you who shall be a man of rest. I will give him rest from all his surrounding enemies. For his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days. He shall build a house for my name. He shall be my son, and I will be his father, and I will establish his royal throne in Israel forever" (1 Chron. 22:9-10).
When Bathsheba said that David swore a sacred oath that Solomon would be king, she was referring to an oath that David made on the basis of a covenant promise. This is fundamental to understanding everything that happens in the first chapter of 1 Kings. Nathan and Bathsheba did what they did because they believed in the kingdom promise of God, which is another reason we know that they were acting righteously. This is not simply "a sordid story of power politics," as some have claimed. On the contrary, their royal conspiracy was a holy conspiracy, a divinely-ordained conspiracy, based on the plans and the promises of God.
In this regard, Bathsheba's name seems especially significant, for it means "daughter of the oath." In fact, the second part of her name (sheba) has the same verbal root as the word that is used for swearing an oath throughout this chapter. How appropriate! Bathsheba was a daughter of the covenant and therefore she believed the kingdom promise of God, as it was spoken by David the king.
We too have heard the kingdom promises of God. The Bible says that Jesus Christ, the Son of David, has become the King of God's kingdom. As he went around teaching and preaching, Jesus said that the kingdom was near (Luke 10:9), and even that the kingdom had come (Luke 17:21). What Jesus meant by "the kingdom" was the rule and the dominion of God, which he would establish by his death on the cross and by his resurrection from the dead. The kingdom of Jesus Christ is a kingdom of mercy, forgiveness, and resurrection life. Such a kingdom could only be gained by the offering of a sacrifice for sin and a return from death to eternal life.
Although in many ways the kingdom has come, we are still waiting for all of its promises to be totally fulfilled. This is why we pray, "Thy kingdom come." It is because we are looking in faith for the kingdom to come in all its full dominion. While we wait, we are called to believe the kingdom promises of God.
What has God promised about his kingdom? God has promised that his kingdom will grow until all nations repent and believe the gospel (Matt. 24:14). He has promised that his kingdom will be fully established at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. He has promised that with his kingdom there will be a new heaven and a new earth. He has promised that in his kingdom there will be no more death or dying or pain (Rev. 21:4). He has promised that the citizens of his kingdom will experience the full joy of being at home with Jesus forever (John 14:1-3). And he has promised that his kingdom can never be shaken (Heb. 12:28), but will endure for all eternity.
Do you belong to the kingdom of God? If you do, then swear allegiance to Jesus Christ as your King, and believe that one day you will see all of these promises come true, taking by faith in Jesus what you cannot see until he comes again.
Working for the kingdom's progress
If you believe the kingdom promise, then you will work for the kingdom's progress, which is a third and final lesson we learn from the example of Nathan, Bathsheba, and David. When times are hard, people sometimes wonder what one person can do. The prophet Nathan and the queen Bathsheba decided to find out. Though badly outnumbered, and running late, they boldly persuaded David to make an official announcement of his private promise that Solomon would be king. They did not wait for some miraculous divine intervention, but acted boldly for the honor of the king.
They were not doing this for themselves alone, but for the kingdom of God. To be sure, what Bathsheba did was also in her own best interest—by supporting her son, she was saving her life—but Nathan and Bathsheba both understood that their own destiny was bound up with the kingdom of the rightful king. So they opposed proud Adonijah, the would-be king who rebelled against the kingdom of God, they spoke on behalf of Solomon, interceding for the next king of Israel. They were doing kingdom work for the next generation of the people of God.
By the end of this episode, King David had joined their royal conspiracy to do what he could do for the kingdom of God. Up to this point David was ignorant of what was really happening to his kingdom and impotent to do anything about it. But as he listened to Nathan and Bathsheba, his blood began to rise. David understood that what Adonijah had done was a direct challenge to his kingly authority. So he rose to the challenge, making one last decision for the glory of the kingdom of God.
So far the king had spoken barely two words in this chapter, but rising in his bed, David summoned Bathsheba back into his royal chamber. It may have been the first royal command he had given in months, but in this climactic moment we can once again sense the man's true and kingly dignity. David made this sacred vow: "'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 1:29-30).
What will you do for the kingdom of God? Which side will you take when people exalt themselves and try to tear down the kingdom of God? Do you see how your own eternal destiny is bound up with what God is doing in the world today? What will you do to make a kingdom difference for the coming generation?
Kingdom work can include any good thing that is done for Christ as King—anything that advances his kingdom, or opposes his proud enemies, or speaks in defense of his kingship. We can do kingdom work in the marketplace; whenever we make a fair sale, or build a solid house, or shine a good shoe—if we do it for Jesus—we are advancing the cause of our King. We can also do kingdom work in the home; whenever we put beautiful flowers on the table, or pick our shoes up off the floor, or decide to be the first to say "I'm sorry," we are bearing witness to the kingdom of God. Then we can do kingdom work in society; whenever we oppose the evil of abortion, or work for the end of child abandonment, or take an active role in what is happening in the lives of the people in our neighborhood, this too is kingdom work. And we can do kingdom work through the ministry of the church: inviting friends to worship, passing out Bibles, welcoming people with disabilities, supporting workers overseas, laboring in prayer for people doing all kinds of ministry that we ourselves are not called or gifted to do. Jesus said that even a cup of water, given because we belong to Christ, counts for the kingdom of God.
If Jesus Christ is the King, then we should do whatever we can for his kingdom. After all, Jesus himself has done everything that he could do for the kingdom. He has even done what no other king would dare to do: he has offered his own life to save his people. As Matthew Henry said, "Whatever power, interest, or influence, men have—they ought to improve it to the utmost for the preserving and advancing of the kingdom of the Messiah." We should do this not only for our own people, in our own place, at our own time, but also for the coming generation.
Philip Ryken is president of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.