This sermon is part of the sermon series "The King Takes His Throne: Solomon's Rise to Power". See series.
According to ancient custom, the death of a ruler is greeted with the following words: "The king is dead; long live the king!" This may seem like a contradictory thing to say. If the king is dead, then what point is there in wishing him long life? But the point is that the kingdom will endure. Even though one king is dead, another king lives to take his place. The kingship will survive, and therefore people who hope for the continuity of the monarchy say, "The king is dead. Long live the king!"
This custom helps to explain something Queen Bathsheba said to King David. The old king was having trouble getting warm, so everyone thought he was on his deathbed. His oldest son Adonijah had gone so far as to proclaim himself the next king. Meanwhile, the prophet Nathan was doing everything he could do to secure the throne for Solomon, whom God had promised would sit on David's throne. Once David had promised to crown Solomon king, Bathsheba proclaimed, "'May my lord King David live forever!'" (1 Kings 1:31).
Under the circumstances, this may seem like a strange thing to say. The very reason David and Bathsheba were having this conversation was because they both knew that the king wouldn't live forever; he was about to die. So why did she say this? Bathsheba has hopes for David's eternal life and everlasting kingdom, and her hopes were not misplaced. The king still lives, and so does his dynasty, to the everlasting joy of all the people of God.
Instructions for a coronation
David may have been dying, but he was not dead yet. As soon as he finished his audience with Bathsheba, he started giving out orders. David knew that it was now or never: if he did not act immediately and decisively to put his son on the throne, God's promise would fail and Solomon would never become king.
So the king resumed command. He said, "Call to me Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada" (1 Kings 1:32). This was a shrewd and godly maneuver. David was calling together the prophet, the priest, and the representative of the king. Adonijah had not consulted any of these men, but David did, and in doing so he united his kingdom under the rule of God, who had appointed them to serve as the rulers of Israel. Then David gave the orders for Solomon's coronation. Here were his royal instructions:
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!" You shall then come up after him, and he shall come and sit on my throne, for he shall be king in my place. And I have appointed him to be ruler over Israel and over Judah (1 Kings 1:33-35).
We can tell that the king was used to giving orders, and that he knew exactly what to do. First Solomon would ride on David's own personal mule—the royal mule, the one that signified his kingship. Riding a mule or donkey was an ancient symbol of royal office. By comparison, seeing Solomon riding a mule would be like seeing the Queen of England in her Royal Carriage, or watching Air Force One take off with the President of the United States. The king was on parade, in all his royal dignity.
Then Solomon would be anointed—the sacred ritual that officially consecrated him as the next king. This was in keeping with the will of God, who had promised that Solomon would rule on David's throne. Anointing was also a custom, for Israel's first two kings—Saul and David—had both been anointed with oil. Now Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet would pour sacred oil on Solomon's head, divinely designating him as the new king for the people of God.
Next came Solomon's enthronement. Loud trumpets would announce his royal approach to David's throne. With shouts of acclamation, people would proclaim his kingship: "Long live King Solomon!" Then Israel's leaders would follow their new ruler to Israel's throne, where he would sit in the kingly place of David.
This was the right way for King David to announce his immediate successor and for the leaders of Israel to make Solomon their king. David had always called Solomon his beloved son; now he was the first to proclaim him as king. He did it by his royal authority as God's representative, and he did it in broad daylight. Unlike Adonijah, who hosted his own private coronation, Solomon would be paraded through the city streets and crowned at the royal palace—not by his own will, but by godly men acting under the will of God.
Once David had given these orders, people had a choice to make. It is the same choice we face every day in the Christian life: Will we accept the king that God has anointed, submitting to his rule for our lives, or will we put ourselves on the throne, living by the rules of some other kingdom?
First Kings 1 shows what choice people made when David said that Solomon would be king. The people who accepted David's authority as the royal will of God immediately moved to crown Solomon as king. We sense their joy in the marvelous answer that Benaiah the son of Jehoiada gave to the king: "Amen! May the LORD, the God of my lord the king, say so. As the LORD has been with my lord the king, even so may he be with Solomon, and make his throne greater than the throne of my lord King David" (1 Kings 1:36-37).
Benaiah was also a man of prayer, for that is what he was really doing: praying for the kingdom to come. He was asking God to help David's plans come to fruition. He was asking God to be with Solomon the way he had always been with David. And he was asking God to expand his kingdom by blessing Solomon even more than he had ever blessed David. In praying thus, he honored David, honored Solomon, and honored their God.
Benaiah was not the only person who chose the right king. The Bible says "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" (1 Kings 1:38-39). Immediately his kingship received the acclamation that it deserved. The whole kingdom was choosing for Solomon. The priests "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 1:39-40). News of his coronation spread through the city like wildfire, and soon everyone was following his parade.
God would indeed expand Solomon's kingdom, and David rejoiced to see the day. Right then and there, while he was still on his bed, he bowed down to worship God and to bless him for the gift of Solomon's kingship. David didn't have to be the greatest king, with the most famous kingdom. What he wanted to see was the glory of the kingdom of God. Far from envying his son, therefore, David praised God for the newly anointed king of his future kingdom.
The coronation of the Christ
Almost every detail of this coronation celebration helps us understand the kingship of Jesus Christ—his anointing, his enthronement, and his everlasting dominion. Most people have never witnessed a real live coronation. In the United States we have never crowned anyone king at all. But proper kings are supposed to be crowned, and in telling us how Solomon was crowned, First Kings 1 also helps us understand the coronation of Christ as King.
Jesus of Nazareth was the rightful heir of David's throne. As the Gospel of Matthew tells us in its famous genealogy, Jesus was a lineal descendant of Solomon, and of David, by way of Bathsheba; he had a rightful claim to David's throne. When it was time for his kingship to be openly acknowledged, Jesus rode a royal donkey into the kingdom city of Jerusalem. It had long been promised that the Christ would ride the foal of a donkey (Zech. 9:9). So when Jesus rode a donkey on the first Palm Sunday, making his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, it was a public declaration of his royal office. The king was on parade.
King Jesus was also anointed. Indeed, this is the very meaning of the word "Christ," which is literally "the Anointed One." Jesus was anointed, not by a prophet or a priest, but by the Spirit of God. This took place at his baptism in the Jordan River, when the Holy Spirit descended from heaven like a dove and rested on the Son of God (Matt. 3:16; Luke 3:21-22). As Jesus later said, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me" (Luke 4:18; cf. Ps. 89:20; Heb. 1:9). The oil that the prophets and the priests used to anoint the Old Testament kings was a sign of the Spirit; it showed that God the Holy Spirit had appointed and equipped the king to serve as king. But Jesus was anointed with the Spirit himself—the Third Person of the Trinity. His kingship was not simply a sign of God's kingly rule, therefore, but the living reality of God's dominion.
Eventually, like King Solomon, King Jesus was enthroned, taking his place at the right hand of God on the throne of the universe. But first something strange happened—something that never happened to any other king of any other kingdom: the King with the crown went to the cross, where he gave his life to save his people.
Most kingdoms do anything they can to protect their king. This is the unspoken premise of the game of chess, for example. When the king falls, the kingdom is lost. Therefore, the king must be protected at all costs. Another notable example comes from the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day—June 6, 1944. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill desperately wanted to join the expeditionary forces and watch the invasion from the bridge of a battleship in the English Channel. U.S. General Dwight David Eisenhower was desperate to stop him, for fear that the Prime Minister might be killed in battle. When it became apparent that Churchill would not be dissuaded, Eisenhower appealed to a higher authority: King George VI. The king went and told Churchill that if it was the Prime Minister's duty to witness the invasion, he could only conclude that it was also his own duty as king to join him on the battleship. At this point Churchill reluctantly agreed to back down, for he knew that he could never expose the King of England to such danger.
King Jesus did exactly the opposite. With royal courage he surrendered his body to be crucified. On the cross he offered a king's ransom: his life for the life of his people. He would die for all the wrong things that we had ever done and would do, completely atoning for all our sins. Jesus would do this as our king. The crown of thorns that was meant to make a mockery of his royal claims actually proclaimed his kingly dignity, even in death.
When Jesus died on the cross, Satan and all the enemies of God could say, "The King is dead!" But that is not the end of the story, because on the third day God said, "Long live the King!" and Jesus came right up from the grave. Soon he was royally enthroned, as God fulfilled his ancient promise to the house of David. He highly exalted his Son, giving him all authority over everything in heaven and earth. What joy there must have been in heaven when the Son of God ascended to his throne! What shouts of triumph! What blasts of trumpets! What songs of praise! His throne is greater than the throne of David and Solomon. It is superior to all other dominions, for Jesus Christ sits forever on the royal throne of heaven as King over all—the royal King that God anointed.
We too may acclaim him as our king. We may do this the way Benaiah did it: saying "Amen" to the kingship of Jesus Christ and praying for his kingdom to increase. Every time we pray for the kingdom to come, and for the gospel to reach our friends and neighbors, and for the church to grow around the world, we honor Christ as King. We may also acknowledge the kingship of Christ with our worship, just like people did in the streets of Jerusalem. Whether we are men, women, or children, we can all make music for our King, honoring Christ with joyful music and loud songs of praise. This is how we serve Christ and his kingdom: by enthroning Jesus in our hearts and saying, "Long the live the King!"
The party's over
We have seen the choice that most people made: the choice for Solomon as the Lord's anointed king. But what choice did Adonijah make, and what can we learn from it?
At this point in the narrative there is a dramatic scene change and the Bible takes us back to the feast that Adonijah was hosting right outside Jerusalem. It was the biggest, noisiest party that anyone could remember. Adonijah was wining and dining his faithful supporters. While the party was in full swing, the would-be king reveled in his own pretentious glory.
They feasted away until everyone was totally stuffed. But as the noise died down, someone heard a sound that caught them all unawares: "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?'" (1 Kings 1:41).
The proper literary term for this kind of situation is dramatic irony. Dramatic irony arises whenever the reader knows something that a character in a story does not know. In this case, Joab heard the sound of a trumpet, followed by the noise of a crowd. He didn't know what it meant, but we do! It was the sound of Solomon's triumph, and therefore the trumpet blast of Adonijah's downfall.
Suddenly a messenger arrived to explain what was happening:
… our lord King David has made Solomon king, and the king has sent with him Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites. And they had him ride on the king's mule. And Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet have anointed him king at Gihon, and they have gone up from there rejoicing, so that the city is in an uproar. This is the noise that you have heard. Solomon sits on the royal throne (1 Kings 1:43-46).
Poor Adonijah! Everything had been going so well for him, just like he planned. People had even started calling him the king. But at the very moment of his apparent triumph, one trumpet blast was all it took to shatter his selfish dreams. For according to Jonathan, it was "a done deal": already the kingship had been securely placed in someone else's hands. David had made Solomon the king.
When Adonijah's dinner guests heard what had happened, it was every man for himself. The tide had turned, and they knew that they were dead men: "Then all the guests of Adonijah trembled and rose, and each went his own way" (1 Kings 1:49). It is easy to imagine them quietly sneaking towards the exits and then making a run for it. The party was over. In the words of Matthew Henry, the message that Adonijah received "spoiled the sport of his party, dispersed the company, and obliged every man to shift for his own safety."
Sooner or later what happened to Adonijah will happen to anyone who tries to sit on the throne of his own universe. You may become popular for a little while, especially if you throw parties like Adonijah. You may be able to find people who will call you the king. But eventually your pleasures will turn sour and you will end up all alone, like Adonijah. This has happened to some of the most famous people in the world. Ask Adolf Hitler, who tried to rule the world but died a suicide. Or ask Howard Hughes, who was the richest man in the world but died alone and afraid—a recluse, self-imprisoned in his own home.
Better yet, ask yourself: How well has life worked when I have tried to have it on my own terms, with myself as the king and everyone else as my servant? Has it been everything that you hoped, or has it royally failed to live up to your expectations? And what will happen when you hear the last blast of God's trumpet at the final judgment? Will it bring the good news of your salvation, or will it be the sound of your doom?
Sooner or later, the party will be over. This means that we all have a choice to make: Do I still claim the right to rule my own life, or am I ready to enthrone Jesus as my King? First Kings 1 ends with Adonijah struggling to make his choice. The royal failure of all his selfish plans had left him in a real predicament.
Adonijah would have been wise to listen to Psalm 2. Psalm 2 describes how the kings of the earth put themselves on the throne and take counsel "against the LORD and against his anointed one" (see Ps. 2:2)—which is exactly what Adonijah did. But the psalm ends with this advice: "Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way" (Ps. 2:10-12). It almost sounds like the psalmist is speaking directly to Adonijah, because this is exactly what he needed to do if he wanted to save his life: serve the Lord with fear and embrace the kingship of his royal son.
So what did the man do? The Bible says, "Adonijah feared Solomon. So he arose and went and took hold of the horns of the altar" (1 Kings 1:50). The terse phrasing of this verse suggests that Adonijah did these things in rapid succession. If he wanted to save his life, he had to act quickly. So he ran to the courtyard of the tabernacle and clasped onto the horns of the altar where sacrifices were made for sin. According to the Law of Moses, doing this would save the life of someone who committed involuntary manslaughter. That was not the case here, so Adonijah had no legal reason to expect that this would keep him safe, but it was the only thing he could think of—maybe the best way to beg for his life, and possibly the only thing that could still save him.
Now Adonijah's fate was in Solomon's hands. Rather than claiming vengeance, the new and rightful king showed mercy. 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 1:51-53).
Oh, how the mighty had fallen! The man who tried to elevate himself was brought low. The man who wanted to be king had to pay homage to his younger brother. The man who tried to give the orders was told to go home. Adonijah had to prove himself to be a worthy man.
Everything we know about Adonijah makes it seem very unlikely that he will be able to meet Solomon's royal condition. In an act of outward submission he has sworn allegiance to the Lord's anointed, but has he truly surrendered the sovereignty of his heart? In verse 51 he is trying to stay in charge by setting the terms under which he will submit to Solomon. Somehow we know that Adonijah's false heart will be discovered, and he will die. But all of that comes later, and for now we are left to put ourselves in the story and consider our own relationship to God's anointed and eternal king: Jesus Christ.
The Bible says that Jesus is superior to Solomon (Matt. 12:42), and we see his superiority here. For as much as we may admire Solomon for giving Adonijah another chance, we should praise Jesus for giving us more grace. Solomon said that Adonijah's life would be spared if he proved himself worthy, which was certainly fair enough. But Jesus says that he will accept us even when we are unworthy, as we all are (Romans 5:6-8). Solomon said that if Adonijah sinned he would die. But Jesus, seeing that we had sinned, climbed up on the altar of sacrifice and died in our place. Now there's a King for you—a ruler who offers his life for your salvation! That King still lives. Eventually David died, and so did Solomon. But Jesus rose from the dead to give everlasting life to David, to Solomon, and to all his royal sons and daughters.
Now everyone who belongs to the kingdom of David by choosing for Christ can say, "The King is dead; long live the King!" Long live the King who welcomes the unworthy! Long live the King who died for sinners! Long live the King who rose from the grave! Long live the King who is coming again! For God has given us this promise: "Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore" (Isa. 9:7). Long live the King, and all the loyal subjects of his royal kingdom, who live by faith in the Son of God.
Philip Ryken is president of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.