This sermon is part of the sermon series "The King Takes His Throne: Solomon's Rise to Power". See series.
A life is a terrible thing to waste. In his life saving book, Don't Waste Your Life, John Piper recounts a story his father often told in his days as a fiery Baptist evangelist. It is the story of a man who came to saving faith in Jesus Christ near the end of his earthly existence. Piper writes:
The church had prayed for this man for decades. He was hard and resistant. But this time, for some reason, he showed up when my father was preaching. At the end of the service, during a hymn, to everyone's amazement he came and took my father's hand. They sat down together on the front pew of the church as the people were dismissed. God opened his heart to the Gospel of Christ, and he was saved from his sins and given eternal life. But that did not stop him from sobbing and saying, as the tears ran down his wrinkled face—"I've wasted it! I've wasted it!"
By the grace of God, even a life that is almost totally wasted can still be redeemed. As the Scottish theologian Thomas Boston once said, our present existence is only "a short preface to a long eternity." If that is true, then the man's life was not wasted after all; he was only just beginning an eternal life of endless praise. But why wait even a moment longer before starting to serve Jesus? You have only one life to live. Don't waste it by living for yourself when you can use it instead for the glory of God. This was the wisdom that David gave to his son Solomon.
The way of all flesh
The old king was on his deathbed. This was the end of an era. The Scripture says that David served God's purpose in his own generation (Acts 13:36). By the grace of God, he established a capital city that would stand at the center of history and started a dynasty that would save the world. But even King David had to go the way of all flesh. There were some things he wanted to say before he could die in peace—things that might help his son avoid wasting his life.
Settling some old scores
There are two parts to David's farewell discourse. The first part runs from verse 2 to verse 4 and mainly addresses Solomon's soul—the spiritual commitments a king needs to make if he belongs to the kingdom of God. The second part, which runs from verses 5 to 9, addresses the security of Solomon's kingdom—the judgments he needs to make about his friends and enemies if he wants to hold on to his kingdom. The language in the second part seems so harsh that some scholars think what David says is vindictive, contradictory, and ungodly.
As always, the best way to answer these objections is to look more carefully at what the Bible actually says. At the end of his long reign over Israel, David still had some outstanding debts to pay, some wrongs to right, and some old scores to settle. As Solomon took the throne, David told him there were three people he needed to deal with: two enemies and a friend.
First, Solomon would have to do something about Joab. Joab had long served as the commander of David's armies. He was an effective military leader in many ways, but on occasion he used his power in ungodly ways to advance his own personal agenda. Joab had a way of making people disappear, and there was blood on his hands—the blood of Abner and Amasa. David had been trying to build alliances with Abner and Amasa—alliances that would strengthen God's kingdom by uniting the tribes of Israel. But Joab saw these men as potential rivals for the top spot in the military, so he put them to death, and in doing so he put his own interests ahead of his king and the kingdom of God.
David rightly regarded Joab as a potential threat to Solomon, especially since he had sided with Adonijah in his bid for David's throne. It was up to Solomon to decide exactly what to do, and when to do it, but David advised him not to let the man die of natural causes; instead, he should be treated with strict and righteous vengeance.
Barzillai's family should receive just the opposite treatment. "But deal loyally with the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite," David said, "and let them be among those who eat at your table, for with such loyalty they met me when I fled from Absalom your brother" (1 Kings 2:7).
Here David refers to a time of desperate crisis in the history of his kingdom. David's son Absalom had rebelled against his father and plunged Israel into civil war. As a result, David and his loyal servants had to run for their lives. They fled into the wilderness, where they were tired and hungry and thirsty. But Barzillai and some other wealthy men came to the king's rescue. They brought "beds, basins, and earthen vessels, wheat, barley, flour, parched grain, beans and lentils, honey and curds and sheep and cheese" for David and his men to eat (2 Sam. 17:28-29; cf. 19:32). Unlike Joab, Barzillai was kingdom-minded. He sided with the rightful king, even when that called for courage and required costly personal sacrifices to advance his kingdom. Now it was up to Solomon to pay David's debt by giving Barzillai's sons a place in his household. This was more than an act of kindness; it was a royal reward for loyal service to the king.
Solomon also had Shimei to deal with—another enemy. Shimei belonged to the house of Saul and therefore held a grudge against David for taking his father's throne, even after David had become the Lord's anointed king. On one memorable occasion during Absalom's rebellion, Shimei came out to assault David, screaming curses at him, accusing him of murder, and throwing stones at him. Rather than putting Shimei to death, as his servants begged him to do, David trusted God to bless him for being cursed (2 Sam. 6:5-13). Later, when David returned to Jerusalem, Shimei regretted what he had done and begged for mercy, which the king granted by promising not to put him to death "today" (see 2 Sam. 19:18-23).
David kept his promise that day, and afterwards, but he still believed that Shimei was guilty of sin and therefore deserved condemnation. He also recognized that Solomon was not bound by the oath he had made to Shimei. So he told his son not to let the man die a natural death, but send him to an early grave.
These cold-blooded instructions make many readers uncomfortable. Was it right for David to hand out these death sentences? Some of his last words sound like something out of Mario Puzo's The Godfather, in which mafia dons secure their power by ruthlessly killing off all their potential rivals.
So perhaps this is one of the many places where a great hero from the Bible acts in ways that are less than heroic. This would not be surprising, as the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments present people the way they really are—not as perfect men and women, but as sinners who desperately need the grace of God. This is for our encouragement, because we know what it is like to want revenge, or to seize our chance to settle an old score. Jesus said that even our hatred is a murderous sin (Matt. 5:21-22), and therefore we need as much of God's mercy as David needed.
There is another way to look at the king's instructions, however. Bear in mind that both David and Solomon were anointed to serve as kings in Israel, and that like all rulers and authorities, they were appointed by God to bear the power of the sword (Rom. 13:1-4). It was their job to do justice for the people.
Keep this in mind as well: since David was the divinely anointed king, any assault against his royal person was really an attack against the kingdom of God. This is why David had repeatedly refused to lift his hand against King Saul: he knew that Saul was the Lord's anointed. Now David himself was the Lord's anointed, and any attack against the king was much more than a personal matter; it was a threat to the kingdom that God had promised to establish.
So the instructions David gave about Joab, Barzillai, and Shimei were kingdom-minded instructions, based on the word of God. Barzillai had served the king well, advancing the cause of his kingdom, and therefore his sons should rightly claim a place at the royal table. But Joab and Shimei had undermined David's kingly plans and cursed his royal dignity. For the peace and security of his kingdom, therefore, King Solomon needed to treat these violent men with strict justice. It was not for his own honor that David gave these instructions. If it had only been a personal vendetta, he would have done away with Joab and Shimei long ago. But he was doing it now for the good of the kingdom of his beloved son.
This shows how desperately important it is to serve the Lord's anointed king. As David lay dying, the great choice that people faced was whether they were for or against the kingdom's true king. The great choice that we face in life is whether we will be for or against Jesus Christ, who is David's royal son and the King of God's everlasting kingdom.
If we waste our lives by putting our own kingdom ahead of God's kingdom the way that Joab did—or even worse, if we throw rocks at the King like Shimei, cursing the very name of Jesus Christ—then we deserve his kingly wrath. God is a just and righteous king. His vengeance may not come right away, any more than it came right away for Joab and Shimei. But it will surely come at the final judgment, when everyone who opposes the kingdom of God will perish (Ps. 2:12; Rev. 19).
But there is life for every loyal servant of God who swears allegiance to Christ as King. Jesus said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matt. 6:33). If we seek God's kingdom, there will be a place for us at God's royal table, just as there was for the sons of Barzillai. By trusting the King, we will receive the gracious gift of eternal life, with many generous rewards for everything we do in the service of his kingdom.
There are really only two kinds of people in the world, who will meet two completely different destinies. What makes the difference is our relationship to Jesus. Some people are servants of the King; others are enemies of his kingdom. What kind of person are you?
What makes a man
Now let's go back and consider what David said about the spiritual life of Solomon's soul. Of all the commands that the old king gave, these were the dearest to his fatherly heart: "Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses" (1 Kings 2:2-3).
David wanted the same thing for Solomon that every father wants for his son: he wanted Solomon to be strong; he wanted him to be a man. But David defined manhood very differently from the way most people define it.
Many people think that physical strength, or sexual activity, or professional success, or financial independence will make a man. But if these are the only things we live for, we will waste our lives, because what makes a man is obedience to the Word of God. The way for Solomon to show that he was a man was to keep God's laws and walk in God's ways.
In his famous last words, David used seven different terms to describe the Word of God. He called it a "charge" or a "Law." He referred to God's ways, statutes, commandments, rules, and testimonies. Each of these terms comes from the Word of God itself, specifically from the Law of Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy (see Deut. 4:29; 6:1-2; 8:6; 11:1; 29:9). David's main point in using all of these different terms is that his son should live by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
There is not one situation Solomon would face in his life as a man or the ruler of his kingdom that the Bible does not address. Even when Solomon rewarded his friends and punished his enemies, as David told him to do in the second part of his farewell discourse, this needed to be done according to biblical principles. As one scholar puts it, "The exercise of royal power is not to be arbitrary, for the king is not a law unto himself. It is rather to be in accordance with the Law of Moses."
What was true for Solomon is also true for us: there is not one situation we face in life that the Bible does not address in some practical way. It teaches us how to think, how to speak, and how to live. It tells us what to love and what to hate. It shows us how to glorify God forever. This is why the ministry of the church must be built squarely and unashamedly on the Word of God. As James Boice once said, "We believe the Bible to be the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice, and it is practical because we believe the Bible must be the treasure most valued and attended to in the church's life."
The Word of God puts everything in proper perspective. The Bible teaches a man to join his physical strength to patience and gentleness, so that rather than striking out in selfish anger, he uses his power to protect the weak. The Bible teaches a man to bring his sexual desire under the control of the Holy Spirit. Rather than satisfying his own lusts, he gives his whole body and his whole heart to one woman for life, so that God can make a family. The Bible teaches a man to serve God in his daily calling, so that his work brings honor to Jesus Christ instead of to himself, and so that his wealth can advance the kingdom of God rather than his own purposes. The best and only way to avoid wasting your life is to base everything you do on the Word of God.
Living by the book
David ended his exhortation about walking God's way by reminding his son of the amazing promises that God had made to his royal house. Why was it so important for Solomon to obey God's Word? David told him it was so "that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn, that the LORD may establish his word that he spoke concerning me, saying, 'If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel'" (1 Kings 2:3-4).
If Solomon was faithful to God, then he would receive the double blessing of personal prosperity and a perpetual dynasty. According to verse 3, he would prosper in everything he did. This had been David's own experience. As long as he was careful to do God's will, he was blessed with success in protecting his livestock, defeating his enemies, writing his poetry, growing his family, and founding his dynasty. It was only when he disobeyed God that David suffered tragic loss through the death of his son, the breakup of his family, and the civil war that threatened to destroy his kingdom. This would be true for Solomon, who was blessed with more wisdom and more wealth than almost anyone else in the history of the world. As long as he was obedient to the Word of God, everything Solomon did was a success. But disobedience would be his downfall, as we will discover.
The same principle still holds true today, especially if we define success in biblical terms. People who follow biblical principles will prosper (Ps. 1:1-3; cf. Matt. 7:24-25). This does not mean that we will never suffer, or that every difficulty we face in life is the direct result of our own personal sin. But it does mean that obedience has God's blessing. We may experience this blessing in our relationships, as the Word of God teaches us how to love. We may experience this blessing in our homes, as the Word of God teaches us how to grow a family. We may experience this blessing in our callings, as the Word of God teaches us how to work hard and pursue excellence. But whether we have that kind of success or not, we will certainly be successful spiritually. Obeying God's Word will keep us close to the Holy Spirit; it will help us bring more people to Christ; and it will show us more of the glory of God.
For Solomon there would be a unique and added blessing—one with implications for the salvation of the world. Not only would obedience to God bring him personal prosperity, but it would also establish a perpetual dynasty. Solomon was the son of David, to whom God had promised an everlasting kingdom. This promise was starting to come true, as Solomon took David's throne. Solomon's kingdom would not be protected by political alliances, or trade agreements, or military power, or anything of the other things that human empires trust for their security. It would only be preserved by faithful obedience to the Word of God.
This promise was clearly conditional: if Solomon obeyed, then David's throne would be established. We find the same kind of promise in the Psalms: "The LORD swore to David a sure oath from which he will not turn back: 'One of the sons of your body I will set on my throne. If your sons keep my covenant and my testimonies that I shall teach them, their sons also forever shall sit on your throne'" (Ps. 132:11-12). But God made other promises to the house of David that were not conditional. God said to David: "Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me: Your throne shall be established forever" (2 Sam. 7:16).
So what kind of promise was this? Was it conditional or unconditional? Did the establishment of David's throne depend on Solomon keeping covenant or not?
These questions are answered for us in the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the final Son of David. The sad truth about Solomon is that like his father David, he did not give full obedience to the Word of God. Solomon started well, but as we read his tragic story, we will trace his sad decline into idolatry, greed, and immorality. To one degree or another, the same is true of every last king in Israel: they all failed to walk in God's ways and keep God's commandments.
Except for Jesus, that is. He was the only Son of David who didn't waste his life, but was royally faithful to God's covenant, keeping all the statutes, all the rules, all the commandments, and all the testimonies that were written in the Law of God. This is why God's promises to David were both conditional and unconditional. They were conditional because the king really was required to offer full obedience to the Word of God. But they were also unconditional because God knew that one day Jesus would fulfill his command. The dynasty would be established on the basis of his full obedience, and therefore God's absolute promise would not fail.
At the end of his perfect life, Jesus had some famous last words of his own—words that offered forgiveness to his enemies and promised paradise to anyone who trusts in him (see Luke 23:34,43). Then Jesus finished his saving work by dying on the cross, suffering the violence and death that we deserve for our sins. But that was not the end, because Jesus rose back from the dead to take his eternal throne.
The apostles testified to this whenever they preached the gospel, and on occasion they made a direct connection (and contrast) to David. Peter confidently preached that David "both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day." But he went on to say this: "Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption …. Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made [this Jesus] both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:29-32, 36; cf. Acts 13:36-39).
Jesus refused to waste his life, but as the true and faithful Son of David, he gave it for our salvation. Anyone who repents and believes in him as the risen Christ will be saved. Then Jesus tells the people he has saved not to waste their lives, but to offer them in full obedience to the Word of God: "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock" (Matt. 7:24-25).
The Christmas before he died, my father-in-law gave each of his three daughters a beautiful leather Bible. I thought it was a little strange at the time, because each of them already owned a Bible—more than one, in fact. Each Bible came with a bookmark, on which he printed his picture and wrote what turned out to be some of his last words. "Lisa," he wrote, "I know no better gift to my child than to share God's Word with her. Love to you, Dad."
Now I can see what my father-in-law was doing: he was giving his last will and testament to his daughters. In doing so, he wanted to give them the best gift he knew, which also happened to be the best gift that David knew. God wants you to have this gift as well—the gift of his Word. If you receive it, the Word of God will make you strong. It will help you become a real man or a real woman. And it will keep you from wasting your life. Indeed, it will save your life.
Philip Ryken is president of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.