Assuming the Throne

Read: 1 Kings 1

[Bathsheba] said to [David], “My lord, you swore to your servant by the LORD your God, saying: Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne. But now suddenly Adonijah has become king, though you, my lord the king, do not know it…the eyes of all Israel are on you to tell them who shall sit on the throne of my lord the king after him” (1 Kings 1:17-18, 20, NRSV).

The story of Adonijah gives new meaning to the phrase, “assuming the throne.” Usually it’s reserved for those who actually ascend to a throne. But in Adonijah’s case, it’s more along the lines of that old caution about “when you assume, you make an ass out of u and me.”

Thanks to the deaths of his older brothers, Adonijah finds himself the eldest of David’s sons. He assumes that this makes him the heir apparent, and he begins to act accordingly. Or perhaps he’s not sure of his status and decides to make it a fait accompli. Who could object, after all, if he’s got a general (Joab), a priest (Abiathar), and his own private army gathered around him shouting “Long live the king!”

As it happens, there are a few people who would object, but it would be both difficult and dangerous for them to try to undo the deed once it is done. First among these is King David himself, but he’s not at his best these days. The chapter opens with a description of him “old and advanced in years,” unable to keep warm without the help of a human heating pad. If Adonijah had really been confident about his own claim to the throne, it would have been simple enough to wait for David to die. The fact that Adonijah is not patient enough to wait for this eventuality suggests that he has doubts. Thus the decision to hurry things along.

The fact that David hasn’t gotten wind of the fact that Adonijah has “exalted himself, saying ‘I will be king’” (v. 5), bears witness to the fact that David is out of touch with political reality. He only hears about Adonijah’s ambitions thanks to the prophet Nathan and Bathsheba, who work together to get him the news. Nathan is particularly alert to the danger for Bathsheba and her son, Solomon, since Adonijah is unlikely to want any rivals left alive to challenge his claim to the throne. So, add Bathsheba and Solomon to the list of people who would object to Adonijah’s “assumption.” Better to head this whole thing off at the pass than to scramble for their lives after the fact.

Their strategy works. Roused by their words, David issues a swift series of commands. Before we know it, Solomon is surrounded by shouts of “Long live King Solomon!” When those shouts reach Adonijah and his friends, an understandable chill falls over their festivities. Now it’s Adonijah who fears for his life, and he hurries to seek “sanctuary” by grasping the horns of the altar. He’s not in a position to ask for favors, but he asks for one anyway. “Let King Solomon swear to me first that he will not kill his servant with the sword,” he begs. Solomon, giving us a glimpse of his famous “wisdom,” allows Adonijah to live, but refuses to make any promises.

It hasn’t been pretty, but Solomon has truly assumed the throne. Adonijah will have to lie awake wondering when he’ll pay for his own assumptions.

Ponder: Bathsheba—who can’t seem to catch a break from biblical commentators—is sometimes accused of being a “schemer” in this chapter. What do you think this passage reveals about her character? What would you have done in her position?

Pray: Save us, O God, from selfish assumptions—in ourselves and others.