Angrogna Valley – Northwest Italy
“Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.”
(Psalm 36:5, NRSV)
Angrogna Valley – Northwest Italy
“Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.”
(Psalm 36:5, NRSV)
Roseto Comunale – Rome, Italy
“…their life shall be like a watered garden,
and they shall never languish again.”
I Giardini di Villa Melzi, Lake Como, Italy
“Trust in the LORD will all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
(Proverbs 3:5-6 NRSV)
Crotto Valdurino – Moltrasio, Italy
“…but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.”
(Micah 4:4, NRSV)
“I am the LORD your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.”
Psalm 81:10, NRSV
Welcome to the “Rest in the Lord” series! I’m taking a break, and I’ll hope you’ll feel welcome to take one with me. In the next several weeks I’ll be posting a picture of a much-loved place from my travels along with a Bible verse. Rest in the Lord!
Lake Como, Italy
Welcome to the “Rest In the Lord” series. I’m taking a break, and I’ll hope you’ll feel welcome to take one with me. In the next several weeks I’ll be posting a picture of a much-loved place from my travels along with a Bible verse. Rest in the Lord!
“I Lift Up My Eyes to the Hills”
Germanasca Valley – Italy
“I lift up my eyes to the hills–from where will my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”
(Psalm 121:1-2, NRSV)
Read: 1 Kings 2
Therefore do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man; you will know what you ought to do to him, and you must bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol (1 Kings 2:9, NRSV).
If the only stories you know about David involve harps, shepherds, or smooth stones, David’s deathbed scene is going to come as a bit of a shock.
It starts out like you might expect with pious words spoken to his son and successor, Solomon. David says, “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, be courageous, and keep the charge of the LORD your God….” But just when you expect David to breathe his last, he doesn’t. In fact, he has quite a lot more to say, and to be honest, some of it is pretty unsavory.
“Moreover…,” he says, and there follows what in any other context would be called a hit list. Joab is first on the list. “Act therefore according to your wisdom,” David tells Solomon with a wink, “but do not let his gray head go down to Sheol in peace.” After a few appreciative words for the loyal Barzillai (2 Sam. 17:27-29), David adds Shimei to the list. David had promised not to kill Shimei for cursing him and throwing stones when David was fleeing from Absalom. Solomon, however, has made no such promise. So, with another ominous reference to Solomon’s wisdom, David says, “you will know what you ought to do to him, and you must bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol” (v. 9).
It sort of makes one wonder what counts as “wisdom” in David’s mind. Clearly it connotes a certain amount of political savvy—and even ruthlessness. So, even as this story forces us to revise our opinion of David, it suggests that we may have to modify the traditional impression of Solomon as well. Wisdom, it seems, is more complicated than our Sunday school teachers may have suggested.
Part of David’s motivation seems to be about settling old scores. A more generous reading would acknowledge that he is trying to make sure Solomon does not inherit all of David’s “baggage” along with the throne. Nevertheless, one bit of baggage threatens to trip Solomon up almost right away.
Adonijah—Solomon’s older half-brother who made an aborted attempt to seize the throne before David’s death—now goes to Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, to ask for Abishag the Shunammite’s hand in marriage. Abishag, remember, was the beautiful human hot water bottle assigned to keep David warm in his final days. Although the Bible explicitly says that David “did not know her sexually” (1 Kings 1:4), Adonijah runs afoul of the old rule about not sleeping with a king’s concubine unless you’re trying to claim the throne along with the woman. Solomon is not amused, and he has Adonijah put to death.
I’ve always wondered why Adonijah asked for Abishag. Surely, he knew how it would look. So, either this was a really stupid attempt at the throne (as Solomon assumes), or Adonijah was truly in love. I’m just enough of a romantic to think he must have been love; otherwise, he wouldn’t have taken the risk. But whether he dies for love or for politics, he’s dead.
Before the end of the chapter, Joab and Shimei bite the dust as well. One can’t help thinking that “Daddy” would be proud. In any case, the storyteller concludes these blood-soaked chapters with the observation that the kingdom is at last “established in the hand of Solomon.”
And so, the famous “Succession Narrative” comes to an end. The writing is genius, the characters complex, and the politics ruthless. If you were expecting stained glass saints, you were probably disappointed. But if you like reading about the flawed people through whom God sometimes works, you probably loved it. Either way, it’s in the Bible. Our job—with the help of the Holy Spirit—is to decide what on earth to do with it.
Ponder: How did reading the Succession Narrative (2 Samuel 9-20; 1 Kings 1-2) change your impression of David’s character? Of Solomon’s? Of Bathsheba’s? How did their characters develop over the course of the story?
Pray: Guide us as we struggle to know how to interpret this masterful section of Scripture. Thank you for the person/people who wrote it—and the risks they took to bring us these stories.
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.
Read: 2 Samuel 20
Now a scoundrel named Sheba son of Bichri, a Benjaminite, happened to be there. He sounded the trumpet and cried out, “We have no portion in David, no share in the son of Jesse! Everyone to your tents, O Israel!” So all the people of Israel withdrew from David and followed Sheba son of Bichri; but the people of Judah followed their king steadfastly from the Jordan to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 20:1-2, NRSV).
Just when everything was going so well. Absalom’s rebellion was finally in the rearview mirror, and the various constituencies were clamoring to get back into David’s good graces.
But then came Sheba son of Bichri—a “scoundrel”—who sounded the trumpet and managed to get “all the people of Israel” to abandon David and strike out on their own.
Was it really all the people of Israel? That would have been ten whole tribes—the lion’s share of the country. So, no—I suspect that tally is exaggerated. But isn’t that often the way when a coup-plotter tries to take over? The first thing they do is to hire a PR department to try to make people think everybody is on their side.
In any case, David finds himself in yet another dilemma. This “Sheba son of Bichri will do us more harm than Absalom,” he says to his general, Amasa. That’s remarkably clear-headed for a man who has recently been through hell and back, both politically and personally.
Speaking of Amasa—don’t get too attached to him. Amasa, remember, was Absalom’s former general—until Absalom was killed. You might have thought that would bring Amasa’s career trajectory to an abrupt end, but David shrewdly appointed him as his own general (19:13). I suppose you could explain this via the “keep your enemies closer” rule of thumb, but it was also a decision that allowed David to kill two birds with one stone. First, it made it much easier to win the loyalty of Amasa & Absalom’s troops. But as a bonus, it was a way to get back at David’s former general Joab for rebuking David over his excessive mourning (19:1-10). So, out with Joab and in with Amasa.
Did you really think Joab was going to take this demotion lying down? If you don’t like blood and gore, you might want to skip verses 4-13. That’s the part about Joab disemboweling Amasa and leaving him to die along the side of the road. If this whole episode reminds you of how Joab assassinated Abner in 3:26-39, you’re on to something. A spear through your rival’s stomach under the guise of an embrace seems to be Joab’s MO.
Joab throws Amasa’s body into a field and covers it with a cloak. Lest we assume that this is an act of belated respect, the storyteller takes pains to tell us that it is to stop the troops from rubbernecking. Good old Joab.
But now that he’s back in charge, he still has to take care of the rebellious Sheba son of Bichri. (It will be the best way to convince David to let bygones be bygones, after all.) Joab finally runs Sheba to ground in the far northern city of Abel. There, Joab wastes no time in getting out the battering ram. The message is clear: If I have to destroy this whole city and everybody in it, I’m perfectly willing to do so.
Enter a “wise woman” with other ideas. Coaxing Joab over for a conference, she proposes a better idea. She is a peace-loving person, she says, and her hometown is “a mother in Israel.”
Joab responds with what has to be one of the most disingenuous lines in the Bible. “Far be it from me, far be it, that I should swallow up or destroy!” (Oh, no, Joab—you’d never do that!) But the remark shows that the wise woman has Joab just where she wants him, and she makes her modest proposal: How about if the good citizens of Abel just toss Sheba’s head over the wall instead?
Evidently Joab likes the idea because soon Sheba’s head comes catapulting out over the wall. Joab and the army go home happy, and the inhabitants of Abel have a story to tell their grandchildren. The end.
But is it? I called this reflection “Déjà Coup” because it comes so quickly on the heals of Absalom’s failed attempt. And at the risk of a spoiler, it won’t be the last coup we’ll encounter in this story. There are more where these coups came from.
To be honest, however, this story also gives me déjà vu for a more contemporary coup. While I am in no way advocating a violent solution to our national dilemma, I do wonder if there might be some wisdom in it with regard to a certain disgraced ex-president currently holed up in the GOP. Just hand him over and get on with your lives, people. We’d all like to have a country we can pass down to our grandchildren.
Ponder: What about this story gives you déjà vu—the uncanny sensation that you’ve experienced something before? Is there any wisdom in it for the present?
Pray: Guide us, O God, as we seek wise and peaceful solutions for our nation.
Read: 2 Samuel 19:16-43
Mephibosheth grandson of Saul came down to meet the king; he had not taken care of his feet, or trimmed his beard, or washed his clothes, from the day the king left until the day he came back in safety. When he came from Jerusalem to meet the king, the king said to him, “Why did you not go with me, Mephibosheth?” He answered, “My lord, O king, my servant deceived me…he has slandered your servant to my lord the king” (2 Samuel 19:24-25, 26a & 27a. NRSV).
What a difference a day makes. Just yesterday King David was on the run from his rebellious son, Absalom. Now, Absalom is dead, and David and his entourage are making their way back to Jerusalem, victorious.
Three people rush to welcome him, but you couldn’t ask for a more diverse welcoming committee. See if you can sort out who is a friend and who is an enemy.
First out is Shimei son of Gera. You may remember him as the malcontent who scuttled along throwing stones and curses when David fled the city in 16:5-8. Back then he couldn’t wait to hurl his maledictions on David, calling him a “man of blood.” Now, Shimei realizes that he has backed the wrong horse in this rebellion. He runs to meet David, begging for forgiveness.
You’ve got to give Shimei credit. He’s guilty and he admits it. Instead of stones, he throws himself on David’s mercy. Maybe that’s why David decides to spare his life—that and the fact that it’s a king’s prerogative to grant pardons, and David is enjoying having that power back.
Barzillai the Gileadite is also part of the welcoming committee, but he is the exact opposite of Shimei. Barzillai had supported David when the chips were down, bringing him supplies as David fled before Absalom (see 17:27-28). Now he comes to welcome David back, wanting nothing as a reward for his loyalty. I’m in my 80’s, he tells David. There’s nothing I need. So, David settles for rewarding Barzillai’s son instead. Whatever, says Barzillai, and shuffles back home to his rocking chair.
So, let’s take stock. One member of David’s welcoming committee is guilty but begs for his life. Another member is loyal but asks for nothing in return. Sandwiched between these extremes is the third member of the committee: Mephibosheth. His loyalties will be significantly harder to sort out.
Mephibosheth, remember, is Saul’s grandson. Instead of executing him (as would have been the usual practice at that time), David had allowed him to live, and even provided him with a perpetual dinner invitation at the palace. When David fled Jerusalem, however, Mephibosheth’s servant, Ziba, had told David that Mephibosheth was celebrating David’s downfall (16:1-4). David had believed Ziba’s bad report and rewarded him with all of Mephibosheth’s worldly goods.
Now David has a dilemma. Mephibosheth says that Ziba is a liar—that in fact, Mephibosheth had wanted to leave town with David, but that Ziba had left his master behind and hurried out to take all the credit for bringing provisions to the king in his hour of need. Even now (19:17-18) Ziba is scurrying around, acting the loyal servant, assisting David as he returns to Jerusalem.
Who is telling the truth? David can’t seem to decide, so he splits their possessions down the middle, returning half to Mephibosheth and letting Ziba keep the rest.
What do you think? I think there are two very good reasons for taking Mephibosheth at his word. First, there is his reaction to the 50/50 split. “Let him take it all,” he says to David, “since my lord the king has arrived home safely” (v. 30). That’s either sincere, or a very clever attempt to look sincere.
But there’s another reason to believe Mephibosheth. Did you notice that the storyteller was careful to tell us that when Mephibosheth came down to meet the king, “he had not taken care of his feet, or trimmed his beard, or washed his clothes, from the day the king left until the day he came back in safety” (v. 24). Those are all signs of mourning, and the beard, especially, would have been hard to fake.
It’s a tough call, but I like to think Mephibosheth is telling the truth. In any case, it won’t be the last time David will have to make a decision like this. I know you’re supposed to keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but nobody ever tells you what to do with your frenemies.
Ponder: Do you think Mephibosheth was telling the truth? Why or why not? How do you tell if someone is a friend or an enemy?
Pray: Help us to be loyal and truthful friends, O God, and to judge well when we can’t decide whether others are returning the favor