Engages the reader by amplifying the biblical resonances echoing in our own world today by disclosing how God's Word is embodied and made known by those we least expect.
The Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries provide compact, critical commentaries on the books of the Old Testament for the use of theological students and pastors. The commentaries are also useful for upper-level college or university students and for those responsible for teaching in congregational settings. In addition to providing basic information and insights into the Old Testament writings, these commentaries exemplify the tasks and procedures of careful interpretation, to assist students of the Old Testament in coming to an informed and critical engagement with the biblical texts themselves.
This study of the Books of Kings unfolds with attention and sensitivity to the immense literary artistry that craft these narratives. While setting forth the literary and theological significance of these traditions concerning the major figures in these canonical books, i.e. Israel's Kings, this commentary consistently trains our attention upon the minor characters also resident in these stories. Fixing upon these individuals as well as the prophets, the exegetical discussion often discloses how God's Word is embodied and made known by those we might least expect. While steadfastly avoiding analogical readings, the theological and ethical exposition skillfully engage the reader by amplifying the resonances in these texts echoing in our own world today.
About the Author
Gina Hens-Piazza is at Jesuit School of Theology, Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California.
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Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries - 1 and 2 Kings
By Gina Hens-Piazza
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2006 The United Methodist Publishing House
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCommentary: 1 Kings
1 Kings 1
As 1 Kings opens, it offers a glimpse of the essential humanity at play amid monarchic machinations. The reign of David is over. His weakened, old, passive condition, described in the opening verses of chapter 1, warrants a replacement. A dramatic power struggle erupts between Solomon and Adonijah in response to the implicit question, Who will ascend the throne of David? Just as interpreters struggle over the role of this story, the characters wrestle in response to this underlying question. The account that unfolds details how Solomon comes to the throne. Attention shifts away from the ailing David and spotlights the rise of the young king. An era that contrasts with the weak, pathetic close of the Davidic time is about to begin. The story of Solomon's inauguration and the public assent it receives raises expectations.
Chapter 1 narrates a complex story framed by its own literary borders. In the opening of the story (1:1-10), the disabled, frail condition of King David prompts Adonijah's plot to seize power and ascend the throne. In the conclusion (1:41-53), the inauguration of Solomon as king necessitates Adonijah's surrender of these ambitions as well as his plea for clemency. Tension is introduced early in the narrative when Adonijah holds a feast to commence the beginning of his rise to power. Toward the end of the story, that same feast occasions the demise of his agenda and renders him powerless (1:41-49).
Across the development of plot and its resolution, four speeches (vv. 11-14; 15-21; 22-27; 28-35) work to overturn Adonijah's plan. First, the prophet Nathan invites Bathsheba, Solomon's mother, to consider the life-threatening consequences for herself if Adonijah becomes king (1:11-14). He enlists her assistance to reverse the young man's plan. Second, Bathsheba, as instructed by Nathan, goes to David and informs him of Adonijah's scheming (1:15-21). Additionally, she challenges the ailing king to make good on a vow he made regarding Solomon's ascent to the throne. Third, Nathan joins Bathsheba before David and further coaxes the failing monarch (1:22-27). Finally, David proclaims Solomon as his successor and gives instructions for the inauguration (1:28-30, 32-37), to which Benaiah, commander of David's army, affirmatively responds.
Characteristic of Hebrew narrative, what the king orders is described as being immediately carried out. Solomon's inauguration fulfills David's orders and accomplishes what the four speeches aimed to procure. Narrative report records the details of the story's climax (1:38-40). Solomon is placed upon a mule and brought to Gihon. Zadok the priest takes a horn of oil from the tent and anoints Solomon king. As the ram's horn is blown, the people raise their voices in assent: "Long live King Solomon!" Narrative elaboration confirms the public assent. The people go up after him, play joyful music, and rejoice loudly. The narrative record of these events concludes on a celebratory note, and "the earth quaked" at their noise (1:40). The image conjures notions that even the earth participates in the great jubilation over the rise of a monarch. This occasion of the rise of a new star encourages such comprehensive rejoicing. However, the image of the earth "quaking" could also suggest a splitting or severing of the land and thus foreshadow something else. The following exegetical exposition will consider whether this image narrates the earth's rejoicing or serves as a threatening portent (vv. 41-53).
An Ailing King (1:1-4)
Chapter 1 opens in the private quarters of King David's bedroom. Directly, we are offered a brief but nevertheless unqualified assessment of the languishing monarch's condition. David is old and cold. No amount of blankets can warm him. This lackluster description is not only about David. The decline of the once powerful king creates a political crisis. The absence of a monarch at the helm creates a power vacuum. That David's own servants take steps to revive his vitality suggests the gravity of a waning ruler. With wishful fantasies of a bygone era, his servants enlist a young, beautiful virgin to rekindle his virility and to warm him. Abishag, a Shunammite from a small village in the northern tribal territory of Issachar, is brought to the king's chamber "to lie in [his] bosom" and to attend to him (1:2). The description echoes the earlier portrait of Bathsheba, who was also described as the one to "lie in his bosom" (2 Sam 12:3). Like Bathsheba, Abishag is described as beautiful. Images of the past when David was powerful, virile, and woefully unrestrained subtly resonate across the narrative and strain to quell the desperation of those responsible for his care. Perhaps the king's servants hoped contact with Abishag would heal him. That she was from Shunem, where Elisha the prophet would later restore a child to life by contact with the child's dead body, encouraged such expectations (2 Kgs 4:32-37). Or perhaps the plan to bring beautiful Abishag to the bedside of the frail king aims to revitalize him. Instead, the gesture not only fails, but further underscores the disabled condition of this monarch. Though the virgin Abishag sleeps with the king, David "did not know her sexually" (1:4). Such physical impotency in private affairs does not bode well for David's competence in the public sphere. The loss of virility and vitality signals a political crisis. Who will be David's heir? Who will ascend the throne?
A Great Feast (1:5-10)
Adonijah, the eldest of David's remaining sons born at Hebron and thus the likely heir, responds. Taking the initiative, Adonijah prepares for his own enthronement. As he gathers horsemen, chariots, and soldiers to go ahead of him, his forthright, carefully planned activity contrasts sharply with the unresponsive and sickly state of the king. Adonijah's expression of intent is clear, "I will be king" (1:5). The description of his handsome appearance and the indulgences of his father (1:6) remind us of another of David's sons, Absalom. Before he led a revolt to become king, Absalom also held a feast and gathered a regiment of soldiers. Although such parallels encourage us to think of Adonijah's sacrifice and feast as an occasion for self-coronation, he was more likely rallying his supporters and currying favor among his constituencies. The names of the invited guests suggest an assembly of familiar court officials we know from the past. Joab and Abiathar, early associates of David with an allegiance to the political climate before the unification of the northern tribes, join and support Adonijah. Indeed, his guest list includes "all the royal officials of Judah" (1:9), those who likely still identify with the self-governing tribal stronghold of the south before David established a capital at Jerusalem. The names of those not invited argue strongly for the partisan nature of Adonijah's activities. Benaiah, Zadok, and Nathan are not among the guests. It is more than coincidence that these government officials (who entered the David story after the move from Hebron to Jerusalem) are among the uninvited. This banquet at En-rogel and the divisions it suggests must be understood in light of the Judah-Israel tensions already present in 2 Sam 20. Those who long for the "good old days" rally around Adonijah in opposition to those committed to the unified nation and the future it holds.
Though he is mentioned last, Solomon, the son born to David in Jerusalem, numbers most poignantly among Adonijah's uninvited guests. That Solomon is introduced as "his brother" and not "the son of Bathsheba" highlights the significance of this omission and the familial nature of the latent divisions. Such oppositions can have consequences beyond familial confines. As we shall see in the chapters to come, the tensions between brothers, left unresolved, produce a deadly schism.
Four Speeches (1:11-37)
The scene now shifts from En-rogel to the royal court. Four speeches work to reverse Adonijah's plan. First, Nathan, the court prophet of David, speaks to Bathsheba (vv. 11-14). At the opening of his address, he inquires whether Bathsheba knows that Adonijah has become king. He then tells her what she must do to reverse this situation. At the close of his address, he urges Bathsheba to confront David with this same question. Whether Nathan, the one responsible for conveying God's will to the king, acts in good faith remains uncertain. On two accounts, he gives Bathsheba instructions that raise suspicions as to his motives. Though Adonijah has not actually declared himself king, Nathan reports this as a fact. "Have you not heard that Adonijah son of Haggith has become king ...?" (1:12). Next, Nathan urges Bathsheba to remind David of an oath the king allegedly swore that would put Solomon on the throne. However, nowhere in 2 Samuel do we find such an oath on the part of David. On both scores we might wonder about Nathan's construction of the truth.
Moreover, the script Nathan provides for Bathsheba pairs David and Solomon as king and king-to-be in one rhetorical question over and against Adonijah as king in another. "Go in at once to King David, and say to him, 'Did you not, my lord the king, swear to your servant, saying: Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne? Why then is Adonijah king?'" (1:13). Nathan's strategy seems troubling. If he can make David angry at his eldest son, he may be able to motivate even the ailing king to act. But to manipulate David, the prophet must first manipulate Bathsheba. Hence, he supplies the motive that will prompt her to cooperate. In his speech, Nathan introduces Adonijah as "the son of Haggith," reminding Bathsheba that the powerful role of queen mother is up for grabs. He goes further to ensure her cooperation reminding her that the stakes are nothing less than her life and the life of her son Solomon. Although we don't know Nathan's motive, he clearly takes advantage of both David's condition and Bathsheba's vulnerability. That Solomon becomes king as a result of Nathan's scheming raises questions about the legitimacy of the whole succession process. Moreover, the prophet's efforts to cultivate opposition in order to carry out his plan raise additional questions about Solomon's kingship.
Bathsheba delivers before David the second speech in this chapter (vv. 15-21). She carries out Nathan's order and goes to the king's bedchamber. The status of the king confined to his royal quarters is again rehearsed. The ruler is old and ill. Abishag attends the ailing monarch at his bedside. However, now the description serves to justify Bathsheba's speech. Replaced by the youthful Abishag, the security of Bathsheba's royal position is as precarious as the king's health. Mother of Solomon, she has urgent grounds on which to make her case. Invited to speak, she reviews for David what we already know but what David does not. According to her, Adonijah has become king. Indeed, we know he is at least planning to do so. David's lack of knowledge regarding these important public matters coincides with his lack of knowledge in the private sphere of sexual relations. As Bathsheba recites the allegations that Nathan has fed her, her embellishments reveal her vested interest. David's failure to act not only jeopardizes his reputation but also threatens her safety and that of Solomon in the royal court. Additionally, when Bathsheba reminds David of his oath, she adds, "You swore ... by the LORD your God" (1:17). The use of God language reminds the king of his responsibility and thus his culpability before God if he remains indecisive. Earlier in his story, David's military leader, Joab, had sent the wise woman of Tekoa to trick the king into ruling in favor of his son Absalom (2 Sam 14:1-20). Now Nathan commissions another woman, Bathsheba, to prompt David's ruling on behalf of another son, Solomon.
The third speech commences when Nathan follows Bathsheba into the king's chamber and reinforces her story (vv. 22-27). Here, the Hebrew is more telling. Nathan did not merely "confirm her account" as he promised (v. 14); he "supplemented" her words. Though Nathan's construction of events is angled differently, it pursues the same outcome. In contrast to Bathsheba's observation of David's lack of knowledge of Adonijah's ascent, Nathan's opening inquiry questions whether David himself has instigated Adonijah's behavior and acted in favor of this son. Nathan follows this with a report of the gathering underway at En-rogel. His rendition portrays what may have been a campaign dinner as a royal coronation feast. Though Nathan numbered among the uninvited, he reports firsthand that Adonijah's guests eat, drink, and proclaim, "Long live King Adonijah!" (1:25).
Knowing full well that David did not instigate Adonijah's elevation, the prophet rhetorically crafts his speech to affect David both professionally and personally. On the one hand, the report of Adonijah's alleged acclamation as king is intended to incite anger on the part of a sickly but nevertheless still reigning monarch. On the other hand, it may also evoke a painful memory about David's other son Absalom's rebellious pursuit of the throne (2 Sam 15). Hence, alongside Bathsheba's account that highlights the conflict between brothers, Nathan's construal of the events enkindles hostility between father and son. Together, both speeches succeed in inciting David to act.
David delivers the fourth speech (1:28-37). Two parts structure his address. First, he summons Bathsheba. Though she apparently left the chambers when David conferred with his chief advisor Nathan, it is noteworthy that David now summons her and reveals his plan. The king indicates his personal resolve to make good on his word to her, as well as to address the constitutional crisis at hand. He recites the oath that she had recalled for him but with changes. Whereas Bathsheba recounted David swearing by "the LORD your God," David now swears by "the LORD, the God of Israel" (1:30). It is no surprise that the king's theology is subject to and crafted by his political priorities; for him, Yahweh is a national deity. The officials he summons in the second part of the address confirm these political commitments. He calls Nathan, his prophet; Zadok, his priest; and Benaiah, son of Jehoiada, commander of his military forces. Over and against Adonijah's cadre of Judahite officials, these men represent the rival establishment of the unified nation Israel.
With forthright decisiveness befitting a powerful monarch, David issues a series of orders that collectively will accomplish both the succession of Solomon as king and the fall of Adonijah. David commands them, "Take with you the servants of your lord" (1:33a), and mount Solomon on David's own mule. This will be a sure public sign of the king's own confirmation of the events. Next, they are to bring Solomon down to the spring Gihon (1:33b). Curiously, this site is close to En-rogel where Adonijah's feast is underway. Then Zadok and Nathan are commanded to anoint Solomon as king over Israel. Next, they are to "blow the trumpet [shofar]," the familiar means by which royal announcements are made to the people of the surrounding region. The sound of the shofar will surely be heard in En-rogel, less than a half mile outside the city limits. The sounding of the shofar is to be followed by the proclamation, "Long live King Solomon!" (1:34). After these inaugural gestures at Gihon, David's royal officials are ordered, "You shall go up following him" (1:35), with Solomon in the lead, another indication of this anointed one's ascent to kingship. Finally, David's list of commands culminates with a last edict: Solomon is to "enter and sit on my throne; he shall be king in my place" (1:35).
With this series of monarchic mandates, we reach the climax of the story; a dramatic turn of events has been brought about by a dramatic change in the king. As if awakened from a febrile slumber, the passive, unresponsive king now becomes active and decisive. Whether out of loyalty to Bathsheba, fidelity to an oath, or a determination to save both his honor and the work of his hands, that is, a unified Israel, David swings into action one last time. In response, Benaiah, David's army commander, makes public supplication that the Lord ordain the King's commands (vv. 36-37). His prayer confirms that the military will back the implementation of David's order.
Excerpted from Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries - 1 and 2 Kings by Gina Hens-Piazza Copyright © 2006 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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