The beginning of Solomon’s reign in 1 Kings 2 reminds me of the iconic scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 gangster film, ‘The Godfather’, where Michael Corleone, the new Don, following the death of his father, orchestrates the brutal murder of all those in opposition to him. Shortly before he does away with his final victim (his own brother-in-law), Michael informs him that ‘All family business has been settled’!
In today’s reading, King Solomon is energetic in settling all family business! His father David, from his death bed, instructs the newly appointed King to deal with his remaining enemies and Solomon carries out his wishes. He firstly has to eliminate a threat of his own – his brother Adonijah, who in asking to marry Abishag, the young beauty who comforted King David in his last days, is effectively making a second power play for kingship, as it was the tradition of new kings to take on the former king’s concubines. Remember Absalom, in 2 Samuel 16:22b ‘And Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel’. Solomon had to rid himself of Adonijah because he realised that, despite being forgiven for his first attempt to take the throne, Adonijah would be a constant thorn in his side, always looking for an opportunity to displace him and take over.
Next on the list was Joab, a complex man, who had at times been a very faithful and strong commander of David’s army, yet at other times, had defied his master’s orders to David’s great distress. Joab had to pay for killing two good and upright young men in peace time, in revenge for his brother’s death in war, when the rules of conduct were completely different! David considered the guilt of blood to be on Joab’s hands and advised Solomon not to let him die a peaceful death. David didn’t even mention that Joab had also killed his first-born, Absalom, which was a source of immense sadness to his father. Solomon ordered Joab’s death.
With Abiathar, the priest, who had conspired with Adonijah at the time of the attempted coup, Solomon showed mercy. Rather than kill him, he exiled him back to his home town and stripped him of his priesthood. This action fulfilled God’s word to Eli about the priesthood being removed from his family line.
Solomon also showed mercy to Shimei the Benjaminite, who had cursed his father, by offering him the forerunner of electronic tagging – confinement in the city of Jerusalem where he would be protected from harm. Ultimately, though, Shimei broke the agreement by straying from the city in search of his servants and was put to death. With that, all those who had done David harm or who were a threat to Solomon were eliminated and all family business was settled!
The interesting thing about this account of settling old scores is that it is sandwiched between two key statements about Solomon’s status. In verse 12, we read, ‘So Solomon sat on the throne of David his father, and his kingdom was firmly established.’ And at the very end of the account, in verse 46b, ‘So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon.’ This is so important because the establishment of Solomon’s reign was the fulfilment of a promise from God to David in 2 Sam 7:12. Solomon knew, therefore, right from the beginning that God had ‘firmly’ established his kingdom, yet he still had to deal with some unpleasant matters before the kingdom was ‘established in his hand’. Positionally, King Solomon had the authority but practically, he also had to conduct himself as king. The same is true of us. When we choose to follow Jesus, the ultimate descendant of King David, whose ‘throne will be established forever’ (2 Sam 7:16), we become a ‘new creation in Christ’ (2 Cor 5:17). Positionally, we have a new identity, but practically, we may have to deal with unpleasant things in order to fully walk in our new life. For example, we may have to put to death addictions or bitterness; we may have to exile old friends, if we realise they don’t have our best interests at heart; and we may need to have mercy on those who have hurt us. It’s up to us to decide to what extent we want to establish God’s kingdom in our hearts.