Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The narrative in this chapter still continues much in the same graphic style and detail as in the previous chapter. During the interval between the two chapters we have in 1 Chronicles 28, 29 the record of a great assembly of the “princes of Israel” and the whole realm—a solemn farewell of David to the people, with charge to aid in building the Temple, followed by offerings for it; and the making of “Solomon king the second time” (1Chronicles 29:22). This possibly represented his accession to the royalty not only over Judah, but over the rest of Israel, with formal acceptance by the representatives of all the tribes. (Comp. 1Kings 12:1, in respect of the accession of Rehoboam.) In this detailed record it is specially noticed (1Chronicles 28:2) that the old king “stood up on his feet,” as though the excitement of the great occasion had renewed for a time his strength, and enabled him to rise from his bed. It is also recorded that “all the sons of David,” who had apparently favoured Adonijah, submitted themselves to Solomon the king (1Chronicles 29:24).
Now the days of David drew nigh that he should die; and he charged Solomon his son, saying,
I go the way of all the earth: be thou strong therefore, and shew thyself a man;(2) I go the way of all the earth.—Comp. Joshua 23:14.
And keep the charge of the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, that thou mayest prosper in all that thou doest, and whithersoever thou turnest thyself:(3) Keep the charge.—The main charge to Solomon is noble enough. He is to “show himself a man,” in spite of his youth; he is to take heed in all things to follow the Law of the Lord; he is to trust both in the general promise of God to obedience, and in the special promise made to the house of David (2Samuel 7:12-16). It is remarkably in harmony with the beautiful Psalm, “the last words of David,” preserved in 2Samuel 23:3-5, telling how “he that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God,” and, in spite of consciousness of shortcomings from this high ideal, trusting in the “everlasting covenant of God” with him, “ordered in all things, and sure.” Nor does it accord less with the equally beautiful prayer of 1Chronicles 29:18-19, for Solomon and for the people. In all this David speaks in the spirit of a true servant and saint of God. But in the special charges that follow we see the worldly prudence of the old statesman, and in one case some trace of long-remembered grudge, singularly true to imperfect human nature, although utterly unworthy of an ideal picture of a hero-king.
Moreover thou knowest also what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me, and what he did to the two captains of the hosts of Israel, unto Abner the son of Ner, and unto Amasa the son of Jether, whom he slew, and shed the blood of war in peace, and put the blood of war upon his girdle that was about his loins, and in his shoes that were on his feet.(5) What Joab . . . did.—The charge as to Joab has a certain righteousness in it. David could not—probably since Joab’s knowledge of his great crime, he dared not—punish him as he deserved. There is a graphic vividness in the description of the blood of his victims, shed as “the blood of war in peace,” spirting over the girdle and sandals of the murderer, which shows how the horror of the crimes had dwelt on David’s imagination. The murder of Abner, treacherous as it was, probably had some show of justification in the rough justice wrought out by the duty laid in ancient law on the “avenger of blood.” David disclaims it (2Samuel 3:28-29; 2Samuel 3:37-39), without actually condemning it as inexcusable. The more recent and shameful murder of Amasa was simply one of revenge and ambition, because Amasa had been put in Joab’s place; yet David, broken in spirit, does not dare to blame it, and quietly acquiesces in the resumption by Joab of the dignity conferred on the murdered man. That these crimes should be punished by a king whose hands were clean, and who owed Joab nothing. was perhaps just, certainly within the letter of the law; though clemency might have spared the old and now fallen warrior, who had at least served David ably with long and faithful service. It is singularly true to nature, that the old King makes no mention of the act for which nevertheless, in all probability, he most bore grudge against Joab—the reckless slaughter of Absalom against his own express commands and entreaties—and does not deign to allude to his recent treason, which probably had already embittered Solomon against him.
But shew kindness unto the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and let them be of those that eat at thy table: for so they came to me when I fled because of Absalom thy brother.(7) Shew kindness.—The charge of favour to the sons of Barzillai (see 2Samuel 19:37-40) stands out in pleasant contrast. It has been noted that in Jeremiah 41:17 there is a reference to “the habitation of Chimham,” as being “by Bethlehem,” David’s own birthplace; as if David had given him inheritance there, out of what was especially his own.
And, behold, thou hast with thee Shimei the son of Gera, a Benjamite of Bahurim, which cursed me with a grievous curse in the day when I went to Mahanaim: but he came down to meet me at Jordan, and I sware to him by the LORD, saying, I will not put thee to death with the sword.(8) Thou hast with thee Shimei.—The most ungenerous charge is the virtual withdrawal of the pardon, freely granted to Shimei long before (2Samuel 19:18-23). It is, perhaps, partly dictated by policy; for the notice of Shimei (2Samuel 16:5-8; 2Samuel 19:17) shows that he was powerful, and that he assumed a dangerous championship of the fallen house of Saul. But there are unmistakable traces of the old grudge rankling in David’s heart, reminding us of the bitterness of such psalms as Psalms 69.
So David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David.(10) Buried in the city of David—that is, evidently in Mount Sion. In Nehemiah 3:16 the “sepulchres of David” are noticed, and they are plainly alluded to in Ezekiel 43:7; Ezekiel 43:9. They became the regular tombs of the kings, with some exceptions particularly noticed. It was in token of special honour that the high priest Jehoiada, the preserver of the royal dynasty, was buried therein (See 2Chronicles 24:16).
Then sat Solomon upon the throne of David his father; and his kingdom was established greatly.(12) His kingdom was established greatly.—From the notice in the closing verse of the chapter, that after the deaths of Adonijah, Joab, and Shimei, and the degradation of Abiathar, “the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon,” it would seem that, under the smooth surface of apparent loyalty, there lurked some elements of disaffection and danger—perhaps aggravated by enmity from without; for we gather from 1Kings 11:14-25 that the death of David was the signal for some attempts at rebellion in the conquered nations. But these are apparently crushed without the slightest effort, though with no little fierceness and severity; and the royalty of Solomon rises at once to a colossal greatness.
And Adonijah the son of Haggith came to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon. And she said, Comest thou peaceably? And he said, Peaceably.(13) And Adonijah . . . came.—The application of Adonijah to Bath-sheba, and the signs of honour paid to her by the king—of which there is no trace in her approach to the presence of David (1Kings 1:15-16; 1Kings 1:28; 1Kings 1:31)—illustrate the universal custom of Eastern monarchies; by which, while the wives of the king, being many, are seldom held to be of any great political account, the mother of the reigning king is a person of great dignity and influence. We may notice how constantly the name of each king’s mother is recorded in the history.
And he said, Thou knowest that the kingdom was mine, and that all Israel set their faces on me, that I should reign: howbeit the kingdom is turned about, and is become my brother's: for it was his from the LORD.(15) Thou knowest.—Adonijah’s words show craft, flattering Bath-sheba by extolling her influence, and making merit of his surrender to Solomon, in obedience to the Lord’s decree, of a kingdom which, in evident contradiction to fact, he asserts to have been destined to him by popular desire. The petition, however, apparently harmless, and (since Abishag was concubine of David only in name) involving nothing unnatural, had perhaps a covert design: for, by universal Eastern custom, to take a king’s wives was the known privilege or duty of his successor. Hence the counsel, most unseemly but still probably politic, given by Ahithophel to Absalom (2Samuel 16:21). If, therefore, Adonijah had publicly espoused Abishag, it might have seemed a virtual renewal of his claim to the crown. This Solomon sees at once, though Bath-sheba, strangely enough, does not see it.
And king Solomon answered and said unto his mother, And why dost thou ask Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? ask for him the kingdom also; for he is mine elder brother; even for him, and for Abiathar the priest, and for Joab the son of Zeruiah.(22) And why dost thou ask?—In Solomon’s answer there is a certain bitterness, venting itself in irony, which seems to argue the mingling with kingly dignity and policy of some passionate feeling, not unlike the bursts of passion in his father, as in the case of Nabal (1Samuel 25:21-22). It certainly gives some probability to the conjecture (see Note on 1:3) that Abishag was the “fair Shulamite” of the Song of Solomon, already loved by the youthful king. In his wrath he infers, rightly or wrongly, that the hand of the conspirators is seen in this petition, and executes vengeance accordingly, summarily and without giving them any trial or opportunity of excusing themselves.
Then king Solomon sware by the LORD, saying, God do so to me, and more also, if Adonijah have not spoken this word against his own life.(23) God do so to me, and more also.—See Ruth 1:17; 1Samuel 3:17; 1Samuel 14:44; 1Samuel 20:13; 1Samuel 25:22, 2Samuel 11:14, &c. This well-known formula of imprecation—which the LXX. renders, “May God do these things to me and add these things also “—was probably accompanied with some gesture signifying utter destruction.
Now therefore, as the LORD liveth, which hath established me, and set me on the throne of David my father, and who hath made me an house, as he promised, Adonijah shall be put to death this day.(24) As the Lord liveth, which hath . . .—There is something characteristic in this adjuration, as compared with that of David in 1Kings 1:29. In David we always see the living man, whose soul longs after God with a vivid personal devotion. Solomon is emphatically the king, sitting on the throne of David, with his house established for ever. In the majesty of his royalty his individual character is to us almost entirely merged.
And king Solomon sent by the hand of Benaiah the son of Jehoiada; and he fell upon him that he died.(25) Sent by the hand of Benaiah.—The chief of the body-guard is the chief of “the executioners” (see 1Kings 1:38), apparently, in the case of great criminals, carrying out the sentence of condemnation with his own hand. (Comp. Judges 8:20-21.)
And unto Abiathar the priest said the king, Get thee to Anathoth, unto thine own fields; for thou art worthy of death: but I will not at this time put thee to death, because thou barest the ark of the Lord GOD before David my father, and because thou hast been afflicted in all wherein my father was afflicted.(26) Anathoth is noted, in Joshua 21:18; 1Chronicles 6:60, as a city of the priests in the territory of Benjamin, but a few miles from Jerusalem, and is best known to us as the birthplace of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:1; Jeremiah 32:7).
It is notable that it is not Abiathar’s priestly character which protects him, but the remembrance of his long friendship to David in adversity, and probably of that special promise which David made to him, perhaps not without remorse, when he found that his deceit to Ahimelech had drawn down Sauľs bloody vengeance upon him and his family (1Samuel 22:20-23).
So Solomon thrust out Abiathar from being priest unto the LORD; that he might fulfil the word of the LORD, which he spake concerning the house of Eli in Shiloh.(27) That he might fulfil.—In these words is described, not the purpose, but the effect of Solomon’s action. The prophecy referred to is, of course, that of 1Samuel 2:30-35; 1Samuel 3:11-14, fulfilled by the degradation, in Abiathar’s person, of the house of Ithamar, and the exaltation, or restoration, in Zadok, of the house of Eleazar, to whom, as the elder son of Aaron, the primacy would have seemed naturally to belong. It seems clear from 1Kings 2:35 that Abiathar had hitherto had some superiority, although in the various notices of the two, Zadok’s name stands first; but whether of actual authority, or only of priority of dignity, cannot be determined. While the Tabernacle remained at Gibeon under Zadok’s charge, and the Ark was in Mount Zion under Abiathar, there might, indeed, be something like co-ordination between the two. This, in any case, must have disappeared at the building of the Temple; and the disgrace of Abiathar determined that the undivided dignity should pass to Zadok.
Then tidings came to Joab: for Joab had turned after Adonijah, though he turned not after Absalom. And Joab fled unto the tabernacle of the LORD, and caught hold on the horns of the altar.(28) Joab had turned.—It is strange that Joab should have been in no danger or anxiety immediately after the actual failure of the conspiracy; and it is also notable that, although the real motive for putting him to death was to punish his support of Adonijah, now renewed, yet Solomon’s words in pronouncing sentence on him refrain from mention of anything except the old crimes dwelt upon in the dying charge of David. Possibly this was done to bring Joab’s case within the emphatic declaration of the Law, that no sanctuary should protect the wilful and treacherous murderer, and that innocent blood, so shed and left unavenged, would pollute the land (Exodus 21:14; Numbers 35:33). It is significant, moreover, of the increased power of the monarchy, even in hands young and yet untried, that the old captain of the host, who had been “too hard” for David, even before David’s great sin, should now fall, as it would seem, without a single act of resistance or word of remonstrance on his behalf, after a long career of faithful service, only once tarnished by disloyalty. It has been noticed that if (as is probable) the “Tabernacle of the Lord” at Gibeon is meant, Joab falls close to the scene of his murder of Amasa, “at the great stone in Gibeon” (2Samuel 20:18).
And the king put Benaiah the son of Jehoiada in his room over the host: and Zadok the priest did the king put in the room of Abiathar.(35) And the king put.—Benaiah succeeds to Joab’s command over the host: but it is notable that in the Hebrew text of 1Kings 4:2-6, there is no mention of any successor to his command over the body-guard.
And the king sent and called for Shimei, and said unto him, Build thee an house in Jerusalem, and dwell there, and go not forth thence any whither.(36) Called for Shimei.—The command given to Shimei is in itself a reasonable precaution against treason, in one already powerful and of doubtful fidelity; and the reference to crossing the Kedron shows that it was designed to prevent his resorting to his native place, Bahurim. But it is difficult, in face of David’s charge, to doubt that it was in some degree intended as a snare; and this view is confirmed by Solomon’s words in 1Kings 2:44, which refer back to the old offence of Shimei against David. The narrative gives no hint that Shimei’s expedition to Gath was not made in good faith, simply to regain his slaves; and a command, which had its justification in the danger likely to result from his residence in Bahurim, among his own people, could hardly be disobeyed in spirit by a temporary journey to a foreign country. Legally the execution was justifiable, and it may have been politic; but it cannot stand examination on the ground of equity or generosity. It is here probably related by anticipation.
And it came to pass at the end of three years, that two of the servants of Shimei ran away unto Achish son of Maachah king of Gath. And they told Shimei, saying, Behold, thy servants be in Gath.(39) Achish son of Maachah.—In 1Samuel 27:2 we read of Achish son of Maoch, king of Gath; but chronology makes it most unlikely that the same person should here be referred to. The name may have been hereditary.