1 Kings 1
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Ambition is not always wrong. It is a common inspiration; and when the desire for distinction is associated with fitness for it, the call to effort and advance is from God. But for such ambition the world would stagnate. When the schoolboy is working for a prize, when the writer or speaker resolves to be amongst the foremost men of his age, when the man of business presses on towards the front ranks in the commercial world, we see what should be applauded and not condemned, so long as lawful objects are sought by lawful means. Let us, in all our pursuits, remember God's laws for exaltation. Men are to go higher, when they have fulfilled the duties of the lower sphere. They are to rise on performances, and not on discontent. Hence, if ambition be conscientious, it will prompt to the minutely faithful performance of trivial duties. With a tireless hand crooked things will be made straight, and rough places plain, before the glory is revealed. If, however, ambition be not ruled by righteousness, or modified by love, if it is regardless of the rights of others and of the will of God, then it is a sin; the sin which was the herald of disobedience and death, the source of the tyranny and bloodshed which have desolated the world. It was this sin of which Adonijah was guilty when he "exalted himself, saying, I will be king!" Let us see wherein the sinfulness of his sin lay.

I. THIS AMBITION PROMPTED ADONIJAH TO AN INFRINGEMENT OF THE DIVINE ORDINANCE. It has been said that his act was natural, though foolishly precipitate; for, according to the usual law of primogeniture, he had a right to expect the throne. But the law of primogeniture was never the law of the kingdom of Israel, which in spirit was a theocracy throughout. The invisible King distinctly reserved to him. self the right of appointment (Deuteronomy 17:14, 15). True, seniority was a tacit indication of the Divine will, but this was always overruled by any special revelation of God's choice. He who had chosen David from amongst his brothers, chose Solomon, and there was fitness in the choice; not only because as a man of peace he was qualified to build the Temple (1 Chronicles 22:8, 9), but also because his succession was a pledge to his parents, and to all the people, that after the death of their first child the sin of David and Bathsheba was buried in oblivion (comp. Psalm 51:2, 7, 9, with Isaiah 43:25, etc.). This Divine choice was publicly known. Nathan sided with Solomon not as "the leader of a court cabal," but as the prophet of the Lord; and Adonijah himself was well aware of the election of his brother (1 Kings 2:15). When Adonijah said "I will be king," he deliberately set up his will against God's. A deep significance underlies God's choice of men. He elects according to fitness and fits according to election, so that there is ultimate harmony between circumstances and character. The two sons of Zebedee were taught this. They had as much seeming right to the place of honour which they sought as had Adonijah to the throne. They belonged to "the twelve," were personally beloved of their Lord, and their mother was related to the Virgin Mary, and was of those who ministered to Jesus. But Jesus said, "to sit on my right hand and on my left is not mine to give, but it shall be given to those for whom it is prepared of my Father." In other words, honours would be given by law and not by favour; not from arbitrary impulse, but from a knowledge of what was right and fitting. Draw lessons of contentment from the assurance that our lot is appointed by God. Show the necessity for our own sakes of submissiveness in prayer, lest God should give us our request and send leanness into our soul.

II. THIS AMBITION WAS A CRAVING FOR OUTWARD HONOUR, AND NOT FOR INWARD WORTH. "He prepared him chariots and horsemen and fifty men to run before him. His ambition was to have these for their own sakes, not to increase his influence for good. Nor was he the last man who cared for glitter and show. The candidate for a competitive examination, who seeks only for honours, and cares nothing for the learning and studious habits which may be acquired, will never be a true student. So with the professional man who works for money only, etc. Honours thus won are unsatisfying and transient. Their worth is fitly represented in the ceremonies observed at the coronation of a Pope. The M. C. holds in one hand a lighted taper, and in the other a reed surmounted by a piece of flax. The flax is ignited and flashes up into light, but in a few moments the flame dies out and the thin ashes fall at the Pontiffs feet, while a sonorous voice chants the words, Pater sanctus, sic transit gloria mundi." The pagans understood to some extent the lesson we seek to enforce. Their temple of honour had only one entrance, and that was through the temple of virtue. Over the gates of the kingdom of Christ these words are written, "He that humbleth himself shall be exalted, and he that exalteth himself shall be abased." In the day when spiritual realities shall be revealed there shall be not the glorification, but the "manifestation of the sons of God," and in the outcome of character inwrought by God's Spirit true and lasting glory shall be found.

III. THIS AMBITION ASSERTED ITSELF WITH A COMPLETE DISREGARD FOR THE RIGHTS OF OTHERS. - David still reigned; Solomon was his appointed successor; but Adonijah trampled their rights beneath his feet as he mounted the throne. Selfishness is the chief of those elements in ambition which constitute its sinfulness. Hence we may test ambition, by asking ourselves how we regard our competitors. If a man envies others; if, without compunction, he will crush another to the wall that he may pass him by; if he refuses to help another in sore straits, who is within his reach, on the ground that every man is for himself; then his ambition is a sin. This is more clearly revealed by our Lord than by the old dispensation. He has taught us not only to love our neighbours, but our competitors, and even our foes. He has urged us to "bear one another's burdens," to deny ourselves, and take up our cross to follow Him. The Christian Church has a sacrifice for its basis, and a cross for its banner.

IV. THIS AMBITION WAS NURTURED IN DEFIANCE OF SIGNIFICANT WARNING. Adonijah repeated his brother's offence. (Comp. 2 Samuel 15.) He knew how that bright young life had closed in darkness, when Absalom died helpless and unpitied by the hand of Joab. He had often seen his father sitting looking at himself with a far off look in his eyes, as if he still were saying, "O, Absalom, would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!" Yet the same sin which had been so signally punished he resolved to commit. History is crowded with illustrations of the fact that men who have lived as Adonijah did have found their honours unsatisfying, and have died in disappointment and despair. Alexander, who conquered the world, died, after setting fire to a city, in a scene of awful debauchery. Hannibal, who at one time could fill three bushels with the gold rings of fallen knights, died by poison, administered by his own hand, unwept in a foreign land. Caesar, who conquered eight hundred cities, fell stabbed to the heart by his friends, in the place of his noblest triumph. Napoleon, the conqueror of Europe, died a heart broken captive. It has been writ large, in letters of blood, so that he who runs may read, "the expectation of the wicked shall be cut off!" Conclusion. - Will you, with the nobler possibilities set before you in the gospel, whom angel voices are calling to higher things, whose conscience is whispering of duty and love, to whom Christ, the suffering Saviour, the King of Glory, says, "Follow Me!" will you, like Adonijah, turn to the ways of self indulgence and vainglory, to prove as he did that "the wages of sin is death." - A.R.

It is a notorious fact that the sons of devout men sometimes prove a curse to their parents, and bring dishonor on the cause of God. When sin entered the world, it caused the earth, on which flowers had aforetime blossomed, to bring forth thorns and briars. This is a picture of a sad truth, known in the first home, and in many another since. Eve rejoiced over the fair child she had "gotten from the Lord," and did not suspect that passions were sleeping within him which would nerve his arm to strike the fatal blow which slew his brother and destroyed his mother's peace. Such sorrow has been experienced in subsequent history. Isaac's heart was rent by the deceit of Jacob and the self will of Esau. Jacob found his own sin repeated against himself, for he who had deceived his father when he was old and blind, suffered an agony of grief for years, because he was falsely told by his sons that Joseph was dead. Probably few have had more domestic sorrow than David. He experienced, in its bitterest form, the grief of a parent who has wished that before his son had brought such dishonour on the home, he had been, in the innocence of his childhood, laid to rest beneath the daisies. Of David's sons, Amnon, the eldest, after committing a hideous sin, had been assassinated by the order of Absalom, his brother. Absalom himself had rebelled against his father, and had been killed by Joab, as he hung helpless in the oak. Chileab (or Daniel) was dead. And now of the fourth son, the eldest surviving, Adonijah, this sad story is told. Adonijah's sin seems so unnatural at first sight that we must try and discover the sources whence so bitter and desolating a stream flowed. We shall find them in THREE ADVERSE INFLUENCES AROUND HIM AT HOME, which are hinted at in our text.

I. ADONIJAH INHERITED A CONSTITUTIONAL TENDENCY AMBITION AND SELF CONCEIT. His association with Absalom is not without significance. The two brothers were alike in their sin and in the tendencies which led to it. These were inherited,

(1) The law that "like produces like," which is proved to demonstration in the breeding of lower animals (illustrations from horses bred for speed or endurance, dogs for fleetness or scent, pigeons for swiftness or beauty, etc.), asserts itself in man. Not only are physical qualities inherited, so that we recognise a "family likeness" between children of the same parents; but mental qualities are inherited too; statesmanship, heroism, or artistic gift, reappearing in the same family for generations. Moral tendencies are transmitted too; and Scripture exemplifies it. If Isaac is so luxurious that he must have his savoury dish, we do not so much wonder that Esau, his son sells his birthright for a mess of pottage. If Rebekah, like Laban her brother, is greedy and cunning, her son Jacob inherits her tendency, and must live a life of suffering, and present many an agonising prayer before he is set free from his besetting sin. So is it still. The drunkard gives to his offspring a craving for drink, which is a disease. In more senses than one, "The evil that men do lives after them." Surely, then, when not only future happiness, but the destiny of children depends on the choice of a life partner, there should be regard paid not merely to physical beauty, or mental endowment, or social position, but, above all these, to moral and spiritual worth.

(2) It is argued that this law of moral heritage affects personal responsibility; that it is hardly fair to condemn a man for a sin to which he is naturally prone. But "shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" Whatever your parentage, you are not "committed to do these abominations." If the disposition be evil, it need never become the habit of life. It is something you may yield to, but it is something you may resist; for "He is faithful who will not suffer you to be tempted above what you are able to bear." Rather should any tendencies to evil be recognised as God's voice calling attention to the weak places of character, that there we may keep most eager watch and ward. And because we are weak, He has sent His Son to bring deliverance to the captives, that through Him we may be inspired with hope, and fitted with strength, and rejoice in the liberty wherewith Christ makes His people free.

II. ADONIJAH WAS MISLED BY ADULATION. "He was also a very goodly man. Physically, as well as morally, he was a repetition of Absalom. His parents were guilty of partiality. David loved him the more because (like the lost boy) Adonijah was so fair, so noble in mien, so princely in stature. Courtiers and soldiers (who looked, as they did in Saul's time, for a noble-looking king) flattered him. Joab and Abiathar joined the adulators. Intoxicated with vanity, Adonijah set up a royal court, as Absalom had done (see ver. 5). Every position in life has its own temptations. The ill-favoured child who is the butt at school and the scapegoat at home is tempted to bitterness and revenge. His character is likely to be unsightly, as a plant would be, which grows in a damp, dark vault. There can belittle beauty if there is no sunshine. On the other hand, if the gift of physical beauty attracts attention and wins admiration, or if conversational power be brilliant, etc., it is a source of peril. Many a one has thus been befooled into sin and misery, or entrapped into an unhappy marriage, and by lifelong sadness paid the penalty of folly, or venturing too far, prompted by ambition, has fallen, like Icarus when his waxen wings melted in the sunshine. When that time of disappointment and disenchantment comes, happy is it when such an one, like the prodigal, comes to himself, and says, I will arise, and go to my father!"

III. ADONIJAH WAS UNDISCIPLINED AT HOME. "His father had not displeased him at any time in saying, Why hast thou done so? This refers not only to the special act of rebellion, but to the tendencies and habits leading up to it, which David had not checked, for fear of vering the high spirited lad. The weak indulgence of children (such as that which Eli exhibited) is the cause of untold misery. Not many parents blazon abroad the story of their domestic grief. Loyal hands draw down the veil over the discord at home, and that agony of prayer which is heard by the Father who seeth in secret." You do not see the girl who mars the beauty of her early womanhood by a flippant disregard of her parents, and whose own pleasure seems to be the only law of her life. You do not see the child whose hasty passion and uncontrolled temper are the dread of the household; who, by his ebullitions of rage, gets what he wishes, till authority is disregarded and trodden underfoot. You do not see the son who thinks it manly to be callous to a mother's anxiety and a father's counsels, who likes to forget home associations, and is sinking in haunts of evil, where you may weep over him as a wreck. But, though you see them not, they exist. Far otherwise, in some of these sad experiences, it might have been. Suppose there had been firm resolution instead of habitual indulgence; suppose that authority had been asserted and used in days before these evil habits were formed; suppose that, instead of leaving the future to chance, counsels and prayers had moulded character during moulding time - might there not have been joy where now there is grief? Heavy are our responsibilities as parents. Yet splendid are our possibilities! These children who may prove our curses may, with God's blessing on our fidelity, grow up to be wise, pure hearted, courageous men of God, who will sweeten the atmosphere of the home, and purge this nation of its sins, and make the name of "the King of saints" honoured and praised throughout the world! "Train them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." - A.R.

When Bathsheba and Nathan brought David news of Adonijah's revolt, and told him that Joab and Abiathar were at the coronation feast at En-rogel, it is noteworthy that the king made no direct attack on the conspirators. He merely commanded that Solomon should be seated on the royal mule, that he should ride in state to Gihon, and that there Zadok should anoint him king, and proclaim by the sound of trumpet that he was appointed ruler. It was this which paralysed the traitorous assembly. The sound of the trumpet was to their scheme what the blast of the rams' horns was to the walls of Jericho, when they fell in irreparable ruin. David's method was the wisest, the surest; for it not only removed a present evil, but provided a future good. The lesson is obvious, and is susceptible of wide application; that the false is most surely dethroned by the enthronement of the true. The strong man armed keeps his goods in peace, until a stronger than he shall come. (See Luke 11:21, 22.) Suggest: applications of this principle.

I. VAIN THOUGHTS ARE TO BE EXPELLED BY THE INCOMING OF WHAT IS WISE AND GOOD. The Psalmist hated "vain thoughts," because he loved God's law (Psalm 119:113). When the heart is empty, swept, and garnished, there is room for worse evils to come (Matthew 12:44). The full mind and heart are safe. Apply to the conquest of wandering thoughts in worship, of vanity in children, etc.

II. SELF WILL IS TO BE CONQUERED BY A NOBLER AND STRONGER WILL. We are early taught this. Every child carries out his own wishes without regard to others, till he recognizes that the parent's will is authoritative. Sooner or later there is struggle, and only when it is decided in one way is there rest. Similarly we have to learn to subordinate our thoughts to God's revelation, our wishes to His will, and this lesson is more painfully learnt as the years pass by and the habit of self rule grows stronger.

III. UNWORTHY AFFECTIONS ARE TO BE OVERCOME BY A WORTHY LOVE. When love is set on the unworthy, force is useless, argument is vain. But if the love is diverted to a nobler object, it naturally disentangles its tendrils from the unworthy. In the highest sphere it may be said of love to our Lord, "that love shall all vain love expel."

IV. ERROR IS TO BE SUBDUED BY TRUTH. The hatred of artisans to machinery when first introduced was not conquered by dragoons, nor by prisons, but by the discovery on their part of the mistake they had ignorantly made. So with all errors. We shall not destroy heathenism by the abuse of the idols, but by the presentation of Christ.

V. CARE IS TO BE EXTIRPATED BY PRAYER. In many hearts care is enthroned. To many a one our Lord might say, "Thou art careful and troubled about many things." We cannot reason away our anxieties, nor force them from our minds, but we can have the rest our children have, who never trouble about the morrow, because they trust in us. It would be vain to say, "Be careful for nothing," unless the apostle could add the alternative, "but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, make your requests known unto God; and the peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds."

VI. EVILS REIGNING IN SOCIETY ARE TO BE OVERTHROWN BY WHAT IS NOBLER THAN THEY. - Apply this broadly, e.g., wholesome literature must defeat pernicious. Low amusements, intoxicating drinks, etc., will pass away when there is the establishment of nobler substitutes for these. The whole subject is summed up in Christ - the true King of humanity, the incarnation of all that is worthy of being loved and enthroned. Draw the analogy between Solomon the anointed king, as he rides on the mule into Jerusalem amid the acclamations of the people, and the entry of our Lord into Jerusalem as described Matthew 21. If worldliness, or selfishness, or ambition, or lust has been reigning in your heart, the usurped will be dethroned when you welcome Christ as King and say, "O Lord our God, other lords besides thee have had dominion over us, but now we acknowledge Thee to be our Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Descend to Thy Jerusalem, O Lord,
Her faithful children cry with one accord;
Come, ride in triumph on; behold, we lay
Our guilty lusts and proud wills in Thy way.

Thy road is ready, Lord; Thy paths, made straight,
In longing expectation seem to wait
The consecration of Thy beauteous feet,
And, hark, hosannas loud Thy footsteps greet. - A. R.

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