Only a few years after God identified the proper site in Jerusalem for the temple, David died. Continuing our study of the Old Testament Historical Books, we find ourselves today at the end of David’s life. And the pressing question that the narrative of 2 Kings 1:1–27 sets before us is this: Who will be king of Israel after David’s death?
The author describes David’s condition as “old and advanced in years.” Commentators estimate that about five years had passed since the incident at Ornan’s threshing floor (1 Chron. 21). David’s physical condition was clearly frail. No matter how hard his servants tried, they could not keep him warm. He did not feel well enough even to know the beautiful concubine Abishag (1 Kings 1:1–4).
Apparently, David’s poor health was no secret, so one of his potential successors began to make his claim to the throne. Adonijah the son of Haggith, the fourth son born to David at Hebron, acted like a king, parading about with chariots, horsemen, and servants (1 Kings 1:5; see 2 Sam. 3:3). He is also described as “a very handsome man,” but no other positive qualities are mentioned. This should strike us, for it parallels the ways that Saul and Absalom were described in 1 Samuel 9:1–2 and 2 Samuel 14:25–26; 15:1. Of course, both Saul and Absalom turned out to be disasters, so the way the author of 1 Kings describes Adonijah is our first clue that he would not succeed David as king.
Adonijah attempted to gain support, gathering for a meal with David’s other sons—except Solomon—as well as Joab the general and Abiathar the priest, two of David’s most notable advisers. But Adonijah did not invite the prophet Nathan, Benaiah and the other mighty men, or Solomon (1 Kings 1:5–10). In the ancient Near East, eating together was a sign of peace, a sign that the parties at the meal would not seek one another’s destruction. The absence of Nathan, Solomon, and others therefore indicates that Adonijah meant to destroy them upon ascending to the throne.
Nathan understood this, so he instituted a plan with Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, to save them all. Apparently, David had at one point sworn that Solomon would succeed him as king, so they met with David to remind him (vv. 11–27). Seeing the danger to both the kingdom and themselves, they did not passively wait for rescue but acted to save the throne and the nation.