- First Reading 1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14
- Psalm 111:1-10
- Second Reading Ephesians 5:15-20
- Gospel John 6:51-58
Over the summer, the lectionary has taken us through the formation of the early Israelite kingdom. We began in June, as the people began to demand a king, “so that they could be like other nations” and with Samuel delivering God’s warning about just what that would entail. The people persisted, so God appointed, and Samuel anointed Saul, a great warrior, to be king. Saul, however, did not work out, and so God appointed, and Samuel anointed David to take his place. David was, at the time of this anointing, a shepherd boy, but would grow into a great military leader, beginning with his well-remembered defeat of Goliath.
Saul, of course, did not passively accept this succession, and David was forced into exile, becoming something of a marauding warlord along the way. Eventually, Saul, and all his sons, die and David becomes king. There’s a lot more to it, but I’m trying to be brief in this recap. The significant part is this: Saul was a warrior who became king. David was a boy who became a warrior as part of the process of becoming king.
The succession from David to Solomon was similarly fraught. After becoming king, David stopped personally leading the army, which got him into trouble, notably with Bathsheba. Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah, one of David’s senior officers. While Uriah was away at battle, David impregnated Bathsheba, in an account that, at the most generous reading, leaves questions about her willingness to be involved. When David learns of the pregnancy, he summons Uriah back to Jerusalem in the hope of arranging for Uriah, in good biblical euphemism, to “wash his feet” in order that Uriah might think Bathsheba’s child was his. Uriah, however, too loyal of a soldier to visit his wife while troops were in the field, and so David arranged for Uriah to die in battle.
God, as I am sure you can imagine, was not pleased with David’s behavior, and, in fact, that account represents the beginning of the end for David’s rule. While David would remain on the throne, from that point forward, the story changes from one of David’s successes to David’s failures. David’s children began to fight among themselves over, among other things, the succession.
Last week’s lectionary texts covered one such conflict, when one of David’s sons, Absalom, attempted to seize the throne. This week, our lectionary text picks up with the succession question seemingly settled. David is dead, and Solomon sits on the throne. I want us to back up, briefly.
Solomon was not David’s oldest surviving son, and while this is early in the kingship, and while Israel has not yet seen a dynastic succession from father to son, the expectation is clearly still that the oldest son will lead.
Indeed, shortly before the lectionary text for today begins, David’s oldest surviving son, Adonijah, knowing his father is near death and the succession is not yet clear, begins to gather other leaders of Israel and the army to himself to make a claim on the throne.
In Solomon’s later conversation with God, contained in our lectionary text, he says “I do not know how to go out or come in.” This is not to say that Solomon struggles with doors, but that he has not led an army out to battle nor has he made peace with enemies. He does not know how to go out to war. He does not know how to end that war so that he can return in peace. These are the primary skills for which Saul and David were chosen to be king, at least in the eyes of the people. How then does Solomon defeat his half-brother, Adonijah and claim the throne?
He does not. Bathsheba does. Bathsheba learns that Adonijah is preparing to claim the throne on David’s death and so she goes to David’s bedside and convinces him to name Solomon as his successor. When those gathered with Adonijah learn that, finally, David’s wish for the succession is clear, they abandon Adonijah, and Adonijah goes to an altar of God to seek sanctuary and plea for mercy, though it is not long before Adonijah changes tactics from seeking power through military leadership and alliance to seeking power through palace intrigue, and in the paragraphs the lectionary leaps over today, Solomon has Adonijah and several of those loyal to him killed or otherwise punished as Solomon secures his reign.
These paragraphs also have a significant mention of Bathsheba. Even as Solomon is clearing away other possible threats to his rule, he elevates Bathsheba, perhaps knowing that she is the one who made him king. Solomon even goes so far as to have a throne erected for Bathsheba next to his own, seemingly making her not just a symbolic queen-mother, but almost a co-ruler of the kingdom.
This reflects the wisdom Solomon already has before his divine encounter in today’s text, the wisdom to recognize that David’s reign began to falter when David crossed both God and Bathsheba. The wisdom to recognize that Bathsheba has made more of a worse situation that many, including Solomon’s siblings and half-siblings have made of their far better starts. Perhaps the wisdom to recognize that, while Israel may have demanded a male king, like other nations, that Israel had been well and ably led by women in the past and so while Bathsheba fades into the background of the biblical narrative, she never appears anything less than valued as an advisor and leader by Solomon, even as later history has chosen only to remember her only for bathing on the roof, as one of David’s many, many mistakes.
Perhaps this is part of the wisdom that God grants Solomon: the wisdom to recognize that, even as God continued to honor the promises God made to David, God began to move power away from David. Solomon gained the wisdom to recognize that David betrayed God’s trust, but God never betrayed David’s, and the failures of David’s latter rule were the result of David’s own, we’ll say poor impulse control. Perhaps Solomon even gained the wisdom to recognize that while we might be set back by our mistakes, that even as we are not as fully insulated from those mistakes as we would like, God can and does work those mistakes to God’s purpose. Thanks be to God.