1 Kings 1:1-10, 49-53; 2:21-24.

Improper Motives for Leadership

         March 2, 2003                       © 2003, J.W. Carter
     www.biblicaltheology.com            Scripture quotes from KJV

The books of First and Second Kings are an account of the history of Israel and Judah from David's last days until the capture of Jerusalem with some content involving activities during the exile.  Its contents dates from about 971 to 562  B.C.  We find the kingdom that was united under David being divided under Rehoboam and Jeroboam 1 into the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel and Judah, respectively, until their capture by  Assyria and Babylon (modern Syria and Iraq), respectively.

The writer of the 2-volume book (separated by traditional scroll length), compiled the material from a variety of sources that are repeatedly cited in the text including "the book of the annals of Solomon" (11:41), "the book of the annals of the kings of Israel", and "the book of the annals of the Kings of Judah.  The latter two sources are cited repeatedly.   Many other individual sources are cited.  The compilation is thought by many to have been completed during the exile, about 550 B.C., by one or more writers who were deeply engaged in the development of Jewish written orthodoxy.  Jewish tradition attributes the writings to Jeremiah (Baba Bathra 15a) , though such a position cannot be well-defended through literary criticism.

1 Kings 1:1-4.

Now king David was old and stricken in years; and they covered him with clothes, but he gat no heat. 2Wherefore his servants said unto him, Let there be sought for my lord the king a young virgin: and let her stand before the king, and let her cherish him, and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat. 3So they sought for a fair damsel throughout all the coasts of Israel, and found Abishag a Shunammite, and brought her to the king. 4And the damsel was very fair, and cherished the king, and ministered to him: but the king knew her not.

David's reign over the united kingdoms of Israel and Judah was about 40 years, stable, and dynamic.  However, as David approached the end of his days, at a relatively young 70 years of age, he was sufficiently debilitated that his ability to rule was compromised, and a crisis of leadership started to develop.   1 Kings begins with an account of David's frailty.  The scripture describes his old age, and his inability to keep warm.  In order to help him, a young virgin was conscripted to care for him, and as part of that care, she was to lie in bed with him to keep him warm.  Abishag served David as a nurse, and not as a concubine.

The last years of David's life were extremely difficult.  From the point of his adultery with Bathsheba and his murdering of her husband, his personal life began to unravel.  His first son died, another son, Amnon raped his daughter, Tamar, and was then murdered by his son, Absalom.  Absalom later tried to take the throne from David, and was subsequently killed.  This activity fulfilled the prophesy of Nathan as he told David of God' judgment upon him for his sin.  

1 Kings 1:5.

Then Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, I will be king: and he prepared him chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. 

As we begin 1 Kings, another son, Adonijah, now the eldest surviving son, desires to take the throne from his father, though that position had already been promised to another son, Solomon.  It is safe to say that David's family was dysfunctional.  Though no precedent had been set to establish the order of secession, it is was common in their neighboring cultures for the eldest son to inherit the throne.  Adonijah simply assumed that the throne should be his, and he wanted it badly.  

Herein we have the framework for the conflict.  The nation of Israel faces a need for a change of leadership.  The solution for the problem can be sought in one of two ways:  seek God's purpose and plan, or go by what sounds best to man's logic and/or personal desires.  We often find ourselves in similar situations within the church body.  Some form of action must be taken in order to address an impending need, and people in the church have a similar choice.  Too often, people choose to do whatever they think is right, or whatever they choose, without proper consideration of what God truly desires for their congregation.  I am reminded of the call of Matthias, recorded in Matthew 1:23ff.  The apostles desired to replace Judas, selected two choices, and then called upon God to help them determine which one to choose.  We never hear from Matthias again, as it was not intended by God to replace him.  Many would argue that Paul is the twelfth apostle since He was called by Jesus in the same manner as the others.

In the situation of 1 Kings, Adonijah looks at the other kingdoms and believes that since he is the eldest son, he should become the next king.  It is unfortunate that he finds the support of Joab, David's military commander, and Abiathar, one of the two high priests.  Both of these had stood by David through the years, but were caught up in the secession logic presented by Adonijah.

1 Kings 1:6.

And his father had not displeased him at any time in saying, Why hast thou done so? and he also was a very goodly man; and his mother bare him after Absalom. 

Though we are not going to focus on this verse in this study, we see much of the reason for the conflict in David's family.  He may have been a good king, but he was not a very good parent.  David did not take an active part in providing discipline for his son.  David allowed Adonijah, and assumably Amnon and Absolom, to do whatever they wished without threat of discipline.  David only seemed close to Solomon, son of Bathsheba.  It is no wonder that the sons despised their father.  Our modern culture, with many people espousing a liberal rights agenda on every living thing, is moving more and more into such a hands-off mentality.  A mother cannot spank her child in public for fear that she will be arrested for battery, and her child will be taken away.  Meanwhile, we spend more money on prisons than we do on education.  Enough of that soap box ... back to the subject at hand.

1 Kings 1:7-8.

And he conferred with Joab the son of Zeruiah, and with Abiathar the priest: and they following Adonijah helped him. 8But Zadok the priest, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and Nathan the prophet, and Shimei, and Rei, and the mighty men which belonged to David, were not with Adonijah.

Joab was always loyal to David personally, but not to his leadership, so his turning to Adonijah is not surprising.  As David's military commander, Joab would have the resources to stage the coup that is being attempted by David's eldest son.  Joab did not agree with David's choice of Solomon as the successor, preferring the more militant Adonijah.  Abiathar was the high priest under Saul, and chose to keep Abiathar in that position as not to challenge a position that was anointed by God.  However, in the intervening years, Abiathar's previous allegiances caused his influence to become reduced, and his junior, Zadok started to come to prominence.  It was Zadok who served David.  So, again it is no surprise that Adonijah was able to recruit the help of Adonijah.  Now both the military and religious commanders in his camp, Adonijah felt that he was fully prepared to take the throne.  He was so convinced that, rather than amass an army to stand against David, he put together a band of only 50 horsemen with chariots so that he would look like a king when he would make his move.

One important point we seen in these events is the position of Abiathar.  It is easier to defend Joab as he turns away from God's purpose, but Abiathar has no such defense.  From his years wit David, Abiathar is aware of God's purpose.  Abiathar is fully aware of David's choice of Solomon, and the context of that choosing.  Abiathar as a responsibility to the people to serve as a leader under God's purpose, not under the purposes of man, or for his own.  Herein we see a great failure in the ministry of this called man of God.

It appears that Joab and Abiathar were the only significant individuals in David's royal court who were so influenced by Adonijah.  It is evident that Adonijah either made no effort, or attained no success at recruiting the other influential members such as Zadok, Benaiah, Nathan, Shimei, and Rei.  These individuals represent a wide range of association and influence, but were each very close to David, and demonstrated their loyalty to him.    We have been introduced to Zadok.  Benaiah was the chief of David's bodyguard.  Nathan was a man of God who served him as a prophet and friend.  It was Nathan who confronted David with his sin with Bathsheba, and it was Nathan who revealed God's purpose for Solomon at Solomon's birth.

1 Kings 1:9-10.

And Adonijah slew sheep and oxen and fat cattle by the stone of Zoheleth, which is by Enrogel, and called all his brethren the king’s sons, and all the men of Judah the king’s servants: 10But Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah, and the mighty men, and Solomon his brother, he called not.

With his military commander and his high priest by his side, Adonijah moved to the next step in his declaration of his kingship, the validation of the position by God.  Such a succession could not take place without God's approval.  Even these who are engaged in the coup know this.  They are so convinced that their coup is of God, that they stage the sacrifice by the stone of Zoheleth as a symbol of God's approval.  They commence a ritual of backwards worship.  Rather than coming together to worship God, seeking God's purpose, they are coming together in an appearance of worship but fully intending on practicing their own will.  Some might call this, "playing church."  Their ritual has all of the appearance of worship, but lacks its power.  They are saying the right words and making the correct gestures, but God is not there.  

Herein we see another error in leadership that takes place when one is led by personal and improper motives.  Churches today do not experience the power of God in their presence, and their members either do not recognize it, or if they do, they do not understand why their experience is so cold.    One can often point to the direction, or vision, that is implemented in the church body.  Who are the decision makers?  What is the basis for determining the direction the church will take?  Often we see churches that are driven by the desires of one or two lay persons.  Such a model can certainly work if those leaders are fully aware and sincerely committed to submission to God's will for the congregation.  More often, however, those leaders are more interested in fulfilling their own agenda with the stamp of God firmly applied to it.  Adonijah had his stamp from God in the form of Abiathar.  After the completion of the sacrificial ritual, and with the assembly of his squad of Joab's men, Adonijah could now declare himself King.

We see in the verses to follow, that Adonijah's declaration was accepted by many because of the silence that came from David's throne.  Adonijah and all David's sons (except Solomon) gathered with the army for a great feast of celebration.   Nathan went to Bathsheba asking her to bring the news of Adonijah's successful coup to David and to accelerate the succession of Solomon (vv. 11-31).  Solomon was then properly anointed as King, and David stepped down from the throne (vv. 32-40).  

1 Kings 1:49-50.

And all the guests that were with Adonijah were afraid, and rose up, and went every man his way. 50And Adonijah feared because of Solomon, and arose, and went, and caught hold on the horns of the altar. 

When the people saw the caravan from David's throne, they recognized that Solomon was indeed the King, and their association with Adonijah now became dangerous.  Adonijah's friends now scattered and he found himself alone.  In fear of Solomon's retribution, Adonijah went to the altar for sanctuary.  The term, "horns of the altar" refer to the four posts that rise at the corners of the altar.  To hold to those posts was an idiom in Hebrew language that refers to taking advantage of the sanctuary that the altar traditionally represented.  This is not much different than modern thought that the sanctuary of the church is inviolable.  There are many other instances in the Old Testament where this idiom is used.

1 Kings 1:51-53.

And it was told Solomon, saying, Behold, Adonijah feareth king Solomon: for, lo, he hath caught hold on the horns of the altar, saying, Let king Solomon swear unto me to day that he will not slay his servant with the sword. 52And Solomon said, If he will show himself a worthy man, there shall not an hair of him fall to the earth: but if wickedness shall be found in him, he shall die. 53So king Solomon sent, and they brought him down from the altar. And he came and bowed himself to king Solomon: and Solomon said unto him, Go to thine house.

What was Solomon's response to Adonijah's sanctuary? Solomon forgave Adonijah entirely and simply stipulated that he should continue to be a godly man and support the throne of Solomon (vv. 41-53.)  However, Adonijah could not let go of his desire to become King.  His base motives were unchanged by Solomon's grace.  We can recall Abishag, the Shunammite, the nurse of David.  The relationship between Abishag and David was complicated by the fact that, though she served as a concubine, she remained a virgin.  David respected her duty as his nurse and never too advantage of her position as a concubine.  Adonijah saw this as an opportunity.  Adonijah still held to the world's opinion that he is the king.  Another tradition of the world is that the harem of a king would be inherited by the successor to the throne.  If Adonijah could get Abishag as his wife, he would have one more validation of his true position as king.  Rather than go to Solomon with his request, he went to Bathsheba, Solomon's mother, his stepmother, knowing that she would relay his request.  Her request would also carry her authority, so Adonijah was again taking advantage of the position of someone else to further his own.

1 Kings 2:21-24.

And she said, Let Abishag the Shunammite be given to Adonijah thy brother to wife. 22And 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. 23Then 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. 24Now 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. 25And king Solomon sent by the hand of Benaiah the son of Jehoiada; and he fell upon him that he died.

When we consider Solomon, the first thing that comes to mind is his reputation for wisdom.  Solomon immediately saw through Adonijah's plot.  Adonijah had been given a complete reprieve for his plot against David and Solomon only to demonstrate his continued and active attempt to take the throne.  This left Solomon with no choice.  Solomon would prefer to have Adonijah as a faithful subject, but it is evident that this is impossible.  Solomon's forgiveness of Adonijah, Joab, and Abiathar would prove to have been a mistake.  For forgiveness to have power, repentance is necessary.  Without repentance there is no forgiveness.  Solomon called upon the chief of his bodyguard, Benaiah, to execute Adonijah.  It would not be long, and Solomon would also have to execute Joab and Abiathar.  There was not to be peace in the house of David until this was accomplished.

What kind of damage can be done in the body of Christ when people lead out of their own motives?  We must always recognize that Jesus Christ is the Lord of the church, and no other person has been anointed to take His place.  If His place is there, then it incumbent on every believer to actively pursue His Lordship in the body.  Oftentimes leadership is allowed to operate the church like a secular club when the congregational members are either satisfied with the club mentality, or do not have the courage to speak up against a leadership that is not following God.

Conflict in the church is always difficult to deal with, but when God's people reach out in His Love and seek His purpose, all Christians can come together under Jesus' Lordship and bring the church back under the Glory of God where it belongs. 


Patterson, R.D., and Austel, Hermann J.  (1988).  1 & 2 Kings.  The Expositor's Bible Commentary.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publishing House. pp. 3-38.