And David comforted Bath-sheba his wife, and went in unto her, and lay with her: and she bare a son, and he called his name Solomon. And YHWH loved him; and he sent by the hand of Nathan the prophet; and he called his name Jedidiah, for YHWH’s sake (2 Samuel 12:24-25).
Much ink has been spilled about King David’s life choices, their consequences, and how David is portrayed in Scripture. Much is made and commented upon how the Samuel-Kings author tells the story of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and all of its consequences in 2 Samuel 11:1-20:22, 1 Kings 1:1-2:46, but the Chronicler passes over the story entirely. In the Chronicler’s story David is the hero king not sullied by his transgressions and presents a smooth transition to Solomon his son (1 Chronicles 11:1-29:30). The story in Kings is much more complicated.
It is not a matter of contradiction; the Chronicler is well aware of the challenges David experienced in obtaining his throne, the consequences of his adultery, and the challenges to Solomon’s accession; those details are not relevant for his story of the Davidic kingship and anyway are described in sufficient detail in the Samuel-Kings account. So why does the Samuel-Kings author spend so much of his time discussing the trials and tribulations of the house of David?
We are just about 3,000 years separated from these events, and we can tell from how the story works out that everything was for the best: David was a great king after God’s own heart and finally fully rescued Israel from the hands of all of their enemies around them (2 Samuel 1:1-10:19); his son Solomon proved extremely wise and did well at consolidating his empire and rule and oversaw a time of great prosperity in Israel (1 Kings 3:1-10:29). Yet there are signs that not all was well in Israel; Shimei’s cursing of David as guilty of the blood of Saul, son of Kish of Benjamin, who was king before David (2 Samuel 16:5-8); all Israel proved willing to abandon David first for Absalom and then for Sheba (2 Samuel 15:1-17, 20:1-22). David’s grip on the throne, and his ability to make sure Solomon would obtain it, was not as strong as it might seem; when David grew old, his son Adonijah attempted to ascend to the throne, and even significant figures like Joab and Abiathar followed after him (1 Kings 1:5-10).
The Samuel-Kings author is not against David or Solomon; far from it! Instead he must provide sufficient explanations for why certain things happen that would not necessarily be expected, and he is doing something that we see frequently in the Old Testament. Whenever things happen as would be expected–the eldest son ascends to the throne of his father, the blessing and/or the first right of inheritance is given to the eldest son, etc.– little to no explanation is necessary. But when someone else ascends to a throne, either a younger son or someone from a different family, or if a younger son gets the benefit normally given to an elder son, then explanation is necessary. Why did Jacob the younger son get the blessing and the birthright over the elder son Esau? The Genesis author spends much time discussing it in Genesis 25:19-27:45. Why does Judah obtain the authority inherent in birthright, even though he is the fourth son of Jacob and Leah, and why does Joseph get the blessing, and not even just Joseph, but in fact his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim, and Ephraim the younger is given greater prominence? Such is why the Genesis author tells of the disqualification of Reuben, Simeon, and Levi and Jacob’s great favor toward Rachel and thus their firstborn son Joseph (Genesis 29:1-49:33).
And so it is for the Samuel-Kings author. Why does David obtain the throne, first of Judah for two years, and then over all Israel, when Saul of Benjamin was king before him? And then, why is it Solomon, one of David’s younger sons, and even then, the product of his union with Bathsheba, the woman with whom he had committed adultery before marrying her after having her husband killed in war, who will succeed David as king? This is why the author of Samuel makes so much of God’s rejection of Saul, Samuel’s anointing of David, David’s faithfulness despite Saul’s persecution, and explaining in detail the reasons for David’s defection to the Philistines, how he conducted himself, and why he was nowhere near the final battle between Saul and the Philistines (1 Samuel 13:1-31:13). And this is why the Samuel-Kings author spends so much time discussing the consequences of David’s adultery: such paves the way for Solomon’s accession to the throne.
Amnon is David’s eldest; he behaves in quite terrible ways toward his half-sister Tamar, and when he is later murdered for it, the reader does not have much sympathy for him (2 Samuel 13:1-33). Then there is Absalom, David’s quite beloved son who looks the part of a king. He proves too impatient, arrogant, and impetuous, raising a rebellion against his father; nevertheless we see David’s great love for him when he mourns for his son terribly even though such is the only way he is able to keep his throne (2 Samuel 13:34-19:8). Then there is Adonijah, perhaps the eldest living son when David had grown old. Even though it might have been expected that he would become king the Kings author immediately prejudices the reader against him, speaking of his elevation of himself in his heart, and how David his father had never questioned or corrected him (1 Kings 1:5-6). Solomon’s accession is only secured by backroom discussions between Nathan the prophet and Bathsheba (1 Kings 1:10-40); Solomon remains aware of the legitimate claims Adonijah has on his throne, and uses the first pretense he is given to have his brother executed (cf. 1 Kings 2:13-25). The reader is not given much reason to pity Adonijah, yet the logic of 1 Kings 1:21 should be granted: if Adonijah’s proclamation had greater influence and became established he would have made sure Bathsheba and Solomon were executed instead.
David’s moral failings seem clearest in terms of his adultery and how he treated his children. While we can glean some object lessons on the terrible consequences of one sin and how not to parent children from David we must remember that these stories have their contextual purpose. We are being told how it could be that Solomon, one of David’s younger sons, and the result of David’s “comforting” of his lover-turned-wife Bathsheba, was made king after David and why we should not find that fact scandalous at all. The fact that we are able to accept this on a prima facie level shows how well God and the author of Samuel-Kings has done to show us the failings of David’s other sons; we understand quite effectively why YHWH loves Solomon and not Amnon, Absalom, or Adonijah, and do not think twice about Solomon’s birth status in relation to his brothers or the scandal of his mother at the royal court. Ultimately Solomon’s accession is another demonstration of God’s providence and His insight into character: just as David was not the automatic choice but the best choice based on character, so it was with his son Solomon as well, and it is not for nothing that they were the best two kings Israel would ever know, even despite their failings. They may be exceptional, but God is interested in the exceptional. And that helps to explain why even though Jesus of Nazareth did not seem to many to be the type of person who should be the coming King in David’s and Solomon’s lineage who was to come and restore Israel He nevertheless proved to be the Christ, the Son of God, lived, died, was raised again in power, and serves to this day as Lord. Let us serve Jesus in His Kingdom!
Ethan R. Longhenry