Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Solomon the Murderer: 1 Kings 2

This post is part of a revolutionary Bible commentary by the Church of the Orange Sky.

Solomon may have come to the throne through dishonest means, but David does seem fond of him. In a very Mafia-esque scene, he and a few others cluster around David's deathbed and listen as David metes out instructions for settling scores once he's gone. He has the nerve to tell Solomon to obey the laws of Moses, something David himself clearly didn't care about all that much. David wants some people killed (like Joab) and some others rewarded for their faithfulness (like the sons of one Barzillai of Gilead). He especially wants Shimei of Gera killed, who, as you may recall, was the one who tried to stone David during his pilgrimage to the Mount of Olives. This is an odd one, because at the time David forgave Shimei and promised not to harm him. So much for that promise! David's metaphors are particularly cruel: "bring his gray head down to the grave in blood."

Solomon spends the rest of the chapter carrying out David's final instructions and consolidating his own power base. Dangerously, the disgraced Adonijah asks for the hand (and the rest of the body, of course) of David's last prostitute, Abishag the pretty young virgin. Solomon flies into a rage, worrying that he can't afford to do any favours for Adonijah because, after all, Adonijah is the elder brother and really should have been king. There's an obvious solution to this! He orders his servant Benaiah to go out and murder Adonijah. The deed is done and Solomon no longer has to worry about rightful succession troubles.

Next, Solomon retires priest Abiathar, one of Adonijah's allies. He doesn't actually kill Abiathar; instead, the man is simply dismissed from royal service and sent to his family's fields in Anathoth. His life has been spared, Solomon explains, only because he once carried the Ark of the Covenant, and even Solomon isn't going to stoop to killing a holy man.

General Joab isn't so lucky, however. Realizing there's a purge going on, he races to the temple and grabs the altar, just like Adonijah did. Solomon orders Benaiah to murder him anyways, a particularly dubious and unethical move given the ancient laws surrounding the altar. With Joab out of the way, Solomon is able to reward Benaiah, his hit man, by making him general of the army.

Next up, it's Shimei's turn. Solomon says he should move to a house in Jerusalem and that if he ever leaves the city, he will be killed. Shimei agrees, but two years later, two of his slavse escape to Gath. Shimei naturally saddles his donkey and heads off to reclaim them. Solomon happily seizes the opportunity, recalls Benaiah, and has Shimei murdered.

The bloodbath safely out of the way, the second chapter of 1 Kings ends somewhat chillingly with the sttement that "the kingdom was now firmly established in Solomon's hands."

Under the circumstances, perhaps it's not surprising that God isn't playing much of a role in events. I always remembered Solomon as being a wise and good king who ultimately fell into sin, but only in his old age. After all, he's the one who made the Temple, and authored some of the later books in the Old Testament, and so on - right? Maybe not. Whoever wrote 1 Kings really doesn't seem all that fond of Solomon.