THE RADIANT DAWN
The reign of Solomon began auspiciously; not so auspiciously, perhaps, as the chronicles allege, but amply encouraging. The new king of the combined State of Yahudah and Yisrael managed the internal affairs of the country and his diplomatic relations with his neighbours in an intelligent and able manner, or, as the scribes would say, with wisdom. The Scripture gives a series of typical examples as a proof of Solomon's subtle approach and liberal attitude.
Solomon's wisdom: settling accounts
In the palace (actually a modest enough dwelling) which David had had built for himself by Phoenician architects, the old king -feeble, crippled and almost paralyzed on his bed -lay awaiting death. He summoned Solomon, his son and successor, to his side, in order to give him his final instructions.
The first command given to Solomon was a strange one: he must put to death, with the least possible delay, David's own nephew Joab, the famous military leader. We have been able to follow this soldier throughout his long career as the mainstay of the royal army. His tactics had hardly ever failed, so that it may well seem surprising that this man who had effectively laboured for the territorial unity of the kingdom should be thus condemned.
The action is to be explained by the beliefs of the age. Joab was, in fact, a man of hasty and brutal temper, jealous and bloodthirsty. He acted quickly whenever he felt that his position as military chief was endangered.
He had begun by treacherously killing Abner, Yisrael's general, who was thinking of joining David's side. Thus his first rival was eliminated. Next, he destroyed Amasa, an army leader entrusted by David with the suppression of a revolt. That eliminated his second competitor. In this way, on various occasions, he imperiled the diplomatic structure erected by David with so much difficulty. But the king felt obliged to tolerate without undue protest the behaviour of this man, for the sake of the contribution he made as chief of staff.
David was about to die: 'I am going the way of all the earth', he said, and he spoke openly to his heir. He recalled the two heinous crimes of Joab, the servant of the monarchy, crimes he said, which involved the king: 'In time of peace he took vengeance for blood shed in war, staining the belt round my waist and the sandals on my feet with innocent blood. You will be wise not to let his grey head go down to Sheol in peace.' 1
Some commentators, ignorant of eastern customs, have been shocked at the thought of a son commissioned to carry out a posthumous revenge instigated by his father; this is a typical misunderstanding. For in the East, blood calls for blood; a murdered man must of necessity be avenged by the killing of his murderer or, in an extremity, a member of his family. This is a ancient idea of justice, still to be found in some remote districts of Corsica and among some tribes in South America. Years may pass, but the blood debt remains. A day would come when the descendants of Abner or Amasa would have the right to demand justice, and in order to avenge men of their lineage, they might require the execution of some member of David's family. This was an application of the law of retaliation, and there was only one way to avoid its formidable danger. Joab, the murderer, must be killed before it was too late. His blood would appease the blood of those he had brutally slain. After that, the tribe of the unhappy victims would have no further claim against David's family. It should be remembered that Joab was the king's nephew.
It would have been very difficult for David himself to carry out this act of social and spiritual justice. But for Solomon the position was less complicated, or so at least the king thought. David was not obsessed by any personal vendetta. It was simply a question of removing in the normal way the dark tragedy that sooner or later would burst upon his people. 2
Joab, therefore, was the first victim committed to the 'wisdom' of Solomon.
But the king had not finished his political testament. Another person had to be suppressed: Shimei, a Benjaminite leader.
When David was running away from Yerusalem, threatened by the forces of Absalom, his rebellious son, he had had to abandon his capital and seek refuge on the other side of the Yarden, Shimei, one of his political adversaries, took his stand on the route taken by the royal company and uttered terrible curses against the king. Some days later, Absalom's army was defeated by Joab, and he himself had died on the battlefield. Shimei feared the all too possible reprisals, and he flung himself at David's feet, begging mercy. In the glow of victory the king pardoned him; and even promised, with an oath, that he should never be killed by the sword.
But in Hebrew civilization of this period a curse (and a blessing likewise) produced its effect automatically, either at once or after a lapse of time, from the mere fact of being uttered. 3 It affected either the person who was its immediate object or else one of his descendants. There was, however, one way by which it was rendered powerless, the death of its author. In this instance, David could not kill Shimei, but Solomon was under no such obligation. David explained matters to his son:
'But you, you must not let him go unpunished; you are a wise man and will know how to deal with him to bring his grey head down to Sheol in blood.' Shimei was the second victim entrusted to the good offices of Solomon the wise.
Solomon had also some accounts of his own to settle. His elder brother, Adonijah, 4 had disputed the crown with him, and thanks to the astute planning of Joab and the high-kohen Abiathar, Solomon had almost lost the throne. The conspirators -Adonijah, Joab and Abiathar -and a number of their followers (almost all of them David's sons), had met at the Sliding Stone, a place quite close to Yerusalem in the Kidron valley. Nathan, one of Solomon's most ardent supporters, had been warned of this, and he hurried to David with the news. The king, confined to his room on account of his failing strength, was not aware of the intrigues taking place within and around the palace. He heard of the conspirators' plan, first through Bathsheba and then through the intervention of the prophet himself, who described how at the end of a banquet, arranged within bowshot of the capital, and after much drinking, a concerted shout was to go up: 'Long live King Adonijah! and immediately after Abiathar would pour the qadash oil on the new king's forehead. The presence of Joab and his soldiers and their determined attitude would be sufficient security against any hostile demonstration. Then they would take the road to Yerusalem and the acclamation of Adonijah would be continued. The plan was on the point of succeeding.
David had always been very lax with his children, and was largely responsible for this state of affairs. He had indeed long ago promised Bathsheba, in private and on oath, that the supreme power should be reserved for their son Solomon, But this had never been officially promulgated, and David had made no public decision about it. In fact, he had allowed Adonijah openly to assert his claim to the throne. Now the easily foreseeable drama was about to unfold. In serious matters, Nathan never failed to speak his mind, and without quibbling, he opened the king's eyes. David, in a flood of emotion, regained his former energy and, at long last, acted as master.
It was of the utmost importance to forestall the ceremony soon to begin at the Sliding Stone, during which Adonijah was to be proclaimed king.
At David's command, the royal mule was saddled and Solomon placed upon it. He was escorted by Nathan, Zadok the kohen, and Benaiah the chieftain of the Cherethites and Pelethites.5 Zadok went quickly to the Tabernacle and took the horn of qadash oil. The company then moved on up to Gihon. The trumpets sounded and Zadok formally anointed Solomon. The crowd who had followed the procession shouted the traditional words: 'Long live King Solomon ! Then with loud rejoicing and pipes playing, they went back to Yerusalem. Solomon had been made king of Yahudah and Yisrael.
At the Sliding Stone, close to Gihon, Adonijah and his sympathizers heard the distant tumult and the disturbing clamour, and soon the detailed news reached them. They realized at once that they had been fore stalled. By David's command, the destiny of the nation was now in Solomon's hands. Adonijah had lost the gamble.
The conspirators disbanded; they saddled their mules and made off home. Adonijah, realizing the danger into which his imprudence had plunged him, ran to the Tabernacle of the Ark. There, before the tabernacle, stood the altar of burnt offerings with four projecting 'horns' at its corners -a ritual feature of most ancient altars. They probably symbolized a bull's horns and in this way evoked the power of YAHWEH (Shemoth 27:1-8; 38:1-7). On Sinai, Mosheh set up the altar of holocausts -it could be taken to pieces -and had provided it with a horn, springing from the altar, at each of its four corners. The Semitic practice was to give these horns a special sprinkling of sacrificial blood. If anyone who had unintentionally killed another could manage to take hold of one of them, he could not be seized, and the Law could not touch him.
Adonijah, therefore, took a firm hold of a horn and asked those standing around to go to the king and beg that he might be spared. He declared that he would not move from the place until he had been given an assurance of his pardon: 'Let King Solomon first swear to me that he will not have his servant put to the sword.' It was a most prudent precaution in the circumstances. Solomon's reply was extremely gentle: his crime would be over looked, but only conditionally, depending upon his future behaviour; 'Should he bear himself honourably, not one hair of his shall fall to the ground; but if he is found malicious, he shall die.' Adonijah hastened to do homage to the king, but Solomon gave him the somewhat contemptuous answer: 'Go to your house'.
A further example of Solomon's magnanimity occurred in the case of Shimei who, according to the custom of the period, might have been expected to pay dearly for his wild outbursts against David. However, he was agreeably surprised to find himself merely committed to what we should call house arrest. He was to build a house in Yerusalem and not to leave the city on any account. If he did he would certainly die. He accepted the position; he had been let off lightly.
The course of events can be summarized as follows. David was buried in the cemetery he had prepared for his dynasty, on the side of the fortified hill of the Ophel within Yerusalem.
Adonijah was astonished to find that he had managed to keep a head on his shoulders.
Joab refrained from drawing too much attention to his deeds and exploits (a trait that scarcely harmonized with his normal behaviour) and continued, as in the past, to command the royal army.
Abiathar, who was to anoint Adonijah at the Sliding Stone, remained, contrary to general expectation, officially attached to the service of the Ark.
Shimei, the Benjaminite, was keeping quiet, overjoyed at his life being spared.
So we are confronted by a series of merciful actions. This was a change from the ruthless decisions which, throughout the ancient East, usually marked the beginning of a reign. Solomon's 'wisdom' aroused surprise and wonder.
Does all this mean that Solomon was neglecting to obey his father's orders about the elimination of Joab and Shimei? Was he also prepared to wipe the slate clean of matters that concerned him personally, such as the formidable plot engineered by his elder brother?
If we examine the position in its political aspect, we shall discover the 'wise' king's real mind. Two parties were confronting each other. On the one hand there were Adonijah, Joab the soldier and Abiathar the kohen. On the other, Solomon's two great friends, Zadok and Benaiah who, in the darkest hour, worked their utmost for his accession to power, and did not count the cost. Zadok was formerly the kohen of Gibeon, and had been transferred by David to Yerusalem. But he was not alone, for Abiathar was there before him, serving the Ark. Benaiah, the mercenary leader, naturally held a position secondary to that of Joab. Both men, Zadok and Benaiah, had certainly no intention of postponing a request for their reward. It would have been against nature to expect that they would. Solomon simply could not have left his brave and devoted servants in posts of inferiority.
Solomon bided his time
Like a cat lying in wait for a mouse to come out of his hole, Solomon bided his time. He foresaw that sooner or later, Adonijah and his clique would commit a major act of folly. He knew these excitable people and watched them closely. At their slightest slip he would strike them with all the severity that the new situation demanded.
He had not miscalculated. It was not long before Adonijah took a step that led to a dramatic chain reaction. He asked Bathsheba, the king's mother, to petition her son to grant him the fair Shunemite for a wife.
She had been David's last mistress; a mere girl whose status in the royal harem was most unusual. The aged king had lain in a room of his cedar-lined palace, growing weaker as each day passed. His courtiers did their best to warm the chilly paralysis of the bed-ridden man. Then, a barbaric idea occurred to them: a beautiful girl should share his bed. But the bizarre remedy had obviously not produced any result. Abishag -that was the young woman's name; she was a native of Shunem in Issachar -had been of use; only as a sick-nurse. Even so, as a wife of second rank, she was legally an authentic member of David's harem. This was the beautiful girl whom Adonijah asked for.
But Bathsheba had hardly mentioned his elder brother's request to the king when he gave way to a storm of rage. Was it real or pretended? At this period, in the East, as soon as a king had ascended the throne, he set about incorporating his predecessor's harem into his Own. This was a gesture which publicly proclaimed his possession of power. A case in point is that of Absalom who, having driven his father David from Yerusalem, at once openly seized the king's ten concubines left behind in the capital. It was a public way of making it known that David had fallen and that Absalom was his successor. Thus, the fact of requesting the hand of a wife or concubine of a deceased or dispossessed monarch, was a claim to the crown of the dead king.
Are we to think, therefore, that Adonijah had really taken such a foolish line? It seems unlikely. There are some factors in the story that provide a clue to the logic of events. For instance, it is most probable that the three intriguers, Adonijah, Joab and Abiathar, supported, of course, by an opposition party of considerable power, secretly continued the plot to dethrone Solomon and replace him by Adonijah. But this was not merely a matter of creating a palace revolution and of getting rid of the interloper. The conspirators had to be able to feel that fundamentally they were in the right, or at least that popular sympathy and approval were on their side.
Now Adonijah, in asking Solomon, through Bathsheba's intercession, for the hand of Abishag, had been most careful to present his request as springing from love alone. In this way he made sure of popular support. The stage was well set. Adonijah posed as the lover of this maiden whom his father had never truly wed.
This, therefore, was the dilemma. Solomon would either have to grant his petition, and in that case his claim to the throne would be considerably strengthened, or he would have to refuse it. That was what the conspirators hoped; for then he could be exhibited to the people as a harsh ruler. He had not only snatched the crown from David's eldest son, but was pursuing him with his venom. This would be the signal for a violent campaign of denigration to be unleashed in Yahudah. Disturbances would be encouraged. The army, still controlled by Joab, would then play its part. Solomon would be deposed and put to death.
The conspirators also believed that the young king was lacking in energy. The mercy he had so far shown was surely an eminent sign of weakness. It would be easy to strip him of power.
Unfortunately for those involved, Solomon's reaction was vigorous and immediate. As soon as his mother had finished speaking, he accused Adonijah of the crime of lese-majeste because of his attempt to introduce a wife of the dead king into his own harem. He summoned Benaiah and ordered him to go to Adonijah without delay and kill him. He was too dangerous to live.
The news quickly reached Yerusalem. Joab heard of this unexpected execution, and realized that the plot was over. It would not be long before he himself would be slaughtered. Accordingly, he hurried to the Tabernacle in front of which the altar of holocausts stood, and like Adonijah before him, he clung to one of the horns of the altar and declared that no one could remove him from this qadash place. Unwisely, he invoked the right of tabernacle. But in his case, he was debarred from appealing to the Law of Mosheh as expressed in Devarim (19:1-12), since that Law laid it down that anyone who had killed deliberately -and this was Joab's case: two disgraceful murders were on his conscience -could not appeal to the set apart character of the place in order to obtain pardon. In an instance of this kind the culprit was to be dragged outside and handed over to the elders who, after due inquiry, were to take blood vengeance.
Solomon gave Benaiah the order to kill Joab, the old soldier who had not only won honour, but also committed crimes. He went therefore to the Altar where Joab had taken refuge. But Joab still clung firmly to the altar and would not let go. Benaiah had no wish to incur the guilt of splashing an altar with human blood, and felt bound to refer the matter to Solomon. But the king told him that the criminal must die: 'In this way,' he said, 'rid me and my family today of the innocent blood Joab has shed.' Back went Benaiah to the Tabernacle. He produced fresh arguments, but Joab had no wish to hear them; since he knew death to be inevitable he wanted the sacrilege committed in this place to rebound on Solomon. In the end he was struck down where he was.
Abiathar next on the list
Abiathar was next on the list. He had given practical support to the plot against Solomon, and he must take his place among the guilty. But this time, Solomon seemed hesitant. Abiathar had shared hard years with David when he and his men, harried by Saul, were reduced to defensive warfare. He had been David's kohen, and had consulted the ephod in order to ascertain YAHWEH's counsel and directives, thus enabling David to direct his military and political operations. He had accompanied the Ark in its triumphant journey to Yerusalem, the king's new capital. It was obviously difficult for Solomon to pronounce the death sentence upon such an eminent and respected representative of the Yahwist kohenhood. And, in fact, Abiathar was not executed. He was excluded from the kohenhood and exiled to his own property in Anathoth near Yerusalem.
Only Shimei remained. He had sworn not to leave the city. But after a few years, two of his slaves fled to Gath in Philistine territory. At once he saddled his donkey, followed them and brought them back. This was an action that broke his promise. Benaiah received a further commission and Shimei was executed.
Accounts were settled
Thus, gradually, accounts were settled. There must have been others, not mentioned by the scribe who only recorded the fate of the principal and most notorious characters.
The bad were punished and the good, that is, Solomon's supporters who had helped him ascend the throne, were rewarded. It was natural for Benaiah to succeed Joab as head of the army, and for Zadok to become high kohen in Yerusalem, serving the Ark, in place of Abiathar. Solomon also extended his gratitude to Barzillai of Gilead who had welcomed and given generous assistance to David when in flight from Absalom.
It was to be expected that this vigorous purge in favour of one party, would be presented as a series of verdicts delivered after due deliberation in strict justice. What in fact were merciless political arrests, are described as a straightforward application of the Law of Mosheh. The king's conduct had to be shown to be in no way prompted by feelings of personal revenge, but the opposition was not deceived. it thoroughly appreciated the fact that the king, under a cloak of legality, had made up his mind to strike down promptly and ruthlessly anyone who attempted to cross his path. At the end of the chapter recording the early years of his reign, this sentence occurs: And now the sovereignty was securely in the hands of Solomon.
MAP OF THE LAND OF CANAAN Showing the principal places mentioned in this book.
1 In Sheol, the underground abode of the dead (at this period there was no notion of reward after death), the dead lived on sadly like shadows. They retained the appearance they had when they died: an old man could be recognized by his white hair.
2 In the previous volume David the unfortunate incident involving Saul's followers has been related. Saul had foolishly slaughtered the people of Gibeon to whom Yahshua Ben Nun had, in an earlier age, promised alliance and protection. But then the few survivors of Gibeon demanded that David should destroy Saul's descendants. He -vainly -offered a compromise in money, but savage butchery ensued. The law of blood was inexorable.
3 It was only after the Babylonian Exile that the Hebrews came to consider an 'unjustified' curse as null and void. Later, YAHSHUA and Sha'ul were to teach that a curse should be countered by a blessing.
4 A word on the genealogical position of the two 'pretenders'. Adonijah was David's fourth son; the three elder sons were dead. At Hebron, David, then king of Yahudah, had six sons -one of them being Adonijah. In Yerusalem, when he had become king of Yisrael as well as Yahudah, he had eleven. In all, there were seventeen male children. In this list, Solomon, born in the capital of the new kingdom, held the tenth place. Although, at this period, the right of the eldest son to succeed to the throne was far from being established beyond dispute, Solomon's position, in view of Adonijah's claim, seemed, initially, far from safe. In reality, however, he was better placed, for he had the good fortune to have the intelligent and crafty Bathsheba for a mother, and the prophet Nathan, the king's most friendly counselor, as his support and intercessor.
5 The Pelethites were Philistines. The Cherethites were probably of Cretan origin. Both were non-Semitic; their ancestors had settled in Canaan about two centuries before. They had formed part of the attacks made by the Peoples of the Sea (c 1200). These troops marched under the command of Benaiah and formed David's bodyguard. They might be called a kind of Foreign Legion.
Solomon The Magnificent Index Solomon Sitemap Scripture History Through the Ages Solomon The Historian RADIANT DAWN Solomon's Wisdom SOLOMON IN ALL HIS HONOR David's role in building the Temple Dates of the building of the Temple Division of the Temple The Ark of the Covenant The most Kodesh Place Dedication of the Temple SOLOMON Prince of Peace SOLOMON THE TRADER Solomon's Ophir expedition The queen of Sheba LITERARY ACHIEVEMENTS OF SOLOMON First historical works of the Hebrews What did Solomon write THE SHADES OF NIGHT Political and social failure Solomon's spiritual failure The moral failure of Solomon CONCLUSION of Solomon