Study Guide

1 Kings Politics

Politics

Then Nathan said to Bathsheba, Solomon's mother, 'Have you not heard that Adonijah son of Haggith has become king and our lord David does not know it? Now therefore come, let me give you advice, so that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. […] So Bathsheba went to the king in his room. […] She said to him, 'My lord, you swore to your servant by the Lord your God, saying: Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne. But now suddenly Adonijah has become king, though you, my lord the king, do not know it. […] But you, my lord the king—the eyes of all Israel are on you to tell them who shall sit on the throne of my lord the king after him. Otherwise it will come to pass, when my lord the king sleeps with his ancestors, that my son Solomon and I will be counted offenders.' (NRSV 1: 1:11-12, 15, 17-18, 20-21)

Wherefore Nathan spake unto Bathsheba the mother of Solomon, saying, Hast thou not heard that Adonijah the son of Haggith doth reign, and David our lord knoweth it not? Now therefore come, let me, I pray thee, give thee counsel, that thou mayest save thine own life, and the life of thy son Solomon. […] And Bathsheba went in unto the king into the chamber: […] And she said unto him, My lord, thou swarest by the Lord thy God unto thine handmaid, saying, Assuredly Solomon thy son shall reign after me, and he shall sit upon my throne. And now, behold, Adonijah reigneth; and now, my lord the king, thou knowest it not: […] And thou, my lord, O king, the eyes of all Israel are upon thee, that thou shouldest tell them who shall sit on the throne of my lord the king after him. Otherwise it shall come to pass, when my lord the king shall sleep with his fathers, that I and my son Solomon shall be counted offenders. (KJV 1:11-12, 15, 17-18, 20-21)

The first political crisis of 1st Kings is perhaps the most exciting. Despite the great privilege Bath-sheba and Solomon enjoy as David's wife and son, it's also a terribly precarious position to be in: Once David's out of the picture, they'll be vulnerable to the intrigues of political rivals unless they take preventive measures.

Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt; he took Pharaoh's daughter and brought her into the city of David, until he had finished building his own house and the house of the Lord and the wall around Jerusalem. (NRSV 3:1)

And Solomon made affinity with Pharaoh king of Egypt, and took Pharaoh's daughter, and brought her into the city of David, until he had made an end of building his own house, and the house of the Lord, and the wall of Jerusalem round about. (KJV 3:1)

You might notice that, unlike David before him and all of the kings that come after, Solomon never has to fight a single war. Why not? He was a great politician, and he used marriage as a tool to create alliances with kingdoms that might otherwise have been hostile.

King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the Israelites, 'You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you; for they will surely incline your heart to follow their gods;' Solomon clung to these in love. Among his wives were seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. (NRSV 11:1-3)

But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites: Of the nations concerning which the Lord said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart. (KJV 11:1-3)

When we consider marriage as a politically savvy move, the number of women that Solomon umm… loves… starts to seem perhaps a little less excessive. After these marriages, Solomon sure has a heckuva lot of in-laws that he might (presumably) count on if he is ever in trouble. On the flipside, though, that sure is a lot of women to use as political pawns.

Then the Lord raised up an adversary against Solomon, Hadad the Edomite; he was of the royal house in Edom. […] When Hadad heard in Egypt that David slept with his ancestors and that Joab the commander of the army was dead, Hadad said to Pharaoh, 'Let me depart, that I may go to my own country.' […] God raised up another adversary against Solomon, Rezon son of Eliada, who had fled from his master, King Hadadezer of Zobah. He gathered followers around him and became leader of a marauding band, after the slaughter by David; they went to Damascus, settled there, and made him king in Damascus. He was an adversary of Israel all the days of Solomon, making trouble as Hadad did; he despised Israel and reigned over Aram. Jeroboam son of Nebat, an Ephraimite of Zeredah, a servant of Solomon, whose mother's name was Zeruah, a widow, rebelled against the king. […] Solomon sought therefore to kill Jeroboam; but Jeroboam promptly fled to Egypt, to King Shishak of Egypt, and remained in Egypt until the death of Solomon. (NRSV 11:14, 21, 23-26, 40)

And the Lord stirred up an adversary unto Solomon, Hadad the Edomite: […] And when Hadad heard in Egypt that David slept with his fathers, and that Joab the captain of the host was dead, Hadad said to Pharaoh, Let me depart, that I may go to mine own country. […] And God stirred him up another adversary, Rezon the son of Eliadah, which fled from his lord Hadadezer king of Zobah: And he gathered men unto him, and became captain over a band, when David slew them of Zobah: and they went to Damascus, and dwelt therein, and reigned in Damascus. And he was an adversary to Israel all the days of Solomon, beside the mischief that Hadad did: and he abhorred Israel, and reigned over Syria. And Jeroboam the son of Nebat, an Ephrathite of Zereda, Solomon's servant, whose mother's name was Zeruah, a widow woman, even he lifted up his hand against the king. […] Solomon sought therefore to kill Jeroboam. And Jeroboam arose, and fled into Egypt, unto Shishak king of Egypt, and was in Egypt until the death of Solomon. (KJV 11:14, 21, 23-26, 40)

Despite Solomon's shrewd politicking, there were still a few problems that he was unable to marry, buy, or assassinate his way out of. His failure to take care of these three troublemakers left Israel in a weakened state when Rehoboam inherited it. If a politician leaves office (or dies, as in this case) right before his constituents start a civil war, was he effective?

Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king. When Jeroboam son of Nebat heard of it (for he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), then Jeroboam returned from Egypt. And they sent and called him; and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam, 'Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.' (NRSV 12:1-4)

And Rehoboam went to Shechem: for all Israel were come to Shechem to make him king. And it came to pass, when Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who was yet in Egypt, heard of it, (for he was fled from the presence of king Solomon, and Jeroboam dwelt in Egypt;) That they sent and called him. And Jeroboam and all the congregation of Israel came, and spake unto Rehoboam, saying, Thy father made our yoke grievous: now therefore make thou the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter, and we will serve thee. (KJV 12:1-4)

This represents a major political shift. Suddenly the king isn't infallible, and the people have some demands for him. Rehoboam is, of course, unprepared for this—good ol' dad never had to worry about this baloney, after all. Maybe if he were as powerful as Solomon was, he might be having different problems.

When all Israel saw that the king would not listen to them, the people answered the king,
'What share do we have in David? 
We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse.
To your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, O David.'
So Israel went away to their tents. But Rehoboam reigned over the Israelites who were living in the towns of Judah. When King Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was taskmaster over the forced labour, all Israel stoned him to death. King Rehoboam then hurriedly mounted his chariot to flee to Jerusalem. So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day. (NRSV 12:16-19)

So when all Israel saw that the king hearkened not unto them, the people answered the king, saying, What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David. So Israel departed unto their tents. But as for the children of Israel which dwelt in the cities of Judah, Rehoboam reigned over them. Then king Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was over the tribute; and all Israel stoned him with stones, that he died. Therefore king Rehoboam made speed to get him up to his chariot, to flee to Jerusalem. So Israel rebelled against the house of David unto this day. (KJV 12:16-19)

Rehoboam's inability to bend with the rushing tide of public opinion ultimately leads to his downfall when the people decide they've had enough of this Davidic dynasty. When the tax collector gets stoned to death and the king has to hole up in his palace, you know there's change a-comin'.

Then Asa took all the silver and the gold that were left in the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king's house, and […] sent them to King Ben-hadad son of Tabrimmon son of Hezion of Aram, who resided in Damascus, saying, 'Let there be an alliance between me and you, like that between my father and your father: I am sending you a present of silver and gold; go, break your alliance with King Baasha of Israel, so that he may withdraw from me.' Ben-hadad listened to King Asa, and sent the commanders of his armies against the cities of Israel. He conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel-beth-maacah, and all Chinneroth, with all the land of Naphtali. (NRSV 15:18-20)

Then Asa took all the silver and the gold that were left in the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king's house, and […] sent them to Benhadad, the son of Tabrimon, the son of Hezion, king of Syria, that dwelt at Damascus, saying, There is a league between me and thee, and between my father and thy father: behold, I have sent unto thee a present of silver and gold; come and break thy league with Baasha king of Israel, that he may depart from me. So Benhadad hearkened unto king Asa, and sent the captains of the hosts which he had against the cities of Israel, and smote Ijon, and Dan, and Abelbethmaachah, and all Cinneroth, with all the land of Naphtali. (KJV 15:18-20)

Here we've got a classic case of the almighty dollar's influence on political allegiances. You've got a treaty with that other guy? No problem—here, have some treasure. Can you help me attack him now? Great. Could this be at least part of why Solomon—not to mention quite a few modern statesmen—was such a great politician?

In the twenty-sixth year of King Asa of Judah, Elah son of Baasha began to reign over Israel in Tirzah; he reigned for two years. But his servant Zimri, commander of half his chariots, conspired against him. When he was at Tirzah, drinking himself drunk in the house of Arza, who was in charge of the palace at Tirzah, Zimri came in and struck him down and killed him, in the twenty-seventh year of King Asa of Judah, and succeeded him. When he began to reign, as soon as he had seated himself on his throne, he killed all the house of Baasha; he did not leave him a single male of his kindred or his friends. (NRSV 16:8-11)

In the twenty and sixth year of Asa king of Judah began Elah the son of Baasha to reign over Israel in Tirzah, two years. And his servant Zimri, captain of half his chariots, conspired against him, as he was in Tirzah, drinking himself drunk in the house of Arza steward of his house in Tirzah. And Zimri went in and smote him, and killed him, in the twenty and seventh year of Asa king of Judah, and reigned in his stead. And it came to pass, when he began to reign, as soon as he sat on his throne, that he slew all the house of Baasha: he left him not one that pisseth against a wall, neither of his kinsfolks, nor of his friends. (KJV 16:8-11)

This illustrates the sorry state of politics during the period between Solomon and Elijah. Whoever kills the king gets to take the crown? That doesn't seem stable to us. Is it any wonder that these times produced Ahab, the worst king in all of 1st Kings?