The Death of David, The Sword of Solomon

I’d like to someday write a book about King David, telling his story as a story. It’s one of the great epic narratives of history, and it has everything a great story needs. The universal themes all course through the arch of his life. David’s humble beginnings as the young shepherd, possessed with a secret courage and determination that nobody knows. His anointing as king while the old king is still very much in power, and his subsequent fearful flight. The man of honor who gathers around him a band of thugs and bandits, who love him with a fierce loyalty that’s only found in lost men who have been redeemed. The warrior-poet who is possessed with a fervor for God. His willingness to let others do violent, evil things to preserve his power, while keeping his own hands clean.

His ascension to the throne, only to become bored and restless with the bureaucracy of power. His subsequent slide into lust, adultery, and murder. The brutal consequences of ignoring the jealousy and political maneuvering in his own household. The exile, the return, the painful longing to forgive a son who perpetrated the ultimate betrayal, all of the complex emotional entanglements between a father and a son. The stratification of power in Jerusalem between the young and the old, and one last desperate attempt to fulfill the covenant and place Solomon on the throne, by securing for him an alliance with Israel’s perpetual power brokers, the temple priests.

The Bible Podcast is treading through 1st Kings these days, and a few weeks ago I read through 1 Kings 2 (read | listen). I realized as I was reading it that this is the ultimate ending scene to the story. It’s like something straight out of Godfather. David is lying in his bed, about to die, he pulls a young (maybe 12 years old) Solomon close, and whispers into his ear a list of those who have betrayed him, and should be revenged, and those whose loyalty has yet to be rewarded. He charges Solomon with carrying out a hit list of executions.

And Solomon does. He marches through the list, and puts to death everyone who betrayed his father, no doubt knowing that they would be the first to challenge his right to the throne. He rewards the loyal, no doubt securing their continued support of his royal claim. He slashes his way through the Jerusalem hierarchy, carving out a new reign. Fear sweeps through the old guard, who had abandoned the infirm old king and thrown their support behind Adonijah his son, culminating in the execution of the ruthless Joab, the brutal general who violently defended David’s throne even when David himself opposed Joab’s methods, on the floor of the House of Yahweh.

Can you picture it, in extended montage, muted dialog and cries for mercy from those who betrayed David, the dogged advance of Solomon’s new royal bodyguard, swords drawn, all to the soundtrack of a single male voice singing out in Hebrew the words of Psalm 56,

In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I will not be afraid.
What can mortal man do to me?

All day long they twist my words;
they are always plotting to harm me.

They conspire, they lurk,
they watch my steps,
eager to take my life.

On no account let them
in your anger, O God, bring down the nations.

The chapter ends with this simple sentence, “The kingdom was now firmly established in Solomon’s hands.”

Indeed.

14 thoughts on “The Death of David, The Sword of Solomon

  1. michael lee Post author

    I dunno, Jeremy, I was hoping to attach someone with experience creating sweeping epic scenes that explore the deeply human connection between honor and sacrifice.

    Of course, it can’t hurt to go to my first round of meetings with potential publishers and say, “I already have a director for the film adaptation of this still unwritten book.”

  2. aly

    Makes for great storytelling, but just so…sick. (Harken to the strident tone of my politically incorrect cultural superiority.) I get the pragmatism of securing the throne, ensuring Solomon’s accession, etc. — it’s just weird that David turned pragmatic in the last hours of his life. I mean, here was the guy who refused to fight Saul for the throne when he knew he was the anointed one, the guy who fled his palace rather than fight his son’s attempt at a coup, the guy who slew a giant with a river rock. Did he not trust God where his son was concerned?

  3. michael lee Post author

    I think the presence of Joab has to figure into our understanding of David’s political career. Joab was the guy who took out David’s enemies, and there seems to have been a kind of tacit consent on David’s part. “I don’t want to know what you’re doing, and I may even tell you not to do it, but I understand the necessity.” Joab’s ruthlessness allowed David to stay idealistic in his dealings with Absalom. This is a continuation of the silent trust that developed when David turned to Joab to clean up the mess of his affair with Bathsheba by dispatching Uriah.

    I think what we see in this passage is the person David becomes when he believes he can no longer trust Joab to do his dirty work. I don’t think this is David changed, I think it’s David revealed.

  4. Leonard

    I love the phrase “David served God’s purposes in his own generation, and then fell asleep.” That is the internal hunger of my soul. to be so fortunate to have this said by God about your life. WOW

  5. michael lee Post author

    That’s true, Leonard. I’m seeing how deep God’s love for David was as I’m reading forward in 1st Kings, getting to the wicked kings. Time after time, God, through his prophets, says to the kings, “I abhor what you’re doing, and I will take the people of Israel away from this land and place them in bondage … but not yet. For the sake of my servant David, I’ll wait another generation. And another, and another.”

  6. sharolyn

    Mike, great post.

    I’ve had to work through some “David issues”. I’m fine reading through a psalm, knowing when it was written, etc. but twice I’ve done an in-depth study on him and there are parts I REALLY don’t like, and it leaves me baffled as to how God can give him the thumbs-up. That’s a common state of mind – baffled by God (-band name, Chad?).

    Both times there was an older, wiser person in the study who allowed me to vent my grief and shared with me their love for David. For instance, one now-Godly woman in my study has quite a past and she said David’s immense imperfections helped her to know she had not done anything that was outside the reach for relationship with God.

    Can you imagine if this man (David) lived today? He would not exactly win a Dove Award, Well Done Award, visit the 700 Club, open with harp-playing at a Billy Graham Crusade, etc. Yet he served God’s purposes. What a piece of work.

    I hope none of this has been offensive, or just didn’t sound really immature.

  7. Leonard

    Sharolyn, maybe it is the sinner in me that so strongly wants to get out and run a muck, maybe it is my own hunger for doing something that God smiles upon, maybe it is this passion to leave for my kids a better faith than I was handed, maybe it is my own pride… I am sure all of these work together. I find hope in David’s life. The schizoid psalms that go from great is the Lord, your mercy is amazing to can you just kill them all God? That is me as I leave church, worshiping the greatest God ever and then find myself angry at the cashier because she said too much to the customer in front of me and made me wait. I find hope in a life that seemed to trust God enough to run full speed to him. In that scene from Forrest Gump, when Forrest gets running and his braces fall off and he is free. That is Davids sprint to God and the braces of his sin no longer shackle him. That is my sprint too. I find hope in David’s smallness and God’s strength flowing through it. Your responses are not immature, they are just like David’s who would often ask God, how can you be so nice to the wicked… only to find it was just God being God. God is Good and God is faithful and then to find, God was good and faithful to him.

    Thanks for sharing

  8. Pingback: Of Kings and Kingdoms | Addison Road

  9. Timothy S. Wilkinson

    I am currently working on an 8-volume series about the life of King David and the events leading up to it. The first two books, “Prophet of Israel” and “Judge of Israel” are on bookstore shelves now and available from my website at http://www.timothywilkinson.net. (“Prophet” is available at Amazon, B&N, etc.; “Judge” will be in a week or two). From the perspective revealed by your comments, I think you would enjoy my take on the story.

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