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.”