My Grandpa Teasdale was a great bloke! I loved him very much. He was a Yorkshireman. At one and the same time that was both the best and worst about him! Because he was a Geoffrey Boycott kind of Yorkshire man – the kind 'who said what he blooming well liked and liked what he blooming well said!' I remember the first day he met Debs' parents! We were at his home for a family gathering to celebrate my 21st birthday. Debs' parents were bringing Debs up from Hereford to join us and his welcome to my future in-laws as he invited them in through the front door went something along the lines of "I see the Hereford cattle have arrived!" My jaw hit the floor! It was his idea of a joke! Fortunately, they tolerated it and didn't whisk their daughter straight back down the road in disgust!
But that was my Grandpa; he always had loads to say and plenty of stories to tell. Not least, for me, from his time in Europe during the Second World War. As a schoolboy studying that period I lapped up all the first-hand accounts that he could give me. I loved listening to him. When he drew near to the end of his life my Dad and I decided that it would be a good idea to interview him on video camera for posterity. I'm so glad we did – it's an excellent addition to his memoirs. And I remember asking him if he had any message or advice for future generations of Teasdales watching in 50 years' time. He said a few things – as you'd expect – but the one I'll never forget was that he quoted one of God's promises. He opened his Bible and he turned to Matthew 28.20:
"…I am with you always, to the end of the age."
From father to son to grandson and beyond, passing on to successive generations the importance of God – who he is, what he has done, what he has promised – is so important. And in part that is what our Bible passage is about tonight!
1 Kings 2 is all about King David, at the very end of his life, passing on final instructions and advice to his son. And in that sense it's quite sad – 1 Kings 2 records the end of an era. But it's also a little bit perplexing isn't it? Because, while some of his advice to his son is spot on, some of it seems, well, downright revengeful – at first glance it's shockingly ruthless and shockingly cold-blooded. Well, what I hope we will see together tonight is that, in actual fact, this passage provides a classic example of what it looks like to try and faithfully follow God, against the backdrop of a messy, fallen world. That's the dilemma all of us face isn't it? In the messiness, in the brokenness of this world… what do we need to know, what do we need to remember, what do we need to do, as we try and live our lives faithfully for the Lord?
We're going to tackle this in two main parts. Part 1 is this:
Part 1: 1 Kings 2 is all about 'Establishing' David's Kingdom
Let me just paint in very broad-brush strokes what is going on in 1 Kings 2. We didn't read it all earlier and we don't have time to go through it all tonight, but we do need a quick overview to help us get our bearings. 1 Kings 2.1 says:
"When David's time to die drew near, he commanded Solomon his son, saying…"
So straight away we know this is about a transition of power, and the outgoing King – David – is about to give some advice (some general, some very specific) to the incoming King - his son Solomon. That advice takes up the first 10 verses or so and we will look at that in a bit more detail. The rest of 1 Kings 2, verse 13 all the way through to verse 46, deals with Solomon following through on his Father's advice, particularly the more specific parts of that advice. And we see Solomon contend for the Kingdom by neutralising four people who threatened God's plans for it. I didn't have to work hard to find out what this chapter is all about. Throughout it the author uses the same phrase four times - that's a big clue! Let me show you… We see it first in verse 12:
"So Solomon sat on the throne of David his father, and his kingdom was firmly established."
We see it next in verse 24 where Solomon says that the Lord:
"…has established me and placed me on the throne of David my father…"
Then towards the end, in verse 45 and finally verse 46:
"…the throne of David shall be established before the Lord for ever."
"…So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon."
1 Kings 2 is all about establishing David's Kingdom in the hands of his son. Why is the writer so keen to stress this point? Because God is at work, beginning to fulfil what he has promised. We've mentioned this many times during this series – and that's intentional because it's so important. The promises that the Lord made to David in 2 Samuel 7 are among the most significant of God's promises in all of Scripture. In 2 Samuel 7 God promises David that his son will succeed him and that from his family will come one who will rule over the Kingdom forever. Don't forget that both 1 & 2 Kings (like 1 & 2 Samuel) were written for God's people in exile. They're in a place where it seems and it feels like promise of 2 Samuel 7 was just a pipe dream. It's so distant. And the writer wants to reassure them that it's not. 'God is in control. He's got this. However bad it seems, he is faithful to his word. He is working out his purposes. He will keep his promise.' So this whole chapter is about God beginning to establish the promised Kingdom. But how does that happen? I have three subheadings: David's advice, David's example and Solomon's obedience. Firstly, then:
i. David's Advice
"When David's time to die drew near, he commanded Solomon his son, saying, "I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man"" (vv.1-2)
Here we go… the first part of the advice. Yes, its specific to Solomon, but the principles are eternal, whether we're Jews in exile, or 21st Century Geordies!
a) Obey the Law
"…keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn" (v.3)
You know obedience to law has a bad rep. But it's stupid really because law is there for our own good. Any law that's worth its salt (whether it's the laws of the land, an organisation, the laws of football matches) is there so that we can operate and function and flourish within the safety that it provides. So David says, 'Obey the law my Son - it's good for you! And it's good for you because it's a condition of God keeping his promise!' And David goes on to remind Solomon of that promise. This is the second part of David's advice…
b) Remember the Promise
And he spells it out for him in verse 4, so…
"that the Lord may establish his word that he spoke concerning me, saying, 'If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.'"
In effect David is saying 'Remember 2 Samuel 7 - don't forget the promises of a faithful God!' Whether it's from father to son, or grandfather to grandson and beyond, reminding successive generations of the loving faithfulness of God is so important. He always keeps his promises! Next David gets quite specific with his advice. I've summarised this as…
c) Contend for the Kingdom
Look at verse 5:
"Moreover, you also know what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me, how he dealt with the two commanders of the armies of Israel, Abner the son of Ner, and Amasa the son of Jether, whom he killed, avenging in time of peace for blood that had been shed in war, and putting the blood of war on the belt round his waist and on the sandals on his feet."
In other words, 'Listen Solomon. Joab can't be trusted. He's a threat to what God is doing. Contend for the Kingdom and deal with it!' (And, in fact, we see other threats such as Shimei get a mention too.) And then David appeals to Solomon to use his God-given wisdom to contend for the Kingdom and defend it from these threats. Look at verse 9:
"…for you are a wise man. You will know what you ought to do…"
So that's David's advice: obey the law, remember the promise and contend for the Kingdom. How else does God establish his Kingdom in this chapter? Well, I wonder if the writer wants to use verses 10-12 to encourage his readers to pause and reflect on…
ii. David's Example
We could go on to Solomon's obedience straight away but the author puts these verses in (vv.10-11):
"Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David. And the time that David reigned over Israel was forty years. He reigned for seven years in Hebron and for thirty-three years in Jerusalem."
With these two verses, one of the most influential lives in all of Scripture comes to an end. It is a significant moment. Just as with any other life, it's only natural to pause, take stock and reflect on their God-given legacy when they die. I did with my grandfather. Many of us found ourselves doing that with Billy Graham a few weeks ago, and so I think here the writer of Kings encourages us to do the same. Here is King David, resting with his fathers. He was God's chosen King, a man who sought after God's own heart we are told. And so according to God's own word David is the ideal monarch, a model for leadership, the standard by which all other kings are measured. His influence is immense: Jerusalem is spared for centuries after his death simply for the sake of the promises God made to David.
But he was far from perfect. And you may wonder – 'how can God elevate him like this when he was also a liar, an adulterer, a murderer, a hopeless father? How can he be the model? How can he be the standard and example?' And that's a great question. We need an answer to it. And I think the answer goes something like this: David is the model, not because he was perfect, but because he was the model of getting it right when he got it wrong! Once aware of his sin, he was always quick to confess. His confession was from the heart and his repentance genuine. His trust was in the faithful and forgiving nature of God. He loved God and he followed after God's own heart. In order for the Kingdom to be established, Solomon needed to follow his father's example. We won't go far wrong if we do the same. So we've seen David's advice; we've remembered his example and for the rest of the chapter we observe…
iii. Solomon's Obedience
…as he begins to do what his Dad had suggested he should! First up is Adonijah. Follow it through with me. Adonijah is Solomon's older half-brother and he goes to his step-mum Bathsheba with the most ridiculous request. He asks her to go into bat for him with the new King so that he can marry his Dad's concubine. Verse 17:
"Please ask King Solomon—he will not refuse you—to give me Abishag the Shunammite as my wife."
Unfortunately for Adonijah, Bathseba agrees (v.18) and passes on the request almost verbatim to the King. Look at how he responds half way through verse 22. He explodes in anger:
"And why do you ask Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? Ask for him the kingdom also, for he is my older brother, and on his side are Abiathar the priest and Joab the son of Zeruiah."
Make no mistake, this was a power play for the Kingdom by the older brother. No-one would have mistaken the symbolism of Adonijah taking one of King David's concubines as his wife. Abiathar and Joab are also implicated, and Solomon is going to have to contend for the Kingdom with them too. Verse 24 reminds us that we must see this opposition as being against God because Solomon has been established on the throne by God himself. Therefore, any attack on the Kingdom is an attack on God and as a result in verse 25 Adonijah pays for his foolishness with his life. It is that serious. Next up is Abiathar the priest. In verse 26 he is banished, and he's only allowed to live because of his past association with David:
"And to Abiathar the priest the king said, "Go to Anathoth, to your estate, for you deserve death. But I will not at this time put you to death, because you carried the ark of the Lord God before David my father, and because you shared in all my father's affliction.""
Then it's Joab's turn. And he knows it! In verse 28 we see that news reaches Joab of the fate of both Adonijah and Abiathar, and so he "fled to the tent of the Lord and caught hold of the horns of the altar." He thinks he'll be safe there, but in verse 29 Solomon dispatches Benaiah to kill him. In verse 30 Joab refuses to leave: "No, I will die here" he says. So Benaiah checks his rules of engagement with the King and in verse 31 Solomon says:
"Do as he has said, strike him down and bury him, and thus take away from me and from my father's house the guilt for the blood that Joab shed without cause."
And in verse 34 Benaiah does just that, which just leaves Shimei, the last enemy on David's list. The way Solomon deals with Shimei is a classic case of keeping your enemies closer than you friends. Verses 36-37:
"Then the king sent and summoned Shimei and said to him, "Build yourself a house in Jerusalem and dwell there, and do not go out from there to any place whatever. For on the day you go out and cross the brook Kidron, know for certain that you shall die…"
In effect he is confined to quarters and kept under close surveillance. Shimei agrees but then somewhat stupidly we see in verse 39 that after three years he headed off to Gath after some runaway slaves. And so by verse 46 he has indeed paid with his life.
Now, as I said at the start, some of Solomon's obedience may feel quite shocking. 'How could he be so callous and unforgiving?' we cry. But we can't let our 21st Century sensibilities blind us to what God is saying here. And what he's saying is that sometimes it's like this and it must be like this! It's the reality of living in a messed up, fallen world. We've already seen that the intention behind all of these actions is the establishment of God's Kingdom (those four verses that I highlighted earlier) but we also learn that this Kingdom is to be a Kingdom of peace. Take a look at verse 33:
"So shall their blood come back on the head of Joab and on the head of his descendants for ever. But for David and for his descendants and for his house and for his throne there shall be peace from the Lord for evermore."
God's kingdom is a kingdom of peace. And any threat or opposition that works against that must be dealt with, it must be fought against and if necessary neutralised. Let me give you a trivial example by way of illustration. Some of you will be friends with Anne, our Early Years Worker, on Facebook. If you are, you will know that a few weeks ago the peace in her flat was shattered by much squealing (her own!) at the arrival of a rather larger spider on the wall by her bed! She christened it 'Shelob' after that giant spider in Lord of the Rings, but I understand it wasn't around for long. As the comments to Anne's post progressed it became clear that said spider was soon a squashed ex-spider... much to the consternation of one of Anne's spider loving friends! But do you see the point? For peace to return to Anne's kingdom, the spider had to go. Sometimes it just has to be like that.
So, what are we supposed to do with 1 Kings 2 today? How can we apply our lives to it? This is our second main heading:
Part 2: Applying our Lives to 1 Kings 2
I want to suggest three ways it could work itself out for us. Firstly, we need to:
i. Grasp the Doctrine of God's Providence and Persevere
God is in control. He is true to his word. For all those feeling lost in exile, here was a wonderful reminder that God's covenant love endures forever. He had promised something and they needed to know how it was coming true. Living this side of the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ we have even more reason to trust God. We're not there yet, but at least we understand the end of the story more than David and Solomon would have done. Be encouraged JPC. Persevere. I've no idea what everyone's personal circumstances are, but I do know this: In his providence God is working out his purposes for the good of all those who love him. He takes and uses indifferent, broken people and uses our little stories to fulfil his big one. We may never see how our little story fits in to the big picture, but we know we can trust God and he is calling us to faithfully persevere in a whole variety of different and difficult situations. How do we do that? Well secondly, we need to:
ii. Grasp the Doctrine of Human Responsibility and Work Hard to Obey, Remember and Contend
Sure - the specifics of David's advice don't apply to us today. We're not expected to build another earthly Kingdom and we're not expected to go round killing those who get in the way of such an endeavour. But the principles behind that advice still apply, don't they? The obeying, remembering, contending... But we've got to work hard at those principles. Just because we grasp the doctrine of God's providence and accept that God is sovereign and in control – that doesn't mean that we are reduced to being puppets on a string. We are all responsible for our actions.
Just think back to Adonijah, Abiathar, Joab and Shimei. Each one of them had a choice. And yet they chose to act foolishly and selfishly and carelessly and disobediently… and three of them paid with their lives. It didn't have to be that way. Each one of us has a choice too. Are we going to act in similar ways to these men or will we take responsibility and work hard contending for the Kingdom? Those of you who have been Christians for longer than 5 minutes know that's not easy though. There are no short cuts. Obeying and remembering starts here, in the Bible. In here is instruction for us to flourish now! In here is instruction for us to flourish in eternity! What do you need to hear from your creator from in here? Open it, read it, live it! There are wonderful and precious promises to remember. Jesus says in Matthew 11.28:
"Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
'Don't be troubled – I've gone to prepare a place for you and I'm coming again to take you there myself.' He promises in here that that place will be a place of peace – there will be no more crying or mourning or pain or anything like that! This is where we start. Each and every day. And that's hard work – but we're the ones responsible for it. Do you remember our other reading from earlier? Who did Jesus say the wise man was? 'Anyone who hears these words of mine … is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.' Is that what he said? No! Anyone "who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock." The life of faith is a life of action. Read the book of James if you ever find yourself doubting that!
So can I ask you – what action do you need to take to contend for the kingdom? How can you neutralise ungodly influence in your life? You know ungodly influence takes many forms. It could be a habit, an attitude, a person, a desire… anything that draws you away from your loving heavenly Father and his good purposes for your life. Meet it head on. Take it out if necessary. Neutralise its power and influence over you. Like Solomon, we'll need to ask the Lord for wisdom and strength to do that. But we shouldn't accept anything in our lives that works against building up the Kingdom of God. So, JPC: will you be strong, take responsibility and work as hard as you can to obey God's law, remember his promises and to contend for his Kingdom?
But we also have to be realistic and so our third application is a plea to:
iii. Grasp the Doctrine of Human Depravity and Enjoy Grace!
Friends, none of us have arrived at this thing we call glory! It simply isn't possible to serve God perfectly in this life. Please don't mishear me as saying that if we persevere and work hard we can! As great as David was, Scripture is at pains to remind us of his flawed nature. Every mention of Bathseba gives us that. Even Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, ended up a disobedient fool with his desire for too many women. And you and I? We're no different. All of us are only ever going to make it by grace. And it is a grace that is wonderfully provided through the promise! And it is grace that is found in a person. Ultimately the Kingdom of God is made secure and established in King Jesus. Jesus is the descendant of David, the fulfilment of the promise, and the saviour of the world. All those who put their faith in him, all those who trust that his death on the wooden cross 2,000 years ago takes the punishment that they rightly deserve, all those who turn from living for self and seek to live for God… all those will enjoy the wonderful grace that he provides, in this life and the next.