The New King

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I know that people attend JPC who are not yet at all clear about the Christian faith and all it means, and I’m glad they do. And if that’s you, you’re extremely welcome; we want you here with us. So I don’t know about you, but for myself, there is nothing at all that is even remotely as important to me as my faith in Christ, and the life of the church in which that faith is worked out. Many of you, I do know, will think and feel the same.

So how do we ensure that what we have been given by God is passed on to the next generation intact? The American 4x100 women’s relay team were hot favourites for a gold medal the other day. And yet they ended out of the medals. Why? At one of the changeovers, the baton wasn’t passed on. Well, this morning is all about how to pass the baton, and how to take hold of it. No amount of world class sprinting is any good without this.

Would you please take up one of the Bibles in the pews and turn with me to 1 Kings 2. We heard the first part of this earlier on. And there’s space for any notes that you might like to make on the back of the service sheet. My title is The New King – and the new king is Solomon. A couple of weeks ago we looked together at chapter 1 under Ian’s guidance, in which Solomon is proclaimed King by command of his father, the aged King David. David, as the opening verse of the book notes, was by this time ‘old and well advanced in years’. That is, he didn’t have long to live. So the question of the succession was pressing.

David had a variety of sons by various different wives. And more than one of them had had notions of becoming king after David’s death. So, for instance, earlier in his reign David’s eldest son Absalom had actually led an open rebellion against his father in an attempt to take the throne from him. It had been touch and go who would come out on top – but in the end Absalom was killed in the course of the decisive battle.

After Absalom, it’s Adonijah’s turn to try and manoeuvre his way onto the throne of David, as chapter 1 relates. His efforts at self-promotion are thwarted by a combination of Solomon’s mother Bathsheba and the prophet Nathan.
So there’s a transition of the leadership of God’s people going on in these opening 2 chapters of 1 Kings. By the end of chapter 1, young Solomon is ruling with his father who was close to the end of his life. Ambitious Adonijah has had his ambitions thwarted and his nose put out of joint by his father’s decision to pass over him to the younger Solomon.

So that sets up the events of chapter 2. It’s all very gripping history – if you find that kind of thing gripping, which I must admit I do – but what is it to us?

Well, it’s not any old history – this is our own family history, because it’s the history of God’s people and if you are a believer in Jesus then you are in direct spiritual line of descent. What’s more, it’s God-directed history, because God is in the process of working out his own purposes through all this family mess. And those purposes culminate in the coming of the one perfect and eternal King who doesn’t mess up at all and who will never appoint a successor because he will rule for ever – and that, of course, is Jesus, God’s only and beloved son. What’s yet more, we can see patterns here that apply to us and our own experience among God’s people. Why? Because God doesn’t change and nor does human nature.

So as we look at the events of chapter 2, I want us to see two things. There’s something to do. And there’s something to know. What’s the something to do? That’s my first main heading: How to live as God’s man. And what’s the something to know? That’s my second main heading: God’s kingdom will stand forever and his enemies will be destroyed. The first heading relates to verses 1-12, and the second to the rest of the chapter, verses 13-46. So:

First, HOW TO LIVE AS GOD’S MAN

Here’s the way to do that: be strong; be obedient to God; fulfil your part in God’s plans; deal wisely with the enemies of God; and show kindness to the friends of God. Where do I get all that from? Well it’s all there in what the dying David says to Solomon. 2.1:

When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son. “I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So…”

This is a solemn moment, isn’t it? The great David – God’s anointed King, who has united the twelve tribes around his leadership after years of chaos and civil war, who has under the blessing of God subdued the hostile nations around and lead Israel into an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity – the great David is about to die, and he knows it, and he’s preparing for it. Even in that we can take a leaf out of his book. We all need to learn to die well when the time comes. That is something that Christians of earlier generations than ours often used to be much more thoughtful about than us, I suspect.

What, then, does he say to Solomon? He is all too aware of the awesome responsibility that is landing on Solomon’s young shoulders. He wants Solomon to “show himself a man”. And what does he mean by that? Surely it’s summed up in five things he urges on Solomon.

First, be strong. Verse 2: “So be strong, show yourself a man,…” But how? The other night I saw the super-heavyweight weightlifting gold medal being won. They said it was a young Iranian who won it, but he looked to me more like an ox. He lifted 263.5 kg, I think it was – a new world record for the world’s strongest man. Is that what David’s after? Does he want Solomon to go and fork out for a membership of the gym right away? I don’t think so. This strength is something that goes on much more in the mind than in the biceps. And it is consistently urged on leaders, and indeed all believers, throughout the Bible. And it is often linked both with courage and with doing what God has called us to do.

So David when he commissioned Solomon to be the one who would build the temple after his death, had said the same thing. This is 1 Chronicles 28.20:

“Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you…”

And lest we think this is just an Old Testament virtue, the apostle Paul similarly urges in 1 Corinthians 16.13:

stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong…

And both David and Paul are equally clear about the source of this strength. It is not us. It’s God. So David says: “Be strong… for God is with you.” And Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1.8:

[God] will keep you strong to the end…

And he says (this is 2 Corinthians12.10): “When I am weak then I am strong…” Why? Because when he recognises his own weakness apart from God, and starts relying on God, then the power of Christ ‘rests on him’ as he puts it.

Spiritual strength comes from God to those who trust him to equip them for the task in hand. And it involves courage. Courage is not a matter of being completely and foolishly oblivious to the perils and dangers all around. It is said that the best infantry to send in at the front of a perilous offensive are those who’ve never fought before, because they’ve no idea what they’re going to encounter. The experienced soldier is far too cautious. But true courage is not a matter of having the fearlessness of inexperience. It is a matter of facing up to the danger and the difficulty, and yet still carrying on to the end.

What dangers and difficulties are you facing? Be strong in the Lord. Don’t give up. If you are going to live as God’s man, then that’s the first thing to do. Be strong.

Secondly, be obedient to God. David says to Solomon:

“ So be strong, show yourself a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires: walk in his ways and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go...”

So often, it is this obedience that requires the strength we’ve been talking about. The forces that are wanting to draw us away from doing God’s will and following his ways are immensely powerful. They are nothing in comparison to the power of God, of course. But they are a great deal more powerful than us. So along with strength we need vision. We need to be absolutely rock solid certain that what God says we should do is what we will be committed to doing – whatever the cost, whatever the pressures to do otherwise. And we need to be absolutely rock solid certain that what God says we should do is for the best. His way is the way of blessing in the long run. And God’s blessing is the only lasting and real prosperity.

Solomon lost sight of this as the years went by. So can we. And that’s when we need forgiveness and we need to pick it up again, and start obeying again. I heard Colin Jackson talking about the bend in the 200m track (the Olympics are wonderfully full of spiritual lessons). He was saying that the track is very carefully measured in each lane – and if a runner so much as clips the line on the inside of his lane, he will be disqualified because he will have run less than the required 200m. The athletes all know that. They can’t get away with saying to themselves, “I’ll just take a slight short cut. I’ll cut off a bit of bend. No one will notice.” The eyes of the judges – not to mention millions of TV viewers around the world – are on them. So in all the heat of the race you have to be very, very careful to stay right in your lane – right on track – lest you be disqualified. The same applies to you, and to me, and to Solomon, in the race of faith. The eyes of God are on us. Be strong. Be obedient.

Then the third thing to do in order to live as God’s man is this: Fulfil your part in God’s plans. Solomon’s part was to be a strong, obedient and Godly king. Why? Not for his own sake – though there is the promise of prosperity as an added motivation. The law of God is not capricious and random. If God commands something it’s because it works. But above all David wants Solomon to be strong and obedient (verse 4) so that …

… the Lord may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.’

God’s promise was in the end to be fulfilled in Jesus. Solomon was a vital link in the chain that lead to him. He had to play his part, for the glory of God and for the fulfilling of God’s plans. And we too as believers each have our individual part to play in establishing God’s kingdom. That is what gives our lives a shape and a purpose beyond ourselves. We have God’s work to do. There is immense dignity in that. That is our privilege, and that is our responsibility as children of God’s royal family. We are to fulfil our part in God’s plans.

Fourthly, we are to deal wisely with the enemies of God.

This is a major theme in the events recorded in the rest of the chapter from verse 13 so we’ll come back to this under my second main heading. But I just want to set out the principle here.

David’s kingdom was established by God, so his enemies were hostile in the end to God himself and God’s purposes. We’re not talking about critics here. One of David’s most loyal subjects, the prophet Nathan, was powerfully critical of David when he needed to be. We’re talking about those who unrepentantly supported the various coup attempts against God’s chosen kings – David and then Solomon. So David warns Solomon against the traitor Joab (verses 5):

“ Now you yourself know what Joab son of Zeruiah did to me… [Verse 6] Deal with him according to your wisdom, but do not let his grey head go down to the grave in peace.”

And David says essentially the same thing regarding Shimei - that’s there in verses 8-9.

God gives his people wisdom when they ask. We are to use that to be aware of God’s enemies, to beware of God’s enemies, and to deal with God’s enemies in the right way.

Then fifthly we are to show kindness to the friends of God. Verse 7:

But show kindness to the sons of Barzillai of Gilead and let them be among those who eat at your table. They stood by me when I fled from your brother Absalom.

That’s a direct reference to Absalom’s coup attempt. Barzillai remained loyal not just in words but with his very practical and timely support – read all about it in 2 Samuel. David had not forgotten, and he wanted to make sure that Solomon didn’t forget either.

Any friend of Jesus is a friend of every believer. And that’s why the New Testament is peppered with encouragement to hospitality. ‘Let them be among those who eat at your table.’ To share a meal is a demonstration of friendship. Hospitality needs to be characteristic of the life of this fellowship; and it is a sign of a continuing practical care amongst the friends of Jesus.

So those are five marks of someone who wants to live as God’s man. Be strong. Be obedient to God’s law. Fulfil you part in God’s purposes for your life. Deal wisely with God’s enemies. And show kindness to his friends. That’s something to do: live as God’s man.

Then finally, here’s something to know - so:

Secondly, GOD’S KINGDOM WILL STAND FOREVER AND HIS ENEMIES WILL BE DESTROYED

As we’ve seen, Solomon was to identify those who were God’s enemies and therefore his enemies. He was to beware of them. And ultimately he was to see them destroyed. That was part of what David required of him.

So in verses 13 to 46 of chapter 2 the cases of four different individuals are dealt with. You’ll need to read the details for yourself, but in 13-25 it’s Adonijah, the rebellious elder brother of Solomon; in 26-27 it’s Abiathar the high priest who conspired with Adonijah; in 28-35 it’s Joab the treacherous and murderous army commander; and then in 36-46 it’s Shimei who supported the earlier rebellion of Absalom and cursed king David to his face.

Of these four, two are given a conditional stay of execution; they break the conditions and they are executed. One, as Solomon puts it ‘deserves to die’ but is stripped of his office and sent away from Jerusalem for good. The fourth is also executed.

Now what is going on here? Are we to see this as Solomon being wise and doing justice? Or is he already being foolish, ruthless and ungodly in the way he deals with these people? It seems to me that we are intended to see Solomon here as an instrument of God’s justice, tempered by mercy. Why? Because the case against each is clear. And because in relation to each of the four, there is a clear reference to the way that the effect of these dreadful events is further to fulfil God’s promises and to establish his kingdom in the person of Solomon.

So the whole section is headed with the summary verse 12:

So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David, and his rule was firmly established.

And in verse 24 in relation to Adonijah Solomon says:

“ And now, as surely as the Lord lives –he who has established me securely on the throne of my father David and has founded a dynasty for me as he promised – Adonijah shall be put to death today.”

And in verse 27 in relation to Abiathar the priest:

So Solomon removed Abiathar from the priesthood of the Lord, fulfilling the word the Lord had spoken at Shiloh about the house of Eli.

And verse 33 in relation to the execution of Joab the army commander:

“But on David and his descendants, his house and his throne, may there be the Lord’s peace for ever.”

And verse 45 in relation to Shimei:

“Now the Lord will repay you for your wrongdoing. But King Solomon will be blessed, and David’s throne will remain secure before the Lord for ever.”

Then finally the end of verse 46 sums it all up:

The kingdom was now firmly established in Solomon’s hands.

The tough but comforting truth is that God’s enemies will not in the end prevail. In the dark days it might look as if they will. But they will not. God’s kingdom will be established and it will stand for ever and his enemies will be destroyed.

And the same remains true for us in the New Testament context – but there is a difference that the New Testament itself makes clear. So Ephesians 6 warns us to be ready to fight God’s enemies but goes on:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

So our enemies are Satan and all his forces; and the evil influence of the ungodly world around us; and the sin that grows like a cancer within us; and death itself. We are to hate these enemies of God. We are to do all we can to put these enemies of God to death. We are to do that in the power of the Spirit of Christ, who was the final victory over them all.

There are still, of course, people who are enemies of God’s kingdom. They show themselves by their opposition to Jesus and the gospel. But we are not in the same situation as Solomon. We are to love people – even if they are the enemies of Christ at the moment. We are not to act violently towards them. We are to forgive them and pray for them. We are to leave vengeance to God.

But we do need to know that those who reject and oppose Jesus will be brought to book – no by us but by God himself. And in dark days that should be a comfort to hard pressed and suffering believers. 2 Thessalonians 1.6 makes a good closing commentary on this chapter from the perspective of the Kingdom of Jesus:
God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.

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