The Unlikely King
A look at the surprisingly dysfunctional family that shaped the formative years of the man who would be king.
It was a scandal many find hard to stomach even today. The king God chose to govern His people committed adultery with another man’s wife, got her pregnant, secretly ordered her husband murdered, and married her.
It’s a storyline we expect to find in Hollywood (and we have), but not in God’s covenant nation Israel. Yet the scandal of King David and Bathsheba is legendary, and its consequences form the backdrop of their son Solomon’s birth and early life.
Although the Lord took the infant the couple conceived in adultery, He later gave them Solomon, whom He chose and loved (2 Sam. 12:24; 1 Chr. 28:5). Ultimately, Solomon’s wisdom and the privilege given him to continue ruling over the house of David can be summarized in one word: grace.
‘A PLAGUE ON BOTH YOUR HOUSES’
Solomon’s name derives from the Hebrew word shalom, which means “peace.” It is often translated “man of peace.” God Himself named Solomon before his birth, telling David the boy’s name would characterize his reign (22:9). To grasp the significance of this prophesied peace, we need to look at the beginning of Israel’s monarchy.
God rejected the house of Saul because of King Saul’s repeated disobedience and rebellion. Yet He upheld David’s dynasty through turmoil, sexual immorality, and murder.
We might be tempted to shout with Shakespearean contempt, “A plague on both your houses!” What made the house of David any better than the house of Saul? Wouldn’t Saul’s son Jonathan, a righteous young man if ever there was one, have made a better successor than any of David’s sons? Why was God so tough on Saul, given David’s repugnant sins? The answer lies in the difference between Saul’s heart and David’s.
David was better than Saul (1 Sam. 15:28) because he was a man after God’s own heart (13:13–14). Saul did not possess David’s desire for God. David loved God so much he longed to build Him a house, a permanent place for the Ark of the Covenant: “See now,” he told Nathan the prophet, “I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells inside tent curtains” (2 Sam. 7:2).
God told Nathan to tell David He would build David a house instead: “Your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever” (v. 16).
Furthermore, God said David’s son (Solomon) would build the Temple (v. 13); and God’s mercy would not depart from him, as it departed from Saul (v. 15).
This promise, given to David many years before his sin with Bathsheba, formed what is known as the Davidic Covenant, which is still in effect today. Saul did not enjoy the covenant benefits of grace, mercy, and everlasting love given to the house of David. However, God did not excuse David’s sin, and the consequences of it followed him the rest of his life.
Interestingly, Scripture refers to the child Bathsheba conceived in adultery as “the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David” (12:15), even though David and Bathsheba were married by then (11:27). The Lord, however, decreed the infant would not live because the affair had “given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme” (12:14).
As a man after God’s heart, David mourned greatly and repented, acknowledging that his sin was ultimately against God (Ps. 51:4). When he comforted Bathsheba and she conceived Solomon, Scripture no longer refers to her as “Uriah’s wife.” This time, the Word says, “David comforted Bathsheba his wife” (2 Sam. 12:24).
THE PROVERBIAL UNLIKELY CANDIDATE
The beauty of God’s grace and forgiveness is seen in how God set His love on Solomon and chose him to succeed David: “Of all my sons . . . He has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel” (1 Chr. 28:5).
From a human perspective, Solomon was the proverbial unlikely candidate, not being David’s firstborn son. Bathsheba was David’s eighth wife. Following Saul’s daughter Michal (1 Sam. 18:17–30) were six more wives who each bore David a son while David ruled from Hebron (2 Sam. 3:2–5). In other words, David had six sons before he ever laid eyes on Solomon’s mother.
The prophet Nathan revealed how much the Lord loved Solomon by calling him Jedidiah (Hebrew, Yedidiah, meaning “beloved of the Lord”).
Bathsheba was obviously the favored wife and gave David three more sons after Solomon, though they are sometimes listed out of birth order (2 Sam. 5:14; 1 Chr. 3:5).
SOLOMON’S TUMULTUOUS CHILDHOOD
Though Solomon was God’s choice, the consequences of his father’s affair made for a tumultuous childhood. He likely witnessed much of the turmoil that resulted from David’s punishment. God told David, “The sword shall never depart from your house. . . . I will raise up adversity against you from your own house” (2 Sam. 12:10–11).
Into this troubled environment, Solomon was born. After his birth announcement (vv. 24–25), however, his name isn’t mentioned again throughout all the drama that occurs in the rest of 2 Samuel.
Clearly, Solomon grew up in a dysfunctional household.
When Solomon was a boy, Amnon (his older half-brother) raped his half-sister Tamar (13:1–22). Solomon was likely old enough to remember when, two years later, Absalom (Tamar’s full brother) murdered Amnon to avenge his sister. In fact, Solomon may have witnessed the event, which took place at Absalom’s sheep-shearing feast, to which he had invited all of David’s sons (v. 23).
David received a false report that Absalom had killed “all the king’s sons, and not one of them is left” (v. 30). The verse strongly suggests Solomon, too, was there and witnessed the murder. Otherwise, David would not have been deceived into thinking he no longer had any sons (v. 31).
Approximately seven years later, Absalom incited a rebellion to take over the kingdom, forcing David to flee for his life from Jerusalem (15:10–14). Bathsheba and Solomon also would have fled. When David’s men finally quashed the rebellion, killed Absalom, and secured Jerusalem, Solomon no doubt heard of his father’s plaintive lament: “O my son Absalom—my son, my son Absalom—if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!” (18:33).
Murder. Rape. War. Rebellion. All these events would have made a lasting impression on young Solomon. This was the family drama he lived with, and it was anything but peaceful.
When David officially crowned Solomon as his successor, it probably came as no surprise to the young king that his older half-brother Adonijah (Absalom’s brother) already had declared himself king (1 Ki. 1:18), despite knowing full well the throne was Solomon’s “from the LORD” (2:15).
‘PEACE’ ANOINTED IN ISRAEL
All the upheaval and tragedy the Davidic kingdom experienced as a consequence of David’s sin underscores the significance of what God told David: “His name shall be Solomon, for I will give peace and quietness to Israel in his days” (1 Chr. 22:9).
It would be Solomon who would execute the justice necessary to secure peace. On his deathbed, David told Solomon to punish Joab, David’s military leader, for murdering two other leaders, Abner and Amassa (1 Ki. 2:5–6), and to punish Shimei ben Gera for cursing David during Absalom’s rebellion (vv. 8–9). Solomon did so and more, also executing Adonijah (vv. 13–25) and exiling Abiathar the priest for conspiring with Adonijah (vv. 26–27).
Solomon was probably 19 or 20 years old when he began to solidify his kingdom as the newly anointed king. He humbly acknowledged his youth and considered himself lacking in wisdom (1 Ki. 3:7). So when God came to him in a vision, he famously asked the Lord to give him “an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” (v. 9).
Interestingly, David noticed Solomon’s inherent wisdom before God had supernaturally gifted him: “You are a wise man and know what you ought to do” (2:9). Once God gifted him, however, the whole world took note.
Unfortunately, despite his wisdom, Solomon forsook the Lord. Consequently, God told him, “I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant. Nevertheless, I will not do it in your days, for the sake of your father David; I will tear it out of the hand of your son” (1 Ki. 11:11–12).
And tear it out He did. Solomon was the last monarch to rule the undivided kingdom. After his reign, the nation split into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern, Davidic kingdom of Judah. Yet God upheld His promise not to remove His mercy from Solomon, as He removed it from Saul; and He gave him grace for David’s sake.
Sin always has consequences. David’s sin with Bathsheba cost the kingdom peace and created a dysfunctional atmosphere for rearing the next heir to the throne. But Solomon’s sin of worshiping other gods eventually cost the kingdom itself.