King David’s “Other” Rotten Son

Posted on November 8, 2017

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By David Ettinger

This short post deals with David’s son Adonijah, whose story you can read here.

maxresdefaultWhen the prophet Nathan, speaking for God, told David “the sword will never depart from your house” (2 Samuel 12:10), he meant it. This pronouncement came as David’s punishment for his double-sin of adultery with Bathsheba and then plotting the murder of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah.

David’s sin led to the deaths of his and Bathsheba’s infant son, rotten Amnon (David’s oldest son), rotten Absalom (son No. 3), and the rape of Tamar (Absalom’s sister). These family tragedies should have been enough heartache to last David a lifetime, but they weren’t. Though David was at the end of his life, the Lord was not through with him. David would not be allowed to die in peace.

The final episode of David’s nightmare was realized in his fourth son, Adonijah, a misguided soul who made a sudden and stunning appearance late in the tale of David’s life. Adonijah was born to Haggith, David’s fifth wife.[1] We also know that Adonijah was “very handsome and was born next after Absalom” (1 Kings 1:6). His good looks may explain his popularity with the people, but the seemingly unnecessary connection to Absalom is quite justified. Though the two brothers, close in age, had different mothers, it seems Absalom greatly influenced his younger sibling.

1 kingsJust like Absalom, Adonijah possessed the spirit of rebellion. Scripture introduces him this way: “Now Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, put himself forward and said, ‘I will be king’” (1 Kings 1:5). Put himself forward? How can this be? Evidently, Adonijah was taking advantage of his father’s frail condition. David, being confined to bed, was no longer a presence among his people, and there was an obvious void in leadership. Adonijah, with the flawed counsel of David’s once most-trusted champions – army general Joab and Abiathar the priest[2] – fancied himself as deserving to succeed his father.

Based solely on outward appearances, Adonijah may have been justified in his thinking. With the oldest and third-oldest sons – Amnon and Absalom – already dead, Adonijah, about age 35 at the time, may have been David’s oldest living son. Bible scholars are uncertain as to the status at the time of David’s second son, Kileab,[3] who is also referred to as Daniel in 1 Chronicles 3:1. Outside of these two references, we know nothing of David’s second son. Because of this, many scholars believe he may have died at a young age. This, however, is speculation. An equally reasonable explanation for why Adonijah regarded himself as more worthy of the throne than his older brother is that perhaps Kileab had no designs on becoming king of Israel. Kileab was the son of David’s third wife, the gracious, humble, and kindhearted Abigail,[4] whose towering character may have been reflected in her son, as opposed to Kileab’s rotten siblings.

Either way, Adonijah saw himself as Israel’s next king and proclaimed himself such. The only problem was that Israel already had a king, David, who had been ruling for 40 years. We can only imagine David’s pain when he heard the news about his son’s claim on the throne as the aged king lay dying.

Another savage attack; another thrust of the sword into David’s aching heart.

real crownHowever, David may share some of the blame for this. When word of the insurrection came to the royal palace, Solomon’s mother Bathsheba said to David, “My lord, you yourself swore to me your servant by the LORD your God: ‘Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne’” (1 Kings 1:17). It is obvious that David promised this to Bathsheba, but apparently did not make his wishes known to the nation, or, at the very least, to his closest advisors. Had David years earlier resolutely declared Solomon as his heir, it is very possible the entire Adonijah mess never would have occurred. Instead, rather than be permitted to die in peace, David had to rouse himself for one final family civil war, a terrible ordeal – physically and emotionally – for a dying man to grapple with.

If there was a sliver of mercy in this situation, it is that David did not have to witness Adonijah’s death. After the uprising was squashed, Solomon decided to pardon his brother. However, a short time following David’s death, when Adonijah revealed his intentions to wrestle the throne away from Solomon,[5] the young monarch had no option but to order his brother’s execution.

Not only did the sword plague David’s life following his connived murder of Uriah the Hittite, it continued to do its work even after David’s life was over.

[1] 2 Samuel 3:2-5. David’s first wife, Michal, is not mentioned in this post.

[2] 1 Kings 1:7

[3] 2 Samuel 3:3

[4] 1 Samuel 25

[5] 1 Kings 2:13-25