As first Kings commences, we read that “Adonijah, son of David and Haggith, was promoting himself, boasting, ‘I will be king!’” (1 Kings 1:5a) Along with this, he attempted to partially emulate Absalom’s eminently successful approach to taking the throne, as “He managed to acquire chariots and horsemen, as well as fifty men to serve as his royal guard” (1:5b). Additionally, “He collaborated with Joab… and with Abiathar the priest, and they supported him” (1:7), which is also reminiscent of Absalom’s efforts. Though there are parallels here, they are slight, as Adonijah is merely taking advantage of his father’s age and deteriorating condition, rather than pointing out the injustices (and therefore the increasingly illegitimate and possibly exile inducing rule) of his father, as had Absalom. Adonijah, though seizing upon the covenantal promise to David, is not doing so within the exile and exodus narrative, and therefore his efforts, unlike Absalom’s, with had actually served to secure the throne in what temporarily appeared to be within the will of God (until he agreed to raise his hand against David after God had already clearly vindicated him), proved to be futile.
Like both Absalom and Adonijah, we will find that Solomon also relied upon the promise that Israel’s God is reported to have made to David, expecting his kingship to be established, strengthened, and extended, based upon that promise and a record of divine faithfulness. This extended beyond Solomon himself, as in the midst of the power struggle that commenced with Adonijah’s attempt to establish himself as king, we hear David speaking to Bathsheba (Solomon’s mother), saying “I will keep the oath I swore to you by the Lord God of Israel: ‘Surely Solomon your son will be king after me; he will sit in my place on the throne.’” (1:30) Now Scripturally, this is the first we are hearing of this promise concerning Solomon as king, though its recitation here seems to signify that it is supposed to be relatively well known. If it is known, then it serves to explain Adonijah’s efforts to elevate himself as king in the eyes of the people before David’s death and the natural handing over of the throne that would take place at that point. Up until now, all we know of Solomon is that “the Lord loved the child” (2 Samuel 12:24), which does not provide any direct indication that he is to be king, unless we connect this statement with the promise to David and the “loyal love” of the Lord in connection with the permanent dynasty that God is establishing through David and his sons.
Adonijah, as he is seeking something of an exodus for himself (in a very loose analogy), eventually receives exile for his troubles. David summons the appropriate individuals and tells them to “Take your master’s servants with you, put my Solomon on my mule, and lead him down to Gihon. There Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet will anoint him king over Israel; then blow the trumpet and declare, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ Then follow him up as he comes and sits on my throne. He will be king in my place; I have decreed that he will be ruler over Israel and Judah” (1 Kings 1:33-35). This directive is carried out, generating quite the great stir. Adonijah hears about what has happened and quite rightly fears for his life. He had not won the hearts of the people as Absalom did, knowing full well that the vast majority of the people were going to follow in the direction in which they were led by David. The result was that “Adonijah feared Solomon, so he got up and went and grabbed hold of the horns of the altar” (1:50), which was an established method of pleading for mercy.
Solomon’s response to the plea to which Adonijah gave voice while also signifying with his actions, was “If he is a loyal subject, not a hair of his head will be harmed, but if he found to be a traitor, he will die” (1:52). This was reported to Adonijah, so “He came and bowed down to King Solomon” (1:53b). Now, the exile that would come to Adonijah would be the ultimate exile of death at the hands (figuratively speaking) of Solomon. The proximate cause of his death was a request by Adonijah, to Solomon, that was relayed to Solomon by Bathsheba. That request was “Please ask King Solomon if he would give me Abishag the Shunamite as a wife, for he won’t refuse you” (2:17). Abishag came onto the Scriptural scene when David, though covered with blankets, could not get warm (1:1). To rectify this situation, it was decided that “A young virgin must be found for our master, the king, to take care of the king’s needs and serve as his nurse” (1:2a). It was said to David that “She can also sleep with you and keep our master, the king, warm” (1:2b). This resulted in Abishag being brought to David. We learn that “The young woman was very beautiful; she became the king’s nurse and served him, but the king did not have sexual relations with her” (1:4).