King David is old and frail. The mighty king David has come to the end of his time. Just like every person, there is the time when life is about to come to an end. So it is a time of succession. Who is going to to be the next king over Israel? David has many boys (2 Samuel 3:4), though the older ones have died through a variety of circumstances. Adonijah appears to be the apparent heir, next in line to the throne. Listen to the words record in 1 Kings 1:5, “Now Adonijah the son of Haggish exalted himself, saying, “I will be the king.” So Adonijah prepares his own coronation ceremony. His father is not dead yet. But he is ready to take his place, be exalted as king, and get the coronation party started. So he prepares for himself chariots and horsemen. He gets Joab, David’s former right hand man and commander, and Abiathar, the former high priest to follow him and help him. So Adonijah sacrifices a significant number of animals and invites all of his brothers, the king’s sons, and all the royal official to his coronation party. When we read the story we find out that no one told Adonijah that he would be the king. No one with any authority told him that he was next. No one told him to have a coronation ceremony. He takes all of this upon himself.
I want you to see that this is not an innocent misunderstanding. This is not a miscommunication or just a poor presumption. Verses 9-10 make it very clear that not only had no one in authority told him that he was to be king, but when he puts together his coronation party he intentionally neglects to invite Nathan the prophet of God during the reign of David, Benaiah who was one of the greatest of David’s fighting men (cf. 2 Samuel 23:20-23), the mighty soldiers known for their faithfulness and valor, nor Solomon his brother. He left out the important people of David’s administration. Adonijah leaves out the people who would tell him that he is wrong for what he doing. Further, Adonijah’s actions are very similar to the actions of his older brother Absalom who usurped the throne from David (cf. 2 Samuel 15:11-12). This is not an accident or a case of misunderstanding. Adonijah is ready to seize the throne. David is weak and frail. It is time for Adonijah to be exalted! It is time for Adonijah to reign as king!
Verse 5 is the critical statement. “Adonijah exalted himself.” And again notice, “He prepared for himself.” Adonijah is taking glory to himself, demanding respect, and seeking exaltation. There is a New Testament word that describes what Adonijah is doing. The Greek word is eritheia which we translate into English, “selfish ambition.” We suffer from the same disease as Adonijah. We want to make sure that people pay attention to us. We want people to know our good works as Christians. We want accolades on the job. We want to have renown. We want to be well-known. We want people to listen to us. We want to have power and influence. Further, selfish ambition is the elevation and exaltation of ourselves. We do things so that we can have position, influence, recognition, and exaltation. This is exactly what Adonijah is doing and it is easy for us to have the same mind as Adonijah. Listen to the severe condemnation James gives to selfish ambition:
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:13–18 NIV)
We are not behaving as Christ’s disciples when we exhibit selfish ambition or maintain selfish ambition in our hearts. Notice that James calls this attitude earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. It is sinful and foreign from the Lord in every way. Notice that this attitude of selfish ambition brings trouble. Troublemakers have selfish ambition as the cause. Disorder and every evil practice comes from this heart. The heart seeking God is humble and submissive, yielding to other, seeking peace, not seeking self.
There is another caution that the scriptures give to us concerning Adonijah. Why does Adonijah try to take over the kingdom? Where did this selfish ambition come from? Why does he not care about the impending death of his father and would rather have a coronation party? Verse 6 tells us the problem.
His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, “Why have you done thus and so?” He was also a very handsome man, and he was born next after Absalom. (1 Kings 1:6 ESV)
David had never done anything to displease his child. He never called him out for doing something wrong. The scriptures picture that Adonijah had never been reprimanded or disciplined by his father. I do not know why we continue to think that leaving children to their own ways is proper parenting. Examples are filled throughout the scriptures of what happens when children are not disciplined or taught properly. The writer of the Proverbs rightly declared, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him.” (Proverbs 22:15 NASB)
We learn from David and Adonijah that discipline is the means of protecting our children from the sin of selfish ambition. If Adonijah never learns self-control and is never told what something he is doing is wrong, then it is not hard to see why he is trying to exalt himself and seize the throne. David had been exalting him all of his life by never telling him he was doing something wrong. We ruin our children when we do not correct them. When children do not listen to us and do not obey us, there is a serious problem. When children think they are right and argue with their parents, there is a serious problem. When parents defend their rebellious child or excuse their rebellious child rather than teaching, training, and disciplining the child, you are setting his heart of spiritual destruction. Selfish ambition is growing in the child’s heart. You must protect your child from spiritual shipwreck by displeasing your child through righteousness.
The Mighty Fall
Nathan the prophet and Bathsheba the mother of Solomon find out what Adonijah is doing and confront King David concerning Adonijah’s actions. They ask David, “Didn’t you swear that Solomon would reign after you and sit on the throne? Adonijah has anointed himself as king and you need to clear all of this up. Further, if you don’t fix this, when you die, Adonijah is going to have me and Solomon killed.” It is important to recognize that Israel did not choose its kings, but God did. God had told David who would sit on the throne next.
“Behold, a son shall be born to you who shall be a man of rest. I will give him rest from all his surrounding enemies. For his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days. He shall build a house for my name. He shall be my son, and I will be his father, and I will establish his royal throne in Israel forever.” (1 Chronicles 22:9–10 ESV)
So David reiterates what he had sworn concerning Solomon as king, according to what God had purposed to occur. So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, Benaiah the mighty warrior, and the other mighty men went down to Solomon and anointed him king. All the people began rejoicing with great joy and making music. Adonijah’s party is going on at the same time and they are just finishing their feast when they hear all the noise and commotion. Adonijah is told that David has made Solomon the king and the city is rejoicing over his appointment. Verse 49 is my favorite verse in this story. “Then all the guests of Adonijah trembled and rose, and each went his own way.” (1 Kings 1:49 ESV) The party is over when your popularity and power are gone. What a humiliation! You are not the king, Adonijah. Stop the party. Solomon has been made king. So there sits Adonijah. The guests have left. The music has stopped. Fearing Solomon is going to kill him for his attempt to usurp the throne, Adonijah goes to the altar and took hold of the horns on the altar in an effort to beg for his life. Being humiliated, Adonijah thinks that he will not be killed before the tabernacle of the Lord, holding on to the corners of the altar. Solomon allows him to live on the condition that he proves himself to be a worthy man. But if wickedness is found in him, he shall die.
The story of Adonijah represents an important spiritual truth found in the scriptures.
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. (Proverbs 11:2 ESV)
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18 ESV)
Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12 ESV)
Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5 ESV)
Foolish exaltation and selfish ambition are poison to the heart of the Christian. We have the wrong person on the throne. Rather than having the Lord on the throne and giving him the glory, we have ourselves on the throne and we work to get people to give us glory and exaltation. The Christian lives for the glory of God, not for our own glory. Do not live for your glory. Do not seek the praise of others. Live for the praise of God and give God the glory.