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The Godfather of Jerusalem

Many readers will remember Francis Ford Coppola’s classic, The Godfather. The movie is vaguely reminiscent of the narrative in 1 Kings 2. An aging patriarch explains to his son the steps he must take to solidify a new regime. In the movie, Michael Corleone takes the appropriate steps and secures his future. However, as is shown in the remainder of the Godfather trilogy, Michael does so to the detriment of his own soul. In today’s biblical text, David is about to die, but he intends to make sure that certain debts are taken care of before he goes. And in that story, we see him as the Godfather of Jerusalem.
Literarily, the reader is clued in that something is wrong very early on. David’s advice to his son is a modification of the original injunction found in 2 Samuel 7:1–17.  Paul R. House notes in the New American Commentary Series,  “According to David, Solomon will only ‘be strong’ and a ‘man’ if he keeps the Mosaic covenant. He must take great pains to ‘observe’ what God demands.’”[1] However, Iain W. Provan has the following to say in the Understanding the Bible Commentary Series:

For as David makes clear to Solomon in verse 4, the continuance of the dynasty depends upon obedience. Those are the terms of God’s promise to David. The reference here is apparently to 2 Samuel 7:11b–16, although it is noteworthy that this passage has, in fact, no explicit mention of any conditions being attached to the promise. Indeed, it is plainly stated (7:14–15) that wrongdoing on the part of David’s successors will not lead to the end of the dynasty, but only to corrective, parental discipline from God. These verses seem to give the Davidic promise a somewhat unconditional ring, and a few passages in Kings also sound this note (1 Kgs. 11:3615:42 Kgs. 8:19). There is thus a degree of tension in Kings as to precisely what the implications of the Davidic promise are.[2]

Furthermore, on the heels of this charge comes David’s surprising command to kill Joab. The king’s final command to even the score comes with unique literary markers. Chapter 1 contains a frequent play on words around the verb, ידע ydʿ (to know). And now David pronounces, “Moreover, you also know what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me . . .” (emphasis added). He has not forgotten Joab’s offense, nor has he forgiven him. Even Solomon is aware of Joab’s transgression. And it is reckoning day. David’s wording here may also be significant in that he emphasizes “what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me” (emphasis added).The Godfather of Jerusalem is looking to settle a score, and he has set in motion the death of his army commander and one-time close friend.
To be fair, others differ in their interpretation of this passage. The Ancient Christian Commentary takes the position that this was simply a matter of establishing the kingdom.

A Necessary Punishment. Isho‘dad of Merv: [David] orders Solomon to punish [Joab], not out of viciousness or hatred for him but because he knew that he was wicked and that, if he had acted with hostility against him who was a mature man, he would act even worse against a young man, so that the kingdom would become unstable, and the house would not be firmly established. Therefore he entrusts his son with the revenge against him who had offended him, in order that, after the killing of that evil man by the hand of the new king, he might be feared by everyone, and no revolt might ever occur. Books of Sessions 1 Kings 2.5–6.1

The theme of solidifying the kingdom is valid, and is clearly presented in the first chapter, but it does not absolve David of some personal responsibility. Furthermore, it should be noted that, according to a parallel portion in Chronicles, David’s bloodthirstiness was the reason he could not build the temple:

David said to Solomon, “My son, I had it in my heart to build a house to the name of the Lord my God. But the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have waged great wars. You shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood before me on the earth. 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.’” (1 Chron. 22:7–9)

And yet, by assigning this execution to Solomon, David includes his son in the violence that precluded his building of the temple.
Jerome T. Walsh notes the following in Berit Olam:

David is in the process of giving Solomon his final advice, one king to another, on how to assure his success. But David’s suggestions are made by innuendo, indicated by oblique references like “act according to your wisdom” (v. 6) and “you are a wise man; you will know what to do” (v. 9). David expects Solomon to be shrewd enough to read between the lines of his advice.

However, not until chapter 3 does Yahweh give Solomon “a wise and discerning mind.” It leaves the reader’s mind open to wonder, “What type of wisdom was it that led Solomon to slay Joab?” It may highlight the juxtaposition between human wisdom and divine wisdom. And it leads the reader to the bigger question, “Is Solomon really the right man for the job? Is he the coming king who will finally bring peace to Jerusalem?” The initial narrative does not encourage those thoughts.
[1] Paul R. House, 1, 2 Kings, vol. 8, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 96.
[2] Iain W. Provan, 1 and 2 Kings, 36.

Written by
Jonathan Watson

Jon Watson is a minister in training with St. Columbia's Free Church in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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Written by Jonathan Watson