by Ilana Goldstein Saks
In our haftarah we see David Hamelech at the end of his life (Melachim I 1:1). Sadly, his last chapter does not seem to reflect a reign of greatness and achievement. Instead we see a weak, elderly king wallowing in the results of past failures. Taking advantage of his elderly father Adoniyah declares himself king:
“[Adoniyah] provided himself with chariots and horses and an escort of fifty outrunners. His father never scolded him: ‘Why did you do that?’ He was the one born after Avshalom and, like him, was very handsome” (1:5-6).
These verses clearly compare Adoniyah to Avshalom, David’s older son who also had rebelled against his father. As the above verses note Adoniyah was handsome like his brother, about whom it says: “No one in all Israel was so admired for his beauty as Avshalom” (Shmuel II 14:25), and like Adoniyah, “Avshalom provided himself with a chariot, horses and fifty outrunners” (Shmuel II 15:1) at the time that he was making his claim for the throne.
David’s reaction to Adoniyah’s behavior, however, reflects an even deeper connection between the two rebellions. This is not the first time that David does not one of his sons. In fact Avshalom’s rebellion is a direct outcome of David’s ineffectiveness in this regard. When Amnon, David’s son, rapes his half-sister, Tamar, David is angered, but refrains from punishing his son (Shmuel II 13:21). In contrast to David’s passivity Avshalom kills Amnon (13:22, 28 – 29, 32). Again David is upset, but does not punish Avshalom and eventually reconciles with him (13:36, 39; 14:33). When Avshalom rebels against his father – largely because of these events – he wins the heart of the people by promising that he – unlike his father – will be a fair judge (15:2-4). Perhaps Avshalom, knowing his father’s weakness, was encouraged to rebel knowing that he would meet with no resistance from him.
When Adoniyah decides to take over David’s throne behind his back, it seems as if history is repeating itself. The old, weak king seems ineffectual and even unaware of the goings-on of his kingdom (1:18). Once again it seems that the behavior of one of his sons will go unchecked.
The words of Batsheva wake him up: “the eyes of all Israel are upon you, O lord king, to tell them who shall succeed my lord the king on the throne” (1:20). At that moment David takes a stand, and secures himself not only a proper heir, but a legacy as well (1:29-30). In his last moment he confronts the challenges of his past and emerges upright. Batsheva’s reaction to the dying king is most appropriate:
“May my lord King David live forever!” (1:31)
For Further Study:
- David’s inability to judge his sons (and perhaps the nation as a whole) is a result not only of the love for his sons. Read the story of David and Batsheva in Shmuel II 11:1 – 12:14. Of what sins is David guilty in this story? Why would this affect his ability to judge Amnon and Avshalom? See יומא כב:which sees the events of Amnon, Tamar and Avshalom as punishment for David’s sin with Batsheva.
2. See Batsheva’s comment in Melachim I 1:21. Why would she and Shlomo be “chataim”? (See Rashi, radak and Ralbag for various explanations of what that means.) How could David’s choice of Shlomo as heir change that?