Thursday of Week 4 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 1 Kings 2:1-4, 10-12

Today we begin reading from the Book of Kings. The two Books of Kings were originally, like 1 and 2 Samuel, a single historical work. In conjunction with the Books of Samuel, they extend the consecutive history of Israel from the birth of Samuel to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC. This combined work is designed as a religious history; hence in Kings, the Temple, which is the chosen site for the worship of Yahweh, occupies the centre of attention.

The Books of Kings show clearly the theological bent of a Deuteronomic editor. In them, as already in Judges, material from various sources, such as the Book of the Acts of Solomon (1 Kgs 11:41) and the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel (1 Kgs 14:19), is forged into structural unity by an editor whose principal interest is in the fidelity to Yahweh of rulers and people. The reigns of individual kings are adapted to an editorial framework consisting of a presentation and an obituary notice for each, in stereotyped formulae. In between, the achieve­ments of the king are reported – above all, his fidelity or lack of fidelity to Yahweh.

The faithful prosper; the unfaithful pay for their defections. Since this is basically a narrative of sin and retribution, it would not be inappropriate to entitle the Books of Kings “The Rise and Fall of the Israelite Monarchy”.

Without minimising the complexity of the process by which this material was transmitted for many centuries, one may speak of two editions of the Books. The first was written at some time between 621 BC and 597 BC and the second, final edition during the Exile, probably shortly after Jehoiachin was released from his Baby­lonian Prison (561 BC).

1 Kings carries the history of Israel from the last days and death of David to the accession in Samaria of Ahaziah, son of Ahab, near the end of the reign of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. Judgment is passed on Ahaziah’s reign, but the details are given later in 2 Kings. We should note the two large cycles of traditions which grew up around the great prophetic figures of Elijah and Elisha, the former in I Kings and the latter chiefly in 2 Kings. These cycles, which interrupt the sequence of regnal chronicles, were very probably preserved and transmitted by the prophetic communities to which there are references in the same traditions. The Elijah cycle is the more important since it dramatically underscores Israel’s critical struggle with the religion of Canaan.

According to the New American Bible, the principal divisions of the Books of Kings are:

I. The Reign of Solomon (1 Kgs 1:1-11:43).

II. Judah and Israel to the Time of Ahab (1 Kgs 12:1-16,34).

III. Stories of the Prophets (1 Kgs 17:1-22,54).

IV. The Kingdoms of Israel and Judah (2 Kgs 1:1-17, 41).

V. The Kingdom of Judah after 721 BC (2 Kgs 18:1-25:30).

Today we begin the First Book of Kings. We carry on the narrative from 2 Samuel as David comes to the end of his life and hands over the kingship to his son Solomon, the second son that he had by Bathsheba (after she had become his wife).

Today’s reading contains part of David’s final testament before his death. Moses, Joshua and Samuel, as representatives of God’s rule over his people, had all given final instructions and admonitions before they died. David is now going “to go the way of all the earth” and exhorts his son to be courageous and act like a real man.

While the section in our reading consists of positive instructions to his son and successor, Solomon, he is also instructed to execute vengeance on David’s personal enemies. These include Joab, one of his chief generals who had betrayed him, and Shimei, a man who had cursed David and whom David had originally said should not be touched.

On the positive side, Solomon is told to observe what the Lord his God requires. He is to “walk in obedience” to the Lord, a characteristic expression from the law of Moses for acting in obedience to the obligations of the covenant. These obligations are spelt out: to observe God’s decrees and commands, his laws and requirements. And finally, there is a prayer for success in all his undertakings.

David then prays that the Lord may fulfil his promise he made for the continuity of his dynastic line:

…you will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.

Here he alludes to the covenanted promise given to him by God through Nathan the prophet. Although the covenant promise to David was unconditional, individual participation in its blessing on the part of David’s royal descendants depended on their total obedience (“with all your heart and soul”) to the obligations of the Mosaic covenant.

However, both Solomon and his descendants fell short of their covenant obligations. This led to the division of the kingdom and eventually to the exile of both the northern and southern kingdoms to Babylon. It was only with the coming of Christ that the fallen tent of David would be restored and the promise of David’s eternal dynasty ultimately fulfilled.

When the nation and its king turned away from the requirements of the covenant, they experienced the covenant curses rather than blessings; but in all this, God remained faithful to his covenant promises to Abraham and to David. In spite of all their failings, the promise of the covenant found its realisation in Jesus, King and Messiah.

After 40 years on the throne, David died in Jerusalem, the “City of David”. He had been king in Hebron for 7 years and in Jerusalem for 33 years. The dates were from about 1010 to 970 BC. Solomon, his son by Bathsheba and a young man full of promise, had already taken over the kingship.

In the Old Testament David stands out as a giant. He was a man of glaring faults. He was also a man of deep religious conviction, a man of great integrity. When he failed, and he failed badly by any standards, he was the first to acknowledge his faults and express repentance for his sin. In consequence, he experienced God’s mercy and forgiveness.

We can learn from his example. Not by saying that it does not matter if we sin, because it does. But that, having sinned, we need to acknowledge our sin and turn back to our loving God.

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