As well as being a season of remembrance and memorial, the Sundays before Advent give us bible readings that often explore themes of kingship and kingdom, and the contrast between earthly, human rule, and the eternal and ultimate reign of God.
Our reading from the First Book of Kings this afternoon dies that, as we are brought into a struggle for succession in an overall narrative that equals any Saxon epic, or Tudor historical novel.
In King David’s time, the Israelites needed kings who were outstanding warriors and strong leaders in battle. David, of course, was only the second king of Israel, and he had delayed naming his successor in public. We come into the story as the country is falling into disarray, and David is lying on his deathbed. Upon whom will the crown be placed next?
It might have been assumed that it would be David’s eldest son. We don’t know for sure – but if it had, then straight succession was complicated by the fact that David’s sons had several different mothers between them.
The eldest was Amnon – but he was murdered by his half brother Absalom in revenge for raping his sister.
The next was Chileab – but we don’t hear much about him; perhaps he died when he was young.
The third was Absolom, who fled after he had murdered his half-brother, Amnon. Then he came back and attempted to usurp his father’s throne. He was defeated and killed in battle.
So next is the fourth son – Ajonijah, which as we heard in the narrative today, had claimed the right to the throne for himself, and was supported by the commander of the army and one of the two high priests at Jerusalem. They were already having a party!
Then up popped Nathan the prophet – a significant religious figure in Israelite life, Zadok – who is the other high priest, and Bathsheba who – you might remember - is well known for her affair with King David while her husband was away fighting for the nation. Bathsheba is the mother of Solomon. They preferred Solomon. It is evident that a proportion of the army were of the same opinion. So off they went to see King David, and Bathsheba reminded David of a private promise he had made that her son, Solomon, is to be king.
The outcome of this whole complicated matter, is that David did declare that Solomon was to succeed him, and the deed was done.
Reflecting on this passage has been thought-provoking, in this particular week in which the army in Zimbabwe has taken action against their president. They put Robert Mugabe under house arrest and then, this morning, we heard that he has been sacked by the ruling party and given until Monday morning to resign. It is apparent that their intention is not only of removing him from power, but also to pre-empt – by doing so - the declaration of Grace Mugabe as his rightful successor.
So here we have two totally differing situations and political leaders – and in no way am I seeking to compare King David of Israel with Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe – only to observe that both are about succession, and are struggles that have arisen between different factions in the process.