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Passing the Torch

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: 1 Kings 2; 1 Chronicles 29:26–30

Godly leadership in a nation, a home, or a church requires great wisdom and discernment. It means making heartfelt obedience to God our first priority and ridding ourselves of those things that hinder our service to the Lord.


There was an athletic contest in ancient Greece in which a lighted torch was passed from one runner to another, much like the baton is passed in our modern relay races. From this ancient contest came a phrase we still use today: “passing the torch.”

In the second chapter of the book of 1 Kings, King David is effectively passing the torch to his son Solomon. In this final conversation, David has two things on his mind.

First and foremost is the importance of Solomon’s walk with God. David says here in verse 3:

“Keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn.”

By the way, this was more than telling Solomon to read the law and observe all the outward religious ceremonies.   

Over in the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 28:9, there are some additional words recorded from David:

“Solomon, my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought.”

David is telling Solomon that his reign is connected to his relationship with the Lord. He obviously doesn’t want Solomon getting too big for his royal britches. He is reminding Solomon that he is king only because the Lord chose him to be king. All his natural abilities, his education, and his royal lineage would not bring him success. Only following the Lord—wholeheartedly—would bring Solomon true and lasting success.

Now even though David is delivering a message from God, he is also speaking from his own experience. David knew the darkness of moral failure; he suffered the consequences of his compromises until the day he died. He knew the only compass that could direct his son through the maze of temptation and power and money was total devotion, from the whole heart, to God and to God’s Word.

Now, there is something else on David’s mind as he passes the torch to Solomon. He’s concerned about some potential threats to Solomon’s rule. There’s some unfinished business, so to speak.

David mentions three people here. The first is General Joab. Even though Joab had been a capable military leader for David, he had sided with Adonijah against Solomon. David tells Solomon that Joab had killed Abner and Amasa in cold blood—two men who just happened to be standing in the way of Joab’s career path (verse 5).

David tells Solomon here in verse 6, “Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to Sheol in peace.” In other words, Joab needs to pay for his crimes.

Now you might wonder why David did not take care of this himself. Well, remember that David was compromised. Years earlier he had ordered Joab to make sure Bathsheba’s husband Uriah did not come home from the battlefield. How does David punish this general decades later for killing Amasa and Abner when David indirectly killed Uriah?

By the way, I think this may be the same reason some judges and elected representatives and people in power will not judge someone for obvious crimes. It just might be their own consciences because they are guilty of doing the same things.

Next David mentions Barzillai, the Gileadite who had helped David when he was running for his life from Absalom (verse 7). David wants to make sure this man continues to be honored for his loyalty.

Finally, the third person David names here in verse 8 is Shimei. You might remember that Shimei publicly cursed David as the king fled from Absalom’s coup attempt. Shimei had thrown rocks at David and mocked him. Later, when David returned to Jerusalem, Shimei promised him his loyalty and David spared his life. Now evidently, David had never been entirely convinced of Shimei’s loyalty and so here he’s warning Solomon of this man’s treachery.

And with this final and confidential conversation, David passes into eternity. His death is recorded rather matter-of-factly in verses 10 and 11. We are simply told that he was buried in Jerusalem after a reign of forty years—seven years in Hebron and thirty-three years over the entire nation of Israel.

In the New Testament book of Acts, we have this wonderful epitaph for David given to us by the apostle Paul, who said, “David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers” (Acts 13:36). Isn’t that the best eulogy anybody could be given? In spite of his sin and his failure—which was often—David repented and persevered, serving God’s purpose in his own generation.

Now after David’s funeral service is over, we are told back here in 1 Kings chapter 2 and verse 12, that Solomon’s“kingdom was firmly established.” Now that does not mean everything just rolled into place.  Solomon has some enemies to watch out for, as his father David warned.

Wouldn’t you know it, Adonijah shows up again, and in a very clever way he attempts to make a run for David’s throne. Even though he had pledged his loyalty to Solomon following his failed coup attempt, he now manipulates Bathsheba into helping him acquire Abishag as his wife (verses 17-21).

You might remember that Abishag was David’s young nurse and more than likely added to David’s harem. So, asking for her hand in marriage was as good as establishing a claim to the throne. Well, Solomon sees right through this treasonous plan and has Adonijah put to death immediately.

The next thing Solomon does is remove Abiathar from the priesthood (verses 26-27). Abiathar had supported Adonijah in his plans to kill Solomon and take the throne of David. So, Abiathar is banished to his hometown for the rest of his life.

Then we read in verse 28 that as soon as General Joab hears what has happened to his fellow conspirators, he runs to the tabernacle and grabs the corners of the bronze altar, claiming sanctuary. But there is no sanctuary in the tabernacle for this cold-blooded murderer, and on Solomon’s orders, Joab is put to death.

That leaves one man on David’s list of whom he had warned Solomon to beware, and that was the rock-throwing traitor named Shimei. What Solomon wisely does here in verse 36, instead of executing him, is restrict him from ever leaving Jerusalem. That way, Solomon can keep an eye on him.

Shimei responds to Solomon’s command, saying, “What you say is good; as my lord the king has said, so will your servant do” (verse 38). And Shimei actually stays in town—for three years. Then we learn in verse 39 that he violates the king’s command by leaving the city, and as a result, he too is executed.

So, when you read here at the end of 1 Kings chapter 2, “The kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon,” you probably think, That wasn’t very easy at all. Well, you are absolutely right.

And listen, what was true for Solomon is true for us today. Real success as a follower of the Lord demands that we battle every treasonous thought against our God and fight every wicked temptation that wants to take the throne of our heart and occupy it with sin.

David’s dying words to Solomon as he passes the torch are words for us today. Let’s follow God with our whole heart and a willing mind.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, 2 Corinthians 10:5, 1 Peter 1:13, 2 Timothy 1:7, Joshua 1:9.

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