David reached old age, his household was a hotbed of political and familial intrigue. He had promised the throne to his wife Bathsheba’s son, Solomon, while another son, Adonijah presumed that he deserved to be the heir to the throne. This presumption led to Adonijah’s attempt to usurp the monarchy from David, assuming that David would accede to his fait accompli. What made this chaotic situation possible? How could Adonijah have conjectured that he could wrest control from his father’s hands?
The strange beginning to the Book of Kings might offer us an answer to these questions. The story of Solomon’s elevation to the throne opens with a description of a prematurely aged David unable to maintain his own bodily warmth; his servants desperate to find him a young woman who will keep him warm. The story assures us that this was her sole purpose, perhaps to allude to the fact that David’s life and power were on the decline. This plot line was chosen as a prelude to Adonijah’s scheme to seize the throne.
In addition, while David’s prowess as a leader was well-known, we are again reminded that David’s role as a parent was less effective. His challenges at home abounded and the episode with Adonijah was just the latest in a long series of tragic events brought on by insufficient parental supervision. Here too, the story line states this explicitly: “And Adonijah son of Hagit was giving himself airs, saying, ‘I shall be king!’ And he made himself a chariot and horsemen with fifty men running before him. And his father never caused him pain, saying, ‘Why have you done thus?’.” (verses 5-6) Adonijah presumes his privilege because his father never admonished him. We are left to presume that David offered his son adoration but no guidance and Adonijah took this to mean that David would offer no resistance to what he thought was rightfully his.
The intersection of these two causes foreshadowed the potential destruction of the nation. David had become a leader incapable of governing his nation, neither internally or externally. Dissension in his government threatened to tear the nation apart. Only strong leadership could save the day. Could David summon the strength to pull his people together and do the right thing? Rabbi Yosef Kara, a contemporary of Rashi, saw one last opportunity. In a comment on the fact that David had become “very old” (verse 15), he notes: “For every situation and everything there is a proper time – a time to be quiet and to wait; and a time to respond; and [for David], if not now, when?” David had one last chance to rectify the situation that he, in part, had created. The challenge was upon him. Would that the leadership in our generation would also rise to the occasion and look beyond self-indulgence and do what is courageous – to do what is right.