Back in Jerusalem, there was some serious explaining to do! The church there had only known the concept of being born a Jew, or converted to Judaism, as a prerequisite to accepting Jesus as the true Messiah. These Gentiles had apparently entered ‘via the back door’ and the Jewish Christians wanted to know why Peter had permitted this breach. Mixing with Gentiles was frowned upon in any case, since the Gentiles would not adhere to the strict kosher food laws. It was significant that the Holy Spirit had given Peter his vision based upon clean and unclean food at the beginning of the Cornelius episode.
Sometimes the best thing is just to tell your story, since it is hard for anyone to contradict a powerful testimony. Peter did just that. His conclusion: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean”. Peter then describes his journey to Caesarea and the events in Cornelius’ home; painting himself as the faithful servant of Jesus who simply did what he was asked at each stage. The ‘punch line’ was the sending of the Holy Spirit – as a ‘baptism’ – and Peter basically said that “The Gentiles received the same as we did”. It convinced the Jerusalem movers and shakers, anyway!
In verse 18, an important fact is established about Repentance: this is in itself a gift from God. Repentance means to change your attitude towards the Lord and towards yourself, allowing him to take charge from that point onwards; it is an attitude that inevitably leads to some actions. But this attitude comes from the sovereign act of the Holy Spirit in the heart and mind of a person. See also 2 Timothy 2:25.
The Church in Antioch was the first major missional Gentile church; from there, the gospel spread throughout the whole world. Many of those early Jewish Christians who had been scattered by the persecution under Saul escaped to Antioch and began to preach to non-Jews even before the Cornelius event made this official church policy. They must also have been surprised when Saul, their persecutor-in-chief turned up as one of them! Again, Barnabas was a key ingredient in the health and growth of that church; he was also Saul’s mentor at that point, probably bringing some wise ‘moderation’ to the youthful excesses that Saul himself would have wanted to engage in. Every great believer needs a mentor – even today – and we have Barnabas to thank for the fantastic job he did on Saul.
1 KINGS 1 and 2
The scene shifts a thousand years backwards in time, to the final days of King David and the fight for succession of his throne. King David was ‘very old’ (i.e. about 70) and a human hot-water bottle, in the form of a beautiful young woman, Abishag, is found to maintain the king’s body temperature; in the ancient world, this method is well documented by medical professionals. 1 Kings 1 makes it very clear that the woman was a virgin and remained so! Nevertheless, her constant presence must have cheered up the king a great deal. And, as we see later on, her role became quite strategic politically. It is also just possible that Abishag later became the secret lover of Solomon, as described so poetically in Song of Songs.
Adonijah was the fourth son of David – probably aged about 35 – and the eldest surviving one since Amnon’s and Absalom’s deaths. In other societies, he would have been the automatic heir to the throne, and he evidently carried that same attitude of entitlement around with him, despite knowing that his father had already designated Solomon as his successor – and anointed him too. It is surprising how many godly men are so engrossed in their so-called ‘ministries’ that they neglect their families – and David was apparently no exception. 1 Kings 1:6 almost apologetically admits that David had never questioned or rebuked Adonijah’s behaviour; fathers who neglect these basics are failing to fulfil their duties before the Lord too. Ephesians 6:4 commands them to bring up their children in the training and instruction of the Lord; the training and instruction required must include correction and discipline of all kinds, as well as modelling godly behaviour. It is not an exaggeration to claim that most of today’s social problems can be attributed to absent or neglectful fathers, who leave an unmanageable child-rearing burden for long-suffering mothers to bear alone. (It is sometimes the other way around, but not often.) As we read through the Books of 1 and 2 Kings, notice how often a good king was followed by a bad one – mainly due to neglectful parenting – and it is only by the grace of God that bad kings were sometimes followed by good ones!
So Adonijah cooked up a conspiracy and found Joab (the arch-schemer) a willing aid, with Abiathar the priest a surprising addition to the team. The way to declare yourself king was apparently to throw a massive party, to include ostentatious numbers of animal sacrifices, and to make sure that a lot of key people were on the invitation list. All the king’s sons were present – except Solomon – and all the royal advisors apart from Nathan the prophet, Benaiah the commander of David’s bodyguard, David himself (too ill anyway) and Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba. It is an uncanny thing that, when people start to backslide or rebel against God’s order, they instinctively know who will be sympathetic and who will remain upright!
Bathsheba gets to hear about the conspiracy and confronts David, who has already sworn an oath to make her son, Solomon, his heir. Nathan strategically ‘pitches in’ too. Proceedings move fast and soon Solomon has been officially and publicly anointed King of Israel, to the general consternation of Adonijah’s party. Solomon’s first act is to be merciful to his rebel brother, on condition of constant future loyalty.
Very soon, David draws near to death and gives Solomon a deathbed briefing concerning Solomon’s own behaviour and the need to bring justice to certain men whom David, in forbearance, had held back from punishing as their crimes deserved. (There are faint echoes of Romans 3:25 here.) Joab and Shimei were the main two most needing ‘attention’ – and, as we see soon, Solomon found opportunities almost immediately to execute justice on both. So David died, bringing to an end one of the greatest reigns ever on earth.
Adonijah had not given up hope of regaining power and his first move seemed innocent enough: that stunningly beautiful young woman who used to warm his father’s bed – would it be OK if she became his wife? Even Bathsheba didn’t see that one coming! But Solomon did. Possession of the royal harem was a sign of the right of succession (see 2 Samuel 3:7; 12:8; 16:21) and so would greatly strengthen Adonijah’s claim to kingship. Solomon’s patience had run out and he had Adonijah executed, Abiathar removed from the priesthood (leniency based on previous loyalty to his father) and Joab executed at the altar. Solomon also set up a house-arrest arrangement with Shimei which was inevitably going to result in the man’s execution one day – which it did.
Verse 46 of 1 Kings 2 ends on a triumphant note: “The kingdom was now established in Solomon’s hands”. This has as much to say about the sovereignty and purposes of the Lord, as it does about the way that justice was done. God chooses his servants and expects them to loyally serve him and work for his kingdom, so that “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. As we give ourselves to His service, we inherit positions of delegated authority from our Heavenly Father, along with wealth, health, and prosperity – in the very long term at least!