The Haftorah: Worth Staying In For

Rabbi Dr. Darrel Ginsberg

It is a sad state of affairs that, in many shuls, during the reading of the Haftorah, some of the attendees can be found schmoozing in the lobby or eating and drinking at the “Kiddush club”. To them, the Haftorah has become something of an afterthought. However, as we all know, the words of the Haftorah are filled with tremendous chachma, related both through fascinating events and deep prophecies. In this week’s Haftorah, we are presented with a story that is a combination of an ailing King David, a gripping national crisis and a strange plan to solve it, all culminating in Solomon's ascension to the throne. The story itself represents drama of the highest caliber. And when studying this portion, especially the actions of Nathan the prophet, one can only be amazed at the brilliance demonstrated by this important personality. 

The Haftorah portion begins with a description of David’s poor health, which effectively removes him from daily rule. Aware of the potential political vacuum, his son Adoniyahu, along with some influential members of David’s circle, decided that he was to be the next king. Adoniyahu publicly offers sacrifices, calling to other members of the political class to join him. At this point, it is clear David is not aware of what is going on, leading to Nathan approaching Batsheva (Kings I, 1:11-14):

You have surely heard that Adoniyahu the son of Haggith has reigned, and our lord, David, did not know [it]. And now come and I shall council you with advice, and you shall save your life and the life of your son Solomon. Go and come to king David, and you shall say to him, 'Surely, you, my lord the king, did swear to your maid saying that, 'Solomon your son will reign after me and he shall sit upon my throne,' Now why did Adoniyahu reign?" Behold, you are talking there with the king, and I shall come in after you and I shall complete your words.

Based on this advice, Batsheva approaches David, bringing to his attention the events surrounding Adoniyahu’s vying for the kingship. She also reminds David of his promise to her that Solomon would reign as king. The alternative would be drastic, as she explains (ibid 21):

“And [otherwise] when my lord the king shall sleep with his fathers, and I and my son Solomon shall be [considered] offenders.”

The clear implication is that if Adoniyahu was not stopped, both she and Solomon were in danger.

At that moment, Nathan, as promised, joins Batsheva in the discussion. He again reviews the events that had taken place with Adoniyahu, going as far as to question why David had not informed Nathan about the potential of Adoniyahu taking over the throne. David’s reaction to all this was directly to the point: he would abide by the promise, and Solomon would be declared king that very day.

This was quite an elaborate plan enacted by Nathan. Why not just approach David directly himself and say: “Adoniyahu is trying to be king. He needs to be stopped!” Are we somehow to assume that David would not react appropriately, and actually allow Adoniyahu to ascend to the throne??? Furthermore, why have this so-called “two-prong” approach, where Batsheva would state her case first, and Nathan come after to complete her words.  Why couldn’t Batsheva relate the entire message? Even more so, why not have the designer of the plan be the one to deliver the message? 

To understand this, we must be aware of the context. Previously, Nathan had received a prophecy, which was revealed to David, that Solomon would be the heir to the throne. The natural course of events would be that David publicly announce Solomon's position as the new king near to his own death. Yet Adoniyahu’s rebellion threw a monkey wrench into this plan. As a result of Adoniyahu’s actions, it was clear one could not simply fall back on “it is Solomon's destiny” to become the next king. A passive approach would not be acceptable in this situation. Therefore, we see that Nassan’s impetus to act went beyond the political realm – he realized that David had to get involved, or the implementation of God’s plan was in danger.

It was with this mindset that Nathan realized how he had to clearly present to David the nature of the threat. Adoniyahu’s actions merited one of two reactions. One possibility would be for David himself to put down the rebellion. It was true he was physically weak, but to gather his loyal army and stamp out Adoniyahu’s revolt would not be difficult. However, the threat of Adoniyahu was not to David himself. His other son, Avshalom, openly rebelled against David, dividing the kingdom. This uprising was different. To have David “take care” of this problem would necessarily result in a perception of weakness on the part of the next king. Everyone knew the next king was about to succeed David. Entering into this exalted position in such a manner, where the dying king has to eradicate this revolt in order for the new king to emerge would be of considerable consequence. The other option would be to ensure that Solomon be the one to wipe out the revolt. If Solomon was the one to affect this result, his stature would be upheld, ensuring a united loyalty from Bnai Yisrael. Nathan sees that he must demonstrate to David not just the severity of the crisis, but who the rebellion was being directed against. 

The objective then was clear – demonstrate to David that there was a threat that Solomon needed to eradicate. However, this was not enough. To emphasize the dire nature of the threat, Nathan develops a plan for both himself and Batsheva. Each of the two focused on a different element of the threat. Batheva presented the issue from the perspective of David’s wife, mother of Solomon, their son. David had promised that Solomon, “your son” (ibid 17), would be the next king. Are we to believe she was questioning David’s loyalty to his promise? Rather, it would seem she was insinuating to David that the immediate implementation of his promise would be the solution to the problem. In other words, David had to declare Solomon king as soon as possible, or there would be no way his promise could be fulfilled. Yet she is not done. When she explains the details of the events surrounding Adoniyahu’s declaration of kingship (ibid 19), and who Adoniyahu called to join him, she points out that Adoniyahu did not call Solomon, without mentioning the others who were loyal to David (ie - Nathan, Binayahu, etc). Why leave out the others who were not invited? Batsheva was making sure David saw the rebellion from the familial standpoint – a personal attack against Solomon. She concludes by emphasizing that their very lives were in danger. The key here is that Batsheva was appealing to David from the perspective of a mother fearful for her son’s life. Thus, David needed to act for the sake of his wife and son, and this plea could only come from Batsheva.

To complete the picture, Nathan enters and finalizes the message. Nathan presents the crisis from the standpoint of the threat to the entire kingship. If David did not make Solomon king as soon as possible, the future of the kingship was in jeopardy. Nathan, when recounting the events, specifies all the important individuals who were not invited by Adoniyahu (see verse 26), going beyond just Solomon. The implication was that Adoniyahu was creating a split amongst the influential people in the kingdom, a split which would ultimately lead to a chasm. David needed to act for the sake of the institution of kingship, and this could only occur through Solomon becoming king. If he did not do so, Solomon's ability to function as king would be compromised. This message could only be delivered by the prophet who was responsible for ensuring the kingship.  

The success of the plan is clearly evident in David’s response.  After emphasizing his commitment to the promise, David concludes, (ibid 30) “so will I do this day.” Recognizing the urgent and immediate need to declare Solomon the king, he does just that, without any hesitation. And, as we see from the end of the chapter, this action was accepted by the nation, leading to complete loyalty to Solomon.

A crisis, a plan derived from wisdom, a transition fulfilling the prophecy – the story of Solomon's ascension to the throne is certainly not lacking in excitement. However, the main concepts one should derive have to do with Nathan’s ability to assess the situation and act in line with wisdom. With the future of Solomon as a person, as well as the king, in the balance, Nathan realized that it was imperative to accelerate the naming of Solomon as king. It is no understatement to say that Nathan effectively saved the kingship. So, put down the wine and food, break up the conversation, and come back inside to hear the riveting, insightful words of the Haftorah.