It plays out like a scene from The Godfather. The aged king is passing along final instructions to the son who is to succeed him on the throne. He starts off well, admonishing him to be God-fearing and of noble character. So far, so good. But then he gets personal. He instructs his son to “deal wisely” with two specific men who had wronged him. It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to know what the king means. “Do not let his gray head go down to the grave in peace,” the king says of both men. In other words, kill these guys. These are the king’s final words, and then he dies. It’s the stuff of movies. Cue the climactic music. Get one last close-up of the characters in this scene, who are none other than King David and his son Solomon.
If you aren’t familiar with David’s last words, check out 1 Kings 2:1-12 to refresh your memory. He tells Solomon, “So be strong, act like a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses” (v 2-3). And then in the next breath he tells Solomon to kill Joab, who had wrongfully killed Abner and Amasa in a time of peace. There’s a brief instruction to deal kindly with the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and then David brings up Shimei, who had cursed him with “bitter curses.” David had sworn to Shimei that he wouldn’t put him to death, but now he instructs Solomon to deal with him instead. Hmm. And this is the person the Bible calls “a man after God’s own heart”?
From a purely human standpoint, David’s instructions may seem justified. We like the sense of closure. These guys are going to get what they deserve. They were both blatantly guilty. One might even argue that his instructions regarding Joab could be reconciled with the law of Moses, removing bloodguilt from the land. (See, for example, Numbers 35:31.) But whether his actions are justified or not, it can’t be denied that his deathbed instructions included murder. And Solomon carried out David’s requests. (See 1 Kings 2:28-46 for the full story. Solomon was actually sort of clever in the way he took care of Shimei.)
Contrast David’s last request with that of his greatest descendant: Jesus. While hanging on the cross, He pleaded, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). He asked God to forgive the very men who were murdering Him. Now, if anyone was justified in seeking vengeance on His enemies, it was Jesus. He was innocent of all charges brought against Him. Those who crucified Him were shedding innocent blood. Jesus had every right to seek “a life for a life.” But He didn’t. While David sought the death of his enemies, Jesus sought the life of His. And that’s really good news for us, because we were His enemies as well.
“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life,” Paul says in Romans 5:10. Similarly, in Colossians 1:21-22, he says, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him.” Enemies. Hostile. Evil. Those aren’t words we like to use to describe ourselves, are they? But they’re true. And despite our unquestionable guilt, Jesus has reconciled us to Himself. He has made us right with God.
Just as Solomon honored David’s dying request, so did God honor Jesus’. He forgave us all our sins. We are declared innocent and made members of His family forever. Now, that’s a true “God Father.”
(Special thanks to my father and brother, whose insights sparked the idea for this blog!)