The Assassin and the Altar

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“The Don considered a use of threats the most foolish kind of exposure; the unleashing of anger without forethought as the most dangerous indulgence.”

― Mario Puzo, The Godfather

First Kings Chapter two, plays out like an assassin movie with a leading hitman. Part of David’s last words involve an interesting story where Joseph and his forgiveness towards his brothers spared a man from death while David was King—well, for a season, but now the season is ending.  First, let’s look at all the players in this twisting turning, Corleone saga.

David instructs Solomon to guard the commandments and to walk holy before Adonai. He goes on to give Solomon a list of men he needs to take care of. Like a conversation between Marlon Brando and Al Pacino in the Godfather, the players are laid out. David starts with his nephew, Joab.

Joab became a leader in David’s army. He murders general Abner after the latter killed his brother Asahel. He takes care of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah. Later, he finishes off David’s son Absalom while he hangs from a tree by his thick locks.

Although Joab does not follow in Absalom’s revolt to usurp his father’s kingdom, he later sides with Adonijah, who is trying to usurp the throne. After the death of Absalom and the defeat of his army, David decides to make Amasa general-in-chief of his forces, but Joab murders Amasa and through bloodshed, takes his place. For this betrayal, Joab was killed in a most peculiar setting.

Joab fled and took hold of the horns of the altar. He watched Solomon’s half-brother do this and spare his life—well, for a little while.

“And Adonijah was afraid of Solomon, and he arose, went and took hold of the horns of the altar. Now it was told Solomon, saying, “Behold, Adonijah is afraid of King Solomon, for behold, he has taken hold of the horns of the altar, saying, ‘Let King Solomon swear to me today that he will not put his servant to death with the sword.'” Solomon said, “If he is a worthy man, not one of his hairs will fall to the ground; but if wickedness is found in him, he will die.” (I Kings 1:50-52).

We are to run to the altar to die, not try and live. Do you see this backward conundrum? Sacrificial lambs get on altars and die. Abraham ties up his only son to place him on the altar. Yeshua was the Lamb of Yah that was slain. Joab runs to the altar and grabs a hold of it because he thinks no one will shed his blood in such a holy place. He thinks if he grabs the bull by the horns, he may be spared. Like Eli’s sons who grabbed the Ark of the Covenant and brought it to fight the philistines, calling on Adonai to save them, they ended up dead—they were already spiritually dead. The Ark would not save them or their father who fell backwards and cracked his neck. The text says he was old and fat. Fat and fleshly men, lazy and full of pride, their necks so thick they won’t bend, so the Father has to crack it in half! Heartbreaking. Eli had more honor for his sons who wore the priestly robes while sleeping with prostitutes and taking the best choice meat of Adonai for themselves than he did, HaShem.

Fat with flesh.

 

“Then the one who brought the news replied, “Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great slaughter among the people, and your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been taken.” When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell off the seat backward beside the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for he was old and heavy. Thus he judged Israel forty years.” (I Sam. 4:17-18).

The Father doesn’t forget. One of Eli’s sons had a wife giving birth at that very moment. She names her son a name that means the glory has departed. David’s son Solomon will take care of this priestly line before this story is through, but right now, Benaiah is making sure it is okay to slay a man by the altar of the Great Elohim.

Solomon tells Benaiah to fall upon him with the sword and bury him, that he may remove the innocent bloodshed from him and his father’s house. Benaiah takes care of business, and King Solomon appoints him over the whole army in Joab’s place. Then the king appoints Zadok, the priest, in the position of Abiathar. The Father will clean His House. Those who shed innocent blood with their hands or their mouths will be held accountable. We must have a holy fear of YHVH.

Like the Corleone family, these players are all related. Amasa is the son of one of David’s sisters. Joab is David’s nephew. Adonijah is the 4th son of David.  Absalom was his third son. Aww, the family—sadly, they can hurt us at times more than most.

When David grows old and cold, he cannot keep warm, so pretty Abishag of Shunem is brought to lay in bed with him. After David’s death, Adonijah tries to steal the throne. He arranges a multitude of chariots, and fifty-foot soldiers to run before him. The devious general Joab is on board with this, and so is Abiathar, the priest. They arrange a sacrificial ceremony by the Stone of Zoheleth.

What does Zoheleth mean? ” Serpent–stone of Zoheleth” Gliding or Serpent Stone).” This reminds me of leviathan, the twisting serpent who is bent on destruction, pride, twisting the truth, and usurping authority.

David learns from his wife about Adonijah’s doings and plans to take the kingdom. David calls for the chosen son, Solomon, the priest, Zadok, and Nathan, the prophet. He also calls for his assassin, Benaiah.  Who is this hitman?

Benaiah Pirathonite is named among the thirty mighty men of David (2 Samuel 23:30).  According to Abarim Publications, Pirathonite means height, just revenge, and the Place Of The Little Pharaohs.

The etymology of the name Pirathon

The name Pirathon (פרעתון) appears to be constructed from the Hebrew version of the title Pharaoh (פרעה), which in Egyptian means Great House (and which referred to the palace and indirectly to the Egyptian state, rather than its single leader) but in Hebrew, it means something like Confederacy, that is a voluntary union of independent families, tribes or cities:

This reminds me of Joseph, the 2nd in command, the little Pharaoh.

Benaiah is the son of Jehoiada of Kabzeel (Those who the Father gathers together). He starts out in a humble position in David’s army but rises in rank quickly. We learn about his abilities in II Samuel.

“Then Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, the son of a valiant man of Kabzeel, who had done mighty deeds, killed the two sons of Ariel of Moab (this text is corrupt, see note at end. This could be in regard to slaying beastly men who clung to the altar.)He also went down and killed a lion in the middle of a pit on a snowy day. He killed an Egyptian, an impressive man. Now the Egyptian had a spear in his hand, but he went down to him with a club and snatched the spear from the Egyptian’s hand and killed him with his own spear.” (II Sam. 21:20-21).

Adonijah seeks to usurp the throne, Benaiah takes him out. Joab seeks to usurp, Benaiah takes him out.

Solomon listens to his father on his death bed.

But up until that time, I want you just to follow my lead, and don’t worry. There are negotiations going on that will solve problems that you think are not solvable. So just be a little patient.” Tessio”

― Mario Puzo, The Godfather

Negotiations. David has spoken to his son about those who wish harm, those who are not trustworthy. Solomon right out of the gate, marching to the throne, has a bloody mess to tend to and even has to rebuke his own mother and then again call for his hitman, Benaiah.

“I am making one small request of you; do not refuse me.” And the king said to her, “Ask, my mother, for I will not refuse you.” So, she said, “Let Abishag the Shunammite be given to Adonijah, your brother as a wife.” King Solomon answered and said to his mother, “And why are you asking Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? Ask for him also the kingdom—for he is my older brother—even for him, for Abiathar, the priest, and for Joab, the son of Zeruiah!” Then King Solomon swore by the LORD, saying, “May God do so to me and more also if Adonijah has not spoken this word against his own life.  “Now, therefore, as the LORD lives, who has established me and set me on the throne of David, my father and who has made me a house as He promised, surely Adonijah shall be put to death today.” So King Solomon sent Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and he fell upon him so that he died.”

The Father never forgets.  He sees what men do and say when they think no one is looking or listening. “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” (Galatians 6:7).

Ouch!

(Job 4:8) “As I have observed, those who plow iniquity, and those who sow trouble, reap the same.”

Abiathar, the priest, is sent to Anathoth. Solomon informs him that he deserves to meet Benaiah and die. Still, because he carried the ark of the Lord before his father David, and because he was afflicted in everything his father was afflicted, Solomon dismisses Abiathar from being priest. What a sad awakening for this man who wore the garments of beauty and was to uphold the Torah. The Father was keeping His Word; He was cutting off the house of Eli and his wicked sons. When there is sin in the place where holiness is supposed to dwell, the Father cuts it off.

Benaiah has a bloody job. But in order to have order and righteousness, sometimes we have to remove those who hinder the work and Kingdom of the Father.

Now, we get to a man named Shimei who spoke of Joseph’s heart in order to spare his neck from death. Solomon tells him to build a house in Jerusalem and not to go out from there to any place.

“For on the day you go out and cross over the brook Kidron, you will know for certain that you shall surely die; your blood shall be on your own head.” Shimei then said to the king, “The word is good. As my lord, the king has said, so your servant will do.” So Shimei lived in Jerusalem many days.”

Why did David spare this man who spoke evil curses over him? In Rabbinical literature, we learn this:

“When Shimei cursed David (II Sam. xvi. 5 et seq.), he used the most insulting names, taunting him, moreover, with his Moabite descent and with his adultery with Bath-sheba (Shab. 105a). He later besought David’s forgiveness, however (II Sam. xix. 17-21), and addressed him as follows: “The brothers of Joseph did him injury, but Joseph returned good for evil. Be thou as Joseph, and recompense me with good, though I dealt evilly with thee. It was not I alone but all Israel that entreated thee ill. They now await my fate, and if thou forgivest me, they will come and make peace with thee and surrender themselves to thee” (Yalḳ. ii. 151). Jewish Encyclopedia.

David’s oath now is relented at death. He tells Solomon, “Behold, there is with you Shimei the son of Gera the Benjamite, of Bahurim; now it was he who cursed me with a violent curse on the day I went to Mahanaim. But when he came down to me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the LORD, saying, ‘I will not put you to death with the sword.’  “Now, therefore, do not let him go unpunished, for you are a wise man; and you will know what you ought to do to him, and you will bring his gray hair down to Sheol with blood.” (I Kings 2:8-9).

Shimei is going to break his promise after three years. Two of his servants ran away to the King of Gath. Shimei the Benjamite saddled his donkey and retrieved his servants, but news spread to Solomon. People are always watching. Solomon confronts evil. He is draining the swamp.

“Why then have you not kept the oath of the LORD and the command which I have laid on you?” The king also said to Shimei, “You know all the evil which you acknowledge in your heart, which you did to my father David; therefore the LORD shall return your evil on your own head. “But King Solomon shall be blessed, and the throne of David shall be established before the LORD forever.” So the king commanded Benaiah, the son of Jehoiada, and he went out and fell upon him so that he died.

Thus the kingdom was established in the hands of Solomon.” (I Kings 2:43-46).

Two sons of Ariel:

This occurs also in II Sam. xxiii. 20, R. V., and in I Chron. xi. 22, R. V. The text is corrupt. LXX. in Samuel has “two sons of Ariel”; Targ. “two mighty men.” Proposed emendations are: “two lions (or, lion whelps)” or “two sons of Uriel.” The reference may be to persons or to beasts. Form and meaning are uncertain. Suggested interpretations are: “lion of God,” or, by change of vowel, “light of God,” or “God is my light.” 2.Poetic name for Jerusalem (Isa. xxix. 1, 2, 7), variously explained (Targ. “altar”). The illustration in verse 2 (“Ariel . . . shall be unto me as Ariel,” the city shall reek with blood, like an altar) suggests that the second “Ariel” equals “altar” or “altar hearth”; so probably in Ezek. xliii. 15, 16, and in the inscription of Mesha, line 12. For a proposed sense, “cresset” or “candelabrum,” see note on Ezek. xl. 49 in “Sacred Books of the O. T.” (ed. Haupt). The etymology of the word is uncertain, possibly , “hearth,” with ל formative. The name of the city will then be an imitation of the name “Jerusalem” (perhaps properly Urushalem, “city of Shalem”), “city of God” (Uriel or Uruel). It is otherwise interpreted as “altar-hearth of God”; that is, the place devoted to the worship of God.” Jewish encyclopedia.

 

2 Comments Add yours

  1. JoAnne says:

    It is so hard to imagine that the wars from Joshua on were YHVH’s battles in large part. Benaiah sure had some tough assignments…..but as you say…..our sin will find us out! Father’s memory is perfect and His justice may not be swift but is a’comin’…….do you ever wonder how these warriors handled PTSD even if the killings were from Godly orders? And yes! We run to the altar to die! Enjoyed the assassin movie and quotes….’so just be a little patient’ …… 🙂 🙂

    1. Tekoa says:

      JoAnne, I can’t imagine. I am thinking he had to have had PTSD. Good observation! I think these stories are often not thought about. We read the Gospels and loving our enemies and forget some of the more gruesome details. I was interested in this account due to Joseph’s humility and forgiveness being used in order to be spared. Of course we don’t really know if that was the case, but sometimes people say one thing but their hearts are not really truthful. Solomon starts out cleaning house and offering sacrifices. He receives so much wisdom and still falls. What can we learn from these men clinging to an altar or Ark for refuge in vain?

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