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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 26–34
Verses 26–34

Abiathar and Joab were both aiding and abetting in Adonijah’s rebellious attempt, and it is probable were at the bottom of this new motion made of Adonijah for Abishag, and it should seem Solomon knew it, 1 Kgs. 2:22. This was, in both, an intolerable affront both to God and to the government, and the worse because of their high station and the great influence their examples might have upon many. They therefore come next to be reckoned with. They are both equally guilty of 51c0 the treason, but, in the judgment passed upon them, a difference is made and with good reason.

I. Abiathar, in consideration of his old services, is only degraded, 1 Kgs. 2:26, 27. 1. Solomon convicts him, and by his great wisdom finds him guilty: “Thou art worthy of death, for joining with Adonijah, when thou knewest on whose head God intended to set the crown.” 2. He calls to mind the respect he had formerly shown to David his father, and that he had both ministered to him in holy things (had borne before him the ark of the Lord), and also had tenderly sympathized with him in his afflictions and been afflicted in them all, particularly when he was in exile and distress both by Saul’s persecution and Absalom’s rebellion. Note, Those that show kindness to God’s people shall have it remembered to their advantage one time or other. 3. For this reason he spares Abiathar’s life, but deposes him from his offices, and confines him to his country seat at Anathoth, forbids him the court, the city, the tabernacle, the altar, and all inter-meddling in public business, with an intimation likewise that he was upon his good behaviour, and that though Solomon did not put him to death at this time he might another time, if he did not conduct himself well. But, for the present, he was only thrust out from being priest, as rendered unworthy that high station by the opposition he had given to that which he knew to be the will of God. Saul, for a supposed crime, had barbarously slain Abiathar’s father, and eighty-five priests, their families, and city. Solomon spares Abiathar himself, though guilty of a real crime. Thus was Saul’s government ruined and Solomon’s established. As men are to God’s ministers, they will find him to them. 4. The depriving of Abiathar was the fulfilling of the threatening against the house of Eli (1 Sam. 2:30), for he was the last high priest of that family. It was now above eighty years since the ruin was threatened; but God’s judgments, though not executed speedily, will be executed surely.

II. Joab, in consideration of his old sins, is put to death.

1. His guilty conscience sent him to the horns of the altar. He heard that Adonijah was executed and Abiathar deposed, and therefore, fearing his turn would be next, he fled for refuge to the altar. Many that, in the day of their security, care not for the service of the altar, will be glad of the protection of it in the day of their distress. Some think Joab designed thereby to devote himself for the future to a constant attendance upon the altar, hoping thereby to obtain his pardon, as some that have lived a dissolute life all their days have thought to atone for their crimes by retiring into a monastery when they are old, leaving the world when it has left them and no thanks to them.

2. Solomon ordered him to be put to death there for the murder of Abner and Amasa; for these were the crimes upon which he thought fit to ground the sentence, rather than upon his treasonable adherence to Adonijah. Joab was indeed worthy of death for turning after Adonijah, in contempt of Solomon and his designation to the throne, though he had not turned after Absalom, 1 Kgs. 2:28. Former fidelity will not serve to excuse any after treachery; yet, besides that, Joab had merited well of the house of David, to which and to his country he had done a great deal of good service in his day, in consideration of which, it is probable, Solomon would have pardoned him his offence against him (for clemency gives great reputation and establishment to an infant government), and would have only displaced him as he did Abiathar; but he must die for the murders he had formerly been guilty of, which his father had charged Solomon to call him to an account for. The debt he owed to the innocent blood that was shed, by answering its cries with the blood of him that shed, he could not pay himself, but left it to his son to pay it, who, having power wherewithal, failed not to do it. On this he grounds the sentence, aggravating the crime (1 Kgs. 2:32), that he fell upon two men more righteous and better than he, that had done him no wrong nor meant him any, and, had they lived, might probably have done David better service (if the blood shed be not only innocent, but excellent, the life more valuable that common lives, the crime is the more heinous), that David knew not of it, and yet the case was such that he would be suspected as privy to it; so that Joab endangered his prince’s reputation in taking away the life of his rivals, which was a further aggravation. For these crimes, (1.) He must die, and die by the sword of public justice. By man must his blood be shed, and it lies upon his own head (1 Kgs. 2:32), as theirs does whom he had murdered, 1 Kgs. 2:33. Woe to the head that lies under the guilt of blood! Vengeance for murder was long in coming upon Joab; but, when it did come, it remained the longer, being here entailed upon the head of his seed for ever (1 Kgs. 2:33), who, instead of deriving honour, as otherwise they might have done, from his heroic actions, derived guilt, and shame, and a curse, from his villainous actions, on account of which they fared the worse in this world. The seed of such evil doers shall never be renowned. (2.) He must die at the altar, rather than escape. Joab resolved not to stir from the altar (1 Kgs. 2:30), hoping thereby either to secure himself or else to render Solomon odious to the people, as a profaner of the holy place, if he should put him to death there. Benaiah made a scruple of either killing him there or dragging him thence; but Solomon knew the law, that the altar of God should give no protection to wilful murderers. Exod. 21:14; Thou shalt take him from my altar that he may die, may die a sacrifice. In case of such sins as the blood of beasts would atone for the altar was a refuge, but not in Joab’s case. He therefore orders him to be executed there, if he could not be got thence, to show that he feared not the censure of the people in doing his duty, but would rectify their mistake, and let them know that the administration of justice is better than sacrifice, and that the holiness of any place should never countenance the wickedness of any person. Those who, by a lively faith, take hold on Christ and his righteousness, with a resolution, if they perish, to perish there, shall find in him a more powerful protection than Joab found at the horns of the altar. Benaiah slew him (1 Kgs. 2:34), with the solemnity, no doubt, of a public execution. The law being thus satisfied, he was buried in his own house in the wilderness, privately, like a criminal, not pompously, like a soldier; yet no indignity was done to his dead body. It is not for man to lay the iniquity upon the bones, whatever God does.

3. Solomon pleased himself with this act of justice, not as it gratified any personal revenge, but as it was the fulfilling of his father’s orders and a real kindness to himself and his own government. (1.) Guilt was hereby removed, 1 Kgs. 2:31. By returning the innocent blood that had been shed upon the head of him that shed it, it was taken away from him and from the house of his father, which implies that the blood which is not required from the murderer will be required from the magistrate, at least there is danger lest it should. Those that would have their houses safe and built up must put away iniquity far from them. (2.) Peace was hereby secured (1 Kgs. 2:33) upon David. He does not mean his person, but, as he explains himself in the next words, Upon his seed, his house, and his throne, shall there be peace for ever from the Lord; thus he expresses his desire that it may be so and his hope that it shall be so. “Now that justice is done, and the cry of blood is satisfied, the government will prosper.” Thus righteousness and peace kiss each other. Now that such a turbulent man as Joab is removed there shall be peace. Take away the wicked from before the king, and his throne shall be established in righteousness, Prov. 25:5. Solomon, in this blessing of peace upon his house and throne, piously looks upward to God as the author of it. “It shall be peace from the Lord, and peace for ever from the Lord.” The Lord of peace himself give us that peace which is everlasting.