The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
Five cunning steps.
You sure don’t hear much about sneaky old Adonijah these days, do you?
He may not be overly popular on the Net but his Man Made Ministry Doctoral Programme has been studied, embraced and applied by millions.
So, who is this chap?
Let’s jump into my time-travel machine and jet back some three thousand years. And don’t be nervous about getting on board. It’s as safe as the Titanic. I promise.
Well, we’re here. Welcome to Israel, year 1000 BC. King David is breathing his last and the kingdom is about to be smoothly handed over to a twenty-something year old named Solomon.
All was going hunky dory until David fourth son (arguably the oldest one alive) got a bit miffed about his Daddy’s choice of a successor. Who was this jealous gentleman?
Ladies and gentleman: allow me to introduce you all to Adonijah. You can find out about his conniving antics in the first chapter of the book of the First Book of Kings.
Rather than submitting joyfully to his father’s desire, Adonijah wanted to follow in the footsteps of the Duke of Westminster, getting the inheritance all for his lovely self.
Just like good old Baldrick, he had a cunning plan. A cunning five-step plan to be precise!
Cunning Step One: Love Yourself
Adonijah had no interest whatsoever in the God of his father. He wanted power. He wanted prominence. In stark contrast to his Dad, the first thing the Book of Kings tells us about Adonijah is that he, “exalted himself” saying, “I will be king” (1 Kings 1:5).
That’s where man-made ministry starts: with an intense love for oneself. Instead of seeking the glory of God or the welfare of the Lord’s flock, the false leader only wants a high position to stand out.
Adonijah had a rotten, Baldrick-smelling attitude that showed how much of a foreigner to grace he really was.
Do you want to be a big gun? You’ve got to love yourself above all else!
Cunning Step Two: Get Yourself Some Followers
The next thing we learn about Dr. Adonijah is that he got himself some followers. It says, “He prepared chariots and horsemen and fifty men to run before him” (1:5).
That’s impressive! No doubt he used his royal credentials to trick folk into following him.
Adonijah’s Christianity was Adonijah-inspired, Adonijah-shaped and Adonijah-centred. He was always looking out for number one. And he soon got his disciples to look in the same direction.
“Forget about the Almighty,” reasons the usurper, “get your eyes fixed upon me!”
Was he really the son of David, the man according to God’s own heart?
Cunning Step Three: Friends in High Places
You’ve got yourself a name and a half-decent following, what’s next on the to-do list? You’ve got to make some strategic friendships i.e. suck up to some ecclesiastical fat cats.
Adonijah was a first-class genius. He went straight to two of David’s main men, namely, Joab and Abiathar.
First of all, who was Joab? He was the commander of David’s army. You don’t get much higher than that! And what’s more, to add to Adonijah’s street cred, Joab was the nephew of the King.
With Joab’s support guaranteed, Adonijah was killing two powerful birds (the military bird and the family bird) with one stone. Wow! Adonijah was as shrewd as a dude glued to his food.
Secondly, what about Abiathar? He served as David’s high-priest-in-exile after jealous King Saul (remember him?) murdered more than eighty priests at Nob. Abiathar, who lost his Dad in the bloody massacre, escaped by the skin of his teeth!
Why negotiate with Abiathar? Because he represented a third powerful bird i.e. the bird of religious influence.
Now, what really gets up my nose in this whole episode is why two of David’s closest allies would so turn against their lord, knowing full well that he wanted Solomon on the throne.
I don’t have a cunning plan; but I do have a cunning theory. It goes like this...
Both Joab and Abiathar weren’t all that pleased with David’s pastoral policies. Regarding the former, King David blew a fuse when he found out that Joab had killed Abner (2 Samuel 3:26-27), Amasa (2 Samuel 20:9-13) and especially his own son Absalom (2 Samuel 18:9-17).
The tension between David and Joab had evidently increased, leading the captain to betray his master.
With respect to the latter, it would seem that Abiathar was somewhat annoyed over Zadok being appointed alongside him as one of David’s high priests. After all, Abiathar had been around for a lot longer! Why on earth did David have to look elsewhere for religious help?
Since Adonijah grew up in the royal family, he would have had Joab and Abiathar around for dinner every now and again.
He perceived their discontent and thus persuaded them to come over to his side promising a generous salary, state of the art Jerusalem-bred ponies, a juicy pension-plan and some holy water from the Jordan.
Adonijah sure knew what he was doing.
Cunning Step Four: Steer Clear of the Good Men
Thanks be to God, not all of David’s right-hand men were as corrupt as Joab and Abiathar. There were still plenty of faithful men left; and Adonijah made sure to steer well clear of them just as a thief does his utmost to keep away from the police.
1 Kings 1:8 gives us a short list of some of the high-ranking men who stuck by their beloved King David: Zadok the priest, Benaiah, Nathan, Shimei and Rei.
The verse states categorically that they “were not with Adonijah”. Later on in the chapter, the influential Bathsheba also jumped to her son Solomon’s defence knowing full well that Adonijah was going to have him executed once David kicked the bucket.
Good, faithful, God-fearing and trustworthy men (and women) cannot walk hand-in-hand with false pretenders like Adonijah. The Lord God Almighty always draws a sharp line of separation between the two camps.
Cunning Step Five: Throw a Party
With all his new contacts and friends in high places, Adonijah did what any con artist would do to get even more followers on Hebrew Facebook: he threw a party!
Free food, free drink, music on into the early hours of the morning, and members of the opposite sex! What more could flesh-pots ask for?
But once again, Adonijah made sure not to invite David’s supporters to the gathering. Mr. Adonijah was no Mr. Bean.
The get-together was also the ideal moment to inject a certain feel-good factor into his revolutionary party and to discuss anarchist politics with his key aides.
In spite of Adonijah’s five-step cunning plan, 1 Kings 1 tells us that the very moment he and his crew were out partying; David had Solomon crowned King of Israel in his stead (vv. 39-40).
In fact, it was thanks to Adonijah’s rancid treachery that David sped succession-matters up somewhat. Isn’t irony so delicious?
Once Adonijah’s guests realized the Solomon had been anointed as King, they all –scared stiff- fled as fast as a dog licking a dish (v. 49).
And before 1 Kings 2 draws to a close, Abiathar is booted out of the priesthood and both Joab and sneaky old Adonijah are executed. That is what happens when we sow to the flesh (Galatians 6:8).
The moral of the story is to walk in the fear of the Lord and to not try to elevate ourselves into places of prominence unless the Lord puts us there. In a word: do not under any circumstances try to sleaze your way into public ministry.
That’s all for now! Let’s head back to the twenty-first century...