Tag Archives: Human Systems

Settling the Family’s Accounts

Settling the Family Accounts (1 Ki 2) Wayfarer

When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son.
1 Kings 2:1 (NIV)

There was a time many years ago that I was asked to serve on a team, and agreed to do so. After my first meeting, the team leader called me aside and called me out for some of the opinions I’d expressed in the meeting. It was one of the more surreal experiences I’ve had along my life journey. I was quickly informed that my services on the team were no longer required, and the whole experience made me grateful to walk away.

I thought about that experience as I pondered today’s chapter. It’s actually a very interesting conversation that begins with David on his deathbed, telling his successor, Solomon, to be obedient to God and keep the Law of Moses. David then immediately tells Solomon to “settle a few of the family accounts” Godfather style.

David tells Solomon to have two men killed:

Joab, David’s powerful military general, had committed a number of disloyal acts including killing Absalom without David’s consent and participating in Adonijah’s rebellion.

Shimei, a member of Saul’s family who had cursed David publicly during Absalom’s rebellion. David had let him live, but now wants Solomon to exact revenge.

Solomon also goes on to kill Adonijah his brother, who attempts to conspire with Bathsheba to make Abishag his wife. Abishag was the virgin who had been made part of the king’s harem so as to sleep with David and keep him warm. Adonijah’s request to marry a member of his father’s harem, was a disrespectful insult of Solomon’s authority and would have subtly established Adonijah’s right to the throne. Sleeping with one of your father’s harem in that culture established the son was his father’s successor. The request told Solomon that his older brother will not give up his desire to be king.

Solomon also removes Abiathar the priest, who had sided with Adonijah, and sends him back to his home, stripping him of his priestly power.

From a historical perspective, what Solomon did was not unusual. In the game of thrones for ancient kingdoms, being the king or queen was a precarious position and there were always rivals, even among one’s own family, who would be happy to assassinate the one on the throne in order to seize power. The elimination of known rivals was one of the ways that ancient monarchs secured their position. I mentioned earlier that what Solomon did was Godfatheresque because it’s a very apt parallel. It’s exactly what Michael Corleone does when he takes out all his rivals.

From a leadership perspective, this is also not unusual. When politicians are elected, it’s customary for people in certain key positions to tender their resignation so that the incoming elected official can appoint his or her own people. It’s sometimes the same way in churches when a new pastor is hired or appointed and the staff is expected to offer their resignations. As I look back on the experience of getting fired from the team after my first meeting, it’s clear that the team leader did not trust that I would be a loyal and supportive member. Even if I could have been, their distrust of me would likely have eventually created problems. While I still scratch my head at the way it was done, I’ve always been grateful to have walked away.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself reminded that I can scarce imagine what life and culture were like back in David and Solomon’s day. It was a violent period of history. At the same time, there are lessons that I can glean about leadership and human systems in which I interact. As I ponder it, I realize that have a great deal of autonomy to choose in to our out of most of the systems and circles of influence with which I regularly interact. Some of the wisest choices I believe I’ve made along my life journey have been choices to choose out of dysfunctional systems or systems filled with crazymakers.

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Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones (CaD 1 Ki 1) Wayfarer

Now Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, put himself forward and said, “I will be king.” So he got chariots and horses ready, with fifty men to run ahead of him.
1 Kings 1:5 (NIV)

Over the past few years, I have been watching multiple series set in the history of England. Both The Last Kingdom (Netflix) and Vikings (Prime) are set in the period when England was divided into several kingdoms and the Vikings from Norway and Denmark were regularly raiding the island. The BBC’s Hollow Crown series (PBS) are modern productions of seven of Shakespeare’s historical plays following English monarchs Richard II through Richard III. So, I’ve quite literally been entertained by the intrigues, plots, and schemes of people trying to ascend power in the game of thrones that is English history.

What is lost on many people is that much of what is called the Old Testament is the history of another, more ancient game of thrones. It is ancient Israel’s own version of it, and it has all of the intrigues, plots, schemes, and assassinations you find in the history of any human kingdom.

Having just followed the story of Israel’s ancient monarchy from King Saul through King David in the books of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel, this chapter-a-day journey is going to press on into the epic saga beginning with 1 Kings. At the end of the 2 Samuel, David has barely survived a coup d’èta by his son, Prince Absalom. Absalom was seeking revenge because his half-brother Prince Amnon (the favored oldest son) raped his half-sister (and Absalom’s full sister) Princess Tamar, and King David did nothing about it.

Picking up the story in today’s chapter, David is old and bed-ridden. The number of his days is waning and everyone knows it. Prince Solomon, the first-born son of the scandalous marriage between David and Bathsheba, has become David’s favorite whom David had promised would succeed him.

Enter Prince Adonijah, likely the eldest remaining son after Absalom murdered his brothers and potential rivals during his failed rebellion. With David bed-ridden, his power diminished, Adonijah decides to attempt a bloodless coup. He gets the backing of a high-priest and a couple of David’s most powerful right-hand men, then arranges to have the high-priest anoint him king at a sacred place just outside of Jerusalem. They then begin a feast to celebrate.

Hearing of this, Bathsheba and the prophet, Nathan go to King David to explain what has happened. David gives orders for another priest and those loyal to him to quickly anoint Solomon and place Solomon on David’s throne as David’s chosen successor. The crowds inside Jerusalem gather and hail their new king, Solomon.

Outside the city, the self-crowned Adonijah and his followers are wrapping up their coronation party when news arrives that King David has placed Solomon on his throne. Adonijah and his followers scatter in fear that King Solomon will exact quick revenge and have them all killed. Prince Adonijah himself flees to the temple where he takes hold of the altar, hoping that King Solomon will not kill him in such a holy place. Solomon in his first recorded act as King, promises not to kill his brother as long as Adonijah remains loyal, and sends him home.

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that almost every human system (families, committees, churches, councils, school administrations, community groups, businesses, and etc.) is a “game of thrones.” Wherever leaders have power and/or authority over others, members within that system will challenge it, criticize it, undermine it, usurp it, and rebel against it. It’s why the founding fathers of the United States divided governing power so widely. They knew from history that the game of thrones is inherently human. By spreading out the power across three different branches and two legislative houses, they sought to ensure that power was not concentrated on a single throne, but many for which there were checks and balances to make necessary corrections and hold individuals accountable for any misuse of power.

So where do I stand in the various human systems in which I operate? How well do I do with the authority and power I have in family, business, church, and community? How well do I submit to those who are in authority over me in those same systems? Where do my loyalties lie? What does it mean to live, speak, think, act, and relate in those systems as a disciple of Jesus? Are the fruits of God’s Spirit evident in the way I conduct myself in each system?

If Jesus is my Lord, as I profess Him to be, then I acknowledge Him as the one sitting on the throne of my heart and life. How well do I submit to His authority in every area of my own life?

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The featured image image on today’s post was created with Wonder A.I.

The “Straight Man”

The "Straight Man" (CaD Gen 26) Wayfarer

Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham.
Genesis 26:3 (NIV)

When I was a kid growing up in Des Moines, one of the local television stations showed a movie every weekday afternoon. There would be a fifteen-minute news segment at noon, followed by the Floppy Show which would show two Looney Tunes cartoons, followed by a movie. I rarely watched the movies because they didn’t appeal to me, but every once in a while they would show a Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin movie and it was like hitting the jackpot.

For those who are unaware, Jerry Lews and Dean Martin were a blockbuster comedy duo back in the fifties during the early days of Las Vegas and the Rat Pack. Jerry Lewis was the geeky, manic, physical comedian and Dean Martin was the gorgeous hunk who could croon and make the ladies swoon. Between 1949 and 1956 they made sixteen successful movies together. Together with their Vegas act, they were the biggest thing in show business for about ten years. Then the dynamic duo suddenly split forever.

One of the reasons for the split was that Dean Martin got tired of playing the “straight man” to Jerry’s kinetic comedic talent and energy. Every great story has characters who could be labeled the “straight person.” They hold the story together, they are the conduit through which the story flows, but they aren’t the star and don’t get the good bits. Show business is full of actors who have successfully appeared in countless films and television shows. You know the faces but you don’t know the names.

This came to mind this morning as I mulled over the person of Isaac. I noticed in yesterday’s chapter that while Abraham’s story took 13 chapters, and Isaac didn’t show up until the ninth chapter. Isaac only has a couple of chapters as the patriarch before he’s old and weak in the eyes. From the perspective of story-telling, Issac is a “straight man.” He almost gets sacrificed by his dad. He gets married. He fathers twins. He wanders around Canaan digging wells. Suddenly he’s old and the story has completely shifted to his sons.

This resonates with me because as an Enneagram Four, my core motivation is to feel a special sense of purpose and significance. That lends itself to desiring the starring roles, and I confess to enjoying those opportunities. It also lends itself to a core pain in which any purpose or significance is “never enough.” Along my life journey, however, I’ve struggled to embrace the truth about human systems. Every one has a role to play to make the system healthy and successful. There are nine Enneagram Types and we need everything that every Type brings to the table of life. Followers of Jesus are considered “the body of Christ” and Paul makes it clear that every member of the body is necessary whether you’re a vital organ or a nail on the little toe.

Isaac’s part in the Great Story is minor compared to his father and his son. He’s a straight man. He’s the conduit through which the story flows from Abraham to Jacob. But to this day, God is regularly named “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Isaac nailed his part in the greatest story ever told.

So, in the quiet this morning, I find myself with what is a much-needed reminder given the core motivations of my heart. “There are no small parts,” they say, “only small actors.” It’s true. Some of my favorite roles have been the smallest of roles. Nevertheless, I confess that it’s good for me to be reminded of this on a regular basis.

By the way, the end of today’s chapter states that Esau married two Hittite women who “were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah.” Ironically, another reason for the split between Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis is that their wives didn’t get along.

There’s nothing new under the sun.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.