The children of Israel, God’s chosen people, couldn’t seem to figure it out. God had brought them out of Egypt and sustained them in the wilderness then brought them into the Promised Land – a land “flowing with milk and honey.” But they couldn’t seem to follow God.
The book of Judges covers approximately 400 years. Again and again, the people fell away from God and He brought punishment in the form of powerful neighbors who conquered them, stole their goods, and generally ran roughshod over them. When life seemed darkest, God then raised a Judge to lead them out of captivity and restore them to peace and prosperity.
This brings us to the next section of the Bible: 1 & 2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, and 1 & 2 Chronicles. These historical books describe the Kingdom period of the nation of Israel. It lasted about 460 years and saw a new development in the civic life of Israel: transformation into a kingdom under the rule of a human king.
1 Samuel introduces us to the last judge of Israel: Samuel. The first few chapters set the stage of how Samuel was selected by God from the service of the tabernacle under the leadership of an ineffective and corrupt priest named Eli. Soon Samuel was the leading spokesman for God, a man who judged the nation and served as a focal point for all things governance and religion.
Give Us A King!
The trouble seemed to start when Samuel got old and tied to pass the mantle of Judge to his sons, who were not godly men like him. The people of Israel sent their tribal leaders to Samuel with an ultimatum: Give us a king like the other nations!
Samuel knew this was not going to turn out well. Not only was it a repudiation of his leadership and his parenting, but it was also going to open the door for all sorts of other problems that the Israelites hadn’t experienced to this point.
God knew this wasn’t the issue. The problem was much deeper. In 1 Samuel 8:7-9 God instructed Samuel: “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
Samuel obeyed God and read the people the riot act about living under the rule of a king:
- The king will take your sons and make an army
- He will conscript you into service for his pleasure
- He will take your daughters to work in his palace as servants and cooks
- He will tax 10% of your income to fund his administration and pay for all the officers he employs
- Ultimately you will become his slaves
This didn’t bother the Israelites and they renewed their demand for a king. God told Samuel to do what they requested and grudgingly he followed God’s command.
King Saul I – The First King Of Israel
Even though the people asked for a King, God was still the one to make the decision. When Samuel had sent them away after agreeing to their demands, God chose the man who would be anointed as king.
Saul, son of Kish of the tribe of Benjamin, was an obscure man. His family was insignificant in the tribal structure, and the tribe of Benjamin was one of the smallest of all the tribes. But he was tall and handsome.
Saul made a dashing king. His family was wealthy, so he had been treated well as he grew up. Now he was a full head taller than all the men of Israel. His size alone made him look kingly. But his face and hair were attractive too. Essentially he was a picture-perfect king.
God arranged for Saul to meet Samuel while out searching for some lost donkeys. Secretly, Samuel honored him and anointed Saul’s head with oil. Samuel told Saul a series of amazing and specific things that were going to happen on the way back home to his father’s house. They happened just as Samuel had prophesied – evidence to Saul that God had chosen him to be the king over all Israel.
Later, Samuel called all the tribes of Israel together for the official Kingmaking ceremony. They drew lots, probably using the Priestly Urim and Thummim, to narrow the choice down by tribe, then family, finally down to the person.
The lots chose Saul, son of Kish, the tall, handsome specimen of a young man. Unfortunately, he wasn’t around to receive homage from the assembled leaders. Afraid of what was going to happen, he had run off to the baggage train and was hiding.
When Saul had been found and stood before them, head and shoulders taller than anyone present, the people cried out “Long live the king!”
When everyone left to go home, certain men of valor stayed behind to form Saul’s bodyguard, Even though God had spoken about who would be chosen, some of the people were unhappy about the choice of such an obscure man to be king.
A couple of years into his reign, Saul had behaved exactly as Samuel had foretold. He had assembled an army of three thousand men. They were in the southwest of Israel, dealing with a rising threat from the cities of the Philistines. The Philistines mustered an army more than ten times the size of Saul’s and rode out to meet him.
Saul knew he was in deep trouble, so he called for Samuel to come to him and intercede with God for Israel. Samuel replied that he would come in seven days. So Saul waited, and when the seven days had passed, worried that the Philistine army would attack soon and seeing that his army was starting to scatter, Saul himself offered a sacrifice to God asking for a favor before the Philistines.
Just as Saul finished the offering, Samuel arrived. Samuel was furious that Saul had overstepped his bounds and disobeyed God, for only a priest could offer the sacrifice. When he confronted Saul, the king could only offer excuses that the people were deserting and if he hadn’t, his entire army would have been lost.
Samuel replied, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the LORD your God, with which he commanded you. For then the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be prince over his people because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.” (1 Samuel 13:13,14)
Just like that, Saul disobeyed God, and Samuel told him that his dynasty had ended before it even began. God was going to choose another man to be king next, a man who loved God and who would obey Him.
This was not Saul’s only act of disobedience. Later, when he was instructed by God, through Samuel, to attack and utterly destroy the Canaanite tribe of the Amalekites, Saul chose to defeat them militarily but leave loaded with plunder. This directly defied the instructions he had been given.
When Samuel met with him after the victory, Saul tried to excuse his behavior saying he intended to offer all the livestock as a sacrifice to God. Samuel famously replied:
“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
he has also rejected you from being king.”
Obedience matters. Saul did not obey and the consequences were a loss of the favor of God over his kingship.
Throughout the entire life of Saul, we see the Bible teaching that obedience is king. Saul serves as a life-sized object lesson about how God views disobedience and rebellion. Just as He dispensed justice on Adam in the Garden of Eden, God also brought justice upon Saul, the king He had chosen.
This same lesson applies to people of all times and locations. We who have all disobeyed and rebelled, no matter how we attempt to justify or explain, we fall on the wrong side of God’s justice. Disobedience demands consequences and those consequences have to be satisfied.
This becomes yet another glimpse into the Bad News that sets up the Good News that we find later in the Bible. The story of Saul reminds us that sin has consequences and God will not look away. It creates a building pressure as the Biblical narrative continues – how will this problem be solved?
King David – A Man After God’s Heart
After God rejected Saul as king, he sent Samuel to anoint the next king. Samuel was sent to the home of Jesse of Bethlehem, in the tribe of Judah. While Samuel was there, he was introduced to seven of Jesse’s sons. They were all strong and handsome, excellent candidates to be the next king.
Samuel, however, knew that God had not selected any of them. So he asked if there were any other children. Jesse responded that there was David, but he had been left in the fields to watch the flocks. David was still young and not yet considered a man, was not suitable to be introduced to the great Prophet. Samuel said he wouldn’t eat the prepared meal until David had been presented to him.
When David was finally brought to him, God told Samuel that this was the man who would be King. So Samuel uncorked his horn of oil and anointed David on the spot, in front of his older brothers and father. At that moment, the Spirit of God rushed upon David and remained with him from then on.
Saul was still king, so David went back to his sheep. His family managed to shrug off what they had seen and returned to life as normal. It wasn’t until the incident with Goliath when his brothers had been conscripted into Saul’s army, that David was thrust onto the national scene.
After Goliath, Saul invited David into his household as one of his servants. David got a front-row seat to see how Saul operated as a king. But as God’s favor was withdrawn from Saul and increasingly evident on David, Saul turned on David. Eventually, David was driven out of Saul’s court and became a man on the run.
Once, as Saul returned from battling the Philistines, he went into a cave to relieve himself. David and his band of outlaws were hiding in the back of the cave when the king entered alone. David’s men urged him to kill Saul and become king himself, fulfilling his destiny. David refused, saying:
“The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD’s anointed.”
David trusted God to bring him to the throne in good time, and by means that did not involve murder and regicide. He restrained himself and his men and let Saul leave the cave.
When David told Saul what he had done, Saul replied: “And now, behold, I know that you shall surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand.”
And this is what happened. When Saul died, David was made king in Judah, and later in all of Israel. God brought him to power without him murdering the king.
David’s hands, however, were bloody. Most of his forty years as king were spent at war. Because of his warrior activities, the borders of the kingdom of Israel were established and secured. But despite his dangerous activities, David’s deepest desire was to build a proper house for God. Up through his reign, the Ark of the Covenant had been housed in tents that moved around. David desired to build a proper temple in Jerusalem where God’s presence could be properly honored with a beautiful building.
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their place and be disturbed no more. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”
God promised that He would get a house, but that David would not build it. David’s son would be the one to do that. But David’s family would be a dynasty that would be established forever. His line would not be cut off as had Saul’s because David’s heart was different than Saul’s.
David did not live a perfect life. He committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his military commanders, then ordered the murder of her husband when she became pregnant. When confronted with his sin, David immediately repented. He did not offer excuses or try to explain his actions
David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.” (2 Samuel 11:13-14)
Through this dark episode of David’s life, we see again the consequences of sin. But we also see the proper way to deal with sin. David confessed and repented. He acknowledged what he did was offensive to God. And God accepted this repentance and offered forgiveness.
This is the kind of king God desired. One who would obey Him and follow His commandments. God knew the Bathsheba episode would happen when He promised to establish David’s dynasty as an eternal line of kings. Yet God also knew David’s heart and that David loved Him and would respond appropriately to His sin.
The Kingdom Divided
When David died, rule passed to his son Solomon. Solomon enjoyed peace throughout his life, in part because of the conquests of his father.
In a dream, God offered Solomon anything he wanted. Rather than choosing riches or fame, Solomon asked for wisdom to rule God’s people. Satisfied with this answer, God gave him long life, riches, and fame in addition to wisdom.
Solomon’s stature in the world was enormous. He was known across the Middle Eastern world as the richest and wisest man who had ever lived.\
But when Solomon died, his son Rehoboam inherited the throne. Upon his coronation, the people asked him what kind of a king he wanted to be. His father had taxed the nation heavily to build up his fame, and they were hoping for a reprieve.
Rehoboam, however, lacked all of his father’s wisdom. He listened to bad advice and finally answered the people foolishly. He promised to wield an even heavier hand than his father had.
Upon hearing this, ten of the tribes, all in the north of the kingdom, decided they no longer wanted to be ruled by the house of David. They returned home and rejected all authority from Rehoboam in Jerusalem.
The northern ten tribes chose Jeroboam, son of Nebat to rule over them. He was a very capable man who had had been in charge of all Solomon’s forced labor gangs. As Solomon disobeyed God in his old age, God promised to take 10 tribes from the house of Solomon and give them to Jeroboam. When Solomon found out Jeroboam had fled to Egypt. Now that Solomon was gone, he returned to claim the promise God had given him.
This created a new political system for the children of Israel. Ten of the tribes split off from David’s dynasty and followed a new king. The remaining two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, continued to be ruled by David’s descendants. The two kingdoms were known as Israel in the north and Judah in the south.
God made the same offer to Jeroboam that He had made to David: Follow Me and I’ll bless you. Disobey Me and I’ll remove you from the throne.
The entire history of the northern kingdom of Israel was characterized by kings who rejected and disobeyed God. Throughout nineteen different kings, not a single one of them honored or obeyed God. They led Israel astray and worshipped false gods.
Ultimately, God’s punishment came. The kingdom of Assyria, a world power at the time, conquered the northern ten tribes and deported the people to live far away. In return, they brought in foreign people and settled them in the territory that had once belonged to the Kingdom of Israel.
In the kingdom of Judah, however, a different situation occurred. Twenty generations of the house of David and Solomon reigned in unbroken succession. While most of the kings were wicked, eight followed after God.
Because of the faithfulness of these eight kings, God extended the time of the kingdom of Judah 130 years longer than that of the Kingdom of Israel. They survived the attack of the kingdom of Assyria and escaped by paying tribute. However, punishment eventually caught up to them, and they were conquered by the kingdom of Babylon in 586 BC.
What We Should Take Away
The books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles detail the times of the Kings. Samuel (once a single book but divided into two in our English Bibles) focuses on the lives of Saul and David. Initially begun by Samuel, the books were completed by another scribe since they include Samuel’s death. They give us an intimate insight into the lives of the first two kings and God’s perspective on how His people should be ruled.
God was very clear to Samuel that He was the ultimate ruler of His people. However, He delegated that ruling authority into specific kings to administer in His stead. Just as with Adam, that delegated authority went awry, demonstrating that sinful human beings would not obediently follow God regardless of the circumstances of their lives.
Kings and Chronicles are parallel accounts of the kings of Israel. The book of Kings begins with the life of Solomon and seems to continue the narrative begun by the books of Samuel. The book of Chronicles begins with genealogies, including the genealogies of the exiles who returned from Babylon. It seems that it was written later, and was based on the recollection of the exiles of who they were as God’s people. It was a reminder of the benefits of following God and the consequences of disobeying Him.
Collectively these six books in our Bible chronicle the failure of human rulers to provide the kind of Godly leadership that satisfies God. Even those rulers who followed God were flawed and suffered the consequences of sin. But the vast majority of the leaders, despite the miracles God had done in their past, turned their backs on God.
The overarching lesson of these six books is to confirm in us the need for a king who will not lead us into destruction. Human leaders are incapable of the leadership we need in our pursuit of a way back to God. Even though God was able to hand-pick the people He wanted, they still failed.
As we chart the trajectory of our Bibles, the crisis is becoming increasingly dire. In Genesis chapter two, sin entered the world. Yet after all these events, humanity is no closer to a solution for the problem of sin than they were when the first sin happened.
But God’s plan is developing. He has chosen His people and has been fulfilling His promises to them. He put leaders in place, but those leaders sent them astray, directly into punishment at the hands of foreign armies.
But the books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of God remembering His promises. The people of the kingdom of Judah, formerly ruled by the descendants of David and Solomon, were granted the right to return to their homeland. It was a hard journey, but they rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and constructed a new Temple where they could worship God again.
Punishment had been delivered, but it was not the end. God was gathering His people again, to continue the story of the Bible.