1050 B. C. to 931 B. C.
The prophet Samuel functioned as a transitional figure between the period of the judges and the beginning of the monarchy. In response to Israel’s request for a king, God led Samuel to anoint Saul, who was a handsome young man from the tribe of Benjamin. Since the Israelites were looking at all the other nations around them and seeing that they had a king, they wanted the same thing and God gave them their wish. Ezekiel 16:13 says that this is when the nation “came to regal estate”.
This particular time in Israelite history was a time of transition for all the much larger powers around them. During this time they were less disturbed by the nations around them than they had been at any other time. This particular thing allowed the Israelite monarchy to develop nationally without any external influences. Even though the Assyrians had been such a thorn in their side in previous years, after they were conquered by Tiglath-pileser I (1115 – 1077 B. C.), the Hittites of Asia Minor passed into insignificance for the next 200 years. It would be during the time of Ahab when they finally recovered.
Egypt did not interfere with the monarchy while Saul, David, and Solomon ruled. This was with good reason, because they were plagued by their own weaknesses and internal conflicts within their own government. No Egyptian crossed the borders of Palestine until the time of Solomon’s son Rehoboam became king.
We might can conclude that the first three kings were unaffected by other national powers, which made possible the great expansion that happened during the kingdom at this time. Really, their only threat was the Philistines, and that threat was taken care of by David when he fought Goliath and gained victory from them.
Chronology of the United Monarchy
There were three reasons that the elders gave Samuel at Ramah when they requested that the nation be given a king: the desire to conform to the pattern of the Gentile nations, the need for a faithful judge (because Samuel’s sons had become so corrupt), and the need for a military commander to fight Israel’s battles. God had already made a provision in the law for the people to have a king, but Samuel realized by their actions that they were wanting to look to a man instead of God to lead them.
Samuel warned them that they would pay a heavy price for having a king: taxation, military draft, loss of personal liberty, but they insisted that this was what they wanted anyway. God gave them what they wanted, but also disciplined them by the fact that Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin, and not from the royal line of Judah that had been prophesied. His kingship would not endure, and the monarchy did not really start to blossom until the time of King David, who was born of the tribe of Judah.
The Reign of Saul – 1050 – 1010 B. C.
Saul’s major task as king was to unify the Israelite tribes into a true nation. There was the ongoing Philistine threat, and the tribes each by themselves could not go up against the enemy. They had a powerful military army and ruled primarily on the coastal plain. Saul was needed to bring the people all together as one and learn to fight as a nation.
His entire reign was spent at war, with his initial military victory being the defeat of the Ammonites who had besieged Jabesh-gilead. It was this successful victory that started to bring about a truly united country and brought about Saul’s acceptance by the people as their king.
From his capital at Gibeah, Saul’s military campaigns took him north to defeat Zobah, east to defeat the Ammonites and the Moabites, south to defeat the Edomites and Amalekites, and west to defeat the Philistines. In his battles with the Philistines, Saul sought to bring them to complete powerlessness so that they could not oppress Israel anymore. He was a very aggressive-minded defender of the young nation of Israel at a crucial time in its history.
His great spiritual failure was linked to his lack of obedience to the directives God had given him through Samuel. Instead of waiting for Samuel’s arrival as he had been directed, he took matters into his own hands and sacrificed at Gilgal. Then instead of acknowledging his sin when Samuel arrived, he offered excuses to justify his conduct. His greatest disobedience occurred in the Amalekite war, which resulted in his being rejected by God as Israel’s king. Samuel then anointed David, a man after God’s own heart, to rule God’s people Israel.
The Reign of David 1010 – 970 B. C.
David’s rise to power began while Saul was still on the throne. Before long, Saul began to hear of the acclaim David was receiving and sent for the young man. Although David’s presence had a soothing effect on Saul’s “evil spirit”, the king’s periodic jealousy of David led to suspicion, fear, and hostility. David eventually had to flee Saul’s court to save his own life. During the disintegrating last days of Saul’s rule, David was a fugitive in the wilderness. Although he had several opportunities to take Saul’s life, he refused to lift his hand against God’s anointed king. In due time, God allowed Saul’s life to end during a battle with the Philistines, and David was then free to accept the kingship offered to him by the leaders of Judah in the south. After ruling over Judah for 7 1/2 years at Hebron, the elders of the northern tribes of Israel came and anointed him king over all the land. He established his capital at Jerusalem, where he reigned for another 33 years. Since the city was in Benjamite territory, the move served to solidify the tribes in a more central location.
It was David that was primarily responsible for the unification and development of the whole kingdom of Israel. Although he started out with very little, he left his son Solomon a huge empire to rule. What he basically did was claim all the land that the Israelites were supposed to be given in the first place, but never did get because of their lack of faith. Recent excavations have totally validated Scripture in where these boundaries were.
David established his rule from north of the Sea of Galilee to Beersheba and on both sides of the Jordan River, and then turned to foreign affairs. Because God had used him to defeat the Philistines, he was free to convert his kingdom into a huge empire without threat from them.
His expansion policies may have been due to his concern for protecting Israelite settlements in Transjordan. He extended the kingdom to the north, south, east, and west according to 2 Samuel 8: 1 – 14. In addition to a military conquest, he was the first of the Israelite kings to use marriage alliances as an important part of his foreign policy. In the Ancient Near East, marital arrangements between royal houses were often used to conclude treaties and cement political relationships. This was based on the premise that if countries intermarried, they would have more friendly relationships and many hostilities would be avoided. For a time, Israel was as strong as any power had been in the ancient world. David had stretched his territory from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates, more than any of the lands they had possessed so far.
The great turning point in David’s career, was his sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah. Although David confessed his sin and was forgiven by God, a great deal of family and political turmoil followed. His sons rebelled against him and each other, and when he died, there was much bickering between them as to who would be king. Since he had already ordained Solomon for the job, Bathsheba and Nathan the prophet were finally able to orchestrate the events to bring it to pass and Solomon was anointed to succeed his father for the throne.
All of these many bad things would probably have been avoided if David had not fallen into sin, and his whole 40 year kingship would have probably been one of peace and joy.
The Reign of Solomon 970 – 931 B. C.
Although Solomon’s reign was not entirely peaceful, he is not known to have engaged in major military conflict. Most of his activities tended toward strengthening and developing David’s achievements through political, economic, and administrative means. While David had transformed the land of Israel from a small state into a powerful kingdom, Solomon developed the country into an international center that boasted one of the most advanced cultures of his day.
Militarily, Solomon sought to defend rather than expand his territory. He fortified key cities and military bases –
Hazor – to defend Israel from the Arameans
Megiddo – to control the Via Maris and the Jezreel
Gezer – to control the coastal plain and guard the western approach to the hill country
In addition, Solomon strengthened the military through the introduction of chariots and horses. He maintained security and discouraged aggression by building a military establishment that few would care to challenge.
The cornerstone of his foreign policy was his widespread use of international marriages to conclude treaties and cement relations with neighboring kings and rulers. Through his own multiple diplomatic marriages, he secured treaties with Egypt, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and the Hittite nation. Since this practice was in violation of God’s law, it proved quite destructive for Solomon spiritually. He let his foreign wives bring their pagan idols to Israel and his heart was turned from the Lord.
He is best remembered for his unrivaled wisdom and for his building of the Jerusalem temple. Yet his spiritual failure, from all the foreign wives, overshadows the great accomplishments of his reign. Because of his unfaithfulness, God told Solomon that the kingdom would be divided between his son Rehoboam and his servant Jeroboam. He also told him that the only reason he was not taking it away sooner was because of his love for his father David.
The days of the united Israel were glorious, but only lasted a little more than a hundred years, with many of those being fighting for the land and fighting to keep it. The next text will be about the geography of the land in which Saul and David grew up as boys.