In The Days of the Kings of Israel
As we have seen, for 450 years Israel was harried by internal troubles and by aggressive action on the part of the surrounding nations. Every man did that which was right in his own eyes. Since the spiritual life of the people was at the lowest ebb possible, they under these conditions naturally wanted a king. They were walking by sight and not by faith. They clamored for a monarch in order that they might be like the nations round about them and might cope with them. They therefore came to Samuel and insisted that Jehovah appoint a king for them.
The record of the elders coming to Samuel is found in I Samuel 8. This chapter is a most important one and should be read and pondered by everyone. In Israel's insisting upon having a king, she was rejecting God (note the quotation in the upper left-hand corner of the chart below).
When men will not have God's first choice for them and insist upon another, the Lord frequently gives them a second. If still they are not satisfied and insist upon having their way, He may give them a third or fourth best. In Psalm 106 we see a poetical version of a portion of the history of Israel. The author recounts her deliverance from Egypt, her passage by miraculous intervention through the Red Sea, and her wilderness experiences. Soon the people forgot the works which God had wrought for them and waited not for His counsel. On the contrary, they lusted exceedingly in the wilderness and tempted God in the desert. “He gave them their request, But sent leanness into their soul” (Psalm 106:15). This same principle was involved in their insisting upon having a king. They wanted their way instead of accepting God's. The Lord therefore gave them a king in His anger and took him away in His wrath (Hosea 13:11).
Israel did not have to conform to the world. It was not necessary for her to have a king like the nations. In fact, God called her out from among them and put her in the Land and promised to supply everything that she needed if she would but be faithful to Him. The Lord wanted to demonstrate before the world what it meant to trust Him and follow Him implicitly. If Israel had only trusted Him and been obedient to His will, she would have been invincible. Her borders would have been inviolate.
As Isaiah the prophet declared, the nations are but a drop in the bucket, as the small dust upon the balance in God's sight. He can deal with them as and whenever He chooses. He determines their appointed seasons and the bounds of their habitation, (Isaiah 40:15-17; Acts 17:26).
With reluctance then, God granted Israel her king. In doing that He told her the exact type and character of the man whom He was placing over her. The people gladly accepted a human substitute for the divine appointment. The Lord selected the best material that He had at that time, namely, Saul, the son of Kish. He was very humble and obedient at first but soon turned from following the Lord. Many men cannot maintain their spiritual balance and keep an eye single to the glory of God when they are advanced to positions of power and preeminence. This proved Saul's downfall. His life was a tragic one. His regime collapsed, and he died in dishonor and disgrace in a final battle with the Philistines on the slopes of Mount Gilboa near Beth-shan. Nevertheless he held the power for forty years.
The Lord chose as his successor David, the son of Jesse of Bethlehem. He was indeed a man after God's own heart, who desired to do the will of the Lord. David was a man of power. He was a great organizer, a fearless, valiant warrior with unusual strategic ability, a great writer, and a marvelous musician. He took the reins of government, consolidated his position, fought off his enemies, and established a stable reign within the boundaries of his country. His regime possibly was one of the most glorious in the annals of Jewish history. He was a kind and considerate ruler, who desired to mete out justice and righteousness to all.
The latter years of his life, however, were blighted by his terrible sin of taking Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. One sin, unconfessed, leads to another. This in turn demands a third when not repented of. Thus there was a series of sins in the life of David which indeed cast a somber hue over the latter part of his reign. He never fully recovered from this awful experience, although he confessed, when he was brought under conviction, his terrible series of sins and asked for forgiveness. This was granted, but the Lord assured him that, though he was forgiven, the sword should never depart from his house. He stood in a unique position before the people of God. He had sinned; therefore he had to suffer the consequences. Man cannot sin with impunity. “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23). “For he that soweth unto his own flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption” (Galatians 6:8). These quotations set forth one of the fundamental principles of God's dealings with the human family.
On account of his having been a man of blood — a man of many wars — David was denied the privilege of building a house to the glory of God. Nevertheless he made all necessary preparations and instructed Solomon, his son, to carry on the work which he desired to do for God's honor and glory. His speech to the princes of Israel, recorded in I Chronicles 28, should be read by everyone. Thus this great king of Israel after a reign of forty years passed on and was gathered to his fathers.
Solomon, his son, was chosen to be his successor. The meaning of his name, which is “peace,” was indeed appropriate and might be considered as a symbol of his reign. He started out most gloriously in a humble manner, trusting God. When the full responsibility of the kingdom fell upon his young shoulders, he went to Gibeon and prayed before the great altar for wisdom in order that he might know how to conduct the government for God. By all means the reader ought to study carefully I Kings 3 and II Chronicles 1 in order fully to appreciate the spirit of Solomon. Because of his humility and childlike faith, his petition was granted. Not only was he given the wisdom which he requested, but riches and honor as well were granted him by the Lord.
He became a noted scientist — a botanist and a biologist — a marvelous writer (I Kings 4:29-34), and a great administrator.
By political alliances he created bonds between his kingdom and the surrounding nations. He did this by marrying the princesses of the ruling houses. In so doing he insured himself against foreign wars. By this means he established peace — but at a terrible price. With such ties binding him to heathen nations, the floodgates were opened for the entrance of every type of idolatry and corruption.
Solomon's reign was outwardly glamorous and splendid. It was largely tinsel, although much and wonderful progress was made. The evil results that developed more than counteracted the great advances made.
Upon Solomon's death the kingdom was divided, because Rehoboam, Solomon's son, refused to lighten the taxes. The ten northern tribes revolted and set up a rival government in the north. At the same time a competitive religious system was introduced in this new kingdom. There was constant enmity between the two governments. Occasionally amicable relations were established but soon were destroyed. The two governments ran parallel for 263 years. Finally, the northern kingdom was conquered and became a province of Assyria.
The kingdom of Judah continued for 114 years after the fall of Samaria. Finally, during the reign of Zedekiah all Jewish resistance collapsed under the sledge-hammer blows of Babylon. Judah lost
her independence. The cause of this national calamity is found in II Chronicles 36:11-16. Never again did Judah regain her independence except at sporadic intervals during the Maccabean period.