If the Exodus is the great event that launchesIsrael’s national story, then the high point of the narrative is the Kingdom ofDavid and Solomon. After a rocky start with King Saul, Israel finally looks like it’s living the fulfilment of God’s promises to Abraham and Moses. David, and then Solomon, rule over a united Israel, the boundaries of which were promised to their forebears...
"As we read and pray through the Bible’s account of Israel’s monarchy this month, we’ll keep in mind what we know of God’s intent for Israel, and for all of humanity. Fulfilment seems tantalisingly close, and yet it proves unattainable."
If the Exodus is the great event that launches Israel’s national story, then the high point of the narrative is the Kingdom of David and Solomon. After a rocky start with King Saul, Israel finally looks like it’s living the fulfilment of God’s promises to Abraham and Moses. David, and then Solomon, rule over a united Israel, the boundaries of which were promised to their forebears. The land is fertile and the surrounding nations come to Jerusalem to participate in the their blessed life.
The Temple of Solomon dominates the skyline; God himself is living among his people in a permanent home. Surely, this is Abraham’s covenant in all its glory. But if we read carefully, we find the authors sounding notes of caution. The problem of sin still haunts the human heart, evident even the life of God’s chosen King. As we read and pray through the Bible’s account of Israel’s monarchy this month, we’ll keep in mind what we know of God’s intent for Israel, and for all of humanity. Fulfilment seems tantalisingly close, and yet it proves unattainable. Why? What is it within us that always seems to derail God’s promises? Furthermore, we will also observe God’s determination to bring about ‘good’, even through human weakness. Indeed, we might wonder about the nature of ‘the good’ God purposes for his people— what makes it good and would we want it?
The great Samuel— Israel’s Prophet and the last of the Judges— appointed his sons to lead Israel in his stead. But they did not follow in his ways. In their stead, Israel insisted Samuel appoint them a king, just like those of all the surrounding nations (1 Samuel 8:4-9). In response, God directs Samuel to anoint Saul as king. He is not the kind of King God had in mind at all. Instead, he is ‘the People’s Choice’. Nevertheless, Saul’s rule begins with promise but soon disappoints.
The rocky start under King Saul
1 Samuel 12:19-13:15
The authors of Scripture treat Israel’s quest for a king as deeply suspect— it comes from the wrong motive and for the wrong purpose (to be like the surrounding nations, and to fight their battles for them). Israel already had a king, God. The request for another king would seem to be an act of treason. Strangely, God acquiesces to the request. Initially, Saul appears to be the kind of king the Israelites were hoping for, and we see the initial defeat of Israel’s enemies. But his desire to please his men exceeds his desire to please God. Under pressure, he takes matters into his own hands and so his family is rejected as the dynasty that would rule Israel. The narratives of Saul and David are exquisitely written.
Consider the details the author weaves into this narrative to reveal the characters of Saul and Samuel. Which details might you research further in order to uncover their significance?
David seems the opposite of Saul. He is young and unimpressive, disregarded even by his own family. Yet, God looks favourably on him and anoints him king. He does not look merely at external appearances, but at the heart of a person (1 Sam 16:7). Biblically, “the heart” is the centre not only of spiritual activity, but of all the operations of human life. It is the “home of the personal life,” and hence a man or woman is designated, according to their heart– wise (1 Kings 3:12, etc.), pure (Ps. 24:4; Matt. 5:8, etc.), upright and righteous (Gen. 20:5, 6; Ps. 11:2; 78:72), pious and good (Luke 8:15), etc.
In these and such passages the word “soul” could not be substituted for “heart,” although they are sometimes used interchangeably. Conversely, “hardness of heart” evidences itself in distorted views of sin; partial acknowledgment and confession of it; self-reliance, pride and conceit; and generally, an inattention to God and his ways.And God sees the heart— that’s the point. He sees our hearts. And, interestingly, the heart is not fixed. God is in the business of renewing the heart, that it might be responsive and obedient (Ezekiel 11:19; 18:31; 36:26 etc).
Up to this point in the biblical narrative, the function of Yahweh’s Spirit seems primarily to equip individuals for military leadership (the Judges), and to enable the prophets to interpret visions and messages from God. The “evil” spirit from God tormenting Saul (16:14-15 etc) can also be translated “harmful”. The result is that Saul’s military leadership is diminished and he is afflicted by a “harmful” spirit.
After God’s rejection of Saul as King (1 Samuel 15:17-29), David is secretly anointed as God’s King-designate, even while Saul continues on the throne. Initially David is brought into Saul’s court as a kind of royal therapist, but soon becomes a famed warrior. Now viewed as a threat, David flees for his life and finds himself an outlaw— even though he insists upon his loyalty to Saul.
Inevitably the reader makes comparisons between King Saul and the future King David: the king ‘just like those of the surrounding nations’ and the king of God’s choosing.
What is your assessment of both Saul and David, and their suitability to be the king of Israel? On what basis will you make your assessment?
After the death of Saul, David becomes king of a united Israel. God’s people are finally at rest. They are no longer a nomadic people, but a settled nation living in their promised land. Just as God first made a covenant with Abraham, and then the whole nation of Israel, now the covenant relationship encompasses the extended family of God. God’s promises to David are a continuation of his promises to Abraham and will now drive the story. God is still at work setting the world right and he will use David’s offspring for his purposes.
For further thought: The promises made to David (v8-16) seem to echo the promises made to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3. What similarities do you notice? What has been added or expanded?
As you consider the promises made to David, what expectations might Israel have of Solomon?
The writer of 1 Kings describes God’s blessing of Solomon using language drawn from the covenant with Abraham. Judah and Israel have multiplied such that they are as numerous as grains of sand by the sea (Gen 15:17-21). They are blessed, and the nations of the world are blessed through them. Israel is finally the nation God intended them to be.As evidence of the flowering of God’s promise to Abraham, God blesses the nations through the wisdom of Solomon. As the rulers of other nations visit or send their envoys (eg 1 Kings 10:1-13), Solomon shares from the abundance of wisdom gifted him (2 Chronicles 1:8-12).
For further reflection: In what other ways might the growth of God’s kingdom under Solomon be a blessing to the nations? How might God’s kingdom— now expressed through the church— be a blessing to all the nations?
The dedication of the Temple is the climax of the story of Israel and an apparent fulfilment of the promise to Abraham. God now has a permanent home among his people in the city of Jerusalem, in the midst of a prosperous nation at peace, a place where the nations can come to worship him. Reflect back on the biblical narrative that runs from Abraham, through the Patriarchs to Moses; from the Exodus and Sinai, through Joshua’s conquest, to the Judges and the establishment of the Monarchy: God purpose has been the blessing of his people and through them the blessing of all nations.
What has changed along the way? What has stayed the same?
For further reflection: As we listen in on Solomon’s prayer, who does he understand God to be? What does the wisest man in the world see as his people’s greatest need such that he would ask God for it at the high point of his life?
Sin still haunts the story of God’s kingdom. Although ‘anointed’ and empowered to rule Israel, David allows lust and covetousness to rule him. Then pride drives him to arrange a cover up, followed by a murder, in an attempt to hide his abuse of power when he slept with Uriah’s wife. David rejects submission to the ways of God to impulsively grasp for the wife of another man. And so, he betrays his kingly duty to model the redeemed life to his people.
Although God forgives David his sin, the consequences will ripple out into David’s family, and eventually the whole nation is embroiled in civil war. Even within David’s extended family, sin and death are still the core problems. If God is going to restore his world through the descendants of Abraham, something radical needs to happen.
For reflection: How do you see the words of 2 Sam 12:11-13 being fulfilled in the developing narrative of David’s family? What do we learn from this story about where we should place our hope?
There is still hope for David’s lineage. Solomon, the son of David, pleases God by asking for wisdom in order to fulfil the role of King. Perhaps under Solomon, Israel can be the people God intended. Perhaps in Solomon, the promises of 2 Sam 7:11b-16 will be fulfilled.We conclude that the role of King in Israel is not reducible to good governance and military skill. In a theocracy, where God is king over his people, the role of his human representative is as a Prince Regent— an authorised substitute who acts on behalf of the true king.
The Psalms provide us with another lens through which to view Israel’s Monarchy principally because King David is attributed as author for so many of them. The superscripts at the head of many of the Psalms frequently locate the circumstances in which the Psalm was written—either in response to what happened or perhaps to be used in public worship on certain occasions.
Psalm 2 was probably sung at the enthronement of the line of Kings following on from David. It speaks of God’s ultimate purpose for his chosen King and Israel’s understanding of their particular calling as God’s people. After the Exile and the fall of David’s line, the Psalm took on new meaning. It proclaims Israel’s longing for the Lord’s Anointed One to come— the true king who would rule with righteousness.
The key to understanding this Psalm is its superscript: “A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom,” referring to the events of 2 Samuel 15:13-17:24. Following immediately upon the coronation glories of Psalm 2, Psalm 3 displays another side of the experience of the Lord’s Anointed. He is also rejected by the very ones who ought to have embraced his rule, and displayed the greatest loyalty and honour towards him. And yet the Lord’s Anointed entrusts himself to God, depending upon him entirely to fulfil his promises.