The most glorious part of the history of Israel was the United Kingdom, so called to distinguish it from the Divided Kingdom which followed, it lasted from about 1095 to 975 B. C. and included the reigns of three great kings – Saul, David, and Solomon.
The story of this period is related in the two books of Samuel, the first eleven chapters of 1 Kings and parts of the Chronicles.
You will remember that for about 300 years the twelve tribes of Israel had been loosely governed by judges. The last and greatest of these was the prophet Samuel.
But the children of Israel wanted to be like their neighbours; they came to Samuel and asked for a king. Although God was much displeased with their request, He instructed Samuel to anoint as their king a young man named Saul who stood head and shoulders above the people.
The people gathered at Mizpeh and were presented with their new ruler who was so timid that he hid among the baggage.
Saul began his forty-year reign well. Israel was beset by enemies, and he undertook the task of driving them back. His army defeated the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Moabites, the Edomites and others.
Soon Saul was a popular figure among the people. But his popularity went to his head, and he ceased to be a humble servant of God. Instead, he became self-willed, bent on doing things the way he wanted them done, regardless of the will of God.
On one occasion he was commissioned to ‘utterly destroy the Amalekites.’ Instead, he spared the king and saved some sheep and cattle to sacrifice. Because he had thus disobeyed the Lord, Samuel rebuked him with the words, ‘Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams,’ 1 Samuel 15:22. From that time on, God rejected Saul as king.
Saul deeply loved him and selected him as his armour bearer. David quickly rose to prominence by slaying with a sling the champion of the Philistines, the giant Goliath.
The ensuing glory given to David provoked the jealousy of Saul who began to suspect that David was trying to supplant him as king. From that time on Saul sought to kill David and for years hunted him as an outlaw over the hills of Israel.
Perhaps the most beautiful friendship in the Bible is that of David and Jonathan, the son of Saul, who, although he realized that David would become king instead of himself, constantly sought to save David from his father’s ire. Saul and Jonathan both fell in battle with the Philistines to prepare the way for David as king.
After Saul’s death David was crowned king of the tribe of Judah while Saul’s sorry son, Ishbosheth, reigned over the rest of Israel. When his kingdom collapsed after seven years, David’s authority was extended over all Israel.
David selected Jerusalem as his capital and set about the task of making Israel a great nation. In successive wars he expanded the kingdom from the Nile to the Euphrates River.
David was truly a man after God’s own heart. The Lord declared of him, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will, Acts 13:22.
The psalms written by David are an expression of ‘his complete devotion to God. This consecration was especially evident in his constant willingness to obey all the Lord’s commands.
We may learn from him that we cannot expect the approval of God unless we are always willing to do what He asks of us without question. In spite of David’s success and his faithfulness to God, he made one grave mistake that followed him to his death. He committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, the Hittite.
Some stories have portrayed Bathsheba as a siren who intentionally seduced David. Nothing in the Bible bears out this idea. To cover up his sin, David had Uriah placed in the thick of battle so that he might be slain, and then, when he was dead, took Bathsheba as his wife.
All of this greatly displeased God and Nathan the prophet was sent to rebuke David by telling him the parable of the ewe lamb, 2 Samuel 12.
David repented, but his troubles now began. His son Absalom murdered his own brother. Later Absalom led a revolt against David and died in the attempt. For a time, David was forced to flee. Adding to his grief, another son, Adonijah, attempted to usurp the kingdom with the help of David’s trusted general, Joab.
To forestall the kingdom falling into the wrong hands, David had his son, Solomon, crowned king while he yet lived. Shortly thereafter David died, bringing to an end the forty-year reign of a great man of God.
Solomon’s rule was in sharp contrast with his father’s. While David had faced turmoil for almost his entire reign, Solomon’s was one of unbroken peace. He began auspiciously.
In a dream he asked of God wisdom rather than riches and honour, and because of his thoughtful request was rewarded with all three. Solomon’s wisdom is known to all.
Three thousand proverbs and 1005 songs came forth from this sage! Much of his wisdom is recorded for us in the three books which he wrote and which we will study in another lesson. Politically he extended the influence of Israel to its greatest height making it a world power.
The fabulous wealth of Solomon astounds us, even in this day. He had 1400 chariots, 12,000 horsemen and an annual income of six hundred three score and six talents of gold. And he didn’t have to pay an income tax!
On one occasion he was given an outright gift of one hundred and twenty talents of gold by the queen of Sheba. When she visited Solomon to see if all the reports of his fame were true she was so amazed that she exclaimed, ‘Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard,’ 1 Kings 10:7.
The greatest of all Solomon’s accomplishments was his building of the temple of God to replace the tabernacle in which Israel had worshipped since the wilderness wanderings. Probably no structure in the world’s history has equalled it in cost. Built by 183,000 men in seven and a half years, it cost an immense sum of money to erect.
The great wealth of Solomon eventually led to his undoing. He sought every kind of pleasure and married 700 wives and 300 concubines. Most of these were idolaters and what a time he must have had in trying to please them all. His high cost of living led him to tax the people heavily, much to their dissatisfaction.
His reign had started with wisdom and wealth; it ended with women and idolatry. When his forty-year rule ended he was a thoroughly disillusioned and unhappy man. In his revelry he had laid the groundwork for the division of his great kingdom after his death. This we shall study in our next lesson.
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