January 19, 2018

Prophets, Priests, & Kings: The History of Israel’s Monarchy – Part 2

Part 1 – Transition to Monarchy (1 Sam 1-8)

Part 2 – The United Monarchy (1 Samuel 9–1 Kings 11)

Layton Talbert

SAUL: Birth of the Monarchy
(1 Samuel 9–31)

Clearly displeased with the timing, motive, and attitude of Israel’s demand to have a king so “that we also may be like all the nations” (1 Sam. 8:5, 20), God nevertheless graciously acquiesced. He not only chose the very best man available, but graced him supernaturally in several ways. In the end, the gracious supernatural endowment of an already naturally gifted man only underscored the tragedy of his fall.

Saul was graced by God with outward gifts (9:1–2) as well as inward qualities such as faithful submission (9:3), diligence (9:4), genuine concern (9:5), conscientiousness (9:6–7), humility (9:21), and meekness (10:14–16, 27; 11:13; cf. 15:17). To this, God added remarkable supernatural gifts. Saul was: given confirmatory Providential signs (10:1–5), endued with the Spirit’s enablement (10:6, 10), changed into another man (10:6), promised God’s presence (10:7), given another heart (10:9), and granted loyal followers “whose hearts God had touched” (10:26). How could Saul have had any greater incentive to love and obey God? Likewise, God has given the Christian a new heart and a new life (2 Cor. 5:17), endowed us with divine power by which to live (Phil. 2:13), granted us promises by which we can partake of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:3, 4), and blessed us individually in many different ways. How could our debt of gratitude and incentive to obey God be any deeper?

God’s charge to both king and people was unambiguous. Steadfast, unconditional obedience will be blessed (12:14); disobedience will result in chastisement (12:15). Following a divine object lesson of God’s seriousness (12:16–19), the charge is restated. Render devoted heartservice to the Lord, and He will not forsake you (12:20–23); fear the Lord and serve Him from the heart (12:24), or your defection will result in removal (12:25).

Saul promptly failed his first test, blaming his disobedience on circumstances (13:1–11) and arguing that circumstances should surely excuse him from obedience (13:12). When he is informed that his disobedience has forfeited his kingdom and dynasty (13:13–14), he displays no repentance (13:15ff.). He reveals instead a growing arrogance, substituting pious deeds for honest repentance and demonstrating that few people are as intolerable and troublesome as a disobedient, unrepentant man who tries to camouflage sin and rebellion with a self-righteous, false piety (14:1–46).

Likewise, Saul fails an even more explicit charge from the Lord, this time rationalizing that his actions are for a good cause, on the assumption that good intentions should surely excuse one from rigid obedience (15:1–23). But 15:9 states the case in black and white: Saul and the people were unwilling to obey the clear Word of God. God is neither fooled nor pleased by sacrifices that parade as substitutes for plain obedience. His response to rebuke (15:24–29) this time is a false repentance for show (15:30–31). Saul’s problem? An obstinate, rationalizing insubordination to God’s Word (15:23). Why? He is no longer little in his own sight (15:17).

True to His word, God punished Saul’s rebellion with chastisement and his defection with removal, though His timing for replacement was not immediate. The rest of Saul’s life is dismal reading — a miserable tale of anger, jealousy, paranoia, emotional instability, tyranny, irrationality, attempted murder, military defeat, and death. He came to see David, God’s choice, as his arch nemesis, but his real enemy was within himself. But most ominous are the repeated references to God’s departure from Saul (14:37; 16:14; 18:12; 28:6, 15, 16; cf. 16:14–23; 18:10; 19:9).

Great gifts or calling neither guarantee success nor make one an exception to God’s Word. “No man’s greatness” — or gifts or usefulness or blessing — “exempts him from judgment” (Matthew Henry). There is no substitute for simple obedience to God: “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better from the fat of rams” (Samuel). There is no substitute for genuine repentance: “It is not sinning that ruins men, so much as sinning and not repenting” (Matthew Henry). That marks the crucial difference between David and Saul. Both men sinned, even grievously. But David repented.

DAVID: Pinnacle of the Monarchy
(2 Samuel 1–1 Kings 2)

It is significant that David’s name appears more frequently than any other in Scripture (1139 times). About 10 percent of the OT is by or about David. Of the segment of the OT devoted to the history of the monarchy (Samuel, Kings, Chronicles), 34 percent is devoted to the story of David.

David the Man

David’s Character. A survey of the life of David unveils character traits that underscore the secret of his greatness. Even from an early age, David (1) was motivated by jealousy for God’s honor and courageously reliant upon the Lord for protection and victory (1S. 17:26, 34–37, 45–47), (2) displayed wise and prudent circumspection and spiritual maturity (1S. 18:5, 12, 14–15, 30), (3) showed genuine humility in the face of great honor (1S. 18:18; 2S. 7:18; 1C. 29:14), (4) possessed a tender conscience and meekly deferred to God’s timing for His will (1S. 24:5, 6–12; 26:8–11, 23), and (5) though not perfect, was humble, correctable, teachable (1S. 25:32–35). As king, David (6) maintained a conscious recognition that the Lord was behind every success and a dependence on God for leading even in apparently obvious situations (2S. 5:12, 17–25), (7) nurtured an abiding passion for the honored presence of God (2S. 6–7), (8) attributed and dedicated all his successes to the Lord (2S. 8:10–12), and (9) took the initiative to fulfill his personal obligations (2S. 9–10). Nevertheless, he (10) was still depraved in heart (2S. 11), but (11) genuinely repentant (2S. 12; Ps. 51), (12) humbly accepting the consequences of his actions, even when his circumstances were grossly misinterpreted (2S. 15:25–26, 30; 16:5–13). To the end of his days, David manifested (13) a repentant spirit (2S 24:10), (14) an unshakable confidence in God’s character (2S. 24:14), (15) genuine compassion for those affected by his sin (2S. 24:17; cf. 2S. 12:15f., 18:33), and (16) a self–sacrificial heart for the Lord (2S. 24:24). There is no explanation for a man like David other then the grace of God working in an open and honest heart. God has recorded so much through and about David for a reason. For every believer, he models a sincere and passionate heart for God.

David the King

God’s Standard. Israel’s kings are repeatedly measured by David’s example. He is the Divine standard. “David is the pattern for all the kings, not because he was morally free from blame, but because he held to this fundamental law” of singular devotion and loyalty to Yahweh (Bahr). God’s comparisons to David take three forms: (1) a command to be like David (Solomon, 1K. 3:14, 9:4; Jeroboam, 1K. 11:38); (2) a positive comparison to David (Asa, 1K. 15:11; Jehoshaphat, 2C. 17:3; Hezekiah, 2K. 18:3; Josiah, 2K. 22:2); or (3) a negative contrast to David (Solomon, 1K. 11:4,6; Israel, 1K. 11:33; Jeroboam, 1K. 14:8; Abijah, 1K. 15:3; Amaziah, 2K. 14:3; Ahaz, 2K. 16:2).

Chronology of David’s Life. Taking all the Biblical data into account, one can nearly pinpoint David’s age at a number of various events throughout his life. Born in 1041 at Bethlehem to Jesse, the grandson of Boaz and Ruth (Ruth 4:22), David was anointed by Samuel at Bethlehem in 1029 at the age of 12, and soon thereafter was briefly called to Saul’s court (1S. 16). He reappeared at the age of about 16 (around 1025) to slay Goliath (1S. 17), and served Saul’s court in honor for about 5 years (1S. 18–20). Saul’s jealous paranoia forced David to spend his next 10 years, age 21–30 (1020–1011), constantly fleeing from Saul (1S. 21–2S. 1). David was 30 when Saul died, and reigned in Hebron over Judah (2S. 2–4) for 7 years (1011–1004). Not until he was 37 (1004) — 25 years after being anointed — did he begin to reign in Jerusalem over all Israel (2S. 5–24). He was 49 at the time of his adultery with Bathsheba in 992 (2S. 11–12), and 50 when Solomon was born in 991 (2S. 12). When Absalom rebelled in 976, David was forced to flee Jerusalem at the age of 65 (2S. 15–18). In 973, 68-year-old David declared Solomon his heir (1C. 22–23), but Solomon’s official coronation (1K. 1–2; 1C. 28–29) did not come until 971. David, then 70, died later that year (1K. 2:10–11; 1C. 29:26–30). [Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, 211–284.]

David the Prophet

God’s prophetic voice often spoke through David by means of music (2S. 23:1–2). David was a gifted musician from his youth (1S. 16:14–18), a skilled composer and arranger of music and choirs (2C. 15, 16, 23–26), an able craftsman of musical instruments (1C. 23:5; 2C. 29:25–27), and an innovative inventor of musical instruments (Amos 6:5). His prophetic ministry included at least 73 psalms, virtually half the Psalter.

David the Priest

An obscure and seemingly insignificant event became the basis for one of the most theologically profound developments in all of Scripture: the meeting between Abraham and Melchizedek around 2000 B.C. (Gen. 14:17–20). About 1000 years later, Melchizedek’s name suddenly appears out of nowhere in one of David’s psalms (Ps. 110:1–4). About 1000 years later again, the fulfillment of this prophetic oracle is declared in the NT book of Hebrews (5:1–11; 7:1–22). Psalm 110 suggests that “not only the Messiah but David himself was such a priest.” In moving the ark and tabernacle to Jerusalem (2S. 6), “David saw himself as a priest and was accepted by the people and the Levites as such. His sacerdotal role is seen also in his appointing of the religious personnel to attend to the tabernacle” (1C. 16:4–6), and in his other priestly activities (1C. 21:18–28; 22:1–2). “That no mention is made of a priest in Jerusalem may imply that David himself fulfilled that responsibility at least initially” (Merrill, 264–266).

David — as king, prophet, and priest — typified and foreshadowed the Messiah who fulfills all these roles fully, flawlessly, and eternally.

SOLOMON: Grandeur of the Monarchy (1 Kings 1–11)

Solomon’s Beginning

Solomon’s other name was Jedidiah, “beloved of Yahweh” (2S. 12:24–25). He “loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father” (1K. 3:3); the Lord exalted him greatly and “bestowed upon him” unparalleled “royal majesty” (1C. 29:25).

Solomon’s Reign

The Biblical record of Solomon’s reign (971–931 B.C.) reflects 40 years of domestic building, international commerce, and accumulation of wealth. The sacred historian focuses on God’s first appearance to Solomon (1K. 3); a description of his administration, power, and prosperity (4); the construction and consecration of the Temple, along with other major building projects (5–8); God’s second appearance to Solomon (9); the famous visit of the Queen of Sheba and a description of Solomon’s enormous wealth (10); and a final brief account of Solomon’s idolatry and its consequences (11).

Solomon’s Wisdom

The Dream. Everyone knows the story of Solomon’s request for wisdom from God, demonstrating, it is said, his humble spirit and mature sense of priorities. But we often miss an important detail—Solomon actually only dreamed that he asked God for wisdom (1K. 3:5, 15)! Was Solomon’s request, then, a manifestation of what was already in his heart? Or was this dream God’s own gracious way of impressing upon Solomon what really was important?

The Nature of Solomon’s Wisdom. The Hebrew word for “wisdom” means skill and can be applied to a wide variety of abilities. The frequent references to Solomon’s wisdom invariably include a description of that wisdom in some specific area: (1) insight into human nature, aiding his administration of justice (3:16–28); (2) powers of observation and artistic expression (4:29–34); (3) managerial and diplomatic prowess (5:1–12); (4) mastery of monarchical majesty and ceremonious royalty (10:1–9); (5) sagacity of speech (10:23–24). The text is also punctuated by repeated reminders that his wisdom came from God (3:12, 28; 4:29; 5:7, 12; 10:24).

The Expression of Solomon’s Wisdom is encapsulated in Song of Solomon, Psalms 72 and 127, Proverbs 1–29, and Ecclesiastes. He composed a total of 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs (1K. 4:32).

The Limitations of Solomon’s Wisdom. If Solomon was so wise, how could he have strayed so idolatrously from the Lord? The Queen of Sheba exulted to Solomon, “Happy are your men and happy are these your servants, who stand continually before you and hear your wisdom!” A thousand years later, Christ called His own generation to account with this reminder: “The queen of the south will rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it; for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here” (Matt. 12:42). We have access to the complete revelation of God, and to Christ “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). Why do we wander from the Lord? Because we fail, or cease, to heed the wisdom we have been given—just as Solomon did.

Solomon’s Domain

In addition to Israel proper, Solomon’s rule extended over a considerably larger domain. (1) Provinces. “Kingdoms and states immediately contiguous to Israel,” including Damascus, Ammon, Moab, Edom, and “several smaller principalities” which Solomon governed “through Israelite governors or other subordinates.” Provinces “were subject to taxation and conscription and were expected to defend Israel.” (2) Vassal States. Nations “including Zobah, Hamath, Arabia, and possibly Philistia” which “were brought under Israelite control by military or diplomatic means.” They “were allowed to retain a certain measure of autonomy” but had to “provide tribute of goods and services to the king on stated occasions and to maintain loyalty” to Israel, “especially in times of war.” (3) Allied States. Solomon maintained “a network of parity treaties with neighboring or even distant powers with whom he was on friendly terms,” such as Tyre and Egypt. [Merrill, 301–302]

Solomon’s Wealth

The wealth of Solomon’s empire was amassed and sustained by a combination of: (1) domestic taxation; (2) tribute from provinces and vassal states; (3) international trade, of which Israel, located strategically “at the overland and maritime crossroads of the eastern Mediterranean world,” was not merely a participant but a key broker, monopolizing the flow of all manner of merchandise with lucrative results; and (4) voluntary gifts from other kingdoms (e.g., 1K. 10). “One can say without fear of contradiction that Israel under Solomon had reached the very pinnacle of international power and prestige. With Assyria and Egypt, Israel could rightly claim to be one of the three great powers of the tenth century.” [Merrill, 307–310]

Solomon’s Decline: Causes and Consequences

Solomon’s idolatry is appended almost as a postscript to an incredible testimony of his greatness. His early character and reign are laudatory (1K. 3). Twenty-five years later, God appeared again and reaffirmed the promises and warnings of the Davidic covenant (1K. 9). If it were not for one brief passage (1K. 11) at the end of the glorious account of Solomon’s reign, we would not know of his spiritual fall at all. Chronicles does not mention it. It occurred “when [he] was old” (1K. 11:4). In his dotage, after years of indulgence and blessings both inherited and heaped upon him by the Lord, Solomon allowed his pagan wives to lead his heart away from Yahweh alone. “It was this blend of physical and spiritual polygamy which brought upon Solomon and the kingdom the judgment of Yahweh”—a judgment which commenced with God’s providential “stirring up” of adversaries against Solomon (1K. 11:14, 23, 26–40) and resulted in “the dissolution of Israel into two irremediably separate” kingdoms. [Merrill, 312]

Dr. Layton Talbert teaches theology and apologetics at Bob Jones Seminary, Greenville, SC and is a Frontline Contributing Editor.

(Originally published in FrontLine • May/June 1999. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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