From Saul to Zedekiah

The Kingdom of Israel
Audio MP3

If ye shall … do wickedly, ye shall be consumed, both ye and your king.—1 Samuel 12:25

Aaron Marten

The account of the transition from the period of the judges to the kingdom of Israel is found in 1 Samuel chapters 8 through 12. When the people of Israel witnessed the corruption and perversions of justice committed by Samuel’s sons, the elders of the nation cried out for a king. Samuel, knowing the potential dangers involved in appointing a king, went to the Lord in prayer seeking his direction. After reassuring Samuel that the people’s rejection of the judges was ultimately a rejection of the Lord and his arrangements, God commanded Samuel to warn the people of the course they were taking. Although having a king would cost the people liberty, property, and even life itself, they wanted so badly to be “like all nations” they still insisted on having a king over them.

Saul, the First King

Samuel gathered the people together to witness the formal choosing of their king (1 Samuel 10:17-25). Before revealing the Lord’s choice, Samuel reminded the people that their desire for having a human king meant their rejection of Jehovah God as their king. Saul came from a humble family: “And Saul answered and said, Am not I a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel? and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? wherefore then speakest thou so to me?” (1 Samuel 9:21). In the selections of both Saul, and later David, the Lord sought those of a meek spirit.

In the second year of his reign, Saul proceeded to organize an army to relieve Israel of the oppression they were suffering at the hands of the Philistines. The people became fearful and scattered when they witnessed the forces of the Philistines gathered against them. Saul, without the authority to do so under the Law, sacrificed a burnt offering to the Lord (1 Samuel 13:9). Despite his good intentions and desire to please the Lord, Saul was not authorized to do what he did. There is a lesson for all the Lord’s people in this experience. Even if we have zeal for the Lord, and an honest desire to please him, if we do not act according to his will and his commandments, we will be displeasing to God. In Saul’s case, his carelessness cost him and his progeny the kingdom: “And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the LORD thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the LORD have established thy kingdom upon Israel forever” (1 Samuel 13:13).

Saul was permitted to reign for a total of forty years (Acts 13:21), but instead of the kingdom being continued through the tribe of Benjamin and his bloodline, God sought out “a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). The Lord “repented that he had made Saul king over Israel” (1 Samuel 15:35) and much later instructed Samuel to seek out and anoint David as his choice of successor.

David and a United Kingdom

After the death of Saul and three of his sons (1 Samuel 31), David was anointed in the city of Hebron as king over the tribe of Judah (2 Samuel 2:3,4). At the same time, Abner, the captain of Saul’s army and Saul’s first cousin, anointed Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, as the king over the other eleven tribes of Israel (2 Samuel 2:8,9). This division of the tribe of Judah from the remainder of the nation caused a series of battles and wars between Judah and the remnants of Saul’s house reigning over Israel (2 Samuel 3:1). After two years, both Abner and Ish-bosheth had been killed. With no-one from the house of Saul available, the people of the eleven tribes came to David in Hebron, and David was anointed as the king over all twelve tribes of Israel (2 Samuel 5:1-3).

Note some of the character aspects David demonstrated during this time. After Saul had been mortally wounded in battle, he killed himself because his armor bearer refused to kill him (1 Samuel 31:4). Afterward an Amalekite came to David with the news of Saul’s death, lying that he had put him out of his misery (2 Samuel 1:8-10). Even though Saul had tried to kill David on several occasions, David had such a reverence for the anointing of the Lord that Saul had received, he ordered the Amalakite who “destroyed the Lord’s anointed” to be slain (2 Samuel 1:14-16). After Ish-bosheth was murdered by two of his army captains, they brought David his head (2 Samuel 4). David had them killed, even though Ish-boseth was David’s enemy. These two events show us just how thoroughly the traits of justice and love, even for one’s own enemies, were deeply embedded in David’s heart.

After being anointed as king over all Israel, David went up from Hebron to Jerusalem. After taking the city from the Jebusites, David established Jerusalem as the new capital of the nation of Israel, calling it the “city of David” (2 Samuel 5:6-10). Instead of boasting of his great military and political achievements, David gave the credit for his success to Jehovah (2 Samuel 5:12).

The firm establishment of the united kingdom of all twelve tribes at Jerusalem can undoubtedly be attributed to David’s faithfulness in seeking the Lord’s will in all the affairs of the nation from the beginning. However, David was not a perfect king. When he committed adultery with Bathsheba and, in effect, murdered her husband Uriah, the prophet Nathan delivered a message from the Lord that “the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me … I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house” (2 Samuel 12:10,11).

David’s son Absalom spent much of his life trying to supplant David and cause the people to rebel against him. Absalom’s rebellion became so serious, that David fled Jerusalem to avoid a civil war. When a battle between David and Absalom eventually occurred, even under incredibly difficult circumstances, David instructed his captains to not harm Absalom if they came upon him in the battle (2 Samuel 18:5). Absalom was defeated, and the kingdom was restored to David, although not without a great deal of heartache (2 Samuel 18:33).

As David neared the end of his life, Adonijah, another of David’s sons, attempted to secure his presumed right to inherit the throne. Nevertheless, the Lord had chosen Solomon as the next king. Upon his birth, the prophet Nathan even called Solomon by the name Jedidiah meaning “beloved (or darling) of Jehovah” (2 Samuel 12:24,25).

Solomon, Idolatry, and a Divided Kingdom

David had long desired to build a temple for the Lord, but was prohibited from doing so (2 Samuel 7). He was, however, permitted to begin gathering the materials for it. It was prophesied that David’s son would build that temple (2 Samuel 7:13). Solomon, knowing this prophecy and wishing to fulfill it, promptly began the construction of the temple (1 Kings 5:5).

Even though Solomon was granted great wisdom (1 Kings 3:5-14), and had for a time a heart to follow the commandments of the Lord, he eventually fell into idolatry and worshipped foreign gods. This was a direct result of the influence of his many foreign wives, a violation of a direct commandment from God (1 Kings 11:1-4). As a penalty for Solomon’s disobedience, ten of the tribes would be torn away from the tribe of Judah and Benjamin and given to another king (1 Kings 11:13).

Jeroboam, a strong, industrious leader in Solomon’s government, was told by the Lord through the prophet Ahijah that he would be king over ten tribes of Israel: “But I will take the kingdom out of his [Solomon’s] son’s hand, and will give it unto thee, even ten tribes. And unto his son will I give one tribe [Benjamin], that David my servant may have a light always before me in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen to put my name there. And I will take thee, and thou shalt reign according to all that thy soul desireth, and shalt be king over Israel” (1 Kings 11:35-37). Knowing that this message had been delivered to Solomon, and fearing for his life, Jeroboam fled to Egypt until Solomon’s death.

Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, took over the kingdom after Solomon’s death. The national glory that Israel had attained and the opulence of Solomon’s court had come with a heavy price. High taxes that had been levied on the people were overly burdensome. Upon hearing of Solomon’s death, Jeroboam returned to Israel, and rallied the people to petition Rehoboam for relief from taxation (1 Kings 12:2-6).

Instead of listening to the wise counsel that he received from the elders, Rehoboam not only kept the existing taxes on the people, he pledged to increase them: “My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions” (1 Kings 12:14). Upon hearing this, the ten tribes declared Jeroboam as their king, and the kingdom was divided as the Lord had foretold.

Seeking to keep the ten tribes under his authority, Rehoboam proceeded to gather an army to fight against them. However, it was God’s will that the nation be divided: “Ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel: return every man to his house; for this thing is from me” (1 Kings 12:24). Because of Solomon’s disobedience in seeking foreign gods, the Lord permitted the kingdom of Israel to be divided into a two-tribe southern kingdom (Judah and Benjamin) whose capital was Jerusalem, and a ten-tribe northern kingdom (called Israel) whose capital eventually was Samaria.

Shortly after the rebellion, Jeroboam removed the Levitical priesthood from their duties and established “high places,” “devils,” and other abominations (2 Chronicles 11:14,15). It was at this time that a minor religious revival occurred in Judah and Jerusalem. With no approved way to properly honor the Lord, those from the ten tribes who remained faithful to the Lord fled to Jerusalem: “And after them out of all the tribes of Israel such as set their hearts to seek the LORD God of Israel came to Jerusalem, to sacrifice unto the LORD God of their fathers” (2 Chronicles 11:16).

The two kingdoms remained divided, although they were allied for brief periods of time. During this period there were only a handful of kings who remained almost entirely faithful to the Lord (e.g., Jehoshaphat, Uzziah, Jotham, Hezekiah, and Josiah). Many began their reign faithful to the Lord and the prophets which he sent to them, but they often fell into idol worship and other grievously sinful practices. Others were completely antagonistic to the God of their fathers from the beginning.

The Lord was primarily working with his people through the warnings and admonitions of the prophets. To the northern kingdom of Israel he sent such prophets as Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, Amos, and Hosea. To the southern kingdom of Judah, he sent Joel, Obadiah, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, and finally Habbakuk and Jeremiah.

For the final forty years of the kingdom (Jeremiah 1:1-3), Jeremiah was sent to preach a message of judgment, repentance, and warning to the people. Under Josiah, Jeremiah’s message was largely received. However, by the time Zedekiah occupied the throne, the messages of Jeremiah and the other prophets were being mocked and ignored by the people: “And the LORD God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers … because he had compassion on his people … but they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against his people, till there was no remedy” (2 Chronicles 36:15,16).

Because God saw there was no remedy for the nation, and because they had not kept the years of Sabbath rest for the land (2 Chronicles 36:21), the Lord permitted the entire nation to fall and the city of Jerusalem to be destroyed at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. All who had not earlier been taken to Babylon were now killed or taken as captives. Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, was captured, and met a horrific fate (2 Kings 25:7). It had become the due time for all in Israel to be humbled and continue their national preparation to eventually receive the Messiah.

The Rightful King of Israel

“I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him” (Ezekiel 21:27). As a penalty for Solomon’s sins, God said unto him, “I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant” (1 Kings 11:11). Upon Solomon’s death, the kingdom was divided into the ten-tribe northern kingdom of Israel and the two-tribe southern kingdom of Judah. The visible kingdom of Judah continued until Zedekiah when it was seemingly broken; nevertheless, the true kingly line continued from David through Nathan and eventually to Jesus, the Lion of the tribe of Judah and the Root of David (Revelation 5:5). Jesus is the one “whose right it is” to reign over Israel. This kingdom will shortly be re-established on the earth in Jerusalem (Matthew 5:35), and will eventually spread to, and bless all peoples of the earth (Isaiah 2:2-4; Jeremiah 3:17; Daniel 2:44; Zechariah 14; Acts 1:6).

Let us rejoice at the thought that we serve the true God of heaven, and his son, the rightful king of Israel.