The history of the establishment of monarchy and the reign of the first Israeli kings is described in the books of Samuel and the books of Kings. The first king, Saul, was appointed due to the fact that people turned away from God’s will; even though his successor, David, was a good king, his son’s sin resulted in the breakup of Israel.
The Reasons Why Israelites Desired a King
Chapter 8 of the First Book of Samuel shows the reasons why the people of Israel wished to have a king at the end of Samuel’s judgeship (1 Sam. 8:1-6 New International Version). We know that Samuel became a successful judge and a spiritual leader of Israel and led his people for long years (1 Sam. 7; Hindson & Yates, 2012, p. 164).
When he eventually grew old, he appointed his sons for this position (1 Sam. 8: 1-2). But the sons became corrupt (1 Sam. 8:3), so the elders of Israel came to Samuel and asked him to give them a king, because the other nations had kings (1 Sam. 8:4-5).
However, when Samuel prayed to God, the Lord told him that the problem was the people’s disobedience and their rejection of Him (1 Sam. 8:7-9). Even though Samuel tried to persuade the people that appointing a king would be a disaster (1 Sam. 8:11-18), they remained stubborn and insisted on having one (1 Sam. 8:19-20). Therefore, Samuel had to choose a king.
The Causes of Saul’s Appointment and Rejection
So, people’s desire led to the appointment of Saul as the king of Israel; however, Saul turned out to be a bad king, and, in the end, was rejected by God. The anointment of Saul occurred when God revealed to Samuel that the next day a man would come, and this man was to be chosen as the king (1 Sam. 9:15-16).
When Saul came and Samuel first saw him, the Lord said that he had to be chosen as the king (1 Sam. 9:17). On the other hand, Hindson and Yates (2012) argue that “the events surrounding the selection of Saul as a king… demonstrate that he was the people’s choice, more than God’s choice” (p. 164). Reiss (2004) speculates that the appointment of Saul might “represent something in Samuel’s subconscious mind” (p. 37).
However, this riddle probably had already been solved in Chapter 8, for God had told Samuel that the people had rejected Him, and a new king would do no good (1 Sam. 8:7-9). Therefore, it might be argued that there should have been neither king at all, nor the appointment of Saul in particular.
It is no wonder, thus, that Saul caused his kingdom to “deteriorate rapidly”; he voluntarily took the priest’s functions before a battle, lusted for revenge on the Philistines, ignored the needs of his people and disobeyed God (Hindson & Yates, 2012, p. 164-165). So, God finally rejected Saul as a king (1 Sam. 15:23-26).
What Made David a Better King than Saul?
After the rejection of Saul as a king, God chose David to be anointed as the next king of Israel (1 Sam. 16:12-13). Various feats accomplished by David, his courage and, at the same time, humility showed that he was superior to Saul. Hindson and Yates (2012) argue that the most prominent feat was the act of slaying Goliath (p. 166).
After that, Saul became jealous of David and started constantly trying to have him killed in battles; however, David was able to achieve victories, which caused Saul’s direct attempts to murder David, and God had to protect him (Hindson & Yates, 2012, p. 166-167). In fact, Ben-Noun (2003) argues that it is likely that Saul had some kind of mental disorder (p. 278-279); this, of course, is completely inappropriate for a king.
Even despite Saul’s attempts of murder, David remained humble and refused to kill Saul when he had the chance, saying that he wouldn’t murder a king anointed by God (1 Sam. 24:9-15). This induced the feeling of remorse even in Saul and persuaded him that David was to be the next king (1 Sam. 24:16-20). Therefore, Saul himself admitted David’s superiority.
The Sin Committed by Solomon that Led to Israel’s Division
When David grew old, he appointed Solomon to be the king of Israel after him (1 Kings 1:30). Even though Solomon was a glorious king, and the united Israeli kingdom flourished under him, he committed a sin that was crucial and led to the division of the kingdom (Hindson & Yates, 2012, p. 178). It was the sin of lust; the monarch “loved many foreign women” even though God forbid the Israelites to marry them (1 Kings 11:1-2).
Solomon’s one thousand wives “led him astray” and turned his heart away from the Lord; he started worshipping gods of every of his wives as well (1 Kings 11:4-8). This made God angry, and He promised to split the kingdom; however, for the sake of David, God decided to do that during Solomon’s son’s reign, and not while Solomon was alive (1 Kings 11:11-13). When Rehoboam was the king, the division occured as the result of an Egyptian invasion and other hostilities the kingdom participated in (1 Kings 14:25-26, 30).
As we have seen, Saul’s reign was the result of people’s not obeying God, and it is no wonder that his reign was a hard period for Israelites. David, however, remained humble and just, and did not lose God’s favor. David’s actions resulted in the preservation of the kingdom during his son’s reign, even despite Solomon’s sins. But disobedience of God’s will always has its results, and the sin of Solomon was punished after his death.
Ben-Noun, L. (2003). What was the mental disease that afflicted King Saul? Clinical Case Studies, 2(4), 270-282. doi: 10.1177/1534650103256296
Hindson, E., & Yates, G. (Eds.). (2012). The essence of the Old Testament: A survey. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group.
Reiss, M. (2004). Samuel and Saul: A negative symbiosis. Jewish Bible Quarterly, 32(1), 35-43.