Meditations on “The Big Picture” 11. From Judges to Kings
1 Sam 13:14 the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people
I am aware that, having just done two very general meditations, coming back into specifics of history again, and specifics of circumstances rather than of people, there is likely to be a measure of repetition as we consider various events from different viewpoints. Historically we have gone as far as taking the Land and briefly mentioned the subsequent rule of the judges.
It is at this point that we pick up the thread or the flow of history as we see it in the Bible. We find a summary verse early in the book of Judges that declares, “Then the LORD raised up judges , who saved them out of the hands of these raiders… . . Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them”. (Judg 2:16,18) In the chapters that follow we see the Lord raising up Othniel (3:9), Ehud (3:15), Deborah / Barak (4:3,4), Gideon (6:11), Tola (10:1), Jephthah (11:29) and Samson (13:5). After the erratic life of Samson and his eventual death (16:30) the book degenerates into the even more erratic goings on of people and groups in the nation and we find “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” (17:6).
Moving into 1 Samuel, we find the presiding judge is Eli a priest, who is now very old. He sees in the last judge, Samuel, who is also a prophet. Nevertheless, the leadership of Israel is not in a good state: Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the LORD….. This sin of the young men was very great in the LORD’s sight, for they were treating the LORD’s offering with contempt….. Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting….. His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke. (1 Sam 2:12,17,22,25) To cut a long story short, Eli’s sons die in battle and Eli dies of shock and Samuel is left to lead the nation.
However there comes a time when the people are no longer happy with this: “So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” (1 Sam 8:4,5) Again, to cut a long story short, Saul is chosen to be the first king of Israel. This comes about with God’s acquiescence and Samuel’s guidance and the expectation is clearly that Saul will rule but in a way acceptable to the Lord – but this does not happen. Saul gets it wrong at Gilgal where he impatiently and wrongly acted as a priest (13:8,9) and when he failed to destroy the Amalekites as instructed (15:2-9) For these reasons he is rebuked by Samuel: “Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.” (1 Sam13:13,14)
The second half of 1 Samuel is taken up with the introduction of David as that man after God’s own heart, who is eventually taken into Saul’s service, but then is seen as a threat by Saul who at least twice tries to kill him. So has to flee and spends the rest of the book on the run. It is only when, at the end of 1 Samuel, Saul is killed in battle, that David becomes king. In 2 Samuel we see his rise and his reign .The significance of David’s rule is not really seen until later when we find the following spoken in respect of Abijah the second king of the southern two tribes but really saying much about David: “He committed all the sins his father had done before him; his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his forefather had been. Nevertheless, for David’s sake the LORD his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem by raising up a son to succeed him and by making Jerusalem strong. For David had done what was right in the eyes of the LORD and had not failed to keep any of the LORD’s commands all the days of his life–except in the case of Uriah the Hittite. (1 Kings 15:3-5)
When David dies Solomon, one of his sons, takes over the reign of the country and is promised divine wisdom to rule his country (1 Kings 3:5-14). He starts out very well and becomes the richest and most powerful king in the world. Israel prospers. However, tragically we read, “King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter–Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, “ You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray . As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods , and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God , as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done. (1 Kings 11:1-6)
The Lord’s response is strong: “The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel , who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the LORD’s command. So the LORD said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe,” (1 Kings 11:9-13) and that was the end of the single kingdom of Israel. In the next study we will see the divided kingdom. It has been a tumultuous period, this time of the reign of the judges giving way to the reign of the kings.