The Need for a King
As we have seen in the book of Joshua Israel has successfully taken the land of Canaan as God promised. As we move into the book of Judges we are shown Israel’s error of taking their conquered enemies in, and using them for forced labor. “The Lord rebukes them for making covenants with the Canaanites and reminds them that these foreigners will become a snare to them.” Their covenant with foreigners proves to be troublesome, because the pattern of rebellion among the Israelite people is continued. After making the covenant with the Canaanites the Israelites begin to be drawn towards their religions, which results in the Israelites beginning to “indulge in religious syncretism and even apostasy.”
As part of the Old Testament narrative Judges recounts the various attempts in which Israel seeks to establish some sort of leadership over the wayward people. One of the main functions of the book of Judges is “explaining theologically the transition from conquest leadership under Joshua to royal leadership under David.” The account concludes with a reference to the instability and chaos in the land as due to the lack of a king. In fact, the statement that “there was no king in Israel in those days; each man did what was right in his own eyes” summarizes the period, but also points to a transition.
In a cycle familiar to the Old Testament narrative God judges the people of Israel for their faithlessness by allowing their enemies to invade and oppress them, they repent and turn back to God, and God saves them from their enemies. During this period Israel has certain leaders, judges, who exercise rule over the people under God’s guidance. Many times these judges are the instrument through which God uses to save His errant people. The hope is found in God’s mercy as it “appears in His continual sending of saviors and judges.”
What’s ironic about this period is that Israel finally dwells in the promise land, but because of their disobedience they are not enjoying the promised blessings they longed for as they exited Egypt and journeyed to Canaan. Plus, the judges that exercise leadership over the Israelites have obvious flaws in their character which has major implications on the nation as a whole.
This pattern is continued even when the Israelites have a king, because the one they choose must be a leader who abides by God’s law, and all men are stained by the reality of sin. Again, since the king represents the people, his covenant obedience affects the life of the nation. In essence the king of Israel must reflect the character of God to His people.
Kingship and the Kingdom of Israel
Remember, the Bible is a grand narrative and the focus is Jesus Christ the true and greater king of God’s kingdom. When moving forward to examine the kingly rule of Saul, David, and Solomon we need to remember how the Old Testament fits within all of redemptive history. Goldsworthy aptly reminds us:
The events of saving history in the Old Testament prefigure and demonstrate the pattern of the one true and perfect saving act yet to come. They do it well enough to point the people of that time to a way of salvation by grace through faith.
Remember, in every instance that Israel is saved in the Old Testament it is a gracious act of God. The continual failure of the Israelites and their leaders all point to the fact that some greater act of salvation is still ahead, in fact must come, in the future. These people and events provide the ‘type’ of that which is to come.
Therefore we need to notice the distinction between the pattern and the perfection. In the people and events of the Old Testament we see that there is a great inadequacy, something is incomplete, which longs for ultimate fulfillment in the life and work of Jesus Christ. In other words, what we see in the Old Testament is the first stages of God’s progressively revealed salvation. Everything in the Old Testament points beyond the historical events or persons themselves to Jesus Christ, since fulfillment of all God’s promises are found in His saving work. With that in mind lets look at Saul, David, and Solomon.
Kingship Established with Saul
When the narrative picks up in the books of Samuel Israel is in disarray: “though the Israelites live in the land promised by God to the patriarchs, their hold on it is threatened by the Philistines, who are only the last of a series of foreign enemies sent as judgment on Israel’s unfaithfulness.”
During this time a prophet named Samuel arises under the leadership of Eli, the priest of the Lord, in the sanctuary. The devastating encounters with the Philistines lead the people to proclaim a need for a king. Samuel was distressed at the people because to set up a human king would be to supplant God as Israel’s leader. But the design of kingship had been established long before this period by God himself;
- Jacob prophesied of the kingship in Judah.
- Written into the decrees and ordinances of the law were provision for a king.
Within the law of Israel a kings rule was to reflect the covenant relationship established with God. So, kingship in Israel was defined by the covenant, and was therefore theocratic. But the people of Israel seemed to model their desire for a king after the autocratic rule of the Canaanite and Philistine kings. Therefore, Israel’s longing for a king at this point was nothing more than a desire to imitate the pagan nations, and the prophet Samuel warns them of their folly in rejecting and not desiring God’s pattern for kingly rule.
Ultimately the people were after security, safety, and strength by their own means, ignoring that God had promised them in the covenant. It is understandable, then, that Samuel later accuses the people of failing to trust God. The Israelites had forgotten “that God has committed Himself…to giving them those things in a way that no pagan ruler could.” Nevertheless, God instructs Samuel to comply with their request because ultimately it is His will that the people of Israel be ruled by a king.
Saul is chosen as the first king by the drawing of lots. Saul’s rule looks promising as he acts as a savior-judge of Israel. In fact, “He is ready to recognize the hand of the Lord in his victory over the Ammonites.” At this point Samuel reminds Saul and the people of Israel that if they follow the Lord, all will be well. But sin rears its ugly head again. When Saul doubts God’s ability to deliver his dwindling army, he decides to take up the role of priest and make an unlawful sacrifice, not keeping the covenant stipulations that the Lord had provided. The prophet Samuel then tells Saul that his kingdom will not continue, because the Lord desires a ruler who is “after His own heart.”  “Samuel withdrew from Saul to indicate that the Lord had rejected him.” Saul shows in his actions that he is the very opposite of the covenant king that God desires since the king must be subject to God’s word. Thus God rejects his kingship, and brings about a new king to take the throne.
The Dynasty Established through King David
During the reign of Saul God is developing a man after His own heart. The prophet Samuel is sent to choose David from among the sons of Jesse and anoint him as the new king. David is the “youngest and least significant of eight brothers who is chosen.” But the Spirit of the Lord comes upon David and leaves Saul. In fact, David’s rise to power is summed up in 2 Samuel 5:10; he was successful because the Lord was with him.
The first incident of God’s blessing being evident on David is the narrative of ‘David vs. Goliath.’ Here is the future king of Israel empowered by the Spirit of God to represent God’s people against the Philistines; this is a beautiful picture of what is to come in the savior-kingship of Christ. Goldsworthy puts it like this:
As all Israel retreats in terror from the Philistines and their champion [Goliath], God’s anointed king, who appears weak and insignificant, fights for his people knowing that the battle is the Lord’s. David stands alone as the one in the place of many, and through him God works salvation for Israel.
In the same way, Jesus is the true and greater David whose victory becomes his people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves. Now, at this point Saul’s jealousy is enflamed and continues to burn until he decides to go after David’s life. David flees Saul’s presence knowing the intense rejection and anger that is kindled towards him. Thus, “David became an outlaw in the wilderness.”
Yet in the midst of such turmoil David trusts in God to spare his own life and remove Saul from kingship by His own accord. Therefore David refuses to kill King Saul on two occasions when it would have been very easy, he leaves it to the Lord to bring about His will in His time, knowing that God will vindicate him. Simply put, David “committed his cause to God, and trusted God to judge His enemies and to keep His promise.”
Eventually Saul looses his sanity, looses his kingship, and dies on Mount Gilboa in a battle with the Philistines, which is somewhat ironic. At the age of thirty David is crowned as king, and the Lord continues to bless his rule. Goldsworthy notes several factors that point to David’s successful campaign as king.
- David secures the boarders of Israel against the Philistines by defeating them, while providing rest for the people.
- He conquers the Jebusite’s control of Jerusalem and establishes it as his capital, which also provides a central location for Israel’s corporate worship.
- He brings the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem making God’s kingship visible in Israel. It could be said that God validates David’s kingship by allowing him to bring the ark into ‘David’s city’, making it the locus of Israel’s religious and political life.
- The Davidic Covenant itself establishes David’s seed and dynasty.
David also decided that he was going to build a permanent temple for the Ark in Jerusalem. The prophet Nathan comes to David on the behalf of the Lord forbidding the building of the temple. God had promised to make David’s name great and to give his people rest in their land. God did not want David to build the house of God (a temple) but will himself make for David a house (a dynasty). David is to bear a son who will build a temple and whose throne will be established forever. Consider the continuity of the covenant with David to the covenant made to Abraham;
- “I will be their God, they will be my people.”
- “I will be his father, and he shall be my son.”
David’s line was going to depend on God’s grace. David was not called to build a temple, he was a warrior. It was only when the wars were over, when the Lord had subdued all the enemies of the kingdom; then and only then, would the Temple be built. This would happen under the rein of Solomon, David’s son.
The Eternal Kingship Established through Solomon
The notable features of King Solomon are narrated in a way that shows him to be the one who puts the finishing touches on the glories of David’s reign. In fact, Clowney writes that the reign of Solomon completes the reign of David, and they must be taken together. So, together David and Solomon picture the Lord’s king. “David the royal warrior is succeeded by Solomon, the prince of peace.”
Solomon is often considered the wisest king to ever live. Solomon’s wisdom and desire for understanding direct his governance of the people. The significance of wisdom in Solomon’s rule is shown in his desire for justice, achieving prosperity in the land according to the covenant promise, and understanding the relationships between each part of creation.
Solomon’s reign is directly tied to the building of the beautiful temple using the resources established in his fathers reign. The building of the Temple tells us two things of the Davidic Kingdom;
- In the ancient Near East, the culmination of a king’s military campaign was often culminated by the building of a palace or temple.
- Also, it was common among the ancient Near East that if a ruler is permitted to build a temple for a deity, that implies the deity’s blessing upon his rule.
The permanent structure of the temple in the Promised Land replaces the tabernacle. When the ark is brought into the sanctuary the glory of the Lord fills the house. “The long march of the centuries had come to rest.” God had brought His people out of bondage in Egypt to Jerusalem (David’s city), the place of His dwelling.
The building of the temple proclaimed that God will dwell in the city of David with His people. The temple was the place where sacrifices were made. The temple was the place where reconciliation with God was made. When sin infected the relationship of the people with God repentance and prayer toward the temple would secure forgiveness. In other words, through the temple the covenant relationship with God was maintained.
Beyond this Goldsworthy points out the significance of the temple system to those outside of the Israelites:
At the temple foreigners can find acceptance with God. The temple is a witness to all nations that God dwells with Israel…In other words; a foreigner can be joined to the people of God only by coming to the temple, for it is here that God chooses to deal with those who seek Him.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ
Clowney aptly reminds us that “the appointed roles of God’s servants point forward to their fulfillment in God’s final Servant, Jesus Christ. They have a symbolic function, providing a key to the way in which the historical narratives of the Old Testament demonstrates types of the work of Christ.”
1. A Pattern for the King to Come.
God establishes human kingship in the reign of Saul. Through David God brings the ark to Jerusalem, thus making the city the focal point of God’s covenant relationship with His people. God uses the reign of Solomon to build the temple as His dwelling place within the city. At the heart of their rule were the covenant promises of God. The king represented the whole nation and mediated God’s rule to the people.
Through the establishment of kingship over Israel God shows the pattern for the coming King’s rule over the earth. The ministry of these kings foreshadowed the King to come from the line of David. In one way “David foreshadows the longsuffering restraint of Christ’s humiliation, while Solomon typifies Christ as the Judge, who ushers in the Kingdom by judging justly.”
The covenant with David looked beyond Solomon, and would be far greater than Solomon; He would be the Lord Jesus Christ from the house of David. Christ is the true hope for the future. Christ is the true King mediating God’s rule over the nations.
Unlike these kings, Jesus kept in covenant with perfect obedience and trust in God, and therefore was exalted as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The kingship in Israel pointed to a true and greater King, Jesus Christ.
2. God’s Devotion to His Promises.
For each of the kings, their “place in the history of God’s redemption is grounded in [their] calling not in [their] obedience. Quite evidently, each of these kings are far from a perfect example for us. Even the greatest king, David, “a man of faith, who repented of sin and trusted in the Lord’s salvation” was not perfect. This illustrates that God’s plans cannot be thwarted. It also shows us God’s devotion to His promises.
“The amazing grace of God appears in this devotion…The Old Testament term for loyalty or devotion (chesed) is used almost exclusively, not of our devotion toward God, but of His devotion toward us.” One the one hand, David was a man after God’s own heart, a king who was devoted to the Lord. But on the other hand, David’s great sin with Bathsheba showed imperfection in that devotion. The same can be said of Solomon, his heart was not fully devoted to God, in his old age his foreign wives turned his heart away. When it came to the actions of these human kings, it was God’s name that was at stake. But even when these kings fell into sin, God remained faithful to His promise.
Thank God that He was faithful to His promises because He sustained and orchestrated David’s line to bring about a greater King who was without sin, represents us to God, and mediates God’s rule to His people with grace. While we have these earthly kings to show us the pattern, the only true, faithful, just, and eternal King is Jesus Christ who creates a new people under His governance, and His kingdom will never end.
- Goldsworthy argues that the theme of the whole book is set out in Judges 2:11-23.
- Judges 1:27-36.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 160.
- Judges 2:2-3.
- Judges 2:11-13.
- Mixing pagan ideas with their own.
- Renouncing their faith.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 160.
- C.E. Armerding, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 172.
- Judges 21:25.
- Judges 17:6, 18:1-, 19:1-, 21:25.
- Judges 2:14-23.
- Judges 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 13:25. 14:19; 15:14, 9.
- Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery, 136.
- Judges 6:34-40, etc.
- Deuteronomy 17:14-20.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 161.
- Since salvation history is progressively moving towards fulfillment in Jesus Christ. We see ‘typological’ patterns developed in particular stages of history.
- Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 10:1.
- P.E. Satterthwaite, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 179.
- C.E. Armerding, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 175.
- Genesis 49:8-10.
- Deuteronomy 17:14-20.
- A community governed by God and patterned in His ways.
- A community governed by suppression and human dictatorship.
- 1 Samuel 8:10-18.
- 1 Samuel 8:4-8.
- 1 Samuel 10:18-19, 12:6-12.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 165.
- 1 Samuel 11:12-15.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 165.
- 1 Samuel 12:14-15.
- 1 Samuel 13:8-14.
- Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery, 144.
- 1 Samuel 15:1-23.
- Deuteronomy 17.
- 2 Samuel 7:1-17, 12:1-14, 24:11-25.
- 1 Samuel 13:14.
- M.L. Strauss, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 433.
- 1 Samuel 16:13-14.
- 1 Samuel 17:45-47.
- Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery, 145.
- 1 Samuel 24:1-7; 26:6-12.
- Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery, 146.
- 1 Samuel 31.
- 2 Samuel 6, 8.
- 2 Samuel 5.
- 2 Samuel 6.
- 2 Samuel 7.
- 2 Samuel 7:1-3.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 167.
- 2 Samuel 7:4-12.
- Genesis 17:7-8, 26:12.
- 2 Samuel 7:14.
- 1 Chronicles 28:3.
- 1 Kings 5:3.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 169.
- 1 Chronicles 22:9.
- 1 Kings 3:6-9; 4:29-34.
- 1 Kings 3:16-28.
- 1 Kings 4:20-28.
- 1 Kings 4:29-34.
- 1 Kings 8:6-10.
- Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery, 168.
- 1 Kings 5-8.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 169.
- 1 Kings 8:15-53.
- 1 Kings 8:41-43.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 169.
- Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery, 138.
- Consider David’s Psalms of lament, see 22.
- Matthew 12:42.
- Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery, 167.
- Matthew 1.
- Psalm 110:1.
- Revelation 5:5-6; 21.
- Mark 11:1-10.
- Revelation 22:16.
- Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery, 153.
- 2 Samuel.
- 1 Kings 11:4-5.
- 2 Samuel 7:15.