THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MANKIND AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE MONARCHY OF THE ISRAELITES
“The last of the great Judges of Israel was Samuel, the son of Hannah and Elcana. He defended his people against the encroachments of the Philistines. His influence, however, was felt chiefly in the matter of religion. By his teaching and exhortations he induced the people to give up the worship of the Canaanite gods, Baal and Astarte, and to worship Jahweh alone.
But in his old age he entrusted the power of the judgeship to his sons Joel and Abia. They lacked the virtue and integrity of their father and regarded their power as a means to acquire personal wealth rather than a sacred trust. Besides, the Philistines became an increasingly dangerous threat to the Chosen People. The leaders of the people came to Samuel and asked him to give them a king, a king such as ruled among other peoples.
From a purely human point of view the request must have seemed reasonable. The Chosen People must have observed the stabilising and unifying influence of the institution of kingship among their neighbours. They will have seen also the political and military advantages which a single ruler and government might produce for them.
A LACK OF FAITH IN GOD’S PROVIDENCE
But, on the other hand, their desire for a human king to rule over them betrayed a lack of faith in the providence of God. Samuel was quick to perceive this and to point out to the leaders of the people the disadvantages of royalty. He told them that kings would levy taxes, draft men for military service and subject the people generally to forced labour. But the people persisted in their desire to be ruled by a king.
Following God’s instructions Samuel anointed Saul, the son of Cis, of the tribe of Benjamin, and the people acknowledged Saul as their king. For a time Saul was a good king. But his disobedience to God made him displeasing to God, and God chose David, son of Jesse, of the tribe of Juda to be his successor.
Samuel secretly anointed David as king of the Chosen People. In this way the blessing which Jacob had given to Juda [Judah] was realised, and the channel of salvation was narrowed down to the family of David. [Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of all mankind was to be born in Flesh to the Virgin Mary and her spouse Joseph of the ancestry of David.]
In a war with the Philistines the Israelites were defeated and Saul and Jonathan were slain. David returned to Hebron in Juda. There the men of Juda chose David to be king of the tribe of Juda. Isboseth, the son of Saul, under the tutelage of Abner, one of Saul’s generals, began to rule over the other tribes of Israel. In the struggle for power which ensued, David was triumphant. At the age of thirty he was recognised as king by all the tribes of Israel.
DAVID’S PLANS TO BUILD A TEMPLE
During his reign he forced the Philistines back to the plain of Philistia, defeated the Ammonites, the Aramaeans, the Moabites and put them under tribute. He also conquered Edom and gave the Israelites access to the Red Sea. He also seized Jerusalem from the Jebusites and made it the capital of his kingdom.
David also made Jerusalem the religious centre of his kingdom by bringing there the Ark of the Covenant. It was his intention to build a temple for divine worship. But on being advised by the prophet Nathan that it was God’s will that David’s son rather than David himself should build the temple, David contented himself with the task of gathering the materials for the temple.
After ruling forty years, seven in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem, David died and Solomon succeeded to the throne. Solomon inherited from David, his father, a strong kingdom. He increased its strength in several ways: he married a daughter of the Pharaoh of Egypt and so increased his own prestige; he continued his father’s friendship with Hiram, the king of Tyre; with Hiram’s assistance he built a fleet and sent it on trading expeditions which brought him much gold; he seems also to have developed remarkably the iron industry of his country; he strengthened his army by the addition of 1,400 chariots and 4,000 horses.
SOLOMON BUILDS THE TEMPLE
But the most lasting achievement of his reign was the building of the great temple at Jerusalem. From Hiram of Tyre Solomon hired skilled workmen. They were assisted by the enforced labour of thirty-thousand Israelites and one hundred and fifty-three thousand six hundred Canaanites. The Temple was built between the years 961 and 955 B.C.
When it was completed Solomon brought the Ark of the Covenant to the Temple. Then the Temple was solemnly dedicated with numerous sacrifices.
SOLOMON’S GROWING LOVE FOR WORLDLY LIFESTYLE AND WOMEN
Solomon himself imitated the style of the Oriental monarchs of his time. He built magnificent palaces for himself and his harem of wives and concubines. He maintained a large staff of servants and retainers to serve the royal household. The kingdom was organised chiefly to support the king’s army and extravagant expenditures.
But his marriage to foreign women proved to be his downfall. At the beginning of his reign he was faithful to Jahweh, the one true God. But later on his foreign wives induced him to build temples for false gods. He himself worshipped Astarte and Moloch. God became angry with him and told him that because of his sin his kingdom would be divided after his death and his son would inherit only a small part of the kingdom.
CHANGES IN INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS STRAIN FOREIGN RELATIONS
As a consequence, at the end of the reign of Solomon, the signs portending the dissolution of the kingdom became apparent. A new Pharaoh replaced the father of Solomon’s wife and he gave shelter to the enemies of Solomon, especially Jeroboam, who as later to seize most of the kingdom from Roboam, Solomon’s son.
MOUNTING INTERNAL POLITICAL PROBLEMS
In addition, the people became restless under the great exactions in money and service and tithes which Solomon laid upon them. But, for the sake of David, his father, Solomon was allowed by God to rule the kingdom until his death.
AT ALL TIMES RELATIVELY BACKWARD KINGDOM
The reigns of David and Solomon, from the purely human point of view, mark the period of Israel’s greatest glory. During their reigns the kingdom is one and reaches its greatest geographical extension. Their power is acknowledged by other peoples, and nations pay tribute to them.
Still, it must be admitted that the kingdom of David and Solomon did not rank with the great empires of their own or any other time. They were never so large or so powerful as the empires of the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Medes and the Persians, the Greeks or the Romans. Nor did they reach the cultural level in the arts and crafts of the other peoples of the surrounding lands. Even Solomon had to import foreign sailors to man his fleets and navigate them successfully. To build the Temple he had to import workmen from Tyre.
THE COVENANT WITH THE HOUSE OF DAVID
But the true greatness of their kingdom is found elsewhere. It is found in the covenant which God made with the house of David. When David desired to build a temple for the Ark of the Covenant, Nathan the prophet told him that God wished the son of David to build the temple. But he also told David that his son would establish a house that would remain forever.
And later, at the end of Solomon’s reign, the prophet Ahias told Jeroboam that God had chosen him to rule over ten of the tribes of Israel, but that God had also said: ‘to his (Solomon’s) son, I will give one tribe: that there may remain a lamp for my servant David before me always in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen, that my name might be there’ (2 Kings 11:36). It is God’s intention that the throne of David shall remain forever. This means that both Israel and the world shall be saved through the house of David. The line of God’s plan to save men runs from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, through Juda to David. This would seem to indicate also that while the world of man is to be saved through the Chosen People, it will be saved possibly by one individual.
DAVID’S KINDLINESS AND MILDNESS
This great honour is given to David because he was pleasing to God. His faith in Jahweh was very great and he never wavered in his service to his God. Unlike Solomon and later kings David never fell into idolatry, not even during his exile among the Philistines. He followed God’s commands as they were transmitted to him by Nathan, God’s prophet. So great was his reverence for the things of God that he would not even try to injure Saul, God’s anointed king. More than once, when Saul was in his power he let Saul go uninjured. After Saul’s death he brought Saul’s son Mephiboseth to live in his own palace. He wished to build a temple to honour God. But when Nathan told him that this was not God’s wish he contented himself with gathering the materials for its construction and allowed the great honour of building it to go to his son Solomon. He centralised the worship of Jahweh by bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. So great was his joy at bringing God’s dwelling place to Jerusalem, his capital, that he himself danced and sang in the procession before the Ark. And this he did with no thought of catering to human respect [what people thought]. The simplicity and sincerity of his soul in this action is made clear by the attitude of his wife Michol, the daughter of Saul. When she saw David dancing before the Ark she despised him because she felt that he had demeaned himself by acting not as a king but as a hired singer. David, however, seems to have felt that even a king cannot demean himself by doing honour to God.
Moreover, in David God found a model of that kindliness and mildness which He Himself practised towards men. David stands out among the Oriental kings of his time for the mildness of his treatment of his enemies. He spared Saul, his mortal enemy. He extended mercy and kindness to the relatives of Saul, even though their continued existence was a menace to his own rule. He was merciful, perhaps even, as some think, to the point of weakness, to his own sons when they challenged his authority. He wished even to spare the life of Absalom, who rebelled against him and attempted to seize his throne.
DAVID’S GRAVE SIN AND SOUL-STIRRED REPENTANCE
It is true that David had some human weaknesses. He committed adultery with Bethsabee, the wife of Urias, and tried to conceal it by arranging for the death of Urias. But though his crime was great, his repentance was greater, and he immortalised it in the soul-stirred hymn of repentance, the Miserere (Psalm 50): ‘Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy mercy; according to thy great clemency blot out my iniquity…’
As we see in this Psalm, David repented bitterly and humbly his great crime. But he trusted the mercy and the love of God. Moreover he realised the truth of what Samuel had told Saul, that God preferred obedience to sacrifice, a humble and contrite heart to whole-burnt offerings. He perceived clearly what other monarchs of his time did not, that God preferred the gift of man’s heart to gifts of animals and grain. Briefly David saw that religion must not only be external but also internal. Man’s external acts of religion must proceed from a love of God in the will of man. And in return for God’s love David sang many Psalms in praise of God. In fact so great was his reputation as a singer of praise to God that the Chosen People gave him credit for composing all the psalms in the Book of Psalms, even though many of them were composed by other psalmist.
THROUGH DAVID’S DYNASTY GOD WILL SAVE MEN FROM THEMSELVES
As for the Chosen People themselves, during this period of their history we see in them a strong desire for national unity as opposed to tribal particularism. This feeling for national unity no doubt strengthened their allegiance to Jahweh, and so we find them forsaking the worship of Baal and Astarte and clinging only to the service of the one true God.
It is clear that their desire for a king was due to a lack of faith in God and to their desire to imitate their neighbours, in a word, to human respect. But God, who realised this, was patient. He acceded to their request and gave them a king and a kingdom. But He turned their desires to His own loving purpose. He will make the dynasty of David everlasting, and through that dynasty He will save men from themselves.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959