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In this lesson, we will launch into the next major time period in the Bible: Period 4. It is in this period that the nation of Israel becomes a monarchy, with one king ruling over all twelve tribal states from the royal capital of Jerusalem.
In you look at the table of contents in your Bible, you’ll find three pairs of books:
These six books can be broken up into two series. The story that is started in 1 & 2 Samuel is continued in 1 & 2 Kings, making these four books one complete series. Then there are 1 & 2 Chronicles, in which a different author gives his perspective of the same period in Israel’s history.
Here in Period 4, Israel elects a king and becomes one unified kingdom. But this unity will only last through the reigns of three kings (Saul, David, and Solomon). At the beginning of Period 5, civil war will break out, and Israel will split into two separate kingdoms. She will remain this way until both kingdoms are destroyed by God. The southern kingdom will experience some degree of revival in Period 6, but when Jesus comes in Period 7, things will still be a mess. Israel will never recover from her massive fracture and fall. She will remain a fragmented nation after God levels her, and the Jewish people will remain scattered throughout the world while the Promised Land is turned into a melting pot of many different ethnicities.
The plot of this period is very simple. It follows the lives of three men: the prophet-priest Samuel, King Saul and King David.
Samuel and David are the two positive heroes in this period, while Saul is a total lemon. Let’s look at each of these men in turn.
In Judges (Period 3) we met the nasty Samson, who was called to serve Yahweh in a special way while he was still in his mother’s womb. Samson was supposed to live a life that was dedicated to Yahweh—instead, he lived for Samson and grew into a rude, violent, lust driven bully who only cared about having sex and smashing things. Here in the beginning of Period 4, we find ourselves cringing as another young boy who has been dedicated to Yahweh comes onto the scene. His name is Samuel. He is the son of a Kohathite Levite, which means he has the right bloodlines needed to serve Yahweh as a priest in the Tabernacle. But will he? When his mother Hannah drops Samuel off at the Tabernacle to be mentored by the high priest Eli, we’re wondering how this will turn out. After all, serving as Yahweh’s priest wasn’t Samuel’s idea. And it turns out that Eli is a corrupt priest with two very corrupt priest sons. Yahweh gets so disgusted with all three of them that He cuts them off eternally, declaring that they have committed unforgivable sins (see Three Priests who Went to Hell). But much to our relief, Samuel does not follow the bad examples around him and he grows up to be sincerely devoted to God. He also becomes a prophet—receiving constant messages from Yahweh which he then passes on to the people. As an adult, he sets up a traveling circuit where he goes from town to town, helping people decide how to carry out justice and teaching people about Yahweh. So our hero Samuel takes on the triple role of prophet, priest and judge. And though his name is praised throughout the nation, he never gets a fat head. What a refreshing change after the darkness of Judges.
Samuel’s one downfall is that he has two rotten sons. We can’t entirely blame Samuel for this, but we can blame him for not doling out the necessary punishment. According to God’s Laws, defiant children were supposed to be executed—especially if they refused to respond to the correction of priests. It was the failure to discipline his sons correctly that got Samuel’s mentor Eli cut off from Yahweh. But in Samuel’s case, Yahweh is more lenient. He doesn’t call Samuel out for being a rotten father, but the people of Israel do. As Samuel grows older and slower, the people publicly declare that they don’t want to be stuck with his two lousy sons after he is gone. Tired of corrupt leaders, they demand a king.
When we hear the people complaining about the lack of good leadership in 1 Samuel 8, it’s easy to think their complaint is reasonable. But to understand how rotten their soul attitudes really are, we need to back up a few chapters and see what happens in 1 Samuel 4-7. There we find the story of Israel getting badly beaten by their idolatrous neighbors, the Philistines. In an attempt to make Yahweh come across with some supernatural assistance, they drag His sacred Ark into battle with them. Not appreciating being treated like a lucky charm, Yahweh allows His sacred gold box to be stolen by the Philistines (see Revere Yahweh or Die: Lessons Learned when the Philistines Stole the Ark).
This was the first time Israel has had the Ark stolen from their midst. In Lesson 5, we learned that the Ark was considered to be Yahweh’s personal throne—the place where His holy Presence dwelt. So when the Ark was carried off by the Philistines, it felt to the Jews like Yahweh had just walked out on them. This event traumatized the whole nation, which is pretty ironic considering that even now, the Israelites are busy worshiping other gods. But as is so often the case, even though the Jews don’t want to have to respect Yahweh in daily life, they want to know He’s somewhere in the background, ready to be their last resort.
Now of course Yahweh is everywhere all the time, and He wasn’t really carried out of Israel when the Philistines stole His Ark, but He does use the whole thing to teach His bratty people a lesson. What if He were to truly abandon them? What would they do without Him? These are the questions He wants them to think about in order to spark a spiritual revival. But when He arranges for the Ark to be returned, the first thing the Jews do is pop the lid off and try to peek inside. This is like manhandling Yahweh—it’s a major insult. As we learned in Lesson 3, no one was allowed to touch the actual Ark or look at it in an uncovered state. So in return for the rude homecoming He receives, Yahweh strikes many people dead. The next thing we know, the people are mobbing Samuel and demanding a king. But what they really mean is that they want a different king than Yahweh.
Yahweh said to Samuel, “Do everything they say to you, for they are rejecting Me, not you. They don’t want Me to be their King any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned Me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.” (1 Sam. 8:7-9)
Yahweh then arranges for His loyal prophet to meet a tall, dark and handsome fellow named Saul. Yahweh tells Samuel to anoint Saul as the first king of Israel. When he’s told the news, Saul finds the whole idea terrifying and has to be dragged out of hiding on the day of his coronation. Then Samuel reviews all of Yahweh’s Laws with the people to tell them just how this king business is supposed to go. Because Yahweh saw this moment coming, He gave specific instructions to Moses back in Period 2 for how a king should rule over Israel once one was appointed. God is always many steps ahead of us.
Now that the people have their precious king, Yahweh whips up a mega storm to remind everyone that He hasn’t missed the insult of their request. As thunder and hail trash the wheat harvest, the people do their usual whimpering that maybe they were wrong to kick mud in God’s face. But since their repentance is only an inch deep, Yahweh doesn’t bother to undo anything. He lets them keep their king, and Saul quickly turns out to be a very poor leader.
Saul is a jerk. He starts off alright, but the more we learn about him, the more his true colors start showing through. As an army commander, he is cruel to his men. One time he tells them that no one is allowed to eat until a battle is won. The battle takes all day, and the men are stumbling around in exhaustion, yet Saul still remains heartless. “If I can fast, so can you,” is his logic—but of course he’s kicking back in the strategy tent, not duking it out on the front lines. Saul’s son Jonathan is not like his father at all. Jonathan is kindhearted, he respects Yahweh, and he has class. When Jonathan’s class upstages Saul’s cruelty, Saul’s reaction is to try and kill his own son. We don’t like Saul.
Yahweh doesn’t care much for Saul, either. One day Saul is waiting to start a battle with his men. The odds aren’t in his favor, and everyone’s getting nervous as many days of stalling around drag by. Saul wants to get going, but Yahweh has a rule that every battle must be proceeded by a sacrifice and a priestly blessing. The prophet-priest Samuel is the one who is supposed to do the sacrifice, but when Samuel doesn’t show up, Saul decides to dispense with formalities and throws the offering together himself.
As we learned in Lesson 6, it is totally unacceptable for non-priests to present sacrifices to Yahweh. God finds Saul’s rush job highly offensive, and He also notes that Saul is mistreating his men. Many of the soldiers have lost all of their courage, and according to Yahweh’s laws, fearful soldiers are supposed to be excused from duty.
“When you go out to fight your enemies and you face horses and chariots and an army greater than your own, do not be afraid. Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, is with you! When you prepare for battle, the priest must come forward to speak to the troops. He will say to them, ‘Listen to me, all you men of Israel! Do not be afraid as you go out to fight your enemies today! Do not lose heart or panic or tremble before them. For Yahweh your God is going with you! He will fight for you against your enemies, and He will give you victory!’
“Then the officers of the army must address the troops and say, ‘Has anyone here just built a new house but not yet dedicated it? If so, you may go home! You might be killed in the battle, and someone else would dedicate your house. Has anyone here just planted a vineyard but not yet eaten any of its fruit? If so, you may go home! You might die in battle, and someone else would eat the first fruit. Has anyone here just become engaged to a woman but not yet married her? Well, you may go home and get married! You might die in the battle, and someone else would marry her.’
“Then the officers will also say, ‘Is anyone here afraid or worried? If you are, you may go home before you frighten anyone else.’” (Deut 20:1-8)
Some Christians accuse Yahweh of being a big meanie in the Old Testament. No one ever talks about what a sweetheart He is to care so much about the welfare of His soldiers. Can you imagine a military officer today sending soldiers home just so they could enjoy new property or get married? And of course once a man got married, he was excused from working at all for one year just so he could build a good foundation with his wife.
If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married. (Deut. 24:5)
One of the reasons we need to read the Bible for ourselves is so we can start giving Yahweh the praise He deserves instead of just believing all of this slander about His wonderful Character.
Now it turns out that this whole crisis with Saul has been a test, for no sooner has he finished the sacrifice than Samuel comes into view and reams him out for his disobedience.
Samuel said to Saul, “You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the command that Yahweh your God gave to you. Yahweh would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom will not endure. Yahweh has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and Yahweh has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not done what Yahweh commanded you.” (1 Sam. 13:13-14)
Here Yahweh announces that He is going to choose a different man up to replace Saul as king over Israel. The original idea was that the crown be passed from father to son, but Saul’s kindhearted son Jonathan will never rule in Israel. He will die young along with his beastly father in battle. The royal line will then be moved from Saul’s Benjaminite family to a young man from the tribe of Judah. That young man’s name is David.
Well, after starving his own army and trying to kill his own son in a fit of jealous rage, Saul then disrespects Yahweh in another very public way and that becomes the last straw. We learned in Lesson 8 that Yahweh would sometimes give His leaders specific instructions about how He wanted the spoils of war to be handled. Sometimes He wanted everything to be destroyed, other times He wanted everything to be dedicated to Him as a praise offering. In 1 Samuel 15, Yahweh instructs Saul to completely wipe out a people group known as Amalekites [uh-MAL-luh-KITES]. Yahweh wants every living being to be destroyed: both the people and the animals. As we learned in Lesson 8, there are several people groups living among the Israelites who have been extremely rebellious towards God. These people are beyond repentance, so Yahweh has decided to kill them off using the Israelite army as His killing machine.
Well, Saul doesn’t listen to Yahweh. He does kill the people, and most of the animals, but he keeps the good animals for himself because they’re worth a lot of money. Then he tries to lie to the prophet Samuel. When that doesn’t work, he tries to say that he only saved the animals to be burnt offerings for Yahweh. Yeah, right. It is at this time that Yahweh permanently divorces Himself from Saul (see Lessons Learned When King Saul Consults a Dead Man).
Samuel replied: “Does Yahweh delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying Yahweh? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of Yahweh, He has rejected you as king.” (1 Sam. 15:22-23)
We will find this same sentiment coming up over and over again throughout the rest of the Bible: our soul devotion is far more important to God than our good deeds. One of the biggest misconceptions we have in the Church today is that the Old Covenant had no room for grace—that Yahweh was a Nitpicker who nailed people the moment they took one misstep. But this is not true. Both the Old and New Covenants are filled with grace, mercy, and compassion. Both require the same thing from us: soul submission to God and a sincere desire to please Him. As long as we have this, we will be pleasing to God no matter how badly we’re messing up on the outside. Saul’s replacement David will make all kinds of major blunders. He’ll murder, commit adultery, throw public pity parties, hold grudges, and have plenty of immature moments. Yet because he sincerely loves God in his heart, Yahweh will describe him as being perfect in His sight after David is dead and gone. It is only our soul response to God which we are judged by. Because of this, our Gods are very easy to succeed with.
This argument over animals is the last time Samuel and Saul will speak face to face. Before, Yahweh said He would cut off Saul’s descendants from ruling after him. Now God rejects Saul in the middle of his reign. After this, Yahweh instructs His loyal prophet to go and anoint a new king over Israel—David. Meanwhile, He sends a demon to go and torment Saul, one which frequently throws Saul into dark moods and fits of violence.
In a very ironic plot twist, God brings Saul and his rival together under the same roof, and even sparks a friendship between them until Saul’s jealousy of David begins to consume him. When Saul doesn’t like people, he tries to kill them, and for the rest of 1 Samuel, he tries to kill David—hunting him down all over Israel. Yet God protects David and increases his popularity with the people until Saul is finally killed in battle. As for the prophet Samuel—he was already quite old when he anointed Saul and he dies before Saul does. So by the end of 1 Samuel, we have lost two of our main characters and the whole focus now shifts onto David.
The books of 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles describe the reign of David from the perspective of two different Jewish authors. After giving us a bunch of chronologies from Adam to the present day to clarify the bloodlines of important people, the author of Chronicles skips over the whole life of Saul and only mentions his death. He then spends the rest of his book on David. With two and a half books focused on him, David gets the most coverage of any of the kings of Israel.
David was a good shepherd who grew up into an exceptionally skilled and courageous warrior. A highly emotional man who had a passion for music, he composed many original songs, some of which have been preserved in the book of Psalms. (Not every psalm was written by David, so pay attention to the title lines to see which ones have his name by them.)
It took 15 years from the time David was anointed by Samuel to the time that he was recognized as king by the people of his own tribe. It took another seven years before he was recognized as the king over all of Israel. That’s a good 21 years of waiting, and we humans hate waiting, don’t we? But even as he wrestles with the frustration of feeling like God has given him an empty promise, and even when psycho, demon possessed Saul is hunting him down and trying to kill him, David demonstrates ten times the character and class that Saul ever had. As a military commander, David is kind to his men. When he makes vows to people, he keeps them. He models a deep reverence for Yahweh and a sincere desire to please God. Many times he endures humiliation and hardship with a “Not my will, but Yours be done” attitude. So we like David.
UPGRADING THE TABERNACLE
It is David who first comes up with the idea of building Yahweh a permanent House or Temple inside of Jerusalem. He feels that God is long overdue for an upgrade from the tent Tabernacle that we learned about in Lesson 5. The Tabernacle is still in operation—except now that Israel has settled down, it is no longer having to be constantly broken down and set up again.
Yahweh makes it clear that He doesn’t feel His tent set up is inferior—after all, He was the One who designed it. But He appreciates David’s sentiment and agrees to let the project go forward. It will be a massive undertaking—after all, Yahweh deserves more than some cheap shack. David has a very grand vision in mind of a gold encrusted mansion. Yahweh is fine with the ornamentation, but He doesn’t want David to get caught up in building it. Instead, He chooses David’s son Solomon to be the one who will actually construct the Temple. Eager to do what he can, David starts assembling materials while the young crown prince is still growing up.
Now David has many sons, and unfortunately they’re all lemons. This is a common pattern in both the Bible and in the world today: men who are absent from the home and always caught up in other things have no time for fathering. This often leads to bitterness among their children, who feel ignored and unloved. David has eight wives—which is a direct violation of Yahweh’s Laws—and those wives plus ten more mistresses have produced eight children: seven sons and one daughter.
Now when you have nothing to do all day but sit around feeling royal, there’s plenty of time for contemplating your own carnal desires. David’s firstborn son Amnon becomes lustfully obsessed with his half-sister Tamar. He becomes so consumed by his hormones that he ends up raping her, much to the outrage of Tamar’s full brother Absalom [abb-SUH-lom]. After waiting years to get his revenge, Absalom murders Amnon. David’s reactions to all this are very unhelpful. According to Yahweh’s Laws, he should have executed Amnon for his disgusting behavior. Instead, he does nothing and Tamar’s life is ruined. Then, when Absalom takes justice into his own hands, David reacts by cutting his son off emotionally. We see Absalom desperately trying to get back in his father’s good graces only to keep getting iced. By the time David finally gets over himself, the damage is done. Absalom turns against his father and tries to steal the crown for himself. After he dies, David overdoes the mourning period—throwing such a pity party for himself that he frustrates the soldiers who have been loyally defending him.
David’s son Solomon is the second child he has with Bathsheba [bath-SHE-buh]—the woman David forced into committing adultery with him. The first lovechild that David and Bathsheba conceived was killed by Yahweh as an act of discipline for David’s sin. David then married Bathsheba (who was a widow after David murdered her husband Uriah), Then Solomon is born. Because Bathsheba was the favorite wife, Solomon was the favorite son, even though he was not the oldest. Crowns are usually passed to the oldest son. Solomon is seventh in line, but before he dies, David issues a royal command that Solomon will succeed him. This makes Solomon’s older brother Adonijah [add-doh-NYE-juh] (who is fourth in line) quite angry and Adonijah tries to steal the crown for himself. What happens when there are two princes vying for the same crown? We’ll find out in our next lesson.
UP NEXT: Know Your Bible Lesson 11: The Rebellion of Solomon
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