When we think of ancient Israel, we usually think of it as a nation – with borders, trade, a cultural heritage, and a governing authority. But Israel had none of these. Nearly 1,000 years had passed since God’s covenant with Abraham and the promise of: People, Land, Nation, a great Name, Blessing. But Israel was a mess. It had become a PEOPLE, but not united; just a loose confederation of 12 tribes with a shared history and a common God. They had conquered some LAND. But their borders were porous, harassed by enemies within and without. They had a NAME, but it was hardly great – no capital, no governance, no temple, no king. The only great name was Israel’s God = YHWH. And YHWH had warned them of the dangers of a human king ruling them. Rather, they should be set apart, not like the other nations. How then did Israel become a NATION?
Our story picks up with Samuel, the last and greatest Judge. When he grew old, the elders of Israel demanded a king to rule over them. Why? So they could be like other nations! Samuel warned them of the consequences, but they insisted, and Saul was anointed Israel’s first king. He worked to establish the nation by defeating the Philistines, but very quickly Saul showed his character by doing things his own way instead of God’s way. As predicted, things spiralled from bad to worse – until God removed his anointing from Saul and appointed David as King – sparking 15 years of civil war.
But David was a king after God’s heart, and his reign brought about the golden age of Israel – an age known for three key groups: kings, priests, and prophets. David defeated the Philistines, united the nation, established Jerusalem as capital, wrote the Psalms – and most of all worshiped God. His son Solomon extended the borders, built the great temple, and much of Israel’s greatest Wisdom literature was written at this time. The Priests served God at the temple, the centre of national life. But gradually Solomon departed from God’s ways, as did the people, and the kingdom split in two: Israel (North) and Judah (South). God raised up numerous Prophets to turn both kings and people back to God, but all in vain. The kings ‘did evil in the sight of God’ until finally God’s patience ran out; disaster and exile soon followed.