The rule of kings in ancient Israel was a gradual process. When the Israelites settled in Canaan, there were many conflicts with the Philistines over land. By the end of the 11th century BCE, the Israelites had been defeated. This led to a call by the people to be ruled by a king, who would unite all the tribes of Israel. Jewish kings were expected to be just and kind, but many were known for their injustice. It was the prophets who criticized both kings and priests when they oppressed the poor and made unjust laws. They also pleaded for moral and religious reform in the country. Often the prophets were regarded as enemies of the state and punished for telling the truth.
SAUL IS ANOINTED
For centuries, the Israelites were led by tribal leaders, known as Judges. They pleaded with the prophet Samuel to ask God to give them a king. Saul, who was known for his bravery, was chosen as the first king to rule and unite the tribes of Israel. During his reign (c. 1025–1004 bce), Saul organized an army and waged war against many of his enemies. But Saul often disobeyed God. He finally lost his life in battle with the Philistines.
THE SEA PEOPLE
The Philistines belonged to a group of people known as the Sea People. From the Aegean area, they sailed to Egypt, finally settling along the coast of Canaan. Findings of Philistine artifacts such as the jug above, dating from the 12th century BCE, indicate a very developed culture.
“Praise God, all nations, extol the Eternal One, you peoples! For God’s love for us is strong, and the truth of God is eternal. Hallelujah!”
Jerusalem had been a Canaanite stronghold until the Jebusites (a group of people from different origins) had taken over the city. When David captured Jerusalem in 1000 BCE, he made the city the capital of his new kingdom, and housed the Ark of the Covenant there. As a result of this, Jerusalem became the political and religious center of the kingdom.
David, Saul’s son-in-law, was the second king of Israel. He reigned for 30 years, joining all the tribes together under one central authority. He also defeated the Philistines. Although he was a warrior king, David is often depicted playing the harp. He is said to be the author of many of the Psalms in the Bible. The Psalms consist of poems or hymns praising God.
THE KINGDOM OF SOLOMON
Solomon, son of David and Bathsheba, was the third king of Israel. His reign was peaceful, and under his leadership the kingdom prospered. Solomon was responsible for constructing many magnificent buildings, including the First Temple in Jerusalem. This provided a focal point of worship for all Israelites, and strengthened the city’s religious importance. But soon after Solomon’s death in c. 930 BCE, the kingdom was divided between Solomon’s son Rehoboam and a military commander named Jeroboam.
THE KINGDOM OF JUDAH
In the south was the smaller kingdom of Judah, which was ruled by Rehoboam. The division made Judah vulnerable to attack. The Egyptian Pharaoh Shishak plundered the Temple in Jerusalem, while the Israelites turned to paganism. It was not until the 8th century BCE, under the leadership of King Uzziah (783–42 BCE), that the faith was restored.
THE KINGDOM OF ISRAEL
Jeroboam ruled the kingdom of Israel in the north. Israel came into conflict with its neighbors, and it was not until the late 9th century BCE that the kingdom witnessed a more settled and prosperous time. But, like Judah in the south, this prosperity left Israel open to pagan influences.
The prophets were a group of people who reminded the Israelites of God’s ways. They explained what was right and wrong, and did not accept injustice, especially if it came from the king. The prophet Isaiah, for example, protested against those who broke religious law and demanded justice for the poor.