Summary: There are four major characters to this time period in Israel’s history: the prophet and judge Samuel, King Saul, King David, and King Solomon.
When we are touring around Israel in recent trips, my friend and tour guide, Nir likes to say “It’s Good to be King” when he explains certain periods of history and how the monarch availed himself of certain privileges. It’s reference to Monty Python movies of old. Several decades ago, Tom Petty sang “It’s Good to be King.” I think you’ll find the 3rd verse amusing:
It's good to be king and have your own world
It helps to make friends, it's good to meet girls
A sweet little queen who can't run away
It's good to be king, whatever it pays
Evidently not everyone agrees with this because the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are doing everything possible to rid themselves of their royal duties. Harry and Meghan don’t like the attention that belongs to England’s Royal Family so they are escaping to Canada. Or, perhaps they like even more attention so they are creating this “dust-up” of a news story. You can make up your mind on the matter but it does look like they have the Queen’s support.
We are entering the period of Israel’s united monarchy and we are turn our attention to three early monarchs: King Saul, King David, and King Solomon. This is the time when Israel is ruled by a king and all the nation is together as one. Prior to the monarchy, Israel is a twelve-tribe confederacy ruled by various judges. By the end of Solomon’s reign, the nation is likely the strongest nation in that part of the globe, or at least that region.
There are four major characters to this time period in Israel’s history: the prophet and judge Samuel, King Saul, King David, and King Solomon. I’ll not devote a great deal of attention on Samuel this evening but you should know he’s really important. Many years after Samuel dies, the Lord tells Jeremiah even if Moses or Samuel pled for the Israel during this time, God would not be moved to pit (Jeremiah 15:1). Note that Samuel’s name is alongside Moses’ name and you catch how important this man is. Let’s look at the first three kings of Israel.
1. King Saul
Saul is the first king in Israel’s history and his story fills most of 1 Samuel 9-31. Born of a wealthy father, Saul’s strengths and weakness stand out as your read his life’s story in the pages of Scripture. Saul was tall and handsome – he would stand out in a crowd because his head was above everyone else’s (1 Samuel 10:23).
1.1 Saul’s Rise to Power
Saul’s rise to power comes in stages (1 Samuel 9-13). If you remember, he was chosen by God Himself (1 Samuel 9:15-17). The prophet and last judge of Israel, Samuel meets Saul while the young Saul is out tracking down some stay donkeys of his father’s livestock. Saul stops by to see Samuel to see if the priest can direct him to where the lost donkeys are and God reveals to Samuel that he’s looking at Israel’s future king. He is secretly anointed king by Samuel (1 Samuel 10:1). Later when they choose the king of Israel in a public ceremony by lots, the Bible says Saul hides himself among the baggage (1 Samuel 10:22b).
But not everyone is on board in the first few days of Saul’s reign: “But some worthless fellows said, “How can this man save us?’ And they despised him and brought him no present. But he held his peace” (1 Samuel 10:27).
1.2 Saul at Jabesh-gilead
Everyone is skeptical about the young king until he proves his worth against the Ammonites at Jabesh-gilead as recorded in 1 Samuel 11:1: “Then Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabesh-gilead, and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, ‘Make a treaty with us, and we will serve you.’ 2 But Nahash the Ammonite said to them, ‘On this condition I will make a treaty with you, that I gouge out all your right eyes, and thus bring disgrace on all Israel.’ 3 The elders of Jabesh said to him, ‘Give us seven days’ respite that we may send messengers through all the territory of Israel. Then, if there is no one to save us, we will give ourselves up to you’ (1 Samuel 11:1-3).
The king of the Ammonites was a man named, Nahash, who’s name meant “snake.” Like Adam before him, would the young king be able to crush the head of this snake? You also need to know that his first test came to an important town for his tribe. Saul is from the tribe of Benjamin and the town of Jabesh-gilead is crucial for this tribe. The Bible tells us that Saul came from the least of all the tribes of Israel. The reason they were the least significant tribe was because of what happened in Jabesh-gilead years before. You’ll find the story in the last chapter of the book of Judges and I will not go into detail here. Only to say, the tribe of Benjamin was nearly wiped out by the other 11 tribes of Israel except they left 400 young virgins were left to propagate the tribe’s future generations. It’s perhaps THE most gruesome stories of all the Bible (Judges 21:8-12). You can read it for yourself Again, all this happened at Jabesh-gilead and now Saul’s first real test as the young king is at the very same city. Now, when the snake-king of the Ammonites shows up to threaten one of his tribe’s home-towns, Saul rushed into action. The Spirit of the Lord descends on Saul (1 Samuel 11:6), and he takes an ox and cuts up an ox and sends out the pieces to the various parts of Israel. Getting an “ox part” in the mail was the bugle call of the day, evidently. Plus, Saul sent the animal parts with this threatening message: “Whoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen” (1 Samuel 11:7b)! Saul assembles 333,000 men in his army who launch a surprise attack on the Ammonites. After the battle, Saul gives credit to God for the victory.