The need for an Israelite monarchy came out of two important historical events in Canaan. The first major event that contributed to the establishment of the monarchy in Israel was the weakness of the Egyptians in maintaining their control over their empire which extended into Canaan and Syria.
The second event was the arrival of the Sea Peoples in the area. The Sea Peoples were a sea-fearing people who migrated to the southern coast of Canaan from the Aegean Sea in the 13th and the 12th centuries B.C. Among these newcomers were the Philistines, who established a league of five cities on the southern coast. These five cities were Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron (Joshua 13:3).
The Philistines proved to be a constant threat to Israel’s security and economy. The seriousness of the situation became evident at the battle of Aphek in which the Ark of the Lord was captured by the Philistines (1 Samuel 4:1-22), an event which forced the tribes of Israel to unite in a common effort to overcome the oppressive situation.
At that time, it became evident that the loosely organized twelve tribe federation, which had been so effective in the days of Joshua, could not deal with the external threat to the nation. In order to deal with the Philistine threat, a central political organization with a strong military leader equal to the challenge of the Philistines was thought to be required.
After deliberating whether or not to elect a king, a divided people elected Saul as the nāgîd of Israel (1 Samuel 10:1). The word nāgîd appears in the Hebrew Bible about fifty times and it is applied to people who are religious, military, or governmental leaders. Some scholars believe that in this context the word means “king elect.” Upon his selection as the first king of Israel, Saul was given political and military authority to be used in uniting the various tribes in a common effort against the enemies of Israel.
Thus, out of pressing political, military, and economic need, the monarchy was born in Israel, with the ambivalent support of Samuel and the religious leaders of the nation. After he became king, Saul established no elaborate machinery of state and, although he was the king of the twelve tribes, his reign could be considered a transitional period between the time of the charismatic judges and the kingly figure of David.
With the death of Saul in a battle against the Philistines at Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 31:1-13), David came to power and became king of Israel. He first reigned as king of Judah in Hebron for seven years and six months (2 Samuel 5:5), and then, through various events and ingenious political maneuvers, he became king of all Israel. After the elders of Israel made a covenant with David at Hebron, David reigned over all Israel and Judah for thirty-three years (2 Samuel 5:5).
With the conquest of Jerusalem, David established a neutral capital in which he could begin a program for establishing the foundations for a stable government. In order to modernize the nation and to consolidate his reign, David adopted a modified Egyptian model of government.
David had two commanders of the army. Joab was the commander of the regular army and Benaiah was the commander of the Cherethites and the Pelethites. These two groups were the remnants of the Sea Peoples; they served as a palace guard (they were David’s mercenary army).
David also had two priests. Abiathar, the son of Ahimelech was a priest of the line of Eli, following the Shilonite tradition (1 Samuel 23:6, 22:9, 14:1) and Zadok was a priest representing the priestly line of Jerusalem.
Seraiah was the secretary of state, Jehoshaphat was the public relations secretary of state or Mazkir. A Mazkir was an officer of Pharaoh’s court who acted as a spokesman for the king. Nathan was a court prophet, and Adoram was in charge of the forced labor (2 Samuel 20:24).
David’s sons also served as priests (2 Samuel 8:18) However, in 1 Chronicles 18:17 David’s sons are called “chief officials in the service of the king,” because the Chronicler believed that only the sons of Aaron could serve as priests.
Sociologists have concluded that when a leader politically induces changes in order to solve the problems of modernization of his society, the first change consists of the transformation of unspecialized roles found in all pre-modern societies into more discreet and numerous specialized roles.
Since before the monarchy Israel was an agricultural society, it is evident that David’s modernization process was based on models that were found outside of Israel. David’s kingdom was patterned after the Egyptian form of government. David also took over the Canaanite form of government that he found in Jerusalem and combined these two forms of government to organize his own government.
With the organization of his state with its various government officials, David was able to unite the Israelite population, which formed the nucleus of the nation. David was also able to incorporate the urban Canaanite population. This group of urban specialists provided the specialized skills that the monarchy needed to exist, creating at the same time, what scholars have called “the paganization of the state.”
The monarchy under David and Solomon could exist as a political regime of expanding power only because of the incorporation of urban skills, specialists, and ideology, all of which were derived from the Canaanites and other nations.
Besides the centralization of the government and the religious life of the nation in Jerusalem, David also organized Judah into administrative districts, and imposed corvée labor (forced labor) on the remnant of the Canaanite population which he had conquered.
The imposition of forced labor in the service of the state was known throughout the Ancient Near East. Forced labor was continued by Solomon and it was the reason for the revolt of the northern tribes against Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, an event that caused the division of the united kingdom (1 Kings 12:11).
David also laid the groundwork for a system of taxation in Israel. It was left for Solomon, however, to consolidate David’s gains and to expand the boundaries of the nation by the formation of an empire which had an international character.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary