The people of Israel were ambivalent about a monarchy in Israel. Some people favored it and some opposed it. In the beginning, Samuel was against the establishment of the monarchy. This is the reason Samuel was displeased when the people came to him and said, “Give us a king to govern us” (1 Samuel 8:6). Samuel acquiesced when the Lord himself told him to give the people what they wanted.
Kingship in Israel was seen as a rejection of Yahweh as king. 1 Samuel 8:10-18 reflects the strong opposition that existed in Israel against kingship and the way the king would rule over the people. In this text, Samuel tells the people of the oppressive ways the king would treat them. By becoming like the nations (1 Samuel 8:5), the people were allowing the king to centralize power and deprive them of some of their freedom. In a sense, according to Samuel, the king would subject the people “to despotic tyranny” (Anderson, 1986: 208).
As I mentioned in my previous post on the rejection of Saul, the perpetuation of Saul’s dynasty depended on the obedience of the king and of the people. When Samuel introduced the new king to Israel, Samuel said to the people: “See, here is the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; see, the LORD has set a king over you. If you will fear the LORD and serve him and heed his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the LORD, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the LORD your God, it will be well; but if you will not heed the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you and your king” (1 Samuel 12:13-15). Samuel concluded his exhortation by saying: “But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king” (1 Samuel 12:25).
The failure of Saul’s kingship came because he rebelled against God and failed to obey the commandments of the Lord. Saul was rejected by God twice. The first time was when Saul offered the burnt offering to set apart the army for the battle against the Philistines. Samuel rebuked Saul and told him that his kingdom would not continue. Samuel said to Saul: “You have done foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which he commanded you. The LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever, but now your kingdom will not continue” (1 Samuel 13:13-14).
The second rejection came when Samuel told Saul to fight against the Amalekites. Samuel told Saul, “attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey” (1 Samuel 15:3). Saul fought against the Amalekites but he did not kill Agag, king of the Amalekites nor did he destroy their herds. Samuel rebuked Saul because he had disobeyed the Lord. Samuel said to Saul: “Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king” (1 Samuel 15:23).
Saul’s disobedience brought his kingship to a close. Samuel said to Saul: “ The LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever, but now your kingdom will not continue; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart; and the LORD has appointed him to be ruler over his people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you” (1 Samuel 13:13-14).
It was God’s intention to establish Saul’s kingdom over Israel forever, however, God’s plan for Saul did not come true because of Saul’s disobedience. Confronted with Saul’s failure, God had to change his approach in dealing with the people’s request for a king. Samuel said to Saul, “the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart; and the LORD has appointed him to be ruler over his people.”
A Man after God’s Own Heart
After Saul was rejected a second time, God told Samuel to go secretly to Bethlehem to the house of Jesse, the Bethlehemite (1 Samuel 16:1) and anoint one his sons as king. The purpose of this secret mission was in order to avoid a civil war in Israel since there was a king on the throne. Samuel was reluctant to go to Bethlehem because he was afraid that Saul would discover what he was doing and would punish him severely. To go from his home in Ramah to Bethlehem, Samuel “must pass through Gibeah of Saul” (Hertzberg 1964: 137). Samuel understood the danger of his mission. He said to Yahweh: “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me” (1 Samuel 16:2).
The elders were terrified with the presence of Samuel in Bethlehem. They came to meet Samuel “trembling” (1 Samuel 16:4) because they were aware of the conflicting situation between Samuel and Saul and they were afraid of the consequences if they got involved in their conflict. Since Saul was still king, the presence of the elders in the anointing of a new king would be seen as an act of sedition and bring the wrath of the king upon the elders and the people. That is the reason that at the anointing of the new king, the elders of Bethlehem were not there.
When Samuel arrived in Bethlehem and came to Jesse’s house, Samuel found David, the man after God’s own heart. In her commentary on 1& 2 Samuel, Cartledge (2001: 174-75) said: “The obvious reference to God’s choice of David a ‘a man after his own heart’ is often misunderstood. A surface reading may suggest that David’s heart and motivations are in tune with the divine will. This claim is hardly born out of David’s actions, however.”
David’s actions suggest that he was not an exemplary kind of individual. David committed adultery with a married woman and then deliberately caused the murder of her husband. David married many women, including Canaanite women after he became king in Jerusalem. David refused to be reconciled with his troubled son Absalom and was not allowed to build the temple because he had shed much blood in God’s sight (1 Chronicles 22:8).
The expression “a man after God’s own heart” means that David was a man chosen by God to become king of Israel after Saul. In explaining the meaning of the word “heart” in Hebrew thought, Omanson and Wellington (2001: 262) wrote: “In Hebrew thought the heart is the place where one’s will, desire, and choice are exercised. This may be expressed as ‘a person whose desire is to serve the Lord’ or ‘the kind of man God wants.’”
God’s Covenant with David
After the death of Saul, David became king of Judah at Hebron. Then the elders of Israel came to David and made a covenant with him. “At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years” (2 Samuel 5:5). David conquered Jerusalem and established the city as the capital of his kingdom. In conquering Jerusalem, David was able to temporarily bring about a unity between the Israelite population and “the Canaanite population who furnished at least a minimum of specialist skills that any empire would have to command in order to exist” (Mendenhal 1975: 160). In Jerusalem, God made a covenant with David (2 Samuel 7:1-29). These are the words of God to David through the prophet Nathan:
Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever (2 Samuel 7:11-16).
The covenant with David and God’s promise that he would establish the throne of David’s descendants forever (2 Samuel 7:13) was an affirmation that God’s rejection of Saul’s kingship was final. God’s promise to David, that he would not take “his steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you” (2 Samuel 7:15) shows God’s grace in dealing with the sins and disobedience of David’s descendants. This unconditional promise to David guarantees that David’s sons would rule over David’s throne notwithstanding their sins.
God’s promise that David’s throne would be established forever appears several times in the Old Testament. The Psalmist says:
“My steadfast love I will keep for him for ever, and my covenant will stand firm for him. I will establish his line for ever and his throne as the days of the heavens” (Psalm 89:28-29).
“I will not violate my covenant, or alter the word that went forth from my lips. Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David. His line shall endure for ever, his throne as long as the sun before me” (Psalm 89:34-36).
God’s promise to David that his line would endure for ever demonstrates the difference between the kingship of Saul and the kingship of David. Since David’s kingship was based on God’s grace, the sinfulness of future kings in the line of David would not bring the same punishment that happened to Saul. God would not reject the kingship of David in the same way he rejected Saul’s kingship. Since the members of David’s family would also rebel against God in the future, God would not reject the kings as he had rejected Saul as king.
The difference between Saul’s kingship and David’s kingship was that Saul’s kingship was dependent on the obedience of the king and the people (1 Samuel 12:14-15, 25) while the kingship of David was based on God’s promise to David, God’s grace. Both kingships were established on different foundations. Saul’s kingship was based on Saul’s obedience and David’s kingship was based on the promise God had made to David. God establishes David’s kingship but the expectations for David and his descendants were much more limited. In a sense, God realized that a kingship based on human obedience would not endure, so God established David’s kingship with an unconditional commitment to maintain David’s family on the throne forever.
In explaining God’s promise not to reject David and his sons, Fretheim (1985: 597) wrote:
With regard to the giving of the kingdom to David, this is a matter concerning which God will not repent, come what may. Then, as if to give a reason to those who might wonder about such a decision in the light of what has happened to Saul, Samuel says, in effect: Unlike the fickleness so characteristic of human action, God has made a decision with respect to David, and with respect to that decision God will not repent. This statement, therefore, does not have general reference to God as one who never repents with regard to anything. Rather, it has reference to God’s decision to give the kingdom to David. That decision is irrevocable. God has chosen to limit his options in this regard.
According to Fretheim (1985: 601), God’s covenant with David “is a vivid testimony to the historical character of God’s activity in the world, both in what God does to initiate the kingship in the first place and in the changes God makes in view of new circumstances. God works with what is available at any moment, with human beings as they are, with all their foibles and flaws, and within existing societal structures and possibilities, however inadequate.”
Anderson, Berhard W. Understanding the Old Testament. 4th Edition. Englewood Cliff, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1986.
Cartledge, Tony W. 1 & 2 Samuel. Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary. Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001.
Fretheim, Terence E. “Divine Foreknowledge, Divine Constancy, and the Rejection of Saul’s Kingship.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 47 (1985): 595-602.
Hertzberg, Hanz W. I & II Samuel. Old Testament Library. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1964.
Mendenhall, George E. “The Monarchy,” Interpretation 29 (1975): 155-170.
Omanson, Roger L. and John E. Ellington, A Handbook on the First and Second Books of Samuel. Volume 1. New York: United Bible Society, 2001.</a</a</a
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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