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The Golden Years of Israel


The binding force, which had united the tribes of Israel into a nation, was the Mosaic covenant and the theocratic reign of their God, Jehovah.  The apostasy of the nation had resulted in much disunity, and the nation suffered from lack of leadership.  By the year 1080 BC, the house of Eli, the high priest and the judge at Shiloh, had become consumed with immorality.  God pronounced impending judgment upon the family of Eli because he allowed his two sons, who served as priests, to bring prostitution to the door of the tabernacle.  They also disregarded God’s prescribed procedures for the offering of sacrifices.

The Ark of the Covenant symbolized the presence of God, and the priests took it into battle to ensure victory.  However, by 1100 BC, they placed their faith in the actual box that contained the Ark of the Covenant rather than placing their faith in the divine guidance of God.  At about 1080 BC, in a battle with the Philistines of Aphek, which is located a short distance from the modern city of Tel Aviv, the sons of Eli were killed, and the Ark of the Covenant was captured.   When the news reached Eli, he fell over backwards, broke his neck, and died.  Archaeology has confirmed that the city of Shiloh was destroyed about the same time.  Thus, God’s judgment came not only on the house of Eli, but also upon the entire city of Shiloh.

During this dark period of history, God was preparing a young boy named Samuel, who was  of the tribe of Levi, to become Israel’s new spiritual leader.  He would become the last judge for Israel, and God would use him to transform the reign of the nation from a theocracy to a monarchy.  

Under a strong monarchy, a small struggling nation soon became a world power.  The influence of the prophets, and a central place of worship brought religious revival and renewed faithfulness.  During the reign of King David, Israel rose to a world power with much glory.  David ruled with justice and righteousness, and became a symbol of the type of reign that David’s son, Jesus, the Messiah, would one day bring to the earth.

For a short time, God’s chosen people experienced many of the blessings, which were promised to Abraham.  However, faithfulness to God was short-lived, and very quickly the kingdom was divided.  Sin and rebellion eventually brought the nation into Gentile captivity.

A New Spiritual Leader

Samuel was trained to become a priest while living in the house of Eli.  God’s spotlight was put upon Samuel when he was chosen to pronounce judgement upon the house of Eli.  “For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them. And therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever” (1 Sam. 3:13-14).

“So Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.  And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel had been established as a prophet of the Lord” (1 Sam. 3:19-20).  After the death of Eli, Samuel moved his headquarters to Ramah, which is located about six miles north of Jerusalem, and served as acting priest, as the last judge, and as the first of a new order of prophets.

Samuel became the first of an order of prophets, who would become the recognized spiritual leaders and spokesmen for God for the next 300 years.  Whereas, the priest represented the people before God, the prophet represented God before the people.  It appears that Samuel may have been the founder of a school for prophets (1 Sam. 19:20, 2 Kings 3,5 and 2 Kings 4:38).  The first prophets were called “Oral” prophets, and were distinguished from the “Literary” prophets who would later write the books of prophecy.  Moses was the first prophet, however, the best known of the “Oral” prophets were Samuel, Nathan, Ahijah, Elijah and Elisha.  

Motivated by a divine plague, the Philistines returned the Ark and it was taken to Kiriath-Jearim, which is about five-mile northwest of Jerusalem.  After several years, the spiritual leadership of Samuel brought true repentance and revival to the nation.  “So the children of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and served the Lord only. And Samuel said, ‘Gather all Israel to Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.’  So they gathered together at Mizpah, drew water, and poured it out before the Lord. And they fasted that day, and said there, ‘We have sinned against the Lord.’ And Samuel judged the children of Israel at Mizpah” (I Sam. 7:4-6).

“And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. He went from year to year on a circuit to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah, and judged Israel in all those places.  But he always returned to Ramah, for his home was there. There he judged Israel, and there he built an altar to the Lord” (I Sam. 7:15-17).

A Monarchy

When Samuel grew old, he turned the administrative duties of judgeship over to his two sons.  Like the sons of Eli, the sons of Samuel soon proved to be corrupt and unfaithful.  “Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, ‘Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations’” (I Sam 8:4-5).

Apparently the nation Israel suffered from lack of a strong unified government.  The theocratic reign had not proven successful because the people had not been obedient.  We are reminded that the last verse of Judges states “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”  There was no way this nation could be unified with this view.  It seems that the elders of Israel believed that they suffered from weak leadership because they did not have a king as other nations.  Now, they have requested Samuel to appoint one.

“But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ So Samuel prayed to the Lord.  And the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day—with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also. Now therefore, heed their voice. However, you shall solemnly forewarn them, and show them the behavior of the king who will reign over them.'” (I Sam. 8:6-9).

Then Samuel explained to the people the nature of a king.  A king may exercise control by forcing military service and labor, levying heavy taxes, and restricting personal liberties.  “And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day.  Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, ‘No, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.’ And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he repeated them in the hearing of the Lord. So the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Heed their voice, and make them a king”‘ (I Sam. 8:18-22b).

In God’s foreknowledge, He knew that the day would come when Israel would demand a king like those who ruled the Gentile nations.  Although this was not His directive will, it did become His permissive will.  God, in his infinite wisdom, knowing that they would ask for a king, gave these instructions to Moses there on the Plain of Moab.  In the seventeenth chapter of Deuteronomy we read those instructions. “When you come to the land which the Lord your God is giving you, and possess it and dwell in it, and say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me,’ you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother'” (Deut. 17:14-15).

“But he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, for the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall not return that way again.’  Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself.  Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites.  And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel.” (Deut. 17:16-20).

Since God retained the right to appoint a king of His own choice, it was very clear that the new office of the king did not preempt the sovereign reign and absolute authority of God.  He also has the authority to remove a king from office when he proves unfaithful.  Primarily, the responsibilities of the king were related to administration and military activities; however, he was also held responsible for the spiritual health of his people.  God, for the most part, would speak to the kings through His prophets who served as advisers and a moral conscious.  It is obvious from the verses in Deuteronomy that the king was not to use his office for great personal material gains.

Acting upon divine instructions, Samuel anointed a young man by the name of Saul, of the tribe of Benjamin, as the first king of Israel.  Saul proved to be a great military leader, and the nation united and rallied behind him. “So Saul established his sovereignty over Israel, and fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, against the people of Ammon, against Edom, against the kings of Zobah, and against the Philistines. Wherever he turned, he harassed them.  And he gathered an army and attacked the Amalekites, and delivered Israel from the hands of those who plundered them” (I Sam. 14:47-48).

Because of Saul’s military success and fame, he became proud and began to preempt the authority of God.  After Saul refused to obey a direct order to destroy the Amalekites, God rejected him as king and sent Samuel to inform him.  Thus, Samuel rebuked Saul and informed him of God’s decision.  “… The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you” (I Sam. 15:28b).


Now to continue this study click on: David.

King Solomon

Now to continue this study click on: King Solomon.

A Divided Kingdom

Now to complete this study click on: A Divided Kingdom.

All quoted scripture is from the New King James Version (NKJV) version unless otherwise noted.
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.