Kings (1050-586 BC)
At the end of the previous section, we saw that Israel was at a spiritual low, in a state of anarchy, and in a weak military condition. The Philistines had risen in power and were threatening to swallow up the Jews, one city at a time. A clamor went up for a king to unite Israel and organize it for battle. So the prophet-judge Samuel anointed Saul as Israel’s first king.
Saul’s 40-year rule was turbulent and generally ineffective. He commanded people’s respect because of his size, but he was hardly qualified to rule a nation. He had in his kingdom, however, a young man of tremendous abilities named David. Even before David ascended the throne, he captured the hearts of the people by killing the Philistine giant Goliath and by brilliant military and personal exploits. Gradually Saul lost his grip on himself and his kingdom, and when he died in battle David became king.
David quickly subdued the Philistines and began to annex surrounding nations. Israel grew in wealth, military power, and influence. David succeeded in uniting the north and south, captured Jerusalem and made it his capital, and encouraged the worship of God throughout the land. He was Israel’s greatest king.
One privilege was denied him, though. God did not allow him to build the temple. That was accomplished by Solomon, his son and heir to the throne. Israel reached its zenith at the dedication of the magnificent temple he had built. Through Solomon, however, the nation began to deteriorate. He brought in wives and concubines from many lands, and they carried their false religions with them. He lived luxuriously, wasting the nation’s wealth. He did not prepare for the future. So when he died, the north seceded under his servant Jeroboam and formed an independent nation. When Solomon died, the people came to Rehoboam, the crown prince, with the plea:
“Your father made our yoke heavy; now therefore, lighten the burdensome service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put on us, and we will serve you” (1 Kings 12:4).
But Rehoboam refused, and the nation divided. The Northern Kingdom, whose first king was Jeroboam, went its own way. Its rulers and many of its people served the pagan gods of the land. There were some good kings in Judah, the Southern Kingdom. Interestingly, the two nations later formed a political alliance to combat Syria and later Assyria. There was royal intermarriage, and wicked people ruled both lands: in Israel, the house of Omri; in Judah, the wicked Athaliah. The time of the kings was also the time of the prophets. These men fulfilled a twofold purpose:
In the days that followed, God raised up a number of prophets to proclaim His truths and to call the nation to return to Him. Some of these men spoke to Israel, some spoke to Judah, and others spoke to foreign powers.
The day of God’s judgment finally came. The two nations decayed from within, and each was defeated by a powerful outside force. The Northern Kingdom fell to the cruel Assyrians in 722 BC. Its people were forced to intermarry with other captives, and it soon lost its ethnic, political, and religious identity.
The Southern Kingdom lasted another 150 years, with flashes of glory such as during the reign of Azariah and Josiah. It finally fell to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, in 586 BC.
Seeing God. As we look at the period of Israel’s kings, we see God at work in ways that help us know Him better. An example is the anointing of David as king and his activities before he ascended the throne (1 Samuel 16-31). We learn that:
Seeing Ourselves. The times of Israel’s kings also show us ourselves. Observe how these incidents echo God’s work in our own times.
Exile (586-400 BC)
Happily, the story of the Old Testament does not end with Jerusalem in ruins and her people exiled in Babylon. Rather, it concludes with the return of the Jews to Jerusalem, the rebuilding of the walls, and the restoration of the temple. It also tells of the spiritual rebirth of the people and their willingness to trust in the leading of God.
The period of the Exile actually covers two subjects: (1) the exile in Babylon, and (2) the return to Jerusalem. Two different nations ruled Judah in exile. Babylonia was crumbling and in 536 BC (50 years after the Jews were deported) the kingdom of Medo-Persia succeeded in conquering her. The new ruler, Cyrus, allowed the Hebrews to return to their land. Under Zerubbabel, 42,360 Jews made the long journey back to Jerusalem and immediately began work on the temple.
Opposed in their project by the Samaritans, the people became discouraged. Work on the temple ceased for about 10 years, and the people slid back into spiritual complacency. But the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah, as well as the spiritual leadership of Ezra, caused them to take up the work again. They completed the temple in 515 BC.
About 50 years later, Nehemiah, still in Babylon, felt a great concern for the Jews of Jerusalem. As one of King Artaxerxes’ important servants, he was able to approach the monarch for permission to lead a procession back to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls of the city. Permission was granted and funding supplied. In record time the walls were rebuilt.
After 12 years, Nehemiah returned to the court of Babylon. In his absence, the people and priests took up their evil ways once again. The prophet Malachi was raised up to point out their sins and warn them about the judgment of God.
Seeing God. As we read about the decree of Cyrus in Ezra 1, we observe the following truths about God:
Seeing Ourselves. We can see ourselves in the era of exile and return in the following representative ways: