Section 5: Monarchy -- 1 Samuel Through 2 Chronicles
The next major segment of Israel's history was the Kingdom of Israel, recounted in the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles. In the Jewish Canon, the two books of Samuel are combined into one book. Likewise with Kings and Chronicles. However, Samuel and Kings are put in the section of the Bible known as the Nevi'im (Prophets), while Chronicles is placed in the Ketuvim (Writings), along with the Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Ruth, etc. Chronicles covers much of the same ground as Samuel and Kings, but was written later (post-Exilic) and cites additional source material. It is not the purpose of this course to go into the history of the documents. We have chosen to abbreviate this study by relying mainly on the books of Samuel and Kings, and only bringing in Chronicles where it adds to the narrative.
The timespan covered by these books ranges from the birth of Samuel (approx 1100 BC) through the assassination of Gedeliah following the fall of Jerusalem (586 BC). Thus the books cover about 500 years of Jewish history, during 450 of which the country was ruled by kings. For the first 120 years (1050 - 930 BC), the nation was unified, except for a 7 year period when David reigned over Judah alone. But after Solomon's death, the Kingdom split permanently into two hostile camps.
This long period saw the transformation of Israel from a federation of tribes to a country with a rudimentary central administration, then its rise to regional prominence and prosperity, capped by a brief "Golden Age." This was followed by a long and slow decline marked by constant internal and external conflict, religious and social dissolution, invasion, and finally exile.
Judaism itself assumed its classic form in these centuries. The inherited raw material (the Promise to Abraham and the Law of Moses) were incorporated and institutionalized in the worship centered on the Temple in Jerusalem. The judges disappeared, but God raised up a succession of prophets to speak to His people. Spiritual and governmental authority resided in three types of leaders: kings, prophets, and to a lesser extent, priests. Much of the content of the Scriptures from this time has to do with conflicts between various kings and the prophets who revealed to them the will of God.
As Judaism itself changed, so did beliefs about other races and nations. Israel found itself, briefly, as ruler over surrounding countries and subject peoples, including the long-despised Canaanites. Some enemies were killed, some were enslaved, and many endured a precarious co-existence. Yet not all foreigners were hostile -- alliances were made, and foreigners even served in Israelite armies. Some people were probably absorbed into the Jewish nation through intermarriage, yet there are no Biblical accounts of outright conversion from this time. It is a complex picture, and we must avoid over-simplifications of these relationships. We will look at them in detail in the following sections.
One thing that is clearly shown through the prophetic words of this time period is that God was very much aware of and involved in the affairs of the foreign nations as they related to Israel. It is not simply that Israel was God's hammer of judgment upon the idolaters, as was the case in Joshua. In the later monarchical era, the situation was reversed, and Israel was the target of God's punishment, inflicted by the hands of powerful enemies. This was a tragic development, and marked the collapse of God's first attempt to dwell with mankind. What about all the promises of the pre-eminence of Israel, and of all nations blessing themselves through Abraham? Had human disobedience voided the plans of God? We cannot be too glib here and say, well no, this was just a temporary setback. From the perspective of those who lived in those final decades and who were swept away into exile, or slaughtered behind the walls of their ravaged towns, it was darkness, abandonment, and desolation.