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Notebook: The Background to David’s Kingship

J Grant

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Should the Children of Israel desire a king, the Lord sets out conditions under which a king could be appointed. In the book of Deuteronomy the Lord states, "When thou art come unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me; Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee whom the Lord thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee; thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother" (17.14-15).

The conditions for kingship

Three conditions are stipulated for such a king. First, he was not to multiply horses as a sign of his power, nor was he to go down to Egypt to obtain such horses, for the Lord had stated, "Ye shall henceforth return no more that way" (17.16). Second, he was not to multiply wives into himself, a feature that was common in monarchs in that day, so that his heart would not be turned away from the Lord by their influence over him. He was also not to "greatly multiply to himself silver and gold" (17.17). Third, on his accession to the throne he was to write out a copy of the Law that was held by the Levites. This he was to keep by him and he was to read it all the days of his life, so that he would fear the Lord and keep the Law and the statutes. This would prevent him exalting himself through pride and from turning aside from the commandments. In that way his days as king would be prolonged and likewise those of his children, if they also observed these conditions (17.18-20).

The request for a king

When Samuel was judge the people looked at the surrounding nations and wished to be like them. Their motive was to be like the world, and that is never profitable. "Make us a king" (1 Sam 8.5), was their cry, and the Lord gave them a king after their own desires. Saul came to the throne and was given all that was necessary to fulfill the responsibilities with which he was charged. It is sad to note that in the early part of his reign he failed. There had been, even before he came to the throne, signs that he was not a man with great interest in matters relating to the Lord. He did not know where the man of God was to be found (1 Sam 9.5-6), information which was known to his servant.

Samuel warned the people about the consequences of their actions in seeking a king according to their own ideas of kingship. He said, "This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants" (1 Sam 8.11-17). But all this was to no avail! Saul looked the part, and seemed to have the qualities desired by the people in a king to reign over them.

The rejection of the king

When Saul had been on the throne for one year he took up arms against the Philistines (1 Sam 13). He had been clearly told by Samuel that when Israel was in danger he had to wait at Gilgal for seven days (1 Sam 10.7-8) at the end of which Samuel would come and tell him what to do. When it appeared that the Philistines could overwhelm Israel Saul did go to Gilgal but did not wait until Samuel came. On the seventh day he offered a burnt offering (13.8-9). As soon as the offering had been made, Samuel arrived. Saul had disobeyed and was charged by Samuel with acting foolishly. Saul offered excuses. The people were scattered and the Philistines were consolidating their position. He could no longer wait and therefore he "forced" himself to act. Using the distressed condition of the people he sought to justify his actions, but no excuse was valid. As a result of these events his kingdom would not continue (v.14). His armies might still gain victories, but the Lord had spoken.

The second tragedy unfolded when Samuel instructed Saul to smite the Amalekites (1 Sam 15). This nation was descended from Esau (Gen 36.12), and was the first nation to oppose Israel in the march from Egypt (Ex 17.8-16). All the Amalekites, their flocks, and their herds were to be put to death. They were a cruel people, guilty of gross sin, and were now to bear the judgment for that. Saul attacked them, overcame them, but took captive their king and spared the best of the sheep and the oxen. Once again he had disobeyed!

Samuel went out to meet him on his return and heard the claim of Saul: "I have performed the commandment of the Lord (15.13). The answer of Samuel cut through this. "What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?" (v.14). The bleating and the lowing were evidences of the failure of Saul. His claim was that he had brought them to sacrifice to the Lord, but this excuse is met with the words of Samuel, "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams" (v.22). The lesson for today is that any claim to obedience to the Word of God must be backed up by actions which confirm such a claim and not against a background of the bleating and lowing of our disobedience.

As a result of this act he was told that "The Lord hath rent the kingdom from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou" (v.28). It would be a number of years before Saul was slain in battle, but the outcome was certain: neither he nor his family now retained the right to rule.

David, the king provided for the Lord

It is against that background that the events of 1 Samuel 16 unfold. The mourning servant Samuel, sorrowing because of Saul’s failure, is summoned by the Lord to go to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for from this family He had chosen a king. This king was "for" the Lord in that his rule would be for the pleasure and satisfaction of the Lord. It is with wonder that there now comes to the fore on the pages of Scripture the family from whom would come the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ. It can never be said that David usurped a rightful king when he took the throne. The failure of Saul, so clearly placed before the reader, silences such claims.

This is what gives added interest to the family line of David. One small point should be noted which was also noted in the chart of David’s life (BM Aug, 2006). There are eight sons of Jesse noted and one is nameless. 1 Samuel 16.10 states that prior to David coming before Samuel seven other brothers had done so. In the genealogy of 1 Chronicles 2 only seven brothers are stated to be in the family. It is probable that one brother died without having any posterity.

The attached chart does not run before Boaz and Ruth, nor does it run to later generations following David. It does highlight the immediate ancestry and close family of the man whose name is found just short of one thousand times in the Word of God, the first mention being in Ruth (4.17) and the last in Revelation (22.16), pointing forward to Him who states, "I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star (22.17). He was "made of the seed of David according to the flesh (Rom 1.3) and was pleased to be called the "Son of David" (Mt 1.1; Mk 10.47-48).


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