(a) the significant achievements (and type of leadership) carried out by Saul, David and Solomon and
(b) explain to us in easy to understand terms the "united monarchy" in terms of a political and religious continuum.
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I will answer your questions in the order that you presented them:
1. "Please explain (a) the significant achievements (and type of leadership) carried out by Saul, David and Solomon"
Kings of Israel
1. Saul: Fearful Leader
Saul was the 1st king of Israel (i.e. 1050 BC; His account is in 1 Samuel 9-31 and a short summary in 1 Chronicles 10:1-14). The son of Kish of the tribe of Benjamin, the Lord sent the prophet Samuel to annoint Saul as Israel's first king, reigning in the second half century of 11 B.C. Saul led Israel in victory through God's leading on numerous occasions against the Philistines. However, Saul eventually took matters into his own hands and lost the favor of the Lord. This led to God appointing another king to eventually replace Saul-David. Saul made several attempts on David's life, which all failed. Saul was eventually slain in battle with the Philistines along with his son Jonathan. Saul's story is found in 1 Samuel.
Let's look a little closer. Saul was the first human king. Prior to Saul, God was the king of Israel (c.f. 1Samuel 8:7; 12:12; Isaiah 43:15) and during this period, for 3 centuries, at times of crisis, God would nominate a judge who would free people from oppression (c.f. in fact, when the judge Gideon is offered the monarchy, he replies, "You have no king but Yahweh" - Judges 8:23)
Samuel was the last of the judges. The Israeli's didn't like the God-as-king situation because one of their many enemies, the Ammonites. They were so afraid and so dubious about God's ability to save them that they asked for a human king. . .thus, rejecting God's leadership (1 Samuel 8:4-22; they wanted a visible standing army not an invisible God 8:20 & 12:12). God told Samuel to go ahead and give them the king they wanted-Saul.
Now we don't have time to review Saul's entire life but I think it will be useful to zoom in on a few episodes in his life to get a 'feel' for the kind of man he was
· Saul was the GQ man of the decade in 1050 B.C. (c.f. 1 Samuel 9:2 incomparably handsome and head and shoulders above the other men in height).
· When Saul was nearly 40 he went looking for his Dad's lost donkeys (1 Samuel 9:1-14; 40 years old 13:1). He's about to give up when he decides to ask Judge Samuel if he, by the power of God, can find his fathers assets.
· Samuel tells him the donkeys are back home and then, unexpectedly, anoints him king of Israel in a private ceremony (9:15-10:1) and again in a public ceremony (10:17-24).
· We begin to smell something stinky at the time of his public installment as king (10:21-22). . .you might think. . .OK, he's a little shy. . .Well, check this out.
· (13:5-14). . .Philistines had them out-numbered & out-gunned. . .dwindling troops (3000 to 600), he was afraid. . .so he offers the sacrifice (13:8-14). . .his dynasty is rejected
(15:1-24). . .Amalekites. . .takes a while for us to find out his motivation (v.24) he was afraid of his own people. . .so he disobeyed the commandment (15:13-16; 20-21; 24). . .his own kingship is rejected.
· (17:11,24). . .he was afraid of Goliath
· (18:12,15,29) David b/c he was a threat to his dynasty. . .so he tried to kill him. (18:10) David held a harp. . .Saul held a spear.
· (28:5,20). . .he was afraid of the Philistine army (28:4-7; 15-20) and so he sought occult insight.
Saul was driven by fear most of his life. The irony is the Hebrews got the king they wanted (i.e. a handsome warrior) but he was just like them (i.e. fearful) (1 Samuel 16:7 God looks at the heart). He was afraid of his family, his nation, his enemies, Samuel, David and so on and so on. The problem, of course, wasn't that he was fearful, it's that he let his fear drive him to opt for the bag of tricks he'd used from childhood (e.g. hiding, controlling, manipulating, lying, falling apart, raging & destroying). . .INSTEAD of looking to God as the one he should trust with his fears.
2. David: Military Leader
The second king of Israel, David reigned 1010-970 B.C. David was from Bethlehem, the youngest of eight sons of Jesse, and anointed as the successor to Saul by the prophet Samuel as a young boy. "The Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward" as his life led him as a musician for Saul, slayer of the Philistine giant Goliath, a soldier is Israel's army, and eventually king. David conquered Jerusalem and made it the capital city of Israel. David was always regarded as "a man after the Lord's own heart", even despite his murder of Uriah and adultery with Bathsheba. David is the author of many of the Psalms. His story is found in 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 Kings.
Let's look closer at David. Turn to 1 Samuel 30: This particular episode occurred in David's life prior to his becoming a king. David was running for his life. Saul, the current king of Israel, viewed David as a threat and wanted him killed. During his flight from Saul, David gathered a ragtag band of malcontents together (see 1 Samuel 22:2 - down on their luck, in debt, and discontent) into a formidable band of 600 fighting men. David and these soldiers, along with their wives and children, were living in a city called Ziklag. Everything they owned in life was in Ziklag. They had just returned home from one of their exploits after being away for a long time. This is where the story picks up. . .
1 Samuel 30:1-5 "Then it happened when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, that the Amalekites had made a raid on the Negev and on Ziklag, and had overthrown Ziklag and burned it with fire; and they took captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great, without killing anyone, and carried them off and went their way. [The kidnappers weren't being merciful. They were motivated by economics. Ziklag was on the trade route to Egypt, one of the ancient world's hottest slave markets.] And when David and his men came to the city, behold, it was burned with fire, and their wives and their sons and their daughters had been taken captive. [David, of course, could only guess who the raiders were, where they took their families, or what they did with them.] Then David and the people who were with him lifted their voices and wept until there was no strength in them to weep."
No wonder it says "they wept until there was no strength in them to weep." David barely had time to dry his eyes before things went from bad to worse. . . v. 6a Moreover David was greatly distressed because the people spoke of stoning him, for all the people were embittered, each one because of his sons and his daughters. David lost his family, his home, and his possessions. . . and now. . . to top it all off, his friends are ready to kill him: "David, why didn't you leave a force behind to protect our families?" "Certainly you've offended God somehow and now he's angry ...
This solution details the significant achievements (and type of leadership) carried out by Saul, David and Solomon. It also explains the "united monarchy" in terms of a political and religious continuum.