I thought I was done rewriting Chapter 2 in my series of papers on Middle Eastern history, but since my last message on that subject, I felt the need to elaborate on what I had already written about Israel under its first kings: Saul, Ishbosheth, David, and Solomon. Therefore I added a few more paragraphs to explain Israel’s role among the empires of the Fertile Crescent. Here is what I have on Israel now. Quote:
Israel: The United Kingdom
By the middle of the eleventh century B.C., the Israelites came to the conclusion that government by judges wasn’t working very well. The Philistines had been on the march for more than a generation, despite the efforts of the last three judges (Samson, Eli and Samuel). Unlike the Canaanites, the Philistines had not been on the list of Israel’s enemies at the time of the Exodus, but their continued occupation of the southern coastal plain–land allotted to the tribes of Simeon, Judah and Dan–put them on that list anyway. Philistine chariots, coupled with their iron monopoly (1 Sam. 13:19-20), forced the Israelites to keep to the hills, leaving the lowlands to the Philistines. And though Philistia had five capital cities (Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron and Gath), its five kings agreed on all important matters, giving them a unity that Israel lacked. Eli fell and died of a broken neck after hearing about one particularly humiliating battle, in which the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant; afterwards they held it for seven months.
To solve this problem, the Israelites went to Samuel and told him, “Give us a king.” Samuel went and found for them the sort of king they wanted: an impressive-looking fellow who stood head and shoulders over everybody else. And although the Bible does not say it, Saul was also a good political choice, because he came from a small, centrally located tribe (Benjamin); had the king come from one of the two largest tribes (Judah or Ephraim), the rivalry between the tribes might have escalated into civil war.(25) The first actions of his reign were good ones; he uprooted Philistine garrisons only a few miles away from Gibeah (Saul’s hometown and capital), and led successful campaigns against other nearby enemies like Ammon, Moab, Edom, the Aramaeans, and the Amalekites (1 Sam. 14:47-52).
Next came the long-awaited campaign to crush the Amalekites. The campaign was a success, but when Saul captured the Amalekite king, Agag, and a good portion of his livestock, he violated the Torah; Amalekites were supposed to be destroyed, not robbed! Samuel gave Saul an important lesson in morality (“To obey is better than to sacrifice!”) and announced that God would take Saul’s kingdom from him. Saul slipped into bouts of insanity after that, and Samuel went and found a man after God’s own heart (David) to be the next king.
Saul met his end in 1010 B.C., when the Philistines marched into the Jezreel valley; Saul and three of his sons were slain in the battle on Mt. Gilboa. A two-year civil war followed between David and Saul’s last son, Ishbosheth; it ended when the latter was assassinated and David became king of the whole realm. In 1003 B.C. David was ready to take Jerusalem, a Jebusite (Canaanite) city that had been avoided by Israelites previously. Because Jerusalem was on a high place, and well-protected by high walls, capturing it was expected to be difficult. Indeed, the Jebusites boasted that the blind and the lame among them could defend the city. However, Joab, David’s man on the spot, resorted to a sneak attack; he found out that the Jebusites got their water from a spring outside, located the secret tunnel leading to the spring, and sent his soldiers through the tunnel to break into the city. After this conquest, Jerusalem, rather than Shiloh or Gibeah, would be seen as Israel’s most important city, both as the capital and as the center for worship of the One True God. However, most of Jerusalem’s expansion, including the building of the famous Temple, would be done by David’s son Solomon.
David’s forty-year reign (1010-970 B.C.) was a time of rapid growth in both strength and prosperity. Like Saul, David spent much of the first half of his reign leading a string of successful military campaigns. 2 Samuel 8 reports that he conquered Moab, the Aramaean states of Zobah and Damascus, and Edom; he also broke the power of Philistia, and took the city of Gath from them. After Zobah and Damascus fell, the king of Hamath, a third Aramaean state, submitted without a fight. On the other hand, the campaign against Ammon was the longest of David’s career, because the Ammonites enlisted Aramaean fighting men to help them. The siege of Rabbath-Ammon (modern Amman, Jordan) took several years, and because David couldn’t be away from his court for that long, he went back to Jerusalem, leaving Joab in command for most of the siege. It was during that time that the scandal involving Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite took place, resulting in David’s greatest failing (see 2 Samuel 11 & 12). When the end of the siege was near, Joab called David back, because he felt it would be unseemly for anyone but the king to get the credit for taking an enemy capital. Among the treasures captured was a crown that weighed at least seventy pounds, that once belonged to Milcom, the god of Ammon. Although 1 Chronicles 20:2 claims that David put the crown on his head, he obviously could not have worn it for long (compare it to the crown of Khosrau I in Chapter 8).
The second half of David’s reign wasn’t as happy a time as the first. There were two serious rebellions, from David’s son Absalom and from a Benjaminite named Sheba. The Philistines made trouble again, and when David led the force to put them back in their place, he nearly got himself killed, and his men told him not to go on any more campaigns (2 Samule 21:17). Then came a severe pestilence, which the Bible tells us was caused by an act of disobedience; David conducted a census of the people, after God specifically told him not to do it, and David showed pride in his own strength when the results came back (2 Samuel 24). When David was on his deathbed, Adonijah, the oldest surviving son, tried to usurp the throne by crowning himself, but David was able to nip that revolt in the bud by stating that Solomon, and not Adonijah, was his heir. One of his last requests to Solomon was that his general Joab be put to death. Although Joab had always been loyal to David, he killed a lot of people while carrying out David’s orders; at least two of his victims, Abner and Amasa, were not enemies of the king, and thus innocent.
Because of David’s victories, Solomon never had to do any fighting, so his reign (970-930 B.C.) was a time of peace. In the time of Moses, the Israelites had been promised all the land from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates (Deuteronomy 1:7 and 11:24), and in Solomon’s day this became a reality. 1 Kings 4:24 emphasizes this, by telling us that Solomon’s empire stretched from Tiphsah, a town on the bend of the Euphrates River (Thapsacus in classical times), to Gaza. In practice, however, this was more of an economic union than a state held together by the strength of arms. Lebanon, for instance, was never under Solomon’s rule, and important cities in northern and western Syria like Carchemish, Aleppo and Kadesh still gave their allegiance to the Hittites. Indeed, north of Damascus we hear no reports of Solomon stationing any troops, so to determine which side a city was on, we have to look at whether it paid tribute to Egypt, Israel, Hatti or Assyria. We are told in 1 Kings 10:28-29 that Solomon made a good business out of matching horses from Cilicia with chariots from Egypt, and for his own army he maintained 1,400 chariots, more than half the size of the chariot force the Egyptians and Hittites had. But judging from the activities of the pharaohs at this time (Horemheb, Ramses I, Seti I, and Ramses II at the beginning of his career), it appears that Solomon let the Egyptians defend the kingdom for him; that may be why an Egyptian princess was his chief wife. While the other empires suffered temporary eclipses of their fortunes, Israel was the wealthiest and strongest kingdom in the Middle East, and people came from all around to marvel at the splendor and proverbial wisdom of its king.
Israel between 1400 and 930 B.C. The green area is where the Israelites were settled during the time of the Judges; the purple line marks the border of the empire of David and Solomon.
Whereas Saul and David had spent their early years on the throne conquering, Solomon devoted his first twenty years to building projects, specifically his palace, God’s Temple, and associated buildings like the “House of Lebanon,” which may have been a Phoenican trading center, because his main business partner was King Hiram of Tyre. In his latter years, however, Solomon went from wisdom to foolishness. He married hundreds of foreign wives for political reasons, and drained the treasury by building temples to their idols. The people groaned under the financial and physical burdens laid upon them, as everything Samuel had once predicted about kings now came true. Before the end of Solomon’s reign, there was an unsuccessful revolt in Edom and a successful one in Syria. The conversion of Jerusalem into a holy city for all religions doomed its future.
25. After Saul the kingship passed to the tribe of Judah. Note how quickly the Ephraimites found a leader of their own when the crown of David and Solomon went to a weak king, Rehoboam.
Unquote: Now on to Chapter 3, definitely!