Beginnings of Royalty in Israel—The Two Books of Samuel
“SO YOU have not read what David did when he and his men were hungry? He went into the House of God and took the sacred bread to eat and gave it to his men, though priests alone are allowed to eat it, and no one else.” (Luke 6:3, 4, The New English Bible) With these words, Jesus silenced some Pharisees who had accused his disciples of Sabbath breaking because they had plucked a few grains to eat during the Sabbath day.
He also demonstrated something else. The historical account about David and “the sacred bread” is recorded in the first book of Samuel. (1 Samuel 21:1-6, NE) Jesus’ reference to it to refute an objection shows his familiarity with the book and suggests that we, too, would do well to become familiar with it. Along with its companion, Second Samuel, it contains information that was valuable to Jesus and is valuable to us today.—Romans 15:4.
What are the two books of Samuel? They are historical books found in the Hebrew Scriptures that describe a turning point in the history of God’s people. Previously, the Israelites had been ruled by a succession of judges. These two books describe the end of that era and the beginning of rule by Israelite royalty. They are filled with exciting events and fascinating people. We meet Samuel himself, the last of the judges, and the first two kings, Saul and David. We also meet a host of other unforgettable characters: the sad figure of Eli, the wise and tactful Abigail, the valiant but kindly Jonathan, as well as the brothers Abishai and Joab, mighty for Jehovah but cruel in their personal vendettas. (Hebrews 11:32) The two books teach principles that are still important and describe events that had long-lasting effects on God’s people, in fact on all mankind.
A King Who Failed
The first one anointed by Jehovah to be king over Israel was Saul. He started well but later failed to show proper reliance on Jehovah in the face of an impending attack by the Philistines. Hence, Samuel told him that his sons would not inherit the kingship. Rather, said Samuel, “Jehovah will certainly find for himself a man agreeable to his heart; and Jehovah will commission him as a leader over his people.” (1 Samuel 13:13, 14) However, Saul continued as king for the rest of his life.
Later, this first king was commanded to wage punitive war against the Amalekites. Saul did not completely fulfill Jehovah’s orders and thus incurred further displeasure. Samuel is moved to say: “Does Jehovah have as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of Jehovah? Look! To obey is better than a sacrifice, to pay attention than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22) Here is a principle that is still vital for those who serve Jehovah in positions of leadership. Because Saul was not obedient, Samuel the prophet continued: “Since you have rejected the word of Jehovah, he accordingly rejects you from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:23) Later, Saul showed how far he had strayed from pure worship when he consulted a spiritist.—1 Samuel 28:8-25.
A Royal Success
The one who succeeded King Saul was David, son of Jesse. David was different from Saul. In his youth, he had shown reliance on Jehovah when he slew the Philistine giant, Goliath. Then, when he had to flee for his life because of Saul’s jealousy, he nevertheless kept obeying Jehovah in all things. More than once, David could have killed Saul. But he refrained, waiting on Jehovah’s time for him to become king. It was during this difficult time that Ahimelech the priest gave him the showbread to eat in the incident mentioned by Jesus to the Pharisees.
In time Saul died and David started to rule. But at first only his own tribe, Judah, accepted him. The other tribes continued to follow a surviving son of Saul, Ish-bosheth. David, though, showed no vindictiveness toward his rival. When Ish-bosheth was eventually assassinated, David executed the assassins. And when Ish-bosheth’s great general, Abner, was murdered, he ordered public mourning. (2 Samuel 3:31-34; 4:9-12) Such humility, patience, forbearance and reliance on Jehovah are needed by Jehovah’s servants in any age.
The “Son of David”
When David finally became king over a reunited nation, one of his first thoughts was to build a permanent home for the ark of the covenant, the symbol of Jehovah’s presence in Israel. Jehovah did not consent to this, but in recognition of David’s outstanding faithfulness he made a remarkable covenant with him: “Your house and your kingdom will certainly be steadfast to time indefinite before you; your very throne will become one firmly established to time indefinite.”—2 Samuel 7:16.
David thus became a link in the long, unbroken chain of descent that led from Adam, through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah down to the promised Messiah. (Genesis 3:15; 22:18; 26:4; 49:10) When the Messiah would finally arrive, he would be a descendant of David. This Jesus was, on both his foster father’s side and his mother’s side. (Matthew 1:1-16; Luke 3:23-38) In the Gospel accounts, he is frequently called the “Son of David.”—Mark 10:47, 48.
As the official “Son of David,” Jesus was David’s heir. What did he inherit? The angel Gabriel told Mary: “This one [Jesus] will be great and will be called Son of the Most High; and Jehovah God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule as king over the house of Jacob forever, and there will be no end of his kingdom.” (Luke 1:32, 33) David reunited all God’s people into one kingdom, as the book of Second Samuel describes. So Jesus inherited rulership over all of Israel.
Note, too, another fact about David as reported by the first book of Samuel: “Now David was the son of this Ephrathite from Bethlehem of Judah whose name was Jesse.” (1 Samuel 17:12) This statement is not just an interesting historical footnote. The Messiah, too, as “Son of David,” was to be born in Bethlehem: “And you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, the one too little to get to be among the thousands of Judah, from you there will come out to me the one who is to become ruler in Israel, whose origin is from early times, from the days of time indefinite.” (Micah 5:2) Jesus, of course, fulfilled this requirement of Messiahship.—Matthew 2:1, 5, 6.
Acts That Altered History
Many of David’s exploits had lasting effects. For example, David grew up only a few miles from Jerusalem. When he was a boy the city was in the hands of the Jebusites, and David must often have admired its almost impregnable position on a steep rocky outcrop known as Mount Zion. Now, as king, he was in a position to do more than admire it. The second book of Samuel tells graphically how, despite the taunting of the Jebusite inhabitants, “David proceeded to capture the stronghold of Zion, that is, the City of David.” (2 Samuel 5:7) Thus Jerusalem moved to center stage in world history where it has been—on and off—ever since.
The city became David’s royal capital and remained the capital of God’s earthly kings for hundreds of years. In the first century, the “Son of David,” Jesus, preached there. It was into Jerusalem that Jesus rode on an ass to present himself as King to the Jews. (Matthew 21:1-11, Mt 21:42–22:13; John 7:14) And it was outside the gates of Jerusalem that he offered his life for mankind, after which he was resurrected and ascended into heaven, patiently waiting—as David had before him—for Jehovah to say when he should begin reigning as King.—Psalm 110:1; Acts 2:23, 24, 32, 33; Hebrews 13:12.
David’s ruling in Jerusalem also reminds us that his descendant, Jesus, now also rules in a Jerusalem, the “heavenly Jerusalem.” (Hebrews 12:22) And the location of that heavenly Jerusalem in heaven is called “Mount Zion,” reminding us of the rocky outcrop that was the site of the original city.—Revelation 14:1.
Toward the end of his reign David conducted an illegal census of the nation. In punishment Jehovah plagued the nation, and the plague-carrying angel finally stopped at a threshing floor belonging to a Jebusite landowner named Araunah. David bought the land from Araunah and built an altar to Jehovah there. (2 Samuel 24:17-25) This act, too, had lasting results. That stretch of land became the site of Solomon’s temple and, later, of the rebuilt temple. Thus, for centuries it was the world center of true worship. Jesus himself preached in Herod’s temple, which was also built around what was once the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.—John 7:14.
Yes, the two books of Samuel introduce us to real people and explain important principles. They show why Israel’s first king was a failure and why her second king, despite some tragic mistakes, was an outstanding success. They carry us through an important juncture in history, the beginnings of human royal rule among God’s people. We watch Jerusalem become the capital city of that royalty and note the purchase of the site of what would become, for some centuries, the world center of true worship. And we learn an important clue to help identify the coming Messiah. He would have to be a “Son of David.”
Truly, these are remarkable books. Every Christian should read them for himself.
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“Behaving Like a Prophet”
What does the Bible mean when it says: “The spirit of God came to be upon [Saul], yes, him, and he went on walking and continued behaving like a prophet”?—1 Samuel 19:23.
When the prophets of Jehovah were delivering God’s messages, they spoke under the influence of holy spirit that ‘filled them with power’ and doubtless led them to speak with an intensity and feeling that were truly extraordinary. (Micah 3:8; Jeremiah 20:9) Probably their behavior appeared strange—perhaps even irrational—to others. Nevertheless, once it was established that they were speaking from Jehovah, their messages were taken seriously by God-fearing persons.—Compare 2 Kings 9:1-13.
Thus, on this occasion Saul began to act in an unusual way, which reminded onlookers of the agitation of a prophet about to deliver a message from Jehovah. While acting thus, he stripped off his clothes and lay naked all night. (1 Samuel 19:23, 24) This may have been to indicate that he was merely a man with no regal power or authority when he stood against Jehovah God’s purposes. On a previous occasion when King Saul “behaved like a prophet,” he tried to kill David with a spear.—1 Samuel 18:10, 11.
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“A Bad Spirit From Jehovah”
“And the very spirit of Jehovah departed from Saul, and a bad spirit from Jehovah terrorized him.” (1 Samuel 16:14) Do you know what this means?
We do not have to understand that Jehovah literally sent an evil spirit to terrorize Saul. Rather, when Jehovah removed his holy spirit, Saul was possessed by a bad spirit, or an inward urge to do wrong. (Compare Matthew 12:43-45.) Why is Jehovah referred to as the source of this bad spirit? Because he made it possible for Saul to be possessed by wrong urges, or impulses, when he removed his holy spirit. This “bad spirit” removed Saul’s peace of mind and, on occasion, caused him to act irrationally.
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