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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : THE FIRST KINGS.

Half Hours In Bible Lands Volume 2 by Rev. P. C. Headley

THE FIRST KINGS.

Theocracy, we have seen, was the first form of government in the world.

The word is from Theos, which means God; for He ruled by direct command, and would have continued to have been the only and perfect sovereign, had not man been disloyal to him.

The patriarchal quay, which was that of the family, having at length united households and extended authority, was still a Theocracy.

When God made his people a separate nation, each of the twelve tribes, which sprang from the sons of Jacob, had its own ruler. If any important matter concerning them all demanded public attention, they called an assembly of their leaders.

When the bondage in Egypt was broken, Moses was the deliverer and lawgiver of Israel, and Joshua the great general or military chieftain.

The high priest was the visible servant of God -- his representative of the Redeemer of his people.

Then came the judges, who were a kind of governors, having power to declare war and make peace for the nation, but wearing no badges of distinction. Jehovah revealed through them his will, and was still the glorious king of Israel.

With the increase in numbers and general prosperity, there was a decrease of the religious element and of harmony among the people. They also ceased to appreciate the simple and sublime principles of a Theocracy, while all around them was the central power and the pomp of pagan monarchies; and they became tired of God's holy sovereignty, having no visible display of authority. There were dissensions and civil strife in Israel, in consequence of these departures from the Lord, and strange melancholy blindness to their preeminence over other nations.

It was with them as it will be in the great American Republic, if Puritan faith and works decline, until practical atheism prevails in our |goodly land.| The people will throw off wholesome restraints, become divided North and South, and corrupt in morals, until a monarchy will be the natural resort of the people, as a protection against their own selfish passions and conflicts.

Samuel, the wonderful child of Elkanah and Hannah, given to them, like Jephthah and Samson, as a special mark of divine favor, and who early entered the temple-service under Eli, was the last of the judges, excepting the authority which he delegated to his sons. He was a noble, dutiful and devout boy, and a faithful priest and magistrate in Israel. Eli, whose sons were dissipated, and slain by God's revealed purpose on account of their enemies, preceded him, so that Samuel saw the last of the Theocracy, and inaugurated by the Lord's command a monarchy in Palestine.

The Hebrews came to him begging for a king, and urging, as one reason for the change, the unfitness of his sons to succeed him. They were mercenary and open to bribery, and it is not strange that they were disliked by the people. It is one of many instances of departure by children from the counsels and prayers of the kindest parents, and choosing the |wages of sin.|

Samuel took the petition of the people to God for direction in answering it. The Lord's message was the following:

|Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done, since the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, even to this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also to thee. Now, therefore, hearken to their voice: nevertheless testify solemnly to them, and show them the practice of the king that shall reign over them.|

He then enumerated the burdens of the state which they must bear. The inventory of these royal exactions is so true to the experience of all countries under kingly rule, you will read it with interest. It was the first divine statement of the nature of a monarchy, and has needed no important change in the progress of the ages. Jehovah told Samuel to repeat the following description of the desired blessing, a king:

|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 chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectioners, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your olive-yards, 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 them to his officers, and to his servants; and he will take your men-servants, and your maid-servants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his works. And he will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants. And ye shall cry out in that day, beware of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day.|

[Illustration: Saul and the Witch of Endor.]

God had selected the first monarch of earth outside of heathenism. In the comparatively small tribe of Benjamin, was a man of honorable ancestry named Kish. His son, Saul, was a splendid young man, and would have attracted admiring attention anywhere, and in any land under the sun, then or since his day. He was taller from his shoulders than all the rest of Israel's men, and possessed of the highest style of manly beauty. Repeated mention is made of his noble figure and bearing. The providential circumstances which attended his promotion were remarkable.

He had wandered about for three days seeking the strayed asses of his father. Fatigued with the unsuccessful search, he was inclined to abandon it and return home, when, finding himself near Ramah, where Samuel lived, he resolved to consult one who was renowned in all Israel as a man from whom nothing was hid. Instructed in the divine designs regarding Saul, the prophet received him with honor. He assured him that the asses which he had sought were already found, and invited him to stay with him until the next morning. Saul was in fact the man on whom the divine appointment to be the first king of Israel had fallen. A hint of this high destiny produced from the astonished stranger a modest declaration of his insufficiency. But the prophet gave him the place of honor before all the persons whom -- foreknowing the time of his arrival -- he had invited to his table. As is still usual in summer, Saul slept on the flat roof of the house; and was called early in the morning by Samuel, who walked forth some way with him on his return home. When they had got beyond the town they stopped, and Samuel then anointed Saul as the person whom God had chosen to be |captain over his inheritance;| and gave him the first kiss of civil homage. In token of the reality of these things, and to assure the mind of the bewildered young man, the prophet foretold the incidents of his homeward journey, and, in parting, desired his attendance on the seventh day following at Gilgal.

On the day and at the place appointed, Samuel assembled a general convocation of the tribes for the election of a king. As usual, under the Theocracy, the choice of God was manifested by the sacred lot. The tribe of Benjamin was chosen; and of the families of Benjamin, that of Matri was taken; and, finally, the lot fell upon the person of Saul, the son of Kish. Anticipating this result, he had modestly concealed himself to avoid an honor which he so little desired. But he was found and brought before the people, who beheld with enthusiasm his finely developed form and preeminence in appearance, and hailed him as their king.

Many prominent persons of the great tribes were jealous and indignant, because the smallest tribe, and a young man whose chief claim to the honor was his fine figure, had been chosen. They refused to join the masses in their homage, and Saul displayed his shrewdness in |holding his peace.|

And the wisdom of God was apparent in the result; for he gradually united the discordant elements around him, and became established in power. Soon after came the trial of his ability as a general.

The Ammonites, a mighty and warlike people under king Nahash, besieged the important town of Jabesh-Gilead. The beleaguered place was at length compelled to ask terms of capitulation. The proud and cruel reply was, that every man should have his right eye put out.

The Jabesh-Gileadites agreed to the hard conditions, unless help reached them within seven days. Messengers hastened to Saul, in Gibeah, and found him returning from his herds in the field. The story of the invasion and peril roused all the energies and martial spirit of a king worthy of his crown. It was the Lord's inspiration for his high office, and immediate command of the army.

The inhabitants were timid; and to awaken their courage he slew oxen, had them quartered, and sent the pieces over the kingdom, assuring those who were able to fight, that unless they hastened to the rescue all their cattle should have a similar slaughter. The volunteers came pouring in, and Saul marched to Jabesh-Gilead. A battle followed, and the Ammonites were routed with terrible slaughter. It was a grand victory, and won for Saul the glory of military genius. This settled the question of his right to reign, and his sceptre was held over an undivided people.

Retaining three thousand men, he followed up the conquest by an attack upon the Philistines, who had conquered on the south, and deprived Israel of weapons of war, and implements of husbandry. Only Saul and Jonathan had either sword or spear. The latter, a gifted and noble young man, distinguished himself, under God's special benediction, in a successful assault upon a garrison of the Philistines. The enemy rallied in full strength, and Saul prepared to meet them with additional forces.

Samuel had appointed sacrifices to be made before the campaign was opened, and because he did not appear in Gilgal when Saul expected him, the king turned priest, and presented the offerings. This rashness revealed his undevout character and haughty self-will, which proved his ruin.

[Illustration: Saul Rejected.]

Meanwhile the most of his troops had scattered, through fear of the powerful foe. But Jonathan determined to make a bold onset, and, with his armor-bearer, climbed a high cliff, and fell upon the Philistines. They supposed the Hebrews were rushing from ambush upon them, and began to fly. Saul entered the field and aided in the overthrow of the defeated warriors, slaying and treading each other down in the wild confusion of the retreat.

During the last years of Saul's reign, conscious that God had forsaken him, in one of his campaigns against the Philistines he sought the counsel of a witch. When he beheld the vast force which the Philistine states had, by a mighty effort, brought into the field, dire misgivings as to the result arose in his mind; and now, at last, in this extremity, he sought counsel of God. But the Lord answered him not by any of the usual means -- by dreams, by Urim, or by prophets. Finding himself thus forsaken, he had recourse to a witch at Endor, not far from Gilboa, to whom he repaired by night in disguise, and conjured her to evoke the spirit of Samuel, that he might ask counsel of him in this fearful emergency. Accordingly, an aged and mantled figure arose, which Saul took to be the ghost of Samuel, though whether it were really so or not has been much questioned. The king bowed himself reverently, and told the reason for which he had called him from the dead. The figure, in reply, told him that God had taken the crown from his house, and given it to a worthier man; that, on the next day, the Philistines would triumph over Israel; and that he and his sons should be slain in the battle. The king swooned at these heavy tidings, but soon recovered, and, having taken some refreshment, returned the same night to the camp.

The engraver's art has produced a picture of this strange scene, one which cannot be clearly and satisfactorily explained.

Saul received orders, through Samuel, to execute the Lord's |fierce wrath| upon the Amelekites, who had formerly been doomed to utter extermination, for opposing the Israelites when they came out of Egypt. The result of the war put it fully in the king's power to fulfil his commission; but he retained the best of the cattle as booty, and brought back the Amalekite king Agag as a prisoner. Here Saul again ventured to use his own discretion where his commission left him none. For this the divine decree, excluding his descendants from the throne, was again and irrevocably pronounced by Samuel, who met him at Gilgal on his return. The stern prophet then directed the Amalekite king to be brought forth and slain by the sword, after which he departed to his own home, and went no more to see Saul to the day of his death, though he ceased not to bemoan his misconduct, and the forfeiture it had incurred.

The next engraving is a very good view of this crisis in Saul's destiny -- his rejection by God and his prophet. When Samuel turned to leave the king, the terrified ruler seized his mantle, and in the struggle it was torn. The prophet improved the incident by telling him that thus should his kingdom be rent from him, and given to a neighbor.

We cannot follow Saul through all the achievements and crimes of his eventful reign; the abandonment of him by the grieved and indignant Samuel; his deceptive prosperity; and his conscious desertion by God, until his fits of depression bordered on madness. He had genius and heroism, but a bad heart, and the hour of his overthrow drew near.

The venerable and gifted prophet who anointed the king was commanded by Jehovah to consecrate the successor to the throne. He was directed to go to Bethlehem, and there anoint one of the sons of Jesse. He knew that should Saul be informed of the errand, his days were numbered. The doom of a traitor would follow the solemn act.

To protect his servant the Lord told Samuel to offer a sacrifice, and tell the king he was going to Bethlehem for the purpose.

When Samuel reached Bethlehem, he laid the offerings upon the altar, and invited a worthy citizen and his family to the sacrifice. The good man's name was Jesse, and he had eight sons. Eliab, the eldest, like Saul, was fine-looking -- tall, athletic, and commanding in his personal appearance. Samuel thought he must be the future king of Israel; but God revealed to him his mistake. Six brothers followed him in their presentation to the prophet, and the Lord gave the same intimation of his will he had respecting Eliab.

The man of God was perplexed. What could he do, if these were the only sons of Jesse, as it seemed, for no more came? It occurred to him, however, that possibly there might be another boy, and he inquired of Jesse if it were not so.

The excellent father had sent the youngest son, about fifteen years old, to keep the sheep, and it did not even enter his mind that this mere child could have any thing to do with the affairs of the kingdom. He stated the facts to Samuel, who immediately desired to see the lad. He was sent for, and soon stood before the prophet. The patriarchal servant of the Infinite One looked upon the noble boy, with his |ruddy and beautiful countenance,| and saw in him the next monarch of Israel.

[Illustration: Christ Blessing Little Children.]

David stood among his brethren, a modest, bewildered shepherd boy, uninjured by unholy gratification of passion and appetite -- a pure-minded, manly, and devout youth.

God told Samuel to anoint him, and he poured the consecrating oil upon the fair brow of the astonished David. Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and departed from Saul altogether. The juvenile shepherd and hero, who had slain a lion and a bear, in defence of his sheep, returned to his flocks, a king in destiny.

Remorse, the predictions of Samuel against him, and baleful passions, made Saul so wretchedly melancholy, that some of his attendants suggested to the monarch that he should try the soothing effect of music. The proposition was favorably received, and upon the recommendation of another friend, David, the son of Jesse, of whom Saul knew nothing before, was sent for to play upon the harp. The young minstrel won the respect and affection of the royal household, and his harpings were the principal solace of the infatuated and gloomy king, who at length made David his armor-bearer.

You know the warriors of ancient time wore armor made of metal to protect the body from the spear and sword, the common weapons of the battle-field; and men were appointed by monarchs to have the care of it.

Since their last great discomfiture, the Philistines had recruited their strength, and in the thirtieth year of Saul's reign, and the twentieth of David's life, they again took the field against the Israelites. It curiously illustrates the nature of warfare in those times, to find that the presence, in the army of the Philistines, of one enormous giant, about nine or ten feet high, filled them with confidence, and struck the Israelites with dread. Attended by his armor-bearer, and clad in complete mail, with weapons to match his huge bulk, the giant, whose name was Goliah, presented himself daily between the two armies, and, with insulting language, defied the Israelites to produce a champion who, by single combat, might decide the quarrel between the nations. This was repeated many days; but no Israelite was found bold enough to accept the challenge. At length David, who had come to the battle-field with food for his brethren, no longer able to endure the taunts and blasphemies of Goliah, offered himself for the combat. The king, contrasting the size and known prowess of the giant with the youth and inexperience of Jesse's son, dissuaded him from the enterprise. But as David expressed his strong confidence that the God of Israel, who had delivered him from the lion and the bear, when he tended his father's flock, would also deliver him from the proud Philistine, Saul at length allowed him to go forth against Goliah. Refusing all armor of proof, and weapons of common warfare, David advanced to the combat, armed only with his shepherd's sling, and a few smooth pebbles picked up from the brook which flowed through the valley. The astonished giant felt insulted at such an opponent, and poured forth such horrid threats as might have appalled anyone less strong in faith than the son of Jesse. But as he strode forward to meet David, the latter slung one of his smooth stones with so sure an aim and so strong an arm, that it smote his opponent in the middle of the forehead, and brought him to the ground.

The praises of the people lavished on David excited Saul's jealousy, and he sought in various ways to kill David, who seemed to have a charmed life; for God was with him, and no blow aimed at his life was successful.

The king's son, Jonathan, loved David devotedly, and more than once saved him from the wrath of Saul.

After hunting the son of Jesse, consulting witches in his desperation, and fighting the Philistines in bloody conflicts, near Mount Gilboa, defeated and wounded, he committed suicide by falling on his sword. Thus ended the career of the first king of the Hebrew nation.

David, under divine guidance, went to Hebron, and was there publicly anointed king by the tribe of Judah. But Abner, a splendid general, and a great friend of Saul, induced the rest of the tribes to acknowledge Ishbosheth, the only son of Saul then living, as their sovereign. Soon, however, a quarrel with his protege, led him to join David, who was at length proclaimed king by all the people.

After years of prosperity in war and peace, he had a sanguinary battle with the Ammonites. This occurred in the eighteenth year of his reign. The conduct of this war David intrusted to Joab, and remained himself at Jerusalem. There, while sauntering upon the roof of his palace, after the noonday sleep, which is usual in the East, he perceived a woman whose great beauty attracted his regard. She proved to be Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, an officer of Canaanitish origin, then absent with the army besieging Rabbah, the capital of Ammon. David was so fascinated with her that he determined to add her to his royal household. He sent for Uriah to Jerusalem. Having heard from him the particulars of the war, which he pretended to require, the king dismissed him to his own home. But Uriah, feeling that it ill became a soldier to seek his bed while his companions lay on the hard ground, under the canopy of heaven, exposed to the attacks of the enemy, remained all night in the hall of the palace with the guards, and returned to the war without having seen Bathsheba. David made him the bearer of an order to Joab to expose him to certain death, in some perilous enterprize against the enemy. He was obeyed by that unscrupulous general; and when David heard that Uriah was dead, he sent for Bathsheba, and made her his wife. He had already several wives, as was customary in those times; and among them was Michal, whom he had long ago reclaimed from the man to whom she had been given by the unprincipled Saul.

[Illustration: The Woman of Canaan.]

David, whose undisputed authority, and admiration of the beautiful Bathsheba, deceived him, blinding his moral vision, thought all was safe. Death and royalty seemed to cover forever his sin.

But never was a man more mistaken. God sent Nathan, a fearless, faithful prophet, to rebuke him. So the seer went to him, inquiring what should be done with a man who had robbed a poor neighbor of his only and pet lamb. The king, who was really loyal to God, and just in his aims, indignantly said that the robber should die, and the lamb be restored. Then Nathan fixed his eye on the king, and, pointing to him, exclaimed courageously, |Thou art the man!|

David bowed his head and wept under the pointed reproof, and began to cry, |Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, oh, God, thou God of my salvation.|

What a fine example of faithful preaching, and of an honest hearer! This illustration of true penitence, which is given in the picture at the beginning of this history of the kings, suggests a good story of modern date. Jacob, an intelligent negro, was bribed and intoxicated to make him commit murder. He was convicted of the crime, and sent to the State prison for life. He could not read, but a bible was in his cell, and he learned so rapidly that soon he could pick out the words and get the meaning. He would run his finger over each letter of the fifty-first Psalm, especially the fourteenth verse, until he enamelled it with his touch. The bible is still kept by an excellent man, as a relic of prison-life. For Jacob was pardoned, went to the lovely town of C-, N.Y., and became an eminent Christian. His monument is one of the highest in the cemetery.

The Scriptures describe David as |a man after God's own heart.| By this we are not to understand that David always acted rightly, or that God approved of all he did. Its meaning is, that, in his public capacity, as king of Israel, he acted in accordance with the true theory of the theocratical government; was always alive to his dependence on the Supreme King; took his own true place in the system, and aspired to no other; and conducted all his undertakings with reference to the Supreme Will. He constantly calls himself |the servant (or vassal) of Jehovah,| and that, and no other, was the true place for the human king of Israel to fill. In thus limiting the description of David as |a man after God's own heart,| it is not necessary for us to vindicate all his acts, or to uphold him as an immaculate character. But the same ardent temperament which sometimes betrayed his judgment in his public acts, led him into great errors and crimes. It also made him the first to discover his lapse, and the last to forgive himself.

Domestic afflictions humbled David, and persecution by enemies embittered his life. The kingly crown had its thorns. An only child died in infancy. Afterwards, his handsome and popular son, Absalom, was ambitious to get the throne of his father, and became the leader of a great revolt, in whose conflicts he was slain.

Solomon, another son, was the heir chosen by the Lord, to the crown of David. And when the monarch of Israel drew near the close of his stormy, yet splendid reign, he called the intellectual, comely, and dutiful boy to his bedside, to give him his last words of counsel and blessing.

This scene is depicted in the colored engraving. Among the paternal exhortations to the young prince was the following impressive address: |And thou, Solomon, my son, know thou the God of thy fathers, and serve him with a perfect heart, and with a willing mind; for the Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts. If thou seek him, he will be found of thee but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off forever.|

Solomon, the second king of Israel, desired and sought, before riches and honors, wisdom from God, to govern well the people, and it was freely given.

Under his father's sceptre, Palestine was great in martial achievements, national wealth, and the fine arts; for the king was a poet and a musician. Solomon was a man of peace, and during his reign the kingdom reached its highest glory in oriental splendor and luxury. The temple he built was a monument of munificence, skill, and royal zeal for God's honor.

What a wonderful display of wisdom was that decision in the case of the two women, one of whom, in her sleep, lying upon her babe, had smothered it, and claimed the living child of the other, who lodged with her. He knew when he sent for the executioner, and told him to cut in two parts the live babe, giving to each a half, that the mother would be seen in the effect of the command to slay. And so it was. The faithless woman said let it be so; the loving, yearning mother exclaimed no, rather let the other have the child. Solomon wisely decided the matter, directing the attendants to give the unconscious object of controversy to her to whom it belonged.

But this rich and popular monarch was led into sin by his unbounded prosperity, and indulging in forbidden pleasures. Afterwards he bitterly mourned over his folly and shameful weakness, in departing from the living God. This varied and, much of it, wasted life, led the king, in his sober years of declining age, to write the Book of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, so full of the profoundest knowledge of mankind and wisest counsel. It is said that the Scotch are preeminently discerning and intelligent, because they are so familiar with the Scriptures, especially the proverbs of Solomon.

There were no more such monarchs in Israel, after David and Solomon, and the kingdom became divided and weakened, until the Jews were conquered and enslaved by their enemies. The expensive magnificence and luxury of Solomon's reign, and his departures from God into idolatrous worship, awakened the divine indignation.

A prophet was commissioned to tell the wise, yet foolish monarch that the kingdom should be rent in twain, and the grandeur of his empire depart before the revolt of the ten tribes from Judah, which had absorbed the small tribe of Benjamin. Solomon was about sixty years old when he died. He had ruled forty years, and was buried nine hundred and seventy-five years before the advent of Christ. Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, was made king over Judah, and Jereboam, an Ephraimite, became sovereign of the ten tribes, who were called Israel.

How interesting and instructive the history of the Hebrews, at this period!

They got tired of the sovereignty of God, visible only in written rules of conduct, family government, and the prophet-judges, and desired to imitate their pagan neighbors in the pomp and power of royalty. Under their second monarch they quarrelled among themselves, engaged in civil strife, and became divided, rival kingdoms. During the five hundred years which followed, the successive kings of the two realms had, the most of them, brief sovereignty. Some of them were excellent kings, but the greater part were wicked and oppressive.

Pre-eminent in crime was Ahab, whose wife, Jezebel, was a fit companion.

Their names live in the world's history with a bad preeminence, like those of Herod, Nero, and similar rulers of ancient and modern times.

The corpse of a ruler, or of the humblest subject, was ordinarily wound in grave-clothes, and laid in a sepulchre. This, in the early ages, was a room hewn out of a rock, a cave, or a grave which had no mound, nor any other mark, excepting monumental stones, with no inscriptions.

The Arabian patriarch, Job, talked of kings and counsellors, who built for themselves |desolate places,| which probably has reference to sepulchral monuments, cut out of the rock.

The expression |a sepulchre on high,| is an allusion to the custom anciently of placing the dead in tombs made in cliffs, sometimes hundreds of feet in height -- a lofty, inaccessible resting-place for the body of a distinguished person.

Some nations of the heathen world have always burned their dead. In Japan, recently, an American traveller witnessed this singular disposal of the lifeless remains. A priest was placed in a sitting posture in his coffin, and a fire built behind it, consuming to ashes the body. These relics were carefully gathered up, and put in a safe and sacred place for all coming time.

It is a remarkable thing that the Bible does not record any solemn parade or imposing ceremonies over the burial of the Hebrew kings.

Of David it is written, he |slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David.| The same simple and impressive mention is made of Solomon's death. Monarchs were only men -- sinners to be saved by grace, if rescued at all from the power and ruin of sin. It is hoped and believed by Christian people that Solomon, in his declining years, reviewed prayerfully and penitently his career, and found peace with a pardoning God.

The sepulchre of royalty in Jerusalem, is well worthy of a visit by travellers in the Holy Land. Some of the stone coffins lean against the solid walls, others lie in massive richness of sculpture on the floor.

The Jews called their burial places the house of the living, because of the expected resurrection -- a beautiful sentiment, which rebukes the dismal thoughts and mourning of many Christian persons over the newly made graves of their departed friends.

The beautiful tomb in the |valley of Jehosaphat,| is one of comparatively modern construction, but it shows the admiration felt by the Hebrews for Absalom, with all his waywardness.

[Illustration: Joseph Elevated to Power by Pharaoh.]

[Illustration: The Israelites Carried into Captivity.]

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