The Golden Age of the Monarchy: 2 Samuel 1-24, 1 Kings 1-11, 1 Chronicles 21-25

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project

After Saul's death, David is anointed king over the southern tribe of Judah, but not until much blood has been shed is David finally anointed king over all Israel (2 Sam. 5:1-10). When David finally comes into his own, he invests his talent in developing others. Contrary to Saul's fears of a rival, David surrounds himself with a company whose exploits rival his own (2 Sam. 23:8-39, 1 Chronicles 11:10-47). He honors them (1 Chron. 11:19), encourages their fame and promotes them (1 Chron. 11:25). God uses David’s willingness to sponsor and encourage people to build David’s own success and to bless the people of his realm.

At last, the loose confederacy of Israelite tribes has come together as a nation. For eighty years, under the rule, first of David (c. 1010 - 970 B.C.), then of his son Solomon (c. 970 - 931 B.C.), Israel experiences a golden age of prosperity and renown among all the nations of the ancient Near East. But amidst their successes, these two rulers also violate God's covenant. While this does only limited damage in their own times, it sets a pattern for those who come after them to turn away from the Lord and abandon his covenant. 

David’s Successes and Failures as King (2 Samuel 1-24)

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No Guarantees (Click to read)

In 2011, Johnson & Johnson made a series of massive product recalls after customer complaints. It seems there are no guarantees that a trustworthy company's past performance will be a reliable indicator of future performance. In "No Guarantees: The 'Fall' of Johnson & Johnson?", David Gill provides some measures leaders can take to avoid a great fall.[1]

The Bible regards David as the model king of Israel, and the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles describe his many successes. Yet even David, "a man after God's own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14), abuses his power and acts faithlessly at times. He tends to succeed when he does not take himself too seriously, but gets into serious trouble when power goes to his head—for example when he takes a census in violation of God's command (2 Sam. 24:10-17) or when he sexually exploits Bathsheba and orders the assassination of her husband, Uriah (2 Sam. 11:2-17). Yet despite David’s failings, God fulfills his covenant with David and treats him with mercy.

David W. Gill, "No Guarantees: The 'Fall' of Johnson & Johnson?", Ethix 74, February 22, 2011, http://ethix.org/2011/02/22/no-guarantees-the-fall-of-johnson-johnson.

David’s dysfunctional handling of family conflict leads to civil war (2 Samuel 13-19)

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Most people feel uncomfortable in situations of conflict, so we tend to avoid facing conflict, whether at home or at work. But conflicts are a lot like illnesses. Minor ones may clear up even if we ignore them, but major ones will work their way deeper and more catastrophically into our systems if we do not treat them. This is true for David's family. David allows conflict among some of his sons to plunge his family into tragedy. His oldest son, Amnon, rapes and then shames his half-sister, Tamar (2 Samuel 13:1-19). Tamar's full-brother, Absalom, hates Amnon for that crime, but does not speak to him about it. David knows of the matter but decides to ignore the situation (2 Sam. 13:21). For more on children who disappoint their parents, see "When children disappoint (1 Samuel 8:1-3)."

For two years everything seems fine, but unresolved conflict of this magnitude never fades away. When Amnon and Absalom take a trip into the country together, Absalom plies his half-brother with wine, then has his servants murder him (2 Sam. 13:28-29). The conflict draws in more of David’s family, the nobles, and the army, until the entire nation was engulfed in civil war. The destruction brought about by avoiding the conflict is many times worse than the unpleasantness that might have resulted from dealing with the issues when they first arose.

Harvard professors Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky describe how leaders must "orchestrate conflict," or else it will boil up on its own, thwart their goals, and endanger their organizations.[1] Likewise, Jim Collins gives the example of Alan Iverson, who was CEO of Nucor Steel at a time when there were deep divisions about whether the company should diversify into scrap steel recycling. Iverson brought the divisions in to the open by allowing everyone to speak their opinion, protecting them from reprisal from others who might disagree. The “raging debates” that ensued were uncomfortable for everyone. “People yelled. They waved their arms around and pounded on tables. Faces would get red and veins bulged out.” But acknowledging the conflict and working through it openly prevented it from going underground and exploding later. Moreover, by bringing out a variety of facts and opinions, it led to better decisions by the group. “Colleagues would march into Iverson’s office and yell and scream at each other, but then emerge with a conclusion…. The company’s strategy ‘evolved through many agonizing arguments and fights.’”[2] Conflict well-orchestrated can actually be a source of creativity.

Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002), 101-122.

Jim Collins, Good to Great (HarperBusiness, 2001), 76.

David’s disobedience to God causes a national pestilence (1 Chronicles 21:1-17)

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David also suffers another failure that, to us in the 21st century, may seem strange. He takes a census of the people of Israel. Although this seems like a prudent thing to do, the biblical text tells us that Satan incited David to do this against the advice of David’s general Joab. Furthermore, "God was displeased with this thing, and he struck Israel" (1 Chronicles 21:6).

David acknowledges his sin in taking a census against God’s will. He’s given three choices, each of which would harm many in the kingdom: (1) three years of famine, or (2) three months of devastation by the sword of his enemies, or (3) three days of a pestilence on the land. David chooses the third option and seventy thousand people die as an angel of death passes through the land. At this David cries out to God, "Was it not I who gave the command to count the people? It is I who have sinned and done very wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? Let your hand, I pray, O Lord my God, be against me and against my father's house; but do not let your people be plagued!" (1 Chron. 21:17).

Like David, we probably find it hard to understand why God would punish 70,000 other people for David’s sin. The text does not give an answer. We can observe, however, that the transgressions of leaders inevitably harm their people. If business leaders make poor product development decisions, people in their organization will lose their jobs when revenues plunge. If a restaurant manager doesn’t enforce sanitation rules, diners will get sick. If a teacher gives good grades for poor work, students will fail or fall behind at the next level of education. Those who accept positions of leadership cannot evade responsibility for the effects of their actions on others. 

David’s patronage of the musical arts (1 Chronicles 25)

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1 Chronicles adds a detail not found in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings. David creates a corps of musicians “to make music at the house of the Lord.”

They were all under the direction of their father for the music in the house of the Lord with cymbals, harps, and lyres for the service of the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman were under the order of the king. They and their kindred, who were trained in singing to the Lord, all of whom were skillful, numbered two hundred eighty-eight. (1 Chronicles 25:6–7)

Maintaining an ensemble the size of two modern symphony orchestras would be a major undertaking in an emerging nation in the 10th century BC. David does not regard it as a luxury however, but as a necessity. In fact, he orders it in his role as commander in chief of the army, with the consent of the other commanders (1 Chron. 25:1).

Many militaries today maintain bands and choruses, but few other kinds of workplaces do, unless they themselves are musical organizations. Yet there is something about music and the other arts that is essential to work of all kinds. God’s creation—the source of human economic activity—is not only productive, it is beautiful (e.g., Genesis 3:6; Psalm 96:6; Ezekiel 31:7-9), and God loves beautiful handiwork (e.g., Isaiah 60:13). What is the place of beauty in your work? Would you or your organization or the people who make use of your work benefit if your work created more beauty? What does it even mean for work in your occupation to be beautiful?

Assessing David’s reign (1 Kings)

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How are we to evaluate David and his reign? It is noteworthy that while Solomon gained more wealth, land, and renown than his father David, it is David whom the books of Kings and Chronicles acclaimed as Israel's greatest king, the model against which all other kings were measured.

We may gain hope for ourselves from God’s response to the very positives and negatives we see in David's life and actions. We are impressed by his fundamental piety even as we blanch at his political manipulation, lust, and violence. When we see a similar ambivalence in our own hearts and actions, we take comfort and hope in the God who forgives all our sins. The Lord’s presence with David gives us hope that even in the face of our faithlessness, God stays with us as the relentless Hound of Heaven.

Like Saul, David combined greatness and faithfulness, with sin and error. We may wonder, then, why God preserved David’s reign, but not Saul’s. Partly, it may be because David’s heart remained true to God (1 Kings 11:4, 15:3), however errant his deeds. The same thing is never said of Saul. Or it may be simply because the best way for God to carry out his purposes for his people was to put David on the throne and keep him there. When God calls us to a task or position, it is not necessarily us he is thinking about. He may choose us because of the effect we will have on other people. For example God gave Cyrus of Persia victory over Babylon not to reward or benefit Cyrus, but to free Israel from captivity (2 Chronicles 36:22-23). 

David Prepares Solomon to Succeed Him as King (1 Kings 1; 1 Chronicles 22)

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Because David had shed so much blood as king, God determined not to allow him to build a house for the Lord. Instead David’s son, Solomon, was given that task (1 Chronicles 22:7-10). So David accepted that his final task was to train Solomon for the job of king (1 Chron. 22:1-16) and to surround him with a capable team (1 Chron. 22:17-29). David provided the vast stores of materials for the construction of God's temple in Jerusalem, saying, "My son Solomon is young and inexperienced, and the house that is to be built for the Lord must be exceedingly magnificent" (1 Chron. 22:5). He publicly passed authority to Solomon and made sure that the leaders of Israel acknowledged Solomon as the new king and were prepared to help him succeed.

David recognized that leadership is a responsibility that outlasts one's own career. In most cases, your work will continue after you have moved on (whether by promotion, retirement, or taking a different job). You have a duty to create the conditions your successor needs to be successful. In David’s preparation for Solomon, we see three elements of succession planning. First, you need to provide the resources your successor needs to complete the tasks you leave unfinished. If you have been at least moderately successful, you will have learned how to gather the resources needed in your position. Often this depends on relationships that your successor will not immediately inherit. For example, success may depend on assistance from people who do not work in your department, but who have been willing to help you in your work. You need to make sure your successor knows who these people are, and you need to get their commitment to continue helping after you are gone. David arranged for “all kinds of artisans” he had developed relationships with to work for Solomon after he was gone (1 Chron. 22:15).

Second, you need to impart your knowledge and relationships to the person who succeeds you. In many situations this will come by bringing your successor to work alongside you long before you depart. David began including Solomon in the leadership structures and rituals of the kingdom shortly before David’s death, although it appears he could have done a much better job of this if he’d started earlier (1 Kings 1:28-40). In other cases, you may not have any role in designating your successor, and you may not have any overlap with him or her. In that case, you’ll need to pass on information in writing and through those who will remain in the organization. What can you do to prepare the work and your successor to thrive, for God’s glory, after you've gone?

Third, you need to transfer power decisively to the person who takes over the position. Whether you choose your own successor or whether others make that decision without your input, you still have a choice whether or not to publicly acknowledge the transition and definitively pass on the authority you previously had. Your words and actions will confer either a blessing or a curse on your successor. A recent example is the manipulation that Vladimir Putin engaged in to maintain power after term limitations prevented him from seeking a third consecutive term as President of Russia. He arranged for some of the President’s powers to be transferred to the Prime Minister, then used his influence to get a former subordinate elected President, who appointed Putin as Prime Minister immediately afterwards.[1] After one term as Prime Minister, Putin easily stepped in as President again, at the invitation of the incumbent, who stepped aside.[2] As a result, concentration of power in Putin’s hands has continued unabated for decades, just what term limits are intended to prevent, quite possibly to the detriment of Russia and its neighbors. In contrast, David arranged for Solomon to be publicly anointed as king, transferred the symbols of monarchy to him, and presented him publicly as the new king while David himself was still living (1 Kings 1:32-35, 39-40).

C.J. Chivers, “Putin is Approved as Prime Minister,” New York Times, May 9, 2008, accessed online at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/09/world/europe/09russia.html?_r=0 on May 25, 2014.

“Russia's Putin set to return as president in 2012,” BBC News Europe, September 24, 2011, accessed online at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-15045816 on May 25, 2014.

Solomon Succeeds David as King (1 Kings 1-11)

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Upon succeeding David as king, Solomon faces the vastness of his duties (1 Kings 3:5-15). He is acutely aware that he is inadequate to the task (1 Chronicles 22:5). The work with which he is entrusted is immense. In addition to the temple project, he has a large, complex nation under his care, "a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted" (1 Kings 3:8). Even as he gains experience on the job, he realizes that it is so complex that he'll never be able to figure out the right course of action in every circumstance. He needs divine help: so he asks God, "Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil, for who can govern this, your great people?" (1 Kings 3:9). God answers his prayer and gives him “very great wisdom, discernment and breadth of understanding as vast as the sand on the seashore” (1 Kings 4:29).

Solomon Builds the Temple of the Lord (1 Kings 5-8)

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Solomon’s first major task it to build the Temple of the Lord. To achieve this architectural feat, Solomon employs professionals from all corners of his kingdom. Three chapters (1 Kings 5-7) are devoted to describing the work of building the Temple, of which we have space only for a small selection:

Solomon also had seventy thousand laborers and eighty thousand stonecutters in the hill country, besides Solomon’s three thousand three hundred supervisors who were over the work, having charge of the people who did the work. At the king’s command, they quarried out great, costly stones in order to lay the foundation of the house with dressed stones. (1 Kings 5:15–17)

He cast two pillars of bronze. Eighteen cubits was the height of the one, and a cord of twelve cubits would encircle it; the second pillar was the same. He also made two capitals of molten bronze, to set on the tops of the pillars; the height of the one capital was five cubits, and the height of the other capital was five cubits. There were nets of checker work with wreaths of chain work for the capitals on the tops of the pillars; seven for the one capital, and seven for the other capital. (1 Kings 7:15–17)

So Solomon made all the vessels that were in the house of the Lord: the golden altar, the golden table for the bread of the Presence, the lampstands of pure gold, five on the south side and five on the north, in front of the inner sanctuary; the flowers, the lamps, and the tongs, of gold; the cups, snuffers, basins, dishes for incense, and firepans, of pure gold; the sockets for the doors of the innermost part of the house, the most holy place, and for the doors of the nave of the temple, of gold. Thus all the work that King Solomon did on the house of the Lord was finished. Solomon brought in the things that his father David had dedicated, the silver, the gold, and the vessels, and stored them in the treasuries of the house of the Lord. (1 Kings 7:48–51)

From accomplished professionals to forced laborers, the people of the kingdom contribute their knowledge and skills to help build the Temple. In so doing, Solomon involves numerous people to help build and sustain his kingdom. Whether or not it is Solomon’s intention, employing so many people from all walks of life ensures that the vast majority of citizens hold personal investment in the political, religious, social, and economic well being of the kingdom.

Solomon Centralizes the Rule of the Kingdom (1 Kings 9-11)

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The massive national effort needed to construct the Temple leaves Solomon the ruler of a powerful kingdom. During his reign Israel's military and economic might reach their peak, and the kingdom covers more territory than at any other time in Israel's history. He completes the centralization of the nation’s government, economic organization, and worship.

To assemble a large enough labor force, King Solomon conscripts workers out of all Israel. The levy numbers thirty thousand men (1 Kings 5:13-14). Solomon seems to have paid Israelites who were conscripted (1 Kings 9:22) in accordance with Leviticus 25:44-46, which forbids making slaves of Israelites. But resident aliens are simply enslaved (1 Kings 9:20-21). In addition, a multitude of workers are brought in from surrounding nations. Whatever their source, a wide variety of highly skilled professionals comes together, including the best artisans practicing at the time. The books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles—primarily interested in the work of kingship—say little about these workers except as relates to the Temple. But they are visible in the background, making all of society possible.

Solomon sees that as the central government expands, it will need food for an increasingly large work force. Soldiers need rations (1 Kings 6:9-11), alongside the workers on all of Solomon's building projects. The growing bureaucracy also needs to be fed. So the king organizes the nation into twelve sectors and appoints a deputy as overseer of each sector. Each deputy is charged with providing all required food rations for one month each year. As a result, the nation’s daughters are conscripted into labor as "cooks and bakers" (1 Samuel 8:13). Israel becomes like other kingdoms with forced labor, heavy taxation, and a central elite wielding power over the rest of the country.

As Samuel had foretold, kings bring a greatly expanded military (1 Sam. 8:11-12). Militarization comes into full flower during Solomon's reign as the military becomes an essential component of the kingdom's stability. Soldiers of  every rank from foot soldiers to generals all need weapons including javelins, spears, lances, bow and arrows, swords, daggers, knives, and slingshots.  They need protective gear including shields, helmets, and body armor. To manage such a large scale army, a nationalized military organization must be maintained. In contrast to his father, David, Solomon is called "a man of peace," but the peace is ensured by the presence of a well organized and well-provisioned military force.

We see in Solomon’s story how society depends on the work of myriad people, coupled with structures and systems to organize large scale production and distribution. The human capacity to organize work is evidence of our creation in the image of a God who brings order out of chaos on a worldwide scale (Genesis 1). How fitting that the Bible portrays this ability through the construction of God’s meeting place with humanity. It takes a God-given ability to organize work on a scale large enough to build God’s house. Few of us would care to return to Solomon’s methods of organization—conscription, forced labor, and militarization—so we can be thankful that God leads us to fairer, more effective methods today. Perhaps what we take away from this episode is that God is intensely interested in the art of coordinating human work and creativity to accomplish God’s purposes in the world. 

Assessing Solomon’s Golden Age (1 Kings)

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Samuel's prophecy about the dangers of a king is fulfilled in Solomon’s time.

These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons...he will take your daughters...he will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards...he will take one-tenth of your grain and vineyards...he will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys... he will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day. (1 Sam. 8:11-18)

On the surface, Solomon's administration and building campaigns appear to have been very successful. The people are happy to make the required sacrifices in order to build the Temple (1 Kings 8:65-66), a place where all can go to receive God’s justice (1 Kings 8:12-21), forgiveness (1 Kings 8:33-36), healing (1 Kings 8:37-40), and mercy (1 Kings 8:46-53).

But after the Temple is completed, Solomon builds a palace of the same scale and magnificence as the Temple (1 Kings 9:1, 10). As he becomes accustomed to power and wealth, he becomes self-serving, arrogant, and unfaithful. He appropriates a large portion of the nation's productive capacity for his personal benefit. His already-impressive throne of ivory is overlaid with gold (2 Chronicles 9:17). He entertains lavishly (1 Kings 10:5). He reneges on agreements with allies (1 Kings 9:12), and he keeps a consort of "seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines" (1 Kings 11:3). This last is his ultimate undoing, for "he loved many foreign women" (1 Kings 11:1) with the result that "when Solomon was old, his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not true to the Lord his God" (1 Kings 11:4). He builds shrines to Astarte, Milcom, Chemosh and Molech (1 Kings 11:7). Given the covenant requirement that the faithfulness of the king to the Lord would be the key to the prosperity of the nation, Israel would soon descend rapidly from its peak. God, it seems, cares deeply whether we do our work for his purposes or against them. Amazing feats are possible when we work according to God’s plans, but our work rapidly disintegrates when we don’t.



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