Chapter IX

The question from which tribe the king should be taken was one that naturally excited, from the first, some tribal jealousy. Judah and Ephraim had long been the leading tribes, and each was unwilling that the other should be exalted by the possession of the royal dignity. In the case of Saul of Benjamin, little jealousy was felt; but when David was taken from Judah, and the city of Jerusalem became the capital, and seat ol the temple, some discontent was awakened, which several times found expression during David's reign. But the heroic qualities of the king drew all hearts to him; and although the last years of his life were embittered by domestic dissensions, yet was he able to preserve the tribes in unity, and to transmit a firmly established throne to his son. And the secret strength of this unity was not in his civil organization, nor in the disciplined army he had formed, but in the newly awakened religious feeling of the people. So long as this was strong, the bonds that bound the tribes to Jerusalem and the temple could not be broken. Where Jehovah dwelt and was worshipped, was the centre of national unity; and the house of David was recognized by all as the house He had chosen to rule the people under Him. It would be an error to suppose that because David was in his general spirit of obedience a man after God's own heart, he did not often err, both in his private life and in his public acts. Nor did his administration of the theocratic government in any true way realize the fullness of the Messianic promises. In two things especially he sinned, and brought upon himself and his posterity and people the Divine judgments. The first was the matter of Bathsheba, when God said to him, "Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house ;" the second, that of numbering the people, when seventy thousand died of the pestilence. It is probable that David was moved to number the people through a desire to increase the army, and to place the kingdom before the world as a great military power; so little did he, familiar with war, understand what was the real defence of Israel, and what its true place as Jehovah's witness among the nations.

Solomon, David's successor, was a man of great intellectual gifts, but who was never ready fully to accept his position as a theocratic king. David knew that the first requisite in the ruler who should sit on the theocratic throne, was obedience to Jehovah, and that "the fear of Him was the beginning of wisdom." Solomon had asked for wisdom and knowledge, but not for "a perfect heart to keep Jehovah's commandments." This very reputation for wisdom and knowledge, which extended through all the nations, became a snare to him. His temptation was the same as that of David, though under a different form and in a higher degree, to make the Theocracy one of the powers of this world, and to exalt himself, rather than Jehovah, as the ruler. His government became more and more that of an earthly king, whose trust is in armies and fortresses, in wealth and political alliances. He sought to develop commerce, and sent his ships to distant ports: riches flowed in, and with them luxury and ostentation. The simplicity of national life was corrupted, and the customs of the heathen around found rapid entrance.

But it was in the religious spirit of Solomon and of the people that the greatest change took place. It is to be noted, that, so far as recorded, he had no prophets as his counsellors, as Nathan and Gad had been counsellors to David, — a clear sign that he did not feel the need of them, and trusted to his own judgment. He took many wives of the heathen peoples around him, contrary to the Divine command; and through them he was led into the toleration of idolatry, building high places and chapels where his wives could burn incense and offer sacrifice to their several gods. It is not improbable that he thought every form of religion to have some truth in it, which in this manner he was willing to recognize. This toleration of idolatry God would not endure; and because of it He would rend the kingdom from him in the days of his son, except the tribe of Judah, and give it to another. This was speedily fulfilled after his death, through the agency of political causes. The people had been greatly burdened with taxation, the result of Solomon's costly buildings and the great magnificence of his court; and the feeling of dissatisfaction was strong, especially in the northern tribes. When Solomon died, the people desired of his son, Rehoboam, that the taxes should be lightened: his foolish and insulting answer led to immediate revolt, and to permanent political division. The strong empire of David gave place to two weak and hostile kingdoms.

This disruption could not so suddenly and quickly have taken place, unless the way had been prepared by a decay of the religious life in the nation at large. The worldly — perhaps we may say sceptical — spirit of Solomon had infected many. The temple of Jehovah lost in some measure its sacredness, His worship, though the chief, was not the sole worship. To other gods a degree of honor might be paid; sacrifice in high places was tolerated in Jerusalem, and probably elsewhere in the land. Thus the strong bonds binding the tribes into religious unity had become relaxed, and were swiftly sundered under the pressure of pecuniary burdens and tribal jealousies.

Thus the house of David, called to so high dignity as to administer the government under Jehovah, and placed under the most favorable circumstances to enable it to fulfill its calling, failed early in the trial. Through its sin and folly the kingdom was speedily rent in twain. The covenant of God with David could not, indeed, fail; but its fulfillment in the Messianic Kingdom, which had seemed so near, receded into the distant future. The necessary moral conditions for its establishment were wanting on the part both of king and people; and long and stern years of discipline were needed ere the true preparation of heart could be found, «ven in a remnant.