Israel's Golden Age

Israel's Golden Age

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“So Solomon reigned over all kingdoms from the [Euphrates] River to the land of the Philestines, as far as the border of Egypt” (1 Kings 4:21 1 Kings 4:21And Solomon reigned over all kingdoms from the river to the land of the Philistines, and to the border of Egypt: they brought presents, and served Solomon all the days of his life.
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).

The covenant by which ancient Israel would become “the people of God” (Judges 20:2 Judges 20:2And the chief of all the people, even of all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, four hundred thousand footmen that drew sword.
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) was made at Mount Sinai shortly after the Israelites were freed from Egyptian slavery. God’s covenant with the nation was based on His promises to and covenant with Abraham (Exodus 2:23-24 Exodus 2:23-24 23 And it came to pass in process of time, that the king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up to God by reason of the bondage. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.
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; Exodus 33:1 Exodus 33:1And the LORD said to Moses, Depart, and go up hence, you and the people which you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, To your seed will I give it:
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). In it God defined the relationship He wanted with Jacob’s descendants, now the fledgling nation of Israel en route to the Promised Land.

God offered this covenant to Israel as a unilateral declaration of the opportunities He was offering Abraham’s descendants and an unambiguous explanation of the Israelites’ obligations to Him. Their part in making the covenant was only that of accepting or rejecting God’s offer and then, after accepting it, performing the commitment they had made.

God provided them the same opportunity to agree to walk before Him blamelessly that He had given to Abraham. He consistently reminded them: “For I am the LORD who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:45 Leviticus 11:45For I am the LORD that brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: you shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.
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). The effectiveness of the relationship depended on their continued attention to living and behaving as a holy —set-apart—people.

When the children of Israel heard the terms of God’s covenant, they had two clear-cut choices. They could accept the role of living as God’s holy people —His representatives to the nations (Deuteronomy 4:6 Deuteronomy 4:6Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.
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)—or they could accept the consequences for refusing to cooperate.

At that time the prospect of their surviving without God’s help was bleak. God had just delivered them from the cruelty of Egyptian bondage. They had no homeland, and no other nation was inclined to accept them as residents. They found themselves caught in a no-man’s-land, a harsh and unforgiving environment.

God had knowingly made the option of their becoming His holy people too attractive to refuse. But He did not force them into this role without their willing consent. They had to make a choice.

He spoke to them from Mount Sinai and revealed to them His Ten Commandments—His basic definition of holiness. The Commandments, along with the statutes and judgments God revealed to Moses, became “the Book of the Covenant.” Moses then “took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient’ ” (Exodus 24:7 Exodus 24:7And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD has said will we do, and be obedient.
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; compare Exodus 24:3 Exodus 24:3And Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the LORD has said will we do.
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).

In spite of the covenant, the Israelites of the generation God had just freed from Egyptian slavery was still unsure and suspicious of their Creator’s concern for them. They said to Moses: “We have seen this day that God speaks with man; yet he still lives. Now therefore, why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the LORD our God anymore, then we shall die. For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?” (Deuteronomy 5:24-26 Deuteronomy 5:24-26 24 And you said, Behold, the LORD our God has showed us his glory and his greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the middle of the fire: we have seen this day that God does talk with man, and he lives. 25 Now therefore why should we die? for this great fire will consume us: if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, then we shall die. 26 For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the middle of the fire, as we have, and lived?
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).

The Israelites feared being too close to God. They did not trust Him. They lacked the faith of Abraham. So they said to Moses, “You go near and hear all that the LORD our God may say, and tell us all that the LORD our God says to you, and we will hear and do it” (Deuteronomy 5:27 Deuteronomy 5:27Go you near, and hear all that the LORD our God shall say: and speak you to us all that the LORD our God shall speak to you; and we will hear it, and do it.
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). They were not ready for a truly close, personal relationship with God.

Why the New Covenant would be necessary

God, of course, knew their hearts better than they knew them. He understood that the covenant He was making with them had one major weakness: There was no provision in it to change the human heart. That would have to wait until the first coming of the Messiah, until Jesus Christ could be slain as the sacrificial Lamb of God (Hebrews 9:26 Hebrews 9:26For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world has he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
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).

Notice God’s response to the Israelites’ declaration that they would obey Him: “I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They have done well in all that they have spoken. Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!” (Deuteronomy 5:28-29 Deuteronomy 5:28-29 28 And the LORD heard the voice of your words, when you spoke to me; and the LORD said to me, I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken to you: they have well said all that they have spoken. 29 O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!
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, NASB).

But they did not have such a heart. God did not include a new heart, empowered by His Spirit, as part of the birthright promise. That blessing would come later as part of the scepter promise God gave to Judah that He would fulfill after the death of Christ (Isaiah 53:11-12 Isaiah 53:11-12 11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he has poured out his soul to death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
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; Jeremiah 31:31-33 Jeremiah 31:31-33 31 Behold, the days come, said the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: 32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was an husband to them, said the LORD: 33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, said the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
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; Hebrews 8:3-12 Hebrews 8:3-12 3 For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: why it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer. 4 For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law: 5 Who serve to the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, said he, that you make all things according to the pattern showed to you in the mount. 6 But now has he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. 8 For finding fault with them, he said, Behold, the days come, said the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: 9 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, said the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, said the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: 11 And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.
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).

Notice what Peter said centuries later when God finally made available the Holy Spirit to all His people on that Feast of Pentecost following Christ’s death. He exclaimed: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:1 Acts 2:1And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
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, Acts 2:38-39 Acts 2:38-39 38 Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the LORD our God shall call.
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).

Because God did not give them the Holy Spirit, the people of ancient Israel were never fully able to live according to the spiritual intent of God’s laws and thus become a truly holy people. Their human nature and the influences of the other people around them consistently led them astray.

Even the generation God led out of Egypt by great miracles died in the wilderness of the Middle Eastern desert because of its constant disbelief, stubbornness, complaints and disobedience. God did not allow that generation to inherit the land He had promised Abraham’s descendants. Those people were unwilling to reflect the holiness He desired.

Nevertheless, God kept His promise to Abraham and gave the land of the promise to their children under the leadership of Joshua. So “Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had known all the works of the LORD which He had done for Israel” (Joshua 24:31 Joshua 24:31And Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the LORD, that he had done for Israel.
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).

Herein lies an important lesson. Just because a generation of His people becomes disobedient doesn’t mean God forsakes His promises to their children. They also are heirs of His promise to Abraham.

God may, for a time, withhold or delay the blessings He has promised. But He will eventually give them. He always keeps His word. For that reason we can be certain God will fulfill the biblical prophecies about the children of Israel in the last days.

Israel becomes a kingdom

For the next several hundred years God sent prophets and judges to guide the people, to teach them His ways and resolve controversies among them. But many times they turned their back on Him (Psalms 78:56-57 Psalms 78:56-57 56 Yet they tempted and provoked the most high God, and kept not his testimonies: 57 But turned back, and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers: they were turned aside like a deceitful bow.
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). They fell short in living up to their commitment to be a holy people. The Bible summarizes the era of the judges in these words: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25 Judges 21:25In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
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).

Yet during that era, and later, God heard their prayers in times of crisis and fought their battles when they cried out for His mercy (Psalms 106:39-45 Psalms 106:39-45 39 Thus were they defiled with their own works, and went a whoring with their own inventions. 40 Therefore was the wrath of the LORD kindled against his people, so that he abhorred his own inheritance. 41 And he gave them into the hand of the heathen; and they that hated them ruled over them. 42 Their enemies also oppressed them, and they were brought into subjection under their hand. 43 Many times did he deliver them; but they provoked him with their counsel, and were brought low for their iniquity. 44 Nevertheless he regarded their affliction, when he heard their cry: 45 And he remembered for them his covenant, and repented according to the multitude of his mercies.
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). He “was gracious to them, had compassion on them, and regarded them, because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not yet destroy them or cast them from His presence” (2 Kings 13:23 2 Kings 13:23And the LORD was gracious to them, and had compassion on them, and had respect to them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, neither cast he them from his presence as yet.
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).

Finally Israel asked the prophet Samuel for a king. “Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and … said to him, ‘Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.’ But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ So Samuel prayed to the LORD.

“And the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them … Now therefore, heed their voice. However, you shall solemnly forewarn them, and show them the behavior of the king who will reign over them’ ” (1 Samuel 8:4-9 1 Samuel 8:4-9 4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel to Ramah, 5 And said to him, Behold, you are old, and your sons walk not in your ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations. 6 But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD said to Samuel, Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you: for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. 8 According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, with which they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also to you. 9 Now therefore listen to their voice: however, yet protest solemnly to them, and show them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.
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).

God honored their request and directed Samuel to anoint Saul—apparently one of the most physically impressive men in Israel—as their king (1 Samuel 10:17-24 1 Samuel 10:17-24 17 And Samuel called the people together to the LORD to Mizpeh; 18 And said to the children of Israel, Thus said the LORD God of Israel, I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all kingdoms, and of them that oppressed you: 19 And you have this day rejected your God, who himself saved you out of all your adversities and your tribulations; and you have said to him, No, but set a king over us. Now therefore present yourselves before the LORD by your tribes, and by your thousands. 20 And when Samuel had caused all the tribes of Israel to come near, the tribe of Benjamin was taken. 21 When he had caused the tribe of Benjamin to come near by their families, the family of Matri was taken, and Saul the son of Kish was taken: and when they sought him, he could not be found. 22 Therefore they inquired of the LORD further, if the man should yet come thither. And the LORD answered, Behold he has hid himself among the stuff. 23 And they ran and fetched him there: and when he stood among the people, he was higher than any of the people from his shoulders and upward. 24 And Samuel said to all the people, See you him whom the LORD has chosen, that there is none like him among all the people? And all the people shouted, and said, God save the king.
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). God was willing to work with and support Israel’s king if he would behave righteously. But Saul became arrogant, stubborn and self-willed. Physically he appeared to be everything the people could have asked for as a king, but his heart was not right before God. So God decided to replace him.

Paul explained 1,000 years later: “And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.’ From this man’s seed, according to the promise, God raised up for Israel a Savior—Jesus” (Acts 13:22-23 Acts 13:22-23 22 And when he had removed him, he raised up to them David to be their king; to whom also he gave their testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, which shall fulfill all my will. 23 Of this man’s seed has God according to his promise raised to Israel a Savior, Jesus:
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).

The beginning of Israel’s golden age

The story of Israel’s rise into a golden age during the reign of David and his son Solomon, and then its disintegration into two separate kingdoms, is a story of both triumph and bitter tragedy.

Together these events underscore God’s faithfulness to His promises and the tragedy of human weakness. They also highlight the necessity for a major change in the human spirit and the return of Christ as the world’s only perfect king.

During the reign of David and Solomon, God fulfilled His promise that Abraham’s descendants would rule over a vast territory in the Middle East from Egypt to the Euphrates River. Israel became a great nation.

But, because of the sins of Solomon and his successors, as well as the transgressions of the people themselves, Israel lost it all in the decades after Solomon’s death. Here is how it happened.

David became ruler over the tribes of Israel in two stages. First the tribe of Judah anointed him king in Hebron (2 Samuel 2:3-4 2 Samuel 2:3-4 3 And his men that were with him did David bring up, every man with his household: and they dwelled in the cities of Hebron. 4 And the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah. And they told David, saying, That the men of Jabeshgilead were they that buried Saul.
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). From that city David reigned for about seven years before the other tribes made a covenant with him and also accepted him as king. Thus began a period of unity in Israel (2 Samuel 5:1-5 2 Samuel 5:1-5 1 Then came all the tribes of Israel to David to Hebron, and spoke, saying, Behold, we are your bone and your flesh. 2 Also in time past, when Saul was king over us, you were he that led out and brought in Israel: and the LORD said to you, You shall feed my people Israel, and you shall be a captain over Israel. 3 So all the elders of Israel came to the king to Hebron; and king David made a league with them in Hebron before the LORD: and they anointed David king over Israel. 4 David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. 5 In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months: and in Jerusalem he reigned thirty and three years over all Israel and Judah.
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; 1 Chronicles 11:3 1 Chronicles 11:3Therefore came all the elders of Israel to the king to Hebron; and David made a covenant with them in Hebron before the LORD; and they anointed David king over Israel, according to the word of the LORD by Samuel.
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).

As king, David inherited a large and effective military. About 350,000 armed warriors from the tribes of Israel attended his coronation ceremony (1 Chronicles 12:23-40 1 Chronicles 12:23-40 23 And these are the numbers of the bands that were ready armed to the war, and came to David to Hebron, to turn the kingdom of Saul to him, according to the word of the LORD. 24 The children of Judah that bore shield and spear were six thousand and eight hundred, ready armed to the war. 25 Of the children of Simeon, mighty men of valor for the war, seven thousand and one hundred. 26 Of the children of Levi four thousand and six hundred. 27 And Jehoiada was the leader of the Aaronites, and with him were three thousand and seven hundred; 28 And Zadok, a young man mighty of valor, and of his father’s house twenty and two captains. 29 And of the children of Benjamin, the kindred of Saul, three thousand: for till now the greatest part of them had kept the ward of the house of Saul. 30 And of the children of Ephraim twenty thousand and eight hundred, mighty men of valor, famous throughout the house of their fathers. 31 And of the half tribe of Manasseh eighteen thousand, which were expressed by name, to come and make David king. 32 And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brothers were at their commandment. 33 Of Zebulun, such as went forth to battle, expert in war, with all instruments of war, fifty thousand, which could keep rank: they were not of double heart. 34 And of Naphtali a thousand captains, and with them with shield and spear thirty and seven thousand. 35 And of the Danites expert in war twenty and eight thousand and six hundred. 36 And of Asher, such as went forth to battle, expert in war, forty thousand. 37 And on the other side of Jordan, of the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and of the half tribe of Manasseh, with all manner of instruments of war for the battle, an hundred and twenty thousand. 38 All these men of war, that could keep rank, came with a perfect heart to Hebron, to make David king over all Israel: and all the rest also of Israel were of one heart to make David king. 39 And there they were with David three days, eating and drinking: for their brothers had prepared for them. 40 Moreover they that were near them, even to Issachar and Zebulun and Naphtali, brought bread on asses, and on camels, and on mules, and on oxen, and meat, meal, cakes of figs, and bunches of raisins, and wine, and oil, and oxen, and sheep abundantly: for there was joy in Israel.
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). Soon he began to subdue the unfriendly neighbors who had plagued the Israelites for years.

David reigned a total of 40 years, 33 of them from Jerusalem, the city he captured from the Jebusites and made Israel’s capital. His rule signaled Israel’s ascent to military and economic preeminence in the Middle East. Modern historians tend to ignore the biblical record and vastly underestimate the size and scope of David’s and Solomon’s kingdom.

As the New Unger’s Bible Dictionary explains: “The tendency of scholars in the past has been to give scant credence to the biblical notices of Solomon’s power and glory … Archaeology has vindicated the wide extent of the Davidic-Solomonic empire as delineated in Kings. The general historical background of the Davidic-Solomonic period has also been authenticated.

“Solomon’s glory used to be commonly dismissed as ‘Semitic exaggeration’ or a romantic tale. It was contended that such a sprawling realm could not have existed between great empires like Egypt, the Hittites, Assyria, and Babylonia. The monuments, however, have shown that during the period from 1100 to 900 B.C. the great empires surrounding Israel were either in decline or temporarily inactive, so that Solomon could rule with the splendor attributed to him in the Bible” (1988, “Solomon”).

The key to David’s success

What was the key to David’s military and political success? We find the answer revealed in the first military challenge he faced after consolidating all the tribes of Israel under his leadership.

“When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over Israel, all the Philistines went up in search of David; but David heard about it and went down to the stronghold. Now the Philistines had come and spread out in the valley of Rephaim.

“David inquired of the LORD, ‘Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will you give them into my hand?’ The LORD said to David, ‘Go up; for I will certainly give the Philistines into your hand.’ So David came to Baal-perazim, and David defeated them there. He said, ‘The LORD has burst forth against my enemies before me, like a bursting flood’ ” (2 Samuel 5:17-20 2 Samuel 5:17-20 17 But when the Philistines heard that they had anointed David king over Israel, all the Philistines came up to seek David; and David heard of it, and went down to the hold. 18 The Philistines also came and spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim. 19 And David inquired of the LORD, saying, Shall I go up to the Philistines? will you deliver them into my hand? And the LORD said to David, Go up: for I will doubtless deliver the Philistines into your hand. 20 And David came to Baalperazim, and David smote them there, and said, The LORD has broken forth on my enemies before me, as the breach of waters. Therefore he called the name of that place Baalperazim.
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, NRSV).

David did not have to go looking for trouble. It came to him. But when it did God gave him the victory. As time passed, his enemies formed alliances among themselves to overthrow the kingdom—a kingdom they failed to realize that God had established. David was victorious even against alliances of hostile neighbors. “And David became more and more powerful, because the LORD Almighty was with him” (1 Chronicles 11:9 1 Chronicles 11:9So David waxed greater and greater: for the LORD of hosts was with him.
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, NIV).

David’s success was God’s doing. He became the most powerful ruler in the Middle East in his day. Yet he built no monuments to honor himself as was the custom of virtually all the other ancient kings. Therefore, since his exploits are recorded only in the Bible, most historians refuse to acknowledge the prominence of Israel under David and his son and successor, Solomon.

Critics of the Bible point out there is little archaeological evidence to support the Bible’s claims of Israel’s greatness under David and Solomon. Yet the lack of evidence is perfectly understandable in light of the history of Israel and the region.

Armies have fought over and invaded the area countless times over the centuries. Jerusalem alone has been conquered more than 20 times, several of which involved its complete destruction. Parchment and papyrus records from ancient times in Israel have long since turned to dust. But even though such specific hard evidence is sparse, by no means is it nonexistent. In light of the Bible’s perfect accuracy in so many areas, we have no reason to question its statements about Israel under David and Solomon. (For more information about the accuracy of the Bible, be sure to request or download your free copy of the booklet Is the Bible True? )

Solomon inherits an empire

King Solomon inherited an immense, powerful and prosperous Middle Eastern empire from his father, David. “For [Solomon] had dominion over all the region on this side of the [Euphrates] River from Tiphsah [probably modern Dibseh, where northern Syria borders southern Turkey] even to Gaza [the Philistine city on the Mediterranean coast], namely over all the kings on this side of the River; and he had peace on every side all around him” (1 Kings 4:24 1 Kings 4:24For he had dominion over all the region on this side the river, from Tiphsah even to Azzah, over all the kings on this side the river: and he had peace on all sides round about him.
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).

At that time the people of Judah and Israel “were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy. And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the [Euphrates] River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute [taxes] and were Solomon’s subjects all his life” (1 Kings 4:20-21 1 Kings 4:20-21 20 Judah and Israel were many, as the sand which is by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking, and making merry. 21 And Solomon reigned over all kingdoms from the river to the land of the Philistines, and to the border of Egypt: they brought presents, and served Solomon all the days of his life.
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, NIV).

Two other Middle Eastern powers, Egypt and Tyre (north of Israel on the coast in modern-day Lebanon) chose to become allies of David and Solomon rather than attack Israel and risk being conquered themselves. These two greatly expanded the scope of Israel’s commercial and political might, though during the reign of Solomon their cultural and religious influences would also contribute to Israel’s eventual collapse.

Solomon’s alliance with Hiram of Tyre is probably the primary reason the historical importance of Israel’s power and influence has been obscured in Western history. Modern historians, when describing the pervasive influence of the Phoenician Empire, centered then around Tyre, tend to overlook that Solomon was the real power of the eastern Mediterranean region at the time.

Israel and the Phoenician Empire

The Bible reveals that the history of Israel and Phoenicia was far more intertwined than most historians have recognized. In general they prospered together in good times and suffered together during the bad. They had common enemies. They rose to international power together and were later conquered by the Assyrian Empire at about the same time.

The people in the coastal area around Tyre and nearby Sidon shared an alphabet and more or less the same Semitic language with Israel. Other than slight cultural and dialectical differences, the languages appear to have been almost identical.

Israel’s special relationship with King Hiram of Tyre began during David’s reign (1 Chronicles 14:1 1 Chronicles 14:1Now Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David, and timber of cedars, with masons and carpenters, to build him an house.
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) and continued beyond the reign of Solomon. Historians know Tyre as the chief city of the mighty Phoenicians.

The 1999 Encarta Multimedia Encyclopedia says the Phoenicians “became the most notable traders and sailors of the ancient world. The fleets of the coast cities traveled throughout the Mediterranean and even into the Atlantic Ocean, and other nations competed to employ Phoenician ships and crews in their navies … The city-kingdoms founded many colonies, notably Utica and Carthage in north Africa, on the islands of Rhodes and Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea, and Tarshish in southern Spain. Tyre was the leader of the Phoenician cities before they were subjugated, once again, by Assyria during the 8th century BC” (“Phoenicia”).

Solomon greatly expanded Israel’s partnership with Hiram. It appears that a covenant of kinship was formally made between the two rulers, a “treaty of brotherhood” (Amos 1:9 Amos 1:9Thus said the LORD; For three transgressions of Tyrus, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they delivered up the whole captivity to Edom, and remembered not the brotherly covenant:
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, NIV). As we will see, that relationship would prove to be one of Solomon’s tragic mistakes. But temporarily it greatly increased the prosperity of both kingdoms, and it was this partnership that achieved international fame as the Phoenician Empire.

In evaluating the power and prestige of the mighty Phoenicians, historians tend to look no further than the maritime cities on the coast of modern Lebanon. They fail to recognize the partnership that existed between Hiram of Tyre and David and Solomon of Israel. As a result, they fail to see that David and Solomon, not Hiram, were the dominant rulers of the commercial partnership that became known to the outside world as Phoenicia.

Israel’s contribution to Phoenician power

In his book Lebanon Yesterday and Today, John Christopher succinctly describes the region that historians regard as ancient Phoenicia. “When Phoenicia was at the peak of its power about 1000 B.C. [during the reign of David and Solomon], the chief city-states were, from south to north, Tyre, Sidon, Byblos, and Aradus (situated on an island off the Syrian coast beyond the Lebanese frontier)” (1966, p. 43).

But anciently the word Phoenicia sometimes referred to much more than just those few coastal cities. It even included much of the inland area of the “land of Canaan” that was the territory of ancient Israel. This important information is often overlooked in historical accounts of ancient Phoenicia.

Christopher explains: “During the third millennium [B.C.], Byblos and the Lebanese coast in general were often referred to as the land of Canaan, and its inhabitants as Canaanites. Sometime later the more familiar terms, Phoenicia and Phoenicians, appeared. Phoenicia sometimes specifically referred to the coastal section of the much larger land of Canaan that reached well inland” (p. 41, emphasis added).

From the point of view of the Phoenician coastal cities, a cooperative alliance with Israel was a geopolitical necessity. Militarily, Israel was the cities’ most powerful neighbor, far too powerful for Tyre’s Hiram to ignore.

David’s conquests of Edom, Moab and Ammon (modern Jordan) and Aram (modern Syria) gave Israel control over most of the vital inland trade routes. Tyre and Sidon controlled the maritime trade of the Mediterranean region. The weakness of the Phoenician port cities was their almost total dependence on trade for their survival.

Israel was, to a great extent, self-sufficient, producing large quantities of agricultural exports such as wine, olive oil and wheat. But the Phoenician coastal area around Tyre and Sidon was mountainous, leaving little land for agricultural production. Reflecting the scarcity of tillable land, they imported considerable foodstuffs from Israel. Strong political and commercial ties quickly developed between the two kingdoms, but Israel was by far the more powerful of the two.

The port cities of Tyre and Sidon shared manpower with Israel for the gathering of materials for Israel’s temple (1 Kings 5:8-18 1 Kings 5:8-18 8 And Hiram sent to Solomon, saying, I have considered the things which you sent to me for: and I will do all your desire concerning timber of cedar, and concerning timber of fir. 9 My servants shall bring them down from Lebanon to the sea: and I will convey them by sea in floats to the place that you shall appoint me, and will cause them to be discharged there, and you shall receive them: and you shall accomplish my desire, in giving food for my household. 10 So Hiram gave Solomon cedar trees and fir trees according to all his desire. 11 And Solomon gave Hiram twenty thousand measures of wheat for food to his household, and twenty measures of pure oil: thus gave Solomon to Hiram year by year. 12 And the LORD gave Solomon wisdom, as he promised him: and there was peace between Hiram and Solomon; and they two made a league together. 13 And king Solomon raised a levy out of all Israel; and the levy was thirty thousand men. 14 And he sent them to Lebanon, ten thousand a month by courses: a month they were in Lebanon, and two months at home: and Adoniram was over the levy. 15 And Solomon had three score and ten thousand that bore burdens, and fourscore thousand hewers in the mountains; 16 Beside the chief of Solomon’s officers which were over the work, three thousand and three hundred, which ruled over the people that worked in the work. 17 And the king commanded, and they brought great stones, costly stones, and hewed stones, to lay the foundation of the house. 18 And Solomon’s builders and Hiram’s builders did hew them, and the stone squarers: so they prepared timber and stones to build the house.
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). Solomon even conscripted a labor force of 30,000 men to work in Lebanon to secure timber for the temple’s construction (verses 13-14).

The Phoenician port cities also gave Israel direct access to vast inter-national markets through their maritime control of the Mediterranean Sea. Historians have records of the Phoenicians venturing into the Atlantic Ocean at least as far as the British Isles, and some believe they traveled far beyond. This, then, means Israel had the same access to these areas.

The Scriptures even note that two Israelite tribes, Asher and Dan, had developed their own maritime expertise long before the days of David and Solomon of Israel and King Hiram of Tyre (Judges 5:17 Judges 5:17Gilead stayed beyond Jordan: and why did Dan remain in ships? Asher continued on the sea shore, and stayed in his breaches.
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). Solomon built his own fleet of ships and stationed them at Israel’s port city of Ezion Geber (1 Kings 9:26 1 Kings 9:26And king Solomon made a navy of ships in Eziongeber, which is beside Eloth, on the shore of the Red sea, in the land of Edom.
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), providing trade access to east Africa and Asia via the Red and Arabian seas.

Though the Israelites had their own experienced navigators, the Phoenicians also supplied them with “seamen who knew the sea, to work with the servants of Solomon,” in their joint maritime commercial ventures (1 Kings 9:27-28 1 Kings 9:27-28 27 And Hiram sent in the navy his servants, shipmen that had knowledge of the sea, with the servants of Solomon. 28 And they came to Ophir, and fetched from there gold, four hundred and twenty talents, and brought it to king Solomon.
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).

Israel, under David and Solomon, was a full partner in Phoenicia’s international greatness and fame. The international commercial and political influence of Solomon was far greater than most recent historians have perceived. During this time, it is likely that some of Israel’s traders settled in the British Isles, establishing small colonies. Although historical information about this period is sparse, many ancient traditions indicate this is what happened.

Why God gave Israel an empire

In the days of Moses, when Israel came into existence as a nation, God explained His purpose for making the Israelites a people of influence and power. He told them: “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation …” (Exodus 19:5-6 Exodus 19:5-6 5 Now therefore, if you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then you shall be a peculiar treasure to me above all people: for all the earth is mine: 6 And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.
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).

God intended to use them as a model nation. He had Moses tell them: “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you…Be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’ ” (Deuteronomy 4:2-6 Deuteronomy 4:2-6 2 You shall not add to the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish ought from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you. 3 Your eyes have seen what the LORD did because of Baalpeor: for all the men that followed Baalpeor, the LORD your God has destroyed them from among you. 4 But you that did join to the LORD your God are alive every one of you this day. 5 Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do so in the land where you go to possess it. 6 Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.
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).

God wanted Israel to set an example that would teach other nations the benefits that come from obeying Him—faithfully keeping His laws. When He established Israel as a great nation He gave Solomon wisdom that exceeded the understanding of the other rulers in the region. Solomon became internationally famous for his wisdom (1 Kings 4:29-34 1 Kings 4:29-34 29 And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore. 30 And Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt. 31 For he was wiser than all men; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol: and his fame was in all nations round about. 32 And he spoke three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five. 33 And he spoke of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even to the hyssop that springs out of the wall: he spoke also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes. 34 And there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom.
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), and his subjects apparently were at peace within their lands.

God intended that the wisdom of His way of life and His laws be made available to other nations. He gave Israel a magnificent opportunity to spiritually enrich or bless “all the families of the earth,” as He had promised Abraham.

But neither Solomon nor the people he led kept their eyes on that objective. The physical benefits of prosperity, wealth and fame became their chief focus. They lost sight of the reason for their existence as a nation.

Again, the problem was human nature. Solomon increasingly yielded to his own weaknesses until, at the end of his life, he had abandoned the great God who had given him an empire. In the next chapter we’ll learn how this happened and the consequences that came from it.

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