The king at the time of the Exodus and for the next nearly 400 years was the Rock of Israel, the Eternal God Himself—in fact, the preincarnate Word, Jesus Christ (compare Deuteronomy 32:4 Deuteronomy 32:4He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.
American King James Version×; 1 Corinthians 10:4 1 Corinthians 10:4And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.
American King James Version×; John 1:1-3 John 1:1-3 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
American King James Version×, John 1:14 John 1:14And the Word was made flesh, and dwelled among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
American King James Version×; John 1:17 John 1:17For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
American King James Version×:5; and to learn more, request our free booklet Who Is God? ).
Though ruling through His chosen “judges”—from Moses and Joshua all the way to Samuel—God in the person of Christ sat on the throne of Israel (compare Judges 8:22-23 Judges 8:22-23 22 Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, Rule you over us, both you, and your son, and your son’s son also: for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.
23 And Gideon said to them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the LORD shall rule over you.
American King James Version×). Samuel described this period as the time “when the LORD your God was your king” (1 Samuel 12:12 1 Samuel 12:12And when you saw that Nahash the king of the children of Ammon came against you, you said to me, No; but a king shall reign over us: when the LORD your God was your king.
American King James Version×). That’s why, when the Israelites told Samuel around 1050 B.C. that they wanted a human king like the nations around them, the Lord told him, “They have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them” (1 Samuel 8:7 1 Samuel 8:7And 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.
American King James Version×).
So God then gave them a physical monarch—though surprisingly not of the tribe of Judah. Rather, King Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin.
It is interesting to note that unlike other ancient rulers, the king of Israel was not an absolute despot. God had Samuel anoint Saul “commander” (1 Samuel 9:16 1 Samuel 9:16To morrow about this time I will send you a man out of the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be captain over my people Israel, that he may save my people out of the hand of the Philistines: for I have looked on my people, because their cry is come to me.
American King James Version×; 1 Samuel 10:1 1 Samuel 10:1Then Samuel took a vial of oil, and poured it on his head, and kissed him, and said, Is it not because the LORD has anointed you to be captain over his inheritance?
American King James Version×) or “captain” (KJV) over His people. This Hebrew term nagiyd used here could be rendered in English as viceroy or governor-general—the stand-in for the real monarch. In fact, the very act of anointing a ruler in the ancient world implied a vassal relationship. It is later explained that Israel’s king “sat on the throne of the LORD,” essentially reigning as king for Him (1 Chronicles 29:23 1 Chronicles 29:23Then Solomon sat on the throne of the LORD as king instead of David his father, and prospered; and all Israel obeyed him.
American King James Version×; 2 Chronicles 9:6-8 2 Chronicles 9:6-8 6 However, I believed not their words, until I came, and my eyes had seen it: and, behold, the one half of the greatness of your wisdom was not told me: for you exceed the fame that I heard. 7 Happy are your men, and happy are these your servants, which stand continually before you, and hear your wisdom. 8 Blessed be the LORD your God, which delighted in you to set you on his throne, to be king for the LORD your God: because your God loved Israel, to establish them for ever, therefore made he you king over them, to do judgment and justice.
American King James Version×).
Also quite different than in other realms was the fact that in other countries, kings made law and were thus above it. But in Israel, God’s prophet explained “the rights and duties of the kingship” (1 Samuel 10:22 1 Samuel 10:22Therefore 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.
American King James Version×, NRSV). The ruler was subject to the law (compare Deuteronomy 17:14-20 Deuteronomy 17:14-20 14 When you are come to the land which the LORD your God gives you, and shall possess it, and shall dwell therein, and shall say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me; 15 You shall in any wise set him king over you, whom the LORD your God shall choose: one from among your brothers shall you set king over you: you may not set a stranger over you, which is not your brother. 16 But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: for as much as the LORD has said to you, You shall from now on return no more that way. 17 Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold. 18 And it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: 19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them: 20 That his heart be not lifted up above his brothers, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the middle of Israel.
American King James Version×). Essentially, the Almighty set up a constitutional limited monarchy—in which He would send prophets as His representatives to the king to give him his “report card.” Tragically, Saul failed and God removed him from office by bringing about his death.
Then, around 1010 B.C., more than 650 years after the scepter prophecy had been given to Judah, God at last did raise up a man from that tribe, of the preeminent branch of Perez, to be king: “I have found David … a man after My own heart, who will do all My will” (Acts 13:22 Acts 13:22And 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.
American King James Version×).