Originally, the Jewish nation had
no kings. At Mount Sinai G‑d told Moses that if the Jews would follow in His
ways, they would be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” If they would
serve the one true King, they would have no need for a mortal replacement.
Of course, they needed a leader.
But Moses was not a conventional king. He was G‑d’s servant, a humble shepherd
rather than a supreme monarch. Moses passed this model of leadership on to his
successor Joshua, and he in turn passed it on to his disciples.
Thus for most of its early
history, the Nation of Israel was lead by judges and prophets. The prophets
relayed the word of G‑d, while the judges counseled the people in times of
peace, and lead them to battle in times of war.
The First King
Although the Jews did not require
a king in their ideal state, Moses foresaw that the need for one would arise.
In the Book of Deuteronomy, he actually commands Israel to appoint a king (at
an unspecified time in the future), and lays down the guidelines for a Jewish
monarch, limiting his materialistic pursuits and exhorting him to follow G‑d
and be humble.
Then, in the year 2881 (880 BCE),
after 400 years of being led by prophets and judges, the people approached the
Prophet Samuel, clamoring for a king “like all the other nations.”
After consulting with G‑d (who
expressed His disappointment in the peoples’ lack of faith), Samuel reluctantly
gave in to their pleas, but not without warning them of the pitfalls inherent
in having an absolute monarch.
A short while later, when a young
man from the tribe of Benjamin named Saul came to him for help locating his
lost donkeys, Samuel anointed him as king over Israel.
After a brilliant start, Saul
lost G‑d’s favor when he did not completely follow His command to wipe out all
traces of Amalek, the mortal enemy of Israel. Shortly thereafter, G‑d commanded
Samuel to anoint a young shepherd named David king of Israel. Even though Saul
continued to rule, he was no longer favored by G‑d.
The Eternal Dynasty
Hounded by a jealous Saul and
scorned by many, David’s faith in G‑d carried him through tough times and
shaped the sensitive soul that authored the Psalms.
After building his own royal palace, David yearned to build a splendid home for
G‑d in Jerusalem to replace the tent in which the Ark of the covenant was
housed at that time. G‑d promised him that while he would not be the one to do
so, he would have a son—Solomon—who would build the Temple, and whose progeny
would rule Israel forever.
Solomon reigned over Israel’s
golden age. He was blessed by G‑d with extraordinary wisdom, and his fame and
power reached to the farthest lands. As
G‑d had promised his father, Solomon did indeed build a home for G‑d in
Jerusalem, the First Holy Temple.
At the end of his reign,
Solomon’s wives introduced idol worship into his home, and G‑d was displeased.
G‑d told Solomon that after his death the kingdom would be taken from him, and
only a small portion of Israel would be ruled by his progeny. So it was that in
2964 (797 BCE) Solomon died and his son Rehoboam ruled in Jerusalem over the
tribes of Judah and Benjamin, while Jeroboam of the tribe of Ephraim ruled the
other 10 tribes.
Jeroboam was seen as an
exceptionally wicked person about whom the sages say that he had no portion in
the world to come. He forced the people
under his rule to participate in idolatrous practices in an effort to sever
their connection to G‑d’s Temple in Jerusalem.
For over 200 years, Israel was
divided into two parallel monarchies, until the Northern (non-Davidic) kingdom
was exiled by a succession of Assyrian kings. With time the exiled Israelites
lost touch with their Jewish brethren and have since become known as the “Ten
Lost Tribes of Israel.”
In the year 3327 (434 BCE) the
independent kingdom of Judah ended when Nebucadnazzer, king of Babylon, invaded
Judea and exiled the king, Jeconiah, and many Judean leaders. Jeconiah was
succeeded by Zedekiah, who served as a tributary ruler to Nebucadnazzer. Eleven
years later, the Temple in Jerusalem built by Solomon was destroyed by the
Babylonians, and the Jews became a nation in exile.
Second Temple Era and Its
In the year 3390 (371 BCE) a
group of Jews returned to resettle in Judea. One of their leaders was Zerubabel,
a scion of the royal house of David, and construction began on a Second Temple.
But the Second Temple did not
match the glory of its predecessor. The Jews at this time were often ruled by foreign
kings and their proxies, who were not of Davidic descent.
Of special note is the Hasmonean
family, who defeated the Greeks in what became known as the miracle
of Chanukah in 3622 (139 BCE). Afterwards, they assumed the throne of
Judea, despite their being of Aaronic, priestly stock.
Their rule was cut short in 3725
(36 BCE), when Herod, an Edomite, killed the Hasmonean King Antignus and took
the throne for himself. His rule was a bitter one, marked by murder of anyone
whom Herod suspected of disloyalty - including a great many Torah sages. In a
moment of remorse, Herod enlarged the Temple Mount and renovated the Holy
Temple in Jerusalem, creating an edifice so magnificent that it was said, “He
who has not seen Herod’s temple has never seen a beautiful building in all his
days.” (The remaining portion of the wall Herod constructed to support the
enlarged mountain still stands and is now known as the Western
Where were the descendants of
David? They were still there. But instead of vying for the throne, where they
would be beholden to foreign rulers, many of them became spiritual leaders of
their people. Of note were Hillel the Elder, whose school of Torah thought has
shaped the face of Judaism, and his descendant, Rabbi Judah the Prince, who
lead the Sanhedrin (central high court of Jewish law) and oversaw the
compilation of the Mishnah. It was the leadership and vision of these men and
the other sages that carried the Jewish nation through the turbulence of the
Temple’s last years and the aftermath of its destruction by the Romans in 70
Babylon and Beyond
Even as the center of Judaism
slowly shifted from Israel to Babylon over the course of hundreds of years, the
descendants of David in that land continued to lead their people in the
capacity of Resh Galuta (exilarch). But that position too came to an end in the
11th century due to Muslim persecution.
Until this very day, there are
many Jewish families who can trace their lineage to David and Solomon. It is a
cardinal belief that a descendant of David, the Moshiach
(messiah), will once again lead us to a restored Jewish kingdom in Israel,
rebuild the Holy Temple and usher in an era of world peace and G‑dly awareness.
And this time it will last forever.