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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

King, Kingship

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A male monarch of a major territorial unit; especially one whose position is hereditary and who rules for life. Kingship includes the position, office, and dignity of a king. Kings were of three basic kinds in the Ancient Near East: (1) kings of great nations often identified with a god (for example, in Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt); (2) kings from a military elite who had taken control of a local population by force (for example, Canaanite city kings); and (3) kings who arose from tribal or clan-oriented groups whose election to or inheritance of the kingship was determined in part by the people's will (for example, Israel, Edom, Moab, and Ammon).

Transition from Judges to Kings Before the establishment of the monarchy in Israel, no political, administrative, or military organization encompassed all of Israel. From the time of Joshua to the time of Saul, the judges led Israel. Their leadership was temporary and local in nature, their main function being to lead those parts of Israel threatened by some outside force until the threat was gone. Israel during this period was bound together more by their covenant with God than by government.

As Israel became more settled in Canaan, the old tribal institutions of leadership began to dissolve (see, for example, 1 Samuel 8:3 ). This decline of tribal leadership coupled with the threat of the Philistines to all tribes of Israel threatened the existence of Israel itself. Many in Israel began to feel a need for a permanent and national leadership as a way of dealing with the threat (see 1 Samuel 8:20; 1 Samuel 10:1 ).

The first national leader was Saul. Saul was anointed as the nagid over Israel—that is, as a national military leader—and not king in the technical sense. The Hebrew term for king is melek and is never used of Saul. Saul was a charismatic leader much in the mold of the judges. Israel remained a tribal league. Saul established no central government or bureaucracy, had no court or standing army, and his seat at Gibeah was a fortress and not a palace.

The significant thing about Saul's leadership is that for the first time after settlement in Canaan, Israel had a permanent national military leader. This was a very important step in the transition from the system of judges to the establishment of the monarchy.

David was also a figure much in the likeness of the judges with a charismatic personality. A prophet designated him king just as the judges and Saul had been designated before him.

David's leadership, however, represents the second stage in the transition. Unlike Saul, David was able to fuse the tribes of Israel together into a nation who owed allegiance to the crown, to establish and maintain a court, and to establish a standing army. What had been a loose union of twelve tribes became a complex empire centered around the person of David. Because of his charismatic personality, David was able to effect the union of the northern and southern tribes (something Saul was apparently unable to do). David captured Jerusalem; Jerusalem was literally the city of David. David made Jerusalem the religious and political center of Israel. The Canaanite population of Palestine was subject to the king. The foreign empire of Israel was won and held primarily by David's professional army. The subjugated lands paid tribute to David and not to the individual tribes.

During the latter days of David's reign the feeling was strong that the empire was so much David's doing and centered so much on David's person, that only a son of David could maintain what David had built. When David passed the power of the kingship along to his son Solomon, the transition from the system of judges to that of monarchy was complete. The usual understanding of king is one whose position is hereditary and who rules for life. These conditions were met for the first time when Solomon inherited the throne from David.

Functions and Powers of the King The king functioned as military leader (1 Samuel 8:20; 1 Samuel 15:4-5; 1 Kings 22:29-36; 2 Kings 3:6-12 ), supreme judge (2 Samuel 12:1-6; 2 Samuel 14:4-8; 2 Samuel 15:2; 1 Kings 3:16-28 ) and priest (1 Samuel 13:10; 1 Samuel 14:35; 2 Samuel 6:13; 2 Samuel 24:25; 1 Kings 3:4; 1 Kings 8:62-63; 1 Kings 9:25; 1 Kings 12:32; 1 Kings 13:1; 2 Kings 16:10-18 ).

Israel, unlike some nations surrounding it, placed limitations on the power of its kings. Some Israelites opposed having a king because of the excesses to which a king might go (1 Samuel 8:10-18 ). It was normal for the elders of the nation to make a covenant with the king (2 Samuel 5:3; 2 Kings 11:17 ) in which the rights and duties of the king were recorded and deposited in the sanctuary—possibly at the time of the anointment ceremony (1 Samuel 10:25 ). It was clearly understood that the king was not exempt from observing civil laws (see 1 Kings 21:4 ), nor was the king the absolute lord of life and death, a power David assumed in his murder of Uriah (2 Samuel 11:1; compare Ahab's murder of Naboth 1 Kings 21:14-18 . See also 2 Kings 5:7; 2 Kings 6:26-33 ). The prophetic denunciation of certain kings demonstrates that they were subject to the law (2 Samuel 12:1-15; 1 Kings 21:17-24; compare Deuteronomy 17:14-20 ).

The King's Court The officials at the king's court included the body guard (2 Samuel 8:18; 1 Kings 1:38; 2 Kings 11:4 ), captain of the host or general of the army (1 Samuel 14:50; 2 Samuel 8:16 ), recorder (2 Samuel 8:16; 1 Kings 4:3 ), secretary or scribe (2 Samuel 8:17; 2 Kings 18:18 ), chief administrator over the twelve district officers (1 Kings 4:5; compare 1 Kings 4:7-19 ), steward of the palace household (1 Kings 4:6; 1 Kings 18:3; 2 Kings 18:18; Isaiah 22:15 ), overseer of forced labor (2 Samuel 20:24; 1 Kings 4:6; 1 Kings 5:13-17; 1 Kings 11:28; compare modern translations for KJV tribute), friend of the king (2 Samuel 15:37; 1 Kings 4:5; 1 Chronicles 27:33 ), counselor (2 Samuel 15:12 ), keeper of the wardrobe (2 Kings 22:14 ), officials in charge of the royal farms (1 Chronicles 27:25-31 ), priests (2 Samuel 8:17; 2 Samuel 20:25; 1 Kings 4:4 ), and prophets (1 Samuel 22:5; 2 Samuel 7:2; 2 Samuel 12:25; 2 Samuel 24:10-25 ).

To raise the necessary revenue to support a court of this size, Solomon introduced a system of taxation. Saul's court was simple and did not require extensive financial support (1 Samuel 22:6 ), while David depended on spoils of war (2 Samuel 8:1-14 ). Solomon divided the nation into twelve districts each of which would be responsible to support the court for one month out of the year (1Kings 4:7-19,1 Kings 4:27-28 ).

Other revenue for the king's court included royal property (1 Chronicles 27:25-31; 2 Chronicles 26:10; 2 Chronicles 32:27-29 ) and forced labor (2 Samuel 20:24; 1 Kings 4:6; 1 Kings 11:28 ). Solomon also received revenue from a road toll on trade routes through Israel (1 Kings 10:15 ), trade in horses and chariots (1 Kings 10:28-29 ), a merchant fleet (1 Kings 9:26-28 ) and, according to archaeological evidence, possibly from copper mines.

God as King Israel's faith included the confession that God was its ultimate King. Some modern scholars see the covenant between God and Israel recorded in Joshua 24:1 as a royal covenant made between King and people (see also Exodus 15:18; Exodus 19:6; Numbers 23:21; Deuteronomy 33:5; Judges 8:23; 1 Samuel 8:7; 1 Samuel 12:12 ). Because God was seen as King, some in Israel saw the desire for an earthly king as a turning away from God (1 Samuel 8:7; Hosea 8:4 ). The earthly king derived his authority from God as the Lord's anointed (1 Samuel 16:6; 2 Samuel 1:14 ) or the Lord's captain or prince (1 Samuel 9:16; 1 Samuel 10:1; 1 Samuel 13:14 ). Many of the Psalms speak of God as King (for example, Psalm 24:1; Psalm 93:1; Psalm 95-98 ). See Psalm 95-98 .

Phil Logan

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'King, Kingship'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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