Before the prophet Shmuel (Samuel) became the judge of Israel, the nation was in dire straits. The previous book of Shoftim describes many instances of the children of Israel violating God’s will by engaging in idolatry and immorality, and then being punished with subjugation to other nations. Though there were great heroes and times of triumph during the period of the judges, much of it was bleak. The nation of Israel often failed to live up to the challenge of living as a holy and free people in its land.
As the Bible transitions into Sefer Shmuel, we learn that even the Mishkan at Shilo is not free of transgressions. The sons of Eli the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) are sinning, thereby discouraging the people from making pilgrimages to this holy place. It is against this backdrop that Shmuel is born to Elkana and Chana. While still barren, Chana prays for a child at Shilo and vows that if her request is granted, her son will be totally sanctified to Hashem. The miraculous child fulfills her vow. Shmuel grows up under Eli’s tutelage in Shilo, and later replaces him as Israel’s primary leader.
As a prophet and a leader, Shmuel faces a daunting task. As Rabbi Shlomo Aviner notes in his book “Heroes of the Tanakh”, “The prophet Shmuel purified the people of Israel… But he also dealt with the nation’s national and military sides; not only the spiritual.” Thus, in this book we learn of his struggles against the Philistines, the primary enemy of the children of Israel at this time, and also of his strengthening the Israelites’ service of God. We also learn of his anointing Shaul as the first king of Israel. When Shaul fails to fulfill the command to completely eradicate Amalek, it is Shmuel who tells him that he has lost the kingdom, and who anoints his successor David.
Unlike Shaul, David will not rule in accordance with the people’s initial request for a king “like all the other nations” (I Samuel 8:5), who leads the nation by simply maintaining order and commanding the military. Rather, he will be a king who will combine his extraordinary spiritual and physical gifts to lead the nation to new heights in its service of Hashem, and its strengthening of the land of Israel. Young David’s miraculous defeat of the giant Philistine Goliath foreshadows his later achievements as king. While his victory is undoubtedly a military achievement, it is also spiritual. David faces an enemy who fights not only against the people of
Israel, but also against God Himself. David recognizes this, and acts to save his people, returning honor to them and to Hashem.
King David is the epitome of the bright and shining monarch of Israel. He represents both physical and spiritual strength. He is a great military figure who vanquishes the enemies of Israel. As king, he rules first in Chevron, unites the entire nation of Israel and then succeeds in conquering the holy city of Yerushalayim. He is responsible for bringing the Holy Ark to Yerushalayim and acquiring the future site of the Holy Temple. He is also known as n’eem z’mirot yisrael (נעים זמירות ישראל) (II Samuel 23:1), often translated as ‘the sweet singer of Israel,’ who writes songs of praise to Hashem, including most of the Book of Tehillim, and is proud to dance before God’s Holy Ark. He is also an example of a true “master of repentance,” one who takes responsibility for his sins and atones for them with a broken heart.
By the time King David passes the reign over the Kingdom of Israel to his son Shlomo as described in the beginning of Sefer Melachim, he has established and stabilized the kingdom, and its people live as a vibrant, free and holy nation in the entire Land of Israel. They are united both physically and spiritually, and are on the cusp of achieving their greatest triumph – the building of the Beit Hamikdash in Yerushalayim. In addition, they are finally at peace with their enemies. It is not surprising that the dynasty of David is eternal. Nor is it surprising that Jewish tradition teaches that the future King Mashiach, who will once again unite the children of Israel in Eretz Yisrael in peace, will be one of David’s descendants. May our study of The Israel Bible hasten the Mashiach’s arrival, speedily and in our days.