Establishment of the United Kingdom of Israel Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

David established a politically united Israel, an empire that enjoyed a vibrant economy and culture as well as international renown for less than a century.

Summary of Event

The settlement of the Philistines along the southern coast of Palestine at the beginning of the eleventh century b.c.e. presented the Hebrew tribes occupying the central and southern hills with a challenge that could not be met through the military institutions of Israel’s loose tribal confederacy. Coming from Crete, where they had been displaced along with many other Aegean peoples in the turbulent era following the Dorian invasion, the Philistines brought with them the first iron tools and weapons known in Palestine. They organized themselves into five strong city-states and soon began to thrust inland into Hebrew territory. For two centuries, the Hebrew tribes had successfully put together armies of peasantry led by temporary charismatic leaders, or “judges,” to meet crises of invasion or threat from Canaanite city-states, but in a battle fought about 1050 b.c.e., the Hebrews were decisively defeated and the Ark of the Covenant itself was captured, after which the Philistines established garrisons in the central hill country. Saul Samuel (c. 1090-c. 1020 b.c.e.) David Ishbaal Abner

With Israel pressed by the Philistines on the west, the Ammonites east of the Jordan seized the opportunity to regain territories previously lost to the Hebrew tribe of Gilead to their north and laid siege to the Gileadite city of Jabesh. At this point, Saul emerged as a charismatic military leader of combined tribal forces that routed the Ammonites and relieved the Siege of Jabesh. On their return across the Jordan, the Israelite militia elected Saul king, and for the next several years, he maintained a standing army and engaged Philistine troops in battle with varying degrees of success.

The Hebrew tradition regarding the emergence of the monarchy in this crisis is contained in the first book of Samuel in the Bible; it is a composite narrative woven together from two sources, each of which has its own distinct and antithetical account of events and their evaluation. One source gives the account presented above, that Saul emerged as a political leader with a standing army following his successful leadership of the campaign against the Ammonites. The other source presents Saul as a figure subordinate to Samuel, who is portrayed as the last judge and the first prophet. Samuel, according to this account, commissioned Saul as a prince and anointed him as king over Israel after strongly protesting Israel’s demand for a king in order to be “like the nations” and after warning of the dangers to be expected by Israel from the institution of dynastic monarchy. On Saul’s failure to fulfill to the letter Samuel’s instructions to conduct a holy war against the Amalekites in the south, Samuel proclaimed Saul’s rejection by Yahweh and anointed David to be king in his stead. Saul did, however, continue in actuality to exercise rule over Israel in spite of the specific action of Samuel in “deposing” him in favor of David.

The traditions regarding the emergence of Saul’s successor, David, are partly legendary. As a young man, David was a member of Saul’s court and a close friend of Saul’s son Jonathan and was given Saul’s daughter Michal as his wife. His popularity aroused Saul’s jealousy, and eventually, he fled to the south, where he organized a guerrilla band and ingratiated himself with Hebrew tribesmen of Judah by warring on Amalekites and other groups that had long harassed them. At the same time, he took service with the Philistine Achish, king of Gath, as a mercenary leader of his warrior band. The fortunes of Saul continued to fall as a consequence of his alienation of the priesthood of Yahweh and his own mentally disturbed condition. He was finally decisively defeated and met his death in battle with the Philistines at Mount Gilboa. Saul’s surving son, Ishbaal, was taken by Abner, his commander, to Mahanaim, east of the Jordan, and nominally made king. David, in the meantime, was elected king of Judah by tribal elders at Hebron. In the ensuing period of intrigue, Abner and lshbaal were both assassinated, and in a second assembly at Hebron, elders of the northern tribes made David king over Israel. All the Hebrew tribes were thus bound to David in a united monarchy over Israel and Judah.

David consolidated his hold on the kingdom by decisive victories over the Philistines, Ammonites, Arameans, Moabites, and Edomites; by bringing the Canaanite city-states of Palestine under his own power; and by conquering the centrally situated Jebusite city of Jerusalem, which he made the capital of his kingdom. There he established a centralized political administration and gave his state a solid legitimacy by bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and establishing the cult of Yahweh as an official institution.


David created a regime that was an amalgam of Hebraic and Canaanite types of monarchy bound together in the person of the king. In the dynastic succession of David’s son Solomon to the throne, the old concept of Yahweh’s designation of commander by charisma was replaced by the new concept of Yahweh’s covenant with the house of David, but this conception was accepted only by Judah, and at Solomon’s death the whole imperial structure of Palestine, based as it was on the personal union of distinct political entities, fell apart and reverted to earlier conditions: the coexistence of several ethnic polities in Palestine. However, for the brief period of less than a century of rule by David and Solomon, Israel enjoyed political unity, a considerable empire with international prestige, a flourishing economy, and a culture expressing the high spirits of successful nationalism.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ahlström, Gösta. Ancient Palestine: A Historical Introduction. Rev. ed. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2002. This revised version of her earlier work examines the historicity of biblical events and includes archaeological discoveries.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fox, E. Give Us a King: Samuel, Saul, and David. New York: Schocken Books, 1999. Examines the early kings of Israel and the formation of the United Kingdom of Israel.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Marcus, Amy Dockser. The View from Nebo: How Archaeology Is Rewriting the Bible and Reshaping the Middle East. Boston: Little, Brown, 2000. Marcus looks at how the findings of modern archaeology have altered some biblical views and interpretations of Scripture. Bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Matthews, Victor Harold. A Brief History of Ancient Israel. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002. A history of Israel, with emphasis on social customs and daily life. Index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shanks, Hershel, ed. Ancient Israel: From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple. Rev. ed. Washington, D.C.: Biblical Archaeology Society, 1999. Examines the history of Israel from biblical and archaeological viewpoints. Bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Soggin, J. Alberto. An Introduction to the History of Israel and Judah. 3d ed. London: SCM, 1999. A general history of ancient Israel, covering the period of the United Kingdom of Israel.
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Categories: History