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History of IsraelKings
The reign of the Kings of Israel followed the era of the Judges. In fact, the last judge, the prophet Samuel, anointed the first King of Israel, King Saul. (Although it is disputed if Samuel is counted as one of the judges, he was certainly the last leader of the Jewish people prior to King Saul.) Saul straddled the era of Judges and Kings, because, although he was called melech ("king"), it was not until King David's reign that the nation was truly strong and united.
Saul's reign was tumultuous. He succeeded in many military battles, but later became discontent and jealous of the rising star David. (Some commentaries believe Saul was mentally ill, eventually succumbing to paranoia and depression.) During a war against the Philistines, the Jews were defeated and Saul committed suicide to avoid capture. After mourning the death of Saul, David was anointed king, and his reign was a golden age for the Israelites. King David battled the Philistines and, this time, succeeded in defeating them. At the same time that he was conquering the enemies, he also made strategic alliances with friendly nations. His sovereignty was absolute. David united the 12 tribes and made Jerusalem his capital.
David's son Solomon built on his father's accomplishments. Solomon continued making diplomatic alliances and developed ancient Israel as a regional economic power, building up its infrastructure and industry. It was a time of peace for the Israelites, the climax of which was the building of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
Prosperity and peace did not last, however. Not everyone was happy with Solomon's ambitions, and many felt that he gave preferential treatment to his own tribe. Rumblings of a schism began, and the kingdom split in two after Solomon's death, with Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Solomon's son, Rehoboam, ruled the southern kingdom of Judah, and the Kings of Judah continued the Davidic dynasty for the next 300 years.
The next few centuries saw two kings ruling simultaneously, one in the north and one in the south. Israel's first king was Jeroboam, in 928 BCE; its last king was Hosea, in 722 BCE. The Assyrians began their conquest of Israel in 722, leading to an exile of the northern kingdom's Israelites a few years later. The Israelites became known as the "lost tribes." In the south, the autonomy lasted a little longer; the final king of Judah was Zedekiah, whose reign ended in 587 BCE, with the destruction of the Temple and the fall of Jerusalem.
The destruction of the First Temple and the Jewish people's subsequent exile brought an end to the era of the kings—the last time the entire Jewish people would be united under one ruler in one land.