The early monarchy of Israel, at the beginning of an archaeological period called "Iron II", ruled a centralized, territorial state with a capital city, royal court, standing army, luxuries, and, of course, power concentrated in the hands of a king. The first of the kings was Saul, who is known from the Biblical Book, First Samuel.
Before the first monarch, Saul, the Israelite tribes had lived in scattered, small settlements. After the monarchy, it would be millennia before the area would be autonomous and subject to local leadership. This made the short period of the monarchy an extraordinary occurrence. More significantly, the period had a profound effect on Judaism and Christianity (Jesus' genealogy being traced to the second king, David), and the idea that kings had a divine right to rule stems from the period. The three (main) kings of the "United Monarchy" were Saul, David, and Solomon. Although dates in Israelite history are comfortably dated only from the late 6th century B.C., the death of the third of the three kings, Solomon, is thought to have been in c. 928 B.C. David's conventionally 40-year rule is placed by at about 1005 B.C. Saul's reign is more difficult to determine, but the period of Iron Age II is set at 1025, a conceivable starting point for Saul's reign that gives a possible century for the combined rule of the three men.
Perhaps after the Philistine tribes defeated the Israelites in battle and took the Ark of the Covenant, the Israelite elders realized they needed better leadership to withstand military threats. Socioeconomic factors, like population growth and the need for food, are also part of the reason the men wanted a strong leader. They asked the prophet Samuel to appoint a king like those that led other countries -- like Egypt. Although Samuel thought it a bad idea, and warned that a king would draft their sons and more, he did what they and what he thought God wished.
Saul, of the tribe of Benjamin, became the first king of Israel. He consolidated the tribes and set to work on the Philistine problem, which included keeping the Israelites from decent iron weapons. Few of Saul's troops had real weapons, but managed to fight well enough, even with their farm tools, that the battle went on and on. When the Philistines suggested that a pair of champions duke it out, the selection from Israel was a young man with a sling. His counterpart on the Philistine side was the giant Goliath. The slingshooter was, of course, David, of the tribe of Judah, who would be the second king of Israel. After David knocked Goliath out with a well thrown stone, he used the felled Philistine's sword to decapitate him. Then the Philistines retreated, but not permanently.
See #5 on Thursday's -cide words to learn.
While Saul had selected David as champion, the youth's popularity was alarming. Furthermore, David had made friends with Saul's son Jonathan and married one of Saul's two daughters Michal (the other was Merab). Fearing for his life in the face of the jealous King Saul, David became a fugitive.
Another event about Saul recorded in the Biblical book of First Samuel tells how Saul came to the aid of the people of Jabesh-Gilead when the Ammonites forced them to surrender. The terms included slavery and having their right eyes removed. Saul led the tribes west of Jordan against the Ammonites, defeated them, and received the rescued people as subjects. This may have been the event that propelled Saul to the monarchy.
The skirmishes with the Philistines continued. In one, at the foot of Mount Gilboa in Jezreel, an important valley for trade and connection with Damascus, 3 sons of Saul, Jonathan, Abinadab, Malchishua, were killed, and Saul committed suicide. David returned to accept his due, anointing as king. This came after some dispute with Saul and his wife Ahinoam's surviving son Ishbaal, who may have ruled for a couple of years before David took over.
- The Oxford History of the Biblical World, by Michael D. Coogan. Oxford University Press. 1998.
- Saul and the Monarchy: a New Look, by Simcha Shalom Brooks