King, “a chief ruler, one invested with supreme authority over a nation, tribe, or country.”—Webster. In the Bible the word does not necessarily imply great power or great extent of country. Many persons are called kings whom we should rather call chiefs or leaders. The word is applied in the Bible to God as the sovereign and ruler of the universe, and to Christ the Son of God as the head and governor of the Church.
The Hebrews were ruled by a king during a period of about 500 years previous to the destruction of Jerusalem, b.c. 586. The immediate occasion of the substitution of a regal form of government for that of judges seems to have been the siege of Jabesh-gilead by Nahash king of the Ammonites. 1 Sam. 11:1; 12:12. The conviction seems to have forced itself on the Israelites that they could not resist their formidable neighbor unless they placed themselves under the sway of a king, like surrounding nations. The original idea of a Hebrew king was twofold: first, that he should lead the people to battle in time of war; and, second, that he should execute judgment and justice to them in war and in peace. 1 Sam. 8:20. In both respects the desired end was attained. Besides being commander-in-chief of the army, supreme judge, and absolute master, as it were, of the lives of his subjects, the king exercised the power of imposing taxes on them, and of exacting from them personal service and labor. In addition to these earthly powers, the king of Israel had a more awful claim to respect and obedience. He was the vicegerent of Jehovah, 1 Sam. 10:1; 16:13, and as it were his son, if just and holy. 2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:6, 7; 89:26, 27. He had been set apart as a consecrated ruler. Upon his head had been poured the holy anointing oil, which had hitherto been reserved exclusively for the priests of Jehovah. He had become, in fact, emphatically “the Lord’s anointed.” He had a court of Oriental magnificence. The king was dressed in royal robes, 1 Kings 22:10; 2 Chron. 18:9; his insignia were, a crown or diadem of pure gold, or perhaps radiant with precious gems, 2 Sam. 1:10; 12:30; 2 Kings 11:12; Ps. 21:3, and a royal sceptre. Those who approached him did him obeisance, bowing down and touching the ground with their foreheads, 1 Sam. 24:8; 2 Sam. 19:24; and this was done even by a king’s wife, the mother of Solomon. 1 Kings 1:16. His officers and subjects called themselves his servants or slaves. He had a large harem, which was guarded by eunuchs. The law of succession to the throne is somewhat obscure, but it seems most probable that the king during his lifetime named his successor. At the same time, if no partiality for a favorite wife or son intervened, there would always be a natural bias of affection in favor of the eldest son.