Israel Demands a King
The real origin of the sovereignty of Christ is the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel. Prior to this point, Yahweh ruled his people Israel directly. The primary basis for this rule was the fact that Yahweh delivered Israel from the bondage of the Egyptian empire and gave them their own land. Gratitude for the Exodus was the foundation of God’s direct rule. God promised that if the people were faithful to him, Yahweh would be faithful to them. The primary way in which Israel showed their faithfulness was by keeping the Law handed down to them at Sinai. This had the double blessing of showing their faithfulness to God and showing them the way of living a fruitful life. This was the early version of government of Yahweh, by the Law, for God’s people. Things would have been fine if the people remained faithful to God. But, they did not. Their gratitude for deliverance was soon forgotten and the people grumbled against Yahweh.
God responded to this development with the Judges. Because of their unfaithfulness, God allowed his people to fall back into bondage. Eventually, the people came to realize that their bondage was the result of their own unfaithfulness. The people cried out to Yahweh and he raised up a Judge to relieved the people from bondage. Yahweh was returned to his rightful place as King through the gratitude of the people. Yet, the success of the Judges was temporary and fragile. While the Judges remained alive, the people remained relatively faithful. But, with the death of the Judge, the moral and political situation in Israel quickly broke down. The book of Judges chronicles the dramatic break down of society in Israel. By the end of the book, Israel has fallen into pagan ways and seems little better than Sodom and Gomorrah. Israel is at the point for destroying itself internally as the tribe of Benjamin is almost destroyed. The book ends on an ominous point that looks forward to the coming of the kings in Israel. “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Judges 21: 25 (NKJV)
The kingship in Israel is a complex idea. As an institution, it is neither simply good nor simply evil. The kingship can best be understood as following in the ancient Jewish theme best exemplified by the story of Joseph and his brothers. After the death of Jacob, his brothers feared that Joesph would take revenge on them for selling Joseph into slavery. He replied, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to…save many people alive.” Genesis 50: 19-20 (NKJV) As we will see, the people meant the Kingship for evil, but God transforms the kingship to save many people.
At the beginning of 1 Samuel, the institution of the Judges is falling apart. The sons of Eli, the current Judge, are thoroughly corrupt. They are acting according to their own self interest rather than being faithful to God by seeking the good of the people. This leads to disaster where the Ark of the Covenant is captured by the Philistines. God once again raises up a faithful Judge, Samuel, who once again delivers Israel from their enemies. Yet when he grows old, we find that his sons, like Eli’s, are corrupt. The people of have had it. They no longer want a Judge; they want a King like the nations around them.
But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” So Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day—with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also. Now therefore, heed their voice. However, you shall solemnly forewarn them, and show them the behavior of the king who will reign over them.”
So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who asked him for a king. And he said, “This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots. He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers. And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants. And he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants. And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day.”
Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, “No, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” I Samuel 8:6-20 (NKJV)
God states that the demand for a king is a rejection of him. Furthermore, a king will be oppressive and will exploit his position for his own good. The people will one day cry out because of this oppression, but God will not hear their voice. Nevertheless, the people still demanded a king to be like the other nations and have someone to lead them into battle. Yahweh tells Samuel to give the people the king that they demand. Why? Why does God allow the people to reject him and follow a pagan king?
At one level, God allows Israel a king as a type of punishment. In the past the people have reject him which led to captivity. In the same way, God is allowing Israel what they want as a type of punishment. They are getting what they deserve. They are following the ways of the Kingdoms of this World and they must be allowed to face the consequences of their actions. Throughout the Bible, God allows his people to face the punishment for rejecting him. Yet, this is never the end of the story. God does not abandon his people to perpetual punishment. God uses the rod as a father does on his son to bring him back to the right path. Kingship as punishment is only a minor part of its story.
Yahweh sets about to redeem the kingship. The people meant it for evil, but God will transform it ultimately into the greatest good. How does he go about transforming the kingship? Yahweh remains faithful to his people even though they are unfaithful. This is one of the major reoccurring themes throughout Scripture. God, not the people, will choose the king. Yahweh will signal his choice of king by having Samuel anoint God’s chosen one as king. God’s first choice is Saul. Interestingly, the anointing of Saul, and later of David, is done in secret. Why? Presumably, God is signaling to us that his kings are not chosen by the people because of their great deeds but by God’s choice alone. Both Saul and David are anointed king before they have done anything worthy of praise. Anointing becomes the distinctive factor of kingship in Israel. The anointing signals that the king is chosen by God as his representative. This makes the king doubly representative. Already, the king represents his people to God. Now the Anointed One represents God to the people. Thus the anointed king is the mediator between God and the people.
Now the Lord had told Samuel in his ear the day before Saul came, saying, “Tomorrow about this time I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him commander over My people Israel, that he may save My people from the hand of the Philistines; for I have looked upon My people, because their cry has come to Me.” I Samuel 9:15-16 (NKJV)
Here we see the purpose of the king and God’s motive for anointing him. On these counts, nothing has changed from the time of the judges. God’s motives here and throughout the Bible are the good of the people. God has heard the cry of his people, has compassion on them and seeks to raise a savior to save them from their enemies. The anointing of the king changes the form of the savior but not their job description. The king, like the judges before him, are appointed to save God’s people from their enemies. These two factors remain constant throughout Scripture and beyond. The purpose of Christian government is the good of the people. The role of government is to save the people from their enemies. While it is fashionable within Christian circles to disparage government because of its current antagonism to the faith, the Scripture always has a high view of government. This is hardly a naive opinion that can be discarded because of our superior knowledge today. As the passage above makes painfully clear, God fully anticipated the corruption and abuse of government. Yet, apparently this is deemed a lesser evil than the absence of governement. The end of the book of Judges makes painfully clear that the chaos of weak government is worse than the danger of a strong corrupt government. We are learning this lesson all over again in the Middle East today. Yes, corrupt dictatorship are terrible. Yet, the forces of chaos unleashed by their absence is even worse. Christians are being martyred throughout the Middle East today because America did not learn this lesson.