Sunday, October 24, 2010

Old Testament Kings

When the Israelites fled Egypt the only leader they needed was Moses.  Later they had "judges" who helped guide the Jewish people, although they focused largely on military matters.  At the time, many other nations had kings who ruled over their populations and in the Book of Samuel the people of Israel ask God for a King. God is not happy that they require a temporal leader, but he helps his prophet Samuel choose the man Saul to rule as king.  This proves to be an unfortunate decision for the Israelites, and eventually David (son of Jesse, slayer of Goliath) becomes King. 

King David
David and Goliath

Although David is held up as the gold standard of divine appointments, he had his share of personal problems.  After his death, his heirs continued to rule establishing a hereditary monarchy. The Book of Kings continues this succession and it seems that each king is worse than the last.  A few virtuous notables do exist, such as Solomon, but most were licentious, avaricious monarchs who tolerated pagan worshipping in their kingdom.  Yes, a lot of pagan kings - not a good thing in the Old Testament when God loves to throw his weight around. 

Israel eventually pays a great price for having divinely appointed monarchs and still descending into iniquity.  The 12 tribes of Israel are destroyed by the ancient kingdoms of Assyria and Babylon.  Eventually the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar II enslaves the Jews of Israel the sends them into captivity deep in his own kingdom (around 586 BC).
The divine right of kings?
What do we learn from this?  God warned the Israelites that a king would bring iniquity, chaos and debauchery among them.  This much appears to be true. A minority of "good" kings cannot justify the overwhelming number of bad kings. Strangely, even though God rejects the idea of a king, he still selects one for the Israelites (?)  I suppose God is saying that he is willing to give the Israelites the freedom to fail. 

One question is why does God need a temporal ruler (a king) on Earth to direct his people?  Didn't Moses receive his directions from God?  What is the purpose of a King?  Is it to interpret and enforce God's will or to rule over worldly mankind?   It is for wielding political power or to enforce religious decrees? 

Interestingly, many if not most of the kings who initially  received divine approval turned against God and caused great misery for their people.  The message from the Bible would seem to be that while God recognizes the right of man to rule on Earth, vesting this power in one individual is a blueprint for disaster. 

In the Middle Ages, and even into the Age of Enlightenment, people wondered if kings or any other person had a divine right to rule.  Does divine right mean that God has chosen a ruler or that this ruler is blessed? 

The Bible is practically constructed for misinterpretations so how can we know what God really wants?   One man's "faithful" seeems like another man's lunatic, so we certainly cannot trust another person's judgement.  Maybe this is why our government and others wanted a clear separation between religious and political authority.  In addition the Book of Kings provides a vivid example of how absolute power in the hands of one man, no matter how divinely inspired, is almost always a disappointment.

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