Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Refuting Republicanism in Christianity Part II
Among the Israelites, monarchy grew up naturally from the early patriarchs. If you think monarchy only started in the time of King Saul, guess again. In Genesis God promised that Abraham would be the father of princes and we see that from the very beginning, even before they were a unified nation, the Israelites had monarchial government for the individual tribes. Numbers 1:44 states, “These are those that were numbered, which Moses and Aaron numbered, and the princes of Israel, being twelve men: each one was for the house of his fathers”. We can safely assume that if God found monarchy inherently wrong he would have prevented this from happening. However, the tribes and their princes simply grew up naturally out of the obedience children had for their parents and extended family members toward their family patriarch. Given how long people tended to live in the early Old Testament, the descendants of one man would have easily been numerous enough to be considered a “tribe” in his own lifetime and that one man, according to natural filial piety, would have ultimately held authority over all of them.
It is also in the book of Numbers that we see the princes, ruling over “thousands” as having a place of not only political but spiritual importance. Numbers 7:84 states, “This was the dedication of the altar, in the day when it was anointed, by the princes of Israel: twelve charges of silver, twelve silver bowls, twelve spoons of gold:” and so on. So, it is important to keep in mind two things; monarchy existed on the tribal level from the very beginning and these princes had a temporal and a spiritual role from the beginning. So, let us move on to where things get controversial. When it comes to arguing monarchy from a Biblical perspective, someone will doubtlessly bring up the creation of the “united kingdom” of Israel under King Saul and how the Prophet Samuel seemed to think this was a terrible idea and, even worse, a rejection of God in favor of some sort of flesh-and-blood idolatry. Let us calm down and demolish this argument right now.
In I Samuel Chapter 8 we see hints that there was already some sort of hereditary theocracy in place. Samuel effectively ruled the people of Israel, as a pontiff, carrying out the commands God spoke to him. However, the people were worried because Samuel was getting old and, it seems, he was not the best father in the world to his own children as the people did not think much of the behavior of his sons (again, which makes it sound as though his pontifical office was hereditary). So, the people wanted a king and Samuel was rather upset by this. He prays to God and God basically says to give them a king but warn them of the dangers of having one and let them know that when they start to groan and complain about their king, God is not going to give them any sympathy. In I Samuel 8:11 we see the warning of Samuel about what “dangers” having a king will include. Essentially, it is the threat of conscription.
What is important to remember here is that the warnings Samuel gives are not unique to kings but would apply to any national government of any kind. A president would do the same things (as history shows). His actual warning is not against having a king as opposed to some other ruler but is really a warning against the downside of collectivism. Any time you band together in order to gain certain benefits you are also going to have to sacrifice some things too. However, the most important thing to remember, yet the one thing most don’t is that the bottom line is: God said to give them a king! They asked Samuel for a king, Samuel asked God about it and God said to let them have a king. Chapter 8, verse 9, God said, “Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and show them the manner of the king that shall reign over them”. Despite the drawbacks, despite the inevitable downside of having any sort of national government, God said to give them a king. Plain and simple, thus says the Lord, give the rascals a king!
Now, it is time to get all reasonable and logical again. It was either right or wrong for Israel to have a king. If it was wrong, that would have to mean that God either made a mistake, acted against His own better, divine judgment or that the people with their incessant whining pushed God into allowing them to do something He really did not want them to do. For me, that line of thinking does not hold water. So, the only other option is that it was right, it was part of the plan and God was simply preparing the people for the pitfalls that would come with having a unified national government. I would think that anyone who believes in an omniscient and omnipotent God would have to choose option number two. It is also significant, since many people point out the many flaws of the first King of Israel, Saul, that it was God who directed Samuel to choose him. What people must not lose sight of is the fact that when God decided to allow a united government it was one based on His own style of leadership in which the choice of monarch lies with God rather than man, and that Saul, for all of his faults, was chosen by God to rule. According to 1 Samuel 9:17, “When Samuel saw Saul, God told him, ‘That is the man of whom I told you; he shall rule My people”.
It is made clear repeatedly that, while the people have demanded a king to fight for them, it is God who chooses who will fill that role. In chapter 12, Samuel points out that God’s anger is due to their loss of faith in Him, their failure to trust the God who delivered them in the past, to deliver them from their present enemies. Furthermore, it is made clear that kingship itself is not to blame since that is the way of God (verse 12, “God Himself is your king”) and the people are reminded that if they repent, trust and obey God, and their king with them, “all will be well” (14). God did choose to give Israel a king and had Saul anointed with holy oil by the prophet in a religious ceremony to formalize the bond between the earthly and Heavenly rulers of God’s people. This is an area in which many Christians fail to see the forest for all of the trees. All else aside, Saul was anointed and proclaimed king on orders from the Almighty.
This anointing was extremely important (and it would continue to be throughout most of the history of Christian monarchy) and was the public recognition that the king had a sacred duty to perform. The very word “Christ” means, ‘anointed one’. Among the Israelites it is significant that kings were included amongst the high priests, prophets and sacred objects used in worship that were anointed with holy oil. Every serious Christian should keep that in mind and not simply shrug off or dismiss the fact that the kings, starting with King Saul and King David, were anointed by the prophet (acting on behalf of God in his pontifical role) with holy oil. Remember that even after King Saul fell out of favor with God and was trying to kill David (who God favored) even when David had the chance to kill Saul, as his friends urged, he did not, saying, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch forth mine hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord” (I Samuel 23:6). So, we see clear Biblical evidence that, not only was the monarchy instituted by God, and the king chosen by God but that he had a sacred position and his person was sacrosanct and inviolable. There is simply no way to dismiss (because of the attitude of the people at the time and warnings about the nature of government) the sacred nature of monarchy clearly shown in the Bible.
The Bible is literally full of passages commanding obedience to kings (such as Ecclesiastes 8:2-5 or Proverbs 24:21-22), prayers for kings and the fact that kings reigned by the grace of God. Certainly this was true of Israel where the House of David was so sacred that the King was even called the son of God (I Chronicles 17:13). However, we also see in Daniel 5:18 that this applied also to Gentile kings such as the King of Babylon. However, when presented with this evidence one will likely hear that the Bible says something about not trusting princes. It says that right? Princes are bad and we should not trust them, right? Once again, no, it says nothing of the sort. What it does say, in Psalm 118:8-9 is that, “I would rather take refuge in God than rely on men; I would rather take refuge in God than rely on princes”. Psalm 146:3 also says, “Put not your faith in princes, nor in the son of man in whom there is no help”. These two verses are quoted often by republicans even though I could quote several verses for each of these not simply suggesting but commanding loyalty to kings and princes.
Notice how these verses are worded. They say nothing about obedience or loyalty but speak of trust and faith. Obviously, and no Christian monarchist would argue this point, we should only put our trust and faith in God and no one else. To do so would be to commit idolatry, however notice also that princes are not singled out in either verse but are grouped with any and all mortal men in general. Clearly these verses have nothing to do with monarchy really and are simply words of advice to put our trust in God rather than in any mortal man who will always disappoint us. This is no blow against monarchs. Every mortal man in the Bible, be it Abraham, Moses, King David or St Peter had their faults and at times failed in their duty because of their human weakness. That fact does nothing to take away from the important positions these men held but merely illustrates that no one is perfect, that we are all flawed and mortal man will always disappoint us at some point or another. These verses in no way contradict nor do they countermand the numerous other passages advising and even commanding loyalty and obedience to kings.
To be concluded...