Friday, October 1, 2010

The Bible and Christian Monarchy

(My apologies for the length of this post and for any lapse in quality. Keep in mind that this was written many years ago when I was just a schoolboy at my academy [so I don't know the grade -we didn't have them] but much is direct quotes and such, so I thought it might be worth putting up. MM)

The formation of the United Monarchy of Israel has been a subject of great debate for modern Bible scholars. It is one of those cases in which God seems, at first, to contradict Himself, thus causing some to doubt Christian perfection. The basic problem arises from the fact that the monarchy which had been so condemned in the reign of Saul was so exalted in the reign of David. How could it be that the same form of government so condemned by the Holy Prophet Samuel, and said to be so offensive to God, be the same form of government used by the man after God’s own heart; King David? During the era of the Judges the people of Israel had wished to make Gideon their king but Gideon refused, saying that Israel already had a king in Heaven.

To fully understand this, an historical perspective is needed. Israel was a nation in constant warfare for its survival, Gideon, like Saul after him, was popular for being a great warrior who defeated the enemies of Israel. The people wanted Gideon to be their king because he was their champion and made them feel secure. Thus, we see the reason for God’s warning against the establishment of the united monarchy. Samuel was not speaking out against kingship simply because kingship was inherently bad, it was rather, the fact that the people did not trust God to protect them, but were instead placing their trust in a man. Kingship in and of itself could not have been wrong as it was the system used by God Himself, and throughout the history of Israel monarchy likewise existed on a tribal level (see Numbers 1:44 & 7:2)

We must also take into account the fact that God’s warning about the consequences of kingship given in 1 Samuel 8:10-22 would apply to any form of government ever devised. It is a warning that the benefit of services, such as protection, comes with the price of taxation and submission. Since the emergence of Israel as a nation, there had been no permanent, centralized government of any kind. The highest earthly authority had been the Prophet or Patriarch who acted as a bridge between Heaven and earth, not taking on the job of government, but simply passing on to the people the wishes of God.

At this early stage, the form of government was not finally the point. Rather, it is the fact that the people desired a government at all, and the reason, lack of faith, which was behind the move. From the scriptural evidence it seems that it was more Samuel than God who was displeased. This is understandable given the fact that one of the complaints of the people was that the sons of Samuel were corrupt and unworthy to succeed him (1 Samuel 8:5), suggesting that his office was hereditary as well. God explains to Samuel why the people have called for a king and instructs him to put aside his feelings and listen to them.

What people must not lose sight of is the fact that when God decides to allow a united government it is 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).

A fact that should not be forgotten is that in spite of all the warnings and admonishments, when all was said and done, 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 fact forces one to accept one of a few possibilities regarding God’s condemnation of Israel’s desire for a king, yet His endorsement of Saul to fulfill that role. The first is that God does not have a ‘master plan’ but is, in fact, making it up as He goes. This would mean that God abhors all earthly government but, inexplicably changed His mind at the last minute in order to teach Israel a lesson. The second choice is that God is simply weak-willed; that He meant everything He said but that the Israelites were able to eventually talk the Almighty into doing something wrong, in this case giving them a king.

These first two options would pose something of a problem to those who believe God is perfect, omniscient, omnipotent and absolute. However, there is a third option. That is, that God knew all of this would happen, that the establishment of the monarchy was simply the first step in a divine plan leading ultimately to the fulfillment of prophecy that the savior of the world would be the King of the Jews, a son of the House of David. It would mean that, in establishing the monarchy with King Saul, Israel was fulfilling God’s plan in spite of themselves; doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

From reading the entire story we can see that the formation of the Kingdom of Israel, and the choice of an anointed king instead of another form of champion, was absolutely necessary to the plan of Scripture and God’s design for the salvation of the world. By having a king, who is anointed by God’s prophet, God was able to retain the fact in the minds of the people that it was still He who held supreme and eternal power. It is vital to remember that God has given everyone free will to do good or evil. God will not control our minds, a point which is evident by the fact that popular opinion is most often opposed to God. However, by endorsing the monarchy God was still able to choose who would rule Israel. He made it clear that the king ruled only by His grace alone.

1 Samuel, chapter 10 quotes the prophet as saying to Saul, “Has not God anointed you prince over His people Israel? You are the man who must rule God’s people and who must save them from the power of the enemies surrounding them”. In spite of his disappointment over the reason behind the establishment of the monarchy, that is the people’s reason, it is clear that God intended for it to happen and chose Saul in particular to rule His people.

It is probably true though, despite all of this, that the ultimately flawed character of Saul contributes to a general bias toward the Kingdom of Israel as a whole. It is much easier to sympathize with David, upheld as the model king and a forerunner of Jesus Christ Himself. However, David himself perfectly illustrates the principle of a holy office being filled by a sinful individual.

Throughout the Bible there is no mortal leader who is not imperfect. Gideon, who had refused the crown, contributed to the practice of idolatry. David, who accepted the crown, was also guilty of having an affair with a married woman and then of having her husband killed. Even in the New Testament the Son of God Himself was denied by every one of His apostles. It is therefore clear that a legitimate leader is not necessarily an impeccable leader.

Perhaps, for the most accurate view of King Saul, we should look to the holy example of his successor King David. Even after the spirit of God had left King Saul, even after Saul had tried to kill David, after he had hunted and persecuted the youth, David would not strike back even when Saul was at his mercy. According to Scripture, David cut off a piece of Saul’s robe as he slept, though he felt guilty even for doing this, and refused the urging of his friends to kill Saul.

Saul then left the cave…David too left the cave and called after Saul, ‘My lord king!’ Saul looked behind him and David bowed to the ground and did homage”. When David produced the piece of cloth he had taken, even Saul had to admit, “You are a more upright man than I”. Yet, why did David show mercy to this man who had been persecuting him? For David, the man of God, the issue was simple. “I will not raise my hand against my lord,” David said, “for he is the anointed of God”.

So, in spite of the bad points inherent in the monarchy, God’s anointing of the kings made it a holy institution, one in which the monarch, regardless of character, was sacred and inviolable. This was an integral part of God’s plan as is made clear by the ‘Davidic Covenant’ in which God promised David that He would preserve his offspring to rule. If they were wicked, God said, “I will punish them with the rod such as men use, with strokes such as mankind gives. Yet I will not withdraw My favor from him, as I withdrew it from your predecessor (Saul). Your House and your sovereignty will always stand secure before Me and your throne will be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:14-16).

In other words, much like the later Christian Church, the sinful nature of a royal could not effect the holiness of the royal principle itself. The point is stressed over and over again that we do not obey a king because he is strong or wise or virtuous but because of our duty to the Heavenly Father who placed the king on the throne.

Ecclesiastes 8:2-5 says, “This I say: obey the command of the king, for the sake of the oath of God; do not rashly transgress it; do not be stubborn when the cause is not a good one, since he acts as he thinks fit; for the word of the king is paramount, and who dare say to him, ‘Why do that?’ He who obeys the command will come to no harm and a wise man knows there will be a time of judgment”.

If anyone doubts how seriously God takes an oath they need look no farther than the story of Jephthah in Judges 11 and 12. It is made clear that our obedience to anyone is due only because of our obedience to God, which should not make it any less real to us but to the contrary even more so. We should be able to make the simple distinction made in Scripture on this issue.

Psalm 118:8-9 says, “I would rather take refuge in God than rely on men; I would rather take refuge in God than rely on princes”. Clearly, no mortal power can take the place of God but this fact does not excuse us from the command in Proverbs 24:21-22, “Fear God, my son, and fear the king: do not rebel against either of them; for suddenly their vengeance will arise, and then who knows what ruin both of them will send?

Clearly there is no contradiction and God’s expectations are made plain. However, some would argue that these commands apply only to Israel and their own royal house, with no practical value for anyone else. Yet, according to the prophet Daniel, even concerning the pagan King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, it was God who gave him his kingdom, majesty, glory and honor a generation before (Daniel 5:18).

Likewise, in the New Testament, the case remains exactly the same, even when the people of Israel are under the ultimate rule of the pagan Emperor of Rome. People have a hard time, in spite of the evidence already given, accepting the idea of giving their loyal support to someone who is less than exemplary in the eyes of God. Most in the modern age justly feel that they owe nothing to anyone that is not ‘deserved’. Yet, how fortunate it is that God does not use this same standard, treating us only as we deserve. Even as Christ was dying on the cross He was pleading with the Father that we would NOT be treated as we deserved.

In his first letter, chapter two, the apostle Peter says, “For the sake of the Lord, accept the authority of every social institution: the emperor, as the supreme authority, and the governors as commissioned by him to punish criminals and praise good citizenship. God wants you to be good citizens, so as to silence what fools are saying in their ignorance. You are slaves of no one except God, so behave like free men and never use your freedom as an excuse for wickedness. Have respect for everyone and love for our community; fear God and honor the emperor”.

It should be remembered that at the time Peter wrote this letter the reigning Emperor of Rome was none other than the notorious Nero who later had Peter himself put to death for preaching the Gospel. We can only speculate if Peter had some idea of the fate in store for him, even as he wrote these surely controversial lines, for he goes on to be even more direct:

Slaves must be respectful and obedient to their masters,” says the apostle, “not only when they are kind and gentle but also when they are unfair. You see, there is some merit in putting up with the pains of unearned punishment if it is done for the sake of God but there is nothing meritorious in taking a beating patiently if you have done something wrong to deserve it. The merit, in the sight of God, is in bearing it patiently when you are punished after doing your duty”. Peter then calls on them to follow the example of Christ, who suffered despite being the only truly pure and innocent man to ever walk the earth.

Here, Peter hits on the very heart of the matter regarding our duty to kings and princes. In the end, it is not about what sort of man is in charge, our duty to obey him personally or whether he is popular, wise or even benevolent. That is not finally the point, good things though they might be. What is at the bottom of all of these commands and principles and teachings is the same issue Samuel and the Israelites of his time struggled with: trusting in God’s plan for the world.

Because the early Christians obeyed God and thus remained loyal to the emperor, even as they were martyred for their faith, they set an example of innocent and heroic virtue that ended in the conversion of Rome and the establishment of Christianity as the leading religion in the Western World. What could have been an alternative to this? If the early Christians had instead fought a rebellion against Rome, they would have undoubtedly suffered the same fate as the Jews: they would have been crushed by the Emperor’s legions and most Romans would have felt they died a just traitors death and remained committed to their pagan gods. No souls would have been saved, no nations converted and in all likelihood Christianity would have withered on the vine.

It all relates back to trusting God’s judgment rather than our own. Any legitimate ruler must be chosen by God rather than man. The word ‘republic’ (res publica or people-rule) is never mentioned in the Bible, but in Hosea 8:4 the people are reprimanded by God who says, “They have set up kings, but not with My consent, and appointed princes, but without My knowledge”.

The creation of the united monarchy was obviously part of God’s plan and destined to come to pass. However, God’s anger was with their reason for demanding it at that particular time; because they had lost trust in God. In the same way, Israel brought down the wrath of God whenever they tried to replace the legitimate king with a more ‘popular’ choice. Hosea 8:10 includes the warning that, “I am going to disperse them this minute; that will soon put a stop to their anointing kings and leaders”. It was such tinkering that caused Jesus, the true King of Israel, to be born in a barn rather than a palace.

It is well recorded that the Jews expected their messiah to be a glorious champion for Israel, a king with the heart of David and the glory of Solomon. Perhaps if they had kept faith with God and remained loyal to their ancient kings, they would have had just what they were looking for. As it worked out, Jesus’ humble origins, despite being of the House of David, required more faith than many in Israel had. In the end, God’s ultimate victory will be achieved, in one way or another. These issues which we are dealing with can only effect our own condition and determine whether we place our ultimate fate willingly in the hands of God or try to manipulate our destiny according to our own flawed judgments. That is the only real choice of loyalty we have to make.


  1. You know, a currently popular argument against Monarchy by modern Evangelical Christians is that Samuel Chapter 8 attacks it, and I’ve written several people about this being a misinterpretation. I’ve even noted that, despite their claims that God prefers us to have a Republic, Israel wasn’t a republic and the Bible never mentions Republics. The Bible seems to prefer (Burt not specifically mandate) a Monarchy.

    This is likely one of the most singularly excellent, and I shall come back later to give proper consideration to it.

  2. It was at the time I wrote it as well. As I point out, this makes no sense since God eventually gave them a king anyway and so one would have to believe that the people pressured the Almighty into doing something wrong -rather ridiculous obviously.

    I have also heard the comeback to their being no mention of republics in the Bible as 'they didn't know what a republic was back then'. Possible, I suppose, but I tend to doubt that and give past peoples credit for a little more intelligence. Given that the lands of ancient Israel were part of Alexander's empire and later part of that of the Roman Republic I think it very likely that the people there at least knew of such republics and understood the basic premise. Yet, there is certainly no endorsement of the system, only commands to obey their kings and later the Roman emperor.

  3. A very interesting and compelling analysis.

  4. You know, this was a most interesting piece. I'd love to see more like it.

    Just a quick note though (me being a bit tight with my Latin) - res publica translates literally as the affairs of the people/public, which means that in terms of pure etymology and meaning, a monarchy can be a republic. The only reason we say a monarchy can't be a republic is because we have basically been given a slightly different meaning for the last 250 years (hence my disagreement with Professor Flint over the use of the phrase Crowned Republic).

    But it's a subject I've often given some thought too myself - a ruler needs the Grace of God not just to come to the throne, but in order to achieve salvation for himself and those charged by God to his care. He must chastise them when they sin as a father would a wayward child (spare the rod and spoil the child). He must defend them, as a shepherd defends his flock (by Christ's example). And he must enrich them with God's Word and Salvation.

    Naturally, this doesn't quite work outside of Christianity, but that's a little off this topic anyway.

  5. I just wanted to say that I think this is a very good article. It is the kind of explanation I have been looking for to show some people I know.

  6. Glad you liked it.

    LAW, you are exactly right, which is why the Roman Empire was also still called a res publica. It was later historians who tried to make the case that the Roman Republic was great and then when it became the Roman Empire -that was when they got it all wrong. And I also agree that the term "crowned republic" doesn't sit quite right with me either.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...