Friday, November 9, 2012

LIVING WITH A KING



Russian icon of the prophet Samuel

The Old Testament prophet Samuel had himself grown old. For many years he had served as a judge to the nation of Israel, but now his time was coming to an end. In those years of Israel’s history, the judge was actually the political leader of the country. In Samuel’s case, he was also the spiritual leader, and he led the people of the country to place their trust in the Lord God.
The old prophet had hoped that his two sons would take the office, but quite frankly, they were not fit for the job. They had abused their position and become accustomed to using their influence to pervert justice and to accept bribes. The people of Israel were looking for a change.
But this desire for change was based not only the inadequacy of the sons of Samuel to assume the task of leadership; this seemed only to be a convenient justification for the people’s desire for a new rule. The real reason was the Israelites had begun to look at the other nations of the area as models for how they wanted to live. They told Samuel, “Appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5 NAS).
Samuel explained to the people the disadvantages of having a king. Having a king would mean an intrusion into their private lives as never before. Samuel told the people that their sons and daughters may very well be taken from them in service of this king. Their best land could also be confiscated, and they would be taxed on their produce and their lands.
But the people did not listen. They told him, “No, but there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:19-20 NAS).
Code of Hammurabi
This desire to be like the nations was troubling to Samuel. What was happening in the nations of that day was a steady growth in the power of the governments over the lives of their citizens. This trend actually began hundreds of years before this time and can be especially seen in the well-preserved Code of Hammurabi of Babylon. Even before Hammurabi, king Lipit-Ishtar of Sumer (ancient Assyria) wrote what was the first known set of laws that were intended to go beyond keeping peace in the country. The code sought to regulate society in every way. As far as historians have been able to tell, this is the first time that anybody thought that a set of laws could have this level of power and intrusion into the lives of people.
Surviving fragment of the Code of Lipit-Ishatar
These ancient codes are usually purported as the noble attempts of rulers to bring peace, stability and harmony in their societies, and so they were. But they also began a trend in which the ruling governments of the nations sought to determine almost every aspect over the everyday lives of its inhabitants. It was about this pattern of the nations that Samuel tried to explain to the people of Israel when he told them about what a king might demand of them.
We might ask about the reason for Samuel’s opposition to this desire. If the people wanted it and if the codes of some of the nations were attempts at bringing harmony within their borders, why should Samuel object?
Samuel’s objection was because the people already had a code. They had the Law of the Lord God. This Law also had as one of its purposes to bring harmony and peace for the people, but it did so in a way that the people would look to God to fulfill their needs – not to the government. In addition to this, the Law of God sought to preserve the individual freedoms of the people and not take them away.
        It is true that the Law of God also regulated many areas of living, but if the people would have continued to live by its statutes, they would have eventually seen that the ultimate purpose of the law would be to lead them into the grace of God. It would lead to complete freedom under Him. It is not the same with earthly governments. Once a government is given a power over the people, they will only increasingly seek more control.
The desire to be like the nations was a rejection of God’s law and provision, and a rejection of the Lordship of God. The people no longer wanted to look to God, but instead wanted a government to care for their needs. God plainly explained this to Samuel when He told him, “They have not rejected you, but they have rejected me.”
However, the people were insistent and God relented. He continued and told Samuel, “Listen to their voice and appoint for the people a king.”
This was the beginning of the line of kings for the ancient Jewish people. As we read in the history of the kings, many of these kings led the people into evil, although several were good kings. The greatest of these of course was King David. The point of God’s initial objection does not seem to be because of a particular form of government, but that the people preferred to look to their earthly ruler for their needs instead of Him.
It is slightly ironic that it was the nations that the Israelites wanted to emulate that eventually would go to war with the Jews, occupy their country, and then deport them. Conversely, here is what the apostle Paul would say more than a thousand years later in service to God:

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. (2 Corinthians 9:10-11 NAS)

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