Not following God’s way
1 Kings 12:1-19
God’s apprehension towards Israel’s request was due to their motivation for requesting a king and the type of kingship they wanted. They asked for a kingship like the other nations (1 Sam. 8:5), hence they were requesting a pagan system.
The Biblical record gives an account of how the kingdom of Israel divided under Rehoboam the son of Solomon. In this series of blogs we are exploring the underlying reasons and actions that instigated the Northern Tribes to rebel against the Davidic dynasty. We looked at how the Kingdom of God is the central theme of redemptive history. Israel was chosen as an instrument in touching all nations with the redemptive rule of God. We saw how God through His prophetic spokespeople guided Israel into the covenantal reality of His Kingship. God’s redemptive actions unified a tribal people into a covenantal people for His purposes. The last blog dealt with the elders of Israel approaching Solomon to appoint a king. It was indicated how the historical account of how Israel became a Kingdom can seem confusing. There are passages for the establishment of a kingdom (1 Sam. 9; 10:1-17; 11) and passages that are sharply critical of the monarchical institution (1 Sam. 8; 12; 13; 15). Hosea stated that God gave Israel a king in His anger (Hos. 13:11). God’s apprehension towards Israel’s request was due to their motivation for requesting a king and the type of kingship they wanted.
The Book of Judges traced how their own self-opinionated righteousness was the direct cause of Israel’s foreign oppression and social injustices. The constant refrain in the Book of Judges is how Israel acted in a manner that was right in their own eyes (Jdg. 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25), but was considered evil in the eyes of the LORD (Jdg. 3:7, 12; 4:1, 6; 10:6; 13:1). Samson, the last judge, was a man who did what was right in his own eyes (Jdg. 14:3) and the Book of Judges ends with everybody doing what was right in their own eyes (Jdg. 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). Israel’s covenantal destiny was not dependent upon power or structure, but upon character. The tribal elders asked Samuel (1 Sam. 8:5) for a king; they believed that the requested structured political system was the answer to the religious unruliness, social upheaval and foreign oppression experienced during the period of the judges[i]. As discussed in the previous blog their request was viewed by God as rebellion against His mediated rule over them. The real crisis was not the form of rulership, but their rebellious hearts.
Another reason for Samuel and God’s disapproving response to their request was the kind of kingship they were asking for. They asked for a kingship like the other nations (1 Sam. 8:5), hence they were requesting a pagan system[ii]. The displeasure of God arose firstly from the underlying reasons for their request and secondly from the kind of kingship they requested. The governmental institution of a Kingdom was neither good nor bad in itself[iii]; it was part of God’s plan. The issue in 1 Samuel 8 was the desire to be like other nations (1 Sam. 8:20). The tribal elders looked towards the kingships of Egypt, Mesopotamia and Canaan for a model of what a king should be. Israel then replicated these desired features from the surrounding kingdoms. Monarchical absolutism caused later social problems[iv] within the nation of Israel. This mirrored the absolute rule of the Egyptian Pharaohs. The absolute rule of Israel’s kings caused enmity between them and God’s prophetic spokespersons (2 Kings 17:13)[v]. Mesopotamian influence is shown in an expressly built capital, a permanent standing army, a palace economy with a central bureaucracy and a tax system that supported the temple and the central administration. Israel similarly reflected Canaanite monarchical practices such as enforced military conscription, grand public projects built by enforced labour, domestic work in the palace by female citizens and repossession of property for use by the king[vi].
Saul was selected as Israel’s first king by popular acclaim of the people (1 Sam. 10) and was physically striking like the other nations’ warriors and leaders (1 Sam. 9:2; Num. 13:28)[vii]. He was a unifying state builder, experienced noteworthy military exploits and expanded the borders of Israel. When David established his capital in the captured city of Jerusalem, he created a centralised bureaucratic administration[viii] by using the skilled urban administrative apparatus of the Jebusites[ix] (2 Sam. 5:6-9). King Hiram assisted King David with skilled artisans and material resources (2 Sam. 5:11-12) in the construction of the expanding city of David[x]. Before and during his reign David used the Near Eastern practice of marriage as a method of strengthening his political and economic situation (1 Sam. 25:23-31; 2 Sam. 5:13), although it is prohibited in Deuteronomy 17:17. David employed trained Cherethites and Pelethites who were foreign mercenaries from the seacoast, as his bodyguard and for his personal army (2 Sam. 20:7)[xi]. King Solomon’s reign was the quintessence definition of what the other Near Eastern nations would view as a successful king[xii]. He turned Jerusalem into an extensive, wealthy and opulently adorned city comparable to the kingly cities of the other nations. His construction projects were undertaken with the skill of foreign workers and building material that was imported. King Hiram logistically and financially assisted Solomon. As time wore on, Solomon only became more indebted (1 Kings 5:10-18; 9:11, 14). He modelled his kingship upon those of other nations; he had a permanent standing army, centralised bureaucracy and palace economy all of which was a drain upon the nation’s resources. The people were enslaved through taxes, forced labour, conscription and the annexure of property[xiii] (1 Kings 4:27-28, 5:13-18).
Israel was to be different to other nations. They should have been a vehicle for the restoration of God’s rulership over all nations (Num. 23:21)[xiv]. Instead they wanted to substitute the directness and simplicity of God’s mediated rule (through His prophetic spokespersons) for a cumbersome central government devoted to the defence of its own preservation; they wanted a king like the other nations. Israel’s theocracy (God’s rule) which was a covenantal rule to the benefit of all instead became a costly immoral enrichment of the hereditary few[xv]. Israel was worse off through a system that was based upon the wisdom and methods of the other nations. At the end of Saul’s rule; gained territory was lost (1 Sam. 31:8) and social flaws remerged (2 Sam. 2:8-17). David’s heart, repentance and enthusiastic worship of God were commended. This aspect of his life became the touchstone for the hope of a future kingly Messiah[xvi]. His personal life however was a wreck which included infidelity (2 Sam. 11), rape (2 Sam. 13), the killing of family members by their own (2 Sam. 13), treason, insurgences, the appropriation of David’s concubines and civil war (2 Sam. 14-18). These events within the house of David widened the rift between the Northern and Southern tribes (1 Sam. 19-20). King Solomon’s rule ended with Israel in political decline, with more economic hardships and greater moral deterioration. His sensual appetites, greediness (1 Kings 11:1-3) and open idolatry (1 Kings 11:32-33) made him the king who angered God. Israel after the period of the kings is in the same position as before the establishment of the kingdom. The tribes’ future was uncertain and they had to live through the chaos of the diaspora without leadership (1 Kings 12:16)[xvii]. What would a mediated rule of God have looked like under David, without the trappings of a kingship like the other nations[xviii]?
[i] (Webb 2012:426)
[ii] (Chapman 2016:97)
[iii] (Chapman 2016:426)
[iv] (Heim 2005:610)
[v] (Moller 2005:160)
[vi] (Heim 2005:610)
[vii] (Bergen 1996:112)
[viii] (Mendenhall 1975:157)
[ix] (Mendenhall 1975:158)
[x] (Bergen 1996:323)
[xi] (Keener 1993:n.a.)
[xii] (Mendenhall 1975:159)
[xiii] (Heim 2005:610)
[xiv] (Bergen 1996:157)
[xv] (McClain 1968:na)
[xvi] (Longman 2005: 448)
[xvii] (Longman 2005:448)
[xviii] (McClain 1968:na)
Bergen, RD. 1996. The New American Commentary. Nashville: B7H Publishing Group.
Chapman, SB. 2016. 1 Samuel as Christian Scripture: A Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Heim, KM 2005. “Kings and Kingship.” Pp. 610-622 in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, edited by Arnold BT and Williamson HGM. Downer Groves: InterVarsity Press.
Keener, Graig S. 1993. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.
Longman, T 2005. “History of Israel.” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.
McClain, AJ. 1968. The Greatness of the Kingdom. Chicago: Moody Press.
Mendenhall, GE. 1975. “The monarchy.” Interpretation 29:155-179.
Moller, K 2005. “Phrophets and Prophecy.” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.
Webb, BG. 2012. The New International Commentary of the Old Testament: The Book of Judges. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.