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Christian Biblical Studies
ISRAEL GETS A KING
Scripture references are to the New International Version-UK, unless marked otherwise.
Question: Does 1 Samuel 8: 4-7 show that monarchy as a form of governance is disapproved by God?
4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah.
5 They said to him, ‘You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.’
6 But when they said, ‘Give us a king to lead us,’ this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD.
7 And the LORD told him: ‘Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.’
Answer: The fact that Jehovah was displeased at the request may have had less to do with the sort of rulership Israel asked for than the fact that the nation had decided to throw off the theocratic rule (by God) represented by Samuel, hitherto their Prophet and Judge.
In His response, the Lord instructed Samuel to warn the people that a king would conscript them and their sons into military service, nationalise their economy, and tax them heavily in order to raise income for his treasury. See 1 Samuel 8: 1-22.
The Hebrew word for ‘king’ (melek) used here occurs hundreds of times in the Old Testament, before and after this account in Samuel. It is also applied to God Himself (‘The LORD is King for ever’; Psalm 10: 16). The equivalent Greek word is basileus, and is used of earthly sovereigns (‘the king, as the supreme authority’; 1 Peter 2: 13), of Jesus (‘King of Israel’; John 12: 13) and of Jesus and His Church together (‘King of kings’; Revelation 17: 14).
Apart from the theocratic arrangement in force before Israel became a kingdom, the Scriptures do not appear to favour one form of earthly government over another. All forms, royal or otherwise, are imperfect and (more or less) prone to degradation, and are lumped together as ‘kings of the earth’ (Revelation 6: 15). Indeed, it should be noted that the reason given by the elders of Israel for rejecting rule by God, as represented in Samuel, is that Samuel’s sons – judges – were themselves corrupt (vs. 4, 5). It appears then, that regardless of the form of government the nation had urged as a replacement, God would have been displeased. See Judges 8: 23, where Gideon, offered kingship, responds, ‘I will not rule over you . . . the LORD will rule over you.’
Nonetheless, the monarchical model appears to be the one into which the prophecies of the Bible are fitted. The Scriptures inform us that the future, righteous government of earth will be a ‘kingdom’ with Christ as its monarch, as revealed in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25: 34). God’s rule on earth is defined as regal (‘thy kingdom [basileia] come’; Matthew 6: 10). This sovereign arrangement, under Christ as King, when it has done its work of uplifting mankind in the Millennial Age may, perhaps, be superseded by a different mode of governance, but the Scriptures are silent on this matter. (But see 1 Corinthians 15: 24 (‘kingdom’).)
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