Kings and queens are not popular in the 21st century, at least not when the official title is actually king or queen. Many of our prime ministers and presidents do exactly what ancient kings did. The ancient rulers had less invasion of their occupational space by their subjects. For most of the four or five year terms of the modern ruler ths citizens get to shape much of what the nation ends up getting. The government heads that spend a lot of time messaging are mostly trying to fill the void of their loss of control. The aversion to monarchy is a weird condition because the vast majority of people on the planet are ruled by a despot, a family of despots, a twice-elected hero, or an oligarch, Even when the system of government is called by various forms of democracy, republicanism or socialism the result is the same: headless publics.
The revolutionary character of the New Testament may appear as a natural shift. The Land of the boiling pot had many kings in the Period following the Persian exile. The Roman emperor was the head honcho. The Levant was home to four ethnarchs, each ruling an ethnic group. The arrangement was Rome’s method of softening local resistance. The Jews having a king was not a threat to Rome. Pilate, the Roman governor in the days of Yeshua of Nazareth, was careful to stay out of local Jewish sectarianism and religion.
When the magi showed up in Judea announcing their intention to worship a newborn king Herod, the tetrarch, was beside himself that he had a contender for the throne. King of Israel was a title few people wanted or cared about, and the consensus was that an Israelite king in the form the law prescribed was treachery to Rome, but the unveiling of Israel’s ruler landed on the obscure town of Bethlehem.
Kingdom everywhere we look
If you want to be governed by a king (and his house) be ready for some shenanigans that will affect the prosperity of both the king and the people.
It has not escaped our notice either that the sons of Israel were offered a covenant aimed at creating a kingdom of priests. The high priest was the first person whose authority was the law and whose ability to affect Israelite lives was near absolute. Having a king was foreign idea to the Hebrew people, but God had a plan for monarchy and a set of cautions. He even had a prophet who was aware of the complications of having a king like Israel’s neighbours.
The prophets also made sure the people heard that the house of David was going to be God’s means of achieving his plan. The Solomonic dynasty, created to elevate David’s passion and personal integrity, could only be distinguished from God’s sovereignty by the length of life of the crowned heads. Every time one of them died the milk spilled out. In the same vein of weakness and incapacity, justice for a family affected by homicide was set aside and a potential killer walked free when a high priest died. The king of Israel was best when he was also a priest and possessed of an endless life. Both the priest and the kings ended up saturated with greed blind to justice.
Moses is first to notice the problems of monarchy. His warnings are as follows.
- NO FOREIGNER CAN BE CROWNED. When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, and you possess it and live in it, and you say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations who are around me,’ you may not put a foreigner over yourselves who is not your countryman.
- THE CROWN CANNOT ACCUMULATE MILITARY CAPACITY FOR HIMSELF. (vs 16a) “Moreover, he shall not multiply horses for himself,
- HE MUST NOT COUNSEL HELP FROM EGYPT. (vs 16b) nor shall he cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall never again return that way.’
- THE CROWN MUST NOT BE POLYGAMOUS. (vs 17“He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away;
- THE CROWN MUST NOT ACCUMULATE MONEY FOR HIMSELF. nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself.
- THE CROWN MUST BE HAVE HIS OWN HANDWRITTEN COPY WITH THE LAW (vs 18. Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. (At the time the Law consisted of the unfinished books of Moses) (vs 19) It shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes[,]
- THE CROWN’S COMPLIANCE WITH THE LAW CREATES THE POTENTIAL TO BE LONG-LASTING. (vs 20) that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left, so that he and his sons may continue long in his kingdom in the midst of Israel.
References to (a) king, (b) king of Israel, and (c) queen, can be seen in comparison to the references to (d) Yahweh as king (King of Israel-prime).
With such a dominating frequency of monarchy in the Old Testament there is every reason to believe that a rift is in play. King of Israel, like the levitical service, must be resolved in something real and effective. How long does it take for a people to recognize that their king ought to be a person who does not slumber or sleep? How else could he keep them safe when there are enemies all around? How many annual days of official atonement can a community endure before it admits that the blood of animals facilitates the forgiveness of sins? The flow of the monarchy record consists of accession to the throne, a narrative of selected deeds, their deaths, their burials, and an epitaph of serving Yahweh or not (essentially did evil or not).
The king of Israel presented by the New Testament writers is part of a revolutionary proposal. It has little to do with the law, the temple, or Jerusalem. The sparse frequency of the records of kings’ accession to the throne, their deaths and burials in the New Testament marks a sharp departure from the narratives of the Hebrew Bible. The New Testament framework for viewing the facets of the king are also few. Those facets are:
- The mocking of the crowds when Yeshua was hanging on a tree
- Nathanael’s perception that the king (Yeshua) knows everything
- The report of Yeshua’s ride into Zion on a donkey and the people’s response
The other kings mentioned in the New Testament are not candidates for being recognized as king of Israel, and Jewish monarchy governing Judah (or Judea) was not even mentioned when the Persian exile ended, and was even more remote. The events of the New Testament unfolded in a province of the Roman Empire. A king with the stature of the kings of Judah and Israel was most unwelcome. The only Jewish person that could be named king in New Testament times had to be approved by Rome.
- An unwelcome king
- The framework shows that the disciples’ king was not welcome.
- The king acclaimed by the crowds was not welcome.
- An extraordinary depth of knowledge and authority
- Nathanael was impressed by Yeshua’s knowledge of hidden facts
- At age twelve Yeshua had the Jewish leadership at the temple scratching their heads
- The habit of attaching Yeshua’s experiences to prophecies from the Old Testament is almost avoidable. The donkey ride into Zion stands out.
- The donkey ride into Zion may seem to be adrift until we see the original context of the prediction in Zechariah’s prophecy
Justice, Salvation, and Humility
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”(Zechariah 9:9, NASB)
One can find no excuse for rejecting such a king and there is none. Recognizing that Yeshua did not appear to be a fan of Moses and took the functioning of the temple as a personal responsibility – he called it “My Father’s house” – leads to a number of mistaken views. that the Old Testament is yesterday’s book, and that the idea of monarchy is unsuited for the modern world. One has to be pretty gifted president or prime minister to not want to be ruler forever. There are, after all, no humans who have lived forever. Maybe there are but they are hiding. What is with the forever thing anyway? Adam is dead, Abraham is waiting for his resurrection, and so are all the apostles. There is no forever throne for David. We know where his tomb is. With large portions of the world about to go virtual, all of the forms of government will be known for what they really are, despite the repeated debates and proclamations, headless failed states, headless republics and headless publics.