On kings, presidents and tyrants

Then all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, so that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil by asking for ourselves a king.” (1 Samuel 12:19, NASB)

The sensitive heart of God’s servant Samuel appears in this episode.   He knew beyond a shadow of turning that asking for a king in imitation of the surrounding nations was a grave error.  Even so Samuel knows that just simply giving up on the people and not praying another word in their behalf; sensitive to the fact that he would be missing the mark by light years.  This is one trait that distinguished Samuel from his predecessors. 

Not willing to give up

You may recall Jeremiah pulling the plug on Judah, on GOD’S orders, a few years from the destruction of the temple and Babylonian exile.

Here, however, is Samuel, the man who would pour the oil on Israel’s first and second kings, committing himself to not pulling the plug on Israel, despite the consensus that asking for a king was a rejection of Yahweh.

The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.”

1 Samuel 8:7, NASB

Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way. 

1 Samuel 12:23, NASB

Having a king was going to have result in consequences, of Samuel’s making.. There were consequences with which even jurisdictions with monarchies in the twenty first century struggle.

This will be the procedure – policy – of the king who will reign over you

1 Samuel 8:11-17

  1. He will take your sons and place them for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen and they will run before his chariots
  2. He will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and of fifties
  3. He will appoint some to do his plowing
  4. … to reap his harvest
  5. …to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots
  6. He will also take your daughters for perfumers and cooks and bakers
  7. He will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves and give them to his servants
  8. He will take a tenth of your seed and of your vineyards and give to his officers and to his servants
  9. He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men
  10. … and your donkeys and use them for his work
  11. He will take a tenth of your flocks
  12. You yourselves will become his servants.

All heads of state, except the ones that are purely ceremonial will try to assert privileges that line up with Samuel’s predictions. Even when the law states that they should not seek to profit from their office they invariably do.

Skirting the city to create a hamlet

If the returning exiles needed a guiding light it was not the Sinai Covenant or the patriarch traditions. Mosaic traditions had by this time become useless – blood that cleansed nothing. Where was the crown? We do not know how the Lord inspired Cyrus to decree the return, but Cyrus could not but have been impressed by the proud attachment of a people to a palace for an invisible king; a palace built by a king whose kingdom is the opposite of his own. They celebrated and embraced the Mosaic legacy but skirted the throne and the truthful village connected to SSolomon’s dynasty.

He shall build an house for my name; and he shall be my son, and I will be his father; and I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel for ever.

1 Chronicles 22:10
No monarchy in the restoration

Cyrus learned from the records that his predecessor’s reign came to an end just as predicted. He also learned that there was a king whose kingdom was not going to end. His own name appears in prophecy stating his role in rebuilding the Province of Judea.

The return to Judea had just about everything except a Solomonic monarch. Solomon may have had an unimpeachable life as a wise ruler but he was a poor model for Mosaic orthodoxy. No conscientious disciple of Moses would rush to line up behind Solomon. The returnees chose to distance themselves from anything connected with the reason for their captivity in the first place. Solomon was the poster boy for idolatry, the classic Israelite folly. Yet the sure mercies of God to David found its legs in the Solomonic throne. David’s son will build the temple and it is his throne that  will be established for ever.

What is Jerusalem without a Davidide ruler? A desolate house.