"Give Us a King"
by Dave Brown
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This article is about individual morality, not about government or politics. Christians are to accept and honor whatever government that they are under (Romans 13), as long as doing so does not violate God’s law (Acts 5:29). We also have an obligation to be a positive force for good in our world in every way that does not violate God’s laws, according to Galatians 6:10: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith.”
The quote for our title comes 1 Samuel 8:6 “But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us.’” This occurred at the end of the period of the Judges. The problems seen throughout the book of Judges occurred because (in general) individual Jews departed from the rule of God, so that system of government that required their faithfulness was not working. This was not God’s fault; it was the result of the sinfulness of the majority within the loosely federated nation.
The solution sought by the people was to emulate the nations around them – which should be the very last thing that would motivate them. They had prospered when they followed God’s law. When they did not, they floundered in their garbage pits of sin. Now their solution was to abandon God as their ruler altogether, and think that a man of their choosing would be able to make them powerful and fight their battles for them. Their faith was also in their king to bring about the law and order that was lacking during the time of the judges.
We could look throughout the history of the kings of Israel and Judah to see the folly of their actions, but it is encapsulated in Samuel’s warning to them that is given in 1 Samuel 8:11-19:
“And he [Samuel] said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: he will take your sons, and appoint them unto him, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and they shall run before his chariots; 12 and he will appoint them unto him for captains of thousands, and captains of fifties; and (he will set some) to plow his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and the instruments of his chariots. 13 And he will take your daughters to be perfumers, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. 14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. 15 And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. 16 And he will take your men-servants, and your maid-servants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks: and ye shall be his servants. 18 And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king whom ye shall have chosen you; and Jehovah will not answer you in that day. 19 But the people refused to hearken unto the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay: but we will have a king over us …” Bottom line: he will make you his slaves!
It was the British historian Lord John Acton (1834-1902) who is quoted as saying: “All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” He added: “Please do not misunderstand me. These persons who are corrupted by the process of ruling over their fellow men are not innately evil.” The preceding quote is the conclusion of a man, and it is not stated explicitly in scripture. But two things should verify it for us today: (1) the actions of the powerful in our world today and those throughout history, and (2) the many examples of this in the bible itself. In all but a few exceptional cases we find this to be the rule. It seems almost impossible for humans to resist taking advantage of a situation in which they know they have ultimate power to escape the temporal consequences of their sins.
Perhaps this is the reason that God withheld so much power from the rulers in the time of the Judges. And yet, the inevitable still happened. Look at Eli’s sons, who committed the grossest of immoralities in the sight of all; and Eli himself would not jeopardize his own position by restraining them. Look at Samuel’s sons. Consider Saul, David and Solomon – good men, humble men, servants of God before they were given power – dramatic failures afterward. And the rest of the kings? There were only one or two exceptions, proving that it is possible to resist the temptation to abuse one’s power, but the exceptions both then and now are extremely hard to find, and their scarcity proves the general validity of the rule: power corrupts … absolute power corrupts absolutely.
We also see power withheld from the leaders of the church in the first century, despite the exercise of their miraculous gifts. Paul’s thorn in the flesh is a great example (see 2 Cor. 12), and the constant persecution essentially kept those who were only interested in gaining power out of the realm if the churches. The few exceptions are notable (e.g., 3 Jn. 9-10).
What is so ironic is that the people then, as is true now, were seeking freedom. Freedom from their physical wants, freedom from the Philistines and their other enemies (stealing their crops and oppressing them), freedom from the personal responsibility of having to make their own decisions, but worst of all -- freedom from God. For, when God is not recognized to be the source of all that is good, then He must be perceived to be the source of all evil.
The prophecies of 1 Samuel 8:11-19 given above all came true. They trusted in themselves to ask for freedom; they got slavery. If you want freedom you must go to the source; John 8:31-36:
“Jesus therefore said to those Jews that had believed him, If ye abide in my word, (then) are ye truly my disciples; 32 and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. 33 They answered unto him, We are Abraham's seed, and have never yet been in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free ? 34 Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Every one that commits sin is the bondservant of sin. 35 And the bondservant abides not in the house for ever: the son abides forever. 36 If therefore the Son shall make you free , ye shall be free indeed.”
They were enslaved and did not even know it. They were convinced that their heritage would save them, and thus seeing themselves as slaves was not in their realm of possibilities. Is it in yours?
Had the Children of Israel believed and obeyed God during the time of the Judges, they would have prospered in every way, and they would never have thought to replace God with a human substitute. As our society moves further and further away from God, we will suffer the same consequences. There are some cause-effect relationships that absolutely cannot be changed. Perhaps God is only prolonging our country in the interests of the few faithful Christians that remain. If so, will you continue to do your part?
Proverbs 14:34: “Righteousness exalts a nation; But sin is a reproach to any people.” Even the most successful and most powerful nation that has ever existed on the face of this earth. It is the height of folly to think that it cannot happen when we can see it crumbling in front of our eyes, if we will only look.
Companion Pilgrims' article: True Representative Government
Jesus gives his conditions for salvation: God's Plan of Salvation
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