The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

The Problems of Israel having a King

The Problems of Israel having a King

There was nothing wrong with the idea of Israel having a king. A monarch was to be an extension of Israel’s covenant experience. Kings were promised to Abram by God (Genesis 17:6), prophesied by Jacob (Genesis 49:10) and Balaam (Numbers 24:7), given provision in the law (Deuteronomy 17:14-20), and the book of Judges ends with expectation of a king (Judges 21:25, compare Deuteronomy 12:8). However, problems with kingship arose when the elders requested a king on ill-founded reasons and motives which opposed the purposes of God for Israel.

          There were two reasons behind the request. Firstly, the priesthood and justice systems had become corrupt (1 Samuel 2:12-17; 8:3, 5), and secondly, the Philistine threat of Israel’s occupancy of the promised land (1 Samuel 4:1-11, 6:1-12). Israel knew Yahweh had fought wars for her based on his promise of land (Exodus 14:13-24; Deuteronomy 1:30; 3:21-22; 7:17-24; 31:6-8; 31:23; 32:29-30; Joshua 1:5-7, 9; Judges 1:2; 6:16; 7:9; 11:29). Israel should have known from her own experience to examine herself as a covenant nation and depend on God for a solution. Instead, the elders of the people decided the best solution to their domestic corruption and the Philistine threat would be to “…be like all the other nations, with a [human] king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:20).

          However, the request opposed God’s purposes for Israel (Exodus 19:5-6), and the statutes for the king prescribed by the law (Deuteronomy (17:14-20). Like the nation of Israel, the conduct of her king was to be different from the other nations. Israel’s king was to ensure her integrity as a covenant nation.

          The request to have a king like the other nations was a rejection of theocratic rule, and would hinder Israel’s capacity to worship Yahweh. This is why Samuel gives a bleak warning of the influence their desired king will have. The appointment of a king, outside the covenant relationship, would see a man usurp the position of God, and provided an oppressive alternative to theocratic rule. Such a king would not satisfy the criteria set by the Law. Acts of worship and gifts prescribed by the law that were offered to Yahweh would now be offered to the king. People, land and tithes that would otherwise be offered to the Yahweh (Leviticus 17:2-8, 27:14-25, 27:30,32) would be taken by the king (1 Samuel 8:11-13, 15-17; 18:2). This king would accumulate wealth and resources for his own use and war campaigns (1 Samuel 8:12), and consider himself above his brothers (1 Samuel 8:17).

          Despite Israel’s rejection of Yahweh as king, Yahweh in his grace gave them a king as the elders desired (1 Samuel 8:7). Within the reign of the first king, Saul took brave men into his service (1 Samue1 15:18-21; 18:2), introduced taxes (1 Samuel 17:25), and usurped the position of God by disobeying Yahweh’s instruction and declaring what was ‘good’ (1 Samuel 15:7-9). People credited their national security to Saul and David (1 Samuel 18:7), not Yahweh. Further to this, Saul thought he deserved more credit than what was given him (1 Samuel 18:8). Later in his career, Saul’s own power drove him on a murderous pursuit of David and his associates (1 Samuel 18:10-11, 20:33, 22:16-19, 23:7-29, 26:1-4,18) illustrating the inequality that had developed between the king and the people and the king’s. All of this illustrated contempt for Yahweh and his law.

          Israel’s second monarch, David, was more of a model king than the first, recognising Yahweh’s rule through the monarch. David regarded Saul as Yahweh’s anointed (1 Samuel 24:6,10, 26:9,11,16,23), though he was anointed as king long before Saul’s death (1 Samuel 16:1,13). David’s reverence of Yahweh and his purposes lead peace and security of Israel (2 Samuel 7:1). However, even this great king did not meet the statutes prescribed by the law. David took eight wives (1 Samuel 18:27, 2 Samuel 3:2-5, 11:27) and concubines (2 Samuel 15:16), and committed adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11). Though Israel’s international crisis had been resolved, corruption was still rife in her administration. King David’s misconduct served to set bad precedents for his subordinates (2 Samuel 13:1-29) which finally lead to domestic turmoil (2 Samuel 13-15).

The solution to Israel’s domestic problems was clearly not to be found in a human monarch. David was not the one to establish Yahweh’s house. Rather, Yahweh would establish his house (2 Samuel 7:11b). Yahweh gives David a history lesson in that it was him who established the nation of Israel and made her prosper, and it was him that made David king over Israel (2 Samuel 7:6-9). As part of the history lesson, Yahweh enters into a covenant with David reciting the historic themes of a name, a place and a people, applying them to the present problem with David. This implies Yahweh was Israel’s true king, and he is the one who will resolve Israel’s domestic and international problems.

The fundamental problem was Israel repeatedly broke Yahweh’s covenant, and moved out of relationship with him. The request for a king was only a symptom of this cause. The solution Yahweh would provide was to fix (nata’  òèÇðˆ) his people into covenant relationship with himself so they could no longer break his covenant and move out of relationship (2 Samuel 7:10).

Yahweh would do this through David’s offspring, or ‘seed’ (2 Samuel 7:12). This ‘seed’ cannot have its reference restricted to any one person or entity. Rather, ‘seed’ needs to be understood in a typological sense, inclusive of Solomon, Israel represented by David’s kingly line, and Christ[1]. David’s line will continue to have a relationship with Yahweh as a son (2 Samuel 7:14, compare Exodus 4:22). This relationship is intimate as it involves the punishment of wrong doing (compare Proverbs 13:24), perhaps alluding to the exile brought on by Israel’s unfaithfulness. Even still, David’s line is assured Yahweh will not withdraw his love from them (v15).

          Even though a temple, or house is built by David’s son Solomon, this is only in anticipation of Christ who would build a bigger temple, manifesting as Yahweh’s kingdom. Christ would be worthy of building Yahweh’s kingdom because of his divine origin, and have an everlasting rule as the divine king, and resolving the broken relationship between Yahweh and humanity.

© The Student’s Desk, 2007


[1]  Delitzsch, F.   Keil, C. F.            “Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes”, Vol. 2. William B. Eerdmans. Grand Rapids, Michigan – p347

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October 23, 2007 - Posted by | Biblical Theology, Essays, Old Testament, Religious | , , , , , , ,

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