Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The King After God: Chosen From Above

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The day the elders came to the Prophet Samuel and demanded for Israel's very first king never took God by surprise. He knew it would come even before His children ever stepped into the Promised Land. In Deuteronomy 17:14, God foretold, “When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, ‘Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us….’” Notice that God introduced His announcement with a “when,” not an “if ever.” To God, the coming of the people’s king was inevitable.And so, in order for them to maintain their Israelite identity and not be like their neighbors in adopting their method of appointing their leader, God instituted His standard for Israel to implement.

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The king must be the one whom God chooses: “be sure to appoint over you the king the Lord your God chooses”  (Deuteronomy 17:15). From being the first and only Theocratic Head of His people, God was not about to relinquish His rule to some flesh and blood bound to corruption following some leadership style substandard to His and subject to the limitations of the physical environment and the decisions of every human being sharing the world around. God the Creator and the One who sees all from above knows the origin and destination of all things; He therefore knows which way is the best to take in a life that to us is a maze of traps, errors, and regret. That’s the general consideration.

Now, because His people’s insistence of adopting the carnal model of leadership requires them to physically see to identify themselves with their leader, God must appoint a physical representation of Himself and arm this agent with authority to rule. It was therefore essential for God find “a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14) to lead His people as He expected, in largely His terms. For this, God “changed Saul’s heart” (10:9) and gave him His heart, a heart inclined to obey.

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The very reason why God laid down the ground rules for His people in choosing a king is to ensure that all variables have been aligned and streamlined for His chosen one to emerge. It was then appropriate for the Israelites to have brought their demand for a king to the Prophet Samuel. In 1 Samuel 8:4 to 5 it says that “all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel” and said to him, “appoint a king to lead us.” It was, however, very ironic that they came to the Prophet Samuel in full confidence knowing he perfectly knew the will of God but would not accept any other result from the Divine but the satisfaction of their demand for a king.

He must be an Israelite: “He must be from among your own brothers. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite” (Deuteronomy 17:15b). An essential stipulation adopted by most cultures is that a king must come from the same people he must rule. This regulation facilitates the implementation of the prior in that God’s chosen king can only come from among the Israelites.
During this period, the monarchial government system had become so ubiquitous that it seeped into and modified the cultural fabric of many people, including the Israelites. Later on, God’s Spirit would adopt the concept of the king in presenting His promise of the Messiah. The prophet-for-hire Balaam, in Numbers 24:7, in attempted to bring down a curse on the Israelites, was instead compelled to prophesy about the people’s “king” who “will be greater than Agag.”

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Apparently the Amalekites were among the most feared people in the region where the Israelites traversed. “Agag” may have probably been a title of the kings these people had, similar to the “Caesar” of the Romans who came much later. It can be recalled that the Amalekite king whom Saul captured alive in 1 Samuel 15:8 was named Agag.

Moses’ prophecy in Deuteronomy 33:5 picturing Him as “king in Jeshurun” was an embryonic allusion to Jesus Christ. Later in King David’s life, God Himself foretold of the “offspring to succeed” him (2 Samuel 7:12), the one who would “come from [his] own body” (Ibid.), whose kingdom He would establish forever (verses 12 to 13). Around two thousand years later, Jesus came. Though He walked the earth, not yet as King but as a servant to die for the sins of many, He did not deny the fact that He was the King of the Jews (Matthew 11:27; Mark 15:2,12; Luke 23:3; John 18:33-37).

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“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2). Before Pontius Pilate ever asked the question, King Herod early in his reign shuddered on the throne he usurped when the Parthian magi came to him with the question,  "Do you know where the real King of the Jews is?--'Cause according to our calculations, you ain't!"

The mandate to choose the king from among the people was almost observed without partiality. After the death of Solomon, however, a fourth king arose in Israel whose parentage was not of pure Israelite origin. Cited in 1 Kings 14:21 and 31, Rehoboam was born of a mother named Naamah, “an Ammonite,” apparently one of the hundreds of foreign wives loved by his father Solomon (11:1). If the modern Jewish standard of determining pedigree can be applied with Rehoboam, it may yield that this king was not Israelite. During Rehoboam’s reign occurred the most ominous episode in Israelite history: the split of the kingdom. Three days after being crowned king, he decreed a more stringent policy on the political opponents of his father Solomon than accept their plea of conciliation and understanding (1 Kings 12:1-15). The result was a civil war leading to a secession of ten tribes, altogether establishing themselves as the independent Northern Kingdom (verses 16 to 17, verse 21); Rehoboam was left with the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (verses 17, 21, and 23), as the Southern Kingdom.

It was also during Rehoboam’s reign when Jerusalem succumbed to a raid successfully launched by the Pharaoh Shishak of Egypt. In 1 Kings 14:26 it says that Shishak “carried off the treasures of the temple of the Lord and the treasures of the royal palace [of Solomon], [taking] everything, including all the gold shields Solomon had made.” In all the seventeen years he ruled in Jerusalem (verse 21), he adulterated Jehovic worship with pagan Ammonite “sacred stones and Asherah poles on every high hill and every spreading tree” (verse 23), male prostitutes, and all other practices “of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites” (verse 24).

[Yep. More to come.]

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The King After God: Power from Above

Photo: Gianni Dagli Orti/CORBIS
It is understood in 1 Samuel 9:15 to 17 that it was God Himself who chose Saul to be Israel’s first king. God revealed this in a word of prophecy that came to  the Prophet Samuel the day before Saul came to visit the prophet to ask regarding some lost donkeys (1 Samuel 9:15). when Samuel presented Saul before all the tribes of Israel, except for a few troublemakers, everyone there agreed that there was no one like him among all the people (10:24). From the time he was introduced in the Scriptures, his “impressive” stature always deserved highlight: “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites—a head taller than any of the others” (9:2).

Many cultures around the world hold charisma as a fundamental qualification of a king. In its simplest concept, a king is a hero, a culture’s champion whose example in flesh and blood comes close to the ideals held by a people. Ideals, in turn, are based on the human urge to survive. To start with, an individual dealing with survival recognizes death as a—or perhaps the—conclusion of all life. The Sumerians understood this and so did the Egyptians. To the Babylonians, all hopes drained into death. This idea is reflected in Job 10:21 where the grave is described as “the place of no return”; Ecclesiastes 9:2 calls it “a common destiny” for “the righteous and the wicked.” In spite of this, however, no one from the ancient days held a way of life that promoted a passive, submissive advocacy to death and decay. All cultures the world around are an expression of the universal right to live. All cultures have been a search for a path that led to survival and to the ideals that lay above survival. And the ones who etched these paths were leaders variably known as heroes, champions, trailblazers, or kings.

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A king embodied a people’s ideals of survival. He was the understandable picture of the prosperity romanticized by his people. He was the specimen of what his people are or to become. His life and words are to advocate the superiority of his culture and the importance of keeping it pure and set apart from the inferior lifestyles of the other nations which lead to nowhere but death. A king must live, and lead the life aspired by his people; basically, therefore, he must look it. This is called charisma, the embodiment of authority, integrity, reliability, and credibility.

Saul towered at an impressive height: a head higher above the average Israelite. When he stood, he commanded the respect and obedience of his people. Or, at least, he was supposed to. To a Philistine, an Amalekite, or any pagan tribe, this quality may have worked tremendous wonders of authority, but not to the people of God. Though God chose someone as impressive as Saul, the authority to be obeyed, respected, and believed nevertheless came from Him. This principle was cited by Jesus in His conversation with Pilate when He said, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:11). Or if it were taken away from you by the Above, just as what happened to Saul when he rebelled against mandate to destroy the Amalekites, as expressed in 1 Samuel 15:23,26 and 28:

“Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king. You have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel. The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you.”

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The persuasion of physical beauty expresses perfection of ideals. The sight of a leader’s physical beauty declares to his people the hope that their culture holds and the glory they will become. The physical beauty of a leader will testify of the superiority of a people. Through his beauty, a king will convey to a subject who beholds his splendor that their being born into their nation or tribe was no mistake. This was the belief held by the nations outside the realm of the Israelite Theocracy. Israel, on the other hand, understood what it was like to be ruled by tribal chiefs and by an unseen God with prophets or judges, like Moses and Samuel, as His human intermediaries; but never by a king—a single human entity that embodied all their standards and desires. And one day, after a couple of hundred years of living in the Promised Land, the Israelites suddenly had a thought: Why not try out that government style that every nation’s been talking about—the one with a king; the one that’s been around even the time before their forefather Abraham; the one that made Sumeria, Babylonia, and Egypt great!

Photo: Sandro Vannini/Corbis
They knew exactly what a king was; they have made treaties with them; one Hebrew even worked as the right-hand man of the Egyptian pharaoh; but never have they been under a king of their own. From their father Abraham of Ur, the Hebrews began existence as nomads, until Joseph, son of the patriarch Jacob. When he became viceroy of Egypt, a severe famine struck the Egyptian-Canaanite region, prompting him to open the fertile Egyptian district of Goshen for his father and brothers to relocate into (Genesis 45:12,17-18; 47:5-6,11). Here, for several hundred years, the Hebrews found a home and relatively became settlers for about a century and a half, until “a new king, who did not know Joseph, came to power in Egypt” (Exodus 1:8). Now they were known as slaves. For four hundred years, as foretold by God to Abraham (Genesis 15:13), this new Egyptian order mistreated the very people they sheltered in the “best part” of their land (Genesis 47:11) until a man came along to lead them back to Canaan. At that point they abandoned being slaves and re-donned their status as nomads for about what they believed to be eleven days until they reach the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 1:2). But what was supposed to be an eleven-day travel protracted into a forty-year meandering ordeal because of the unholy grumbling they voiced against God (Numbers 14:27,34). Throughout all the four difficult decades, their national dream of greatness remained an ethereal concept as they watched how nations of Egyptians, Amalekites, Midianites, Edomites, and Canaanites found their niche of power in the world around them, with their king to thank for, while the Israelites remained nomads lost in a vast blazing desert.

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In this context, one can somehow come to understand how eager the Israelites were to finally produce a king of their own. While it is true that God made Himself vitally known to His people, dwelt with them in their midst in a specially designed compartment in a tent, God understood that the corrupting of sin will prove its grip stronger than His spiritual reality as their minds fall trapped within the realm of the flesh—the visible, the obvious, the instant gratification, the now, the simply understandable logic that “man is man, God is God.” Even with the representation of Moses as God’s intermediary to the people, the corruption of sin and its influence over their philosophy will keep their ideals ensnared by the seduction of a master in the flesh than keep their faith in an eternal God. There were, however, those who genuinely understood the rule of God, envisioned the benefit of its uniqueness from other nations, and took faith in the truth of His promise to bring Israel into glory. This is what made Moses raise his staff many times against Egypt and then at the Red Sea at the command of God; this is what electrified Caleb and Joshua when they explored the Promised Land for the first time (Numbers 14:7-9); this is what made the Levites rally beside Moses and slay the disobedient who celebrated the golden calf (Exodus 32:24-29); this was the zeal that took over Phinehas when he impaled with a spear a man caught fornicating with a Midianite woman (Numbers 25:7-8).

Photo: Gianni Dagli Orti/CORBIS
But the corruption of sin will never be denied its share in human nature and entrench many in its culture of decay and impermanence, for after Joshua’s generation “had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10) and no sooner did the Israelites, recently wresting Canaan from its natives through a stunning string of decisive victories, wallow in the same poison that brought Divine judgment to the Canaanites.

“…they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. In his anger against Israel the Lord handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist them. Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress” (Judges 2:13 to 15).

In a place opposite Gilgal, the site where a covenant with God was sealed through circumcision, the angel of the Lord imposed another promise in consequence to the disobedience of an entire nation He calls His people:

“I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you’” (Judges 2:1-3).

Photo: Gianni Dagli Orti/CORBIS
And as the occupying Israelites tolerated the existence of the Canaanite natives as slaves instead of obliterating them as they were Divinely charged, they absorbed elements of pagan culture, from the use of the olive oil lamp, worshiping of alien deities, to the aspiration for their own king. And in the turbulent years that followed, the frequent conquests crashed and wore away the Chosen People’s respect for their One True Theocratic Head. While judges rose to deliver the people at the point of their greatest need, for every invasion that followed as a result of the death of a judge, the idea of a king crystallized until the day they came before the Prophet Samuel, the judge at the time, and finally asked him for a king.

[And as before, there's more! Oh, shall it ever end?]